Step by step…

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The path winds around the embankment of an ancient hillfort… a fairy fort, they are sometimes called, gateways to the Otherworld of myth and legend. There is silence save for the rustle of leaves, the ever present birdsong and the high keen of a red kite overhead. The sounds of the modern world do not intrude here.

The ground is soft beneath my feet, pliant and yielding with a thick carpet of last year’s leaves as I walk through the green tunnel that feels like a track left by some great serpent. The old ones knew of the great beasts; they saw the dragons that slept in the curve of the landscape and they carved their coils into their sacred hills. Hills such as this.

There is a liminal feeling to this place, a ring of earth high above the valley, guarding still the sacred space within, a gold topped tower now at its heart; a younger expression of an ancient power half glimpsed through symbols.

Through the green a portal of light… a window perhaps that shows a glimpse of that Otherworld, a door to another dimension? What will I see if I walk into that light… or will it blind the eyes, leaving other senses to find a way and a meaning? And what is that world… which is the reality, here or there… and can I pass through?

The landscape itself seems to mirror my mood with its path that moves in circles until I see the point at which I can break the endless round and move to a different level. A path that circles a sacred space within, older than years, but as old as being.

The walls of earth enclose, wrapping me in a silent isolation from a greater reality I cannot see with eyes, yet I know it is there, I feel its presence. The landscape beyond is veiled from view by trees that seem to be the ribcage of a serpent through whose belly I must pass, as in the myths of the old ones, day after day, perpetually swallowed and excreted until I can reach that place where the light comes in, that chink in the scales that leads to a place beyond.

And I can find it, that shaft of light. But only if I walk this path, and only from the dimness of the shadows of this place could I see the brightness of where I must be. If I walked within that light, could I see it? Would I recognise it? Could it lead me so clearly onward? A guiding beam must be brighter than the shadows it chases and the shade serves to make visible its path of light.

I walk once more around the wooded hillfort, marvelling at the beauty of this liminal place. A simple walk has become meditation, awe and prayer. Words fail as understanding opens. Words no longer carry meaning. To be here and now allows a glimpse across the threshold of worlds… my own and a greater, the worlds of legend and dream, of faith and aspiration… of Knowing and Being. A glimpse from shadow into the light and the reassurance that even in the deepest shade, because of that deepest shade, there is a bright path waiting to be found to take the traveller’s feet beyond the circled coils.

Shaping the world

fox 001

Back in the earliest days when mankind had his beginnings, it was the land and our response to it that had shaped us. It has been suggested that it was the long grass that caused us first to stand on two legs… a need to spot potential predators at a distance. As animals our physical defences are minimal. It is our intellect, adaptability and ability to use what comes to hand to serve our needs that allowed us to thrive. It was the land, the environment and climate that offered the raw materials to the responsive hunter, moving with the game and the seasons and which later planted the first seeds of agriculture from which our modern societies have sprung.

We are not very old as a species. It is thought that the earliest homo sapiens dates back a mere 200,000 years. On a planet that is 4.6 billion years old and where cellular life has existed for most of that time, that is a drop in the ocean. Yet from the beginning we have shaped the world to suit our needs, carving our presence on the landscape, altering the ecology with our predation and finally building upon it on a massive scale. No other species has impacted upon the life of the planet as drastically and visibly as we.

Yet on the whole we are still children, building sandcastles on the shore of time; things we see as permanent and solid that will, inevitably, be washed away when the tides change. Civilisations have sprung up, flourished and faded, leaving arcane structures, mysterious traces we can only strive to interpret and never fully understand for we have, inevitably, lost the context of their creation. Even within our own short history we have seen this happen time and again and no doubt it will continue. Yet these mysterious histories have influenced our own; the foundations of an ancient realm may be all we think remains, yet much of what they knew will have been carried outward, casting ripples on the pool of human understanding and knowledge. Our present is built upon their past.

There is a similar process in our own lives where the fragile castles we build around ourselves as a personality, reacting to the landscape of family, society and events is shaped by and shapes the way we see ourselves and the way we project our image into the world. Events experienced through the eyes and mind of the child may leave an arcane trace, a mysterious ruin in the tangled undergrowth of being that we stumble across in wonder, trepidation or confusion. It is upon these very places that we have built the person we see in the mirror and their influence contributes to the shaping of who we become.

Yet beneath the ruined castle or lost pyramid there is a constant. The foundations of all are rooted firmly in the earth. They are shaped from the land and to the land they will eventually return, gently gathered by the creeping tendrils of plants and washed away by rain, becoming once more a part of the landscape rather than apart from it.

There is an analogy there too for those who believe in the soul, that essence of self that is beyond the realm of the of the outer world and it is from this we spring, our foundations rooted within its light and it is to this we return when the edifice of the incarnate personality is washed away.

Does it shape us as the land shaped our forefathers, or do we shape it? Both I think… within it we touch the source of being, and draw its essence into our lives; yet our living teaches and enriches and the sum of experience shapes the next ripple we cast upon the waters of existence.

Looking out across the winter fields of my home today, watching the cloud shadows race across a gilded landscape I wondered how many of our ancestors had sat thus, watching the land and pondering the nature of the soul, seeing in the earth they held sacred an echo of their own inner light.

Being Beyond Seeing…

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One of the ‘hardy perennials’ on many of our workshops is the thorny problem of intent.

Thorny because much of what we now see may not have been originally intended by the erstwhile perpetrator or perpetrators, yet some of what remains most definitely was!

On our recent sojourn around Cornwall, having been cruelly divested of our guide book, we still managed to find one particular unsought spot ‘blind’, as it were, and this is pretty much the task we had now set our Companions…

The telluric current we were ‘following’ passed through the remains of Penrith Castle and on through the site of the Old Church.

The legends that attach themselves to these sites in many cases assume the outward appearance of unbelievable ‘gibberish’ and most certainly do not follow the reasonably delineated form of history, official or otherwise…

And yet, the wry smile which they inievitably engender, the moments reflection which they sometimes inspire, if held onto, and wondered about, and returned to, and nurtured, may well turn into a personal revelation carrying more truth than any spuriously contrived history.

Did Arthur’s Knights ever fight Dragons was the unspoken question gnawing away at the fringes of consciousness? There were none which immediately sprang to mind. And if not, then why not? Given their raison d’etre it would, at first sight, be an obvious way for them to spend their time.

The telluric current we were ‘following’ specifically passed through the body of Penrith Parish Church and was marked on either side by a Sun Dial and a conglomeration of stones which now goes by the moniker of the Giant’s Grave.

The plinth on which the Sun Dial now stands is undeniably late, but has it recently replaced a much earlier one? The conglomeration of stones are much, much, earlier but how long have they been associated with a Giant?

Perhaps, at least as long as the story of Yvain and his friendly lion…

*

A Wooded-Isle…

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Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior immediately set out for the sea-shore.

There, moored at the mouth of a natural cave in the cliffs, bobbed a coracle.

They both clambered aboard…

*

…The King of Castle-Hill took the magic halter to the cell of the tower on his wooded isle and presented it as a gift to appease his imprisoned daughter.

“Of what use to me is a magic halter,” sobbed the princess, “if all my days are to be spent cooped up here seeing none but my hand-maids.”

“With the halter comes a wondrous cow, my child, its inexhaustible supply of milk will sustain you,” soothed the king, “and I shall bring your food everyday and relate the comings and goings of the kingdom. Far better a sequestered life than one without a father.”

As the King of Castle-Hill left the tower to attend to his duties, the magic halter cascaded against the back of the cell door…

*

Brother-Warrior and Brother-Wizard landed at the wooded isle in their coracle.

“The magic halter is with the king’s daughter,” said Brother-Wizard.”

“And where is the king’s daughter?” said Brother-Warrior.

“The king’s daughter, is in a tower in the centre of the wood which is surrounded by nine home-steads,” said Brother-Wizard, “you must enter the tower and sleep with her.”

“And what’s in the nine home-steads?”said Brother-Warrior.

“You’ll see,” said Brother-Wizard. He gave his brother a Cloak-of-Darkness and put a spell on his hands so that whatever door he came to would open for him.

“Wish me luck, brother,” said the warrior, turning to leave.

“One more thing,” said the wizard, “be sure to leave the magic halter with the princess, we will return for it another day.”

“I thought…” began Brother-Warrior but a withering look from the wizard stayed that thought and sent him swiftly on his way into the wood.

*

Magic and Mystery…

Each year, the Silent Eye holds several events, open to all, where you can come along and meet us, find out what we do and how we work. Our annual Derbyshire workshop is a residential weekend, in which we use the ancient technique of sacred drama as a means to explore spiritual concepts that are relevant to our daily lives in this modern world.

Throughout the year, we also run three informal workshops, visiting historic, ancient and sacred sites in some of the most beautiful corners of the British landscape. The land itself, and the marks mankind has written upon it, can teach us a great deal about who we are and how we can more fully embrace our own chapter in the greater human story.

We have recently announced new events for 2019 and places can now be reserved for all our workshops. The weekends are informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment. Full details, costs and booking forms are available on our Events page.

castlerigg

Full Circle? – Finding the way home…
Penrith, Cumbria, Friday 7th – Sunday 9th December, 2018

Home. It is an evocative word. The images it conjures are different for each of us, yet few other words touch heart and mind in quite the same way. Birth and death, laughter and love, longing, fear and aspiration… the cycle of human life plays out within its walls.

For many, there is another ‘home’ beyond the physical confines of this world. That too may seem different for each of us and the path it its threshold is shaped by dreams. Few places illustrate this as clearly as Castlerigg, an ancient stone circle ringed by mountains and one of the most spectacular sites in the country.

The people who have walked this world before us have left traces of their lives and belief, written in stone upon the landscape. From church to stone circle, castle to cavern, finding the way home has always been intimately linked with the land. Join us in a winter landscape to explore these hidden pathways of mind and heart.


Lord of the Deep

The Silent Eye Annual Workshop
Great Hucklow, Derbyshire. Fri 26- Sun 28 April, 2019

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

A workshop based upon the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…


The Silent Unicorn
A joint magical workshop between Lodge Unicorn na h’Alba and The Silent Eye.
Grantown-on Spey, Northern Cairngorms. 14-16th June 2019

Join us in the northern Cairngorms where, from mountain to coast, we will explore the magic of Macbeth Country in a triangle from Cawdor Castle to Findhorn Beach, down to Glenlivet. Through the Archetypes of Lord and Lady Macbeth, the Witches, King Duncan and a Unicorn! We will use the writings of The Scottish Play and other media to discover these characters within us…..


Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear
Derbyshire, Friday 13th – Sunday 15th September 2019

We are all afraid of something. There are the fears of the everyday world, from arachnophobia to a fear of the dark, and the deeper fears of the personality, that play upon the mind and heart.

What purpose might such fears serve, beyond protecting us from potentially harmful situations? How have our ancestors addressed such fears across the centuries? Can we learn from the past a way to see beyond our fears to a future lit by serenity and hope?

Come along and join us for the weekend!

Why Myth? II…

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‘…So, what is the significant act?’
‘All the acts in the story are significant.’
‘What is the story about?’
‘It is about a Dust-Devil.’
‘For the human body there are really only five significant acts: the first is breathing. The second is eating. The third is defecating. The fourth is sleeping and the fifth is… copulating.
At least three of these are represented in the story.
Is there one act more significant than the others for this particular story?’
‘The sex act…’
‘Would it surprise you to know that this was a story told by a father to his pubescent daughter?’
‘It is a cautionary tale?’
‘It is a cautionary tale now but there are signs that this was not always the case.’
‘Those signs are?’
‘The fire-stick at the outset of the tale may not be an original component of the story.’
‘We are not told the nature of the creatures that were eaten at the camp sites.’
‘We are not even told that those creatures were actually eaten.’
‘Only vegetable stuff is eventually traded with the Dust-Devil and there appears to be a lacuna when the young woman looks around the cave house after slashing the neck of the Dust-Devil.’
‘Did she at one time in the telling of this story find the fire-stick there and then?’
‘The nature of the Dust-Devil appears to be equivocal.’
‘Is he killed or not?’

*

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‘And what is a Dust-Devil anyway?’
‘Ninety-percent of the dust in any house, even a cave house, is comprised of skin shed from the body.’
‘Ashes to Ashes…’
‘Throughout the story there is a lot of emphasis on the correspondences between eating and copulating.’
‘The two concepts seem almost interchangeable.’
‘By cooking one makes unpalatable things palatable.’
‘At one time this may have been an ‘origin of cooking’ myth.’
‘For these people, then, cooking may have been ‘invented’ or ‘discovered’ by a female culture hero, or if you prefer a heroine…’
‘…Along with sleeping platforms and paper-bark canoes?’
‘That is also a distinct possibility.’
‘Presumably she wouldn’t have been turned into a rock in that version…’
‘…Presumably not.’
‘Who were these people? Where is the story set?’
‘The tale is set somewhere with a warm climate because of the mosquitoes.’
‘All that walking about with nothing but a digging stick for survival…’
‘It has probably got to be Aboriginal Australia.’
‘And yet there are elements in the story that are echoed in the mythologies of all people.’
‘The ‘held captive in a rock’ motif for example is familiar from the Arthurian Mythos…’
‘Both via the sword in the stone and in Merlin’s ultimate demise and perhaps even in the cave which traditionally holds the Sleeping King and his Knights.’
‘The Dust-Devil is reminiscent of some of the demons which in the Apocryphal Bible stories Lilith, the first Eve, is said to comport with in the desert.’

*

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‘… And how many times in the world’s mythologies does a protagonist cross a body of water in order to secure a boon for their people?’
‘In the folk-tales of these isles people are forever being turned to stone.’
‘How else could we explain all those stone circles plonked bang-smack in the middle of… now-here?’
‘They would have had to have walked there as people and started to dance before they were turned to stone right?’
‘Yeah, right…’
‘But stones or rocks with holes in them do make sounds when the wind blows through them and they could well have provided inspiration for the first musical instruments.’
‘I’d like to include walking and dancing as significant acts of the human body…’
‘…Any more?’
‘Making and playing musical instruments.’
‘That makes nine.’
‘You didn’t answer the question.’
‘What question?’
‘Why Myth?’
‘Because Mythology is ‘My Theology’ and the ‘my’ here does not belong to me nor does it belong to the ego either…’
‘It is not really about the body is it?’
‘What is it about?’
‘It is about the body being a vehicle for spirit.’

*

North-easterly: Legends…

There are many stories associated with the castles of the Northumbrian coastline, some historical, others apocryphal, but it is often buried within the myths and legends that some fragment of truth may be found. Few tales will pique the interest as much as when dragons or the name of King Arthur are mentioned. Stuart has told the story of the Laidly Wyrm of Bamburgh, in which a princess becomes a dragon, and were that the only tale the castle had to tell, it would be enough. But the castle has not always been known by its present name. It was once at the heart of the ancient realm of Bryneich, or Bernicia, and the castle was known as Din Guarie, a name that comes down to us through the Arthurian legends as Dolorous Guard….

The Dream of Lancelot~ Study by Edward Burne-Jones

The Castle of Dolorous Guard was the home of Sir Brian of the Isles, who some call King Bran Hen… Bran the Old… a cruel and evil knight and the sworn enemy of King Arthur. Sir Brian had learned enchantments from the Lady of the Lake and turned them to sate his own vicious pleasures. He took great delight, so the story goes, in imprisoning and torturing both men and women alike.

Many of Arthur’s knights were lost to Sir Brian’s enchantments, for whenever a knight approached the castle, they were faced by a band of ten warriors at each of the two gates and were forced to fight. Many made the attempt, but none succeeded. Even Gawain, one of the greatest knights, was captured and cast into the dungeons with the rest. As each knight was imprisoned and their helmets hung upon the wall as trophies, a mysterious gravestone sprang up outside the castle, bearing their name and they were lost to the world.

Sir Lancelot du Lac, had been raised by the Lady of the Lake and had her favour. He asked Arthur for some quest with which he could prove himself and was sent north to Bamburgh in search of the lost knights, armed with a magical shield.

Lancelot conquered the guardian warriors expelled Sir Brian, who fled south to Pendragon Castle, but the enchantment could not be broken until he had spent forty nights under its roof. Exploring his conquest, Lancelot came upon a large metal slab encrusted with jewels, which bore the inscription:

Only he who conquers La Doloreuse Garde

will be able to lift this slab,

and he will find his name beneath it.

Summoning all his strength, Lancelot raised the slab and found beneath it another inscription:

Here will repose Lancelot of the Lake, the son of King Ban.

Abandoned as a babe by the Lake and left to be found and raised by its Lady, it was only now that Lancelot learned of his royal lineage, and he knew that this would be his final place of rest.

In the castle’s chapel, Lancelot found a door which led deep underground and into a cave. The earth shook, and a deafening noise filled the cave. As he entered, two copper knights armed with huge swords attacked. Lancelot did not falter, defeating the metallic monsters and moving deeper into the cavern. There he found a wailing well, guarded by an axe-wielding monster. Lancelot fought with all his might, breaking his shield upon the creature’s hide. At the end, he throttled it with his bare hands and cast it down into the well.

Catching his breath, he raised his head and saw a beautiful maiden clad in copper and in her hand she held two keys which she offered to the victorious knight. Taking them, he realised that they were the keys to end the enchantment. One unlocked a  copper pillar containing thirty copper pipes that screamed. The other unlocked a casket from which a whirlwind escaped. Then, at last, the castle was free of the evil spell.  The mysterious gravestones and the trophy helmets disappeared, the lost knights were found and released from their prison and Lancelot took the castle for his own.

Lancelot renamed the castle Joyous Guard, filling it with colour and light. Delicate bridges linked the towers upon which were carved fabulous beasts, the dark chambers were ablaze with candles and the rich glow of tapestries and the walls were plastered and gilded so that, catching the rays of the rising sun across the sea, the light of the castle could be seen far across the land.

It is told that many knights and their ladies were his guests, including Arthur and Guinevere, his queen, with whom Lancelot fell in love. His love was returned and the two, loving their king, were broken hearted.

Perhaps it was for this reason that Lancelot allowed the ill-fated Tristan to stay at Joyous Guard with Isolde after the two had fled from her husband, King Mark.

Accompanying Arthur to Camelot, Lancelot’s love for the queen was exposed and Guinevere was condemned to death. Lancelot rescued her from the pyre and carried her to Joyous Guard, but the tragedy unfolded, Arthur laid siege to the castle, inflicting heavy damage, and Lancelot was forced to return to the land of his birth. The castle sank back into gloom, becoming once again the castle of Dolorous Guard.

Yet, the story tells that Lancelot returned. His body was brought back to his castle and laid in a vault. It lays there still, buried by the sands of time and veiled by the mist that rolls in from the sea.