The Stone and the Pilgrim (1)

Late Friday afternoon, 14th September. A group of travellers arrive in Bamburgh, Northumberland. Their intention is to invoke a landscape.

The meeting place is one of the hotels in the village of Bamburgh, but the first destination is that liminal place: the beach – and what a beautiful place it is…

The beach here sits between two worlds, yet is part of both. The huge and dominating presence of Bamburgh Castle to the west, and the pure white line of the sea’s breaking surf to the east. A shaded charcoal sky offsets the bright landscape, giving a perfect light for photography.

Close to the castle, the guide brings the group to a halt. To the north, just visible against the grey of the evening sky, is the rocky outcrop on top of which sits Lindisfarne Castle. The guide points…

“Our weekend will take us from this beach to that traditional and historic place of pilgrimage,” he says. “The blood we carry will hold the twin energies of breath, and food, to power our limbs. But we are to be pilgrims of both blood and stone.

He points to the castle…

“The stone is heavy, but our bodies will not be weighed down, because the stone we will carry will be of the mind… which is far heavier than any physical burden.”

The guide watches while the group absorb this sentiment. There is always a moment of transition between tourist and spiritual visitor. The liminal beach provides it – and everyone feels it. As though rising from the wet sand, a spirit of unity holds them, gently; a shared quest for the weekend embraced and accepted..

The guide walks them forward to draw level with the castle. As though adding a water blessing – quite common for these workshops – the sky darkens and the party are deluged. There is no going back, though, and the guide points to a dark aperture high in the castle ramparts; a portal through which they will pass, tomorrow.

“In your minds,” he says, against the force of the rain, imagine the castle is the whole of your egoic self – your personality – seen from an external point of view.” He pauses. The rain lashes down. “For one moment only, you may raise that gate and see yourself in a truly objective way…”

The others lift their wet heads and focus on the dark shape high in the walls. Each enters their own castle of stone, looking for a key… In the first of many pilgrim silences.

The lashing rain is test enough. The guide turns the group round and towards the sea, where they turn, again, to walk back as close to the waves as they wish, even barefoot within the waters…

The rain ceases as quickly as it came…

On the horizon the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne beckons… but that is to come. For now, the nature of stone and blood require deep thought.

He points out to sea. “Later, we will speak of ships, but first we need to consider the different natures of the castle’s stone and the ocean’s waves; both of the world of form but very different in their roles in our worlds.

It has begun well…

Later, arriving in the little port of Seahouses, two miles away, there is a double rainbow so bright it lights up the waves on the sea.

The new pilgrims are in good humour. A birthday is being celebrated. Each is warmed by a drink. Then Seahouses provides its famous fish and chips… and does not disappoint. Later, after a nightcap, it is time to retire, and to take the spirit of the beginning into what follows.

To be continued.

©Stephen Tanham.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation providing low-cost, distance-learning courses with personal supervision.