The opening of the Eye – the drama begins

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There had been hugs and welcomes, flurries of suitcases, gorgeously coloured garments peeking shyly from their wrappings, but most of all the joy of meeting old friends, many for the very first time in person.

And then we began.

There was the welcome and a dinner friendlier, warmer, more full of laughter than I have ever seen at one of these gatherings so early in the proceedings. Maybe I am biased… but I was not the only one to remark on the feeling in the air.

We talked through the teaching method and the way the weekend would unfold, then, suddenly it seemed, it was time to begin.

There had been a last minute change of plan, as one of the company could not be there on time. Matt, our fabulous photographer, had stepped in gallantly to cover for most of her role as one of the Keepers of the First Flame, but for some strange reason he did not see himself as Isis. So I had, unexpectedly, opened the drama in the role of the Mother. Not precisely as we had planned, but in the end, it seemed so fitting I could not help but smile as I looked around the circle.

A quick change later then Steve and I, clad in the glorious solar colours of the School, and Stuart, without whom none of this could have ever been the same, were waiting our turn to enter the Temple. And that was quite a moment.

There is an energy to these things that builds slowly through the weekend, becoming deeper and stronger as both drama and understanding unfold, yet this very first moment was filled with a tension and anticipation that was palpable and very moving.

Of course, the companions had probably realised by this point that we were about to sing, Steve and I… and I am not known for my singing, or not in a positive manner anyway….

Yet, it seemed that when Troubadour One took up the guitar and began to sing the song written for this moment, and Troubadour Two stood behind him with her hands on his shoulder and they raised their voices in harmony, as the Child gently woke the Nine from sleep, something fell into place. The Troubadours sang in tune and the simple music woke more than the sleepers.

A story began to unfold, and with the characters’ waking something came alive and began a journey into self-exploration that left none unmoved through the weekend. The ritual drama began to unfold and what seemed a simple story lit up from the inside as the points of the enneagram were brought to life by the archetypal figures so lovingly crafted and beautifully played.

There were experienced ritualists and some for whom this was a first taste, but none who had taken this journey before.

As we filed out in silence, not one was left untouched by the feeling in that room and there was a real reverence as each saluted the simple central Light that symbolises so much. The stairs were lined with white robed figures, quietly waiting for the working space to empty, and that Light was reflected in all eyes.

My mind skipped back to the previous Alchemy weekends here and recognised the thread that ran through them to bring us to this point. Similar, but very different. And then my heart slid forward to the next ritual, the following morning knowing what had been written. If there was so much emotion here already, I could not begin to imagine how that was going to feel.

And I was right.

I could never have imagined such beauty, such warmth, or so much loving joy.

A Preponderance of Stone: Pentre Ifan…

Images and Text from the Silent Eye Workshop: Whispers in the West…

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HM15 953Angles of Approach…

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HM15 969Concord of Stones…

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HM15 970Step forward Spirit…

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HM15 998Claws of what?…

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HM15 997Pinnacle and Fulcrum…

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HM15 977Aligning the Sky…

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HM15 973Thresholds in Time…

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HM15 961‘Shroom Cap Stoop…

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HM15 990Guarding the Shade…

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HM15 959Seeing through Stone…

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Ambushed by Stone…

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Not content with capturing one rather large stone circle, under rapidly darkening skies, we set off in pursuit of another.

Which was a mistake.

For one thing, we got lost…

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And then we ran into this motley lot.

Hiding from us they were.

Waiting for the sun to go down before they pounced.

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Anyway, we tentatively made our way through their ranks.

And eventually confronted their leader.

She seemed okay and assured us her troops meant no harm.

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So we determined to return on the morrow.

In the hope that the morning light might be kinder.

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Some of them…

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I had half expected the town to be deserted.

That is Memory again.

It acts like  some indifferent film director moving extras around, concerned only with their ebb and flow.

Over time the ‘peripherals’ fade leaving only the ‘principals’ behind.

And that goes for events too…

I have no memory of our initial ‘run up’…

Only the camber to the stones and the ravens, wheeling and cawing, and eventually settling in unison on the portals as we approached.

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Contrary to the insistence of our fastidious manipulator of experience, we had not been alone that first time…

There had been ‘others’ in the field but it had not seemed to matter so much then.

Possibly because in those days I did not take photographs.

There were no ravens this time, but plenty of people.

A line of motor vehicles clogged the lane and patches of bright colour flitted about the stones, uncertainly, like overgrown butterflies.

The colours too have now faded, as colours tend to do…

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Perhaps, I have become over sensitive to synthetics?

In the event we easily outlasted three separate groups before the extreme cold became too much.

They do not stay long.

They have, you see, nowhere to file their experience…

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Nothing to lend it context…

Maybe, it appears crude to the mind too far removed from nature?

Would one call hills crude?

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Wish you were here…

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In Olden Times,

Holidays were originally just that…

Holy Days.

The whole community would lay aside their workday duties and together engage in deeply or intrinsically symbolic activities that related to the situation that they all found themselves in.

For example…

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Cheese Rolling…

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May Polling…

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…and Beating-the-Bounds.

A Red-Haired Boy…

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… The king immediately ordered a tower be built on a densely wooded isle off the coast of his lands and had his daughter put in the tower away from all danger.

Nine home-steads about the foot of the tower and nine hand-maids, one for each home-stead, to ensure that none but the king himself could enter the tower and see the princess.

Once completely satisfied that such a defence could not be breached, without his knowledge, the king set about planning the procurement of the magic halter.

After much deliberation he transformed himself into a red-haired boy and set off for the abode by the sea that housed the three brothers.

The disguised king arrived in the nick of time.

Brother-Smith was busy in the forge making weapons while Brother-Wizard stood alongside casting spells on those weapons.

Brother-Warrior was outside the forge holding the magic halter.

The wondrous cow grazed sedately in a field alongside the forge.

A dispute between Brother-Smith and Brother-Wizard had just arisen, over the tempering of the blades, and Brother-Warrior was summoned to settle the matter.

“Just look after this for awhile will you,” said Brother-Warrior to a red-haired boy who was passing by, “I won’t be a moment,” he handed the magic halter to the boy and entered the forge.

When Brother-Warrior re-emerged from the forge the red-haired boy, the magic halter, and the wondrous cow were gone.

He set up a shout and the smith and the wizard came running out.

“It can only be the King of Castle-Hill,” said Brother-Wizard looking into the far distance, “long has he coveted our wondrous cow.”

“You will have to get the magic halter back,” said Brother-Smith.

“I’ll need your help,” said Brother-Warrior disturbing the wizard’s reverie.

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Brother-Wizard, his eyes narrowing darkly…

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Choosing the future

A few months ago, with what now appears to be an uncanny and uncomfortable prescience, we began a workshop in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. The village is one of those pretty places of old stone and cottage gardens… but it is best known for its response to the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665.

The plague arrived in the village from London in a bale of flea-infested cloth and swiftly infected the tailor who had ordered it and his assistant, killing them both. This was at the time of the Great Plague of London… the last time bubonic plague reached epidemic proportions in England and during what is now known as the Second Pandemic. The pandemic had begun in China in 1331, with devastating global effects in the days before modern medicine, killing hundreds of millions over the centuries of its periodic resurgences. The Great Plague of London killed at least a hundred thousand people in the city during the eighteen months between its onset in 1665 to its end around the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The little village of Eyam, knowing the devastation that the disease would wreak should it spread throughout the north, chose to place itself in strict quarantine, cutting itself off from neighbouring villages completely and holding their socially distanced prayers in a field until the disease had run its course, killing a tragic proportion of the villagers.

Their sacrifice… a true sacrifice that was chosen, not imposed… saved uncountable lives at the cost of their own. Mothers buried their children, whole families were wiped out and plaques around the village today commemorate both their lives and their deaths.

We had called the workshop weekend ‘Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear’ and our aim was to show that fear can be both destructive and positive… and can, when faced, lead us to places and experiences of which we may not have thought ourselves capable. The village of Eyam was a perfect place to start.

Today, the village derives much of its income from tourism based upon its role and sacrifice during that dark time. The tragedy has not been allowed to sink into the memory of the land, but is kept raw and alive in all its shocking detail. It is an unsettling place, especially with its chocolate-box appearance contrasting against its history. Almost all of our companions on that weekend felt the deep and long-held pain and darkness that hangs over the village like a sticky pall.

Helen Jones was with us and shared an account of the weekend on her blog. Of her experience at Eyam she wrote:

“As we neared the old church I was finding it difficult to breathe, a weight on my chest. Another member of the group felt the same way – there seemed to be no explanation for it. I was struggling against surging emotion, like being at the centre of a storm, despite the bright sunshine.”

I know from the numerous emails and phone calls that I have received over the past few weeks that many people are feeling much the same way about the current pandemic and its effects on our daily lives. Unlike the villagers of Eyam, we have few choices, save to obey the measures that have been put in place in an attempt to control the spread of a disease we do not yet fully understand, know how to cure or even prevent. Many feel helpless, the continued and profound uncertainty of ‘what next’ is affecting the majority of us. For many, there is fear for themselves, their loved ones, their incomes and security. For some, it is the sense of isolation and the lack of human contact that is hardest to bear, while for others loneliness weighs heavy on their hearts.

There are so many mixed emotions, from gratitude to those who work tirelessly to help those afflicted…and to those, like shop assistants and refuse collectors, whose jobs pass largely unnoticed. There is anger… both from those who disagree with policies and restrictions and from those whose fear makes them react badly to the proximity or actions of other human beings. As the situation changes daily, the messages we are being given can seem to contradict themselves and on the silent streets, the world seems to be holding its breath. Few things seem to be within our control at the moment…and even the experts in whom we repose our trust seem unsure and conflicted about the best way forward.

Last week, I shared a simple meditation that helps to find balance within the turmoil. Does the tragedy of Eyam have anything that might help? Helen wrote:

“Eyam is a place that makes its living from death, the sad history of the place drawing tourism from far and wide. But is it healthy to constantly relive such an episode? Places hold the energy of events that happen there – such as the warmth experienced in a happy home, or the sombre cold at sites of torture and death. Despite all the doubtless peaceful years that Eyam experienced, both before and after the plague, it has allowed itself to be defined by the events of that awful time and, while of course it’s important to remember and honour the deeds of the villagers who sacrificed everything for the sake of the larger community, the relentless focus on that time makes it difficult for the energy surrounding it to dissipate.“

For those families across the world who have lost those they love, grief is inevitable, especially in this heartbreaking time when many cannot even hold a hand, say goodbye or lay their loved ones to rest with dignity and love.

For the rest of us, though, one thing we can do is decide, right now, whether or not, or how, we choose to be defined by events. There will be no ‘quick fix’ to this pandemic, both families and economies will be affected for a long time to come. We can choose to spend the rest of our lives looking back, mourning better days and maintaining the dark aura of hurt and fear, or we can take a positive stance, seeing the possibilities inherent in any challenge that allows us to move forward.

Do we choose to come out on the other side of this tragic time to find a world that feels as oppressive and fearful as the plague village of Eyam, where old tragedy defines life in spite of beauty? Or do we seek the opportunities for hope, positive change and appreciation of all that is dear to us and beautiful in this world? The future is up to us.

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Helen Jones’ account of her weekend with the Silent Eye in Derbyshire can be found here:

Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine

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The Silent Eye’s account of the weekend, along with the history and stories of the places we visited and a little insight into the lessons they might share can be found here:

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight,

Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen

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