Full Circle: Sooth-saying

We had not far to go to our next site.  Just a short distance away from Arthur’s Round Table and the remains of the Little Round Table is yet a third monument, Mayburgh Henge. Along with the now-destroyed stone circle at Brougham Hall, these ancient sites are undoubtedly linked.

To have four such important sites in proximity argues for there having been a substantial community in the area at the time they were constructed. The work alone that was involved in their building would have taken a lot of manpower, organisation and cooperation.

One thing we have noted on our travels through the ancient sites of this land is that prehistoric communities tended to build their tombs and sacred sites…portals to the Otherworld… on the ‘other side’, quite literally, separating the lands of the living and the dead by building on opposite banks of running water. There is an old tradition that witches and their curses cannot cross a running stream; is it possible that this idea could be a corrupted folk memory?

From1769 original by Thomas Pennant

The three henges and the stone circle all sit within a triangle of land at the confluence of two rivers, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the land. This would suggest that these were indeed sacred sites, not merely gathering places or cattle pens, and the sheer size and construction of Mayburgh argues that this was a very special place to our ancestors.

Mayburgh is technically not a henge at all, as, rather than being a site of earthen banks and ditches, it is constructed of over 5 million cobblestones, carried from the nearby River Eamont. It is possible that there was originally just a stone circle here and that the embankment was erected later to enclose it. Barrowclough points out that the pebbles were deliberately chosen for their colour, and “the visual impact…awe inspiring…The use of this combination of coloured stones relates to the deliberate symbolic incorporation of the Neolithic worlds of the living and the dead through solar and lunar rituals that incorporate water.” As with many such sites, there is an ancient spring close by.

Captured from Google Earth, the image gives some idea of scale

Only one of the central standing stones now remain, but there were once four stones of similar size within the henge, as well as four portal stones at the entrance. An early account of the site says that locals told antiquarian, Robert Hutchinson in 1773 that there had once been two other stones in the central space, “placed in a kind of angular figure with the stone now remaining, were to be seen there, but as they were hurtful to the ground, were destroyed and removed.” ‘Hurtful to the ground’? That is a very curious turn of phrase…

Like many of the sites we visit, Mayburgh has astronomical alignments, in this case, the entrance is due east of the centre of the henge, and frames the rising of the equinoctial sun, while the view from the interior of the enclosure shows the summit of Blencathra where the equinoctial sun sets. If the four stones of the interior were related to the points of the compass, perhaps the portal stones may have allowed them to be used as sighting stones too?

We led our companions through the portal and allowed them to explore, while we took up our places near the central standing stone, which towered above us both in height and presence. The trees on the embankment have a curious vibrancy… even those that have been pruned seem to dance and welcome us into their embrace.

When everyone re-gathered at the stone, we began an exercise that would continue at several sites throughout the day. Each chose, at random, a word with an attached ‘intent’ from a selection we had prepared and, continuing to build on the web of light visualisation that we had begun some years ago, a small gemstone into which we asked them to ‘infuse’ their intent, creating a seed of light. We sent them off to the outer limits of the henge and asked them to speak this ‘word of truth’ to the winds, giving voice to the intent and making it their own.

It is curious how many of these apparently random selections seem to find their mark, resonating with something in those who participate. It is, perhaps, no more than a recognition of something hitherto unvoiced, or an elucidation of something already known, but it is strange, nonetheless.

Curious too are the acoustics within the henge. While most shouted their word outwards, I faced both outwards and inwards… and not a breath of sound reached me from any of my companions.

When we gathered once more for the final meditation, with one of our number commenting upon the presence of thousands of souls that she felt in that place, the whole henge was ‘buzzing’.  Nothing was planned, but it seemed perfectly natural for Stuart and I to take up the portal positions as we filed out of the site, treating the space within as sacred and offering our thanks for its use.  It felt right.

We were in need of grounding and, in spite of rain showers, we seemed to have managed to spend the whole morning between the two sites. Thankfully, our next stop was a pink watermill that offered lunch… and from there we would head onwards to our first stone circle, where we would continue to work with the seeds of light…

In your own words…

There is a long tradition in esoteric circles of keeping a journal. It is a tradition to which Companions of the Silent Eye adhere, making a record of the thoughts, questions and realisations that arise from their own meditations and the work of the correspondence course.  There are many reasons for doing this, from the simple discipline of writing down these ideas to ‘earth’ them, helping to fix them in memory… for like dreams, such tenuous thoughts can easily dissipate…to leaving a record that might just help someone else who comes after us and reads them one day. Their most important function, though, is as a record for the writer.

When engaged on this inner journey, we stumble into strange areas of the mind, heart and soul and, like a traveller on an unknown path, we may bring back traces of meaning like dust upon our feet. We do not always know the value of what we carry until much later, when we and our understanding have begun to grow.

I picked up one of my early journals and, as is often the way, things written long ago come to my eyes as if written by another hand and heart. Meaning leaps from the page, revelations lurk behind each word and understanding dawns as if for the first time. And yet, the words which bring these gifts are my own.

How could I write what I did not understand? Where did the words arise to capture such ephemeral wisps of thought? Ideas, teachings, wisdom I do not possess stare back at me from the page as if they have materialised from some other reality where the hand that wrote them had far greater depth than I. And yet, I know that hand was mine.

The words written years ago have become part of the yellowed paper. Thoughts were manifested within the letters scrawled across the page. They have not changed. Yet I might have written in invisible ink for all the understanding I had brought to what I wrote. So, what has changed? The only thing that can have changed is me. The years, the continuous learning curve of life, the multitude of experiences, knowledge gained and illusions lost… all contribute to a changed perspective from which many things look different now from how they looked then.

Some revelations are simply that transition from knowledge to understanding; from an abstract and intellectualised concept to a living awareness. Some ideas become clearer as we are distanced from them; we can be so close sometimes that we cannot see anything but the detail and the shift in perception afforded by the passage of time allows us to take a wider view. There are many things in those pages that I did not even know I knew, but on some level, at least, I must have done so or they would not now be staring back at me from the past. It is an interesting experience when you realise that you have become your own teacher.

Although, we always are. No matter what life gives us to work with, we can only shape what we can hold in awareness… what we can perceive… and our perception is not pure but clouded by the accumulated layers of experience and reaction that have built up around us, so that anything that comes to us is seen only ‘through a glass darkly’. It can be a lifetime and the devil’s own job to chip away that accretion and change our perspective, because, , first we have to realise how securely we have immured ourselves, and the walls built by our emotions can be a veritable bastion.

Occasionally, though, the mortar crumbles and a gleam of light blazes through, illuminating that which was before our eyes all the time and then we sit back in wonder at how we missed something so obvious that it shines. And yet, when the gem we have missed comes from our own pen, we have to wonder where it sprang from in the first place.

Perhaps it was there all along. Perhaps there is a part of each of us that Knows… that doesn’t need to seek the answers, but which needs our conscious mind and heart to seek the questions.

I think, that on some level of being, we do have both the questions and the answers. We just don’t realise that we do. We can spend a lifetime in our search, only to find that what we sought had never been lost. The words on these old pages are gifts laid unknowingly aside in our blindness, waiting, like slumbering seeds, to spring into life and bloom when we are ready.

Rivington – The Gardens of Midwinter

rivington pennines 095We had never attempted a Silent Eye pre-solstice workshop before. December in Britain is a challenging time of year to ask a group of spiritually-inclined folks to brave the elements in a pre-solstice ramble in the freezing rain. mud, and, possibly, snow.

But this year we did… We put the idea forward, long in advance, and group of hardy souls turned up for a weekend of companionship to mark the approaching feast of Stephen, the ancient time of the shortest day and longest night, the mirror to the summer solstice–the day of St John, when the poles are reversed.

Our theme was the magic and mystery of what appears to be a very ‘dead’ time of year. From the day of St John, around June 21st each year, the days get shorter. Although still summer, this period, till the winter solstice in December, marks the decline of the light and a ‘victory’ of the growing dark.

What lessons does the darkest point of the year hold?

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The answers can be described by a figure we might relate to the Yin-Yang symbol, where the elements of polarity (in this case black and white) contain within them the seed of the coming cycle. Each part of the symbol, whose shape implies motion or change, is a perfect, if asymmetric, half of the whole. Each seed is both the offspring of what came before and the beginning of the next cycle. Thus, white contains its seeming opposite – black and black contains white. We can imagine an animated Ying-Yang where the seed of (in this case) ‘black within white’ grows to fill the whole of that half figure until it seems to take over the whole. At that very second, when there appears to be no polarity left, the seed of white is born – bringing the half-year of growing light and life into its next cycle, even though the winter is in full force.

In the case of December, the ‘seeds’ of what is to follow are hidden in the wet and cold depths of the earth, saturated and passive; as the only active force – the rotation of the planet – spins the whole into the next half of the dual cycle.

These were the core thoughts for the weekend workshop. We overlaid these with an invitation to our companions to consider the elements of a traditional Christmas – the tree, the child born in a manger, the three wise, men, the shepherds, the mother of Jesus, and the child – born of divinity; and to bring a reading to be used whenever it felt appropriate during the walk.

The landscape of the walk is described later. Our Friday night was spent gaining some cheer from a dinner in a busy pub in Horwich – the closest point to the beautiful moorland village of Rivington, from where we would begin the winter walk the morning after. We finished the Friday evening in good spirits, with a ‘reading in the dark’ in one of our rooms in the nearby hotel, providing a prelude to our re-evaluation of the darkness of winter.

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Saturday dawned, and the weather didn’t look too bad. We left the hotel, dressed in waterproofs and boots, of course, and left one of the cars high on moorland road not too far from where we would finish the morning on the upper level of Rivington’s Terraced Gardens. The gardens are a sweeping set of landscaped levels created by the man who became Viscount Leverhulme, the founder of the Unilever empire. The nearby town of Bolton is my family home. When I was a child, it was a special treat to come and visit this place, which has always held a special magic. We were all very much looking forward to the day, despite the weather forecast.

As a young man and local soap merchant, Leverhulme had courted his future wife on this hillside, and it was to be an area of special interest to him for most of his life. In those days, the only man-made feature of the hill was the stone structure known as the ‘Pike’, perched on the highest point. The Pike looks like a small stone fortress and marks the site of a warning beacon (bonfire signal) used during the English Civil War, when the area around was a stronghold of royalist support. A network of such signal points ranged throughout the high places in the north of England. The Pike is still the scene of much local activity, particularly on Good Friday, when thousands of locals and visitors stream up the hillside in the traditional hill walk.

Leverhulme was an innovative salesman, and soon inherited the original had-cart based business from his father. He is credited with the first ever widespread advertising campaign – something which launched his new company – Lever Brothers, and its brand – ‘Sunlight Soap’ and quickly secured his place in history. As his success and wealth grew, he looked for ways to decrease the costs of soap production and established a ‘model village’ for his workers at the new production facility in what became Port Sunlight on the Wirral. This meant that his shipping costs were not governed by the rates imposed on him by the owners of the Manchester Ship Canal company and he was finally able to have direct access to international waters from the regenerated Port Sunlight docks.

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Despite this, he continued to develop what had now become his country home at Rivington, and, during the economically-critical time of the 1920s, employed most of the stonemasons in nearby Horwich to convert the entire hillside into the series of terraced gardens we seen today. Leverhulme died in 1935. Despite decades of neglect, following the compulsory purchase of the land by Liverpool Corporation for its water rights, the gardens were so well constructed that they retained their basic structure, becoming an overgrown and other-worldly place of mystery for children and adults alike.

Within this mysterious and haunting landscape we were to enact a winter’s journey to mark the Silent Eye’s pre-solstice gathering. Saturday was to be the main day of activity and, since we were not all able to stay at the hotel, the day began with such delights as bacon butties at the Lower Barn, a restored part of the original Leverhulme estate.

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More to follow.

Forget-me-not

Image Source
Image Source

As I pulled the book from the shelf and opened it, a flower fell from between its pages. Its colour gone, its petals so fragile they cracked and crumbled as I caught the little thing. Still there was enough left for me to recognise what it was… a little sprig of forget-me-nots. My face remembered before conscious memory kicked in, the smile and the tear meeting halfway across my cheek. It was a long time ago, but for a second, imagination painted two hands where there was now one and the soft blue of the flower glowed ghostly blue. At its centre, the golden eye of a distant sun looked back at me. A very long time ago.

How much my life has changed in twenty years! How much the world itself has changed. Children who have grown into parents, people who have moved through my life, taken centre stage then exited quietly, to other lives or beyond life. Technology has moved at a pace that makes my daily life barely recognisable, opening a world of knowledge and communication whilst closing the doors on many more human moments of contact. Twenty years to see the sharpness of youth fade to softer tones. The hand that gave me that flower would barely recognise so much of my life today.

Yet, so much has not changed. People are still people, with the same hearts and hurts, the same dreams, the same problems. The places are all filled, as generation after generation play an eternal game of musical chairs, each taking the place of those who went before. The sky is still blue, the earth still as green and a babe in arms still has that soft, milky smell as every babe ever born. Forget-me-nots still bloom, and seem to tell a story similar to our own.

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Tiny leaflets pierce the soil, barely distinguishable from any other plant, except to the gardener who knows them well. They grow, and buds small and pale, emerge baby-pink and fragile from the protective cocoon of sepals. As the petals begin to unfurl, their colour changes and deepens as they mature and become what they were always destined to be, opening wide to mirror the sun with a golden heart… then, slowly, they fade through the pastel shades of age, setting seeds that cling to everything with which they come into contact. They are carried far and wide and will spread, perpetuating their delicate beauty long after they are gone.

For a moment time stops as I look at the crumbling flower. I am there and then, yet here and now too and the two are not separate but occupy the same time and space within me as, for a scintilla, I am conscious of being outside of the constraints of perceived time. The moments that unfurl like petals in memory have never left; they are not ‘gone’ or ‘lost’ but remain as part of the garden of my own life and from the memories, as much as the moment when the flower was fresh, seeds are continually sown and grow.

I return the papery fragments to the earth and the flower has gone full circle… my hands are empty, yet the smile and the memory remain and will bloom every time I see a forget-me-not. They always do. No experience is ever lost, it only slips from consciousness to take root in mind or heart.