Voices from the past

There was a jaw-dropping moment when it finally hit home…

We knew the story… we had discussed it long before Stuart had started working with it. The ‘hero’ was a historical king who lived around five thousand years ago. About a thousand years later, tales of his doings, combining events both real and symbolic, were collected and written down. Given the way that history…and particularly folk history… works, the scribe probably included tales once told of even older characters, going back seven thousand years or more, and reassigned them to our Hero.  A few hundred years later, they were standardised under the title ‘He who Saw the Abyss’…

Facts, dates and historical data are all very well. They allow you to arrange events on the canvas of space and time. What they do not seem to do is to really put things in perspective. When the realisation hit, it was mind-blowing… we were actually working with stories from one of the earliest human civilisations. These were tales that were already old before the pyramids were built. Two, three, some of them maybe even four times as old as the stories in the New Testament. Many of them contain the obvious origins of biblical tales… precursors to stories we associate with the early books of the Old Testament. And we were not only working with those tales… we were finding them wholly relevant to the world today.

Take Dickens… You read his work and he brings to life the world as he knew it. You can picture Victorian England quite readily, just because of his words. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters take you back another century or so. Shakespeare another couple of hundred years. Julius Caesar wrote of his world two thousand years ago. Plato taught four hundred years before that… And that still only takes you about half way back in time to the birth of the tales we are working with! That starts to put things in perspective a bit.

It is not just the almost unimaginable distance in time and culture between then and now that is so startling, it is the way the characters are drawn, playing out timeless moments of human interaction. So many thousands of years…and we have changed not at all. Arrogance, entitlement, compassion and misguided emotions all played out then exactly as they do today. We did not need to translate an ancient tale into terms the modern mind could understand, it was already there.

The problems and scenarios they faced too, were not dissimilar to our own. Love and loss, anger and grief… and the wider issues of power and politics, ecology, the destruction of habitats and a obsession with the quest for eternal youth… they were all part of life thousands of years ago.

In some ways, it seems a tragedy that we have changed and learned so little. In others, it is reassuring, for the threads that bind past to present are unbroken and the learning curve continues. A few thousand years, after all, are but a very small part of the hundreds of thousands of years that our species has been around.

Hominins, our earliest ancestors, first made use of stone tools almost three and a half million years ago. Homo sapiens has only been around for some three hundred thousand years, and for most of that time we were busy evolving from our origins. ‘Civilisation’  took us a while… it is still a new venture for humankind, and we are  probably little more than pre-schoolers, compared to what we may one day become.  As long as we don’t break our ‘toys’ by squabbling over them, I see a good deal of hope in that.

As individuals, we learn best from experience. As societies, we learn from history… but the tendency is to see anything ‘prehistoric’ as irrelevant. Prehistory tends to refer to the period before written records were kept, and one of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform, came from the same time and place as the story of the king, Gilgamesh. There are so many similarities with the people in that story, and parts of it probably arose before the invention of writing… bridging the gap between history and prehistory. And we get to work with those stories for this year’s workshop… The moment that really hit home was a moment of utter awe.

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

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

Jewels in the Claw (ii) – Steve Tanham

Continued from Part One

He stops in the act of dismantling – the raven directly in line with his left eye. Reluctantly, he climbs onto the chair to unhook the left panel of rubberised black fabric that contains the bird’s image. Then, smiling, he remembers the last minute decision to add the raven panels… such an important part of the Queen’s journey.

Somehow, it seems a sacrilege to take them down…

The stream of consciousness that now belongs to the twenty receivers of the told story opens. It is there, again… and alive…

There is a moment when all the power in the room passes from the artful Marlow, who has lived up to his reputation for skirting the edge of Elizabethan acceptable behaviour, to the Queen. Her regal gaze, a generation older than many in the room, fixes him like a serpent.

“Elizabeth, Queen of England and Ireland…” The playwright bows, backing away and leaving the intricate space of the chequered Court Floor for the sovereign. She rises, the gold dress swirling around her.

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini

On the horizon…

I always look forward to September. It is one of the most  beautiful times of year in Britain. The days are usually mild and often beautiful, the last of the heather lingers as summer slides into autumn…a perfect moment for a wander in the landscape…and what better way to spend my birthday than with friends in the ancient and sacred places that I love?

The very first September event that we ran was the Harvest of Being in Ilkley, up on the moors that I have loved since childhood. There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather have been at that moment. It was a small informal affair, just as we like to keep these events; no crowds, just a few friends exploring the landscape and sharing our different perspectives on the spiritual journey that is mirrored by that taken by our feet. The following September we returned to Ilkley and our company had grown a little. Last autumn was the Circles Beyond Time event in Derbyshire, where we shared the landscape in which we work with an ever-growing, but still intimate group.

Since that first weekend we have travelled through England and Wales, exploring ancient sites, old churches, modern wonders and wild places… but we have not yet shared an event in Scotland, a land I love.

That is about to change. In September, we head north to the Don Valley in Aberdeenshire with a very old friend. I have known Running Elk for a decade or so and have, on occasion, been able to wander briefly in his company. It is always a revelation to learn his perspective on the ancient sites and a joy to share his enthusiasm. So this year, more than ever, I am looking forward to September.

Join us, if you can, exploring some very special places…

Inverurie, Scotland
15th-17th September 2017

2The gently undulating and fertile landscape between the foothills of the Grampian Mountains and the North Sea proved an attractive place to settle for the early Neolithic peoples colonising the furthest reaches of the British Isles. Nowhere else contains a greater concentration of late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age remains; from the earliest recorded flint mines, through numerous burial mounds and cairns, to the highest density of stone circles in the country.

Yet, there is a mystery. Unique to the area, with the exception of a few examples in the South West of Ireland, the circles of the region are exclusively of the “recumbent” type; a form largely intended for monitoring the “solstices” of the moon, more 3-copycommonly referred to as the lunar standstill, with specific interest in the major lunar standstill which occurs in an 18.5 year cycle.

Join us in the heartland of the Picts, for a weekend of discovery and exploration of the enigmatic astronomical sites created by their Neolithic forefathers, and the equally enigmatic rock art they themselves left behind.

4-copyThe event will consist of three days exploration of local sites in and around the market town of Inverurie, in the beautiful Don valley, Aberdeenshire.

The weekend is informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.

Workshop costs £50 per person. Accommodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Inverurie should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com


Marking the Circle – Solstice of the Moon with Running Elk

While we continue to share tales of the Silent Eye’s summer weekend in Wales, The Prisoner of Portmeirion, we would like to invite you to join us in Scotland in September, for a Living Land workshop amongst the sacred circles of Aberdeenshire. The Solstice of the Moon weekend will be guided by our friend, Running Elk, with whom we will explore the wonder and magic of these ancient places.

Image Copyright: Mr Tattieheid

From the earliest migration of our most distant ancestors, as they moved from the cradle of our species to colonise the planet, one thing has remained a predominant driving force. Scarcity: the fear of it, and the desire to avoid becoming victim to it.

Until our Neolithic ancestors put down roots, the survival needs of small family groups could be met through a nomadic existence; following the herds and living off that which the Land provided in her seasons. The bounty found in the Summerlands, starkly contrasting with the subsistence of the Winterlands, must have provided significant impetus to adopt an agricultural lifestyle.

Northern latitudes, however, come with a unique challenge to a fledgling agricultural society.

The growing season is short, and impossible to predict from the observable cycles of our natural clock, the moon. Whilst our hunter-gatherer and pastoral forebears in the North would have been very aware of the wax and wane of daylight hours as the year progressed, the sunrise wandering the horizon as they wandered the landscape, they would have had little practical use for deeper knowledge of the changes they observed; relying instead on the other clues of nature to instigate the next stage of their circuitous, nomadic journey.

No-one knows who that first Neolithic Priestess was, who, now firmly planted in a singular location, noted the repetition in the passing of Shadows cast by a stump, a boulder or cairn at the centre of her community. The lengthening days, spinning the sunrise shadow towards warmer winds, shortening it when the Sun was in Her height, and tracing a perfectly symmetrical arc between sunrise and sunset. Most crucially, the recognition of the “Crossing of the Season” as a perfectly straight line of shadow, harbinger of the “best time to plant.”


Sunrise / Sunset diagram prepared for the latitude of Inverurie, Scotland (Equinox position deliberately exaggerated).

Was it an oral tradition initially?

“Standing at the stump of the fallen oak, on the day the sun rises from the great rock where the Eagles live, begin the plantings.”

As the stump rotted did the need to record this critical alignment demand urgent attention, first with the placement of a post, only much later to be permanently memorialised in stone?

Since the landscape itself provided markers enough, what drove the extension of a single post, the “Place of Seeing,” to a fully developed circle?


Copyright: Pierre Lesage

Here, in the Northern-most reaches of Albion, something “different” arose, or, more likely, persisted, from the Ancestral memory of these Settled Peoples. Not content with marking the Solstices of the Sun, there remained a desire, or need, to mark the Solstices of the Moon.

In the South-West corner of the stone circles, a recumbent stone; not fallen, as some may assume on accidentally stumbling across such a site, but deliberately placed as a key marker of the eternal dance between Sun and Moon by the builders of these truly astounding monuments.

What beliefs did the Bronze Age builders encode within these structures? What ceremonies were performed? How did they choose the site, and what, within their worldview, made such sites sacred?

Join the Silent Eye in Inverurie from 15th – 17th September, for a weekend of exploration among the standing stones of Aberdeenshire.

Traditionally a “walking” weekend, this one will be a little different, with most sites being easily accessible for all abilities. Drums, dowsing tools, dancing shoes optional…

You can learn more about the weekend here.

The weekend is informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.

The weekend workshop costs £50 per person. Accomodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Inverurie should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

 

Circles Beyond Time – On Edge

gardoms-3

We’d cancelled sunrise. Not literally, you understand, but what with our company, for once, being lodged across a swathe of miles and the weather being singularly uncooperative, it seemed unfair to drag everyone from their beds at some ungodly hour just to get wet and see nothing. It was, therefore, a rested and well-breakfasted company that gathered for the short trip to our next ancient site.

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Only two of us had visited the site before. We had found it quite by accident whilst on the track of the infamous wandering stone which, although it remains stubbornly lost, has a habit of revealing wonderful places as you follow its trail. We had come back in winter with author Graeme Cumming and his partner… and more recently to check the site before the workshop when we had been thoroughly drenched by unseasonal rain that had filled my boots until I squelched with every step. Even so, with each visit, the magic of the place had caught us unawares…. but we were hoping for better weather this time, in spite of the pall of grey cloud that hung low over the moors.

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A short walk across the moor takes you to a fence and a gate. It is as soon as you walk through the gate that the land seems to change. Regardless of the weather, it is quieter here … as if the place has withdrawn from the world somehow and waits at a temporal tangent for those who come seeking its mysteries. A few yards to the right of the path and the land falls away steeply from the edge of the cliff. In between is a green lawn strewn with boulders and silver-barked birch. It feels as if you have slipped into the realms of the Fae and the guardians of the place watch as you pass.

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For a little way the path slopes gently uphill. After a while you begin to notice that the boulders look odd, as if placed rather than strewn by ancient glaciers, then the land opens out into a boulder field of monumental proportions, very similar to the top of Carl Wark in appearance, though here the stones are enormous and the cliffs sheer. But whereas the atmosphere of the hillfort is one of peace and serenity, here there is something else; it ‘feels’ odd and uncomfortable.

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It it always difficult to tease apart the threads of impression. Most people are sensitive to atmospheres and will react predictably to the serenity of a quiet chapel or an eerie, moonlit ruin. With the open landscape it is impossible to say what it is one picks up, but places have their own particular ‘feel’. Most of the time we are visiting sites of which little can be known, given their antiquity and the mind inevitably tries to make sense of the landscape in modern terms first. When it cannot, the natural reaction is to seek a story the mind can accept, but these sites are older than our knowing and alive in a way difficult to express. Images arise and are dismissed as imagination… until others, too, begin to recount the same feelings and you have to take note. At this particular part of the site…and only here… the impression is that the rock-strewn cliff was once used as part of the ancestral funerary rites… and was then desecrated and despoiled by invaders, as if to take the heart from its people. The atmosphere affects everyone differently, so saying little except that there would be a chance to look around on the way back, we hurried our companions through the stones to the second gate.

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Once through the gate, the land changes immediately. Delicate mosses carpet the undulating earth in emerald, scattered with diamond drops of mist and festooned with jewelled webs. Even the sound changes as the slender trunks of the silver birches cluster closer. It is a quiet place… a child’s fairyland… and at its heart, a standing stone…

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