Seeds of Change

‘Dr Dee’, ‘Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘Sir Walter Raleigh’ and ‘Master Shakespeare’

Time does strange things. It is just a week since our workshop and already it feels as if it is receding into the mists, and yet, it is also as clear and sharp as if we were about to enter the temple space for another act. In many ways, that last is the truest perception, for, even though we draw our inspiration from tales of bygone eras, any seeds we sow within the ritual drama of the weekend are designed to grow slowly within us and be taken out into the world.

Such seeds are not ours alone. We may plant ideas and nurture thought, but it is in the fertile soil of love and friendship, and the shared experience of working together with a common intent, that such things blossom. Even so, it is only when we pluck those flowers and carry them as part of our daily lives that they begin to bear fruit.

‘Essex’ and ‘Bess of Hardwick’

Although much time, effort and laughter goes into the creation of the ‘five acts’ that form the core of our workshops, the spiritual journey is not a matter of playacting, not is it enough to dip a toe in and out of the water on a whim; the journey is ongoing and ever present, the story…our story… is a perpetual work in progress, as are we.

Every one of those present at our workshops brings their own perspective, adding a unique gift to the weekend. It is in the athanor of friendship that such alchemy produces gold and I would like to think that we each leave the richer for our shared experience. Our personal paths are many and varied, from druid to ordained ministers, mystic to magician, yet ultimately, our goal is a shared service to whatever aspect of the Light we recognise.

For each of us, that service takes on a different hue, but for all of us it is at the heart of life. Being able to work with so many people from so many paths is one of the true joys of these weekends and both the experience of the weekend itself and the intent of our work is amplified by this coming together of many paths and perspectives in a simple acceptance that knows none of the judgement of ‘tolerance’.

‘Dr Dee’ and ‘Mistress Jane Dee’

Egoic myopia, intolerance and prejudice may be played out symbolically within the crafted drama, where they may be brought to healing, understanding and resolution, but outside of the written roles, such things have no place at a Silent Eye weekend… or indeed, within the hearts of any who profess to follow a spiritual path. Our ‘Essex’, admirably portrayed by Russell, sought power and was brought to his knees by his self-serving ego… only to be given into the healing care of those he sought to betray. Our much-reviled Jesuit ‘Gerard’ was embodied with quiet grace and dignity by Jan. In spite of the intolerance shown by most members of the ‘Court’, Gerard showed himself to be a man of great compassion who led the tortured Dr Dee back to life and love.

The Elizabethan Age marked the beginning of a new era in many ways, and so was a perfect vehicle to reflect aspects of the current of change now brushing the shores of the present. Can a small group of people play a part in shaping that change? The answer to that depends upon what we understand by the question, perhaps. What is undeniable is that change can only happen if we, as individuals, choose to make it so. No-one can legislate for the heart and it is there that we can each begin to shape and heal our little corner of the world.

‘Lady Frances Walsingham’ and ‘Sir Francis Drake’

 

Shades of the Golden Age…

As a child, I loved the old movies of the swashbuckling variety. Even then, I knew the stories were not real and the history likely to be wildly innaccurate. Romance and adventure did not wait behind every tree. Magic, though, had its own reality.

With a family who told me a closer-to-true version of the histories portrayed on the screen, I learned early the difference between fantasy, fact and fiction. What was produced for entertainment was never supposed to be a history lesson. I learned not to believe in what I saw… except for the duration of the film, when I could lose myself in make-believe.

The over-the-top acting, the swordplay and implausible heroics delighted me, and that has never really changed as I have grown older. A more mature eye sees the flaws with clarity, but I can still choose to ignore them and daydream about flashing steel, wild gallops through the night and the elaborate gowns of a bygone era. But, let’s be honest, the days when I could even dream of being the romantic, blade-wielding heroine are long gone. Or so I thought, until last weekend.

Fair bristling with concealed weaponry, this Elizabethan lady was not happy when her betrothed attempted to discard her in favour of a rarer prize. Mine was really not supposed to be the role of heroine. But, just for a moment, with ‘Lord Essex’ on his knees, and a wicked blade poised over his heart, all my daydreams came true. (Which might be why my younger son asked if I should be ‘looking so cheery’ with a knife aimed at someone’s chest.)

The pictures were taken after the final ‘curtain’ had fallen on our Elizabethan escapade… we do not take photos until the work is done. I think most of us were on a high, either because of the weekend itself… or because we had survived it! By this point, all that was left to do was discard the costumes for the last time, talk, hug and say our farewells.

Many of the photos that were taken are blurred, and that is why I rendered a few in monochrome. I was immediately struck by how they reminded me of the golden era of Hollywood and my love of old movies.

We had come together to explore a story… a fictitious history that drew upon the lives, dreams and beliefs of some of the prominent people of Shakespeare’s day. It was never supposed to be an accurate history… but in truth, it was crafted as somewhere we could lose our ‘selves’ in make-believe.

The everyday self is left behind in play. We are hidden by the mask of our role and so our true self is free to explore the magical and spiritual concepts presented throughout the weekend, concealed, like my daggers, in velvet folds of imagination, friendship and laughter. And that particular alchemy is always in glorious Technicolor.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 8 – Farewell by Helen Jones

Reblogged from Journey to Ambeth: So this was it. The final stop on my weekend with the Silent Eye, not far from where it had begun for me, two days earlier. We were very close to Aberdeen airport, but, other than the occasional plane or helicopter overhead, you wouldn’t have known it.

We were standing on high ground overlooking a river that turned, serpent-like, through a green landscape. A huge boulder sat on the edge of the drop and across the river from us were several homes, nestled among trees. Behind us was a ruined church, roof and windows long gone. Yet it still held secrets.

We went into the tidy churchyard, rows of stone monuments to war dead from both sides reminders of a not-too-distant past. The church itself, dedicated to St Fergus, was built of grey stone, weathered by time like the grave markers surrounding it. Interesting that it was the second church of the weekend – sacred places in the landscape were often overtaken by others as beliefs changed, often as part of the process and against the wishes of the community.

Continue reading: Maiden Mother Crone, Part 8 – Farewell | Journey To Ambeth

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 7 – The Dance by Helen Jones

Reblogged from Journey to Ambeth:

It was Sunday morning, and it was raining again. But I breakfasted with friends, warmth and laughter a pleasant way to begin the day. Outside, a raven wandered along the wooden fence – one of our group remarked on him, as he was quite unusually large. ‘He was there yesterday, as well,’ I said. Sue had mentioned to me the day before, as we stood in Midmar circle, that it was the time of the Raven, so it seemed appropriate to see him waiting there.

After breakfast we met the rest of the group at the usual place, before splitting into smaller groups to head to the first of three planned sites for the day. Aftera short drive we pulled up on a road running alongside a petrol station, brambles and bushes tangled along the verge, and what looked like a bit of a wasteland on the other side. Yet, that was our destination

Continue reading at: Maiden Mother Crone, Part 7 – The Dance | Journey To Ambeth

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 6 – Rain to Bow by Helen Jones

Reblogged from Journey to Ambeth:

Along winding roads through green fields, the purpling hills beyond, we travelled back to where our journey began – Easter Aquhorthies. We returned to a circle transformed from the screaming wind and rain of the previous day – this time, the sun drew shadows from the stones, the distant peak of Mither Tap clear against patches of blue sky. There was still rain around, but none really came to trouble us as we once more found our stones and learned more about their alignments.

‘My’ stone was warm, welcoming again, and I gave it a gift, something I’d been carrying with me, looking for the right place to leave it. It seemed to have been accepted. I learned that ‘my’ stone aligned with the winter solstice sunset, and also with the viewing platform we could see through the trees… which also lined up with the circle and carved stone in the housing estate beyond. Truly, the people who created these monuments worked on a large scale and with great accuracy, the alignments of sun and moon and land precise to the decimal point.

Continue reading at Journey to Ambeth

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 5 – The Maiden by Helen Jones

Reblogged from

Stone and rain. Rain and stone. It seemed to be a theme of the weekend. No matter the weather, when we reached any stone of significance the rain would fall. From soft misty drizzle to gale force rain storms, we experienced just about all the types of rain Scotland seemed to offer, often in the space of just a couple of hours.

And so it was at our next two sites, both of which featured carved Pictish stones. I’d never seen such stones in real life before, so it was a thrill to see the first one, even though it had been reconstructed and sat in the middle of a modern housing estate. There had been a circle there, once, still marked with a ring in the grass, but it had been pulled down long ago, in days when such monuments were no longer revered, their carefully chosen stones broken for use in stone fences and buildings. Some still remained on site, said to come from the original circle, and, despite the cracks crossing the face of the carved stone, the images were still clear, a serpent and spear, thought perhaps to represent the nearby river, and a semi-circle and broken spear, the shape of which came to have more significance for me, later in the day. The rain was still falling as we got into the cars, a soft cool drizzle, dampening the stones but not our spirits, as we headed out into the landscape once more.

Continue reading Helen’s account of the weekend at Journey to Ambeth

Solstice of the Moon: Circles out of time

It looked, for a while, as if we might escape being rained on at our second site of the morning, but no… that would have been too much to ask The ritual cleansing would  continue. We  were heading for another recumbent circle, with a few unusual features… Loanhead of Daviot.

The car park was full so I parked the car at a little distance and we walked back, arriving to find the group listening to a ghost story about the lady seen in the woods through which we would walk to the circle. The trees could not have been there when the circle was constructed, or they would have blocked the view of the moon and made the recumbent redundant, but they do provide a beautiful approach and backdrop to the stones. The green lawn opens out beyond the shadows of the trees on a spectacular site.

There are two circles at Loanhead. One is a circle of standing stones, the other, a low-kerbed enclosure which is an ancient cemetery. The earliest construction at the site seems to date back to the Neolithic period, with later use, changes of use and additions. Making sense of the place means looking at perhaps six thousand years of history, as well as the way we view and use our buildings.

Image: Canmore

In one of the villages where I grew up, there was a lovely old chapel. It had belonged to a small Christian sect and had long-since fallen into disuse.  Over the few years that I was there, attempts were made to use the building. It served as a community centre, office space, a dance hall, a cinema and was eventually converted into residential apartments. Each function saw changes to the structure and decor and, by the time the new residents moved in, its original builders would not have recognised the place. They would certainly not have approved of many of the roles it had assumed.

With these truly ancient sites, I think we have to look at a similar shift over millennia, with later folk adapting the site for their own needs and traditions. In a time without written records, it is easy to see how knowledge could be lost as peoples move and shift across the face of the land, yet in a landscape where nothing other than homesteads were built, these enigmatic circles must always have commanded awe.

Then, thousands of years later, the archaeologists who restore and reconstruct them must find a formula that seems to fit all the facts, but which may not be entirely correct or inclusive of all a site’s history. Especially when we know nothing for certain about their original function within the community, exactly how they were used or what form the rituals performed there may have taken. It is, I think, for this reason that the interior of the circle was infilled with the stones of the much later cairn when it was restored.

What we do know is that these circles are in alignment with the movements of heavenly bodies and the seasonal changes. They forge or celebrate the relationship between the earth and the heavens and, in that respect, have something in common with our modern places of worship. It is no surprise, then, that many of these sites have burials attached to them, though this one has more than most.

The main circle is sixty-four feet in diameter. There are eight single standing stones, plus the two flankers and the huge recumbent which, says the official report, has been split vertically in two by the frost. The stones, as always, descend in height to the stone opposite the recumbent. The two flankers, one of which is carved with cupmarks, lean in towards the recumbent and you are left in no doubt of which of them represents the masculine, fecundating forces of nature.

Within the circle, at some later date, a cairn was raised over a cremation where shards of adult and children’s bones were found, with worked flints, potsherds and charcoal. Around the base of each of the standing stones a small cairn had been raised, where cremation burials were also found. Four shallow holes within the centre of the circle have given rise to the suggestion that a wooden mortuary house may once have stood there.

I had initially been drawn to the smaller, less impressive circle, curious as to its purpose, but in no doubt as I approached. During excavations in 1935, a shallow pit had been found in which were the half-cremated remains of a forty year old man who seemed to have been clutching a pendant. The pyre had been built over the body and, instead of collecting the remains, the area had been used to inter another thirty or so cremations. Close by is a pit in which, it is thought, bodies may have been stored before burning and another eleven burials in urns and yet more in pits.

The burials seem to date from the Bronze Age, and took place over a relatively short period of time. “Whereas the great stone circle had required the co-operation of a whole community (and their neighbours) to build it, and while its use for the rituals of life, fertility and magic extended over many centuries, the cremation cemetery is an altogether slighter, more transient creation, concerned with the relationships in death within an individual family or two over a short time.”  ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Grampian’, (1986).

On the edge of the next field are the remnants of yet another recumbent circle. We can only imagine the awe and wonder in which such sites, already remnants of an ancestral past, must have been held. That same awe still touches those who visit these ancient, mysterious sites still today. We may not always understand, but we can still feel the magic in the stones and see the spirits of the earth in the forms that linger in their shapes. There are sinuous dancers, great hands reaching for the sky, faces and animals, a shaman’s headdress… all there for the eye to find and the heart to comprehend. For all our veneer of modernity and our vaunted civilisation, we are not so far removed from our roots as we might care to think.

Solstice of the Moon: Sacred earth

The weather was looking none to promising for the final day of the workshop, but at least it wasn’t really raining. It seemed incredible, under the heavy grey of the sky, that we’d had the clear weather-window the night before, just long enough to show us a starlit sky above the stone circle.

We had another visit to a stone circle after breakfast, but this one was quite a bit different…and suburban. I want to state here and now, that to have quite so much archaeology concentrated in Abereenshire seems a little unfair, when the place where I live has virtually nothing for miles. North…or south… yes… but not here. Oh, it is probably all there under the surface… ploughed and sown by centuries of farmers, but little of it is visible. It can be rather frustrating at times.

And yet, there is a lesson for me in that too. Whether there are standing stones, cairns and circles aplenty, or nothing visible at all, the land itself remains. The earth knows neither boundary nor barrier, nor is it sacred simply because it is marked by some prehistoric monument or fascinating legend. The ancients saw the goddess in the earth that gave them life… virgin in her unsown fields, blushing dawns and laughing brooks, maternally fruitful and nurturing, ancient and wise with her intimacy with the cycles of life and death. It matters little how our beliefs and perceptions have changed over the millennia… the earth is still all of that and more.

The threads of life are interwoven. Now, more than at any other time in our history, we are able to scientifically prove the interdependency of the species and the need to maintain balance in our environment. Our forefathers seem to have understood that without the need for any other proof than that of their eyes and hearts. I wonder which of us is the most advanced in that respect?

We parked behind a filling station on the edge of town, on a road that seemed to lead to an industrial estate or similar. A couple remained in the cars as the ground was rough. The high, overgrown grasses and fireweed did not look a promising sight… a far cry from the emerald and gold of the autumn foothills… but you cannot judge a site by how it is presented by urban planners, and at least this one, unlike so many others, has been recognised and protected.

Broomend of Crichie is a curious place and the last thing you would expect to find in the urban environment. It is a huge site, yet very little can be seen, unless you know what you are looking for, beyond the three standing stones in the centre. It would be easy to miss the concentric ditches and banks of the henge and no visible trace now remains of the great processional avenue of stones, a mile long, that once led to Crichie from Kintore…save only a solitary stone, half buried in the grass. Today, this is a protected place, although it looks like a patch of wasteland awaiting the bulldozers of the developers. Yet the scale of this site, the work involved in its creation and its continued use over such a long period of time… all mark it as a place that must have held enormous significance for our ancestors.

The site was built in stages, from the Neolithic period onwards, and was first excavated a hundred and fifty years ago. A number of cremation burials were found, along with a cist containing an inhumation. Curiously, small animal, probably bird, bones were mixed with the ashes of the cremations and you have to wonder about their significance . Artefacts were also unearthed, including a decorated stone hammer and the burial urns which appear to be Late Bronze Age. Several other burials were also found in the area dating back around four thousand years to the Beaker culture, so named after the distinctive decorated vessels they created and traded.

Beaker burial- reconstruction from Museum of Madrid. Image: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (CCL)

In one burial, a small beaker and a child’s skull was found. In another, two men were interred, in a third, a man with girl-child, all covered with oxhide. In the latter, a beaker and a small spoon carved from horn were found…the equivalent of simple, everyday items in our society, but probably prized possessions back then; not only a gift to the departed, but a glimpse into a common human life for us.

It is thought that there was once a timber circle, as well as a circle of six standing stones, of which two now remain. A third stone has been added to the central space. It was erected  there after it was found when a nearby embankment was dug up to be taken away to build a railroad line. It may well be one of the original stones of the complex, reused by the Picts in later years and inscribed with the Beast and the crescent and V-rod symbols. It is certainly out of place within the henge, but it does not feel entirely alien. Only lost.

I think I would like to spend a week or two there with a lawnmower, to unveil the true immensity of this site. It would be the only way to appreciate it for what it is… and was. We have seen many stone circles, from those small, almost domestic circles to te great, grand marvels in stone such as Stonehenge, Avebury and Castlerigg, to name but three. All are constructed with regard to alignments, with the land or the season shifts of the heavens. I have often wondered if a comparison could be made between the the differing roles of the great and small stone circles and the visible power of the medieval Church. The great Gothic cathedrals, with their rituals and complex beauty were built to impress, showing both their religious and secular power.  In contrast, the simple parish churches, where that same power was stepped down to a more accessible level, was where the real, human work of living in faith was done.  If there is any truth to that comparison, then Broomend of Crichie is the ghost of a forgotten ‘cathedral’, veiled in fire-flowers, and yet… it somehow still remembers itself.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: The hidden valley

Tiny roads, miles from nowhere and barely wide enough for a car, wound between hills and hedgerows before finally opening out into the valley. And there, we became a traffic jam. The road was occupied by a horse that had evidently let itself out of its home and wandered down the lane to see the youngsters. Mare or stallion, it was impossible to tell from the last car, but the impression was that the king had come to see his subjects. When we arrived on the scene, all the foals were at the fence, nuzzling their visitor and prancing with excitement. It was, you could tell, a real ‘moment’ for them… and a lovely sight to see. It took me a while to even think of getting the camera as we watched and waited, not wishing to spook the horse.

“Before the gods that made the gods…” A few words of an old poem kept running through my mind… it was completely inappropriate. This was not a white horse, let alone the White Horse. It was Wales, not England…and King Alfred had never set foot here to my knowledge. On top of that, it was the solar symbolism of horses that long predated Alfred’s Christianity, that I was feeling as I watched the horse regally greet the foals. There was something majestic in his mien, and, with the emerald and blue of the mountains around him, there was no doubting his sovereignty.

“Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.”

“For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgement day.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

Passing glimpses of church towers and villages lost in the trees, significant stones and possible burial sites… we were kept well occupied until we arrived at a  bridge over a crystal clear stream. The stream is the Afon Dwyfor which rises in the mountains that enclose the valley. Its name means ‘big holy river’ and, watching it sparkle in purity, you need no other explanation of its name. It is so clear that the depth is hard to gauge unless a small fish swims by and casts a shadow on the gravel, yet in places, it is easily deep enough for swimming… and had I been alone, there is nothing that would have kept me out of there.

Instead, we gathered beneath the trees of the riverbank for our final readings, before setting out into the morning heat to walk at least part of the valley. It is an incredibly beautiful place and we were grateful to our companion for sharing it with us, allowing us to get out into the mountains, albeit on an easy path.

We had the morning pretty much to ourselves apart from the birds and sheep. They are obviously used to walkers, so showed no more than mild curiosity and reasonable caution as we passed. The sheer scale of the valley is impossible to capture with a standard camera, but it is equally impossible to ignore as the hills tower around you. An American friend once spoke to us about Yosemite National Park, telling us how the landscape was too vast for the human mind to encompass. The British landscape, old and hoary as it is, is smaller… ‘human sized’ and intimate enough that we can feel the vastness as it lifts the heart and mind towards the infinite. Geologists call the ancient landmass that formed this part of Wales ‘Avalonia’. It is certainly a magical place.

We followed the sheep, passing the occasional cottage or farmhouse, past tumbling cascades and wildflowers, deep into the heart of the valley. The silence is complete. The sounds of nature that break the quiet serve only to bring the unheard silence into greater relief. And relief it is. We do not, I think, realise, how noise-assailed most of us are, most of the time and how much unconscious stress that causes.

But as we walked, mechanical sound found us once more with the whirring of a distant generator drowned by the baa-ing of a thousand sheep. It is shearing time and the flocks which normally roam the hills have been gathered into  a closed field.  Even though nothing worse than the shearing shed awaited them, their distress was palpable as they crowded together at the edges of the field.

We turned back at the shearing shed, although there was another corner ahead, another mountain, another vista… There always is. There was still a fair walk back to the river and the noon sun was sweltering. For all their panic, the removal of the dense wool must provide the sheep with a certain amount of satisfaction in summer.

The official Silent Eye weekend was over… though we all still had a long way to go to get home and there were still places we intended to visit along the way. Hot and sticky, the thought of the isolated, mountain-cold river drew me onwards. If everyone else was leaving… it was tempting. But by the time we arrived, several families had taken up position with radios and deck-chairs, we had arrived and were leaving at the perfect time. Bidding our friends farewell, we took a final look at the mountains.

“Do we know where we are?”

“We do not…”

“Do we know where we are going?”

“No…”

“Cool!”

With thanks to Steve and Barbara, and to our companions, for sharing a wonderful weekend.

This was the end of the official Silent Eye weekend, but not the end of our adventures or the places we were to visit, which I will continue to share on my personal blog.