A Thousand Miles of History XXXIII: The chapel in the grove …

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

A ruined chapel stands in a tiny clearing, sheltered and roofed by the trees that cluster close to its walls as if to offer it protection.  The walls still guard the interior from view and a single doorway in the northern wall gives entrance. There is a sense of simplicity and peace about the chapel and its glade; centuries of prayer have hallowed the place… and its sanctity may be measured in more than just the hundreds of years that its walls have survived.

The chapel is not large, measuring just twenty-five feet by eighteen, with stone walls two feet thick making the interior considerably more intimate. The stones still stand eight or nine feet high and entering the green-roofed precinct, you leave the world behind.  This seems right, for this has been a sacred space for longer than the chapel walls have closed around it, in spite of the…

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The Old Man and the Tower

Old Man Tower smaller

There was and is a tower, a tall, dark tower.

One day, a fugitive – ragged but not lost – came to this tower.

The tower stood beside a wild sea, which constantly washed its face with spray. Day after day the sea would send clouds of cold spray high into the air, where some of the droplets splashed onto the thick, crystal windows of the tower.

The sea thundered on the rocks and covered the arriving ragged man with salt-water, but his only reaction was to smile.

Through the crystal glass at the top of the dark tower, an old man watched the world beneath him. Every day he would look out at the streaks of sea water on the outside of the thick glass. Sometimes he shuddered at the ferocity of the sea; at its determination to get through the crystal glass. At these times he wondered at the stupidity of the natural world, that it would waste such energy trying to get through his toughened windows to the place where he was safe. Science had given him the glass. He thought about the cleverness of humans, about everything they knew, all the knowledge they had amassed and how they had been able to store it so effectively.

His tower was a repository of such knowledge. Its white, winding stairway, which spiralled up to the top of the tower, was lined with expertly-crafted, curving shelves. These shelves contained every book that the old man had wanted in his long life. Many were unread; some were partly-read. A few – nine of them – lay on the large, oak table that was the main feature of the single room where the old man lived, high above the dark, rocky coast, and the relentless sea that spat against the crystal windows.

The old man became aware that something had changed in the out-there. His life had been marked by acute awareness and he trusted such instincts. He stood up from his task of rearranging the nine books, and looked down through the smeared, crystal windows at the sea-spray and the raging sea. Against the sea was framed the dark figure of the fugitive, staggering backwards towards the boiling foam.

“Nooooo! You’lll die in that deep!” cried the old man, his voice seeming to shake the entire top of the tower. The figure below seemed to be laughing up at him. Was he drunk or ill thought the old man? He gripped the lead window frames as though the panes of crystal glass were about to be blown from their secure places – and the horrors of the world let in…

Before he could object to his unfathomable decision, the old man found himself racing down his spiral staircase to the solid, oak door that was the only entrance to the dark tower. He swung it open and ran outside, skidding on the salt-slippery limestone into which the foundations of the tower were deeply bored.

The fugitive was on his hands and knees, being dragged towards the edge of the land by the howling wind and a draught of air so salty that the old man could taste it. As the old man rounded the tower’s base, the fugitive, kneeling in the spray, looked up at him with a light in his eyes, a light that did not belong to the storm. The fugitive held out his hands as a vicious gust of the salty wind threatened to spin him around and toss him into the dark sea.

Before he could understand how he had come to be there, taking such risks, the old man found himself clutching the dirty fingers of the fugitive–then the wrists, as the slippery flesh of the thin digits began to slide from his unpracticed grasp.

Minutes later, the two of them stood in the shadow of the tower. The old man was shaking with an emotion that made his throat feel tight. The fugitive was also shaking, but with the cold and the effects of his sodden clothing. The old man still had hold of the fugitive’s wrists. Laughing, the fugitive prised his hands loose, and thanked the old man for saving his life… but there was a gleam in his eyes when he said it. The fugitive asked if he might come in and dry himself. Mute, the old man pointed the way to the oak door, which, and inexplicably, he had left open.

They began to climb, but the dripping figure of the fugitive kept stopping.

“I’ve heard of that book,” he said, after each few steps, brushing the dust from the spines so he could more clearly see the name and author. “And you have read them all… how clever you must be!”

“I haven’t read them all,” the fugitive found himself responding as they climbed. Why did he feel the need to justify himself to this pathetic figure, he wondered?

“But most of them?” asked the fugitive.

The old man shook his head, exasperated at the truth being dragged from him. He clutched for something, but was aghast at what came out of his mouth. “I know where they all are!” he said, trying to bite back the words the second they were uttered.

After that, the fugitive said little, and their ascent was punctuated only by the dripping and slopping of the other man’s old coat on the white stairway.

They reached the warm chamber at the top of the tower and the fugitive’s eyes fell on the blazing wood fire. The old man motioned him to stand beside it. The fugitive continued to say nothing, but looked down on the heaving seas, below. As he did so, the sea lashed the crystal windows with such force that the old man shrank back to the far reaches of the circular chamber.

“It’s me she wants,” the fugitive said softly, staring into the black, ever-shifting mass of the ocean.

“Why does she want you?” asked the old man.

“Because of what I don’t know,” said the fugitive.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

In your own words…

The Silent Eye

There is a long tradition in esoteric circles of keeping a journal. It is a tradition to which Companions of the Silent Eye adhere, making a record of the thoughts, questions and realisations that arise from their own meditations and the work of the correspondence course.  There are many reasons for doing this, from the simple discipline of writing down these ideas to ‘earth’ them, helping to fix them in memory… for like dreams, such tenuous thoughts can easily dissipate…to leaving a record that might just help someone else who comes after us and reads them one day. Their most important function, though, is as a record for the writer.

When engaged on this inner journey, we stumble into strange areas of the mind, heart and soul and, like a traveller on an unknown path, we may bring back traces of meaning like dust upon our feet. We do not…

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Miss Cranston’s Tea Room

Glasgow is a wonderful city. I’m biased, as my seven Scottish cousins were born there. I love Scotland. Edinburgh is beautiful, and we visit it often; but Glasgow has that combination of grit and grace that speaks of its historic struggles, and the triumph of the artistic spirit over the industrial landscape.

One of Glasgow’s most famous sons is the architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who very much epitomised the spirit of the age as the 19th century came to an end. That spirit of art rising from the ashes of industry was the driving force behind an artistic movement known as Art Nouveau.

Mackintosh was one of those polymaths who could do anything. He was an architect, designer, artist and, some would say, philosopher. His works ranged from iconic chairs to buildings, to… tea rooms.

In Glasgow, what are now known as the ‘Willow Tea Rooms’ are one of Mackintosh’s most famous legacies. There were four of them, and they provided Glasgow’s hard- working folk with a touch of class, transporting them from girders to a world of curves, colours and strange yet practical fantasy. Tea-rooms were, traditionally, the province of the middle-classes, but I could always imagine a working-class mum and dad dressing up their family after church on Sunday and taking them out for a high tea in the city centre.

The grandest of the Willow Tearooms, at 217 Sauchiehall Street, has recently been restored. Created by Mackintosh in the early years of the 20th century, it originally opened its doors in October 1903. It was the third in the Willow series of tea rooms commissioned by Catherine Cranston (known as ‘Miss’ Cranston), a wealthy hotelier and a leading figure in the Scottish Temperance movement. Her photograph, taken from Wikipedia, is below. (Attribution)

Catherine_Cranston smaller

For the Sauchiehall Street (pronounced suck-e-hall) Willow Tea Room, Miss Cranston gave Mackintosh control of its design and construction – both outside and inside. It is therefore a rare example of the full spectrum of the architect’s talents.

As a result, the building reflected Mackintosh’s skill at its height, and, today, gives us a living example of turn of the century sophistication and art. The original building, prior to becoming the tea room, had been an 1860s tenement. One look at both the interior and the exterior shows the depths of the architect’s vision.

Tea drinking was seen as an alternative to the male-only pub and the city was keen to encourage it. By the 1880s, tea had become affordable and a new wave of tea rooms was sweeping Britain. Miss Cranston was eager to participate. She created an aspiring environment where there were separate rooms for women, men, and mixed groups. In that way, everyone was welcome – and no one needed to feel threatened. Very soon, everyone wanted to see and be seen in one of the Willows.

Art Nouveau developed first in Britain, then spread across mainland Europe. It had its origins in the Arts and Crafts movement, but also was heavily influenced – especially in the Glasgow School – by the influx of Japanese minimal forms in art. Japan had recently opened its doors to foreign trade in its art, and, because of engineering and shipbuilding links, Glasgow was one of the first cities to benefit.

The Arts and Crafts movement developed from the desire to bring beauty – and the skills of the individual craftsman – back into the lives of ordinary people. The middle classes were a growing economic force, and they were the ‘ordinary people’. The working classes were unlikely to be able to afford what it offered, but I like to think that the tea room offered a chance, occasionally, to bridge that gap. The inspiration of youngsters was one of Mackintosh’s passion, possibly because he and his wife, Margaret Macdonald, had no children of their own…

The Sauchiehall Street Willow Tea Rooms has an interesting history. Catherine Cranston was happily married, though also childless. When her husband died in 1917, she felt heavy with grief and unable to continue in her public life. She sold off her tea rooms and her other businesses. When she died in 1934, she left two-thirds of the money in her will to the poor of Glasgow.

Mackintosh carried out his last work for Catherine in 1917 with the extension of the Willow Tea Rooms into the basement of the building next door; to create what was known as the ‘Dug Out’. Later generations observed that the style of this extension (below) was very close to that adopted, later, by the Art Deco movement. (Picture Wikkiepdia)

Mackintoch Dug Out_Interior_Study,_1917 smaller

The Sauchihalle Street Willow Tea Rooms building closed in 1928. The furniture was sold off and the building was converted for use by Daly’s department store. Daly’s moved to new premises in 1978 and various attempts were made to restore the surviving parts of the original interior. The building was and is greatly loved by the people of Glasgow, and, in 2014 the Willow Tea Rooms Trust was established as a charity, with the aim of acquiring Miss Cranston’s foremost Tea Rooms in Suchiehall Street and restoring it to its former glory as a working restaurant.

The other Willow Tea Rooms in the city, though at least partly designed by Mackintosh, are a separate commercial undertaking, and not part of this charitable trust.

Every attempt has been made to restore the working atmosphere of the original tea rooms, including the training and uniforms of the friendly staff. We had tea and cakes during our visit to Glasgow and can vouch for the excellent food and service.

If you’re in the city, pay it a visit. It’s a wonderful tribute to both Miss Cranston and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The latter had a less than happy end to his life. Disillusioned with the world of architecture, the couple had moved to Port-Vendres,  a Mediterranean coastal town in southern France with a warm climate that was a cheaper place to live for the now poorer couple.

Mackintosh and his wife were content to paint landscapes and flowers, though he continued to explore the relationship between industry and the landscape. Sadly, they had to return to London in 1928 when the architect was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and tongue. He died on the 10 December, 1928. He was sixty years old.

The inner life of the man lives on in his works – and Miss Cranston’s Tea Room is one of the best. If you’re visiting Glasgow, go to Sauchiehall Street and take some tea… and possible a cake… or two.

In case anyone wonders, I’m not on commission; I just love Art Nouveau…and that cake!

©️Stephen Tanham.

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 home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

A Thousand Miles of History XXX: The one with the hole…

From Sue.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

We had intended to visit this and another site on our way to Hayle the previous afternoon, but the map that has thus far led us without fail across Britain had refused to cooperate. It had been a long and eventful day… we had driven far and were feeling the effects of visiting so many sacred and historic sites… and so we had accepted that the land was steering us in a different direction. This time, though, as we prepared to head home, we were determined to find Mên-an-Tol, one of Cornwall’s most iconic yet enigmatic sites… and this time, we were equipped with a much more detailed map.

Turning up a road we had both passed and debated the day before, we found a parking spot by the gated track that leads to the stones. It is a fair walk, but we were now so high that the mists…

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Inspector Sunday

Sunday decided to investigate the house; it felt partly familiar, but altered… Curiously, he did not feel threatened. Besides, his only hope of getting back lay in locating the redhead.

Turning into the hallway, he came on the giant teeth, which, although fixed to the wall, seems to bar his passage…

©Stephen Tanham

Ego and Essence…

From Stuart: something to immerse ourselves in…

Stuart France



“Individuality, however we may hug its chains, is a partial and definite modality of being: ‘I’ is defined by what is ‘not-I’, and thus imprisoned.”

– A.K. Coomaraswamy.


In philosophy there is a famous dictum relating to thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
To synthesise and to decipher symbolism requires contemplation.

Contemplation involves the mind in a simultaneous three-fold operation.
Review, Analysis and Enquiry.
When performed with honest intent the ‘unknown’ reveals itself.


The Codices of the New Testament offer great scope for contemplation.
In the last of our Glastonbury Talks we looked at the work of Maurice Nicoll.
Nicoll’s psychological approach to storytelling opens to us Esoteric Christianity.

Exoteric Christianity insists upon the historical authenticity of the Gospels…
…And posits the notion of a vicarious salvation via belief.
Esoteric Christianity insists upon neither of these two tenets.

Below we reprint a comprehensive analysis of the story of the…

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Archaeology, migraine and the barometric fish…

From Sue.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

After celebrating the recovery of Super Trooper, the little fish who swam, it was with a heavy heart that I saw him once again floating upside down in the pond and looking decidedly dead. The pale belly finally showed no sign of the ulcers we had been battling for months… and no sign of life either. But with this fish, we never say die…

I reached for the net to remove the lifeless fish from the pond and grinned as he flipped and swam away. Upside-down he may have to be, but he wasn’t yet ready to give up the ghost.

For the next two days we remained on tenterhooks. On the third day, I stood in the rain, looking for some sign of Trooper he was not in any of his usual hidey-holes, not under the fronds of the plants…and, with the water so clear, not visible on…

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Principles of Fire (4): Essence and Reunion


Continued from Part Two of this topic

In previous posts, we have seen that how we view and interact with the world is conditioned by how our egoic self has developed; from oneness with Mother in the womb, through birth as an independent entity, to the reactive adult whose life mirrors that of a suit of armour, grown, protectively, over the real and eternally-new Self.

We have referred to that inner being as Child of Light, and indicated that there is a method behind this image. But this is not the use of a psychological technique of regression to childhood. It is a fully conscious method that explores the level of self, but carries the hard-won adult discrimination with us.

This ‘adult’ capability allows us to examine the binding power of those early reactions to the world and see them in a way that acknowledges that they were ‘shocks’ to a young being which led to conditioning. This can seem contradictory: we began by praising the truth and rightness of the essence – our very real core – and showing the limitations of the personality – that suit of armour which has no real centre… save the real Self, which it sees as a threat to its control and so disavows. In truth we need them both. We should not underestimate either the power of the ego to resist, nor the determination of the inner child to live its life as an empowered centre of being. We can chose to avoid the struggle and live an egoic life, but, once glimpsed that would be to abandon something beautiful and uniquely ‘us’ in a way the ego can never be.

We need the wisdom and practicality of the personality, the egoic self, to function in the world. If we are to be mystical seekers, or even teachers, we need to be able to open the way to the essence, the true self, and empower it to use the channels of expression developed in that long journey to adulthood.

So, what is the method that combines these? All spiritual paths do this in one way or another. The value of the modern ‘mystery school’ is that it can hasten the person’s development because it is able to use, at least partially, the language of psychology – in particular esoteric psychology – and that reduces the need for much of the former trappings of spiritual teaching.

So, where does this leave us? If we are minded to follow a path that utilises modern knowledge we have only a few choices. This is not to say that traditional ‘ancient’ wisdom does not exist; it does; but finding a true and non-exploitative source is not easy. The findings of psychology have opened the doors to new passageways to the experience of the personal essence, yet psychology has other concerns than the spiritual.

The ancient schools of the soul knew how difficult it was to find paths to the soul from the outer armour of the egoic self. Often, the aspirant would have to renounce all worldly interests and live a humble life until the ego was depleted, and the real being could be glimpsed beneath the rust. This still exists. Many of the paths into Buddhism, for example, require such an approach.

In the West, we are steeped in busy and industrious lives. We are unlikely to be attracted by a process of renunciation of that nature. Is it possible, in such a society, to live ‘in the world’ and yet not be of it?

A controversial philosopher of the early 20th century thought so. His name was Gurdjieff. He developed a western-facing route to the personal essence that, if followed with discipline, enabled people to become aware of layers of their respective ‘selves’ in a short period of time. The route from there to real knowledge of the inner self – the essence – was a more detailed study, but that secondary journey was fortified by a glimpse of the real in the early stages of the Work. This method required no ‘guru’ to trigger the initial success, just some good companions along the way.

Gurdjieff rose to prominence before the emerging knowledge of psychology became widely known. His methods were adopted and adapted by those who believed that an esoteric form of psychology was of great value to the nature of the materialistic ‘West’. Of particular interest to these people was the potential for one of Gurdjieff’s teaching aids to be used within this wider context.

Enneagram Sunrise

The enneagram, illustrated above, is a mysterious figure consisting of nine points arranged around a circle. The Silent Eye’s own version (above) also has a central triangle and a core. Gurdjieff claimed to have inherited the original symbol from a mysterious school he encountered on one of his many early journeys. He said it was a fragment of an unknown teaching whose use could reveal certain keys about how things happened in the world – particularly for those systems – human or industrial – whose nature was cyclic. You can read more about the enneagram here.

The Silent Eye is deeply indebted to those who took the enneagram and mapped it onto the patterns that were emerging in the study of egoic behaviour (see below). These patterns formed a nine-sided figure that mapped perfectly onto the Gurdjieff enneagram. Gurdjieff died in 1949, and did not live to see this development of his work. In his later teachings, he did say that it would fall to others to extend the use of this fascinating glyph.

Within a few years, the new groups had consolidated their knowledge, providing the world with a map of the outer layers of the egoic self, but one with a vital difference…

The enneagram developed by the esoteric psychologists linked the outer faces of the figure with the inner qualities of the personal essence – the very qualities that were and are our hidden, original nature. For the first time there came into existence a map that could chart the individual soul’s psychological growth from conception to the adult egoic self.

A map of the outward journey to egoic self is one thing. The return journey – which needs to be guided – is another. The outer layer represents a linked set of qualities, such as fear, deceit and flattery, which have been reversed from their original state in the perfect but vulnerable new-born. By experiencing the outer qualities in a Gurdjieff- derived way, we come to see the thinness of their existence, and to glimpse the pristine attributes that still lie beneath.

There are several schools that use this knowledge. Each one uses it in their own way. Within our own method, the enneagram map is used to chart an internal journey across three linked landscapes. The first, as you might expect, is a desert, where the individual Companion finds themselves stumbling upon a remote arena, and witnessing the end of a mysterious confrontation between the crowd and a ruler whose loyalties seem distant…

Mystery is important…. It is no accident that ‘schools of the soul’ that teach these paths to the personal inner state have always been called ‘mystery schools’, for they taught the mysteries of human existence: physical, psychological and spiritual. Each age of mankind finds new ways of telling this story. The age of esoteric psychology builds on what came before, but offers new, personal and exciting ways to enrich our lives and relationships; and to discover the origin of what is truly real within ourselves.

The journey requires an open mind and heart. It also requires dedication, but that is learned and practiced in the gentle introduction of the first three months of study. Beyond that, it becomes a habit to seek the personal Essence each day, and their is no greater delight in life than that dedication. We think that our busy lives, our cars, buses, trains, families, jobs and children are a hindrance to what calls to us from within.

Nothing could be further from the truth…

The physical and psychological conditions of our age are mirrored in the depth of help that lies just below our surface. The power with which we react in normal life can become a slingshot to that layer of real Self that lies within us. Our egoic natures are not negative, they are simply pointed the wrong way. The suit of armour needs a living body inside it, and then it may find that its metal skin is too thick, after all. Within these new methods, our busy worlds provide the perfect ‘temple’ in which the real self can, gently, emerge to claim its life. All it takes is that first step.

References to key teachers in other schools who have helped develop the spiritual enneagram:

Claudio Naranjo,

Oscar Ichazo,


©️Stephen Tanham

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 home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics