Riddles of the Night: The Temple of Hewn Stone II

Traditional initiation ceremonies tend to follow a roughly similar outline. The initiand is put through a series of symbolic trials, including the acceptance of mortality, each designed to test resolve and dedication, before symbolically ‘dying’ to their old self and being ‘reborn’ into the new. The landscape of Rowtor Rocks lends itself perfectly to the traditional scenario and, as part of the workshop, we demonstrated this by walking through a mock initiation ceremony. We cannot say that we reproduced what did take place, but the symbolism of the landscape dictated the form and it worked perfectly to demonstrate what could have taken place there.

The candidate is first led past the Guardian’s seat… to a rock shaped like a skull, into the top of which a square font has been cut. There is a sheltered ledge cut into the rock close by where they could wait to be called… or upon which they could be laid as if in a tomb.  Through a portal built of cut stone, the land opens out onto a level area that contains three caves. The first and largest is natural, but contains twin Columns that were added by masons. In many traditions, and particularly in Masonic traditions, the twin Columns of the Temple of Solomon, Boaz and Jachin, are remembered.

At the far end of the plateau is the smallest cavern, with a low entrance that requires a bowing of the head. It is a perfect antechamber and a low wall in front of it would make it possible for a blindfolded candidate to exit safely, without falling down the sheer cliff in front of it, ready to be led to the central cave, known as the Condemned Man’s Cell which is also a ‘birthing chamber’.

The entrance to the cave is narrow and distinctly feminine in shape. Once inside, there is only blackness and echoes. A little light shows an alcove, in which the acoustics are exceptional; chant in that alcove and the sound vibrates through every pore of rock, bone and flesh. There is a single, small hole drilled through the outer wall of the cave… and one can imagine the spiritual and symbolic effect of seeing a point of light in the blackness.

The cave can be seen as both tomb and womb, as birth and death are but the two sides of a single coin, and each contains the other. From the Cell, there is a steep, narrow staircase of boulders to climb, also very feminine, and the initiand emerges, reborn, into the light. The steps are difficult…it takes a ‘leap of faith’ to ascend, and as faith can move mountains, so the initiand, coming into his inner strength, can move the great ovoid rocking stone that awaits.

From here, there is a choice of path to reach a goal only glimpsed from below… the Broken Column. When they have chosen, they arrive at a sheltered bench. Were the ceremony to take place just before dawn, from this spot they would watch the sun rise in splendour over the octagonal turret of the church. Stepping forward and turning, they would find themselves beneath the Broken Column. Steps lead up onto the highest level of the rocks, yet do not allow access to the Column which seems held in a mighty hand. In Masonic tradition, the Broken Column represents Hiram Abiff, the murdered architect of the Temple of Solomon, as well as the unfinished work of the Temple itself. The symbol is explained as part of the ritual of the Master Masons degree. In Qabalistic terms, a tradition in which we ourselves were trained, the Broken Column represents the Middle Pillar on the Tree of Life, which joins the earthly realm to the perfect Unity of the divine. Between them is the point of Christ-consciousness…Beauty… and beyond that point, it is said that no man can go until they cross the Abyss. This concept too may be represented as a broken column.

Our initiand, then, standing beneath the great hand of stone in which rests the Broken Pillar, is asked, ‘Can you grasp the Beyond?’. And they try, finding the hidden pathway, climbing to the next level…yet still unable to touch the Column that stands separate from the rest.

At the base of the pillar an inverted pentagram has been carved into the rock. This is usually seen as a symbol of Baphomet… a name associated with both Templars and Freemasons and erroneous accusations of ‘devil worship’ within those organisations. The popular modern image of Baphomet as a satanic figure differs greatly from the medieval image. During the Templar trials, when ‘confessions’ were tortured from the victims, the Baphomet  was described variously as an idol with a human skull, a head with two faces or a bearded head…and at least two of those are Qabalistic symbols for divinity. Stuart reminded us that there is a cipher by which Baphomet is transformed into Sophia…Wisdom… and it would indeed take Wisdom to cross the Abyss and approach Unity.

For the initiand, one can imagine the scenario. The trials of fear and uncertainty, the reward of the inner strength to ‘move mountains’ and the glow of the sunrise… and after all that, he is reminded that no matter how high he may rise, he must always remain humble as there is always an Unreachable Height.

The final act of our mock initiation took place before the seat of judgement. There are three seats carved together in the rock and they are a lesson in themselves to anyone wishing to occupy them. Coincidentally, three Master Masons constitute a Master’s Lodge. To ascend to these seats, because of their size and construction, you must either kneel and show humility…or show wisdom and walk along the top of the rock. From here, the initiand may look out across the land to where the sun sets… and down on a prehistoric solar symbol that seems to encapsulate far more than we understand.

Was this what was happening at Rowtor Rocks?  Were the legends of Druids there really based on hushed memories of something like the scenario we had created? Could Thomas Eyre have been involved in something other than orthodox church business? We may never know…. But something was going on in the hidden history of the area and the clues kept on coming…

Riddles of the Night: The Temple of Hewn Stone

Just behind the Druid Inn and across the narrow lane from Thomas’ Eyre’s church of St Michael, is the strange landscape of Rowtor Rocks. We have visited the place on many occasions, but it needed only one visit to realise that there was more going on here than meets the eye. That the natural, rocky outcrop was a sacred place to our ancestors, five thousand years and more ago, is evidenced by the number of prehistoric rock carvings that have survived. That it was used as a hidden temple by our far more recent ancestors is mere speculation… until you start looking at the evidence.

The Rocks were substantially meddled with by Reverend Thomas Eyre in the 1700s. Odd flights of steps were put in, shelves and seats carved, fonts cut into rocks and a Broken Column erected at the highest point. There are natural caves amid the tumble of boulders and new ones were cut. We do not know if these were completely new, or whether they enlarged natural features.

What was the good vicar up to? You could simply accept the whole thing as a rather elaborate garden feature and think no more about it. There are tales that Eyre sat on the carved seats to write his sermons. There are also reports that he entertained guests on the rocks… but in what manner, no report survives. Tales of hauntings would certainly keep the idly curious away once darkness fell and the pale glow of candles from dark caverns would reinforce the fear.

One could make a case for his masons having created a three-dimensional ‘Stations of the Cross’…and certainly, there are sockets that could have held crosses, either side of the Broken Column on the summit. Had the Bishop questioned the works, that would have been a perfectly good explanation. You could even argue that he was Christianising an erstwhile pagan site.  The Broken Column is often used as a grave marker to symbolise a life cut short. In Christian symbolism, it represents Christ. It does have other meanings though, and particularly within the Masonic tradition.

While a number of Papal edicts have threatened excommunication to Catholics who become Freemasons, the Anglican Church has a more lenient history. Many churchmen have been Freemasons and many others have been members of satellite associations, not officially Masons, but Masonic in origin. Like the landscape of Rowtor itself, it is all rather ambivalent.

One of our early impressions was that it reminded us of the landscape created by Sir Francis Dashwood and the notorious Hellfire Club at around the same time. We were gratified to find that there was at least a tenuous a connection, via John Wilkes, a journalist, politician,  member of the Oddfellows and one of the early members of the Hellfire Club. But perhaps it was no more than a folly…though anything to do with the Fool may also point to initiation and the result certainly appears to be an initiatory landscape. We resolved to put it to the test…

Riddles of the Night: Family fortunes?

Where silver trees have bent their bough
O’er sleepy village streets, we go
to solve the riddle of the stones
A scattered presence in a row.
To nourish soul and body’s need-
A place where ancient bards ovate,
A haunted landscape sows the seed
For seeker and initiate.
A stone that moves, a mount aligned,
And after Glaston’s tower named…
And Bronte’s heroine maligned
Associate of pastor’s fame…

The first riddle of the day would take the company to Birchover, a village just outside Bakewell where we had booked a table for lunch at the Druid Inn. The inn had acquired its name because a Friendly Society, romantically named the Ancient Order of Druids, would meet there in the 1700s. Behind the inn is a hill, reputedly haunted… Rowtor Rocks. The Victorians had erroneously named it a Druidic site and capitalised on the nascent tourist industry. We have been there on a number of occasions, in all weathers, and decided that the truth may be far stranger than any Victorian invention.

We had been mulling over our theories about Bakewell and the Templar connection as we went out there, prior to the workshop, to check on the sites we planned on visiting. For some reason, we wandered down to look at the little church which looks pleasant enough, but rather bland. We had never even bothered trying to go in there… which is unusual, because we will always try the door of a church. An uninteresting exterior can conceal real gems… our favourite chapel of all is a tiny, ordinary-looking place that holds wonders. That morning, some inner prompting finally led us down the lane and through the church gate.

The nominal was interesting in itself given the connections with the leys that we had been looking at. It is a St Michael’s church which fits with at least one of our themes.  Behind the church is a peaceful resting place for the village…but, as we half expected, the door to the church was locked. However, all was not lost…perhaps we had found what we had come to see. Over the door was another dragon, carved in stone. Not an ancient beast, this one, the stonework of the porch is relatively new, but a dragon nonetheless. And looking up to the gables, we found the church had a single, small bell tower… an octagonal one.

We were suddenly very disappointed that we could not get inside. Later research would make us even more so when we found that there is a St Michael and All Angels window in the east and a very curious pulpit carved with a creature that combines elements of each of the Four Holy Creatures of Revelation, beloved of both Christians and ritualists. The discovery, of something we have seen goodness knows how many times but never really seen, was so exciting that we completely missed the ancient stonework and heads set into the wall of the porch… one of them almost identical to a Celtic head Stuart had drawn years before. We didn’t find those until our final check, the morning of the workshop.

One thing we did find though, by dint of peering through the clouded Perspex that protects the leaded windows, was a plaque on the far wall of the church commemorating the burial, beneath the church, of the vicar who had built it…Thomas Eyre.

The Eyre family are an important part of Derbyshire history. It was whilst visiting the area that Charlotte Bronte had chosen the name of her heroine, Jane Eyre. The Eyre name has a rather intriguing legend attached to its origins. The tale goes that, during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a knight named Truelove fought beside William the Conqueror. When William’s helmet was crushed to his face by a blow received in battle, leaving him unable to breathe, it was Truelove who came to his aid and removed the helmet. Because Truelove had given him ‘the air to breathe’ William declared that from that day forth he should be known as L’Eyr. Truelove, now known as L’Eyr, lost a leg during the battle and was granted the use of a severed leg, the ‘leg couped’, as his crest along with a grant of lands in Derbyshire.

Now, oddly enough, the ‘leg couped’ just happens to also be the crest of the Foljambe family. There is another connection too between the Foljambe and Eyre families, through marriages in the thirteenth century. One of these marriages brought Templar lands into the families.

‘Eyre’ is not only a name but also a legal term for a circuit travelled by an itinerant justice in medieval England, called a Justice in Eyre. It also applied to the circuit court over which they presided. The word comes from the old French ‘erre’ which means ‘journey’… which, given some of the other theories we were going to present about the leys, the ‘old straight tracks’ and the pilgrim routes, seemed  appropriate. The name ‘Foljambe’ is also French in origin and means literally, ‘mad…’ or ‘foolish leg’ and was originally an epithet for one who walked differently from others. Adding the crests to the translations, we could not help wondering how that tied in with the Journey of the Fool… which in esoteric terms, is the journey of the soul or the journey of initiation. Given where we were going next, that seemed way too appropriate…

Riddles of the Night: Connections

We toured the church in Bakewell with our companions, stopping at each of the eight chosen points of interest that highlighted the story we were speculating upon. There is far more in that church than the details upon which we were focussing, but knowing that time was limited, we wanted to ensure we covered the unfolding tale. As it was, our timing was more perfect than we could have planned… a group of schoolchildren left as we entered the church, leaving the place empty apart from our party and the wardens, who locked the door behind us as we left.

There was time to look around though. We wanted to show our companions the fantastic misericords, with their carved beasts and dragons, as well as the Elizabethan and medieval tombs that now occupy the Newark. They also needed time to find the token that had been hidden within another octagram. It would give the party access to the next clue to get them to the first location of the following day. The first clue they had been given had the eternity symbol on the back, itself a beautiful piece of geometry, which, when turned from landscape to portrait, becomes the figure eight.

Before leaving, we stood together beneath the Crossing, where the dowsed anomalies come to a single point within an eight-pointed star, at the centre of an octagonal tower built to a geometrical design so perfect it can symbolise both harmony and eternity.  The eight-pointed star has, in one form or another, a place in almost every religious and spiritual tradition throughout history. From the Sumerian Star of Ishtar, to the Islamic khatim-sulayman, the seal of the prophets, to the Hindu Star of Lakshmi. Pope Francis has chosen to place an eight pointed star on his papal coat of arms to symbolise his personal devotion to the Virgin Mary and, by the time we had researched all this and more, it came as no surprise to realise that the croix pattée, one variant of which is the flared cross associated with the Templars, is also an eight-pointed star in disguise… and very similar to the design on the aumbry in Bakewell church…

We stood in quiet meditation for a moment, each of us dedicating our personal quest to that Light which shines upon all spiritual paths and charged the stones we had brought to continue the sowing of symbolic seeds of Light that we had begun at the Feathered Seer workshop in April.

Outside, the moon was almost at the full and shrouded in pale mists. The day was fading, but there was light enough to see the large, medieval carved head tucked away on one side of the porch and the far-too-tall stone coffin on the other that seems to have been built for a slender giant. The coffin is one of several propped up against the porch and the tallest of us can barely squeeze into the narrow width, yet the person for which it was designed must have stood head and shoulders taller than they.

The great west door is around a thousand years old. It would once have been the main entrance to the church and the octagonal baptismal font would have stood between the faithful and the altar as they came in to the worship. There has been a church here since Anglo-Saxon times at least, but Christianity would have been known here much earlier, and some of those who were with the Roman legions stationed here in the second century could have been Christians themselves.

High on a corner of the north wall is a curious carving… a chalice whose cup and base mirror each other. It is carved in high relief and we believe it may be a mason’s mark. The Chalice is also used as an important symbol in many spiritual traditions. In Christianity, it is the Grail and a symbol of the Virgin as the vessel. Both popular fiction and speculative research have made much of the potential connection between the Templars and the Grail symbolism, but it is also central to many other spiritual traditions and paths, including Masonry, which, like the Templars from whom some say Masonry is descended, traces its roots back to the Temple of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock.

So, we had the beginnings of a theory. Tenuous, perhaps, but with all the other research that has not been added to this account, perhaps not as thin as it may seem. What if, following the forcible disbanding of the Templars, some had escaped to Derbyshire? The Templars held lands in the area, but did not have a Preceptory closer than Yorkshire.  They could have gone ‘underground’. What if they were the ‘wealthy landowners’ who had funded the tower, with the geometries of the Dome of the Rock, and the Newark where the Knights of the Shrine met? What if the Masons had taken over where the Templars left off? What, if anything, did Foljambe have to do with it all?  And was there any proof at all that either the Templars or the Masons had ever had a presence in the area?

Well, that last, at least, was easily and fortuitously answered. Researching Masonic symbols, I stumbled across an article by Amanda Norman and Mark Kneale who share an interest in photography and arcane symbolism. The article contained a picture of a gravestone in Bakewell churchyard and an exploration of the symbolism, which is indisputably Masonic. Amanda graciously gave permission to reproduce the photograph.

Image: Amanda Norman

Interesting though the theory may be, does it really matter, you might ask. Well, it might. Not because of some Da Vinci-esque conspiracy theory, but because of our own relationship with the life of the land and the Underground Stream. What if, instead of asking ‘what if?’, we started to ask what were they doing and why..?

Riddles of the Night: Knights, saints and ley lines…

Walking through the town towards the church in Bakewell, I couldn’t help thinking that it was all a bit weird. There were inexplicable gaps between what we had seen and what we had been brought to realise, gaps that were only filled in by some fairly heavy research. We don’t normally go in for genealogies or land records, but this time, the situation seemed to warrant it.

The St Michael and the Dragon window at Skipton had started us off on a journey we had no idea we were taking until we finally arrived. And we are still not sure whether we have arrived or are merely taking a break. Probably the latter.

Shortly after Skipton, and in preparation for the workshop, we had wandered into Bakewell to revisit the church. We have been to All Saints too many times to count and find something new every time. They are usually things we have already seen, but which become significant only when we have put together new pieces of the puzzle. This time was no different. The St Michael window had set us off talking about the dragons that adorn the church tower in Bakewell. Both St Michael and the Dragon are associated with leys and one ley, or ‘dragon line’, runs through Bakewell from Arbor Low stone circle.

St Michael is particularly associated with the ‘Michael and Mary’ leys that run right across the country. Churches dedicated to both Michael and Mary are found on or around the line and it is something we have been looking at exploring further. In Christian terminology, St Michael is slaying evil, or, quite often, paganism. In basic esoteric terms, the saint may be seen to represent the ‘higher’ self, bringing the ‘lower’ self under control.

We had noted that the tower of All Saints is octagonal and has a dragon on each of the angles. Eight sided towers are very unusual. The church, founded in 920AD, is superb and contains examples, not only of the arts and crafts of a thousand years of faith, but also of many of the anomalies we had found in our explorations.

In the porch is a collection of Saxon and Medieval stonework. We had been primarily occupied with the Saxon period, but now, the eight-sided geometries of the carved crosses on many of the stones caught our attention. Especially as many of these cross designs are associated with the Templars…

Just inside the door is a magnificent carved font dating to the 1300s. Oddly, that too is octagonal. Beyond the font are the information boards, and for once, we read them, looking for any facts about the tower. We learned that it had been funded by ‘wealthy land owners’ coming into the area…  So had the Newark, the newly designed side chapel of the south transept.

St Hubert, with his stag is the first stained glass window you come to. Between the stag’s antlers is the vision of the crucified Christ. Christianity overcoming paganism again? Or the more abstract Christ-force crowning earthly consciousness? St George and his Dragon stand beside him, and looked down on us indulgently as we wandered, taking in the lily sceptre of the little ‘Walsingham Virgin’ who looks like Isis holding Osiris.

A little further down the north aisle is a Henry Holliday window of all saints and all angels, surmounted by the Agnus Dei. While that symbol may be used to represent Jesus as the lamb of God, it is also a Templar symbol much associated with John the Baptist who was beheaded by Herod. And the Templars had been accused of ‘worshipping a severed head’ many believe may have been that of the Baptist. The knights had been rounded up in France, their lands confiscated, and many put to death. In England, some were held at Clifford’s Tower. Others escaped and, following the Underground Stream theme of the weekend, themselves went underground.

The mystery deepened as we looked again at the Comper reredos of St George apparently fixing his dragon to the earth, while above him, two golden dragons support the crucified Christ. In esoteric terms, you cannot help but see the symbolism of ascension through transmutation. All of which seems rather alchemical. But then again, both Comper and Holliday had thrown us curve-balls before.

And there is the almost unique Foljambe memorial, showing the knight and his lady looking out of a window, surmounted by shields bearing their arms… the scallop shells of the pilgrims and the fleur de lys. Godfrey de Foljambe was a prominent landowner and a Knight of the Shrine, a term we had not come across before. A bit of research showed that a Knight of the Shrine is part of a confraternity authorised by the Church and with special dispensations. The Shrine Knights at Bakewell met in the Newark, the south transept that had been funded by wealthy landowners… The same chapel now holds the tombs of the Manners and Vernon families of Haddon Hall.

With all due respect and discretion, we dowsed the entire church and found anomalies indicating an eight-pointed star of currents, directly beneath the tower. We also found a pattern that reflected an odd symbol on a bishop’s tomb in Scotland that had been puzzling us. But it was not until we realised that the geometry of the octagonal tower is based on that of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, that it all began to make sense.

The Templars had identified the Dome of the Rock as the Temple of Solomon. They set up their headquarters in the building next door and used the Dome on their official seals. Legend has it that they found a great treasure beneath the Dome. Perhaps it was not a treasure of gold and silver… perhaps all they found beneath the temple built by Solomon, famed for his wisdom, was the Underground Stream…

And perhaps we should have entitled the weekend Riddles of the Knight?