Backwards into a Loch

The sinister man in the white overall was tall and very athletic. He’d just talked me through what was going to happen next – punctuated by rapid movements of his blue gloved hands. I was still shocked and not sure I’d heard correctly, so in the photo I’m watching carefully as he explains things to the car ‘in front’. My one salvation was that I wasn’t to be the first car to attempt this treacherous descent… I would be the second…

The car in front is really the one behind, because we were all facing backwards to our normal direction of travel… We were doing that because we had to back our cars onto the small boat to allow for easier disembarkation.

The direction of travel was down the quayside to the edge of the loch. There was a boat there, obviously – the above shot was taken before it arrived. We were on the final day of the Silent Eye’s workshop in Orkney. The full story, in the correct sequence, is being told as the Thursday blogs on the Silent Eye website.

I must have missed that when we booked the tickets for our day trip to Rousay; one of the islands north of the Orkney ‘mainland’, shown in green on the ferry company’s map below. The ferry service is used mainly by locals – it’s their lifeline to the outside world.

The ferry boat had arrived. It clunked to a violent and screechy stop on the concrete and didn’t appear to be fastened there by anything but gravity and friction. The ferry was behind me, of course, and the tall man in white with blue hands had taken up his position to ensure that all the departing foot passengers were off the boat.

I was watching all this in my rear view mirror and taking in large amounts of oxygen.

I stared as the car behind me literally disappeared into the gloom of the lower quayside… Then there was a bumping noise and it reappeared climbing backwards onto the boat, making it look simple. “He’s probably done it a thousand times,” I muttered…

I swallowed, noisily. It was my turn… The man with the blue hands was gesturing impatiently at this obvious tourist. I put the car’s auto into reverse and stared, not at the mirror, but at the larger sat-nav screen which doubles as a reversing camera. The view is wide-angle and, thankfully, very accurate – with projected green lines to show you’re on-target… or not. I felt the car tilt down at the back, but at this distance, because of the ‘fish-eye’ effect, I could see only an expanse of concrete. The boat was down there somewhere… All I could do was to aim for the middle until the ferry’s loading ramp came into view. I was conscious that, at this point, I could well have been driving backwards into the loch.

It’s shocking what doubts enter your mind at moments like this…

I can’t show you photos of my own descent… I was rather busy. The middle of the boat’s loading platform had appeared, mercifully, right in the middle of my green lines of safety. I pressed on, conscious that the man in white with blue hands was probably finding fault. No sooner had all four wheels clunked on board than he appeared in my lowered window, apparently less impressed than I was with my arrival on his vessel.

“I want you to stop looking at that fancy rear camera and watch my hands,” he said, exasperated. I’ve modified a couple of his spoken words... I realised he’d probably been gesturing with the blue hands for the past few minutes, while I studiously ignored him… Mmm…

Obediently, I watched him in the mirror as he gave highly precise arm movements – reversed, would you believe, to allow for the fact that he was in my mirror. He looked slightly mollified when I followed them, accurately, and we slid into place without fuss. Then he was off to the next car.

I could breathe again…

Shortly afterwards, he dashed along the loading ramp to rescue a driver who had panicked and refused to back down the quay any further. “It’s okay, I’ll drive it on for you,” he shouted, more warmly than with my rebuke. The driver and her elderly passenger got out and became grateful foot passengers. With the blue-handed sailor at the wheel, the recalcitrant car whizzed backwards to the place next to me… It was all over in about five seconds. I tried to suppress my admiration…

As the last of the cars loaded, I grabbed my camera and shot this sequence to illustrate the ordeal. We had to stay in the cars for the duration of the short crossing.

(Above: Loading backwards. It doesn’t look that close in your rear-view camera!)

(Above: Clunk onto the steel deck!)

(Left a bit!)

(And straighten up… Done!)

Apparently, I was quiet on the rest of the short voyage. Perhaps I was the only one who realised we had a return crossing at the end of our day…

Rousay is beautiful and completely unspoilt. For us, the high-point was a glimpse of civilisation two thousand years ago in the form of a defensive broch – a fortified dome of rock, common in Scotland’s ancient history and still largely intact after all this time.

For that, you’ll need to wait for the full story to unfold on the Silent Eye , but here’s a couple of tasters…

And the ferry people are excellent and will get you there, and back safely…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, which offers a three-year, personally mentored, correspondence course in self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of how our sense of ‘self’ is built by life and can be deepened.

Click here for more details…

In brief…

From Sue…

The Silent Eye

As the majority of our friends and readers will now know, I was rushed into hospital last week in a very bad way. I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has sent good wishes through all the various social media platforms, through the comments, by email, snail mail, text and phone. And to the friends wh have kept me company across the miles with tales of normality and laughter.

I am sorry if it has taken a while to respond to everyone individually, I am really rather unwell and my energy levels are a tad variable.

At a time when the Covid restrictions mean that even close family cannot visit, it has meant a very great deal to be touched by so much love, friendship and kindness. Trying to process the changes that serious illness has and will impose upon us as individuals and as…

View original post 270 more words

#FurryFives : closed path

Tess: The sea is down here, I told you.

Human: but you don’t like swimming in the sea! you like running on beaches.

Tess: Where there’s a sea, there’s a beach!

Human: Well, we can’t go straight to the beach that way.

Tess: Why not, it’s quicker!

Human: Because it’s a railway line…

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

#ShortWrytz : drizzle Mondays

The coastal town of Arnside is famous for its sunsets. Two rivers; the Bela and the Kent, flow out into Morecambe Bay through the arches of the famous long viaduct that connects Arnside with Grange-over-Sands on the way to Barrow-in-Furness, famous for our nuclear submarines.

But this is a wet Monday, and Tess, our collie dog, is familiar with a different drill, as I drive to Arnside to find a place for her to chase her high-bouncing ball and give her enough exercise to last till the day after.

In contrast to the glorious sunsets, this Monday morning looks like this:

(Above: Arnside promenade: the hidden triangle of dog-perfect foreshore)

It’s another wet, Cumbrian Monday. The summer feels long-gone. The collie is bored and, as, statistically, I’m the primary dog-carer, I like to take her somewhere that will tick several boxes with the same amount of petrol.

Tess knows the drill… That small patch of green in the photo above is a triangle of land just big enough to give her a substantial ‘chuck’, before the two of us head to one of the nearby cafes to collect a take-away coffee and a slice of cake, usually lemon drizzle cake, for which the Wagtail Cafe is justly famous. Due to Covid restrictions, the sit-down part of the cafe has been re-arranged into a flow diagram to route you in past the cake counter and till, then back out, again…

Equipped with coffee and cake, we retreat to the end of the small pier and huddle from the wind and rain. With coat, hat and hood keeping me dry, and the patient and (by now) well-chucked collie sitting beside me watching the hopeful pigeons. It’s straight out of one of Allan Bennet’s witty and wonderfully observed tales of human oddity.

Once fed and watered, we make our way back to the place where we respectively throw and chase the ball. The large triangle of level grass that forms the foreshore is hidden from the road at a lower level. You have to know it’s there. There’s a lot of sand around Morecambe bay and a much of it is quicksand and treacherous. But this small plateau is perfect for our purposes. Only the occasional high tide makes it unusable.

Tess gets a second round of exercise, then we get back in the car and meander gently home via Milnthorpe, a small town built at a crossroads where you can pretty much buy one of everything.

Drizzle Mondays, we call them. A pun on the combination of cake and rain. Sometimes, we think back to some of the great sunsets we’ve seen at Arnside… and it’s all worth it.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Two journeys, one destination (3) : the mystery of the Picts

(Above: the view of the neighbouring Inverness Castle from the steps of the museum)

‘The Romans were frightened of them…”

I remember reading that the week before our Scottish workshop and being astonished. I knew the Picts had created some of the most mysterious stone carvings I had ever seen. But fearsome warriors? Weren’t these enigmatic people simply farmers?

We were in the Inverness Museum, which is one of the best places to study the history of the Scottish Highlands. Our interest was specific and restricted – though we could have happily been there half the day. We were there to gain a perspective on the story of the Picts’ existence: where they came from, how long they endured, the nature of their spirituality, and the location of their primary settlements.

(Above: the land of the Picts)

Equipped with this mental map, the following two days of our Silent Eye weekend would enable us to place in context some of the most remarkable pieces of Pictish stone carving and other artefacts, as we travelled, in turn, up the Tarbat peninsula, down to the Black Isle and, finally, to Dunrobin Castle on our way to the Orkney ferry at Thurso.

(Above: Cast of the Brodie Stone, a mystery in two halves:)

Following the Pictish Trail throws up some wonderful mysteries and instances of great fortune. As an example (above), the Brodie Stone, a classic ‘cross slab’ – a cross carved within a surrounding stone surface. The real Brodie Stone stands in the grounds of Brodie Castle, Moray. It was discovered in 1781 during the digging of foundations for a new parish church. For many years it stood in the village of Dyke as a tribute to Vice-Admiral Rodney, for his success at the battle of Saintes, in Dominica. Since then it has also been known as ‘Rodney’s Stone’. It is actually a Class II Pictish stone, meaning it has a Christian cross on one side and Pictish symbols on the other. The Picts converted to Christianity during the 6th and 7th centuries, as we explore, below.

We’d had to reserve our places for the museum online, as the Covid-19 restrictions applied. We were allowed to enter only in small groups and at our allotted time. We were also expected to maintain a steady flow through the exhibits to prevent queuing at the entrance. A tall order, when we had so much to absorb… But at least photographs were allowed, and many of the information panels featured graphical summaries without which this post would have had much less illustration. Sincere thanks are due to the Inverness Museum for allowing this.

Before us were information displays on the geographical and geological history of the region, showing Scotland’s organic formation after the last ice age:

(Above: after the ice; the emergence of Scotland at the end of the last ice age)

The last ice age ended in Scotland about 9,000 years ago. The melting ice gave way to tundra – an arctic diversity of mosses, lichen and grasses, supporting mountain hares, arctic foxes and reindeer.

As temperatures rose, the tundra was invaded by birch scrub and then woodland, Oak and scots pine eventually replaced the birch, and cloaked the Highlands in dense forest. This became home to red deer, elk and wild cattle.. along with wolves, bears, lynx and, humans.

Around 9000 years ago, the European hunter-gatherers, enabled by the melting ice-sheets, reached the Highlands, and, as conditions improved, they settled permanently to become the first highlanders. They were originally nomads, but, as stone gave way to bronze and then iron – the iron age, the Picts established their home and became skilled farmers.

Then we came to the first of the Pict-focussed panels.

(Above: one of the panels in the Inverness Museum places the Picts and Romans co-existing from 80-399 CE. Beyond this, the Picts survived to around 900 CE, when they ‘mysteriously vanished…’)

The Iron-Age people who became the Picts were inhabitants of this Highland coast long before they were given their name by the Romans, who called them the ‘Picti’ – painted people; the reference being to their custom of painting their naked bodies before they went into battle, thereby giving a ghostly sheen to their skin and showing off their warlike body art and battle scars. Despite this frightening appearance, they were essentially peaceful farmers, whose ferocity appears to have been roused only when they were threatened.

(Above: a picture of the Pictish Hilton of Cadboll stone. We had no idea that the weekend would bring us face to face with a large and exact life-size replica! Note the twin circles in the upper and middle parts; these are considered feminine and depict ‘comb and mirror’. The inset ‘V’ shape is another classic Pictish symbol called a ‘V-Rod’)

The Picts left no written record of their history. What we know of them comes from the striking images they carved in stone – which therefore endured. They were written about by both Scottish and Roman writers. The Roman Eumenius, in 297 CE, was the first to refer to them as Picts. There is an alternative theory of the name ‘Pict’, which refers to their own word ‘Pecht’, meaning ancestors. This link to those of their own who ‘went before yet still remain’ has strong spiritual overtones, as we shall see when we get to the Orkney part of these journals.

Recent evidence suggests that the Picts came to Scotland from Orkney, and before that were descendants of Scandinavia, though they lived much earlier than the Vikings, who, according to some sources, were to feature cruelly in their eventual demise. Orkney played a fundamental role in the advancing civilisation of what became Britain, and the age, sophistication and influence of its works is staggering. When we come to consider the spiritual beliefs of the Picts, Orkney takes on an entirely different importance…

(Above: Wolf Stone
Found at Stittenham, Andross, Ross & Cromart
This incised Pictish stone was found in 1903 built into an old wall. The graceful figures of the wolf is depicted using a few carved lines to give a sense of movement and shows the power of the animal)

The Picts lived here in the Highlands; the Romans invaded. With the Picts, they came up against something they didn’t understand…and came to fear. If the local forces were losing a battle, they would simply vaporise into the landscape – a wild landscape they knew well, unlike their oppressors. The Romans became frustrated, then despondent, at the failure of their traditional military tactics.

The Picts held their ground against the invaders in a number of engagements, but also lost major battles. It’s often said that they lost the battle but won the war. Scotland was never successfully conquered by the Romans, though they tried many times and succeeded in establishing forts well into the Highlands.

(Above: a Pictish picture of an ‘unknown beast’. Also found at Stittenham, Andross, Ross & Cromarty)

The Picts left no writing, unless their art contains a hidden phonetic key, awaiting the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone that enabled the translation of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Written records, by others and about the Picts exist from 297 CE until 900 CE, when they supposedly vanished. Scholars caution against interpreting this as extermination, since it is likely that they simply merged with the surrounding Scots tribes. It is also probable that the Picts’ adoption of Christianity in the 6th century CE was (at least in part) political.

The ‘Scots’ were, in those times, the rival tribe to the south. Further south, still, was Northumbria – one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe. In 664 CE, Northumbria’s King Oswiu hosted the Synod of Whitby at which the rivalry of Celtic and Roman Christianity was determined in the Roman Church’s favour. By the time the Picts embraced Christianity, the Roman church had become the de-facto Christian faith across most of Europe. That the Picts came to embrace it is the logical act of a people who wished to live ‘in harmony’ with their neighbours. This may also explain the eventual merging of the Picts and the Scots, and the apparent disappearance of the former.

But what of their art? One of the main goals of the Silent Eye’s weekend was to consider its extraordinary clarity of design, its refreshing simplicity and the use of recurring motifs. The museum had little to say on this, so we hoped that our further journeys to the Tarbat peninsula and The Black Isle would help us. We had been successful, however, in placing the Pictish people, in understanding a little of their motives and culture. We had a framework within which to work. Inverness had served us well.

(Above: The Achavrail Armlet
The example of ‘massive metalworking’ reflects the designs adapted from continental Europe. Dating to the first or second centuries CE, this large bronze armlet was made by the ‘lost wax’ casting method)

Our time was up. The enforced flow around the exhibits had meant a rushed gathering of information. What we needed next was a degree of immersion in the Pictish culture. In the morning, a forty minute drive north from Inverness would see us enter the Tarbat Peninsula (see map). There, on one of Scotland’s most beautiful coasts, we would find a former church dedicated to a much deeper social understanding of the mysterious Picts.

But first, it was time to chill for an hour or two and then get ready for some much-needed pizza!

(Above: Mobile populations.. The Inverness museum illustrates many facets of Highland life. Silver pocket watches by Primus Mink and Faller brothers, 1870s. Mink and Faller brothers were craftsmen driven from Germany by political unrest during the late 1800s. They and at least six other German watchmakers flourished in Inverness at this time…)

To be continued…

Other parts of this series of blogs:

Part One, Part Two, this is Part Three

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Nomadics of John O’ Groats

I thought it might be interesting to take some of the less relevant episodes – the ‘out-takes’ – from the just-completed Scottish workshop (and subsequent journey to Orkney) and run them on Sun in Gemini, in reverse time-sequence. The Thursday blogs, here and on the Silent Eye, will continue with the linear sequence of the Scottish and Orkney explorations.

That way the odd bits of the journey and the main storyline would meet somewhere in the middle – I have no idea where! Let’s see what happens…

The above image worked better than I thought it would. At face value, it could be a giant slide attached to a hotel on a headland, with a sandstone rock hitching a ride and about to decapitate the observer!

But it’s not, of course. It’s part of a sculptural installation on the headland at John O’ Groats, the most northerly point on the British mainland, and a few sea miles from the archipelago of Orkney, from which we had just sailed… at 06:15 in the morning.

North of John O’ Groats – between the coast and Orkney – is the Pentland Firth, famous for its fast and ferocious tides and cross-currents. Dire-sounding weather and tidal warnings for Pentland Firth are regular features of BBC weather broadcasts.

The deadly tidal rapids on the surface of the Pentland Firth are common knowledge, but less well-known are the resulting activities beneath the sea. Recently, a new insight was gained when researchers, supporting the growing commercial interest in the harnessing of some of the Firth’s vast tidal power, began surveying the seabed with a view to locating permanent turbines on the ocean floor.

During this exercise, it was discovered that large rolling boulders of up to 1.5 tons in weight – similar to that of an average car – were regularly moved great distances across the seabed by forceful currents!

This fascinated local artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion, whose work focusses on art and sculpture inspired by ecology and natural phenomena.

(Above: Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion, creators of the Nomadic Boulders sculpture. Their website is here. Image from website)

They put forward a proposal for a sculptural installation that mirrored their own surprise at the thought of giant deep-sea boulders wandering along the sea bed, powered by the giant waves above. The result is what you see here in the above photographs; something that puts John O’ Groats on the modern artistic map.

The information board sets the context:

Across the world, boulders that defy the weightiness, their solid stability and static nature and hint instead at a more animated past are often celebrated. Small pilgrimages are made to visit them and share in their unusual power...

(Above: the ‘Nomadic Boulders’ information board)

… While the Nomadic Boulders of John O’Groats will forever remain shrouded in the deep and stormy depths of the sea, this monument serves to bring them to our consciousness, perhaps affording a tantalising glimpse of the world beneath the sea.’

Having sailed from Orkney on the early ferry, we were hoping to break the trip around the coast with a hot drink, before the long drive south. But at nine in the morning, on our first ever visit, John O’Groats was closed. We couldn’t even get a a cup of coffee. Scenic, though, and Larissa, one of our travelling companions and a skilled photographer, did gift us a fine portrait at the famous signpost.

Being fair, John O’ Groats is a fine and symbolic place, The harbour is lovely, and a pleasant place to wander around. The main feature is the sight of the Pentland Firth, and, beyond that, the outline of the Orkney archipelago.

(Above: John O’ Groats harbour)

)Above: The Pentland Firth and (right) the outline of Orkney)

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, which offers a three-year, personally mentored, correspondence course in self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of how our sense of ‘self’ is built by life and can be deepened.

Click here for more details…

#FurryFives : Picnic

Human: It’s tea! You wouldn’t enjoy tea…

Tess: I know it’s tea, and I’ve had my water. I’m not looking at either of those.

Human: What then?

Tess: That tasty looking biscuit…you’re half way through..

Human: ‘No greater love hath a man, than he share his last biscuit!’

Tess: Huh?

Human: Never mind….

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Two journeys, one destination

I remember listening to T. S. Eliot reading his poem The Four Quartets for the first time. The words held me spellbound:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

My wife and I had first travelled to Inverness four years ago, we came by rail, en-route to Orkney. A long journey, but we love trains; and being away without the car has a certain ironic freedom…

We stopped at Inverness to change trains for our final destination of the port of Scrabster, the Orkney service harbour of the nearby town of Thurso. Sadly, we only had time for a quick lunch and a walk around the immediate area by the station. I remember looking down the stone-lined street that led deeper into the town and to the river Ness, and wondering what lay there. Then it was time to go, and we got back on the train, replete from lunch, and slept most of the way along the northern coast of the Moray Firth.

Yesterday, we returned to begin the Silent Eye’s first workshop of 2020; the rest having been cancelled due to Covid restrictions. Our party was much reduced, but we decided it was important to honour our earlier commitment and press ahead, mindful of the necessary restrictions.

From our B&B, Bernie and I were able to walk down some stone steps and see the centre of the town for the first time. It’s a beautiful place, and the setting along the river gives it a remarkable grace and peace. Our small party duly arrived and we decided that a quick pizza was in order for dinner – given the lateness of the hour.

(Above: riverside Inverness in all its beauty)

Two hours later, we waved goodnight to our companions, and turned to climb the long flights of stone steps back to the ‘plateau’ of streets in which our dwelling was located. Just then, I caught sight of the railway station, and realised that I was now standing in the very place where my eyes had come to rest on the previous trip. Suddenly there was a ‘linking of worlds’, a perfect joining up of events seen from different perspectives but centred on the same point – in this case, me, the observer, gazing out from the railway station.

Despite the apparent simplicity, the moment had a profound impact, with the street seeming to spin in both directions as I aligned memory with present in a wonderful fulfilment of that past moment.

“Through the unknown, remembered gate”

It got me thinking that there are many parallels of this kind of synchronicity in our lives. My second of inner growth in comprehension mirrors how we feel when, travelling in search of personal growth and understanding, we find ourselves looking back on events of a previous time, yet now see them from what we can only describe as a higher perspective. The marriage of past and present knits the outer world of our experience into more perfect garment, and the intensity tells us that though this may be symbolic, what it represents, spiritually, is much more than what is seen.

Eliot’s poem continues:

“When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.”

His words are richer, now. And I know that this observer has grown, through many perspectives on the same thing, to understand that pause between the two waves…

©Stephen Tanham, 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

#FurryFives : sulk

Misti: I didn’t really get more chicken than you!

Tess: You did! You made sure you were there, first.

Misti: I’m smaller. I have to compensate!

Tess: You’re faster over short distances…

Misti: I need more chicken to grow my shorter legs…

©Stephen Tanham

The Entered Dragon (6) : figures in the mist

Continued from Part Five

Centre stage, the King smiles at us. His gaze is strong but gentle. As our eyes touch his, we feel the sense of purpose he holds. Courage and force reflect in the subtle colours that draw us into his very being. We feel renewed by this contact, shown that the burden of what we must face in the day-world is only a necessary stage in our lives; that the sense of inner royalty he represents will carry us far beyond its confines – if only we will hold those eyes…

The scene pans backwards from the purposeful orbs. The gentle hands of the Queen still rest on his shoulders. She smiles, knowing that we have absorbed the essence of this encounter. She brings her face closer to that of the King, and, as their skin touches, we feel her perfumed presence close to our own. It races through our being, filling us with a love and longing that leaves us agape.


In this final part of the series, we examine the nature of what Carl Jung named the ‘Archetype’. Archetypes are an active part of our shared unconscious. They are energy patterns at work within the most fundamental part of us. When we come into contact with them, we are seeing a personalised representation for our life, alone. But the type of figure, represented, for example, by a King, is shared with all humans. In this we can see why such types have been with us in myth, legend, poetry and song for as long as we have remembered and recorded our most meaningful experiences.

We have seen that the whole of the human unconscious is simply the other half of what we are, consciously. Our lives contain what is embraced and what is rejected. But what is rejected does not go away. It is part of our experience and was/is there for a reason. Like the ancient yang and yin, it is the rhythm of alternation of dynamic and passive – simplified, often, as male and female, but more subtle in reality.

(Above: the yin/yang symbol, ancient symbol of permanent, harmonic change)

Both have their own power, there is a time to be resistant and a time to embrace, we need to know when to use both, and watch the flow and dance of the harmony of our lives, free, within their selves, of society’s expectations and rules. The unconscious gives us this power, liberating and releasing its vast energies… if we can learn to communicate with it.

There are two techniques we may use to allow the unconscious to communicate with our waking intellect and emotions. The first is by being more conscious of our dreams; the second is a technique known for thousand of years and held sacred within the heart of whole civilisations: active imagination.

Our personal unconscious tries to communicate with us using images and symbols. It does not use our daily language. Dreams are full of images. We normally dismiss these as simply a stream of random recollections from a brain that is half-asleep. But investigation will reveal that they are more than that. They are our own unconscious trying to communicate important perspectives to us. These might include the deeper nature of a current problem causing us great distress.

Habitually, we pay little attention to the detail of dreams. We have to relearn to be aware of the content of dreams, and allow a residue of what we observe to lie in a part of our memory from which we can retrieve it in the morning, writing it down as soon as we wake so that we have a record. Later in the day, its vividness will have faded, but, if we get used to a personal way of noting down the details, we can return to their important points.

As an example, one of my recent dreams was of a black and white comic book. In the dream the actual events of my life were being rendered as part of this book. What did this mean?

Here we enter a second stage of understanding our dreams. We need to take that ‘kernel’ of the dream and let the conscious mind ‘fly free’ with it so that it may make an interpretation. This is not a matter of intellect. Our intellectual minds are used to dominating how we perceive. We should try to maintain a gentle and passive state, forcing nothing, but allowing a reflective part of our minds to ‘mull over’ the stored nugget of the dream. If we make this a habit, the dream kernel will become a trigger and suggest to us the personal relevance of the image or symbol, without needing the use of reason. In my own example above, I concluded that the part of my life illustrated in the ‘black and white comic’ was not receiving the attention it deserved, and would shine in colour if I corrected this…

The other route by which we may converse with our unconscious is what Carl Jung called Active Imagination. Here, we deliberately let our waking consciousness follow a conscious script of imagination. This may be provided for us by a book, or be part of a series of imaginative journeys created by a school such as the Silent Eye. The essence of the induced, inner experience will be a journey of some kind. In that journey we will find archetypal figures like, for example, Kings, Hermits, Warriors, Lovers and Chaste Maidens. We may encounter withdrawn figures who hide from life, but whose knowledge is great. We may find that our King is withdrawn, but strangely not defeated. We may find that he (or a corresponding Queen) is waiting for the arrival of a Hero, one uniquely equipped to heal a rift in the land.

Such an inner journey of active imagination needs to be based upon time-honoured principles in order to engage the unconscious. It is the true work of any school of the mysteries to provide these, and guide others through the journeys – though the real value is the unique experience to be had by the ‘hero’ of the hour – the person carrying out the active imagination.

I suspect that Carl Jung did know of the ancient use of such techniques within magic and the mystical. His great gift was to investigate it, rigorously, and describe it in terms acceptable to the world of psychology. We owe him a great debt for his insight and the descriptive language he bequeathed.


The stage is quiet. The King and his Lover have gone. But one image remains, that of a pair of eyes. Unafraid, we draw closer, finding them strangely familiar. As the swirling mist clears, we realise that they belong to us, that they are a living mirror, yet subtly different, of our self’s eyes. They have much to say to us, as we come together in the laughing depths of our own most secret place..

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, This is Part Six, the final post

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz : PotFest – it’s a hoot!

It’s a short post this morning…

I’m awash to the gunnels with prep for this coming weekend’s ‘On the Pictish Trail’ weekend, based in Inverness and a few points north; eventually, (with a whittled-down group) ending up in Orkney, one of the most naturally spiritual landscapes I’ve even visited.

All those will be reported on here, and at the Silent Eye in due course. But for now, couple of photos from yesterday’s PotFest, held at Hutton -in-the-Forest in the heart of Cumbria’s most verdant countryside.

The show alternates between being under a hard roof, in the covered Penrith pens, and out in the open, under canvas, here. Usually the weather forecasting is good, and they take the chance. Yesterday, we arrived to a downpour and were sliding through mud across the field and into the gardens of Hutton Hall.

The show is all about artisan pottery; not the kind you’ll normally find in the shops, but the kind for which one-off potters are famed, often taking weeks or even months to finish a piece.

(Above: the great house at Hutton-in-the-forest)

I nicknamed the opening photo ‘The Hoot’. I loved the piece, immediately. It’s wacky and unusual. It’s also beautifully made by hand. Here are two more ‘baby hoots’.

(Above: Two baby hoots from the same stable…stable?)

I’ll be doing a full blog on the PotFest show when we get back from Scotland, along with the Scottish trip’s photo-diaries, of course. There will be a lot to cover, all of it reflective of that part of the wonderful Highlands.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

#FurryFives : chicken for tea!

Tess: Misti, Misti, it’s chicken for tea!

Misti: No, Tess. I only see kibble…

Tess: I’m telling you I can smell chicken!

Misti (mutters quietly): That’s because I’m blocking your view so I can get it first…

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

%d bloggers like this: