Crow on a Summer Breeze

I am crow, on summer’s breeze

Glimpsed in love with beating wings

Within the bright sun’s leaving.

My feathers’ strong and hollow shafts

Are filled with air you breathe

And softly lit in our reflected passion.

Remember this when dark and sodden bird

Looks out, short day’d from tree of Ash

Asking nothing of your walk of logs to fire.

Raise then your shuttered gaze

And for a moment hold my own

Before you pass into your tree-flamed cave

No-one sees behind the crow’s black looks

For writers do not live in winter trees

Freed here, in heights of soft blue union.

Write it narrow now, before we both forget

As autumn winds engage our throats.

And winter’s ice, our memories.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit school of mystical living.

Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com

Stripey sail, logical fail

We were walking Tess, our collie, along the estuary shore at Arnside. We had seen the stripey sails of the boats from the local sailing club and wanted a closer look. There was something odd about a passing seagull. I smiled, sure of my evidence for once…

“Tide’s going out,” I said.

My wife, Bernie, responded immediately. “Nope…”

She was born in Heysham, across the bay from the estuary here. Living by the sea throughout her childhood and into her teens gave her an uncanny ability to ‘just know’ the state of the tide.

But I had a secret weapon – logic! The seagull that had caught my attention had floated by on the water backwards; headed towards the open sea, but facing inland.

Case closed, I reasoned.

But fellow blokes will know that to be so certain of anything in the presence of one’s wife is an insecure business… I glanced at the seagull, stealthily, not wishing to give away my source of certitude. It was still facing inland but being carried out to sea. No doubt about it – I was right!

“Look at the edges of the water,” she said. “There, the water is flowing the other way, the outflowing river in the middle channel is fooling you..”

Just then the klaxon went off… There are dangerous tides in these parts. The klaxon warns anyone using the estuary that Morecambe Bay’s vast and swift tides had turned and were racing inland – in this case, sweeping up the edges of the estuary at Arnside. During high tides, there is even a ‘bore’ – a small, single wave that continues up the local rivers for some distance.

Crushed, I turned to look at Bernie, who was looking at me and smiling. Beyond her, the mystery seagull had acquired a chip. We’d just had chips…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

The Entered Dragon (1)

Like waking within a dream – or, at least, the point where the lucidity begins…

I turn my head in the small theatre, expecting others to be smiling, if not laughing. But no-one is, because no one else is here…

Just me and it…where ‘it’ is not the theatre.

The curtains part and what I knew to be behind them takes centre stage. Leathery pads, soft on the well-trod wood, make a sliding sound as it turns to face me. The eyes are glittering, but not as much as its breath, gathered to strike in elongated curls of superheated air.

The redness is appalling. So filled with force, so intimate…such a deadly embrace.

At its feet is a long, metal object – a spear, shaped in a very modern way, with a thick shaft at the back, full of mass and purpose, tapering to a tip so fine you can actually see the point at which its material ends and the menacing presence of ‘nothing’ begins.

The crimson creature shuffles forward, its walk a deliberate caricature of panto.

The glittering breath hisses, “Your move, surface child…”

To the hoots of its laughter, I force myself to a waking dominated by an even, thin film of sweat on all of my skin.

——

Increasingly, I read that we ‘live in an age of evil’. The state of the world’s politics is close to turmoil. Dictators dominate nuclear states and elections are warped from near and far by digital manipulation. The elusive ‘man in the street who can’t be fooled all the time’ is, sadly, absent. The drums and revenues of war are more important than the deaths of the millions of children crushed in its wake.

Perhaps they have a point; those who proclaim evil is with us as never before – evil armed with the power to finally destroy the world?

It’s a striking feature of the technological age that we don’t talk about nor believe in evil as a real thing – a real force, in itself. And yet, for most of the world’s history, that’s exactly how it was viewed. Today, we may adopt the maxim that evil is simply ‘the absence of good’. Hitherto, I might have agreed with this, but the ‘New Age’ dismissive approach to evil has, in my opinion, been shattered by the acceleration of dark deeds as we race towards the victories of ignorance on a grand scale.

But deep considerations of such things have a home, and the word for that home is ‘psychology’. As a lifelong mystic, I may feel that psychology fights shy of embracing spirituality. It seems frightened of losing its respected ‘ology’ and remains detached and clinical, treating our deepest contacts with a creative source as just another interior experience. And if you use the language and precepts of psychology, itself, you would find this hard to rebuff.

It is only when we dare to take up and trust the poetry of being that the walls begin to shake…

There is, though, a branch of psychology that dares to deal with evil; that declares that our turning away from an active ‘dark force’ within us costs us dearly – as individuals and societies. The science of such encounters was created by Carl Gustav Jung – Jungian Psychology. Most people have heard of it. Many know of the wrok of

Jung was a contemporary of Freud, the most famous of the 20th century founders of modern psychology. Freud gave us the Ego and Superego as the first structures of the ‘psyche’ – the internalised sense of self, the ‘me‘. Beneath them, he placed the dangerous powerhouse of ‘inner self’ and named it the ‘Id’ – literally the ‘IT’. From Jung’s perspective, Freud was obsessed with showing that the sexual force was the driver for the Id. Carl Jung accepted the existence of the Id, but set out to show that its power and expression was far more sophisticated than just sex. Even then, Jung had glimpsed the place where historic evil entered the life of mankind, if the whole of the psyche – ‘the whole of me’ was not understood and given life… The imposed societal pressures of the Superego were at odds and often at war with the needs of the complete human.

Our everyday experience as a ‘me’ is dominated by an ‘in-here’ and an ‘out-there’. During the day, we are bombarded by sense impressions, and, in secondary fashion, by the responses to those. Such responses can be physical (such as pain or pleasure), or psychological; affecting the wellbeing of our sense of self. Thus a ‘bad’ experience, like being degraded by our boss, can make us feel internally diminished or smaller, regardless of whether or not it has actually ‘hurt’ the senses.

Until the last century, no-one thought it possible to create a map of why this happened, It just did. Strong people figured out their own rules, and thrived. More sensitive people didn’t fare so well.

But the pre-psychology age inherited millennia of reflection about good and evil. Those who embodied good were considered to ‘shine’ – attracting and encouraging others to an inner yardstick of wellbeing shared. Those from whom evil flowed would pursue their selfish aims, regardless of the cost to others, who were crushed beneath the wheels of the advancing personal ambition.

As ‘society’ became more mechanised, expanding and changing the individual’s emotional and physical landscape, the principles and methods of industrial organisation were encouraged to overtake any notion of societal good – unless it happened to be a happy by-product. There were always exceptions; the local civic authorities of the nineteenth century did much to improve the lot of the ‘common man’. Such works were often the result of ‘societies of good’ like the Quakers and the Cooperative Society in Britain. There were many more.

There is a common thread here. Today, we would say that those who pursued their own ambitions, mindless of the costs to others, had huge ‘egos’. At the time there was no such thing as an ‘ego’. Our sense of the ‘selfish-selfless‘ balance at work was simply an expression of the evil or the good. Poor people of any age of mankind have been habitually pummelled so that they were incapable of questioning why the ruthless rich had so much more than they did…

Nothing changes until that difference in wealth becomes a living force of widespread dissent, itself, and people actually begin to ‘taste’ it. At that point the consciousness of unfairness spreads to include those who also used to be comfortable but whose own hard-working prosperity has now faded. As a man on a plane – an American – said to me not long ago, “Don’t let them tell you that the USA is prosperous. The guys in the middle who used to have a good living are desperate…”

The answers to such deep issues are often revolutionary… If we could actually see that the psychological forces at work are reflected in the whole of society, we might be able to recognise why egoic monsters can take our beloved countries swiftly into decline and why the country’s core can be polluted in a way that takes decades to redress… If they are fortunate.

In Part Two, we will look at how the work of Carl Jung and many in the mystical traditions pointed to this process of devolution, and how it throws light on the ‘awe-full’ power of the hidden parts of the ‘me’, singly and collectively.

©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.

Brave acts, Books and Buns…

Mum had begun to look restless. She’d spotted something…

We’d skipped breakfast, and were hungry, but had been assured that our destination was more than capable of feeding us. Overhead, an old steam engine thundered – way too fast – towards a bend in the track. I would have studied its doomed motion had my mother, who, at ninety, has dementia, not just wandered off in the wrong direction towards a tall shelf full of used paperback books…

She loves books even more that I do. At the last count she had thirteen of them open on her double bed…

(Above: as befits a former station, there are regular trains…)

I was struggling to see her among the many people in the narrow spaces between the tall shelves. My stripey anti-Covid mask wasn’t helping, either, as most of those in Alnwick’s former railway station weren’t wearing one, and kept looking at me as though my frantic movements were a prelude to armed robbery…

It sounds like a dream sequence in one of those arty movies where you have no idea what’s going on–and still have no idea at the end… But it wasn’t. It was a Friday morning in Alnwick – one of Northumberland’s most historic places. We had just entered a place that’s nearly as famous as the castle: the celebrated Barter Books.

(Above: Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy)

Alnwick’s most famous son lived just across the road from the site of the future Alnwick Station.

Henry (Hotspur) Percy was born 20 May 1364 at Alnwick Castle. He was the eldest son of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, and Margaret Neville. His grandmother Mary Plantagenet was the Granddaughter of the ruthless King Edward the III.

Harry was taught to fight as soon as he could hold a sword. Brilliant in battle, he was knighted at the age of 13 by the King, Richard II, and, in 1385 accompanied the King on an expedition to Scotland where he distinguished himself in battle and ingenuity when he set fire to a besieged castle, causing a breach in its walls – through which he leapt, sword in hand, to claim the victory. The Scots, in recognition of his continued bravery, bestowed on him the name of ‘Hotspur’.

Shakespeare immortalised him in Henry IV, Part II. “… and by his light did all the chivalry of England move to do brave acts.”

All of which has nothing to do with our story and my lost mother, apart from the fact that Alnwick seems to produce acts of innovative bravery…

Through a gap in the bookshelves, I finally saw a flash of her blue jacket, and managed to retrieve her, guiding her to the nearest tearoom and sitting the two of us down. Our food order was taken promptly, and we began to relax.

(Above: The story of Barter Books, published in the Rural Business section of Country Living magazine, pinned to the notice board in Barter Books)

Barter Books is housed in what was Alnwick’s grand Victorian station. Twenty years ago, the derelict building was transformed from ruin to success story.

(Above: once the main platform…)

Its main inhabitant now stocks more than 350.000 books, ranging from historic collectors items to modern paperbacks. All are good-quality and second hand. Barter Books buys books, too, as long as they are clean, likely to be popular or rare.

You enter into the former parcel room, greeted – in winter – by a blazing fire and a worn but comfortable studded leather armchair. In summer, the old stone keeps things cool.

The owners, Mary and Stuart Manley set out to create an oasis of books for ‘booky’ people: the sort that will stay, wander, eat a cream tea or a bowl of winter soup and, at the end, buy a book and leave feeling that their world now makes a little more sense…

The station hasn’t offered real trains since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, but, thanks to Stuart’s love of model railways, the shelves in the forward part of the building – beneath the spectacular glass and iron entrance roof, are topped with their own ‘garden gauge’ railway, along which locos and their troublesome trucks thunder.

It’s a great love story. Stuart’s wife Mary had little interest in the engineering of precision parts for model railways – which had been Stuart’s source of income in one of the small units on this converted site in the 1990s. Mary had been an art history teacher in Tennessee, but life took her to New York, where she worked in a second-hand bookstore… and met Stuart.

They were both broke, but Mary had the idea of combining their unusual skills…

In 1991, she set up a small stall in a corner of Stuart’s engineering shop in the former Alnwick station. Now, 30 years later, their success story fills 9,000 square feet of the restored site.

(Above: a considerable success story…)

The original entrance to the station is focussed on books for children. The old first-class ladies’ and gentlemen’ waiting rooms – which are now called the ‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ rooms -provide seating for the Station Buffet. Good food – and shelter from Northumberland’s changeable climate – is a central theme; as is a cheery welcome and excellent service.

Many of the original fittings were taken when the station became disused; some of them stolen. The couple salvaged a replacement fireplace for the Red Room from a nearby station at Iderton.

The main hall, which was once the outbound platform, is packed with shelves full of books on subjects ranging from woodwork to philosophy.

(Above: Books, books and more books..)

Barter Books will sell you that ‘I had this as a child and never thought I’d see it again!’ book for cash; but they also operate a true barter system. You may bring back your used books, as long as they are in good condition, and receive a partial credit towards another purchase.

Stuart and Mary also attend upwards of twenty antiquarian book auctions each year, so their stock includes not only rare books, but a wide selection of 1st editions.

Will they continue to be successful? Stuart painfully remembers the time his own children got bored with his model railways and turned, instead, to their video games. He points to their 350,000 customers, and an astonishing 3,000 books sold per week.

“But nothing is certain…”

I hope something is certain. My mother and I want to return again and again to Barter Books, regardless of how many times I have to go looking for her….

References:

Barter Books one-page flyer:

Note: I have no commercial connection with Barter Books, other than liking them, very much!

©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.