Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 2 – Pestilence ~ Helen Jones

Helen Jones continues her account of the recent weekend in Derbyshire…

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 two of my account, part one can be found here

‘Go and have a look around. We’ve got a bit of time yet before the others get here.’

I can’t move.

We were standing in a courtyard, once the stable yard of the nearby manor house. The buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants, jewellery, homewares, tea and scones all set out for visitors. It was a gorgeous place, sun shining on golden-grey stone, pretty tables, green trees.

I can’t move.

Waves were battering her from all sides, sorrow overwhelming. But they were toxic, polluted, like water disturbed in a stagnant pond. It was difficult to breathe.

I should have known when my body started to tingle as we crossed the boundary into the village. But this was… intense. I took a couple of photos but, even though Sue suggested once more that I have a look around, I still couldn’t move, feeling assailed on all sides. The air seemed filled with floating flecks of gold. It was a very, very strange place.

Continue reading at Journey to Ambeth

Pancakes, sophistry and sacrifice…

It is Shrove Tuesday and in England that means pancakes. Not, you will understand, those heart-warming American delights, nor the elegance of French crepes, but ‘proper’ pancakes. For my sons, following in the tradition of the family that has spanned generations… several of which made pancakes for me as a child… it involves Mum armed with a hot frying pan, presiding over a conveyor belt effect of ‘next one’s ready’ and ‘how many more can you eat?’.

In the typical Pancake Day scenario, in our family at least, Mum makes up a huge batch of batter to feed the family. She spends the next hour cooking and deftly tossing pancakes for everyone else, ending up with usually too little batter left for herself. And having cooked so many for so long, really, the desire has all but gone. Just to add to it, she then usually eats alone in the kitchen before washing the dishes.

My eldest son and I have pancakes on the menu for lunch. It was a convoluted journey to achieve that goal, as he watches his diet closely and eats more healthily than anyone I know. Pancakes, oozing sugar, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted as healthy. But he managed it with a little judicious sophistry and in a spirit of true self-sacrifice, deciding that it was the only way he could guarantee I would have pancakes myself and, indeed, actually eat today.

Pancakes and sacrifice go hand in hand. I wonder these days if the majority of youngsters, rolling them up and licking the lemon and sugar as it drips, know about the origins of the tradition… using up the rich foods like eggs and butter on the day before the beginning of Lent. In the Christian tradition, it was a day to confess one’s sins and be shriven… hence the name of the day… and prepare for the time of sacrifice to come.

I have often thought how the role of the cook on Pancake Day echoes the tradition behind it. Yet there is a deeper level to sacrifice, however, than merely giving up the odd luxury or a little time and effort. We see it in action all the time, though it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised, because the very nature of true sacrifice is that it is done quietly with no thought of gain or praise. When we genuinely put the good or well-being of someone or something before our own there is no thought of self. Yet in doing so, we gain something far more precious than that which we give up.

Sophistry can come up quite a lot where sacrifice is concerned. We can be very good at it where our own desires and wishes get in the way of loving sacrifice, reasoning and arguing with ourselves against the prompting of the heart. And it is often these inner whispers that are behind our moments of greatest beauty. There are opportunities in every life where we have a chance to do something simply and cease to think of anything other than the moment.

History and theology are peopled with those who have given their lives or their lifetimes to a belief, or an ideal. These are the ones we see as saints, or the movers and shakers of humanity… the ones whose passion made a difference on a global scale. Yet in every street, every day, small sacrifices are made. I call them ‘small’ only in comparison to those that visibly affect the whole of humanity. To each of those benefiting from them, they can make a world of difference, and the ‘cost’ to those making them is the same. They are giving something of themselves. And they are doing it with love.

Whether these sacrifices are inspired by their love for an individual, an ideal or their God, love is the common thread that binds them. And I have a feeling that these seemingly small, quiet sacrifices do affect humanity on a global scale, radiating unseen, but not unfelt, through our lives and perhaps the evolution of our race as a whole.

It is an odd thing, but a beautiful one, that true sacrifice, as with love given freely from which, I think, it stems, demands nothing in return. Not acknowledgement, nor praise, nor the return of what is offered. Yet it breaks all the rules of supply and demand, for the more we give away, the more we have to give.

Unexpected Shaman (3) – The head in the jaws


I’ve decided there is something Shamanic about suffering. The past few years have been challenging for me in a very specific way: whenever I have approached an important event, particularly one where I have to ‘perform’ well, in a dramatic or ritualistic way… I get slightly ill.

This is not stage-fright. Apart from the odd deep breath, I just get on with it, trusting that the kind fates and the momentum of experience will see it done well. It matters to me that it is done well…

Last year’s vivid ‘Leaf and Flame’ workshop for the Silent Eye’s spring weekend was a classic example. I had a particularly demanding role as Sir Gawain in an enhanced version of the Green Knight story. What few of the rest of the group knew was that, for the duration of the weekend, I was on a strong dose of penicillin for a chest infection.

Stuart and Sue had given their all to create a ritual drama that was ground-breaking and I was not about to let them down. The event went well, though my ‘ghostly’ appearance at the end of Gawain’s ordeals may have had a dual cause.

I will not dwell on further details of this recurring syndrome, other than to say that this has been a repeating pattern for many years. Generally, I’m a very well and fit person. These ‘events of adversity’ may well originate within my self, however unconsciously. They have much to teach me about an internal state that needs to have ‘earned’ the upcoming bounty; that needs to find itself deserving of the gateway that may lie ahead, as child Jerome was, on the morning when he awoke, still alive and now turned away from death – and thereby pointed at a life finally protected by a (Masonic) brotherhood that loved him.

The Head of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC, once led a group of us on an esoteric tour of Egypt, including, for a short period, the private use of the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid for a joint initiation.

On the morning of this momentous event, he said to us, “Do not question how you come to be here. Trust that it is enough that you are…”

Sometimes we listen and get it; sometimes we just listen and get it later; sometimes we don’t do either. It’s probably high-time my pre-event body listened… and that’s why I call this kind of suffering a Shamanic experience.

I don’t go in for a lot of soul-baring, but this level of psycho-physical interaction is exactly what we find when we uncover some of the low level ‘primitives’ that linger from our early psychological experiences and deeply colour our lives.

Within the Silent Eye, the three directors of the school (Sue, Stuart and I) act as personal supervisors for the students (we use the term: Companions)

our job is to be Supervisors of their own journey- and it is a journey – one of self- discovery across three actual landscapes, in what I now see is  a rather Shamanic way.

Our Companions have embarked with trust and enthusiasm. Our ‘guardian’ role, which we do freely and in our own time, is, emotionally and intellectually, to travel with them over a terrain which is nothing less than the shared humanity of the pivotal and sometimes very private set of responses that result when we prod the tyrant of the egoic self, sitting atop its ancient and symbolic pyramid.

And so to Chichen Itza. The day that Jerome had done his best to equip me for; the journey to one of the world’s most remarkable spiritual sites. It began on a rubbish dump, which is a lot better than a chest infection, so I knew things were going to go well…

Seven of us – a propitious number – sat looking at the assemblage of wrappers, paper cups and chocolate packaging that surrounded the dusty bank on the right-hand side of the minibus. We were looking right because to look left exposed the eye to the frantic motion of the highway – a mere six feet away. Cars, trucks and a not-infrequent phalanx of flashing and hooting police cars thundered their chorus against our turned-away left ear drums.

“Be here in a minute Signor,” said our driver, with more hope than expectation – watching us watch the rubbish and wince at the traffic.

But he was right. The bigger minibus that was to dock with the palatial full-size coach did arrive in the next few minutes, leaving the nightmare handover amidst the refuse a distant memory.

Jerome’s parting laughter rang in my ears. He had said I would have a very different journey to his, and I could sense how acutely he knew that to be true – as though he were there, smiling through the shimmering traffic.

His sentiments were amplified by the sense of containment in the events of the day, ahead. Everything was programmed to the minute. We were to spend the morning in an ‘authentic’ Mayan village, including an optional swim in a Cenote – one of the many places where what looks like a small, freshwater lake is established by the collapse of the rock above an ancient and pure underground river. The Yucatan peninsula is predominately limestone and the underground rivers are responsible for the existence of human life, here. Without these, Yucatan would be a desert… and the Maya would not have existed; well, not here, anyway…


This water, like Shaman-folk, is clever. It knows where to flow and it knows when to break through to the surface.

They are very beautiful places, these Cenotes; and have a great sense of peace about them. The water feels really good on the skin, and the sense of a baptism in the unchanged life-waters of the Maya is not lost on those who can feel the connection.


But no Chichen Itza. Not yet, anyway. After the swim, there was shopping and lunch. The purchase of a Mayan horoscope (with funds going to local villages) and a look around the very simple huts of the reconstructed dwellings. Then, we were finally on our way to the only place most of us wanted to be.

I could feel Jerome smiling across the kilometres at me, daring me to lose faith that this could be special, could be spiritual – as in ‘touching the real’, the causal layer of existence against which the human constructs its reactive life according to its fears.

The comfortable coach sped, intently, towards its target…

It’s getting really hot in the rays of the Sun. There was a man whose head was eaten by a jaguar… no, no, no, that was just the glimpse of a poster on the outskirts of the gathering town..

I sipped some water. It was very hot, even on the air-conditioned spear… Spear?


His name was Manuel. He was our English-speaking guide. He must have seen six decades or more. He learned English in his twenties as a tool to lift him out of the poverty of the everyday life around him. He was of Mayan descent and spoke the resurgent ancient language, fluently.

Within two minutes of him beginning to speak, I had fallen for the magic in his voice. Curling, lyrical, urging… could he, too, be a … stop it! I was getting obsessed, and the rays were shining from right above us, it seemed…

Manuel’s eyes, like his voice, shone with the invisible song of gentleness. He was not a fan of Mel Gibson and said that the latter’s films of severed and bloody heads bouncing down the steps of the Chichen Itza pyramid had done more damage to the living spirit of the Maya peoples than the Toltec mercenaries who actually carried out the desecration of Chichen Itza a thousand years ago…

“We were not violent,” he said. “We were seers of the spirit of the earth and the way it moved through the heavens. We took the best of our young people and tuned them into the music of that spirit, into our priests. Then we asked them to sing; and those that brought forth new music became our high priests; and these would compete to become the warrior – the single warrior in that journey around the sun…”

His soft eyes did something strange as he continued. “And then that single warrior would pass from this place and take our spirit back to its father, the Sun. And life, having touched true life, would begin, again.”


And the huge teeth were slipping down in slow motion over the head of the man, but he was smiling, triumphant – unlike the poor replicas of the eaten skulls, lined up in their tens, a few dollars more… The two were such an obvious contrast, weren’t they?

Skulls and Jaguar

Manuel paused to take breath, but he was not breathless, despite Mel Gibson. Instead, he was preparing the verbal arrow of what came next… pointing it so that it released itself at an exact moment where the endless stalls of animal masks petered out and the limestone wall fell away and the great pyramid of Chichen Itza hissed itself into your consciousness. The throngs of people were still there, but they were running…


There were four notes, four harmonics, in that hissing sound. Four harmonics that could kill with a single blow…but it was not a song of death.


The four notes were preceded by a snarl of challenge. I raised a head made weary and slightly dizzy by the endless hot sun, to follow the direction of his gentle speaking… The tiredness from the heat seemed to flow upwards, into the air, forming something. The heat that was left was full of energy and life…

…and the huge, counterpoint, black jaguar, made of atoms that were not limestone, raced across the vast square of what had once been endless and perfectly paved stone and right at me.

(To be continued…)

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven – end

©Stephen Tanham

Twin suns…

dawn sky (1)

“…It is at this point that Ben decides to leave us and heads off into the quarry which lies behind our vantage point on ‘an errand’.

 

“He’s burying the stones we were going to be lugging over the moor,” says Wen.

“How do you know they’re stones?”

“I don’t,” says Wen, “but I bet they are.”

“I didn’t know you were the betting sort,” say I, “but you’re probably correct.”

 

Wen moves off back up the track heading out to the moor beyond.

 

Just then the leading edge of the sun disk crests the cloud and a sliver of sunlight arrows out over the moor.

 

I run back to the edge of the quarry and shout down to Ben that the sun is up.

As the full face of the solstice sun finally emerges, it ‘sees’ us like this…

Ben in a hole…

Me on the lip of the hole…

Wen about to lead us higher up the moor…

Extract from Doomsday:Scions of Albion by Stuart France and Sue Vincent

***

There is always a certain amount of uncertainty about a dawn. It is in that moment, when we wait for the future to become the present, that we connect unconsciously with the past. We naively assume that our ancestors awaited the daily miracle of sunrise, not knowing if the great Eye would open to illuminate the day or remain closed, keeping the world in inescapable darkness.We stand on the edge of a tenebrous wilderness, scanning the skyline, waiting to see if our timing is right and the weatherman reliable. Will we see the dawning sun crest the horizon… or only the flush of light behind the pall of cloud?

We never really know. We can only take the time on trust and await the pleasure of Great Nature as the dawn unfolds.

There is something sacrificial about such moments… sleep curtailed, a warm bed abandoned, breakfast postponed and the morning braved, regardless of the chill in the air or the vagaries of the weather. You climb to your chosen vantage point…and then you wait. You have checked the sunrise tables and know, as accurately as possible, the time that dawn will creep above the dark earth at that particular spot. You do not know whether or not the sky will be clear enough to see, how light or dark the path before your feet will appear and whether sunshine or rain will be your lot. Yet all these are things that can be addressed with a little planning and preparation; warm clothes, good footwear and a chocolate bar in the pocket serve to cover the practicalities.

Yet, in spite of all your meticulous planning and best calculations, Nature is still in charge. How long will the sun take… beyond the technical time of dawn… to actually climb from below the eastern horizon to its place above the line of hills that now block your vision? Will the big, black cloud thicken and steal ‘your’ dawn, or part to shower gold at your feet? You do not know… but you wait.

The numinous space between night and day, you  are poised between doubt and trust, fear and hope, with eyes and heart open to the light… The crossroads of the day lie before your feet, signposting the choices the moment asks of you… and offering you a moment to affirm your self-definituon; yours is the choice….sleep or waking, oblivion or awareness… is yours to breathe, drinking its presence as the dew… yet once you have made that choice, like the ancestors, all you can do is wait and trust…surrendering to the greater will of natural law.

Sometimes that trust is rewarded in unexpected ways. You see asea of mist spread out beneath your feet like a pathway to the Otherworld, long before the sun rises…

You watch the dawn over the valley… then see the sun rise again above the hills where you stand… a twin dawn…

You watch a sky aflame with liquid light, gilding the world, revealing its contrast and colours…

Every dawn is a miracle, every sunrise both affirmation and new beginning…

***

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 (7)

Join us in September as the seasons turn once more to walk forgotten pathways across the moors to circles  lost in the bracken. Learn of the dreams of a mysterious  Seer, a lifetime echoed in stone and whispered through time as we explore the sacred landscape of Derbyshire. In the solitude of the moors, the voices of the past seem to reach through the land and touch your heart, finding there a continuous thread of light that winds through the ages as each soul asks its own questions, the same questions that have been asked for millennia.

Based around the Fox House, Hathersage, we will spend the weekend exploring some of the neolithic  and sacred sites of the area, culminating in a trip to Arbor Low, the ‘Stonehenge of the north’. Each attendee will be asked to bring a short reading or to share a story that seems appropriate to the moment and we will talk as we walk, finding inspiration in the land and in our companions.

These events are not large, just a small and intimate group and a warm, informal atmosphere.

For those thinking of attending the Silent Eye’s Annual Workshop, The Feathered Seer, at Great Hucklow in April 2017, Circles Beyond Time will be of particular relevance as the story that will unfold during The Feathered Seer will be set in this particular part of the ancient landscape.

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (16)

When: Weekend of 9th to 11th September 2016.

Where: Based at the Fox House inn near Hathersage, Derbyshire, England.

Who: An informal weekend with the Silent Eye, open to all who wish to attend.

Cost: £50 per person, accommodation and meals are notincluded and should be booked separately.

Why: Explore an ancient and sacred landscape and how it is still relevant to each of us today.

How: Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com to reserve your place.

Going west – walking with angels

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We didn’t have to climb the whole height of the mountain; there is a makeshift car park about halfway up. I was glad of that, as my poor, much abused feet were not happy. I spend much of my life barefoot, the soles of my feet offer better protection than most of my shoes these days and anyway, I like to feel the earth beneath my feet. Left to my own devices, I would have walked in the flimsy lace slippers that allow them to breathe and expand, but common sense demanded the walking shoes be worn. It would be a long way to carry an idiot with a twisted ankle back down the mountain and we had been warned of a scramble over loose scree at the top.

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Walking shoes come into their own in rain and winter weather…or when crossing the boggy stretches of moorland born of upland springs that bar your way, even when it hasn’t rained for weeks. Their soles are thick and rigid with excellent grip, their uppers breathable, their construction protective and waterproof and they hug the feet securely. They are faultless and comfortable… except when it is already hot and said feet are gasping for air and threatening to go on all-out strike if not given worker’s rights.

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Just to add insult to injury, as soon as my feet overheat at present, the pain and the itching of the spider bites returns. Consequently, my ascent of the mountain was slow, punctuated by muttered expletives and lacked the grace of the supercilious sheep and the ponies that watched our progress. They, I noted, had surrendered to the heat of the day and were comfortably lying on the grass.

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It is one of the inevitabilities of the ageing process that the body starts to impose limitations long before the inner self has begun to slow down. I am not sure that we ever have to leave our youthful eagerness and joy in life behind… but the consequences of the lives we have lived etch themselves on muscle and bone. Growing older is a privilege that should be appreciated for the gift it is…and one we would probably appreciate more often if it didn’t hurt so much.

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Sometimes, though, a slower pace is not such a bad thing. A leisurely stroll with frequent stops gives plenty of time to observe the land and its creatures, and this landscape was certainly worth more time than we would have. You could probably spend a lifetime on the mountain and still not learn all its secrets. Sometimes, too, that slower pace has unseen reasons that shadow forth a purpose other than our own. Without the aching feet, I would have missed something that will remain with me for a very long time.

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St Brynach, a local saint of the 6thC, is said to have climbed Mynydd Carningli many times,  when the busy life at the monastery he founded in Nevern became too much for him. He would walk to the summit to pray in the silence, surrounded by the beauty of his God’s Creation and ‘commune with the angels’.

Carningli_hillfort map by Brian John
                      Map of Carningli hillfort by Brian John, who set the hill at the heart of his books.

Mynydd Carningli, the ‘Hill of the Angels’, is an ancient volcano that rises some 1,138 feet above the sea and its origins are written in its stone. It is part of the Prescelli range of hills from which the famous Bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried and carried  some 140 miles to their home at the heart of the Hanging Stones. It appears to have been a sacred place for much of mankind’s history and is rich in archaeology. There would be no time to explore the massive hillfort that crowns the mountain and which goes back to the Bronze Age, or to go searching for the hut circles, gateways and revetments that make this such a fascinating, as well as such a beautiful place. We were climbing for other reasons.

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I wasn’t the only one struggling with the ascent that day. The fittest amongst us were way ahead of us, stopping occasionally to allow us to catch up for a while. The laggard group fell further and further behind and one of our Companions, already beyond his usual limits, started looking for another path back down.

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I could sympathise, but was determined to make the top. Our guide for the weekend was taking us to places that spoke to her heart and soul in words of silent beauty. They meant something to her, far beyond their undoubted historical or aesthetic value. In sharing them with us, she was opening a door through which we could see a glimmer of her own inner light. That level of trust a  thing of great beauty in itself.

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And there was another reason too… we planned on a sharing a healing meditation there for a much-loved friend whose health was giving cause for concern. I voiced this, as much to affirm my own determination as for any other reason and witnessed what was, for me, the most singularly beautiful moment of the whole weekend. “I needed to hear that right now,” said our weary Companion, straightening his back and striding on up the mountain. What he might not have attempted for himself he would do for Love.

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You have to climb to reach any summit, just as you have to travel to reach any destination. That journey is not only part of the experience, but gives value to its attainment. Stuart has a theory that the effort of the ascent is the willing sacrifice we make when we climb these sacred hills and what may be granted in return is exponential to the offering of self that you have made. Watching that determined back precede me up the mountain is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It is in such moments that you glimpse the true strength and beauty of the human heart and soul.

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