Written in stone

Nine Stones Close
Nine Stones Close

There has been a bit of a preoccupation around here lately with stone. Between the recent and forthcoming workshops we will have visited a fair number of stone circles, standing stones and burial chambers and it might be tempting to think we are simply indulging our curiosity or even wafting around the stones of the past, in denial of the fact that evolution has taken humanity thousands of years away from the time and spiritual climate in which these stones were erected.

There is a temptation also to look at these stones and call them primitive constructions, or crude symbols, yet the planetary and seasonal alignments present at many of these sites, let alone the scale and sheer number of them across the landscape, suggests we need to reassess that misconception. While arguments smoulder about their purpose and significance, their beauty, mystery and the power of standing in their presence is undeniable.


We look upon these enigmatic stones from a position of greater knowledge of the world and indeed, the universe than at any other time in human history, yet we still look at the precision and beauty with which they were built with awe… and wonder if, for all our knowledge, we may have lost something. Did the Old Ones understand the world in a way we have forgotten? There are so many questions that will remain unanswered and any answers we are given will be accepted or denied according to our own predisposition.

Yet there are still things we can learn from looking at these monuments to our own distant past. Not all of those lessons need to be about the stones themselves, even if we simply observe through modern eyes, the stones can act as catalysts for our own progress towards understanding.

I remember a very interesting talk given by Steve some years ago, based on the work of Maurice Nicoll, in which he looked at some elements of the Gospels from a symbolic, rather than a literal viewpoint. He suggested that certain words refer not to physical objects, but to more abstract concepts. Three of the words he looked at were wine, water and stone. I can’t recall the exact terms he used, but roughly, wine symbolised spiritual truth, water living truth and stone the rigidity of dogma. Within the context of the Gospels stories, those terms work to shed an extra level of illumination on the parables. Such apparently coded symbols may have been common knowledge in an earlier era, much as the symbolism of the medieval wall paintings that look so strange to our eyes yet conveyed a clear message, in their day, even to the unlettered peasantry. Like any code of symbols, though, just because it works within one era and arena, it does not necessarily follow that the same meaning would be applied across all others.


Of the three words that Steve examined, his symbolic definition of stone is closest to our general use of the term. We speak of things being ‘written in stone’… like the Ten Commandments that were inscribed on the tablets… and therefore both unchanging and unchangeable. It is for this reason that it is so apt for describing the decline of living truth into mere dogma. Yet, I wonder if even the common definition of ‘written in stone’ should be set in stone?

Rock is part of the very fabric of our planet. You could say that it was formed from cosmic energies operating in earth. The elements that existed before the formation of rocks were gradually solidified to form the basis of our lands. Man recognises stone as a symbol of solidity and permanency; even today, we use it for our monuments because of its longevity and durability. In a more abstract sense, because of these same qualities, it represents truth and it is true that the truth as we see it, when it is set in stone and not allowed to grow can indeed become dogmatic.

When our ancestors built their monuments they began by using wood, a material in plentiful supply and relatively easy to work. Traces of vast monuments, such as Woodhenge and Seahenge, still remain. Yet timber circles were not enough. Our ancestors too chose to build their monuments… and in Britain that means the circles, the monoliths, cairns and chambers… in stone. The organisation and work involved with the simple tools we are told they had available at the time is staggering. You cannot imagine that they would have cut, shaped and carried up to eighty stones weighing up to four tons each, over the 150 miles from Wales to Stonehenge, for instance, unless they saw some great virtue in doing so.

Long Meg

It can have been no arbitrary decision. Perhaps it was something to do with the Prescelli hills where the stones were formed, perhaps something to do with the qualities of the stone itself. We may never know. Either way, it was an incredible undertaking. The precision of the stones at Stonehenge, both their crafting and their placement, is well documented and many books have been written exploring the astronomical alignments built into the circle. It can only have been conceived with some kind of sacred purpose in mind, especially considering the labour it took, the manpower and the time, in order to raise the monument and the vast, sacred landscape in which it stands. Stonehenge may be the best known and visually the most impressive, yet there are over a thousand stone circles in Britain.

You can imagine the Old Ones lifting the stone with reverence from the earth, shaping it both to their needs and to its place in the landscape. You can see them placing it with care to exemplify and illustrate a living truth which made sense of their world, raising their beliefs to be written in the permanent language of stone.


Yet stone is continually open to change. It is constantly being eroded and reshaped by the weather, even by the touch of human hands. It is destroyed by progress, cleared away, moved, re-used to suit the needs of later generations.  Its meaning, both as a symbol and as an exemplar of our ancestors’ beliefs, may be lost. Yet, the original message… the essence of what was ‘written in stone’… although invisible to later eyes, still remains encapsulated in the living stone they raised.

We will continue to build our monuments in stone to the truth that we see and their meaning too will one day be lost in the mists of time. Unlike our ancestors, we record our world… with new technologies that will also become obsolete. Five thousand years from now, there may be some knowledge left of the meaning and purpose of what remains of what we now build, but the true import, the understanding of the emotional, social, religious and political context, will have been lost. Stone is not a permanency, it just has a longer, slower life than we mere humans. It is in a constant state of change, just like the truth it symbolises. Even dogma will have its day and either self-destruct or slowly fade, replaced in the heart of Man with a new paradigm. But behind the truth and the reality we know and profess, there is a greater Truth, eternal and immutable. We may not be able to see it, but somewhere beyond our differences and arguments, beyond our ever-changing beliefs, doubts and systems, we know it is there. It is in this greater Truth that understanding grows and sometimes we may be able to catch a glimpse of it, written in the very stones of this little planet we call home.


Get thee behind me, Satan . . .

Fragment of Gospel John
Fragment of Gospel of John (Wikipedia)

We are in the final stages of preparing for our last talk of the year at Glastonbury, working with the Glastonbury Reception Centre, who have been our hosts for the full six talks which have run, bi-monthly in that lovely Somerset town. Thursday will see us, once again, returned to a winter landscape, allowing a wonderful contemplation of the full year which has just passed.

This pre-Christmas talk is entitled, “The Secret Language of Esoteric Christianity” and examines the very deep interpretation of the Gospels put forward by Maurice Nicoll, who studied with both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and was asked by both to prepare a detailed interpretation of these sacred works from the perspective of the thinking of the Fourth Way, as Gurdjieff’s teachings became known after his death. During his life Gurdjieff never compared ‘the System’, as he called it, to Esoteric Christianity, but close to his death, he said that the two were, in fact, very close in method.

It took Nicoll the last ten years of his life to prepare the two volumes – ‘The New Man’ and ‘The Mark’. They provide a very radical view of Christ’s mission, and one that can be uncomfortable to read; as it challenges the somewhat sanitised and moralistic nature of our relationship with this received wisdom in its conventional form.

Such sayings as “The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” (Luke 12:53) should make us think very deeply about what might be hidden in such very specific wording . . .

On Thursday, we will be considering three of the parables and using them to uncover a language of meaning that is consistent across each. There are so many revelations as one considers each tale in the light of this deeper and profound approach. One of the parables we will not have time to cover is the narrative (quoted here from Matthew XVI 24-25) where Jesus says to Peter, his disciple “Get thee behind me Satan, thou art a stumbling block for me: for thou mindest not the things of God but the things of men”.  Now, in the context of a modern interpretation, where the word Satan is equated with the Devil,  this is an astonishing thing to say to anyone, let alone a close disciple.

The build-up to this is Peter’s insistence that Jesus is surely not going to die as others do. Nicoll proposes that the word Satan has a different context and really means mixing up the levels of meaning. It is accepted that the parables were capable of being read on at least two levels – the literal and something higher. Many of them, such as the the Pool at Bethesda, make no sense at all in the literal, and require much deeper probing if we are to tease out a profound and mystical meaning. We will be considering this story on Thursday. For now, and by way of the revelations that such probing can produce, let us consider the background to Jesus’ apparent attack on his friend.

Jesus goes on to say, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it”.

In the original texts, the word used here for ‘life’ was actually ‘soul’ and, strangely, if you ask people to quote the verse, they often use the word ‘soul’ in place of ‘life’.  Presumably, the church, having immortalised our ‘souls’ by placing them out of reach of all but priests, found it difficult to maintain the analogy with such contents of the actual Gospels.

As we are, according to the story, dealing with men who originated as humble fishermen, we have to question how Jesus taught them. We know nothing of the inner work he carried out with the disciples, but we can infer much from the implied dual meanings of the words of the Gospels.  The concept of levels of meaning was dear to the hearts of Gurdjieff and his followers, and not just from a neo-Christian perspective. He taught that it was vital to separate things so that they could be compared on their own levels – and to mix these risked enormous confusion.

One such example from the Gospels is the use of the word ‘Pharisee’ – apparently Jesus’ favourite targets. He was certainly direct in what he said, but did he really pick on a religious group so singly and savagely?  Or perhaps he meant the Pharisee in each of us – the one who made visible worship to show to others how much he/she was worthy of their admiration; and how much they adhered to the letter and the law of their worship? If this were the case, then what a powerful metaphor it created in a single word . . . of such impeccable and higher logic are great and secret languages woven.

Returning to our theme of laying down one’s ‘life’ or ‘soul’. If Jesus was seeking a way to convey the ‘me-ness’ of a person, then the word ‘life’ might not be specific enough. Life is more easily equated with the difference between a living and a dead thing. The animation is Life, mysterious and difficult to define though it may be. The interior life of a person is the garden of study for all philosophical systems, and it is reasonable to surmise that the word ‘soul’ was used to describe this. In our modern world, the birth of psychology has seen this notion replaced by the term psyche, but the meaning is very similar except that, from Greek times on, great scholars viewed the soul as containing all the interior experience of a person, including what we now call the spiritual, rather than just that belonging to the physical.

If we re-examine the notion of laying down a life in this context the quotation from the Gospel of John becomes:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his soul for his friends.”

Here we have a very different metaphor; that a ‘man’ would die, not to his organic life, but to the current level of his interior state – something that few psychologists would dare approach. And yet, this teacher of fishermen, two thousand years ago, said it plainly. In laying down his ‘soul’ in this way, he approached the kind of conscious love that mystics attribute as the supreme teaching of all avatars who come into Life to teach in this way.

Could the phrase of Jesus: “Get thee behind me . . .” not indicate a simple layering from front to back, of the interior higher state having precedence?

In this context, Jesus goes on to speak of the difference between servants and friends. Servants are those who obey because of authority and without understanding. Friends are people close to us, perhaps Companions of the Way, for whom we are willing to lay down our present state of ‘me-ness’, sacrificing and risking all, in the centurion-like faith that such a ‘death’ of state renders us a vessel for inner re-birth. The centurion most certainly made a friend of his servant, thus transferring him between levels of his interior life.

In our talk on Thursday, we will approach more of this secret language and open it to discussion and examples from all our lives. It will be a rich and rewarding forum.


The Seeds of Heaven

Wharf Sunset level

A month from now, on the 4th December, the Silent Eye will be giving its last talk of our year in Glastonbury. It has been both a wonderful and a challenging year, and we have learned as much about ourselves as we have about the culture and interests of Glastonbury.

For the December 4th talk, we have chosen to close our year with the subject of Esoteric Christianity. We are using the works of Maurice Nicoll; particularly The New Man, first published in 1950, to illustrate a dramatic perspective on the deeper meanings of the Gospels. This talk will focus on the secret language and metaphors used by those who documented the life of Christ.

Nicoll died in 1953, three years after the publication of The New Man. His was a long and dedicated life, during which he left behind a lucrative Harley Street psychiatry practice to work with G. I. Gurdjeiff at the famous Institute for the Harmonious Development of Mankind, which operated in an old priory, just outside Paris. When Gurdjieff closed the Institute, in 1923, Nicoll returned to England to work, once again, with P. D. Ouspensky, who he had known prior to meeting Gurdjeiff. Nicoll was tasked by Ouspensky to use what became the last decade of his life to document the ‘secret language’ of the Gospels.

Nicoll’s work, published in two books, The New Man and The Mark, preceded the use of typical 1960s and 70s ‘sensational’ headlines, such as Eric von Daniken’s “Was God an Astronaut”. Although Nicoll’s work was entirely revolutionary in its implications, his was a much quieter technique, one that used his psychologist’s mind to deconstruct the writing in the Gospels to uncover a consistent and hidden set of metaphors used within them.

When the New Man was published, in 1950, he gave it the modest subtitle “AN INTERPRETATION OF SOME PARABLES AND MIRACLES OF CHRIST”.

One example of Nicoll’s work is his conclusion that the Gospels use three different words for Truth.

Truth is at the centre of our search for meaning. All serious students of the spiritual are faced with this quest at some time in their lives. Often, our lives are marked by a long climb to some degree of comfort and material success; but ‘getting there’ can leave us feeling that something significant is missing.

We can have simple truths, such as the fact that it’s now a certain time of day, according to GMT. This is relative only in the sense that it relies on a shared convention. Such a simple ‘truth’ is an everyday part of our outer consciousness. It’s really just a fact. Facts are useful, but they don’t contribute much to our consciousness of higher things, in the way that, say, understanding does.

Understanding is something higher because it knits facts together into a kind of pattern – and that pattern lets us see something bigger – some sense of an underlying working that has larger implications. This was always there, but hidden from us until we had the ability to see (and feel) the whole. Facts are rigid things (stone); understanding is fluid, it can flow round a problem and yet retain its coherency, its spirit, helping us find new ways that actually extend our breadth of that understanding.

I can write down a set of Health and Safety rules for display in my office. These will make perfect sense and yet they are not the ‘spirit’ of safety. Such a thing would require a commitment to it, and an adaptability to probe what might be dangerous in new and evolving situations. This level of understanding could never be written down as a list.

Facts are a poor substitute for understanding; and yet they need to be written down because understanding cannot be transmitted. We can receive facts from others – the whole of education is based on this – but unless that set of facts takes root, like a seed in good soil, the plant of understanding that should mature may wither.

In his ground-breaking book, The New Man, Nicoll proposes that the Gospels (and other parts of the Bible) use the word ‘Stone’ as the literal truth – the set of facts, much in the same way that the Old Testament references ‘Tablets of Stone’ for the Commandments. These are really only lists of instructions at the level of the literal fact. For many people, this is sufficient. It is an important principle that writers of spiritual works must also be able to create simpler and easily digested snapshots of what they are trying to convey. This principle is used throughout the history of myth, for example.

In many ways, these seeds, although literal, are of the greatest importance, because they have the potential to connect the ‘higher’ to the ‘lower’. They have, in other words, the potential to be a seed. But only something that comes from a higher perspective of understanding has this power. Knowledge, alone, does not.

Nicoll proposes that Jesus’ lifetime was entirely about the connection of the higher to the lower. The higher being the Spirit; the lower, the personality, which itself grows as a result of our reactions to life but can never know the world of the Spirit unless the latter ‘reaches down’ into our reactionary world, infusing it with a seed of Being beyond the fact. In this process three words are used for Truth – Stone, Water and Wine. We have discussed stone above.

In our Glastonbury talk on the 4th December, will we be following this stem and exploring how the stone of fact becomes the plant of understanding and beyond, in a marriage of something profound, for which the wine is a fitting symbol.

The talk will be hosted by the Glastonbury Reception Centre.


We all seek the magic in life; that rich awareness that sees each moment in vivid colour against a backdrop of eternity. For each of us there is a path that can lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the timeless universe of being.

The Silent Eye is a modern Mystery School that teaches one such path, combining ancient esoteric teachings with the methods of modern psychology to gently guide the student towards the  inherent magic of life.


The Silent Eye was founded in 2012 to provide a unique path to self discovery and development using a combination of esoteric psychology and magical guided journeys. These components are not chosen at random, but have been carefully synthesised to suit the needs of the modern student of the Mysteries living in an age of great stress and world upheaval. They deliver a very liberating personal path, one that is imaginative, but not fanciful.

The approach is based upon a magical and psychological journey, and uses daily exercises through which we can mindfully examine our attitudes to life and how our vital energies are stolen by mechanical behaviour. Meditation is important, too and The Silent Eye aims to build a Temple of the Moment into the student’s everyday consciousness in addition to a contemplative approach.

The School offers a supervised correspondence course, as well as a variety of events and workshops. Coming to one of these is a great way to get to know us. You don’t have to be a member to attend, just sincere in your interest.

The three Directors of the School are long-standing and senior figures in the mystical and magical worlds, and have created this body of esoteric learning to suit the changing needs of the 21st century student, who seeks for a rapid path to a personal perspective that will empower him or her to seek out the deeper mysteries of their own wonderful beings.


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