Almost…

Last minute preparations are underway. I’m looking at the pile of props, costumes and workbooks and wondering how I’ll squeeze everything and a wheelchair into the car, even though we have done this so many times before and in much smaller vehicles. Wondering what I’ve forgotten… there is bound to be something… even though I have everything from safety pins and string to gilded plant pots.

On the surface it all looks like panic stations, yet, beyond that is a pool of perfect calm. I know that no matter what we have forgotten, or how things appear to be going… it will be fine. It is a matter of trust…and of experience.

There have been lost and misplaced items, things that should have been to hand at crucial moments but were, inexplicably, not. There was the year when a last minute epidemic hit the group and two of our Companions stepped up to the mark and shared nine roles between them. Wardrobe disasters, technical glitches, on the hoof rewrites… you name it, we’ve had it, and for the most part, no one even notices.

Although we do put a lot of care into staging these workshops, that is as close to theatrical as they get. The dramatic element is not about playing a part, as you would in amateur dramatics. There are no lines to learn, there is no audience to please, no need to be anything other than yourself.

We take a story, drawn from myth, imagination, or even stranger sources, and play it out symbolically. The story always addresses some of the spiritual and psychological principles behind the human journey and, through such rituals, we seek not only to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, but to set in motion the wheels of change.

This year, the story is inspired by the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that was old when the pyramids were raised. Over the weekend of the event and afterwards, we will share the story and open the doors of the temple a little to give a glimpse of what we do. We will also be asking you to join us in a meditation. ‘Raising awareness’ can have more than one meaning…

As soon as you mention temples, rituals and robes, people react. Some are intrigued, some scoff or shy away and others make the mental equivalent of the ancient sign against witchcraft. The Mysteries have always been shrouded in secrecy and there is good reason for that where the inner teachings are concerned, for they represent an experiential journey which must be taken, not taught.  It is called by many names in many systems, but essentially it is the quest for the realisation of the true Self and its orgins…and how we can apply what we learn to our daily lives in order to grow and live in the world, fully present. The journey for each of us is as individual as we are, and there are as many paths to that realisation as there are stars.

The robes are worn simply to signify a change of state… our intent to step aside from the world for a moment to align ourselves with the sacred, by whatever name we know it or through whatever paradigm we approach it. Within the ritual drama workshops, we may also use costumes, which serve the same purpose but with a more precise symbolism. They also help set the mood for whatever theme we are using and allow us to attune to it more readily by appealing to the imagination.

The sacred space that we call a temple is, on the face of it, no such thing. It is a large, sunny room with its curtains closed and a few symbolic items that serve a similar purpose to the robes.  We don’t worship dark gods…in fact everyone is free to choose their own definition of divinity and, every year, we have an eclectic mix that ranges through a whole spectrum of beliefs, from shamanic to druidic, from Qabalists to ministers. That is one of the joys of these workshops, that folk from so many from different paths, countries and backgrounds can work together as one and share their differing beliefs in harmony, learning from each other in mutual respect.

We don’t go in for sacrificing goats (or anything else) either.  Quite apart from being a pointless waste of life, it would be exceedingly messy and land us with a heck of a cleaning bill. The only blood likely to be let is on the point of a sewing needle while making costumes. In spite of the number of times we have had to disappoint those who were expecting to learn we got up to something more exotic, the only thing we sacrifice is time, attention and energy.

The ritual dramas are scripted, with each person taking a role for the weekend. The scripts are read, not learned, so there is no demand for memorising, and each is crafted to tell a story.  We’ve even published some of the scripts, so there is no mystery there. On the surface it all seems pretty safe and innocuous…little more than amateur dramatics without the bother of rehearsals. So why on earth do people come half way round the world every year to attend?

There is more than meets the eye to what is brought to birth at these workshops and the effects can be deep and long-lasting.

It is a communion of spirit. People of many paths but one intent come together to share a journey of the heart, mind and soul that leads towards a common goal. The focused intent and dedication of the Companions are the magical ingredients that change everything and, when we come together, what comes into being is greater than the sum of its parts. Many small candles, each no more than a single flame, together can illuminate the darkness. Words that seem no more than a story when seen on a cold page become fraught with meaning when awareness shifts from the mundane to the sacred and they are voiced with emotion and understanding. Doors are opened in the mind that lead to paths as yet untrodden. Simple robes become sacred vestments and an ordinary room becomes a timeless Temple when filled with that dedication to the Light.

“…a pale blue light rises behind the seated Temple officials. The East is flooded with its purity, and I am blinded by its intensity.”

The single flame that symbolises the Eternal Light is kindled in the heart and its glow lingers.  Such magic is not born of words or gestures, nor will you find it in the robes or the trappings of ritual. It comes from within when we turn ourselves to face the Light and we find ourselves within It.


Would you like to know more?

For details of the School and our methods, how to join our Correspondence Course, or to find out more about our Workshops and Events please explore our website or email The Silent Eye at rivingtide@gmail.com

Looking for answers…

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It wasn’t a dark and stormy night… this book that lies open on my desk begins with a rather less evocative phrase. More mundane  and far less atmospheric…though the writer who had penned them both was the same. I’ve never really seen what was wrong with that opening, though it has passed into the realms of ridicule as ‘purple prose’ and the Right Honorable Lord Lytton now has an anti-literary prize named after him, awarded for the worst opening phrase of a story. A tad unfair, I feel. His style was the product of a bygone era and a society that held different tastes close to its tightly corseted bosom.

This particular book, I haven’t read in a good many years, but as it is fairly obscure yet has been mentioned by three people in as many weeks, I thought I should rummage through the shelves and find my battered and dog-eared copy. I’ve always liked the work of Bulwer-Lytton, a prolific novelist and playwright.  His style, I grant you, is heavy and sometimes ponderous… like many writers of his epoch, he will seldom use one word when five will do. His storytelling, however, is a different thing and he manages to evoke times long past and populate them with unexpected characters. Little known today, his ‘dark and stormy night’ is not the only phrase he has added to the language. His novels were hugely influential when they were first published. ‘Pelham‘ changed fashionable dress. Verdi, Wagner and others wrote operas based on his historical works. His friend, Charles Dickens, changed the ending of ‘Great Expectations‘ on his suggestion and Bram Stoker was inspired to write ‘Dracula‘ after reading Lytton’s ‘A Strange Story’, which was the first of his works that I read. The Hollow Earth theory was also popularised by Lytton in ‘The Coming Race’, published in 1861 and was credited with helping to launch the science fiction genre. 

I was barely fifteen when my grandfather gave me two of Lytton’s works. ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ and ‘A Strange Story’. The books could not have been more different. One, a vividly portrayed piece of quasi-historical drama, the other a dark and unsettling tale, set in what seemed to be my own backyard. The locations were referred to only by their initials, but the town sounded remarkably like my own and the Abbey and the old house sounded like those at Kirkstall, Simply because of that, I ploughed through the heavy prose when most of my contemporaries were turning to Barbara Cartland for ‘historical’ fiction.

The tale tells of youth and ego that seeks to perpetuate itself through the fear of not-being, drawing on the life of others in true vampiric style, though without the blood. It is one of those stories where nothing happens… yet lives are changed as the characters act out their fate. The reader may be changed too, as questions begin to form in the nether regions of the mind and parallels are drawn with less lurid occurrences in daily life. I went on to read his ‘Zanoni’,  where a choice between immortality and humanity lifts the veil on many arcane themes; that book also brought questions and my grandfather’s library was a gold-mine.

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Dion Fortune, Robert Graves, Aleister Crowley and MacGregor Mathers were probably not average teen reading. Many of the books my grandfather gave me raised questions. Some gave me answers too, or better still, were signposts that showed me where to look to find my own. In that I was lucky; far luckier than I would realise for many years. At the time, I just assumed that when such questions arose, everyone would have someone with whom to discuss them. It was not until much later that I found that my situation was the exception rather than the norm. In those days, books on alternative approaches to spirituality were still rare and hard to find and many will have no-one with whom they can explore the deepest thoughts that arise within the hidden regions of the soul.

We all have questions. Many people still turn to books to explore their ideas and seek inspiration, but with the advent of the internet it has become even simpler to tap in a query and see what comes up. The problem is that there is just so much information out there…and most of it conflicting. From the strangest concepts to the harshest diatribes against them, the genuine seeker will find every possible shade of opinion, every argument for and against and every wild and wacky theory there is… and where do you start to sift through them?

Common sense is usually a good place to begin and filters out the worst offenders. Anything that promises the earth will probably not deliver. Especially if it says all you have to do is sit back and pay your hard earned cash for them to wave a magic wand that makes the world right. The wonderful and inspirational sites that tell you that all is right and beautiful have a point; I would agree with them in principle… but when you are stuck in confusion or a dark place in your life, that isn’t really all that helpful. Abstract ideas are all very well, but sometimes what you need is a stout rope… an idea of what you can do to climb out of the hole and there are many excellent schools, groups and systems out there who will throw that rope to you. But how do you know which one?

The best advice I ever read on how to find the school, organisation or system that would work for you came from Dion Fortune when she wrote that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. She advised that the seeker look at those who are part of those systems … not those who have gone a little way and left for one reason or another, but those who have walked the path and stuck with it. Look and see whether those people have something that speaks to you, something you can trust.

The best advice I have ever heard, was simply to ‘ask the question’. Turn your attention to the quiet place within and listen to the prompting of the heart. The spiritual seeker has already knocked on the door and the wordless inner voice, that expression of the higher self, is waiting to answer.

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