The walking dead…

We had been engaged in one of those long existential debates, discussing life, death and the possibilities of what might come before and after. The debate had gone on for some time, discussion had gone deep and we had covered some serious stuff, including the changing perspective of the years, fuelled by my impending birthday and the universal fragility of life.

“You should make a video,” said my son.

For a moment, I was flattered, feeling that perhaps I had acquitted myself so well that he saw my thoughts as worthy of being shared. But that moment was a fleeting one… he took out his phone.

“What, now?”

“Yeah.”

“But I’m a mess…” Vanity is universal when faced with a lens. Or that’s my excuse.

“Well, I’d rather you were sort of natural anyway…” It all clicked into place then. So much for flattery.

“You mean, for when I die?” My health may be a bit unstable at present, but I’m certainly not planning on dying at the moment. He had the decency to look a tad embarrassed.

“Well, yes… but don’t feel obliged to die anytime soon…”

“Thanks…”

“…I haven’t given you permission yet.” This is true. As he is both my son and my employer, such an extended leave of absence requires his approval and he has made his feelings quite clear on the matter.

By this time, the camera is running and I face the immortalising lens with no make-up, haystack hair and wearing my oldest clothes. We continue the debate, though in a far more lighthearted manner. Even so, it feels odd. Bad enough being recorded, which I dislike at the best of times, but to know you are being filmed as a memory for when you are dead is quite a strange feeling.

One of the things we had been discussing was the value of remembering that physical life is finite. It is a concept that must be taken from rather abstract idea we generally live with and transformed into a practical application. It is not a morbid or depressing perspective, as some might think, but is actually liberating as it shifts the focus from the transient to the eternal.

With a conscious awareness of the inevitable ending of this phase of existence, life and every experience in it, good or bad, takes on a new depth and richness. Nothing is to be missed through inattention, every experience is to be savoured and appreciated, because there is an awareness, a backdrop to living, that constantly reminds you that each moment could be the last.

And, as the camera captured our laughter, I was getting a graphic lesson in bringing that concept into reality.

It begs the question of how we want to be remembered when we are no longer in the world. Do we want to leave a mark on society? Be missed? Create immortality through art or a legacy of scientific thought? Maybe our immortality comes through our bloodline… our children and their children? Or perhaps we wish only to be remembered with a smile.

But why should we want to be remembered at all? Perhaps it is the fear of utter annihilation. Or simply the ego, the personality we wear in life, programmed for its own survival, that  seeks to perpetuate itself… and cannot accept that life as we know it can carry on without us? No matter how well-known or well loved we are, unless we do leave some kind of concrete legacy to posterity, in a few generations we will be no more than an entry in a ledger or database somewhere.  And even that will one day disappear.

Whether we believe there is no more than this physical existence, or in the survival of the soul, we cannot escape the cycle or the recycling of life.  One thing is certain, in the physical universe, nothing is ever utterly lost. From plankton to planets, everything that comes into being will evolve and come to an end. Its component parts will be returned to whence they arose and become the building blocks of something new. Personally, I believe that also holds true of the soul. We do not need to seek immortality. We carry eternity within us.

Watching

For the past few days there has been a young heron beside the road on the five mile drive to my son’s home. It stands, arrow thin, shadow blue and perfectly still, almost invisible, watching the drainage ditch that runs along the edge of the fields.

No-one appears to notice it as they drive by, focussed as they are, quite rightly, on the fast-moving traffic. I notice a lot of things as I drive. The road is familiar, yet changes daily. For the past few days also there has been a fox, now paper-thin with the passing of lorries, yet its coat is still that burnished copper and its tail, apparently undamaged, waves in a semblance of life as the traffic passes. Yesterday a tiny Muntjac deer hopped under the hedge as I drove out of the lane, right in the centre of the village. Today the kites were flying low, diving over the fields in the wake of the farmer, harried by crows.

solo 0311The trees are heavy with fruit, dark clusters of elder and blackberry, red haws and pale- bloomed sloes. Apples bend the branches over the skeletal seed heads of grasses and the pale stems of hogweed. Yet summer is far from over and the wildflowers are in bloom. A weasel skitters between the cars at the traffic lights.

flying solo 137I’ve watched the fields change from the bright yellows and emerald of spring to the soft green of summer and now the prelude to the gold and russet of autumn is beginning to creep in. Straw is baled, the stubble lies sharp and square in neat rows. The trees have that tinge of colour that precedes the turning, an almost subliminal feel of autumn is in the air, with the unseasonable chill of a rainy summer dawn.

You can feel it in the early morning dew, in the slight dampness of the steering wheel; see it in the light… something about the quality of it… and feel it under the stars. First frost is still far in the future, distant, but you can feel the hint of its approach. The mists have begun.

The year turns, days slide by and time moves forward, almost unnoticed, until you look back and realise how far you have come since the last time you took note. And all those days have slipped away with that quiet inexorability that we fail to see from moment to moment.

snow dog 090Yet there is a beauty to the rhythm of the year as it slides from high summer towards the dark time, holding within each fruit and flower the seed of a spring and summer to come. There is a richness to the dying time that lies hidden, quiet in summer’s heart. Even the changing seasons can be a beacon of more than hope; a confidence in the rightness of the dance of life.

We can look to the dark times and see only the chill, cold land, barren of life, of we can look deeper and see that inner life that waits for the first touch of warmth, ready to unfold and begin the cycle again. Yet where does it begin and end? Is the year born of light or of darkness? Or do both hold the seeds of growth within them?

promise of spring

In the shadows

P1110792I woke from little sleep to glorious sunshine and crawled blearily from my bed, which seemed the most comfortable place in the world at that moment, even though it might as well have been a bed of nails the night before. Odd, isn’t it, how the same thing can look so very different depending on how you feel at the time? Take the sunshine… if I was going out to play, instead of heading to work, it would be a gorgeous day! If I were taking the camera out, not that I go anywhere without it, but you know what I mean, I would be delighted to have the backdrop of clear blue as a foil, for instance, to the mellow gold of old stone.

There is something about the stark contrast of the shadows thrown in sunlight, silhouettes dark against warm… that chiaroscuro created by the interplay of bright and sombre. It gives a scene life and texture… even when it is simply crumbling stone. Vistas of long empty spaces, punctuated by doors full of unknown and exciting possibilities yet painted on the canvas of memory, lead the eye and mind into adventure.

Imagination takes flight and spaces are populated with images and stories, flights of fancy or the quest for a deeper understanding of the vision before us. Thought meanders off at a tangent, exploring darkened doorways or gazing from the shadows to the clear sky framed above. Memories are created, images that take up residence in the mind, linking themselves inextricably with emotions and sensations, and the imprint of place remains long after the event has receded in time.

P1110813

The darker the shadows, the greater the contrast, the brighter the light appears… which is something we all know, though even that, too, depends on how we feel at the time. We may only notice the shadows, diving or tiptoeing from one dark and unknown doorway to the next through a landscape painted by fear… wondering what monster may lurk around the corner, seeing only a tenebrous labyrinth. The bright patches on the ground then leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable and offer no respite, serving only to mark yet another threshold into the shadow that awaits.

P1110829

Yet that light is cast from somewhere. Beyond the shadows there is a source of brightness. It is inescapable. The shadow is cast when something comes in between, blocking the sun. Yet there can be no shade without that source of light. It is always there. Shadows, no matter how deep, are intangible, they are effect, not cause and on the other side of the obstacle you can guarantee the sun is shining.

P1110795

We may see the shadows and enjoy their cool respite from a sun too bright. We may be grateful for their softening of the marks of time upon our face. Perhaps they allow us to look up and see the source of light in all its beauty, glimpsed through a window. Sometimes, I think, they are just there so we can see it, be aware of it and understand its presence as we walk through the alternating brightness and shade, enjoying the adventure in all its twists and turns, looking back on the shadows from the warmth of the sun.

The photographs were all taken at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire some years ago.

Sowing seeds

The spiritual journey is simple, beautiful and full of Love,” read the meme. Perfectly true, but taken out of context it doesn’t actually tell you all that much, does it? Not really. Like so many of the quotes out there on the internet, usually displayed against the background of a sunset, dove or some other visual symbol of serenity, it simply drops a seed into the mind and allows it to grow… or not, as the case may be.

I remember studying the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Religious Education in school, long ago. It tells of how when the Sower sows the seed, it may fall upon stony, barren or fertile ground and where it falls will determine how the seed grows. It is a well-known story, easily understood in symbolic terms, though there are many deeper elements involved in the imagery than may at first appear. Re-reading the passage I fell to thinking about how ideas are seeded and more specifically about those beautifully presented inspirational quotes that abound across all the platforms of social media.

Such phrases, thoughts and quotes may come from the heart and be personal glimpses of understanding offered in all simplicity and with no other motive than to bring hope or share beauty. Many come from the writings of established spiritual teachers, from ancient texts or those to whom the world has attributed the mantle of wisdom. They carry with them the aura of authority; these people, we are assured, knew something, had attained something to which, perhaps, we aspire.

Sometimes they worry me.

Not so much on their own, but as a symptom of a disconnected spirituality that seems to be scattering fragments of light like glitter. And yet…

The proliferation of such illustrated quotes shows how deeply ingrained is our need for understanding, but as most offer little in the way of practical instruction, they carry the risk of misinterpretation. They may make the whole spiritual journey seem like sweetness and light; something so otherworldly and ethereal, in fact, that it seems impossible that it should be integrated within the harshness of ‘real’ life. For me ‘real life’ is a spiritual journey, and like any voyage, it can be hard, painful, exhausting and confusing. It takes effort, will, and commitment to get from one end of it to the other.

But what about the journey itself? Even a straight race, where the winner is determined at the finish line, can only be won by what happens between the starting block and the tape. It makes little sense to me to think that the only goal is at the end… To ‘real-ise’ the divine within, however we may define It, and to live it daily seems, to me, a better option.

These inspirational quotes may also, silently and quite unintentionally, imply that those of us who have not yet attained such mystical mastery have way too far to go to be able to reach spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps we have, but believing in ourselves can be hard enough in the mundane world; I am not sure that questioning our worthiness to progress is helpful. I wonder if these wonderful phrases sometimes make the goal seem just too distant and unattainable. A goal which, I believe, is not far away at the end of some lofty quest, but already within us, waiting quietly to be known.

This seeding of ideas and phrases without context is a traditional technique that can have enormous value as a meditation. Usually, however, when such a technique is used, it is within the framework of a predetermined belief system. This is where schools such as the Silent Eye and other spiritual systems have their place in what is always and ultimately a personal journey, by providing structure, background and points of reference … a jumping-off place from which to begin and a whole set of symbolic signposts by which the seeker can navigate.

We each have our own beliefs. None of us are without some kind of framework, whether it is pan-, poly- or monotheistic, atheist or agnostic or any shade in between… we have our own personal context which is the ground into which such random seeds fall. We interpret them against that backdrop, dismissing them or shaping our understanding of them in a way that fits with the other pieces of our personal puzzle. There is, however, always the possibility of misinterpretation or missing the true depth of such phrases, simply because we lack context. It may only take a single phrase, rightly understood, to change our view of the world and our concept of our place within it. Yet we have to see it clearly in order for it to be able to have an effect.

And yet, we all use quotes, even inspirational ones. And there is value to them. Why struggle to explain what someone has already phrased perfectly in a few words? They may be perfect illustrations of a point we have to share. But more importantly, when they speak to us, they may become the very first burgeoning fragment of light that awakens the seeds of awareness.

Menorah?…

Hanukkah Menorah Jewish Judaica Israel Vintage Brass Chanukah ...

Menorah as Chalice

*

… The Book of Revelation can be described

as a book of arcane symbolism.

*

It seems to me astonishing that such a work should have been

accepted into the recommended canon when so many

other far less controversial texts are regarded as apocryphal –

this word which now has connotations of spuriousness or falsity

is derived from the Greek word for ‘hidden’ –

Apocryphal works, then, can be regarded

as those books which possess hidden wisdom.

*

It will be useful to consider the opening few paragraphs

of Revelation and compare them to Daniel’s vision of Michael

which we looked at in earlier posts

*

“It was on the island of Patmos.

I was meditating on the seventh day

when I heard behind me a voice as of many waters,

“I am the beginning and end, first and the last.”

I turned to see who it was that spoke,

and I saw a figure resembling the Son of Man.

He was standing in the middle of seven golden candlesticks.

His beard and his hair were like white wool.

His eyes were flames of fire.

His countenance was bright, as the sun when it shines at its height.

He was clothed in a long white robe.

About his breast went a golden girdle.

In his right hand he held seven stars.

His words rang out of his mouth clearly

with the poignancy of a double-edged sword:

“I am he that lives and was dead.

I possess the keys to death and hell.

I shall live forever more.”

I fell down at his feet and they were like fine-brass forged in a furnace.

He laid his hands upon me, “You must write down all you see in a book,

and send it to the Seven Churches of Asia.

Let all the churches know that I am he who searches

the reins of the heart and gives to every one, according to their works.

Tell them to remember from whence they have fallen,

to return to their first love lest I come upon them like a thief

and remove their candlestick from its place,

thus speaks the ‘Amen’: ‘I know your works, I know that you have a name,

I know that you live, and yet, you are as the dead!'”

*

It might be difficult for St Michael to be described as the,

‘one who is living but was dead’, but

he could certainly lay claim to being regarded as

‘the first and the last’ and also as possessing,

‘the keys to death and hell’…

*

In the Book of Daniel, we may recall,

St Michael was described as a Great Prince,

as a Chief Prince, and as Daniel’s Prince.

‘War in Heaven’…

*

… We have to wait until the final book of the ‘New Dispensation’ before we

encounter a Dragon.

*

“And there was war in heaven:

Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…”

*

The Dragon in question, though, is red and, “… has seven heads,

and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads…”

*

This being the Book of Revelation we may well wonder about the symbolism…

*

Unusually for this text we do not have to wonder for very long for we are told,

“… and the Great Dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan…

he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him.”

*

At which point we realise that although the book purportedly deals with ‘last things’,

this particular vision has to do with ‘first things’, the Third Day of Creation to be precise,

and the expulsion from Heaven of Lucifer and the Fallen Angels…

*

Why this Dragon should have seven heads is an interesting question made all the

more interesting by the fact that few if any of the depictions of St Michael

show him in combat with a seven headed Dragon or accompanied by any other angels!

*

Also worth consideration is the attempt to visualise ten horns on seven heads…

*

It can be done thus: the two ‘end-heads’ and the ‘central-head’ have two horns each,

and the other four heads have only one horn each.

*

In this context the phrase, ‘for a time, times and half-a-time,’

which was first brought to our attention

in the Book of Daniel, and is again utilised

later in this Chapter of Revelation, springs to mind.

*

It is possible that the Seven Headed Dragon is a symbol of time.

Satan is earlier described as the one, “…which deceives the whole world.”

A description which could also serve for time…

*

The Creation, in this schemata, takes seven days to complete,

and seven is the basis for a number of natural rhythms and cosmic cycles,

and is the symbolic number used throughout the text of Revelation…

*

Obviously, we still, in some part, retain this rhythm by following a seven day week.

*

For the ‘Old Dispensation’, Friday, Saturday and Tuesday,

which is Venus, Saturn and Mars would represent, ‘times’,

whilst Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday,

that is, Sun, Moon, Mercury and Jupiter would be, ‘half-times’.

*

And for the ‘New Dispensation’, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday,

and their corresponding Planetary Cycles would be considered, ‘times’,

whilst Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and their

corresponding Planetary Cycles would be the ‘half-times’.

*

But does any of this really matter?

Over such things, traditionally, are wars fought and countless lives lost…

*

With regard to this particular stained glass window we might wonder

why Michael needs to be armoured, with a hand resting on the

pommel of his sword, in order to weigh

the souls of the dead?

 

Curiosities…

St Michael’s victory over the Devil – Sculptor, Jacob Epstein

*

The French occultist, Eliphas Levi, the German philosopher Franz von Baader, and the Theurgist, Louis Claude de St. Martin spoke of 1879 as the year in which Michael overcame the dragon.

In 1917, Rudolf Steiner the founder of anthroposophy, similarly stated, “In 1879, in November, a momentous event took place, a battle of the Powers of Darkness against the Powers of Light, which ended in the image of St Michael overcoming the Dragon.”

*

All of which is, to say the least, curious…

The traditional texts which mention Michael, and they are few, do not mention a dragon, and yet, iconographically, St Michael slaying the dragon is almost as ubiquitous as St George…

Religious paintings, sculptures and stain glass windows are all in agreement despite many, if not most,  of them being produced before 1879!

So what is going on?

Pull up a seat…

*

‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

– First appearance of Michael :  The Book of Daniel, Chapter 10: 5-21

St Michael de Rupe…

*

It is something of a ‘dream come true’ to be here,

looking at this in all its technicolour glory.

*

Traditionally, Michael is depicted either ‘slaying’, or ‘fixing’, or as we might say, ‘drawing’, or even ‘tickling’, the dragon, or, he is depicted with scales and sword in, or on, or above clouds.

*

So at a stretch this could even be described as traditional.

*

*

But look at his apparel…

*

This is St Michael, the Celt,

or St Michael, the Hermit,

or St Michael, the Druid…

*

Of all, of which, we whole heartedly approve.

*

*

And look at the colours:

the golds, and greens, and reds…

Earth colours!

Or dragon colours.

*

And look at the way in which he is holding his sword.

He could be ‘sighting-a-line’ or ‘plumbing-a-depth’.

*

*

But if we are calling this traditional,

then where are the clouds?

*

Ah, where indeed…

*

 

Still waters

The day was completely fish-related. The high winds had blown the water from the fountain and the level in the pond had dropped. My first jobs of the day were to treat the water, switch on the hosepipe and the UV clarifier that had been turned off while the pond was being medicated over the past week. I also had to check on Garfield… a brilliant, sparkly-orange and black baby koi, a fraction of the size of the others, who has hidden all winter beneath a plant in very shallow water. Being so small, he seems afraid that bigger fish might see him as breakfast and he has refused to come out from his hiding place. If the water levels had dropped too far, he would be in trouble.

I could see no sign of he little fish and was getting quite worried until I spotted him underneath yet another plant. He had, for the first time, voluntarily swum the length of the pond. I dropped a couple of pellets in his vicinity and was gratified to see him eating and swimming around. He was doing okay…

A little later, we went out to inspect the garden and feed the fish. The surface of the pond was empty, not a fish in sight, yet by the time we had taken the last few steps across the paving, forty of them were waiting to be fed, with several of them raising their faces out of the water, looking hopefully and confidently in our direction. They know the footsteps that herald food.

Not for the first time, I wonder about that. Small though I am in the eyes of the world, I am such a vast being in comparison to them. They cannot see me when they dart about their business in the water, only when they raise their eyes towards the heavens from whence all care comes; either in the form of fresh water and oxygen or as ‘manna’ falling from the skies. Sometimes our eyes meet and there is a sense of wordless understanding. A promise, perhaps, that I will always do what is best for them. I wonder if they realise.

I have, in the past, removed them from their pond to treat their maladies in medicated buckets… a stressful, frightening process for them, when they cannot know my aim is to help them heal. When water levels have brought near disaster, I and others of my kind have worked to put things right and ease their suffering. They have not seen as they gasped and struggled, only felt the fresh inflowing of clean water. Sometimes there is a muddied pool where all seems dark, dull and the visibility is poor. The fish cannot know that this is when the pump at the bottom of the garden is being cleaned for their benefit, yet they will play in the crystal waters that such murkiness precedes.

Meeting the eyes of a fish whose language and mode of living is so different from mine is a strange feeling. They move through different dimensions, up and down, with a freedom mirrored by the birds in the air. It is odd to realise that this creature must see us as both alien and, in our own terms, godlike, when it has a freedom in movement we cannot know unless we enter its domain and mimic its movements.

Yet it is a freedom confined, bounded by the banks of the pond… a limited environment which provides them with everything they need. Being a complete ecosystem, they do not even need the food I give them in order to survive, yet the falling flakes are welcome, giving a sustenance that allows them to live and grow in a way beyond what their own environment alone could supply.

Although so much comes from an ‘above’ to which they look for care, they cannot live in my world. The air that sustains my life is both too much and not enough for them to breathe… their evolution has been different from mine, yet, the waters in which they swim are the same as those which brought my ultimate ancestor into being and in which my own reflection is backed by the heavens to which I, in my own turn, look for a sustenance beyond need.

My body and theirs share the same substance and even their environment is a large part of the vehicle in which I move through the world. Water is so much a common thread that both fish and human could not survive without it. Yet we use it in different ways; were I to breathe water it would be just as lethal to me as a fish breathing air. Yet there is water in the air I breathe, just as there is oxygen in the water that passes through their gills. We are poles apart, opposites in so many ways, yet so closely linked that our kinship is unmistakable.

I watch them swim through reflected trees; the clouds above my own head mirrored in the water. I wonder if the life below the surface mirrors my own more closely that I might at first think. I too look beyond my plane of existence to the ‘heavens’, trusting that the murky waters that sometimes cloud my life flow from a greater good I may not see or understand. I know that it is from another and higher realm that I draw the sustenance that makes the difference between surviving and living. And I wonder if the freedom of movement we call free will is as confined by the limits of our existence as the swimming of fish by the banks of their pond.

Perhaps, too, there is a greater kinship with that which I call the One than may at first be perceived, for if I and the fish share the substance of being, perhaps that too is mirrored and adds understanding to a phrase much loved by those who serve in the Mysteries… “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”