Together, Poles Apart


As a little girl, I loved the tale of Borrobil by William Croft Dickinson. There was something wholly magical about the battle between the Summer King and the Winter King facing each other in within a circle of stones to wrest the season from each other. That story was set at Beltane, but the ‘battle’ between summer and winter is never more obvious than at midwinter. The period around the winter solstice is the dark time of the year. The sun appears to stand still for a few days, hovering on the horizon. The nights begin early and end late. The days are short and cold. As the winter weather closes in, grey and forlorn, for a little while it seems that there is only darkness.

Yet it is at this very moment, when the winter has its strongest hold, that the light triumphs in the age-old contest as the nadir of winter passes and the sun begins to renew its ascendance.  No matter what the calendar says or how dark the day, the renewal of the light has begun its journey towards spring and many traditions honour this moment in time, each in their own way. It is for this reason that so many of the Lightbearers have been celebrated in the dark of the year throughout our history. It is in the midst of darkness that the birth of hope is both most needed and renewed.

It is odd, for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, to think that while we are celebrating all the holidays and holy days associated with the winter solstice, those who live in the southern hemisphere are celebrating in the warmth and sunshine of midsummer. The original inhabitants of every corner of the world would have had their own celebrations, born of the turning wheel of the year. Then, when the Old World colonised the New, the colonists took their traditions, beliefs and festivals with them too. Now, at opposite poles of the world, we share, for a moment, common celebrations of Light.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Perhaps that is something we can carry forward, beyond the celebrations, recognising our kinship instead of fearing our differences. Celebrating the fact that we can be poles apart in our beliefs and yet sharing a common desire for peace. This year has been a dark one for many, both at personal and international levels. There has been a sense of unease and foreboding, a longing for community and the fear of encroaching darkness has overshadowed many hearts.

As the seasons turn once more at the solstice, whether we live in the northern hemisphere or the southern, we can use this point of change to move forward into a brighter world. In every heart, there is a spark of Light and each one of us can be a Lightbearer to the renewal of the coming year.

Into the Dark Earth


I have always thought that, from a mystical perspective, we are lucky to have winters. This may seem a strange sentiment, but I have my reasons. If we believe that we are a part of what is all around us, then the seasons assume great importance.

In reality each season merges slowly into the next, but our ancient forebears gave us four divisions of the year, each corresponding to a major ‘event’ in the way light – our primary enabler of outer consciousness – changes.

In the middle of the ancient Summer, the day would be longest. The time of fullness an warmth would have returned, albeit briefly, to the earth. The Christian church borrowed the ancient rites and named the Summer Solstice the Feast of St John; it marked a time when the joyful ascent of light (an upwards gradient, if you like), gave way, in a moment of profound stillness, to the descending gradient that led from the longest day to the shortest. There was no actual moment of pause in that glorious fullness – planets and suns do not stand still – but the human consciousness recorded and knew that a primary quality of existence had changed; and not for the better…

Halfway during that descent of the daily light, the times of day and night became equal at the Equinox: a word derived from Latin meaning ‘equal night’. The harvest was gathered in – probably the most important time of the ancient year, as it determined whether the long, wet and cold months ahead could be survived. There was little of more importance than that…

At the end of the darkening half-year begun with the Summer Solstice came the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night – Christianised as the Feast of St Stephen. The Christmas tradition has changed the Pagan calendar, somewhat, but the underlying principles of the Light-bringer’s birth in the darkest of days hold true.

The physical and agricultural marking of these times is obvious. Modern scholarly interpretations of such events focus simply on these, dismissing any other considerations as fanciful and superstitious – as though our forebears, often starving, had time for such diversions. They simply cannot conceive of the world-view of those of our ancient past, because they have been taught that anything outside of ‘science’ is invalid.

There are two deeper layers to these key points in the year – one is psychological, the other spiritual. We need to define our terms carefully: psychological refers to the workings of the mind – really ego; spiritual refers to contact with a layer of being which is greater than the small self; an experience or series of experiences within which the individual self realises oneness with a super-physical that is beyond question. In doing this, we have encountered that which simply ‘is’ – the Objective World.

Emotions are not the whole story, nor necessarily the highway to spirituality, but they can provide the energy to throw off the mundane perspectives that keep us locked into the world view of the small ‘me’ – now protected by science. At the time of the Winter Solstice, our emotions undergo a kind of ‘death’ – if we are sensitive to this unmeasurable ‘pause’ in the flow of life’s energies. For a brief moment, which may have more to do with the observer than the observed, we sense the awe of cessation… Of a death of the small self in the face of the fullness of objective existence around us.

What is around us has not died, but it challenges us to see the internal ‘death’ with which we need to come to terms if we are to sense the greater life that surrounds us, and from which the small self keeps us separate.

In this sleep of nature the one Life prepares the raw materials of the next phase of its expression. This is done in the dark places of the soil and the unconscious places of the self. When that rest is complete the Life comes forth from darkness, marked, symbolically, by the light-bringers’ victory over the darker days, and the advancement of the light-filled days – an outer sign of the manifest potential of what lived and lives through the dark night of Winter. In spiritual terms the physical return of the light is mirrored by the growth of human understanding, and its connection to all life around it.

The mythological archetypes of the light-bringers are there to enable us to attune with the subtle energies pervading the Earth at this very special time. They are our deepest friends…

Wishing you a very special Winter Solstice.


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

©️Stephen Tanham.




A Solstice Knott

Big Knott tree2

I  have always viewed the winter solstice as something special. There is a palpable and magical sense of the nadir – the lowest point; even to the sensation of nature ‘stopping’ for a fraction of a second, before the year begins its long and arduous journey to get brighter, again.

It’s a difficult time of year for us to get together as a School, even though we have a very strong feeling for its potency. The proximity to Christmas, with all the usual preparations and family travelling, makes it hard for people to commit to a gathering that would need to brave the rigours of the festive season, with its attendant traffic nightmares, not to mention international travel for those of our Companions who live on other continents.

Arnside Knott info board

Determined not to let the day pass without some kind of pilgrimage up a hill. Bernie and I used this Sunday morning to head for The Knott, just south of the lovely town of Arnside, which lies at the mouth of the Kent estuary, as it flows out into Morecambe Bay.

Heavens open half way up

Arnside Knott is covered with limestone grassland and mixed woodland, which attracts a variety of insects and is especially renowned for butterflies.The area is made up of species-rich limestone grassland, woodland, wet meadow, scree and scrub. At 159 metres high, it’s not the largest peak in the South Lakes region, but does offer spectacular views across all four compass points, taking in Morecambe Bay, Warton Crag, Silverdale, and the beautiful peaks of South Lakeland across the Kent estuary to the north.

The winter solstice – the point at which the zodiac passes into Capricorn, is set for a little after 11 pm this evening. So we were slightly early, but as close as we could reasonably get.

Path up to Knott

The weather was grim – cold, wet and windy. But, equipped with boots and several layers of warmth and waterproofs, we began the climb through the mud.

Big Knott tree1

Even from half way up, the views are spectacular. Looking back on Arnside, you can see the height of the winter tides. They are almost up to the level of the rail viaduct which links Lancashire with Grange-over-Sands and the Barrow peninsula.

Arnside+bridge nearly submerged

The Knott is surrounded by ancient woodlands. The Path rings the summit and the ancient forest upon it.

Forest path on summit ace

Every few minutes a new vista opens up.

Strange creature and view
East towards Warton Crag
North East aspect
Back along the Kent estuary towards Milnthorpe
Summit towards Silverdale best
South towards Silverdale
Lands End Knott
And, west, out to sea, with the tip of Humphrey Head in the distance . . .

The colour contrasts in the summit forest are quite spectacular, even at this time of year.

Two tone forest ace


Tree trunk and evergreen ace


Winter berries closer
Winter berries in abundance

The rain drove us off the peak before too long, but not before I’d located due south and spent a few minutes in communion with the many friends who were doing the same thing on the Tor at Glastonbury.

Towards Carnforth best
Due south – Glastonbury 270 miles this way . . .

The Silent Eye School wishes everyone a very special solstice – however you are able to spend it.  Let the seeds of the outer brightness begin, again, lightening us in our journey through the winter to come, and the spring to follow.