Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 8 – Weird

Helen Glynn Jones

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part seven of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven can be found here… After the intense afternoon we’d just had, it seemed like a nice idea to do a bit of sightseeing, and Sue and Stu had just the place. Rowtor Rocks, at Birchover, is a natural stone outcropping that, three centuries ago, was carved and shaped by local parson Thomas Eyre (relative of the family whose name inspired Charlotte Bronte) into a…

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Rites of Passage: Off Duty…

We left Tideswell with one eye on the clock and the other on the horizon. The drive to Castleton would take no more than twenty minutes and we had plenty of time before we were due to meet for dinner, but Castleton and its surrounding countryside deserve to be seen and the light was fading fast.

The limestone country of the Peak District in Derbyshire is spectacular. Dry stone walls follow medieval field boundaries, enclosing green meadows, while above them tower the hills, scarred white with old stone that was once a seabed. I took the long way round, driving westwards into the setting sun, because I wanted to drive our companions down Wynatt’s Pass, the narrow, steep sided gorge guarded by pinnacles of rock. We were gifted with a sunset that spilled liquid gold across the horizon before setting the sky on fire.  There are times I wish I had a roof-mounted camera on the car…

As we approached the top of the pass, we pointed out Mam Tor, the Shivering Mountain, so called for its habit of shedding its friable stones. Mam Tor, the Mother Hill, is a hillfort, with traces of the ancient settlement still clinging precariously to its sides.

Below it, Wynatt’s Pass snakes between the hills and there was still light enough to see the valley unfold before us. The Pass is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Alan and Clara, lovers whose family disapproved of their union and who eloped, planning to marry and begin a new life together.  Thieves, seeing their wedding finery, ambushed them in the Pass, stealing their savings and murdering the couple. Their bodies were thrown down a mine shaft and only found a decade later. The thieves, though, did not enjoy their ill-gotten gains for long, as each one of them died in strange and horrible circumstances…

Beneath the Pass are many caverns and mines, from the old lead workings of the Odin Mine to the caverns where the rare Blue John stone is found. Appropriately enough, I had been given a beautiful pendant set with Blue John and peridot as a birthday gift that morning. Wearing it seemed to deepen the connection to this landscape that I love.

On the horizon was Lose Hill, one of a pair of conical hills in the area, steeped in legends of giants and battles. And, on the hillside above the town, the skeletal remains of the Norman Peveril Castle, once one of the most important strongholds in the area, now just a shell of its former glory.

Castleton is one of those place that seems to have everything, from the industrial history of rope-making in the caverns, to prehistoric sites, a medieval church, a ruined castle and a wealth of legends and folklore, from ghostly apparitions to treasure, highwaymen and thieves. It was just a shame there was not enough time to share it properly. We may have to base a future workshop there…

With the church closed, the light fading and the temperatures rapidly dropping, we decided against exploring the town further and headed, instead, for the warmth of Ye Olde Nag’s Head, the seventeenth century coaching inn where we were to meet the others. It was a lovely evening, and a perfect end to my birthday. All that remained was to drive back to Sheffield and fall into bed…  we were going to have a busy morning ahead of us next day….

Rites of Passage: Brief encounter…

The Silent Eye weekends are not just about what is built into the schedule, they are also a chance to spend time with people we have come to know through the events and who have become friends. We are always glad when there is time to spare, as that allows us to take a more leisurely approach, whether that is a long talk over dinner or, if we are lucky, time to visit and share an extra site or two.

On Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare and a rather curious site not five minutes away from where we were. Rowtor Rocks is a favourite haunt, one we have visited many times, both on our own, with friends and as part of a previous workshop. It is a curious, natural landscape that has been altered by man, from the prehistoric rock carvings to its reshaping by a local clergyman.

Many of the rocks have faces, there are strange ‘blinds’ and false paths leading to sheer drops, caves and a staircase that seems to lead through a narrow cleft to rebirth. It could be a dangerous place for the unwary, with steep cliffs and misleading pathways, but with a little knowledge and care, it is a fascinating place to explore.

We have theories… a good many of them… but the most pertinent to the journey we had been taking that weekend was that, whether seen through the Christian symbolism of the Stations of the cross, or from a more esoteric perspective, the Rocks had been re-designed to provide a perfect initiatory landscape, where the need to face the deepest of human fears is part of the journey. We had looked into the history and possible functions of the site in some depth during our Riddles of the Night workshop and, although we would not have time to share it all with our companions, there would be time enough to give an overview. It was as I was pointing out a skull-like rock with a ‘font’ cut into its crown, that a vacant-eyes woman appeared and approached, wafting a stick ineffectually at the undergrowth. My impression was that she was wearing a floral tea dress, reminiscent of the forties, such as my grandmothers would have worn… and that whoever was supposed to be watching her needed to take far greater care with the steep drops from the rocks. She neither spoke nor acknowledged us, just wafted dolefully and retreated after a few moments.

On the next level up, a man with both the moustache and dress of Clark Gable in Mogambo was also watching us. He looked vaguely angry… and his expression never changed throughout the encounter. I did not hear him speak either and that was odd, as everyone else we passed exchanged smiles or greetings. There was just something odd about them… apart from their dress from half a century ago…

The two gave the impression of being together but did not communicate with each other, at least, not verbally. Taking one of the company into a cave, I missed most of what happened next and will have to leave it for one of the others to fill in the gaps. I came out of the cave in a hurry, having the distinct impression that our other companion was somehow under threat. It made no sense, but that was what I felt. There had been a brief encounter, but the situation had been diffused.

It is difficult to convey the sense of unease, as if something was ‘not quite right’ with the two oddly garbed figures. It was even odder when, after they had disappeared, we compared notes and found that while we could all describe the man, we all recalled the woman as being dressed differently, though the colours we remembered were the same. Even odder when we realised that they had left the area via the steps at the far end of the platform… steps I had warned our companions against climbing as they are slippery and broken… and lead to nowhere beyond what can be seen except a sheer and unclimbable drop…

For no reason we could put into words at that point, the whole encounter had been rather unnerving. Even so, we put it to one side as we showed our friends the series of caverns and played with the acoustics. One of the caves is incredibly dark. I had borrowed a torch to check the safety of the floor before inviting everyone in… it would not do to have broken glass underfoot in the pitch blackness. That too is unnerving…until you turn to look back at the light from whence you came and realise that it is not really dark at all. The shadows are all perception.

Above the caverns, we showed how easily a great boulder can be moved; so perfectly balanced is the rocking stone that it moves with the lightest touch. Further up, we looked at the isolated pillar that is impossible to reach… and the three ‘judgement seats’ carved into the stone, before looking down once more to a prehistoric symbol of light.

It was just a shame there was no more time. We saw only a part of what there is to see… but it was enough. Rowtor is a place of contrasts. Dark and light, man-made and natural, ancient and modern, Christian and pagan, winding paths and sheer drops. In many ways, it was the perfect precursor to what we had planned for the next day. But first, we had planned dinner in Castleton, and if we were lucky, there would be just enough light to show our companions the Shivering Mountain and a little of the spectacular limestone countryside…

Riddles of the Night: Templar Shadows (2)

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Imagine a tiny village, just a few miles from a major Derbyshire town, yet unknown to most people passing by on the busy road between Bakewell and Matlock. The village contains an ancient mound of boulders of millstone grit layered on the underlying limestone base – typical of this part of the White Peak.

Aside from its geology, the intricate and serpentine rocks hold a deeper mystery. They show signs of being used for initiatory purposes for at least the past six thousand years.

Initiation is a process whereby an experience is arranged for an incoming person who has proved themselves worthy of a higher, and life-changing, viewpoint. The selected person(s) is led through a series of strange encounters in order to ‘open’ their being to higher spiritual truths. If successful, the arranged and symbolic nature of what is experienced will trigger a different relationship with the world for that person. Although the deliberate arrangement of circumstance is ‘contrived’ the internal experience of those going through such initiations is not…

Welcome to Rowtor Rocks, Birchover, a tiny dot on the map between Bakewell and Youlgreave… with a very mysterious past. Let us explore it, together…

We look up at the mound of rocks, which have that unique shape characteristic of the weathered gritstone formations in this part of Britain. Many of them are covered in lichen and mosses which shines bright green in the December sunshine. Prompted by our guides, Stuart and Sue, we begin to climb in silence. Even at the lower levels of the mound there are caves – caves which show substantial evidence of workings. Regardless of its isolation, this place has been the centre of something intense and historically ancient… Carved in the stones here are rings and ‘cup-marks’ from the neolithic era – thousands of years ago.

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Our guides stop us beside a font, clearly carved out of the rocks and beautifully symmetrical. The vessel is filled with rainwater. In our mind’s eye a young figure dressed in white skins is led to the water and ritually cleansed of his or her past. There is silence on more than just the physical dimension. The candidate – or to use a more appropriate word, the initiand, enters a world between two worlds, aware that their past is slipping away and that they cannot know what lies ahead – the unknowing is the essence of the process that will elevate…

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Our role is to witness. We watch as the initiand is led to the base of the cliff face and shown the narrow and treacherous path by which they must ascend to the level of the chambers, above. They turn, one last time, and look at us. We remember the nature of the feeling behind those eyes, but turn away. The spiritual process must work its magic, and aloneness is part of it. Their experience must be real or the psychological and spiritual ‘opening’ will not occur. We hear the unsure scrambling of able feet as the one whose fate we guard comes to terms with the physically difficult start of their solo journey up the rocks.

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At the level of the first of the transition chambers we gather in silence. Our path here has been easy, the initiand’s is hard. We close our eyes and say a silent prayer that the very real danger faced is mastered, and inner readiness achieved. They cannot yet know the intensity of that holding that emanates from above them.

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The temple chamber awaits us. The initiand emerges, breathless and wide-eyed from the climb, passes, tested into the sacred space, coming face to face with the twin pillars – simple-looking but the result of months of work during the seventeenth century. The initiand is given time to consider the significance; these rocks, set in place forever by nature, need no buttressing… the pillars represent the mastering and use of the polarities of life by human beings, the generation of goodness in the face of adversity… many other things that they will come to understand in the years of growing wisdom ahead. No explanations are given – they will come later, from within and without.

For now, they are simply brought into the presence…

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It shocks them when the cloth binding is placed over their eyes. Initially, they can see nothing, but, as we gather around them and light the flames, tiny flashes of light penetrate their darkness. Figures come and go, gently brushing against their immobile form; eventually settling into a pattern of eight sides. Our One purpose now has eight faces.

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The Elder, whose purpose has been to block the light from the entrance, moves out onto the ledge. We withdraw from the partially-sighted one, but not before lighting the aromatic herbs whose smoke will fill the chamber.

No words are given. They must draw, now, on their own resources – including intuition. Outside, arranged in a curve that will greet and embrace them, we wait. We can picture the scene within: the swirling, sweet-smelling mists, the bright light creating a half image. We picture their progress as groping hands feel for the chamber’s wall; then the shock as a gentle hand takes their arm. The message of that moment will never be forgotten: In the fearful darkness you were not alone…

The gentle hands take the fingers from the harsh rock and guide the trembling figure towards the vertical eye of light. At the first sight of the hands emerging, the gathered group let out a sigh and reach for the stumbling one, taking the wrapped cloth from the eyes and head.

The glory of the new view of an old landscape is forever burned, with joy, into the newly-opened eyes. No words have been spoken, but much has been conveyed.

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The respite is brief. The initiand is shown a narrow cleft leading back into the central rock and then upwards. The steps are steep and awkward. There is not room for both feet, and yet the ascent cannot begin until the body and its weight are committed to the climb. It is a paradox made physical. To get it wrong risks a painful fall onto hard stone, but there is no other way. Empowered by the emergence from the dark cave, the initiand throws his weight upon an upwardly-stretched leg and propels himself higher. The first step is everything; get that right and the momentum lets the legs return to normal function and the ascent is made.

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A new figure waits at the top of the flight. He takes the emergent one to a higher ledge where there sits a huge rock. Words are finally spoken. “Move the rock.” As witness, you watch the body stiffen, feel the habitual response: “How… It’s a heavy rock.” These are not voiced. no-one says this, but you can hear the mind’s words of doubt… always doubt.

The wise eyes nod in encouragement, indicating another sentiment: “Try, give no home to doubt…”

You watch as the initiand’s hesitant hands reach out to touch and then push the rock. You know what will happen, but the gentle hands do not. The Rocking Stone is one of many on the ancient mound. They are all miraculously balanced about a single point. With very little effort their entire mass can be pivoted and moved, falling back to their previous state when released. You watch the wonder in the eyes of the initiand. The message is clear: right knowledge can move the world…

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From the gullies, caves and paths they emerge, now – the others; the ones who were candidates for this rite in the past. They embrace the initiate; their heat is the clothing of love, of respect…most of all, of belonging

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But such knowledge carries responsibility. The new initiate is taken around another spiral in the rocks. They are pointed at the highest point which is just ahead. It is pillar, a pillar that has been constructed half-broken… Or is it half-finished? Alone on the the top of the whole edifice, it points at the sky. The initiate is shown the faint path over the climbing rocks. The ascent is difficult and brings them back to look down at where you are gathered, below. There is nowhere else to go, now…

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When the questing feet can go no further, the pillar remains a few feet out of reach. The initiate looks around for another way, but there is none. He cannot continue his quest.

Then there comes the sound of skilled footfalls on the rock. Before the initiate can react the thighs are grasped and hoisted. “Reach!” Comes the command as the body slaps flat to the topmost rock surface. Stretched fingers clutch at space, anguished that, still, the final few inches cannot be crossed…

“So it is for us all,” says the kind voice of the Elder, “but the presence of the Companion always takes us closer…”

The initiate is led down from the top rock. The embraces are warm and knowing. All watching have stood here. It is finished… for now. Everyone takes a final look at the high pillar, knowing the meaning, knowing the quest that will fire the life that follows: to take your world closer to the sky… to share the Work with others. Eventually, when the skills are many, to become an elder in the tribe, and one day complete the initiation of another young soul.

The initiatic reconstruction fills us all with wonder. We cannot know the exact details, but we know, without doubt, that we have sensed the heart of it.

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Far below, next to a popular pub called the Druid Inn – the actual meeting point of the Ancient Order of Druids, a friendly society founded in 1781 – is the Church of St Michael, created in 1717 by Thomas Eyre, the owner of the lands around Birchover.

There is historical evidence of intermarriage between the families of the Eyres and the Foljambes, and the land here once belonged to the Templars…

To be here, is to feel that history.

One part of the wall of the church contains ancient stones which must have been recovered from the site. Something ancient has been at work, here, for a very long time…

These researches belong to the work of Sue Vincent and Stuart France. We were lucky enough to be the recipient of this very special weekend, an event that brought together, in a beautiful and living landscape, the fruit of their well-researched thoughts.

End Part Two.

Other parts in this series of blogs:

Part One 

© Copyright Stephen Tanham