The title’s cheeky… Bram Stoker created Count Dracula of Transylvania and had him come ashore at Whitby in a ship named The Prospect of Whitby. We’ll not be talking much about Dracula in our coming weekend workshop; we’ve got enough to contend with considering the truth…
There are many ways to approach the centre of Whitby, but only one to truly approach its heart… In the opening shot the phone camera is straining at the maximum of its zoom abilities, but at least generates a clear image across the considerable distance from West Cliff. Here we stand, not far from where the car is parked, and excited to be back here here after a gap of fifteen years.
The right of the image shows the key detail: the wide, winding steps ascending from the bustling streets to the ancient ruins of Whitby Abbey. Even from this distance – which is across the mouth of the estuary – there is a feeling of sheer importance about that far place… Something of immense significance happened there, and it’s our job to consider it fairly and reasonably without too much emotion… and then turn it into the basis of a deliberately emotional workshop that will involve both heart and mind – and the undoubtedly freezing winds of a December weekend on the famously cold north-east coast of Yorkshire.
To help with that objectivity, I am doing my prep visit with my wife, Bernie, who is an historian by training… and is also a Catholic. I’m not a Catholic. I was raised in a Rosicrucian family which fell foul of the local Church of England vicar in a small Lancashire village… but that’s another story. The important thing is that, between us, we can be objective about the religious importance of Whitby and what happened here…
Fourteen hundred years ago…
We take one last look across the bay before beginning our descent into the town. It’s a bit like a mystical view of a life – seen before birth and imagined as a final glimpse of the whole before you become in-volved and begin the evolution that the individual life brings within the necessarily different existence of the gritty details…
Entering the grassed area at the top of the West Cliff steps we noticed an image of Captain Cook. Although not born here, he began his marine training in Whitby, aged eighteen, as an apprentice to the master of a local ship: John Walker. For the next nine years he served aboard cargo ships between London, Liverpool, Dublin, The Netherlands, and the ports of Norway and the Baltic. In the course of this, the gifted James Cook rose from apprentice to mate, developing skills that would enable him to become a master-mariner and lead his world famous voyages of discovery.
The significance of this to our forthcoming weekend is not lost on us as we walk down the steep hill. The steps become a winding road, and the road becomes the harbour that was the home of Fishburn’s yard. Fishburn’s produced all four of the Collier-class ships used by James Cook; including the famous Endeavour.
In the broadest sense, a ship is a container…
The makers of such soul-carrying containers bear a great responsibility: to ensure they are fit for the passage of time, events and circumstance in which a group of people will travel. Our coming weekend bears little relation to Cook’s epic journeys; except in this regard: that if we make it a fitting vessel, it will serve the consciousness-deepening goals of the workshop with integrity.
“We should begin, then…” I say as we start to walk along the harbour’s quayside. Bernie gives me that look and smiles, knowing I’m about the launch forth into one of the pivotal statements for the coming workshop. “It’s not sufficient to say that the Christianity of the Anglo Saxons resembled two armies that met from north and south to meet at a battle named The Synod of Whitby – in AD 664..”
She inclines her head. Not used to such a fair-minded opening. “Mmmm… Whereas the truth is?” she asks.
“Whereas the truth is that both Celtic Christian and Roman Christian faiths were interwoven from region to region across Saxon Britain and no-one made much of a fuss about it till King Oswald (Oswiu) responded to his wife in the matter of settling the date of Easter!”
“Which was important because…?” She’s taunting.
“Which was important because he followed the Celtic Faith and she followed the Roman, which meant that when he was feasting she was fasting…”
I continue. “And, as King of Northumbria, he was the most powerful monarch in the Anglo Saxon world.
“Quite!” she says, then, “Look – fish and chips ahead… The famous Magpie Cafe… with the usual queues.”
The sudden switch reminds me that Whitby’s like that… From the deeply historic and serious to the frivolous in an instant. I look around and wonder if a Goth from the adjacent festival might rush us and offer something outrageous.
The swing bridge and then the lovely ‘Whitby jet’ jewellery shops await, on the way to the Abbey steps, but, first, we need something to eat. Breakfast was meagre and a long time ago. We can do fasting when we need to… but in Whitby the temptations are just too good…
Across the harbour, the East Cliff looms over the town like an old guardian. But our own pilgrims will need refreshments upon their arrival on the Friday lunchtime of the weekend, so the body-not-soul research, trivial though it is, must be done before we make the climb.
To be continued…
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.