Ancient stories

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One of the things that have struck home over the past few years, wandering around the churches of Britain, is just how much we learn and understand from stories and images. The record held in these ancient places goes back over a thousand years, with artefacts much, much older preserved in many of them. And these are not random old buildings, but all aligned with a single tradition, a single faith, a single story that the builders, artisans and holders of the lore saw as paramount.

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Painted walls, carved stone and wood, stained glass… these were marvels of media that recounted the biblical story for all with eyes to see. At a time when books were hand-drawn and precious, the masses untutored, unable to read or follow the Latin of the service, these images were the key to understanding. In many churches there are older, pre-Christian artefacts. Were they a remnant of the desire to convert almost through stealth or a genuine acknowledgement of the sacredness of the older pagan faith? That is not impossible given Pope Gregory’s instructions to Mellitus in the 6th century Mission, “Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.” The whole letter is revealing.

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It is fascinating to see how the emphasis of the story has evolved and shifted to suit the needs of the prevalent authorities, secular and religious, and how thought has been subtly directed. Many of the oldest churches, particularly in areas where Celtic Christianity was prevalent, seem to focus simply on a gentle faith not dissimilar to some of the older tales, and we can trace many of the early stories of the saints back to pre-Christian deities, adopted and absorbed into the new story. Then comes the hellfire and brimstone, later still the break from Rome followed by the Puritanical obliteration of imagery in many places. Yet another thread winds through as the local barons and lords endow churches in a display of political power and wealth, matched in kind but surpassed in magnificence by the lords of the Church with the great cathedrals and abbeys. No matter who ruled the land, it was easy to see where the balance of true power resided.

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Yet away from the seat of power was the guy in the street… the you and me… and in spite of a constant bombardment of imagery quietly shaping thought, behaviour and morality, mankind has always had both imagination and questions. There have always been those who do not conform and who, while paying lip service to social necessity, have walked their own inner path of interpretation and discovery. While entry to the clergy was for many a true dedication of service to their God, there must have been many too for whom it was more a career move at a time when such choices were limited. The stories of many minds are preserved in the old churches and not all seem to hold to what would have been the prescribed line.

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A language of symbolism evolved, one that would have been readily readable long ago but which we have lost the habit of reading in the same way we have lost the old languages. Yet it doesn’t take much to begin delving behind the appearances to the inner meaning, for symbols bypass the processes of the surface mind and speak to something deeper, a more archaic and instinctive level of understanding less coloured by the times in which we live. Many can be universally understood, some belong to a specific tradition… on the surface at least… but can be interpreted from the human perspective of emotions or from the viewpoint of the spiritual journey. While stories once widely known may have faded, and traditions are lost in the dust-covered recesses of history, it takes little to begin to glean the meaning behind them from the images that survive.

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Few of us now know the old legends of the pelican, for instance, but this common symbol can be readily understood in Christian terms simply by looking at the picture of the great bird restoring its young through her blood. Even traditional colours and geometrical shapes hold meaning, like the trifoliate leaves for the Trinity for example, and a little thought opens many possibilities to explore. Very quickly you begin to see that no part of the story written in images… or any story for that matter… stands alone, and there are many possible layers of meaning.

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What we read in these ancient symbols is less a reflection of the symbol itself than it is of the knowledge and understanding we bring to them and our openness to new ideas and interpretations. What the artist or the patron who commissioned any work intended should be encoded there may not be what we see… or not all that we see… as our own minds bring their own meaning. I have often wondered about some of the stranger symbols we have found whilst visiting these places to write The Initiate and its sequels… symbols that seem surreal or out of place within the churches. Maybe they were simply a bit of humour, or artistic licence… perhaps they hold the thoughts of another questioning mind touched across the centuries or maybe they were designed to be so surreal we would have to take notice and start thinking instead of blindly accepting.

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Whatever the case, we have found without doubt that there are more stories written in these ancient buildings than the laity would have ever seen or understood and few today do more than marvel at their beauty or antiquity. Yet the stories follow common themes, and the closer you look the more obvious it becomes that there is little difference except detail in these stories, through time and space mankind asks the same questions, seeks the same understanding, we simply do so from different starting points and in different clothes. Not just in our little churches, but in the ancient temples the world over, in fairytales and rhymes, in the stones and the very land itself, stories wait to unfold their mysteries, their revelations and their complex simplicity to anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear.

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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.

Weekend workshops – The Silent Eye 2017

The Silent Eye hosts a number of events each year, from our annual Weekend Workshop in Derbyshire to our informal Living Land and Walk and Talk gatherings. This year we will be holding events in England, Scotland and Wales. All events are open to non-members and Companions of the School and they are a great way to meet us, explore the teachings we share and spend time with fellow travellers.

You do not need any previous knowledge or experience. There is no need to be following a particular spiritual path…you are just as likely to be sitting next to a minister as you are to a shaman or a  mystic. There is just an opportunity to share a journey together. You can read what it is like to attend your first workshop here.

Why not come along and join in?

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The Feathered Seerindex1

Weekend of 21-23 April 2017

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire Dales. England.

The annual residential workshop is based around a single story played out over the weekend in the manner of the ancient Mystery Plays. The story illustrates a particular aspect of spirituality in a setting that allows the abstract idea to be played out in a symbolic manner that relates it to everyday life. This year we will share the story of a young Seer of the Old Ones, the ancient people of Albion, following her journey through the troubled times of invasion to a place of peace.


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The Prisoner of Portmeirion?

Weekend of 16-18 June 2017

Close to Portmeirion Village. Wales

Set in and around the very real village of Portmeirion, the place where the Prisoner was filmed,  with the backdrop of wonderful Snowdonia on our doorstep, our pre-solstice adventure in the landscape will take the form of a psychological exploration of what it means to ‘fit in’ with the world–and the price of not doing so. We do not intend this to be deadly serious, but many a powerful revelation can come from a dash of humour.


4-copyMaiden, Mother, Crone: Solstice of the Moon

Inverurie, Scotland

15th-17th September 2017

Guided by Running Elk, we will spend a weekend in the beautiful Don valley, exploring some of the ancient and sacred sites that have woven their mysteries for thousands of years. Unique to the area, with the exception of a few examples in Ireland, the circles of the region are of the “recumbent” type; intended for monitoring the “solstices” of the moon, known as the lunar standstill.


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Bakewell, Derbyshire

1st-3rd December 2017

Discover for yourselves the hidden jewels of the night. As the darkness of the winter solstice enfolds the land, join us for a magical weekend pursuing the treasure of understanding .Will you find the jewel at the heart of the mystery? Will you find the way to go?


Full details of each workshop can be found on our Events Page

Click below to

Download our Informal Events Booking Form – pdf

or to book for The Feathered Seer click here:

The Feathered Seer

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

Animal Magic #3…

Ravenstone

(Photo – Sue Vincent)

…Taking his cloak, his horn, and his clarsach, Gwythyr went to
Red Bull, “I have come to ask whether or
not you know the whereabouts of Big Chief Hawthorn, and
his daughter Creiddylad whom I am destined to sleep with?”

Said Red Bull, “When first I came here
there was a plain with no trees save for a solitary sapling,
and the sapling grew to be an oak of one hundred branches,
but now all that remains of the oak is a withered stump, and
from that day to this though I have heard tell of such a man,
I have never yet come across him of whom you inquire.”

Said Gwythyr-the-Bright, “O Mighty
Bellower of the Open Field will
you tell me what you know?”

“Indeed I will young Gwythyr but what I have heard
will not be easy on your ears, for it is said, that with
him, none can keep pace on horse-back or on foot;
and so lightly does he tread that the grass
neither breaks nor bends beneath his feet;

and that if his way lies through a wood
he goes along the tops of the trees;

and he is as good a guide in the land never seen
as in his own, and that, young Gwythyr, is all I can tell you
but White Raven may know more of him than I do.”

So Gwythyr took his cloak, his horn, and his clarsach, and he
went to White Raven, “I have come to ask
whether or not you know the whereabouts of Big Chief Hawthorn,
and his daughter Creiddylad whom I am destined to sleep with?”

Said White Raven, “When first I came here that wide
valley below was a wooded glen which when the race of men came they
rooted up, and there grew a second wood but that too the race of men
up-rooted, so that the wood you see before you is the third that has
grown here, yet in all that time though I have heard tell of such a man
I have never yet come across him of whom you inquire.”

Said Gwythyr-the-Bright, “O Great
Gorger on the Field of Battle will
you tell me what you know?”

“Indeed I will young Gwythyr but what I have heard
will not be easy on your ears, for it is said that from
him none can wrest a smile until he is satisfied:

and that when sad his bottom lip
drops below his waist like a belt,
and when angry his top lip rises
above his head like a cap;

and that when visiting he leaves not
cooked nor raw, nor fat nor lean, nor
cold nor hot, nor sweet nor sour;

and that when at home he feasts
until noon, drinks until night,
and then devours the heads of vermin,
and that, young Gwythyr, is all I can tell you, although Yellow Owl may know more of him than I do.”…

Crucible of the Sun

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 Weekend of 22-24 April, 2016.

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire Dales. England.

Click the image for further details of this weekend workshop with the Silent Eye

and a special appearance by Mister Fox.

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LEAF AND FLAME : An Introduction to the Dynamics

As far as we know the Enneagram was born with Gurdjieff, however he claimed an ancient yet secret heritage for it.

It is true that ‘the nine’ appears, in one form or another, in nearly all the traditional mythologies.

With the possible exception of the Egyptian’s, where the Ennead of ‘Divinities’ plays a central role, in most of the others ‘the nine’ appears to be ‘peripheral’ and a somewhat hazy conception.

This may suggest that the matrix for these forms was indeed by this time secret and possibly far too secret to be passed down in anything other than a rudimentary form.

The Matter of Britain derives from the Celtic Mythos and in the Celtic Mythos we have the conception of Nine Maidens around a Cauldron of Inspiration.

This could refer to the Enneagram.

The Celtic Cosmology utilised a three-fold pattern of worlds which with the advent of Celtic Christianity came to look a little like this:

1. The Stellar World of the Constellations. (Universal Being)

2. The Solar World of the Sun and visible Planets. (Christos and Angelic Powers)

3. The Lunar World of the Moon and Earth. (Saints and Humans)

It is tempting to depict this triadic cosmology thus:

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And even more tempting to stand that figure upright, which here for both spatial and psychological reasons, for the moment at least, we will not do.

But this conception rests upon a far older one and is really merely the exoteric rendering of that esoteric truth which recognises a far more complex pattern thus:

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In this cosmology we have:
1. The Over-World of cyclic patterns visible above the horizon and symbolised by the Moon, the Sun and the Stars.

2. The Mid-World of Flora and Fauna and other entities which within it reflects the triadic pattern as;
A. An Upper Zone of Climatic Conditions and augury through bird flight.
B. A Middle Zone of Four Directions which delineates a model of the Sacred Realm.
C. A Lower Zone, of caves, wells and springs.

3. The Under-World of ancestral beings and other entities controlling the mysteries of life, death and re-birth.

Clearly each world and zone depends upon the other.

Thus far then the Macrocosm…

For the Microcosm we turn to Gurdjieff…

To be continued…


Click the image to find out more

Click here to download a pdf Booking Form for Leaf and Flame

For further details email: rivingtide@gmail.com


Post originally published on Stuart France

Playing out- Mountains of the Sun

Go on… when was the last time you went out to play? I don’t mean with children, wonderful as that is… but just you… playing out… in the fields. Leaving the world and all its worries behind for a little while for a lighthearted romp, exploring the strange landscapes of the imagination?

When was the last time you thought it was okay to go looking for fairies, or ghosts from the past? How long since you tackled a proper mystery… and yet came home in time for tea ( or a pint at a village pub, as the case may be?)

When could you last take the time to look at the world with wonder and see time lose its place and the story of ages unfold?

Wouldn’t you like to be able to just play out again?

Well, we are going to. And you are welcome to join us!

Mountains of the Sun
Wiltshire, England
12-14 June 2015

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What are the mysterious mounds that cluster around Marlborough? Why are they marked by the dragon’s coils?

Join the folk of the Silent Eye for a Solstice tale of dragons in the living land of Albion as we explore Avebury and the Marlborough Downs.

Workshop costs £50.00 per person.

Accomodation/meals not included, though advice can be given.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details email : rivingtide@gmail.com

Avebury, Wiltshire

See our Events page for other upcoming weekends and workshops