Are we there yet?… Sue Vincent

This week, I will be sharing again a little about the people behind the Silent Eye…

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My grandfather gave me his annotated copy of the Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune when I was fifteen. “This is the only magical book that you will ever need,” he told me. “But you’ll fill a good many bookshelves before you get there.” He was right. It was all in that first book; but learning is a spiral and you have to come back to the same point over and over again, bringing new knowledge and understanding each time before you can really see what lies in your hand.

I was born in Yorkshire into a family that was about as spiritually eclectic as you can get. The various members were Jewish / Buddhist / Methodist (but High Church for special occasions), with one grandfather who taught me very early about the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the other a Spiritualist minister and one grandmother a noted psychic, like her mother before her. I attended the Zion Baptist Sunday School with my Hindu and Moslem friends and that pretty much completed the picture. So, throughout my childhood, a lot of things were thrown into the melting pot.

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Everyone, it seemed, celebrated the convergences rather than the differences between their chosen paths and everything was treated as possible. I grew up simply accepting the spiritual journey, encouraged to find my own path forward, not encountering religious or spiritual prejudice until I was much older. There was never any question of there not being a greater reality, it simply was. So was the journey; that meant growing up in the understanding that you hold responsibility for every thought, word and action… not in fear of some celestial tally-keeper; you, your Self hold the scales… and when you look through the eyes of the soul, there is nowhere to hide… it is between your soul and the One.

In outward respects, life was perfectly normal, with me getting into as many scrapes, as much mischief and making at least as many mistakes as any other youngster. Little has changed there, then, except the age… There was nothing, as far as I knew, any different; my family was the same as any other, it was only in much later years I saw how incredibly lucky I had been to have that particular education; educing rather than dictating, letting me stub my toes and learn through experience how I could grow and what I could believe. Nothing was imposed, nothing dismissed with contempt or disbelief; ideas were greeted with an open mind and the acceptance of possibility. I was given a rich education in mythology, folklore and symbolism… and that too I simply accepted at the time as ‘normal’.

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I delved into ‘low magic’… divination, numerology and such through my teens… in fact, all the fragmentary systems you could ‘do’ rather than ‘be’, with the overconfident abandon and incomprehension of youth, while reading all I could find on the Tree of Life, the Qabalah and the magical path. Even now I marvel at the quality of the material available in my family at a time when such books were very hard to find. Then I went back to the Mystical Qabalah and read it again. This time, the dots began to join up. I put aside the ‘doing’, stopped playing with spirituality and started to learn.

For the next ten years, I studied alone, trying to apply the learning to my life. I learned as much from meditation and dreams as from waking. I moved to France, married a musician who had been raised a Catholic and was a member of AMORC, a Rosicrucian order; over the years I added some of their perspective to the store. My mother-in-law was a Martinist and from her I learned about esoteric Christianity. There was the intellectual accumulation of knowledge and a philosophical intent to put it all into practice, but knowing how, finding the keys, would only come with time and living.

In my late twenties, I had what I can only describe here as a life-changing experience that brought the reality of the inner world to vivid life for me. About that time too, I had planned on joining an esoteric school, feeling the need for structure and discipline as well as spiritual companionship, but was clearly shown I should wait, learning to live in the world first. A chapter in one of Dion Fortune’s books, The Training and Work of an Initiate, speaks of serving the Hearthfire; I read it, wept, and resolved to wait.

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We had moved back to England and, although the outer life revolved around the family, the inner life had become very intense too. It was a period of deep commitment, for want of a better phrase and the two separate halves of my life seemed to meld until I realised there was no separation. There never had been, but I had been too blind to see.

It was some fifteen years later when my sons were grown, that I decided once again to apply to a school. Browsing the internet, I read an address by the Director of Studies of the Servants of the Light, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. The article was called, “To Serve the Light” and in an echo of that day fifteen years earlier, I sat with tears streaming but this time felt I had come home. I commend that lecture to any seeker, no matter what Path you follow.

My years with the Servants of the Light were both a personal joy and a steep learning curve. Much of the theory I had already found in my own studies and meditations, but the discipline, structure and camaraderie were as new as the perspectives and techniques that bring the teachings to life. I felt the connection to others within the school, and to that greater family of those who serve the Light. I knew without a doubt I was in the right place at that time.

Many threads fan out from that moment. It was at a SOL gathering I first met Steve Tanham, albeit briefly. At that same gathering several things happened that would change the expected course of my life and I met a woman who became both a sister of the soul and a teacher who walked with me on a path she herself had taken long ago.

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In 2012 it became plain that my place was with the new school, the Silent Eye… and the rest, as they say, is history. But, of course, the journey continues.

“Are we there yet?”

Well, no. I don’t think we ever are. The longer you walk the path of the seeker, the more you see that there is to unfold, until one day you realise that ‘there’ was already ‘here’… waiting for you to open your eyes and heart. And then off you go again, exploring another curve of the spiral of life, armed with perhaps a little more knowledge, a little more understanding… just enough to highlight the wider horizon that is waiting to be Known.

Spirit y’all? – Stuart France

This week, I will be sharing again a little about the people behind the Silent Eye… this is Stuart’s journey…

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‘Our own journey is entirely imaginary: that is its strength.’

– Louis Ferdinand Celine.

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I grew up in a religiously tolerant family which knew a thing or two about love and faith. Nan left the Catholic Church to marry Gramps and their eldest son, Uncle Geoff, my mum’s little brother eventually rejoined the Catholic Church in order to marry Aunty Cath, which meant that when we went to spend holidays with Little Geoff and Janet and Mandy we went to their Church with them which was Catholic, and when Little Geoff, Janet and Mandy came to spend the holidays with us they came to our church which was Church of England. It didn’t seem odd to do this and it came as something of a shock to realise that in olden times people had lost their lives for less.

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Anyhow, I eventually grew suspicious of a Church which required me to stand and proclaim my belief in something that is seemingly physically impossible and so I ceased frequenting on Sun Day’s, although, I still liked to ‘rock up’ around Christmas time to sing Carols, and even at the height of my teens I could be found attending Midnight Mass of a Christmas Eve.

My Religious Knowledge teacher at senior school was a good sort, Mr Whalley by name. He taught that all religious systems essentially referred to the same ‘thing’ which he called Spirit, and he stressed the personal nature of the contact which could be enjoyed with this thing. I liked the stories too, and not just the Christian ones. I liked all the stories because it felt like they were trying to tell me something, if I would only listen… It wasn’t though an immediately obvious thing and it wasn’t historical either because it went beyond history, although I liked historical stories too. I would have liked to study Religious Knowledge at ‘O’ Level but the selections were not set up right, so I couldn’t.

I suppose, really, I came to spirituality through literature and philosophy which I studied to degree level. One shouldn’t really be putting pen to paper unless one has something communal and good to impart and philosophy, properly, is the ‘Love of Wisdom’.

The Spirit is infinitely wise…

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Knowing that, though, is a lot easier than living it… so, really, my spiritual education was only just beginning when I joined and studied with a series of Spiritual Schools. First, OBOD, The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which teaches love for the Spirit of Nature, then, AMORC, The Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, which teaches love for the Spirit of Mysticism, and finally, SOL, Servants of the Light which teaches love for the Spirit of Magic.

Can anyone conceive a well lived life without a love and reverence for the spirit of nature, and the inherent magic, and mystery of existence in some form or another?

I know I can’t.

I don’t think it is necessary to belong to a Spiritual School in order to be spiritual, quite the contrary, because life itself can be regarded as a school of the Spirit, which of course it is, but joining a Spiritual School can certainly help because what these schools really teach is a series of techniques which enable us to access our natural abilities in order to attune with the spiritual dimension of the world around us in a meaningful and productive way.

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Our School, the Silent Eye, in that respect, is no different from any of the others, we just have a different set of techniques and, perhaps, a slightly more modern approach.

‘The easiest way to approach spirituality is through stories, they are common to every tradition on earth and rather than demand belief all they ask is a willing suspension of disbelief…’
– The Initiate.

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…Y’all come back now… you hear?

My Spiritual Journey by Steve Tanham

This week, I will be sharing again a little about the people behind the Silent Eye, starting with its founder, Steve Tanham:

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Sue has asked Stuart and I to record, in an interview style, our individual spiritual histories. Here’s my offering:

I was born in May 1954. I came into the world (with the help of my mother and a good midwife), in a terraced house belonging to my grandparents in a working-class district of Bolton. I had the good fortune to be born into a Rosicrucian family. My father had come across an advert for AMORC (one of the best-known Rosicrucian Schools) in a magazine he was reading while waiting at a railway station. He was on his way to carry out his basic training at an army camp. Later, he became the spiritual beacon of our family, and my mother married him, largely, she claims, because he was “different” from other men in this respect.

I was enrolled into AMORC’s Junior Order of Torchbearers as a child, and loved the gentle introduction to the Mysteries that they offered. There was no hint of indoctrination in those early lessons (nor since) and the gradient of teaching was very gentle – perhaps too gentle.

Fast forward twenty years and I joined the local “Lodge” of AMORC, in Manchester, of which Dad had been a founding member. I served diligently and, a few years later, became one of the youngest Masters of the local body. The word “master” here corresponds to the use of “Magus” in a magical lodge, and relates to work undertaken rather than spiritual superiority.

diggingdog 266I was first married in 1980. Our two sons were born in the mid-80s and I took a decade off from mystical service to be as active a dad as my busy corporate life allowed. Something in me changed during that period. I became conscious just how much the expectations of being a good son and successor to my father had featured in my earlier involvement with AMORC. I had been dutiful, yes, but had I acted from the perspective of my own soul? No. So, when I re-joined AMORC in 1999 I was determined to approach it from an individual perspective, rather than doing the “expected thing”.

Today, I would recognise that as a breaking free from one aspect of the Superego, but, back then, it came as a growing realisation of the need to find my own path – which is an equally valid way of describing it. That drive, that search for a personal path, became quite dominant and often led me to lonely places. It was only much later, and reading works by such writers as Kishnamurti, that I realised the significance of what I had done. We often have to cross deserts alone . . .

Through the early years of this century I continued to work with AMORC, again becoming Master of the local Lodge (it was actually what AMORC calls a “Chapter”) and going on to become a Regional Monitor and then Grand Councillor for the North of England. Looking back on this period I can see both the spiritual and egoic patterns of my life evolving, as they have to, in a lifetime that contains an unfolding quest of this nature. I often cringe as I revisit the ego-based decisions that accompanied this period in my life. I was enjoying considerable commercial success at work and took that to indicate a cross-life ability to deal with everything in the same way. Looking back, I became insensitive to the many cries for a more gentle approach as I pushed by own “business-like” agenda through AMORC, aided by others who felt the same way. Some of this was necessary, but much of it showed a lack of real spiritual development, and also compassion. The period was also characterised by the pursuit of mystical knowledge, which I mistook for depth. Some very hard lessons lay ahead . . .

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I retired from AMORC in 2006, shortly after I met Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, the Director of Studies of the Servants of the Light (SOL) and her husband Michael, who ran the administration systems using manual techniques. I remember the grim day on which my father, hearing the news that I had resigned from AMORC, remarked, bitterly, that I had become the “master of surprises”. The wound lingers, but, from where I now look back on those days, I would not have changed that decision.

I had become fascinated by the magical Qabalah and its use of the Tree of Life. To this day, I believe strongly in the power of the right symbol to help teach – and teaching had, by then, already become my passion. I wanted to study with (and assist), an organisation with a genuine lineage back to the time of the Golden Dawn. I was looking for what I saw as an authentic “Englishness” – something that would take me deeper into my own landscape and geographic spiritual heritage. The seven years I spent with SOL were richly rewarding on both sides. Dolores taught me many things, and she, Michael and I shared triumphs and crises together, as I helped bring SOL’s administrative systems into the digital age and put its operating finances back on an even keel. I was not alone in this work, many other lovely people gave their time and efforts to help.

What I learned most from Dolores was the sheer beauty and power of ritual. More than that, I learned how freely we can use ritual, if such innovation is applied with respect for the powers one is dealing with. These powers are not “external” to the human mind. They are directly related to how we engender a change of consciousness in a group, opening a door for the Higher to enter the prepared space; and the prepared people. Towards the end of my time at SOL, I undertook the creation of two annual workshops, using the innovative formula of a single (new) story, told in a number of ritual dramas over a weekend. These workshops were known as Alchemy I and II. Despite being unsure that I could pull this off, I wanted to do this so that SOL members could count on a continuation of the School’s excellent dramatic and ritualistic workshops at a time when the former architects of such events had moved on to other things.

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Dolores and I worked very closely on these, and the results are a living part of me today. I remember what I think of as my “graduation” from her ritualistic nurturing, when, during Alchemy II, arm in arm, we left the temple room in Great Hucklow after one of the main ritual dramas and she turned to me, smiled and said, “Well, they don’t come any better than that.”

Alongside my Qabalistic studies another thread was developing in me, marked by a desire to break away from historical symbolic systems and to find or develop something entirely “modern”. This implied no lack of respect for Qabalistic work, I simply felt that the underlying truths could also be told in a different way. I had studied Gurdjieff as a lone student, since I couldn’t find a school near enough. I was deeply attracted to Gurdjieff’s no-nonsense approach, and the fact that he saw spiritual development as something that should take place during each moment and not be relegated to a remote meditation period. For me, he was also the first person to point out the destructive effect the personality (ego) has on spiritual development, and the importance of countering this, before anything else could be attempted. Many people have had individual “peak” experiences, only to lose their effects shortly afterwards due to the power of habitual responses from the entrenched personality. Gurdjieff did not teach that the personality was a bad thing, simply that it had to be harnessed to the Will of the developed Essence – the personal part of Being that is the deepest layer of our Soul.

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Having come across the original use of the enneagram in Gurdjieff’s work, I was increasingly fascinated by the impact of those who had developed from a Gurdjieffian base and used the principles of esoteric psychology, in conjunction with the enneagram, to tell of the journey of the Soul. With great sadness, I left SOL in 2012 to pursue this, and thus was born the Silent Eye School. I had approached Sue Vincent to work with me as a mystical artist to create what I thought would be a new Tarot deck (really an Oracle, since we were not using the Tree of Life as a basis). She graciously agreed but then found herself drawn to the greater quest and joined me as a founding Director in 2012.

I considered it inappropriate for the new School to be a ‘daughter school’ of SOL, since the symbolic bases were so different. The Silent Eye had to sink or swim on its own merits. Dolores and I agreed to keep closely in touch as the new School began its life.

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I brought with me what I had earned; and took nothing else. A handful of people from our old SOL Lodge in Manchester joined me and I introduced them to Sue, in her new role. Stuart France has since joined us as a fellow Director of the School; and that completes our “triad”.

By founding the Silent Eye we knew we were asking for a process of “rapid personal evolution’ and that it would work on each of us in different ways, according to our strengths and weaknesses. We could not condone teaching what we had not experienced for ourselves. The Silent Eye is focussed on a model derived from a synthesis of esoteric psychology and an inheritance from our former “magical” world. We have therefore, in many ways created the “magical enneagram” – the title of a book I am currently beginning to write.

What we teach is what we have become. It is based on the premise that we are born in contact with our Being – our true home. Life necessarily separates us from being, since we have to learn to be independent in the world. This outer growth via separation develops the Ego or Personality by a process of Reaction. That complex of fear and reaction becomes the pattern of our lives, even if it is well hidden. But Being is ever waiting for us to call it back into our lives, and our Souls are the intermediary to make that happen. I believe the soul to be the vehicle for our experiences in life – that the substance of that experience conditions the outer layer of the soul, which must be washed clean in order for the clarity of its depths to reveal the “lost horizon” of Being from whence it came.

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Looking back on my life to date, it has really comprised two major stages, separated by a ‘turning point’. The first stage, which contained all my outward successes, was really about the word ‘More’. The second stage, which came much more recently, is described by the word ‘Less’. The secrets of the inner life are revealed by a reduction in what we carry, what we wear, what we look through. These are metaphorical rather than literal, though they can be both.

Either way, to be true to your real self, you need to take away that which prevents it shining into the world. It already shines – we can never diminish it, but we can clean and polish the glass in the windows . . .Less is most certainly more.

Are we qualified to teach anyone else? That’s a very good question, in the sense that perhaps, ultimately, we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual education. But, we can, as a School, offer a method and companionship. Methods have an inbuilt danger in that they, too, can become mechanical, whereas a self-found path should always be in the “now” and filled with the emerging vitality of Being. Perhaps the best definition of the Silent Eye is that it seeks to be a Companion along the way, there to converse, to cajole and, above all, to be a friend. The method of distance learning, supplemented by workshops, is the best one we know to achieve this in a manner that is affordable. We are a not-for-profit organisation; we exist to teach and share, and we put a lot of our own resources into that work to supplement the meagre resources of the School.

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I have been told by my treasured colleagues, Sue and Stuart, that I am, essentially, a storyteller. I have always tried to use the mechanism of story-telling in my presentations and in the way I teach. I am passionate about how things are taught; and the Silent Eye’s three year distance learning programme is based on a continuous story – really a guided journey of the soul – to which is added the theory sections which accompany each month’s lesson. I am happy with that label. A good story, well told and brought to life, has been a human tradition around the communal hearth-fire for as long as people have gathered under the stars and looked up.

So if you’ll pass me that jug of ale, I’ll compose myself, draw a deep breath and begin . . .