Off duty…

After driving for four hours on the road north, there is a brief glimpse of a hillside on the horizon which, at this time of year, is the one thing I am waiting to see. If the light is right and the weather kind… and if the heather is in bloom, the shadowy hilltop wears a faint purple smudge.

It doesn’t take much for this smudge to be hidden or indistinct. Without it, I have to drive another half an hour before seeing the first possible patch of heather. On days like this, that means an anxious wait. I usually have just one chance every year to see the heather in full flower.. and this was it. I had missed it last year, seeing only the tail end of glory and was really hoping that this time, the timing would be right.

Ever since I moved away from Yorkshire, first to France and then to the south, the moors have called me home. In spring, when new life is beginning to break through the winter pall…even though the moors seem to change little at that time of year… and again mid-August.

It is a curious yearning. There is beauty enough in this land to heal any heart, without purple hills, but if you have heather in the blood, no other sight fills you with quite the same joy and sense of homecoming. When you are far away, it tugs at your heartstrings and I held my breath as I crested the hill.

I was out of luck. Low clouds and racing shadows obscured the view of the distant hills. I would have to wait until I rounded the corner below Gardom’s Edge… and there, the dull, faded purple was a body blow. Either the heather had not yet reached its full flowering or I had missed it…and it looked like the latter. The extremes of weather this year have thrown the flowering out of its usual pattern. I would see no vibrant purple hilltops, no seas of colour…and I was devastated.

It rained all the next day and we had meetings cross-country. The following day, I had an unexpected day to myself. A day when I had absolutely nothing to do except rest, potter and read, with no clocks to watch, no-one waiting and nothing at all demanding my attention.

It was odd, because I had said only the day before that I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, at least, not without me first having to be at death’s door. And it was weird. I am so unused to being free of all duties, responsibilities and time-constraints that I barely knew what to do with myself… until the sun came out and I went out to play.

A little warmth had dried the sodden heather. It was definitely not at its best and hilltops that should have been brilliant with colour were a dull, reddish hue. Even so, this is a landscape I know and love… and it is never less than beautiful. I took the hidden backroads that are usually empty of all but a few walkers, even in summer, and drove out towards the Snake Pass that links Yorkshire and Lancashire across the Pennines.

It is a road I love to drive, being full of twists and turns that lead up from the valley onto the highest moors and back down again on the other side. There, I would turn around and drive back. There are few places to stop, but I know them all… and each one unveils a vista very different in character from the rest. There are green vales, high moors, silver streams and tumbling waterfalls… and, when the season is right, whole hillsides covered in heather and perfumed with honey.

I had to laugh at myself. Only desire and expectation were responsible for my disappointment. I had focussed solely on the heather and forgotten the beauty that surrounds it. How could I possibly be disappointed when I had a day to play in such glory?

I drove on, stopping here and there to contemplate the view, drinking from a stream whose golden waters taste of home and memory…and found swathes of almost perfect heather on sheltered hillsides. It felt as if I had only needed to realise the lesson I had been offered before the gift was given.

Expectations narrow the parameters of hope. Expectations restrict the possible to a mere fragment of what it could be, leaving disappointment to become almost inevitable. Hope is expansive by nature…it takes in as many possibilities as we will allow and, if we let it blossom, we remain open to wonder. Once again, the land had been my teacher, reminding me to focus on a wider picture… to be not just grateful for what was, but to revel in it. And once I had been reminded, I lost myself in joy.

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Circles Beyond Time – The enclosure

derbyshire-heather-gardoms-carl-wark-moon-134We had, quite unfairly, asked the company to dowse for the next stone we were to visit, giving them the simplest of descriptions. Following the person who was on the right track, we set off through the sodden grass in the direction of a curious bank of bracken. When the green fronds do not bury the bank its true nature is revealed and its scale is staggering. It is a Neolithic enclosure of dry stone walls that still stand up to five feet high in places, although many of the stones have been removed to build more modern walls. The enclosure they contain has seven entrances and runs for around two thousand feet in length over a width of up to thirty feet. No trace of settlement has been found during the archaeological explorations there and the conclusion is that it was a ritual gathering place. The other structures found there seem to confirm this idea, for although there are the remains of nearly thirty round houses and several other enigmatic structures quite close by, none of them seem to indicate a permanent settlement and the largest was used to perform funerary rites over a period of time.

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If we seem to spend a lot of our time walking the realms of the ancient dead, there are several reasons for that. First and foremost is that it is in these very places, the ritual and mortuary sites, where the realm of spirit walks hand in hand with the living lands, that our forefathers seem to have lavished the most care and invested the most effort to create permanent structures of such strength that they still survive today after many thousands of years. While the domestic sites may have fallen to plough and bulldozer over time, the legends and folklore may have kept many of the standing stones and cairns safe from intrusion. Even today, many of these places are woven about with strange tales, and sightings of eldritch creatures and spectral lights are not uncommon.

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There is another reason too, less ‘logical’ perhaps, but no less real for all that. We spend a lot of time on the moors and while we feel welcome in the realm of the rites of the ancestors, there is an uneasy feeling about walking through their settlements, as if, being outside their time, we should not be there. There is another part to that theory that has to do with time and perception that we shared with our companions as we walked through the wet grass within the enclosure.

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The boulders within the enclosure are strange. Many would not look out of place in Fred Flintstone’s back yard and, although we have no knowledge of their individual significance, it is obvious that here again we are looking at stone that was left for a purpose in an area that could have been cleared. The stones themselves would have provided perfect material with which to build the enclosure walls, yet their strange shapes were left untouched and the walls built around them.

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One huge boulder is covered in white lichen and stands out from the rest. It was to this we were drawn and everyone was intrigued by its hollowed bowl. One of our companions wondered if it was the particular energetic properties of the stone that made it a target for this particular variety of lichen…. none of the others seemed to wear it. Another suggested that it looked like a ‘font’ in which infants might be cleansed and purified… tying the two extremes of life together at a place where only the rites of death have left any trace.  Whatever the truth and the purpose of the stone, it brought the enclosure to life for us as we looked back upon the lives of the people to whom this place had meaning.

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Having left the main path, we walked back to one of the seven entrances that pierce the enclosure wall. There is a path here to the stone that was our final destination on this stretch… but the bracken is taller than most people here and the fronds, heavy with mist and rain, were bowed across it. We forged through, knowing it was worth the wetting and brought the company to the little clearing of the carved stone…

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Circles Beyond Time – On Edge

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We’d cancelled sunrise. Not literally, you understand, but what with our company, for once, being lodged across a swathe of miles and the weather being singularly uncooperative, it seemed unfair to drag everyone from their beds at some ungodly hour just to get wet and see nothing. It was, therefore, a rested and well-breakfasted company that gathered for the short trip to our next ancient site.

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Only two of us had visited the site before. We had found it quite by accident whilst on the track of the infamous wandering stone which, although it remains stubbornly lost, has a habit of revealing wonderful places as you follow its trail. We had come back in winter with author Graeme Cumming and his partner… and more recently to check the site before the workshop when we had been thoroughly drenched by unseasonal rain that had filled my boots until I squelched with every step. Even so, with each visit, the magic of the place had caught us unawares…. but we were hoping for better weather this time, in spite of the pall of grey cloud that hung low over the moors.

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A short walk across the moor takes you to a fence and a gate. It is as soon as you walk through the gate that the land seems to change. Regardless of the weather, it is quieter here … as if the place has withdrawn from the world somehow and waits at a temporal tangent for those who come seeking its mysteries. A few yards to the right of the path and the land falls away steeply from the edge of the cliff. In between is a green lawn strewn with boulders and silver-barked birch. It feels as if you have slipped into the realms of the Fae and the guardians of the place watch as you pass.

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For a little way the path slopes gently uphill. After a while you begin to notice that the boulders look odd, as if placed rather than strewn by ancient glaciers, then the land opens out into a boulder field of monumental proportions, very similar to the top of Carl Wark in appearance, though here the stones are enormous and the cliffs sheer. But whereas the atmosphere of the hillfort is one of peace and serenity, here there is something else; it ‘feels’ odd and uncomfortable.

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It it always difficult to tease apart the threads of impression. Most people are sensitive to atmospheres and will react predictably to the serenity of a quiet chapel or an eerie, moonlit ruin. With the open landscape it is impossible to say what it is one picks up, but places have their own particular ‘feel’. Most of the time we are visiting sites of which little can be known, given their antiquity and the mind inevitably tries to make sense of the landscape in modern terms first. When it cannot, the natural reaction is to seek a story the mind can accept, but these sites are older than our knowing and alive in a way difficult to express. Images arise and are dismissed as imagination… until others, too, begin to recount the same feelings and you have to take note. At this particular part of the site…and only here… the impression is that the rock-strewn cliff was once used as part of the ancestral funerary rites… and was then desecrated and despoiled by invaders, as if to take the heart from its people. The atmosphere affects everyone differently, so saying little except that there would be a chance to look around on the way back, we hurried our companions through the stones to the second gate.

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Once through the gate, the land changes immediately. Delicate mosses carpet the undulating earth in emerald, scattered with diamond drops of mist and festooned with jewelled webs. Even the sound changes as the slender trunks of the silver birches cluster closer. It is a quiet place… a child’s fairyland… and at its heart, a standing stone…

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Circles Beyond Time – Living stone

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I smiled, knowing what was still to come… and knowing that our companion had picked up on something not yet visible when she had said that the place reminded her of the stone blocks of the old South American cultures. I knew what she meant, but while the precision of the masonry at Cusco still defies understanding over a thousand years old since its building, the place to which we were walking was older. Far older.

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Following the path that climbs through the bracken, you can see the changing forms of the stones. Peering from the top of the plateau, they seem to shapeshift in the fading, afternoon light, taking first one form and then another as you approach the steps that lead into the enclosure. It is a strange place. To some it is just another hill to climb. To others, ‘just’ another ancient hillfort. Cinema buffs may recognise one of the locations from The Princess Bride and geologists would have a field day. To archaeologists, though, Carl Wark is pretty much an enigma and unique in this part of the world.

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As soon as you reach the plateau you begin to see how important the site must have been. No direct dating evidence has been found so far, but comparisons have been drawn between the construction of the enclosure at Carl Wark and one we would visit next day at Gardom’s Edge…and that has been dated to around 1300BC. The general consensus seems to be that although some of the more visible features date back only to the Iron Age, the site and features of the surrounding landscape, have been in use since the Bronze Age. The trouble with such dates, however, is that they can only work with what they can see, dig up and measure. If a place becomes important in the life of a people, how long does its legend take to build before the walls are begun? How long before it becomes so entrenched in the life of the clan that its safety becomes a priority?

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A natural outcrop rising around eighty feet from the valley floor, the hillfort sits much lower in the landscape than nearby Higger Tor. Even to a layman’s eyes, the Tor makes a far more defensible position, having much wider views of the surrounding landscape and being visible from a far greater distance than its smaller neighbour. Not only that, but the enclosure of the hillfort is completely covered by huge boulders, making any kind of settlement there impossible to establish and no evidence of such has been found. If it was a fortress in the sense that we understand it, what were they protecting? There is nothing there but the stones.

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It was stone that greeted us as we reached the plateau… a great wall of boulders, carefully placed and buttressed from behind by an earthen embankment. The wall, so the archaeologists believe, dates back only to the Iron Age, which in Britain began almost three thousand years ago. The site has been in use longer than that. Only one section of this rampart remains, 130 ft long, 26 ft wide at its base and nearly ten feet high. Each stone is huge and the construction quite unexpected in the middle of the moors.

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Beyond the wall you enter a magical landscape of frozen forms and movement captured in stone. Perhaps the eyes of the heart can come closer to understanding what the old ones were protecting than the eyes of science. Almost every boulder reveals a face, shape or limb that to the human eye and imagination, suggests life. Some stones, like one of the ‘rocking stones’ perched precariously on the edge, seem to have been encouraged into their position and carefully chocked with small boulders. Some seem to shift, from bear, to cat, to hawk depending on where you stand… as if Nature has shaped a cathedral to honour the totems of the ancient tribes.

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We left our companions to explore for a while and headed over to the southern end of the hillfort. Here there was a stone we had planned to use, carved by Man or Nature into a perfect chair for storytelling or teaching, but the wind had increased, the clouds had come down and the rain had begun… nothing major, but not exactly conducive to sitting around on the grass. We sought out a more sheltered spot and gathered everyone together, showing them the great blocks of millstone grit that had been added to the natural revetments of the cliff to fortify the place.

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Taking our places in a shelter between towering boulders, we shared a meditation where we each sought a thread within the web of light, tracing it back, through our own ancestry and beyond; back to the beginnings of our own civilisation to a time and place where were no religious doctrines, or dogma wars… just the many-faceted One that each could see moving across the face of the earth in the shapes of the life that they knew. That web of life is not a thing of the past, but the matrix of life.

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As the echoes were erased by the wind, I thought of a passage from Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess that seemed to sum up both something that has gone wrong with our society and something of what we were attempting over the weekend. “…sinking back into the primordial sleep, returning to forgotten things before time was: and the soul is renewed, touching the Great Mother. Whoso cannot return to the primordial, hath no roots in life, but withereth as the grass. These are the living dead, they who are orphaned of the Great Mother.”

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We were far from being the living dead that day… We shared our thoughts and some readings. One of our companions shared a poem he had come across and which had seemed appropriate to the moment. We all smiled in recognition at the first lines of Tolkien’s ‘The road goes ever on and on…’. I smiled twice, loving the poem and remembering that, quite coincidentally, I had been reciting it just below where we were sheltering at dawn that very day. Another of our companions gave us music, singing October Song a cappella. Written by Robin Williamson, it had been a hit in the 60s for the Incredible String Band. We smiled; we were going to see Williamson play that week. Such small synchronicities seem to offer a reassurance that you are getting things right.

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Which is more than we could say for the weather. We had allowed plenty of time to explore the hilltop and its mysteries knowing how much there was to see, then had planned on sharing the sunset there before returning for dinner. The wind, damp and chill were too much to linger… and the sunset would be hidden by clouds. There would be other days. We gathered in the lee of the ancient wall and, with the sound reverberating from the stone, joined in chanting the close of day, bringing sound to the stones in a spirit of reverence for Life. Somehow, it felt exactly right.

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Circles beyond time – Crossing the troll bridge

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The first hug was a good one and was soon followed by others as we gathered in the car park of Fox House. I had arrived at our rendezvous minus my erstwhile companion and his absence was noted. “He’s not feeling his usual self,” I explained. The disappointment was palpable.

“It must be bad for him not to be here…”

“Umm… well, he’s weirder than his normal weird…” It was just one of those things that couldn’t be helped, but it felt odd greeting the workshop’s gathered company without him.

A few minutes later we were walking along the pale pathway that led to the bridge across the stream where the two of us had inadvertently greeted the dawn that morning. On one side of the path the land rises steeply, blasted by quarrymen and unnaturally exposed; a reluctant nakedness that hurt the eyes. On the opposite side the land slopes down to the stream that divides the valley. Beyond the water, the gritstone bulk of Carl Wark rises from the bracken, still worked by Man, but with greater respect and harmony.

This was where we were heading, an ancient an enigmatic site of which little is known and much surmised. The plan was to begin the weekend with a sunset, but the weather seemed unlikely to oblige. It was not unpleasant in the  valley, but on the heights the wind always blows and clouds were gathering.

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We talked as we walked, as friends do who see each other too seldom, spreading out along the path as everyone fell into their natural gait. As we neared the final descent to the bridge, I gathered the companions together and, taking the lead, began to tell them a little about the site, the incident with the chocolate and our joint conclusion that the pack-horse bridge was really a troll bridge. I told them too about the origin of the site’s name… Carl Wark is thought to derive from the Old Norse for ‘Old Man’s Fort’. The ‘Old Man’ would have been seen as diabolic by the Christians, who determinedly shunned pagan practices…or adopted them under an altered and sanctified guise. Maybe the Old Man was not the Devil, but the ancient one who guards the ways…

…and as we rounded the final hillock that hides the bridge from the path, a wild-haired figure leapt from beneath the bridge to bar our way.

Behind me there was an intake of breath as realisation set in… he was definitely weirder than his normal weird; his staff planted firmly in the earth, draperies of wool the colour of autumn and a symbol bound about his brow.

There was no pause for discussion. I raised my staff and answered the challenge.

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You could call it playacting … we call it ritual… but there is a serious and definite purpose to such moments. Up until we reached the bridge we were little more than tourists, friends sharing a common goal and interest. Our purpose at the bridge was to create a point of crossing, a demarcation between the everyday realm and a magical landscape that could be seen with the eyes of the heart. In terms of the system we use within the school, you could call it a psychological shock point, where, by taking accustomed normality by surprise, you open the doors to possibility.

In the same way that we do not take photographs during rituals, we do not share all their detail either. It would be of little use; experience adds a different dimension that is unique to each one who attends. It is enough to say that our purpose for the weekend was affirmed, each gave their assent to our stated intent and was given a personal symbol for use during the weekend.

The best laid plans of mice and men…or in this case the Old Man and the Walker, are never going to work out perfectly. Our plan to smudge with incense refused to ignite, so we used sound instead… which led to a realisation about the relationship between sound and stone that we had missed, in spite of it knocking on the doors of consciousness for long enough. Some apparent disasters bring their own gifts.

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We had crossed flowing water into the ancient, sacred landscape and the mood was noticeably different as we began the ascent of the escarpment walking up to a huge boulder that seems to watch like some giant head rising from the bracken. The ‘Old Man of the Fort’ stayed behind to gather his things and bring up the rear and Steve wandered back to the stream to join him. Otherwise, we might never have known…

Clambering beneath the bridge (and forgetting the promised gift to the spirit of the waters) his fingers were refused purchase on the stone and, after several attempts to right himself, the Old Man measured his length in the cold, moorland stream. He paid the price of our passage and forded the stream in the old way.

Dripping, he rejoined the company to whom his final words had been those of protection. Oddly, there was no real hilarity… the atmosphere had changed and we were far from a place of ridicule, although there was both laughter and concern. I was reminded of the old magical affirmation, “I am thy sacrifice.”

The weekend had begun.

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Circles beyond time – a first dawn

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Friday started early; there is always that sense of excited, nervous anticipation as the day of a workshop dawns. While our companions for the weekend were making their way from distant corners of the country, two of us were driving through crepuscular suburbs toward the open moors for a final morning of reconnaissance. The lightening sky lit the pathway through the fading heather towards what would be our first destination, a little bridge across a stream. We had, on our initial visit, intended to climb the hill by the obvious route, only to find the ground to be a boggy and impenetrable morass. The stream had helped itself to an offering of chocolate from my companion’s pocket…which he had retrieved and unwrapped before giving it back to the water. Retreating, we had been directed to follow the path to another crossing point and we had both remarked that it looked like the troll bridge from Billy Goats Gruff when we had first seen it. This had given us an idea, one that would evolve as the workshop drew closer and we listened to the story of the land as the wind…perhaps…had helped itself to further offerings from our hands.

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By Friday morning, however, our plans were clear. I lingered on the path while my companion went down to the bridge to check lines of sight, then followed him down, reciting a poem from Tolkien that seemed appropriate to the moment, so we could check when approaching voices could be heard. “The Road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began…”  As I reached the bridge, the sound of small birds filled the air, rising to protect their young from the silent wings of a hawk.

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The birds were not the only watchful creatures… we were watched by interested eyes as we paced out our intentions and learned the space we would be using for our opening. While the rest of the sites we would be visiting are familiar to us, we had only been here once before and we have learned that spatial memory can be unreliable. What you think will work beautifully in a space may bear little relation to what you can actually do there.

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We had decided upon a theme and a loose, flexible structure, adding in some more carefully constructed elements to tie the workshop together. Most of the weekend would be allowed to unfold in the moment, relying on memory for facts about the sites we would visit and on the landscape itself for inspiration. This first entry into an ancient place, though, was something we wished to mark, sealing the intent of the company and our search for a deeper understanding of the old places and mankind’s eternal questioning of what is and what might be.

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The all-pervading damp of the early morning mist was chill, yet the light was soft and beautiful, giving hope for a lovely day ahead. It was not until we turned our gaze to the east that we realised that, in this magical little valley, the sun had yet to rise. We watched in hushed awe as white fire erased the horizon and our day was born. There was yet another place we needed to visit before we headed home to prepare for the start of the workshop… and we were unprepared for what we would find there…

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Twin suns…

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“…It is at this point that Ben decides to leave us and heads off into the quarry which lies behind our vantage point on ‘an errand’.

 

“He’s burying the stones we were going to be lugging over the moor,” says Wen.

“How do you know they’re stones?”

“I don’t,” says Wen, “but I bet they are.”

“I didn’t know you were the betting sort,” say I, “but you’re probably correct.”

 

Wen moves off back up the track heading out to the moor beyond.

 

Just then the leading edge of the sun disk crests the cloud and a sliver of sunlight arrows out over the moor.

 

I run back to the edge of the quarry and shout down to Ben that the sun is up.

As the full face of the solstice sun finally emerges, it ‘sees’ us like this…

Ben in a hole…

Me on the lip of the hole…

Wen about to lead us higher up the moor…

Extract from Doomsday:Scions of Albion by Stuart France and Sue Vincent

***

There is always a certain amount of uncertainty about a dawn. It is in that moment, when we wait for the future to become the present, that we connect unconsciously with the past. We naively assume that our ancestors awaited the daily miracle of sunrise, not knowing if the great Eye would open to illuminate the day or remain closed, keeping the world in inescapable darkness.We stand on the edge of a tenebrous wilderness, scanning the skyline, waiting to see if our timing is right and the weatherman reliable. Will we see the dawning sun crest the horizon… or only the flush of light behind the pall of cloud?

We never really know. We can only take the time on trust and await the pleasure of Great Nature as the dawn unfolds.

There is something sacrificial about such moments… sleep curtailed, a warm bed abandoned, breakfast postponed and the morning braved, regardless of the chill in the air or the vagaries of the weather. You climb to your chosen vantage point…and then you wait. You have checked the sunrise tables and know, as accurately as possible, the time that dawn will creep above the dark earth at that particular spot. You do not know whether or not the sky will be clear enough to see, how light or dark the path before your feet will appear and whether sunshine or rain will be your lot. Yet all these are things that can be addressed with a little planning and preparation; warm clothes, good footwear and a chocolate bar in the pocket serve to cover the practicalities.

Yet, in spite of all your meticulous planning and best calculations, Nature is still in charge. How long will the sun take… beyond the technical time of dawn… to actually climb from below the eastern horizon to its place above the line of hills that now block your vision? Will the big, black cloud thicken and steal ‘your’ dawn, or part to shower gold at your feet? You do not know… but you wait.

The numinous space between night and day, you  are poised between doubt and trust, fear and hope, with eyes and heart open to the light… The crossroads of the day lie before your feet, signposting the choices the moment asks of you… and offering you a moment to affirm your self-definituon; yours is the choice….sleep or waking, oblivion or awareness… is yours to breathe, drinking its presence as the dew… yet once you have made that choice, like the ancestors, all you can do is wait and trust…surrendering to the greater will of natural law.

Sometimes that trust is rewarded in unexpected ways. You see asea of mist spread out beneath your feet like a pathway to the Otherworld, long before the sun rises…

You watch the dawn over the valley… then see the sun rise again above the hills where you stand… a twin dawn…

You watch a sky aflame with liquid light, gilding the world, revealing its contrast and colours…

Every dawn is a miracle, every sunrise both affirmation and new beginning…

***

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Join us in September as the seasons turn once more to walk forgotten pathways across the moors to circles  lost in the bracken. Learn of the dreams of a mysterious  Seer, a lifetime echoed in stone and whispered through time as we explore the sacred landscape of Derbyshire. In the solitude of the moors, the voices of the past seem to reach through the land and touch your heart, finding there a continuous thread of light that winds through the ages as each soul asks its own questions, the same questions that have been asked for millennia.

Based around the Fox House, Hathersage, we will spend the weekend exploring some of the neolithic  and sacred sites of the area, culminating in a trip to Arbor Low, the ‘Stonehenge of the north’. Each attendee will be asked to bring a short reading or to share a story that seems appropriate to the moment and we will talk as we walk, finding inspiration in the land and in our companions.

These events are not large, just a small and intimate group and a warm, informal atmosphere.

For those thinking of attending the Silent Eye’s Annual Workshop, The Feathered Seer, at Great Hucklow in April 2017, Circles Beyond Time will be of particular relevance as the story that will unfold during The Feathered Seer will be set in this particular part of the ancient landscape.

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When: Weekend of 9th to 11th September 2016.

Where: Based at the Fox House inn near Hathersage, Derbyshire, England.

Who: An informal weekend with the Silent Eye, open to all who wish to attend.

Cost: £50 per person, accommodation and meals are notincluded and should be booked separately.

Why: Explore an ancient and sacred landscape and how it is still relevant to each of us today.

How: Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com to reserve your place.

Leaf and Flame: The road north

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I know I have to start the story at the beginning… yet when I think of the personal highlights of the Silent Eye’s Leaf and Flame workshop, my mind jumps all over the place, from one special moment to another, from hugs to a headless man, from what sounded like a menagerie of maenads to the silence of meditation… and all to the beat of a drum that has not left me since the first Fox flare lit the night.

But the weekend really started a long time ago, with Stuart and a friend throwing around the idea of using the story of Gawain and the Green Knight as the basis for a workshop. A year ago, after our ritual foray into ancient Egypt with the River of the Sun, we had been talking about that on the way to our monthly meeting. “You two should do the next workshop,” said Steve, who has written the previous ones. Well, it’s funny you should mention that... and so, the idea that had been wandering around Stuart’s mind for a good while became a reality.

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Over the past year the story has occupied our attention as it has grown and put out tendrils, transforming itself into something new and wrapping itself around other strands of symbolism that seemed to want to be included as we wandered down ever stranger highways. The props and costume department, by the time we had finished, was considerable too and by the very nature of an unrehearsed workshop, some of the things we were planning we could only take as a leap of faith, hoping they would work on the day.

Even though we had started working on the script in the immediate aftermath of River of the Sun, time seemed to run out on us all too quickly and, in the end, April came suddenly, creeping up on us unawares. So last Thursday morning after work, with a boot stuffed with strange objects and sumptuous velvets, I headed north.

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It was a beautiful day. The kites, buzzards and kestrels were everywhere and the sulphur yellow of gorse lined the roads. Magnolia flowers reached like flames on leafless branches. Tantalising glimpses of blue peeped out between the trees and, as I neared my destination, I felt obliged to stop in a little wood to see the first spring bluebells… not yet at their best in the north, but just beginning to carpet the woods in beauty. The day was full of hope and promise that boded well for the weekend… in spite of the forecast of snow.

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By next morning the car was stuffed to the brim, with barely enough room for Stuart and me in the front seats… and we were off. We would arrive early but that was okay… we would head up to the Barrel Inn to take a moment to breathe, have a coffee, and our traditional look out over the hills of Derbyshire. As we climbed the hill, a small, furry creature scurried across the road in front of us, hurrying at breakneck speed, as well it might… it was just here we had seen the kestrel on our last visit. In the fields, new lambs gambolled and we stopped to watch them play.

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…And then there was no more time. We headed down into Great Hucklow, seeing Steve and Barbara strolling towards the Queen Anne and our rendezvous. Stuart wound down the window as we came close…

“Reprobates!” he shouted. The pair turned and grinned… and thus the weekend began, as it would continue…. in beauty,friendship and laughter.

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Not long…

An ancient landscape, shaped by glaciers and the hand of man. Mysterious symbols carved in stone amid the cairnfields. Quiet circles lost in the mists… and a small group of seekers taking time out of time, listening to the echoes of the past to find a deeper connection to the present…

 X ilkley weekend 114

Harvest of Being
Rooted in the Land
Ilkley, Yorkshire
18th – 20th September 2015

 

Join us for an informal gathering on the edges of the ancient landscape of Ilkley Moor, exploring the relationship between the human heart and the heart of earth.

Based at the Cow and Calf Hotel,Hangingstone Lane, Ilkley,  we will venture out into the landscape, exploring sites of ancient sanctity… like the carved stones and circles scattered across the moor.

You can read a little about Harvest of Being 2014 by clicking  here.

Workshop costs £50.00 per person.

Accomodation/meals not included. Accomodation must be booked independently.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com