Images and Text from the Silent Eye Workshop: Whispers in the West…
“Stone and sea are deep in life
Two unalterable symbols of the world
Permanence at rest
And permanence in motion
Participants in the power that remains”
― Stephen R. Donaldson
I thought about those lines a lot over the past few days. It is the chant of the giants in Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. As we wandered through a landscape of gigantic structures in stone and earth, saw giant figures carved into the hillsides and sat by the ever-moving waves of the shore, it kept coming to mind.
He’s right, of course, we see them as permanent, yet they too change and shift with time. Those who wrought in stone millennia ago left a mark on the landscape we can still see and touch today, yet how much has been lost? What was there that we no longer see? How much have we pillaged from their constructions to build our own? The stone may remain, but altered, shaped, reduced, perhaps, to dust. And even that, even the stone they used was once other than it became when it was hewn from the earth. Before that it was not even stone, but the possibility of stone, grown in the crucible of a new-born earth and formed into stone, perhaps, by the weight of the sea.
It is the same with the sea. It appears a constant, moving mass, yet, of course, it isn’t. Water evaporates and condenses, becoming clouds and rain, ice and snow. It falls on the land and runs through the stone, filtered by the living rock, until it again reaches the sea. The cycle never stops, and the permanence itself is but an illusion.
Yet their essence remains whole, throughout the changes wrought by millions of years. What they are does not change, only how they are seen, only how we see them, form them, harness and mould them. Water is water, whatever form it takes. Stone, whether shaped or crushed, does not change its essential nature with its form. So maybe we, too, though we are born, live and die, are also permanent in our essence. Maybe we too are ‘participants in the power that remains’.
Something there is in beauty
which grows in the soul of the beholder
like a flower:
for many are the blights which may waste
for the beholder –
and imperishable –
for the beauty may die,
or the world may die,
but the soul in which the flower grows
– Stephen R. Donaldson
Not content with capturing one rather large stone circle, under rapidly darkening skies, we set off in pursuit of another.
Which was a mistake.
For one thing, we got lost…
And then we ran into this motley lot.
Hiding from us they were.
Waiting for the sun to go down before they pounced.
Anyway, we tentatively made our way through their ranks.
And eventually confronted their leader.
She seemed okay and assured us her troops meant no harm.
So we determined to return on the morrow.
In the hope that the morning light might be kinder.
For the past few years, I have been immersed in the folklore and history, traditions and myths of my land in a way I had never expected. This is not the country of governments and politics, nor the land of business and traffic jams or socio-economic divides. This is the deep well of life accessible to all.
I have seen and shared the growth of bluebells under the trees, the chalk cut figures spanning millennia, the hillsides and skies, the wildflowers, valleys and groves. I have danced the serpentine dance and walked barefoot where legends tell a dragon was slain. I have gazed upon living history in brick and stone, traced the human story in the earth and told tales of long ago.
The land itself has changed me, I think, or else awoken me to a deeper vision of the world that has, like the buried treasure of some ancient site, lain hidden from my sight. I do not think it is possible to work with the stories, currents and history of the land and remain oblivious to the rich tapestry of life.
I have shared knowledge and received it, glimpsed understanding, heard tell of far off landscapes and peoples, stories other than my own, lives I will never know. And yet, they are the same. The details may differ, the names and the skein of history in which they are bound may change. There are redwoods instead of ash, deserts instead of moorlands, yet the human story within the landscape shares a thread that is lost in the same long ago and it bears a common theme.
Standing in the ancient holy places, it is these very differences that bring home the commonality of our heritage as human beings. They are but details seen through the vast lens of time. The emotions I feel are echoed, through the ages and across all the lands, by my ancestors and reflect a future yet to unfold over lifetimes yet unborn.
The same imperatives drive us, though we hunt now in supermarkets and trawl the internet for knowledge instead of parchment scrolls. The same human frailties and desires shape our lives. The same strength and courage in face of life’s challenges define who we become. The same reverence for the divine, however felt and conceived, carved both the great hill figures, carried the sarsens and built the churches and temples of our own times.
To take time to seek the wildflowers in the hedgerows, to watch the snow lay heavy on the bough, or to watch a hawk in flight and a sparrow welcoming the morning, is to step outside of time for a moment, the attention turned away from the hustle and bustle of the mundane. To stand within the landscape and feel the ancient life both of the earth and her people is to see this great vista of history spread like a patchwork quilt at your feet. Each square a different pattern or design, the colours and fabrics changing and contrasting with each other, yet together forming a thing of wholeness and beauty.
Watching the sunset tonight from a village garden, the urban traffic noise a distant hum, I wondered how many sunsets have been watched alone in joy or grief, or shared in laughter or silence by the millions of other eyes that have turned to that golden glow. How many more will watch as it sinks below the horizon, bathing the earth in a last flare of light?
Just sit for a moment, close your eyes. Beneath your feet, beneath the concrete, the wood, the tiles or the grass lies the same earth upon which I stand, upon which we all stand. It is there, ever-present. Evolving and ageing, changing just as we, but older and slower, deeper and richer, its surface buzzing with the same life that runs through us all.
Once again I am reminded of a phrase from an old Hindu prayer that I love: Thou art everywhere, but I worship thee here. There is a reverence that comes when we are rooted in the earth of our landscape, when we listen for its heartbeat in the changing seasons and feel our place within it. Our human lives differ only in detail and degree, both from each other and from that of the land, yet the essence of life itself runs through all with a kinship too often forgotten or ignored. Yet it is beautiful, and within this earth our own roots are planted deeply, and our life is drawn from the same source.
I had half expected the town to be deserted.
That is Memory again.
It acts like some indifferent film director moving extras around, concerned only with their ebb and flow.
Over time the ‘peripherals’ fade leaving only the ‘principals’ behind.
And that goes for events too…
I have no memory of our initial ‘run up’…
Only the camber to the stones and the ravens, wheeling and cawing, and eventually settling in unison on the portals as we approached.
Contrary to the insistence of our fastidious manipulator of experience, we had not been alone that first time…
There had been ‘others’ in the field but it had not seemed to matter so much then.
Possibly because in those days I did not take photographs.
There were no ravens this time, but plenty of people.
A line of motor vehicles clogged the lane and patches of bright colour flitted about the stones, uncertainly, like overgrown butterflies.
The colours too have now faded, as colours tend to do…
Perhaps, I have become over sensitive to synthetics?
In the event we easily outlasted three separate groups before the extreme cold became too much.
They do not stay long.
They have, you see, nowhere to file their experience…
Nothing to lend it context…
Maybe, it appears crude to the mind too far removed from nature?
Would one call hills crude?
‘Shadowing’ is our term for the phenomenon whereby a standing stone, or group of stones, recreates a distant landscape feature and thereby renders it immediately apparent or tangible.
Most other megalithic writers on the subject have also, independently, recognised this phenomenon although they usually refer to it, less accurately perhaps, as ‘mirroring’.
This being the case, it is highly unlikely for such a notion to be the product of fantasy, yet it is still quite difficult to credit the skill set required to so accurately render this technique, and especially so in a people still regarded by many as ‘primitive’ in relation to us.
Either, the ‘circle constructors’ had an incredible eye for, and memory of, the natural landscape, which they, inevitably, would have done anyway, or, they ‘crudely dressed’ the stones once placed.
Please note the inaccurate use of the notion ‘crude’ here.
There is nothing crude about the ancients’ ability to dress stone in this way, quite the opposite.
Even more perplexing, perhaps, is the question of precisely why the circle constructors would do this?
The terms ‘false perspective’, ‘collapsing distance’ and ‘correspondence’ are all useful in formulating an answer to this intriguing riddle.
All the images in this post display examples of ‘shadowing’ in one form or another, although you may have to work quite hard to discover each and every one of them.
‘Damn those pesky primitives!’…
In Olden Times,
Holidays were originally just that…
The whole community would lay aside their workday duties and together engage in deeply or intrinsically symbolic activities that related to the situation that they all found themselves in.