Three Days of the Oyster-Catcher (2) Coast and Castle

Above: Looking down into the Spey valley below – the 7:00 am beginning of our workshop Saturday

There has to be a dawn… I’m not being flippant. Our Silent Eye ‘spirituality in the landscape’ weekends always have at least one early morning event during which we gather somewhere beautiful and greet the dawn. It’s a joy and also a discipline: something that tells our inner self that ‘we mean it’. Sometimes we might read poetry or even enact something from esoteric literature. Sometimes we just gaze and drink it in…. Nature often responds… Once, in the Silent Eye’s ‘birth’ weekend we had a lamb follow us up the side of a field. Hard to better that one…

Above: The ‘good sky’. Soon to be overtaken!

But, to do so in the locations around Grantown-on-Spey would have meant getting up at around three in the morning…. so we settled for a 7 am start, instead; to be followed by breakfast back at our ‘budget’ hotel.

Dean had picked us a beautiful location. The oyster-catchers thought so, too! Their beautiful calls rang out across the hilltop. Only a few minutes drive from our base town of Grantown, yet, with a short walk into a field, giving a view down the valley of the River Spey in all its beauty. The sun had long risen, but we took a few moments to greet it, and its life-sustaining power. Then it was down to work…

Above: Dean’s use of the mystical (and mathematical) Pentagram equated the ancient ‘Elements’ with (anti-clockwise from Air) The Boundary Self; the Potential Self; the Weak Self: the Limited Self and finally the Core and Shadow Selves.

In the symbolic ‘pre-solstice dawn’ we were to consider the ‘element’ of Air, which is strongly associated with our mental aspects and thought. Aided by a reading of the Macbeth scene where Lady Macbeth tries to wash the imaginary blood of Duncan and Banquo’s murders off her skin, we took a moment to consider what our symbolic ‘Air’ meant to each of us. In my own case, I pondered the power and the weakness of ‘thinking’.

Thoughts are powerful tools: they empower ordinary ‘working-day’ consciousness. We may think about the spiritual, yet our experience of it lies beyond thoughts. From ancient times it has been taught that we must find the gap between our thoughts to seek the ‘opening’ the other world of our spiritual consciousness. Put like that, it’s not that complex – which further illustrates the power of thought to ‘inner chatter’ about the way… but only the theoretical way…

Above: The ‘good clouds’ had gone… The car roof was about to come in handy.

We scribbled in our notebooks and shared what we were comfortable with. Perhaps other thoughts had made us consider aspects of ‘Air’ at a deeper level… Eventually and in an unhurried manner – considering the darkening sky – we left to embark on the next stage of our Saturday adventure. Dean had fashioned a content-packed weekend.

Above: The ‘triangle’ of our weekend had its upper boundary along the coast between Elgin and Findhorn – marked in red. Map: Google Maps.

After a surprisingly good breakfast, we gathered again for our trip towards the north coast. The upper part of our ‘triangle’ was about to fill the rest of the day, with the Findhorn Coast and the largest Pictish standing stone in Scotland forming just part of the agenda.

But first we had the delight of Duffus Castle… a symbolic part of ‘Macbeth country’.

Above: Duffus Castle as you see it from the car park.

Duffus Castle was originally constructed in the twelfth century by a Flemish mercenary named Freskin. He was an ‘incomer’ who was granted Scottish land by King David I. The king was trying to reinforce his own authority by making land grants to those loyal to his military ambitions.

Above: When you get closer the structure of Duffus Castle becomes clearer.

The original building was wooden and nothing survives except its site. 

Above: Panoramic photo shows the side-view of the castle.

The present structure, though a ruin, is a classic example of a medieval motte and bailey castle – a raised mound with a less defended lower area; the latter designed to protect both supplies and craftsmen and (in much greater luxury) the owning gentry. The accompanying image, below, taken from the Historic Scotland notice board, illustrates this, showing the lord’s dwellings at the highest point.

Above: The schematic from the Historic Scotland notice board shows how the medieval Duffus stone castle, with its Motte (1) and Bailey (2) construction would have looked.

The rebuilding – in stone – was carried out around 1305 when Sir Reginald Cheyne was granted ‘200 oaks’ from the royal forests of Darnaway and Longmore to ‘rebuild his manor of Dufhous’. The wood would have used for flooring, roofing and scaffolding in the otherwise stone structure.

Above: A stone passageway shows the thickness of the walls.

The main residence was the tower on the motte – the keep. The more comfortable rooms – hall, dining and bedrooms – were on the first floor; with shared accommodation for the household on the floor below. The windows were few and small, the only entrance was via an easily guarded portcullis.

The internal spaces of Duffus castle are a contrasting mixture of light and dark…

Sadly, the heavy castle was constructed directly on the ruins of the former structure. Eventually, the north wall of the tower slid down the hill. The lord had to move his quarters to the lower parts of his once-splendid castle.

Above: The sad fate of the lord’s upper rooms. Use of the older ruins as a foundation meant that the castle could not support its own weight, and the upper level fractured and slid down the internal hill (Motte).

It was time to make use of our Macbeth theme, again. This time Act III, Scene I, which begins with Banquo speaking his thoughts that the dreadful prophesy from the witches on the ‘blasted heath’ (which we were later to visit) had all come true… Macbeth was the Thane of Cawdor, Glamis and King. And Banquo had good reason to fear the newly-elevated tyrant… his former friend. There is much of great depth in such storytelling, and it fits well with a modern approach to the psychology of mankind.

“Thou hast it now, king. Cawdor, Glamis, all. As the weird women promised, and I fear thou play’dst most foully for’t…”

Our volunteer ‘actors’ were enthusiastic – we all took turns through the weekend. The group was at ease and good-natured. We smiled, yet considered the deeper side of Macbeth’s wilful ambition. How did it relate to us? Dean had selected Duffus castle to be the pentagram point of ‘Earth’. In his new system, this was the place of the Potential Self.

It was very suitable. Alchemical Earth is all the things that are foundational and basic – but essential. Without the earth in which organic things grow we would be nothing. We do not demean the earth symbol as being in any way lowly – in the same way that astrology does not – but it is the home of our bodies and of sex. Also the home of the lower emotions such as Macbeth’s twisted ambition….

Duffus was a fitting symbol of Macbeth; a man who ‘o’er reached himself’. The castle, built on insecure foundations – like the Thane’s rise to kingship – fell into the mud, there to languish as a lasting symbol to us all… A sobering thought!

Above: Dean pointed the way – through the ‘twisted window’…. Ahead lay the coast.

We were only part-way through the morning, yet felt like we’d had a day of activity. Walking out of the castle and past the long wall of Duffus, we listened to Dean’s description of our next place of inner and outer discovery – a holy well set deep in the ground of modern Burghead; a place with a rich and fascinating Pictish heritage. A place of sleeping water… and perfect acoustics.

Above: The long wall of Duffus castle. We said our goodbyes…

To be continued….

Other parts in this series

Part One, This is Part Two

©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.