Full Circle: Giants in the churchyard

The last of the winter light was beginning to fade as we left St Andrew’s and wandered out into the churchyard. In many respects, what awaited us outside was far more impressive and interesting than the Georgian interior. There were stones.

It is fair to say that most churchyards have stones of some description, and this one was no exception. Set within the old precinct and ringed with buildings from another era, the green space is a place of peace peopled by memories. A memorial pays tribute to those who served and fell in the great wars, and close by, one grave marks the last resting place of Mary Noble, an old lady who lived to the grand age of a hundred and seven. She was born around the time that Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, finally gave up the ghost. She lived through the years of the French revolution, the reign of Napoleon and his final defeat at Waterloo, seeing the French monarchy temporarily restored under Louis XVIII. Not that she would have cared or known much about such great events, even though they would undoubtedly have played a part in shaping her world. She was a spinner, and continued to spin her threads until three months before her death.

The Late Mary Noble of Penrith, Cumberland by James Ward; Photo: Lakeland Arts Trust

Near Mary’s grave is another that is often passed unseen, marking the resting place of the parents-in-law of the poet, William Wordsworth who, with his sister Dorothy and his future wife, Mary Hutchinson, attended Dame Birkett’s School overlooking the churchyard. Home meant different things for Mary Noble and the poet. One would immortalise the beauty of the area with his words,  the other, born decades before the poet and living a long life after his death, spun the threads that clothed the ordinary people who lived and worked the land. Yet, ultimately, for both of them, home would be cold earth and the hope of heaven.

These, however, were not the stones we had come to see. What we were after were stones that had already been around for over eight hundred years when Mary was born. One, known as the Giant’s Thumb, is a tenth century carved ‘wheelhead’ cross, dated to around 920. Tradition suggests that it may have been erected by Owen, King of Cumbria, as a memorial to his father. At some point it was used as a pillory to punish wrongdoers and the lower holes may have been enlarged for this purpose.

The scheduled monument listing designates the cross as Anglian, and says of the now-weathered decoration that a drawing was made in 1921 that showed, “…the east and west faces to have displayed a decoration of scroll and interlacing with a crucifixion scene on one side depicting Christ flanked by two figures interpreted as Longinus the spearman and Stephaton the sponge bearer. Above Christ there is a serpent. On the opposite side of the stone there was another human figure too weathered to interpret.”

It is always with a sense of privilege that we stand in the presence of a stone that has seen so much history and one which, moreover, still carries the carved mark of an artist. For over eleven hundred years this cross has been part of the life of its community… and yet, it is a mere babe compared to some we would see over the course of the weekend.

Just a few yards away is a much more unusual collection of stones, known as the Giant’s Grave. On face value, the group of six stones is no more than a pair of Anglian Crosses with four Viking hogbacks, the carved stones used to mark Norse burials, and yet, uniquely, it is said to be a single grave.

The earliest hogbacks date back to around 920, like the cross of the Giant’s Thumb. They are usually carved with a pattern that looks like roof tiles and are thought to be a stylised representation of a house for the dead. Many are covered with patterns alone, often flowing and sinuous in a style wrongly named ‘Celtic’. Others are also carved with legendary and religious figures…not all of them Christian. Many such stones are beasts in themselves, others are carved with people, boars…and dragons.

The two cross shafts, of a similar date, are also carved, though they are badly weathered.  The interlacing is different on every stone and we have wondered if there is meaning to each pattern… a meaning  to which we have lost the keys. Curiously, given that we had not yet finalised the details of the weekend at that time, and never announced them, writer Mary Smith sent me, as well as the photo of Merlin’s cave, a newspaper cutting that discussed the lost language of symbolism and a booklet on the old carved crosses. ‘Coincidences’ like that tend to reassure you that you are on the right track…

Legends say that the Giant’s Grave is the resting place of Owen Caesarius, king of Cumbria between 920 and 937 AD:

“The common vulgar report is that one Ewen or Owen Cæsarius, a very extraordinary person, famous in these parts for hunting and fighting, about fourteen hundred years ago, whom no hand but that off death could overcome, lies buried in this place. His stature, as the story says, was prodigious beyond that of the Patagonians, in South America, seventeen feet high, that the pillars at his head and feet denote it, and the four rough unpolished stones, betwixt, represent so many wild boars, which had the honour to be killed by this wonderful giant”. Todd.

Some say the Grave is the burial place of the mythical giant Sir Ewan, who lived in the Giant’s Caves on the banks of the river Eamont near Penrith. One old record says that the Grave, ““was opened when I was a Scollar there, by William Turner, and there found the great long shank bones and other bones of a man, and a broad Sword besides.”

Yet others link the grave with Owain, also known as Ywain, or Yvain who was the son of Urien, King of Rheged… and thus to the legends of King Arthur. Owain was, in the later Arthurian Romances, known as the Knight of the Lion and a Knight of the Round Table, and tales were penned about his exploits of knight-errantry. The most famous episode tells of how he rescues a lion who becomes his companion… and helps him defeat both a giant and…a dragon.

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Without realising all these details when we had planned the weekend, they were beginning to make themselves felt as gifts, joining the dots of what we had planned. Another gift awaited us too,  beyond the sundial where the ley line passes through the churchyard. A peace garden was to be our final official visit of the day. Created in1971 by the local Rotary Club, its wheel-like motif and their motto, ‘Service above Self’, were perfect for a shared dedication to the work of the weekend, which would continue the next morning with a visit to King Arthur’s Round Table…

The Giant and the Sun – In search of King Arthur

We wandered the summit of Cadbury Castle, each of us alone with our thoughts before gathering once again at the centre to speak of archaeology, history and legends. Now, legends are all very well, but many a place has adopted a lucrative tale, just to pull in the tourists. The monks drew in pilgrims with dubious saints and relics, and it is no more than economic sense to capitalise on something that will help the local economy. But there are a few crumbs of fact, as well as the legends, that might place our vision of Camelot at Cadbury, even though the Arthur we think of first did not exist before the medieval romances.

Who is Arthur anyway? Is he just the hero of the medieval romances or something more? Was he the historical war leader mentioned in the oldest texts? Was he a giant? Certainly there are enough ancient sites, hills and megaliths across the country that bear his name to portray him as being of gigantic stature. Or is he something other than that? When we had first visited Cadbury, five years ago, we had both ‘picked up’ a similar impression… that of a ‘wise guardian presence’, the archetypal guardian of the land. Could the King Arthur we know today be a conflation all of these strands, buried deep within the psyche of a nation?

If a historical Arthur did exist, he was most likely a fifth century war-leader, and not an armoured and caparisoned knight. The tales we know and love have their origins hovering between medieval romance and a much older tradition, in whose stories we can find fragments and parallels.

Historically, Nennius, writing in 820, names Arthur as the dux belloram, or war commander, who fought alongside the British kings against the Saxon invasion by Horsa and Hengist and the victor of many battles, including the decisive victory of Mount Badon. The name ‘Arthur’ may have a number of origins, but the most likely seems to be that it comes from the native Brittonic arto– ‘bear’, which later became arth in Welsh.

Similar names were common throughout the Celtic world. Oddly, one of the names for the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is Arthur’s Wain. A wain is a wagon or a wheeled vehicle, and one of the earliest references to Arthur is from Gildas who lived from around 500 to 570, and who wrote of the British King Cuneglas that he had been “charioteer to the bear”. For a king to be anyone else’s charioteer would suggest that person held an elevated status. Dux belloram, perhaps?

Stars were to play a major role in our weekend workshop, in many guises. The Great Bear has been used from time immemorial for navigation, pointing the way to the north star, with Orion’s rising and setting marking due east and west. Orion too was going to crop up again…

But, back to Arthur. There is the circumstantial evidence on the ground. An ancient trackway runs from the base of the castle to Glastonbury and is known as King Arthur’s Hunting Track. The river Cam runs close by and the nearby villages of Queen Camel and West Camel bear its name. Cadbury Castle used to be known to the villagers as Camalet too. And, from the summit of Cadbury, you can see the Tor at Glastonbury, the mythical Avalon to which most of the Arthurian stories are tied and where Merlin himself sleeps beneath the Tor.

The name ‘Cadbury’ may come from ‘Cador’s fort’ and while the legends speak of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, history tells that Cado was the historical son of a Dumnonian king named Gerren. In the old stories, he was a friend and relative of the legendary Arthur, conceived at Tintagel and therefore possibly also a Dumnonian prince. Local tales have been associating Cadbury Castle with Camelot for hundreds of years, long before the people of the land were able to read for themselves Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and there are snippets of history that add fuel to the fire, as well as local legends.

The Saxon conquest of Somerset took about fifty years longer than anywhere else due to the fierce resistance by a local king. Legend has it that this king was Arthur Pendragon. The size and scope of Cadbury, plus the etymological links and archaeology, may not confirm the claim for Arthur, but it certainly fits the known facts of resistance.

For the doubters, there is the tale of a band of knights who sleep in a cave beneath the hill, beyond a pair of iron gates, waiting to be called to the land’s need. On Christmas Eve and Midsummer’s Night they ride to water their horses in the spring beside the Saxon church at Sutton Montis, in the shadow of the hill. So deeply ingrained is this story, that when archaeologists came to work at Cadbury, one old gentleman asked if they had come ‘to wake the king’. We had not done so… or perhaps, in a way, we had, waking something higher, buried deep within ourselves, as we visualised an ancient rite and opened ourselves to the whispers of the land.


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do. If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The ramparts of Camelot

We had only a short way to walk to our second site of the day. We were only going to climb a hill, which sounds simple enough, but there can be few places where fact, fiction, folklore and otherworldly dreams are more intricately interwoven than the hill known as Cadbury Castle. Setting our feet to its path would transport us back through thousands of years of history and archaeology and into another world… of myth and legend, where King Arthur held the land.

The hill towers above the little church we had just visited, dominating the landscape in both scale and presence. The trees on its slopes are relatively young compared to the earthwork upon which they now grow and serve to veil much of the magnificence of the structure. Without the information board and a sign for ‘Castle Lane’, you might be completely unaware of where you were going as you enter the wormhole that leads through the encircling guardian trees.

The green lane leads steadily upwards, opening occasionally to give a glimpse of a patchwork landscape of fields and apple orchards, sheltered by Sigwells, the ridge that embraces Cadbury and which holds many archaeological clues to the history of the area. You climb to five hundred feet above sea level and then the landscape suddenly makes sense as you enter the eighteen-acre expanse of the summit and see the panorama unfold beneath and around you. There is no medieval castle at Cadbury, no turrets, no pennants fly… the hill itself is the castle, sculpted from the earth and surrounded by ramparts, embankments and a ditch three quarters of a mile long.

Five and a half thousand years ago, our Neolithic ancestors occupied the hill, leaving behind them sherds of pottery, flint tools and the bones that tells us when they lived there. The advent of metalworking in the Bronze Age changed the way we lived. Ovens remain from that period, as well as evidence that metal was worked on the site. And three thousand years ago, a bronze shield was buried, for some reason, two hundred years after it had first been made. I wondered about that; it would have been a prized possession, being not only sturdy but ornate.  Perhaps it was passed from father to son and buried when the last male of the line died? Or was it an offering to the gods?

The Iron Age occupants of the hill constructed enclosures, fortifications and rectangular timber buildings which were later replaced by the roundhouses we more commonly picture from that time. Temples and shrines were added, one upon the other, as a more complex society came into being. These were people of the La Tène culture… the Celtic culture that left us so many artefacts of great beauty and so many clues to how they lived.

Cadbury was further fortified around 100BC and it became a multivallate fort, with many-layered defences surrounding the hill.  In AD43, the hillfort was attacked and, a few years later, both weapons and flame were used against it.  The timing suggests that it may have been a place of defence against the invaders from Rome, when the Durotriges and Dobunni made their stand against Vespasian’s second Augusta Legion. It would appear that the tribes finally lost the battle for Cadbury, though, as the next thing to appear on the hill was  Roman military barracks, complete with Roman temple and they stayed there for the next few hundred years. And this is where it gets really interesting, and where fact, folklore and legend meet.

Unusually, after the departure of the Romans, the hillfort was reoccupied for about a hundred years, starting in 470 AD. Archaeologists found the Great Hall of a Brythonic leader, a stronghold where he would have lived with his family, horses and warriors. The inner defences had been reinstated and reinforced to double the size of any known fortress of this period.  Pottery from the Eastern Mediterranean shows the occupants had wide trade links. And local legends have named the plateau King Arthur’s Palace for at least five hundred years…


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do. If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: In search of breakfast

We were surprised to find that breakfast would not be forthcoming. While we could, undoubtedly, have booked it separately, it was almost a matter of principle not to do so. I consider it cheating to neither include the meal in the price, nor to signal its omission in big bold letters where you can’t fail to see it when you book. In fact, although their advertisement mentions that they do provide a cooked breakfast, I have yet to find where it says that it is not included… Which all meant that we got a very early start on the day as we did not have to hang around waiting for service. We downed a banana and a coffee apiece, then headed out into the mist instead…and were very glad we had.

We pulled over at the first lay-by to get a picture of the mountains, wreathed in cloud and looking none too promising. I caught the colour as I pulled in and grabbed the camera while we debated whether or not the buzzard would allow us to get out of the car without flying away, seeing as he was right bedside us and watching the idiots in the green tin can. We watched and snapped through open windows then decided to risk it. He let us get out and snap again… then flew off slowly, taking up a perch on the other side of the road.

As we and the bird were all hunting for our breakfast in the Welsh landscape, there was a sense of shared purpose; an understanding of a common quest. It is an entirely different feeling when wild creatures permit you to come so close without fear… far different from the undoubted joy of being able to get closer still to a trained or captive creature. It is as if they are inviting you in to their world… a place of deeper wonders and heightened senses… and it is always both a gift and an honour. So our day began with beauty, joy and excitement.

We took a while to pick out what we could see of the distant mountains, using the identification panel by which we had inadvertently stopped. Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa, was lost behind the veiling mists. Snowdon stands three and a half thousand feet above sea level and means simply ‘snow hill’, but its true name, Yr Wyddfa, means ‘the tumulus’ or ‘the barrow’. Legend has it that a cairn was built over the giant, Rhudda Gawr, after he was defeated by King Arthur. It is a good tale. The giant had defeated two warring armies and had cut off the beards of their kings, Nyniaw and Peibaw, to make himself a cap. Twenty six kings brought their armies against him, but he defeated them all and took their beards as trophies with which to make himself a cloak. He sent a message to Arthur, demanding his beard too, so he could patch a hole in the cloak. Arthur, incensed, sent his refusal and the giant marched against the King intent on victory and the acquisition of another and more prestigious beard. Rhudda Gawr was defeated by the king, who smote him with such a mighty blow that his sword passed straight through the giant’s armour and clove his crown in two. King Arthur ordered that a cairn be raised over the body of the giant that was known as Gwyddfa Rhudda, Rhudda’s Cairn… and centuries later, when the giant’s name was forgotten, Yr Wyddfa.

Pools of pale sunlight were already bathing some of the slopes of the hills. Perhaps, we thought, the mist would dissipate and the clouds lift. It was forecast to be a nice day, for all the moist grisaille with which we were surrounded. We could only wait and see, accepting the moment and the gifts that it brought; knowing too that the magical watercolour landscape before us was changing, minute by minute with the dance of light and shade. Once the sun broke through it would be a place of brighter hues and harder edges…and had we stayed from breakfast, we would never have seen this transient beauty or the wings of the morning.

We were not meeting our companions until ten o’clock when, we were told, our first stop of the day would open. We found the place by accident as we followed our noses, noting that in fact, it opened earlier than that. Still, we were after food and, early as it was, somewhere had to be open… We continued along the main road, certain of success, until we realised that anything that would be doing food, wasn’t yet. Not that we minded too much. Turning away from the main road, we headed up to Ffestiniog through some glorious countryside, trying to ignore the ugly scarring of the quarries and mines that have given the area its difficult, underpaid and often dangerous livelihood for so long. There seemed such a stark contrast though, between the modern and the ancient mines, where we had looked in wonder at how man can work with Nature to harvest her wealth. Efficiency and productivity have long since erased respect for the earth from those who seek only profit, but as many of my own family were once miners, I know that the men who work the stones and tunnels still have a healthy respect for the earth.

Abandoning our search for sustenance in the hills and villages, we crossed the estuary and headed towards the town’s most prominent landmark, Harlech Castle. We would be seeing it again later… but for now, our quest had at last been successful. Between biscuits and chocolate bars, the little shop beneath the Norman walls had provided for our immediate needs. We turned the car around, heading back towards our ten o’clock rendezvous. We would be early…very early… but that was okay. Maybe we would be able to grab a coffee in Portmeirion…

The Face of a Queen by Alethea Kehas

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Legends tell of a queen of great beauty. Guinevere, thought by some to be part mortal, part Fae, a queen who seduced hearts and intoxicated the eyes. Her beauty drew admiration to be sure, of this there appears to be no doubt, but was there more beneath the surface? A greater passion born of the soul that sparks light. For legends also tell of a queen of not just man, but of the land. There is talk of a presence that is of the goddess and a marriage to the landscape, as though her fertile body nurtured the life of not just sons, but a country.  In this, she is much more than a mere woman, a queen of unsurpassed beauty that is more that just what one perceives on the surface.

In some ways it seemed perfect that I had been given this role, not because I consider myself a great beauty, as you will see, but because of my love for the land and for my connection to the fairy realm. I am a romantic at heart, and the idea of playing the role of this legendary queen brought back childhood fantasies, but it also brought back fears, also deeply rooted in childhood.

I was relieved, I confess, to see how few lines I would have to speak, daunted by the thespians I knew, by reputation only, who would be glorious in their given roles. Of course, as these rituals are meant to, I was thrown out of my comfort-zone when I was given, after the first act was completed, a role with no previously seen script. Suddenly I was thrown, literally and figuratively into the hunt. I was not only a desirable queen, but a the prey of man in animal form. I was Guinevere and also the boar…

Read the rest of Alethea’s article at The Face of  a Queen

Finding Gawain – Act Two

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Finding Gawain – Act Two 

Gawain staggers from the castle of Camelot, the memory of the Green Knight’s bloody axe vivid in his mind as though the mere dropping of it onto the temple floor carried no significance, and its dark presence remains with him, still.

Across the land he strides, stumbling and falling in the darkness, mouthing unintelligible noises as the full horror of what has happened fills his head. The path ahead gets ever darker, blocking out even the meagre light of the moon, veiled behind silver clouds, with just the odd moment of brightness.

His failing limbs work for hope, but in the heart that propelled the flesh to defend his King, there is only despair. He falls, once more, and stays on the ground, too tired to rise. He pushes himself as far as his hands and knees and is startled when three silvery animals run past him, pointing the way into the depths of the forest. They are a Stag, a Boar and a Fox. Each one, passing his kneeling form, glares at him with merciless eyes.

He does not know how long he has been asleep, beside that silvery stream, lying on rocks covered in dark green moss. But the depths of the forest have taken him into the fabric of their heart. Overhead, the silver moon breaks through the cloudy sky and the glade in which he lies comes alive.

His body is now clothed in a second skin of pure white. Around that and keeping out the bitter cold is a thick white cloak, ornamented at hood and neck by layers of warm cloth whose colours are those of the moss and the dark bark of the ancient trees. An inner voice tells him to stand and bear witness to what is needed. He gazes up at the moon, which seems to be growing in size each second. The moon tells him that, through his choice in defending Arthur, he has become the Guardian of the Hart, the mysterious and sacred male white deer that only few ever see, but which is hunted, mercilessly, for its magical properties. The moon tells him that the ways of man and the ways of the forest are at a crossroads and must be resolved.

Beneath his cloak, his arms wrap around the new lithe body, and he discovers that he bears a short but deadly sword. He slides it from his scabbard and holds it up to the moon. The light in the sky brightens and a silver ray comes down from the orb and touches the end of the sword’s metal, reflecting into the staring eyes of the new Guardian in nine rays of expectation.

“Defend the Hart,” says the voice. “Be true…”

And then he sleeps again, as the voice instructs him. And in that deeper sleep there are no more dreams, as the healing forces of the forest fill his heart and swell his lungs, charging his body with green power…

Gawain's enchanted forest

The dawn is golden, and fills his eyes with a new vision: that of the hidden pathways around him in the Enchanted Forest. The Guardian of the Hart rises, full of power and purpose, one of them, now, and listens to the sounds from below; sounds of men hunting in the forest. He smiles, knowing his purpose and his power.

As the moon promised, the magic of the forest separates one of the hunters from the rest. Unseen, the bright inner winds push and pull him until he stands in a place not known by man. There he looks around, confused, staring at the mighty oak, whose very form has been evolved to home the magical body of the Guardian of the Hart.

For a while, the Guardian enjoys the unease of the hunter, listening to the frantic sounds of the lost man. Intent on playing out the forest’s retribution on this interloper, he steps from within the ancient oak and raises his bowed head.

Both figures are startled…

There are two Gawains in the clearing. The one newly arrived is the form of a Gawain who spent a comfortable night in the castle, brooding on his fate, but not deeply troubled by his distant destiny. The other is that which has become the Guardian, lovingly forged by the Enchanted Forest for its purposes. Now more than human… Now more than hunter…

The insurgent Gawain spies the white Guardian and, knowing that there stands before him an otherwordly figure, charges through the undergrowth towards him. But, as he does this, the white Guardian moves in a different way, along the inner paths of the forest, unreachable by the mortal pursuer. Hunter Gawain blunders on, before looking up again and realising that the Guardian is moving along a path he cannot see. Snarling his frustration, he stops and moves in a great circle to try to intersect his foe. The Guardian smiles, as does the forest, as Gawain the hunter is drawn deeper into their labyrinth.

For eight passes, the white Guardian leads his prey around, until, with a knowledge not born of logic, he steps deliberately off the inner pathways and reveals a place of intersection that the hunter can attain.

The Hunter Gawain sees his chance and charges on his prey, who has assumed a stance of inner meditation, the great white cloak wrapped around his body, his head bowed as in prayer. In seconds the pursuer has gained the distance and seizes the neck of the cloak, tearing it from the coiled body of the Guardian.

In slow motion, the Guardian raises his half-lidded eyes and smiles into the face of the man who now knows the trap set for him; knows from the white knight’s revealed body and belted sword that his actions in tearing off the cloak have laid him open to the prepared attack. In horror he watches as the silver sword is drawn, faster than he can even think, and placed at his throat.

“Shall we kill you?” toys the magical forest, through the lips of their Guardian of the Hart. “Perhaps we will play with you some more, before death, for such would be fitting fate for one who takes on the debt of those who have long plagued these inner pathways of the Green Life…”

Hunter Gawain stands mute, his skin taut on the blade, one move away from a grisly death on that sharp edge, nodding assent with his eyes. After all, he is already doomed…perhaps this strange encounter can, in some way, exchange his deadly destiny, a year hence, for another…

“A riddle then,” smiles the Guardian of the Hart, “Yes?”

As much as the point of the deadly blade will allow, Hunter Gawain nods his assent. The blade is withdrawn. The Guardian stoops to gather up his fallen cloak, then turns to step back into the body of the sacred oak which awaits his return to the Green Life. As his foot enters the bark and passes into the wood, he turns, displaying a deadly smile.

“What is it that woman most desires?” he asks, laughing and disappearing into the mighty trunk.

He leaves behind a trembling and bewildered human, who, as he stumbles out of the forest to rejoin his worried fellow Knights, clings to the thin hope that a way to salvation may have been found… By the time he reaches their reassuring company, he has already forgotten all but the riddle that may save his life…

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The Silent Eye uses a combination of magical ritual and psycho-drama to illustrate its teachings on the journey to the Soul.

For more details click here.

Details of next year’s workshop (April 2017), The Feathered Seer, can be found on our website events page. Everyone is welcome, all you need to bring is your self…

 

Leaf and Flame: Getting started

imbolc fox weekend 0071A pre-panic lunch at the Queen Anne is traditional. By this point in the proceedings, however,  some stomachs are not at all cooperative, only being willing to be fed out of necessity. Food is not really the focus, though….it is at the Queen Anne that the team gather and early arrivals know where to find us. Once we are in the Nightingale Centre, we are less easy to pin down, but can usually be identified as the set of frazzled whirlwinds… the storm before the calm.

It is in the low-beamed inn that the first hugs of the day are exchanged as old friends arrive, fortify themselves and roll up their sleeves to help us set up the place of working for the ritual drama. Our temple is a simple place, a circular mat with the School’s version of the enneagram forms a central space around which the Companions will work. In the East, a symbolic altar marks the focus of our sacred intent and it is by this that the room becomes, through presence, a sacred space. It is the hearts of the people who work there, not the trappings, that sanctifies any Temple of the Mysteries.

Having said that, the details do help to create the right atmosphere… a kind of window dressing for the soul. The space is arranged and dressed with small touches to suggest a mood, a time or an era… and we had a few other things lined up to encourage that ‘willing suspension of disbelief ‘ that brings a ritual drama to life.

The team set to work and had the Temple readied and the room for the welcome arranged… then it was time to play with the props and effects we hoped would work.  Having a giant beheaded is no easy feat without proper lighting, special effects and/or CGI. Especially when, according to the ancient tale, that giant then has to saunter back through the Court of King Arthur headless and mocking…

We did have a few ideas though… it remained to see if they would work.

The afternoon sped by. The once-tidy bedroom was a bombsite.  Swords, bow and axe bristled from piles of silk and velvet, staffs leaned against the wall and the fabled ‘instruments of torture’ littered the chest of drawers. There was just time for a quick gulp of coffee… then it was time to welcome the Companions who had gathered from so far away. Old friends, new faces… no-one a stranger for long… and smiles bright enough to melt any heart. A brief tour of the working space… then time to change. Jeans and sweaters were replaced by the knightly robes and shimmering gowns of Camelot… and the clock turned back to an earlier time in the halls of Arthur and Guinevere…

The story was about to begin.

 

Wanted…

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I need a man.

Well, actually, I could do with a couple… but let’s not be greedy.

What I really need is a knight…with or without the shining armour. I can manage either way. Noble, courteous, good sense of humour, handy with a can opener… you know the type.

What do I have to offer such a paragon?

I can promise high adventure, magic and mystery, a knightly quest… the odd giant…and a damsel in dire need of his services. Or you can bring your own, if you prefer.

Tempted?

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Applicants need only avail themselves of the booking form for Leaf and Flame: The Foliate Man.

The Silent Eye’s annual workshop is set, this year, at the court of King Arthur, in the Derbyshire village of Great Hucklow. This residential weekend will work with some of the best loved stories of Arthurian myth, to uncover their inner meaning.

Come and join us for the weekend of 22-24 April, 2016.

Accommodation is provided full board at the Nightingale Centre with inclusive prices for the weekend from £220 – £245 per person.

Come and join us for the weekend and discover why spirituality should be fun.

Journeying

Photograph by Matt Baldwin-Ives
Photograph by Matt Baldwin-Ives

You have to start somewhere. Sometimes you don’t even know where you are going, only that there is a road that is calling your name. You may have no idea where it will lead, nor what the journey may entail, but its pull is insistent and nags at your feet until you make a start. It is not an easy choice to make, that decision to set out into the unknown. It may mean letting go of much that you have held dear, yet sometimes, you just know somehow that it is the right thing to do… and sometimes it is a leap of faith taken in trust.

Four years ago, we started with a small workshop to bring the Silent Eye into the world. It had been brewing for some time… for Steve, it had been years. Stuart was already working with him. For me, it was a new adventure that I embraced after much soul searching. It was a big step and I needed to be sure… as sure as you can ever be when you step into the unknown… that I was going where I had to be. Becoming part of the foundations of a new School meant that doors would close behind us, leaving us little choice but to move forward with the tide. While it was with a sense of immense excitement that we set out on the journey, there was sadness too. We knew that some we loved would not understand the decision to ‘leave home’ and build something new. But sometimes the tide is so strong that it becomes an imperative… and its waves caught our feet and carried us forward.

That April saw the first of our annual workshops. We had to start that somewhere too… and in a daring move, considering my distinct lack of talent in that area, Steve decided that, as we were to use the story of a pair of Troubadours as the basis for the ritual weekend, he and I should start the workshop singing. Now I may have perfect pitch in my head, but it never made it as far as my vocal cords. Grown men have been known to cringe… though nowhere near as much as I. Yet, as he began to play, the tide caught us again and the song came out in tune… and in harmony.

Photograph by Matt Baldwin-Ives
Photograph by Matt Baldwin-Ives

We were carried through that weekend, surrounded by old friends and new. People had come from across the planet to share that moment as we dipped our toes in the waters, not knowing where they would take us. We worked, we laughed, people danced, talked and made music, made art and shared the moment. The whole weekend went by in a blur of emotion and activity… and in my mind it shone like a newly lit beacon.

Others saw the light of that flame and, over the new few years, would attend the workshops and events, or join the Silent Eye… and it now feels as though we have a global family, with hands stretched out in friendship across the world.

This year the workshop in April will take us back to Arthurian Britain, with a tapestry woven of myth and legend to explore, where Knights and their Ladies undertake a quest, seeking the answer to an eternal mystery. Once again, our companions will travel from as far afield as Europe and America to join us… and I cannot express how amazing that feels except to further abuse the word ‘awesome’. Yet it is no abuse, as there is a true sense of awe in knowing that what we do has reached hearts and minds around the entire world.

You have to start somewhere. A journey is begun with the first tentative step, but until you take it you are going nowhere. Until you take it, you have no idea where the road might lead… all you can do is trust your feet to the road… or give yourself to the wave that laps around your ankles and see where the current may carry you. Unknown adventures are waiting on the horizon… but only those who start the journey will find them and the journey will be different… a unique quest for all who undertake it. I can only speak for myself, knowing that in ‘leaving home’, I found myself going Home.

Photograph by Matt Baldwin-Ives
Photograph by Matt Baldwin-Ives