After our recent workshop in Cumbria, we took the last of our companions back to Castlerigg for the sunset. It would be our third visit of the day…and three is a magical number. The three gentlemen who had been there that morning, and who had joined us then as we greeted the dawn, had also returned at dusk. They stood silent as the three of us joined hands and sang the sunset and then we introduced ourselves.
Six people, from thousands of miles apart, joined in a moment of unity, sharing the magic of place and time. Our backgrounds vary, the beliefs in which we were raised are different, the paths we have chosen are diverse… and yet, in that moment, we shared peace. Nothing mattered beyond the bond created by the Light within.
We shared an impromptu ceremony, and one of the gentlemen, who follows a shamanic path, spoke the words of a native American blessing. It was perfect for the moment, and, later, seeking the words of the prayer online, I came across a Lakota prayer that I found beautiful in its all-embracing simplicity.
teach me how to trust
my inner knowing,
the senses of my body,
the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things
so that I may enter my Sacred Space
and love beyond my fear,
and thus Walk in Balance
with the passing of each glorious Sun.
The prayer begins with trust… something we seem afraid to do far too often these days. We do not trust ourselves, let alone those around us. We seek the reassurance of approbation, rather than trusting heart, mind, body and spirit. But one line stood out for me more than the rest: To love beyond my fear…
For Christians, this season celebrates the birth of Jesus, who loved beyond fear and who taught “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The Solstice celebrates the moment when the year turns from dark to light… as we would if we could ‘love beyond fear’. It matters little what beliefs we hold, there is something in these words worth considering.
If we trust, and love beyond our fears, we may end up disappointed. If we choose to live in fear and distrust, we start from that position, leaving no place for light and hope.
As the sun set over Castlerigg, the casual observer, had there been any, might have seen half a dozen hippy-types holding hands and doing ‘weird stuff’ in a stone circle. Within the circle, strangers came together, in a moment of grace, offering and receiving blessings, in love, trust and acceptance… and it was beautiful.
On most of our workshop weekends, we offer a ‘greeting of the dawn’ at one of the ancient sites. The winter workshops are perfect for this as the sun rises so much later, but as we are at the mercy of the season, the weather and the time local hotels serve breakfast, these are always optional. Usually we choose a place we would not otherwise get to visit, but this time, really, there was only one place to choose… Castlerigg. The stone circle nestles within a circle of hills and there can be few more spectacular settings for an ancient and sacred site.
Not everyone relishes such an early start, and we had made it clear that this would be a brief visit, just for the dawn… we would be gathering there later to end the official part of the weekend. Nevertheless, almost everyone chose to come and greet the birth of morning.
It was still almost dark when the first of us arrived, getting the circle briefly to ourselves. Others arrived shortly afterwards, both from our own party and fellow travellers. It soon became obvious that although we would be there for the dawn, we would not be able to stay for the sunrise. The mountains of the Lake District that ring the circle would not reveal the sun’s face for some time, as it climbed behind the bulk of Helvellyn.
As we gathered to sing a chant to the sun, marking its still-invisible rising, Steve invited three gentlemen who were obviously of our own mind in these matters to join us. We frequently share these sites with others, but we have yet to meet anyone unsympathetic or disrespectful of what we do… and you can usually tell those who will join with us for a moment. Seeds of possibility are planted when you follow such promptings… and these seeds we would see come to fruition later that day.
After we had greeted the sun, we all headed back to our hotels for breakfast and for most to check out. It was typical that our road led us to a gap in the hills where we did see the sun rise in splendour. It would take another hour in the circle, but at least we were able to stop and experience a moment’s glory.
Later, we gathered once more at Castlerigg. This time, we explored the stones, speaking a little of the five thousand year history of the site, its solar alignments and the curious effect where the shapes of the stones shadow the contours of the hills.
We spoke too of resonance… that curious phenomenon where the vibrations in one object will set off a similar vibration in another. We attempted to demonstrate with tuning forks, but the wind…and our lightweight tuning forks… made it almost impossible to hear the sympathetic vibrations. We had used sound at the sacred sites over the weekend in a very simple form. We have used it at other locations in various forms too and each time felt we were brushing the edges of something. How important was sound and resonance in these circles where the greater reality was recreated in microcosmic form? It was something to ponder.
The theme of our weekend had been ‘finding the way home’. Could the world of our ancestors be considered ‘home’… that staring point of any journey? What did they see as ‘home’? Were these circles designed, at least in part, to allow our ancestors to access the Otherworld… the realm of the stars or the hollow hills…and were these seen as aspects of the same state of being? These are questions to which each must find their own answers, perhaps, but it may be that in asking such questions, we find something we did not know we had lost.
In the shelter of the tallest stone, there was a final meditation, placing ourselves as points of light within the Web of Light, where the heavens and the earth meet, shaped by the energies of star realm and our physical home, one with Creation. There was a simple sharing of the symbolic elements of life… and then it was time to leave. The wind was bitter now that the sun had risen, and a coach full of tourists had just arrived.
We drove to Keswick in search of warmth and coffee, after which life began to call the party back from wherever we had been, somewhere outside of time for a little while. Some took their leave and went off to explore, others shared lunch and wandered down to the lake.
Steve lives in the area and knows Keswick well. We walked along the edge of the park to where he could show us his favourite view. The rise of the land hid the town as he stood with the hills at his back, while before us, the afternoon sun sparkled on Derwentwater, reminding us how short the winter day would be. Walking back to the cars, we took our leave of each other. Most were returning home, but we still had a place or two left to visit… but that is another story.
(Click the highlighted links in the text for more on Castlerigg and its history and a demonstration of sympathetic resonance on Youtube)
The Silent Eye runs three informal workshops in the landscape each year as well as a residential workshop every April. If you are interested in coming along, further details can be found on our Events page.
I flick the phone onto speaker, my hands are otherwise occupied. “Just a bit.”
“What’re you up to?”
“Sticking pasta in a beard.”
There is a long silence on the other end of the phone…
“Could you repeat that?”
“You probably heard me right.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.” His startled tone makes me laugh. “Whose beard?” I can practically picture my son’s thoughts… he sports a rather magnificent beard of his own these days. Then I hear the shift as the light dawns. “Isn’t it a bit early for that?”
No, it is not too early, and even if it were, it would be worth it to have had that conversation. The annual workshop is barely past and we still have eleven months till the next April workshop, so yes, we have plenty of time to gather, make and play with props and costumes. We shouldn’t actually need many props next year, and the costumes will be simple enough, but the ones we do need have to be right. I’d rather start early, with the bits I am doing, and give myself plenty of time to start over if I make a mess. And, to be honest, I love this part of the process and couldn’t wait to get started.
And then, there is the whole time thing. It flies, these days. There are always workshops coming up, even though those we run in the landscape do not take much preparation in terms of making things, there is still research, planning and writing to be done. The time in between just seems to run away.
Our next workshop, in Dorset, is just a month away. Stuart and I have already been there for a research trip and work is ongoing, organising, writing and planning how best to illustrate the phenomenon of the mysterious patterns in the landscape.
We get to sit back in September, and simply enjoy the Castles of the Mind weekend in Northumbria, organised by Steve, where we will look at the physchological correspondences of the fortresses we build both in the mind and in stone.
We are back in the saddle for December, when we will be visting Cumbria, where Castlerigg, one of the most beautiful stone circles in the country, may show us a gateway to the otherworld of the ancient tales.
Then we will be into the final preparation for April’s residential weekend, Lord of the Deep, based upon the four-thousand year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving great work of literature.
And another year will have passed before we know it.
It is both a blessing and a curse, perhaps. The years are sliding past at an incredible rate, it is true, but they are full of purpose, direction and a joy in what we are able to share. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, if anyone has a current address for Old Father Time, I would happily beard the proverbial lion in his den and ask for an extension…
“They say the stones sleep. That they are old and forgotten… voiceless.
Is it so, little sister? Are they silent…or do they dream, the long, slow dreaming of aeons.
They were old when they were brought here. Older than memory. Older than time.
Their song never sleeps… it is we who live too fast.”
I’d written that a long time ago after a trip to the stone circle at Barbrook, bringing the vision of a seer to the page. “Sleepers awake, tell us your dreams”… Helen had written in that in her notebook a couple of days before visiting the place. And on the Friday morning, just after dawn when two of us had come to check the circle prior to the workshop, we had been shocked by the sense of ‘withdrawal’ at the stones… as if after too many centuries alone, they had finally sunk into sadness and allowed the moor to begin taking them back into the mists.
Three is a magical number…and three times three is thrice so. In the Silent Eye we work with a system based on a nine pointed symbol… but there is always the higher presence of the invisible One. As we approached the little circle we were only eight… but I felt that she who had once kept the circle would lend us her unseen presence. I say ‘she’ as, between the archaeology and geology of the area, plus what we and others have ‘picked up’, there seems to have been a strong feminine presence in the rites of land and sky.
It may be that it is time for the presence of the stones to fade, their meaning now lost, forgotten and often corrupted by those who seek to lay a new paradigm over an older vision and call it their own. But if that is the case, we may as well say the same of every church and chapel, every temple and grove, for all faith, religion and belief starts from a single point of illumination that is unique and personal before they can grow, evolve and spread. It is this continuous evolution that brings the understanding that set one heart and mind aflame to life, allowing it to speak to the hearts and minds of many and to answer their need… and each will take that spark and make it their own.
For me, as for many others, any place that has been rendered sacred by the faith of those who once walked there is worth preserving… and not just as a museum-piece. While there are still those who sit amongst the stones and wonder, while offerings are left in respect for some unnamed spirit of place, while there is one person whose thoughts turn to a higher sphere with stone at their back and their mind reaching beyond the birth of the stars… the ancient places will be kept alive.
We let our little company explore the circle. Some simply found a stone and sat quietly, others walked the perimeter of the circle…as we would do in ritual…. before taking their places at the stones. I watched from my place at the Seeing Stone, feeling the gears shift and stir, wondering what to do next. It was while we were waiting that a man appeared, accompanied by a white dog. He stopped and waited and was invited to go through.. he didn’t want to disturb us, he said. It was good to see the place being used. He was invited into the circle, to join us if he wished.
And so we were nine. Helen began by reading the first verse of the poem she had written about the sleeping stones. Then, in imagination, we visualised the rebuilding of the energy of the circle and all the while, our ninth companion, with white Nance by his side, nodded his head in approval. The symbolism was not lost on us; in esoteric terms, the Tarot is also known as the Journey of the Fool… and the Fool represents the soul. When we had done what the moment asked of us, Helen read the rest of her poem, which could have been written specifically for that moment and was perfect…and yet which had been written with no knowledge of what we would do. We hadn’t known that ourselves until we got there.
We do not seek to revive an outdated belief, nor do we seek to cling to what was. We honour what is… and what has lain at the heart of all of Man’s quest for understanding, since the dawn of time itself. What our ancestors understood from the earth and sky, we seek elsewhere, through the words of Books and the lives of Teachers. The teachings we are offered are appropriate to each successive Age of Man, building one upon the other and adding to a greater understanding. Yet the questions we have asked, of our origins and our purpose, will barely have changed…and however we clothe our vision of the truth across time and evolution, Truth itself does not change, even if we see only glimpses of it, like stars in the velvet night.
Our friend stayed with us as we reconstructed a simple divination, using the tokens our companions had chosen at the carved stone that morning. The method could not be historically accurate, for obvious reasons, but was based upon our own system and drew upon the ancient methods too. What we did was to show one of the ways in which we think the circle may have been used for the life of its people and it was in keeping with the spirit of the place. Of the stones that we used, each companion retained their chosen token, which left us with four. Steve, Stuart and I joined in a final blessing… which left us with one, a piece of labradorite, the magician’s stone, and this we gave to our friend. It seemed the right thing to do.
He accompanied us to the gate. He too had been to the other circle and had sat where we had sat. He is often on the moor and sits with the stones and we hope that we will meet him there again. Many of the small offerings we have seen there are his, gestures of respect… a guardian of the stones. As we walked away from the circle, we looked back to see a hawk, with wings outstretched, hovering over the stones.
The first hug was a good one and was soon followed by others as we gathered in the car park of Fox House. I had arrived at our rendezvous minus my erstwhile companion and his absence was noted. “He’s not feeling his usual self,” I explained. The disappointment was palpable.
“It must be bad for him not to be here…”
“Umm… well, he’s weirder than his normal weird…” It was just one of those things that couldn’t be helped, but it felt odd greeting the workshop’s gathered company without him.
A few minutes later we were walking along the pale pathway that led to the bridge across the stream where the two of us had inadvertently greeted the dawn that morning. On one side of the path the land rises steeply, blasted by quarrymen and unnaturally exposed; a reluctant nakedness that hurt the eyes. On the opposite side the land slopes down to the stream that divides the valley. Beyond the water, the gritstone bulk of Carl Wark rises from the bracken, still worked by Man, but with greater respect and harmony.
This was where we were heading, an ancient an enigmatic site of which little is known and much surmised. The plan was to begin the weekend with a sunset, but the weather seemed unlikely to oblige. It was not unpleasant in the valley, but on the heights the wind always blows and clouds were gathering.
We talked as we walked, as friends do who see each other too seldom, spreading out along the path as everyone fell into their natural gait. As we neared the final descent to the bridge, I gathered the companions together and, taking the lead, began to tell them a little about the site, the incident with the chocolate and our joint conclusion that the pack-horse bridge was really a troll bridge. I told them too about the origin of the site’s name… Carl Wark is thought to derive from the Old Norse for ‘Old Man’s Fort’. The ‘Old Man’ would have been seen as diabolic by the Christians, who determinedly shunned pagan practices…or adopted them under an altered and sanctified guise. Maybe the Old Man was not the Devil, but the ancient one who guards the ways…
…and as we rounded the final hillock that hides the bridge from the path, a wild-haired figure leapt from beneath the bridge to bar our way.
Behind me there was an intake of breath as realisation set in… he was definitely weirder than his normal weird; his staff planted firmly in the earth, draperies of wool the colour of autumn and a symbol bound about his brow.
There was no pause for discussion. I raised my staff and answered the challenge.
You could call it playacting … we call it ritual… but there is a serious and definite purpose to such moments. Up until we reached the bridge we were little more than tourists, friends sharing a common goal and interest. Our purpose at the bridge was to create a point of crossing, a demarcation between the everyday realm and a magical landscape that could be seen with the eyes of the heart. In terms of the system we use within the school, you could call it a psychological shock point, where, by taking accustomed normality by surprise, you open the doors to possibility.
In the same way that we do not take photographs during rituals, we do not share all their detail either. It would be of little use; experience adds a different dimension that is unique to each one who attends. It is enough to say that our purpose for the weekend was affirmed, each gave their assent to our stated intent and was given a personal symbol for use during the weekend.
The best laid plans of mice and men…or in this case the Old Man and the Walker, are never going to work out perfectly. Our plan to smudge with incense refused to ignite, so we used sound instead… which led to a realisation about the relationship between sound and stone that we had missed, in spite of it knocking on the doors of consciousness for long enough. Some apparent disasters bring their own gifts.
We had crossed flowing water into the ancient, sacred landscape and the mood was noticeably different as we began the ascent of the escarpment walking up to a huge boulder that seems to watch like some giant head rising from the bracken. The ‘Old Man of the Fort’ stayed behind to gather his things and bring up the rear and Steve wandered back to the stream to join him. Otherwise, we might never have known…
Clambering beneath the bridge (and forgetting the promised gift to the spirit of the waters) his fingers were refused purchase on the stone and, after several attempts to right himself, the Old Man measured his length in the cold, moorland stream. He paid the price of our passage and forded the stream in the old way.
Dripping, he rejoined the company to whom his final words had been those of protection. Oddly, there was no real hilarity… the atmosphere had changed and we were far from a place of ridicule, although there was both laughter and concern. I was reminded of the old magical affirmation, “I am thy sacrifice.”
There was an idea that has had me playing around with a digital painting programme. It also got me thinking. So, last night I toyed with an image from the last annual workshop that shows me in the ritual role of Isis. I ran it through on an ‘oil painting’ setting, then added a soft filtered bronze lighting effect over it.
Of course, the resulting image isn’t ‘me’. Not by any stretch of the imagination!
I don’t, more’s the pity, get to wander around in gorgeous robes and high headdresses every day… I’m more a leggings and comfort woman. Nor do I wear heavy Egyptian make-up as a rule. The clothes and draperies change the shape of the face, the state of mind changes the expression and the make-up brush can do strange and wondrous things. Add to that the painting effect that smoothes things out a bit, including…apparently…the nose, a soft focus through which the world seldom sees me and a bit of dramatic coloured lighting … And the results?
Well… if that’s me then I’m an ostrich!
Yet, although the image is no more than an illusion, it began as a captured reality… it began with a photo of me; a quick picture taken long before dawn one Sunday morning last April, when the day was almost unborn and hours had been spent in solitary meditation preparing for the day. Even the original snap didn’t look like ‘me’ and yet the woman in the image wore my features, looked out through my eyes… eyes my own hands had gilded and painted with kohl just moments before.
It seems rather strange that in an odd sort of way I have come full circle with this image.
The aim of the ritual workshops that we run is to create an illusion and make it reality, not the other way round like the picture, yet in both cases the results can hold a beauty that was not present before.
The rituals we craft for those who attend our workshops take a spiritual idea and weave it into a story. This tale is then played out within the reality of a sacred space. In many respects it is a bit of ‘sympathetic magic’. In just the same way that the shamans of old painted animals upon the walls of deep caverns to ensure the presence of game on the plains, so we ritualise the human experience and play it out from a spiritual perspective in terms the psyche can understand. The aim is to reach for the emotional and spiritual connection to this deep level of understanding… to seed awareness into consciousness… allowing the surface barriers of logic to be breached.
It isn’t mere playacting because the intent is focussed on the spiritual journey shared by the companions. The resulting learning experience can be very powerful and such ritual weekends evoke deeply emotional responses from those who attend… and it is here that the real magic happens. Within each of us; for the ritualised experience shared in the temple space must be taken out into the world and applied to life; it must be lived.
It is not enough to merely attend any spiritual event and think that by our presence we have done enough, any more than it is enough to take up the attitude of prayer before an altar while mentally going over the shopping list. The opening of the self within the temple, where the experience is emotive and touches the roots of being is only part of the story. It is little more than a seed planted in the life of earth.
No matter how deeply we feel those moments, no matter how vivid the experience, it serves no purpose if it is discarded with the robes or left in the dark closet of memory with the script. It is never enough to pay lip service to a spiritual ideal, nor, by simply playing them out in ritual form can they ever change our lives. What is born in the sacred spaces has to be taken out into the world. The inner reality of what we learn there has to be allowed to put out shoots into our own lives, growing up through our own characters and flowering as a personal understanding that changes the way we can be in the world. And that is where the beauty lies.
Otherwise here too we risk being ostriches… or peacocks whose glorious feathers hide little more than a chicken beneath them.
So in some ways perhaps it is fitting that the photo holds more beauty than I will ever see in the mirror of my days; a reminder that when the seeds sown by Working with the School take root, they may, if tended, flower into a beauty unseen by the eye, but known by the heart.
Details of Leaf and Flame, the Silent Eye Workshop
It was over ten years ago now in March 2004 that I first sampled the delights of Derbyshire at a Mystical Weekend in the Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow.
In those days I was a relativley new member of a worldwide Mystical Order and the idea of a ‘Weekend Retreat’ amongst strangers was unfamiliar and rather daunting.
I recall a moment of panic on my way to this remote spot as the bus from Sheffield headed deeper and deeper into the Derbyshire wilds… ‘It’s in the middle of nowhere,’ I thought with mounting hysteria, ‘we could all be murdered in our sleep and no one would ever know…’ I can now smile at such momentary fears brought on no doubt by a teenage staple of Dennis Wheatley and H.P. Lovecraft but there is a legitimate question here for those with no experience of such matters.
‘What does one do on a Mystical Retreat?’
Well that depends of course on which particular school is running the retreat and what the particular brief or theme for the weekend is.
My first retreat was a heady mix of group and private meditations, and informative and engaging talks and presentations by members of the Order of which I was then part.
But that is to describe only the formal aspects of such events; there is usually between the scheduled programmes plenty of time to commune with fellow participants or if one prefers time enough, to simply be alone with nature in the peaceful surrounds of the centre.
…But really the best answer to such an enquiry is, ‘one needn’t do anything on a Mystical Retreat, it is far more effective to simply be… and see where it leads.’
The annual trips to Derbyshire became something of a pilgrimage for me and with continued presence my involvement in the formal running of such events grew…
…In 2011 and now under the aegis of a Magical School but again back at the Nightingale for a weekend retreat our lodge staged a four act dramatic ritual which focused on the search for the philosopher’s stone.
Very ‘Harry Potter’ and all rather grand sounding but really it is just a group of life-affirming people with common purpose exploring together the notion of that which is more than the sum of its parts.
And in 2013 and now as the inaugural event of The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, the four act drama had become five acts and a tradition had been put in place which we hope will continue long into the future…
The dramas are script led and no prior experience is assumed.
There is no audience because everybody participates so there is no pressure and no one to mind if a ‘mistake’ is made…
In the words of one recent attendee: ‘It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s profound.’
No one has been murdered, of course, but a goodly number of folk have returned from our events with their sense of life purpose refreshed and renewed and their belief in the spirit released to soar…