Keys of Heaven (4): through the bones of the whale

(Above: Saturday morning. Our path down to Whitby framed and given destination by the whalebone arch – a monument to harsher days in the port of Whitby)

The pale winter sun lies – to our symbolic view – just beyond the East Cliff horizon. Its lowness and lateness in the cold sky speaks of the approach of the winter solstice, a time of maximum darkness and minimum light…. but also a time of turning.

History is made from a series of turning-points. Changes – some of them completely unforeseen and incapable of being predicted – but all of them remaking ‘the world’ in a way analogous to how baking irrevocably alters the ingredients of bread. The changed world can be different things to different people. For some it is positive change. For others, apparent sadness. Often, the death of a loved one; for others it is the death of a idea or a way of life or the perceived heartbeat of goodness in a civilisation.

Every turning point is a gateway into the new. Every turning point invites us to be a part of where it goes with eyes wide with possibility… or closed with regret. Until the point when things turn, we can resist or accept that, this time, the ship’s course may not be as we would wish. But it is a course that has been set and we are on that ship.

There are ships below us, now physical ships in Whitby’s harbour.

So, through the arch we must go… Perhaps the man known by history as St Cedd walked down this way to the bridge, or more likely, ferry, across the river Esk. On the far side, beyond the market square, there lay and lie the near two-hundred steps to the gateway of the Abbey. Inside waited Abbess Hild and their King, the mighty Oswiu, ruler of Northumbria, the most powerful of the Saxon kingdoms.

We can barely grasp the solemnity of the occasion.

These weighty thoughts on our mind, we descend. Sue ( who was here, many times, with her Grandfather when she was a child) points out – perhaps mischievously – that I should note the contents of the horizon; with particular reference to the view of the Abbey. Dutifully I do so, and make sure I take photographs with the longer lens of the ‘proper’ camera in my bag.

(Above: Taken from the West Key and across the river Esk to the Abbey at Whitby… or is it a more complicated view?)

You never know when you’ll need them…

Flattery>Pride>Humility>Will. These are the four connected words I drew from the little bag at our opening meeting in the cafe. In a series of blogs not far away, one of my fellow Directors of the Silent Eye, Stuart France, is working his way through his own sequence of words; words which I have come to think of as ‘Back Along The Spoke‘- I smile at the acronym BATS. There are twelve such sets of BATS. I will explain what they are as we go along. Each of the companions of this weekend has drawn one of them – their own set of four words. Their meaning is to be teased out as we travel and experience. There are no uniquely right answers – but there is a right direction.

We descend through the cold December sunshine and Sue remarks that I’ve been lucky with the weather, again. It would appear I (and usually Barbara, who, sadly has missed this workshop due to an operation – from which she is recovering remarkably) have, so far, thwarted the usual December weather’s attempt to crush our bold expeditions. I put it down to the indomitable willpower of our companions on these journeys… that and my very personal childhood link with the Norse God Thor – he of the hammer and deepest mysteries; at least before Hollywood got hold of it.

(Above: taken on our scouting trip at the end of October. One of the many tourist boats returning to Whitby from a short cruise up the coast)

Walking down the last section of steps, I think of how busy the quayside was, in October, just over a month ago, when Bernie and I made our scouting trip – whittling down the possible sites and checking the timing – and cafes, of course. Got to get the cafes right in December.

(Above: What was October’s bustling quay is now quiet…)

Now, the quayside has no more than a handful of visitors walking along it. The pubs and cafes are Christmas busy, though – which is a good thing for Whitby. I look at the empty pontoon used by the bright yellow ferry in the picture above… there’s a sense of ‘rest’ about it – a rest that will make it stronger when the sun’s arc takes us past the (solstice) feast of St Stephen and, slowly, into the warming arms of St John at midsummer’s polar opposite.

I wonder if perhaps Cedd arrived here by boat. And if he did, whether the element of water helped calm what must have been a feverish mind; helped frame his thoughts beneath the screaming voice of his Celtic faith:

“I do not go to my death, but to the death of everything I have loved. The powers will applaud but the voice within will be silent at the execution of the truth…”

I’m projecting this onto the unknown real character of St Cedd. But my inner senses tell me there is truth in the words. That truth will be confirmed by a real bishop before the weekend is done; confirmed in a way I could not have foreseen. After the unexpected meeting with historian and St Oswald’s churchwarden John Secker, it would be wise to leave us open to the grace of circumstance… and its kindness.

I think about cousin Barbara, again, and how much she would have enjoyed this moment. The new hip will make her so much stronger for what lies in the year ahead. And next year sees us using April to reveal the inner mystical power of the fairytale; June to the inner mysteries of astonishing Avebury; September to the likely journey of a lifetime to Orkney via the Pictish trail of northern Scotland. These are all listed in the Silent Eye’s Events page.

I’ve had my hand in a pocket of my jacket. My fingers stray onto a small, cloth case. I take it out and remember it’s a piece of Whitby Jet jewellery that Barbara bought here when on their family holiday a few years ago. As she couldn’t be at the workshop, she asked me to carry it to absorb the ‘vibes’.

(Above: Barbara’s silver bat – from Whitby and now visiting!)

It’s a very special and rare piece: the last one of a specially commissioned run – and it’s a bat. I smile at the coincidence – my four words prompted the acronym BATS for Back Along The Spoke. Now the two are united. I won’t dwell on it but it raises a smile…

(Above: Christmas carol singers near the swing bridge)

We’re almost at the Swing Bridge – the vital highway and footpath across the river Esk. The lovely voices are carol singers. We stop… of course we stop. There is joy here.

(Above: Looking up from the quayside, and wary of Sue’s smiling advice, I notice that the Abbey has disappeared but the church that wasn’t there before, is now present… What’s going on?)

Just before we cross the bridge that will take us – in the footsteps of St Cedd – through the East part of Whitby town and to the base of the near two hundred steps, I look again at what should be the Abbey ruins on the mound that is the East Cliff.

They are not there… instead, there is a church. I know it is St Mary’s but what’s happened to the Abbey? And if the loss of the Abbey is due to the edge of the East Cliff, then why couldn’t we see the Church of St Mary, before, from the higher West Cliff?

You’ll find the answer in a detailed second photograph in the blog. And, yes, it was a good idea to have the other camera with the long lens…

(Above: A mere ten minutes later, we stand before the ‘stairway to heaven’. The Abbey and St Cedd ‘s destiny await…)

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three This is Part Four

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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.

Keys of Heaven (3): the synchronicity of kindness

There’s a certain ‘presence’ about kindness. Like the spiritual – or, more likely, as a part of it – the act of unexpected kindness drops into our lives like a messenger from the ‘Gods’.

So it was with our visit to the ancient church of Lythe in the middle of the Friday afternoon of the Keys of Heaven workshop. The village of Lythe lies just north of Whitby and marks the the beginning of the towering cliffs which run northwards as far as Saltburn. Within this landscape, Lythe church is set on its own hill and has commanding views all the way to Whitby Abbey in the distance.

(Above: the distant Abbey ruins on the far side of Whitby. Seen from the beach near Lythe

The church at Lythe is dedicated to St Oswald – the elder (deceased) brother of the man who was King of Northumbria at the time of the Synod of Whitby (AD 664); an event central to the storytelling basis of our weekend.

Northumbria was the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and it was King Oswiu (later Oswald) who presided over the fateful synod which resulted in the death of the Celtic Church in England.

(Above: the Church of St Oswald at Lythe)

St Oswald’s church is also a museum of what was found on the site – mainly Viking burial stones. The hoard of Viking burial stones was only discovered when the ‘modern’ church of St Oswald’s was extensively restored in 1819 and then again in 1890.

The most famous of the exhibits – and the one you first encounter on entering the church – is the ‘hogback stone’ shown below, which bears the ‘Gingerbread man’ carving. The word ‘hogback’ is misleading – the curved stones represent a large Scandinavian house – the spiritual home to which the deceased Viking would have wished to return…

(Above: The museum at St Oswald’s Church, Lythe – This section shows the celebrated Viking hogback stone)

The museum takes up the whole of the west end of the church. It was a group project, funded with the help of Heritage Lottery and Nortrail funding. A selection of the stones is on permanent (no-charge) display and was opened by the Marquis of Normanby in 2008.

The work took several decades and was led by local historian John Secker, whose detailed work on the Viking funereal relics became its basis. Until recently, it was assumed that the site was solely a Viking burial ground. This was based on its proximity to the sea – a traditional Viking criterion for such a sacred settlement – and the fact that all most of the stone artefacts were of a type known to be of Viking burial origin (10th-12th century).

(Above: The Cross-head)
This cross-head with a modelled human head dates from the mid ninth to tenth century and is very rare in Yorkshire archaeology, though it has some similarity with Irish crosses. There is no nimbus (halo) present so the carving may not have represented Christ.

After further work, a few of the pieces were dated to the 8th century. This suggested that there may have been an earlier Celtic religious building here – high on its own hill, and within clear, if distant sight of the Abbey on the other side of Whitby, then known as Streoneshalh. If so, then Lythe may have played a far more active role in the religious events of of the 7th century than previously thought…

(Above: The museum takes up the entire west wing of the church)

Readers of similar age to me, who remember the Stephen Donaldson novels based on the character ‘Tomas Covenant the Unbeliever‘ may recall the exiled giants and their sad ‘Grieve’. The history of myth shows that people of either conquest or perceived greatness were often depicted as ‘giants’. In the case of the Vikings, there appears to be surprising evidence of their level of homesickness…

(Above: The beautiful St Peter’s church in Heysham has strong similarities with St Oswald’s at Lythe, including the presence of an impressive Viking hogback stone. Note that this church is also built on a headland – the sea is visible in the right background of the photo)

Conquerors may not return home in glory, they may find themselves trapped in a new future, having put down roots that bind them far from the home they once had.

Myths may teach that only in death is that reconciled… The image below speaks louder than any words I could write. The idea of ‘house and home’ is one of the deepest sentiments we know. The mystic is constantly challenged to make the entire experienced world his or her home. There lies a powerful alchemy…

(Above: From the website here, a Scottish Hogback stone in situ, as a personal symbol of a Viking ‘home’)

I went internet searching for a hogback stone as it would have looked to cap the ‘body’ section of a grave and came across this blog (and picture above) entitled ‘The Viking Hogback Stone of Luss, Loch Lomond, Scotland’.

(Above pic – From Lythe’s St Oswald’s church. An artistic reconstruction of what the Viking burial ground would have looked like – note the visible sea, the essential ‘pull of home’

A close-up of the Lythe church’s largest hogback stone reveals the ‘Gingerbread Man’. This figure appears to show a human figure being devoured by two beasts. But the outlines of arms and the beast’s mouth are the same dovetailed lines and it could also depict the process of giving birth (by mouth) to a higher form of life, wisdom or simply consciousness. Space here does not permit a deeper examination, but Stuart’s recent blogs touch on this in more detail.

(Above: Close up of the ‘Gingerbread Man’ hogback stone, one of the museum’s primary exhibits)

A similar image exists on a hogback (see below) from Sockburn, County Durham. In that representation the figure has only one hand in the mouth of the creature. It is believed that the Sockburn scene represents the Viking god Tyr who had one hand bitten off by the wolf Fenrir.

(Above: the Sockburn Hogback. Image photographed from St Oswald’s Church)

The Lythe figure, however, has both hands in the mouths of the beasts, and the scene may depict the Norse legend of wolves devouring Odin, the ruler, at Ragnarock, which is the Viking end of the world

We could only smile, ruefully, at the potential comparison with modern politics on both sides of the Atlantic… The hands were the first basis of number and order, as well as the wielders of weapons. As such, they have often been used to depict the concept of balanced intelligence. The animal mouth may be its opposite: base hunger?

There are many other exhibits in St Oswald’s church. The montage below shows some of them. The set also includes two photos of the ‘Green man’ – a recurring icon in the history of Britain. Sue Vincent’s recent blog discusses some of these in detail.

Mention needs to be made of the striking stone coffin that sits among the pews in the main body of St Oswalds.

(Above: The restored medieval stone coffin at St Oswald’s church)

The medieval sandstone coffin was restored in 2007 by York Archaeological Trust laboratories. The coffin was air-dried before cleaning and re-assembly of the three broken pieces using steel dowels and conservation-grade adhesives. The image below, taken at the St Oswald’s museum, shows its original state before restoration. Looking at this, we can glimpse the work the local team have carried out over generations to provide a vehicle for the understanding and retention of the deep history of this part of North Yorkshire.

(Above: the unrestored state of the stone coffin)

The museum at St Oswald’s is an astonishing piece of our history, but I want to finish this blog with another of that day’s aspects – one that was invisibly present throughout the weekend and which is related to the title of this post: the synchronicity of kindness.

(Above: John Secker – Churchwarden of St Oswald’s Church and local historian – holding, in incredible synchronicity, the Keys…)

The man in the photo above (taken with permission,) with the kind eyes, is John Secker – the historian mentioned in the introduction. John is also one of the churchwardens of St Oswald’s Church. Two weeks before the workshop, while I was mentally ‘building’ the possible stages of our Keys of Heaven weekend, I left a message on his answerphone asking if we could visit the church and, if possible, whether we could gain access to the locked crypt.

(Above: some of the many small pieces in the crypt)

I wouldn’t have known about the crypt at St Oswalds but for Sue, who, with Stuart, had called in at the end of one of their writing trips. It was locked then, too.

Wonderfully, John Secker returned my call and said he would come down to the church at 14:45 on the Friday afternoon of our visit to open the crypt door and allow us to descend to what is essentially a shelved storeroom for the artefacts not used in the main exhibits.

(Above: the Crypt of St Oswalds, far below the main church)

On the journey across to Whitby, John called my mobile to say that, sadly, he would not be able to be there for our arrival, but wished us well in our visit to the church’s main features. I thanked him for his efforts and said I understood the personal commitment that had prevented the crypt visit he had originally proffered.

(Above: the interior of St Oswald’s church)

At 14.45 on the Friday, I was standing in the church when I realised I was alone…. the others had seen all that was available on the ground floor and gone outside to study the external views. To my complete surprise, an internal door opened and there stood a man, smiling. It was John Secker… He had carved out a few minutes to come and unlock the door to the crypt for us. Looking at this mystically, we had to be there at the time promised… and he had to make an extraordinary effort to reach ‘down’ to us. When those two conditions were met, the linking of the known and the (as yet) unknown were married together.

My companions returned and we descended the stone steps to the crypt. John had never met us – all he had were the two phone calls – yet he made a heroic effort to make it happen for our band of ‘pilgrims’ in the footsteps of St Cedd.

(Above: Lastingham… it’s ‘pull’ could be felt throughout the weekend. But , first, we had to ‘earn’ its magical presence…)

There was to be another, similar act of kindness at the end of our weekend; but I will leave that for the final post, when that same band of pilgrims were, almost literally, blown off the North York Moors and down into the gentle arms of Lastingham’s magical church and mysterious wells…

(Above: Whitby Abbey awaits on the following morning)

The following morning would bring our pivotal visit to Whitby… and the site of the synod where Bishop Cedd was expected to manage a meeting of minds that would destroy everything that had made him what he was….

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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.

Keys of Heaven (1): Cod and Lobster

(Above: approaching Staithes’ wonderful Cod and Lobster pub)

Bright against the icy darkness, the Christmas lights of the Cod and Lobster pub greet the quiet sound of only two sets of winter boots, where, until a few hours ago, there were many…

It’s quite a walk down from the car park above the lovely fishing village of Staithes – pronounced ‘Steas’ – just north of Whitby along the coast of Yorkshire’s beautiful North Yorks National Park. We had all ended up here the day before after our cliff walk along part of the Cleveland Way. It is a wonderful sanctuary in the darkness.

(Above The start of the tall cliffs just north of Whitby at Sandsend)

Think cliffs – everywhere you travel. Tall cliffs that make the furious winter seas look less wild than they are when you’re up close. Any journey along this fascinating and history-packed coast involves the constant up and down of roads that have been built into the vast contours of the North Yorks National Park.

(Above A coastline full of delightful villages)

But back to the quiet darkness in the street that leads to the Cod and Lobster. That sense of almost silence is due to the fact that the walking boots of the merry band of us on the Silent Eye’s December workshop are now on their way home – apart from Bernie and me; we’ve booked an extra night’s accommodation to chill out after what has been a wonderful and non-stop exploration of both the real and symbolic history of this area.

(Above) From the end to the beginning – Our first group view of Whitby Abbey across the river Esk.

Real, because one of the major events in Britain’s spiritual history took place here in the distant year of AD 664. Symbolic, because in a time when the world’s civilisations are in such domestic division, our purpose here is to examine the core of human nature to see its reflection in the world we create… And then look for the mechanisms of reconciliation with what, inevitable is.

Society reflected from human nature. It’s an unusual approach, but then, that’s what the Silent Eye sets out to do… and what makes it a different kind of spiritual school.

(Above) St Mary’s Church, Lastingham. One of the most beautiful churches you could ever visit

What is ending for the two of us at the Cod and Lobster, ended, formally, a few hours ago at the beautiful church of St Mary’s in the historic village of Lastingham; a village in the heart of the national park that has a special place in St Cedd’s history. The subtext of our weekend is ‘In the footsteps of St Cedd’ and the significance of his presence in the Synod of Whitby – and the deadliness of his ‘political’ exposure during that fateful event – was to be central to our meditations and discussions during the weekend’s journeys.

(Above) The Crypt at Lastingham

Lastingham is not only famous for its historic church, it is also the home of four mysterious wells.

(Above) the mysterious wells of Lastingham.

If you ask about the wells, local folk may well direct you to the two that are easily found. The third has to be viewed across a boundary… the fourth is only spoken of when you demonstrate your knowledge of the others… and the reason for your question. A deeper mystery surrounds it…

More when we get there in the narrative!

(Above) Viking Stones we were allowed to see in a near-miracle of benign circumstance…

For sheer intensity of experience, it’s hard to beat being on the highest point of the North Yorkshire Moors in early December in a freezing sixty miles per hour gale. But we did…adversity is part of any workshop we run in December. Usually, the weather is kind; and this weekend was no exception… except when we dared to poke our heads above the level of the burial chamber of a Bronze-age chieftain…

We have much to tell; and will over the next few weeks in this series of posts. The Keys of Heaven has been an involving and exciting event and I look forward to telling its story – as will others of the Silent Eye team.

Hang on tight… December, short days, vicious winds, mud, narrow cliff paths… what could possibly go wrong?

(c) Copyright Stephen Tanham.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a school of esoteric self-transformation that provides an internet-based distance learning course with personal supervision. In the words of our former Companions, our process has ‘changed lives’. Find more about us at http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk or contact us at rivingtide@gmail.com

The Whirlpool

Underlying image by Gordon Johnson on Pixabay

It begins with a feeling… A feeling that something has fallen: like a vital bridge being destroyed.

As it develops, you sense the landscape being stretched, allowing forms of life alien to your own to enter the world.

And then you become conscious that there is a velocity, here – that we are all going somewhere we didn’t ask for. After a while you realise that the world is not only changing, but is being buffeted from the same place…

That place is the centre. The place from which the tearing winds are coming.

Soon, the low roar, the dull moaning, gain strength. They become a voice… and there is anger; an anger that won’t go away, like a wild beast dying.

By the time you see that the whole world is moving, beginning to spin, tearing loose from everything you thought was fixed and, and… ‘of the elders’, it’s too late…

The new world is full of creatures, creatures gloating that their views have triumphed against the overburdened weight of the controls that kept the world from breaking up, from spinning, from feeding from that dreadful centre.

You look again at the centre from which the noise is coming; only you can’t see it anymore. It’s gone… spinning, faster and faster, it has become a vertical pit into which everything is being sucked – a whirlpool of hate.

You look at the far edge of the red whirlpool and see millions of people staring back at you – only they’re staring back at all of you and they’re screaming and shouting and laughing as the edge of the red water washes them faster and faster into more energetic screaming and shouting. They are the opposite of what you believe yourself to be, and they generate the strongest of emotion in you… until you realise that this emotion, too, is hatred, and that your loathing of the hateful creatures is adding to the red spinning that now sucks you in, as it does them.

Fighting despair, you raise your gaze to look beyond the descending red waters and see – far away and behind the forces of the vortex, dotted here and there – a set of people whose eyes are not red, who are not shouting… not even speaking. No energy flows from them into the redness, though you can see and feel their pain. There is a different way to react… or maybe, not to react at all, simply to hold the good that was, so much of which is being sucked, like wreckage, into the red whirlpool.

This knowing lodges in your heart. It breaks the force of the red gravity that had been pulling you nearer the whirlpool. You are moving backwards on the boiling waters, holding the eyes of the others who are holding yours… do not feed it, they say, gently.

It is calm, now. The dreadful vortex has gone, taking much of what you loved with it. But the waters that remain are the same waters that gave rise to a new world, long ago. The energy of renewal can begin its work.

The world is washed with its tears, as it always is after war But there is hope. There is no choice, now – you must be an elder… Even if you are young – especially if you are young.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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.

The 13th Moon of St Cedd

He stopped at the door, knowing they were all inside. Waiting for him, waiting for his ability to listen, to gather, to make pointed the urgings, the reasoning, the demands, until there glinted in the tired firelight the position, the stance, upon which they would cast their choices.


Beneath the cold stone where his sandalled feet stood were buried the bones of kings – generations of kings of Northumbria, mightiest of the Saxon kingdoms and most stable of the powers in the lands of Albion. He let his right foot glide forward until the thick and well-worn leather of his sole touched the wood of the door… then let it lie there… They could wait; and in their waiting not know…


Once in there, beneath the twin gaze of King Oswiu and his Queen, his power would be guided like a sword being sheathed in old leather, slid like the deadly instrument it was into a safe place beneath regal eyes – and eyes not just of royal blood but those that claimed the same from St Peter, no less…


“A curse on both your houses,” he whispered–so softly that not even the motes of dust were disturbed in the solitary shaft of sunlight coming from the high window in the stone corridor of the Abbey of Whitby.

As it always did, his mind raced backwards along the channels of tidal cause – a pattern long discerned from his years as Abbott Coleman’s apprentice under the man who had shaped his life with love, with honour and with dignity. Coleman was waiting beyond of the door, with his scholarly deputy eager to win his case that the ancient Christianity that had been bequeathed to them from Ireland via Iona was the rightful inheritor of the crown of Christ…


It was, from the beginning, hopeless, he knew. The King was mighty but besotted with his Queen, Enflaed, whose familial ease lay with the Church of Rome and not the wilder, moon and nature-filled lore so beloved of her husband. The wisdom of St Aidan would ultimately count for nothing against the warm bedchamber and the scholars of the man Roman cause.

King Oswiu was famed for his strong leadership, but, for this gathering, he had summoned Lindisfarne’s best mind to help sway things the way he needed.

And the outcome? It had little to do with the shape of the shaven heads – the tonsure – of the monks that would follow. The centre of this struggle of intellectual supremacy was the outreach of Rome, expressed as the date on which the Lord of Light would rise from his crucifixion to prove the might of truth over death… Easter.

He looked again at the motes of dust dancing in the ray of light. That light would soon fade and be replaced by the cold but mysterious glow of the moon, while the dance of the minds took place by the red glow of the burning logs in the abbey’s fireplace…
And his eyes: the famous pale blue eyes of Cedd, would reflect the warmth of the fire, yet remain aloof to the treachery he was powerless to do anything but play along with… even though his heart was breaking…


In his mind, the sword he did not possess was sliding backwards through gifted fingers until its point lay between finger and thumb, then plunged down to lie against his skin, parallel to – but not within – the mind-viewed scabbard, and unseen by all but the wearer.

Banishing the vision of discord, he bowed his head, then pushed at the weight of the oak door and entered the warmth of the royal chamber.

The depth of the silence surprised even him…


Come and join us for a journey into the mind and heart of the man who became St Cedd in the fateful year of AD 664, at the Synod of Whitby – an event that would see the elevation of the church of Rome and seal the fate of Celtic Christianity.

Dates: Weekend of Dec 6-8th, 2019

We will follow in the footsteps of St Cedd in the landscape of Whitby, North Yorkshire and its mysterious surrounding coast, countryside and villages. The weekend will conclude with a visit to his mysterious tomb in one of the most beautiful villages in the region.

Bring a warm heart and an understanding mind. Take shelter from Whitby’s December wind and share the warmth of spiritual companionship on a landscape quest.

Everyone is welcome. No prior experience of such weekends is necessary.

The administration cost is £50.00 per person. This is exclusive of accommodation and meals which are to be booked by those attending.

Everyone is welcome. No prior experience of such weekends is necessary.

The administration cost is £50.00 per person. This is exclusive of accommodation and meals which are to be booked by those attending.

You can register online by clicking here.

Or Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Or contact us at: rivingtide@gmail.com

Or Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

To register your interest email us at rivingtide@gmail.com

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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.

Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

It’s not the best of photo resolutions, but the above image says it all. Briony saluting the Derbyshire landscape in her own way at the end of three days of the Silent Eye’s Tideswell-based workshop: Sue and Stuart’s creation; and a wonderful experience for the group of souls who braved the provocative title for the weekend…

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

…and decided that they would examine the roots of their own fears… and face them in the warmth of loving companionship and symbolic danger.

It’s a time-honoured formula for all mystical organisations; one that brings us all to a point where the day to day ‘fog’ of habitual perception is cut through by the vividness of landscape and experience. That’s what we hope to achieve on these weekends. This one worked well – and in different ways for each person, as it should, for we all have different stories that have brought us to our ‘now’.

Sometimes, especially in reviewing such things, it’s better to start at the end. The picture (above) of Briony is of her at the ‘peak’ of the weekend; the last act of the formal part of our physical, emotional and spiritual wanderings across the ancient and mysterious landscapes of Derbyshire.

A short time later, we would be laughing in one of the oddest, oldest and most wonderful pubs in England…

But that’s for the final chapter of this short series of blogs. For now, let’s drift backwards in time to the sunshine of the Saturday morning. A day of ‘Indian Summer’ as good as any we been blessed with over the years.

Baslow Ridge

We were up high in a place called Baslow Ridge. Looking down on a series of valleys that lead to places like Bakewell, and the glories of the Chatsworth Estate.

The Eagle Stone – a place of proof of maturity, and a precursor to local marriage

The Eagle Stone stands alone, an outlier from a distant time of glaciation. It dominates the landscape like the monolith did in Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey. People are drawn to it from miles around. It even featured in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the place that Elizabeth Bennett visited and climbed… to get away from it all.

It is still used by local folk as a rite of passage. Those who seek the hand of marriage with the girls and ladies of the nearby town of Baslow are expected to demonstrate their suitability by climbing the stone unaided. It’s not a trivial ascent, as this second shot of the rock shows:

The Eagle Stone close-up shows how the higher layers overhang the lower; making an ascent difficult

The Eagle Stone is an example of a sacred folk-object at the centre of a local custom; a ritual, in this case. The ritual was a gateway into adulthood–and maturity. There would be real caution – if not fear- for anyone faced with the challenge. But, with some secret help from your friends, there was only an element of danger, rather than the certainty of death…

The Riley Graves

But many in the history of these parts have not been so lucky. Going back in time to our first visit of the weekend, we were brought face to face with personal fear and sadness of a degree that would be hard to envisage in modern life… and one of the most heart-rending sacrifices we could have encountered.

It’s 1666 in a small High Peak town, not far from Chatsworth. In the space of a single week, a lone woman buries all six of her children and then her husband. No-one will help her; no-one can help her. It is the most awful piece of personal history imaginable and yet the act which surrounds it is of the highest nobility.

Stuart… showing how it should be done

And so the story – the plot – of the weekend, moves from an historic example of fear and self-sacrifice – but seen through modern eyes, through the ancient stones set in the Derbyshire landscape and their cultural and symbolic use, to its finale in a rather foreboding place, high above a valley with a dark history…

Seen like this – backwards from the end, we can appreciate the careful construction of the weekend carried out by Sue and Stuart. Sue has begun its re-telling in her Silent Eye and personal blogs. She’s a great storyteller and there is little point in my replicating her excellent eye for detail.

Instead, I will pick certain moments of significance and focus on them – and hence this backwards-in-time introduction to set the scene.

It’s a long way from the Friday meeting place at Eyam to our final (small for drivers) glass of Dark Lurcher at the Three Stag’s Heads near ‘Hanging Rock’, but it’s a fascinating journey. The weekend demanded a degree of serious intent… but we had lot of fun, too.

In the end, on Sunday morning, everyone was alone for a moment on that dark peak… Very Carlos Castenada, really…. but that’s just my personal take on it.

Next time we meet, it will be August 1666 and, in this part of Derbyshire, something remarkable, unique and utterly selfless will be about to happen.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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.

The Talking Darkness #writephoto

This is in response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto ‘Frozen’ and the photo above.

He chose his moment to appear at the edge of the dark forest; the forest through which they had come on their murderous journey.

The few that knew him used his ancient name: the Talking Darkness….

Anyone in the dark green shadows looking out to the approaching night would have seen nothing. But, had they stared a while, they might have been able to make out the outline of a man in a long coat; a coat so dark that it seemed all the light was absorbed by it.

He collected the light, stored the edges of act and consequence in pockets so deep they touched the edges of time. The light he collected was the truth, the living dust of events so significant that they changed the course of history. The motes of light that made up his long coat told stories, stories so exact that those they spoke of were frozen as they watched them repeated; re-told by the mesh of momentary brightness in a manner that silenced, terrified and spoke…. the truth.

The Talking Darkness was not summoned often. Hundreds of years might pass before he was called to bear witness to the truth of another episode of collective horror.

Always, there was a bloodied body. Often that of a child… Sometimes, a very special child.

The eyes of the Talking Darkness followed the curve of the forest to the far clearing where a large fire burned. The body of a child had been placed on a bier following his murder by the ten. Four of the ten were moving the bier so that it would lie over the centre of the flames–incinerating the evidence of their deeds.

The Talking Darkness always assigned the land-trigger to something associated with the deceased – the victim. In that way, the act of justice began within the humble remains of they who were wronged, and the world around them that had been robbed.

Through closed eyes, the Talking Darkness watched as the four of ten danced away, shocked, from the consuming flames which exploded around the small body.

And the land cracked…

The eyes that had been closed opened as the curve in the forest changed shape, extending itself into the encroaching night. The path to murder had become a highway of ice, glowing and lighting half the sky with its intensity.

With ancient boots, the Talking Darkness strode along the ice-road, with every step his coat lightened in colour, matching the darkening eyes of the ten, who, led by the four, were being dragged in frozen horror towards the white heat of the child’s burning body.

It would be a long walk to the flames. There was no hurry. The full story had to be told in the bright darkness before time could move forward, again.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (part three)

It was past four in the afternoon. We had been walking for over five hours. Despite our best smiles – and Joh’s chocolate – we were tired, very tired.

A home-made drawing of the problem…

We were desperately looking for something – a path that should have been climbing up towards us from the steep lower slopes of the glacial corrie below. But paths – this far into a landscape – can be tenuous things, and all we could see, below and west, was the course of a stream, cascading down the valley.

Searching for any sign of the path, below

Jon was pointing along the line of our high path, towards what I took to be a tarn, set high against the corrie wall. I had a mental picture of Jon’s map and knew that the far glacial wall was too high to intersect our present course.

I knew this wasn’t our path

“No,” he said, immediately understanding my glum expression, and pointing to a gap in the near ridge just left of my line of sight. “There!”

Far below, but climbing towards us, was the path home – seen here with the help of a telephoto lens

I looked… there. A small gulley acted as a cut-away to reveal what I had thought was the far side of the valley. But my perspective had been wrong. Revealed in the ‘V’ was a thin strip of path… climbing to meet the track we were on.

With something approaching joy, we powered up our weary feet and walked forward. In the end, we need not have worried; the two paths intersected not far from the corrie wall – which still towered high above us. We had no desire to sample the – undoubtedly stunning – views from its northern edge.

We joined the downward path – just a smattering of stones at this height – and began our longed-for descent.

The descending path was steep. Even worse, the path and the stream crossed each other all the time, meaning we had to pick our way across the larger boulders to traverse.

In places, the stream would suddenly drop ten, or even twenty feet, turning the way ahead into a partial waterfall. We knew that most walking accidents occurred on the way back from the heart of the walk: when the legs are at their most tired. There was still another four miles of the descent before we reached the level ground at the outskirts of Grasmere…

We were weary, but stopped to photograph this beauty

This is the kind of landscape that will constantly surprise you. When the main section of the descent was done, we sat by the stream – now a river – and had the last of the chocolate and the final sips of water. For some reason, our thoughts turned to the idea of a long, cold beer, reminiscent of the John Mills film ‘Ice cold in Alex’. The idea was potent and spurred us on.

Jon pointed to the top of the ridge, which was now above us and to the left. He thought that there may be a figure standing where we had rested so many hours before, looking down, ruefully, at the bridge… and choosing the long walk.

Figure or bush?

I raised the telephoto lens of the camera and and zoomed in…

Not one, but two late-walkers

To keep our spirits up, we chatted about our favourite sights of the day. Mine had been seeing the Lion and Lamb Rocks from above:

The Lion and the Lamb rocks

Bernie’s had been the hundreds of butterflies flying around a large but solitary thistle bush, close to Gibson Knot:

Painted Lady butterflies

Kathy remarked that discovering that there actually was a path back along the valley had “been pretty special”.

Kathy – “seeing that there actually was a path back!”

Jon remarked that his was yet to come, but he could bear that cold beer calling from Grasmere…

We walked on, knowing that another hour would see us back at our start point in Grasmere.

Around the next bend, a familiar friend awaited us: the bridge we had last seen from nearly 500 metres above our present location.

The bridge to Grasmere

To show her pleasure, the tireless Tess dashed across it and back to collect us.

The tireless Tess, guardian and wayfinder…

We emerged from the glacial Easedale valley and into the farmland around the town. Another half hour to go. But then Bernie looked at her watch and realised we had only fifteen minutes left on the parking ticket.

We reassured her that, at this late hour, we were unlikely to get a fine, but she trotted off, surprising the three of us with her reservoir of energy.

‘Ice Cold in Alex’. The moment will live in our taste buds for ever….

Kathy and Jon waiting for the beer to arrive
18:38 and the best beer I’ve ever tasted…

Bernie arrived back with the car at the same moment the beer was delivered to our table. It was the best beer I’ve ever had…

It was 18:38. We had been walking for nearly eight hours – far longer than we had planned. We had covered eleven very difficult miles. But, we had done three of Wainwright’s peaks and made it home in relatively good shape.

What a day!

©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.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part Two)

We were on the Helm Crag plateau, about to climb up and beyond the Lion and the Lamb rocks to reach the start of the ridge. When you’ve just done a steep climb, it’s natural to feel that you’re ‘at the top’. In our case, this assumption was to prove expensive…

A home-made drawing of the problem…
Above: it was time to say goodbye to the gentle landscape of Grasmere, below us

It was time to say goodbye to the glorious views of Grasmere – though we were to get one last unexpected view later in the walk.

Helm Crag lies at the southern end of a long ridge. My simple picture, above, shows its location. Helm Crag is the point at which the photograph below, was taken. Our Collie dog, Tess, is looking at the start of the path which climbs up and along the ridge.

Tess looks, warily, towards the start of the ridge path
(Above) The climb up the back of the Lion and Lamb reveals the A591 main road to Keswick far below…

The path up to the ridge is quite a scramble – and very steep. One of its pleasures is a view of the A591 – the main road between Windermere and Keswick. Once at the top, the landscape changes dramatically. Gone is the gentle basin filled with the bright green of a grassy plateau, to be replaced with the undulating and rocky surface of a different world.

Once we had reached the ridge at Helm Crag peak, we faced a stark choice: we could take the footpath to the left (orange on the drawing) and make the quick descent to the bridge over Easedale Beck – shown below at the end of a long lens – or we could carry on along the top of the ridge, taking in another two of the famous ‘Wainrights’ peaks – a term that refers to a set of hand-drawn and hand-illustrated guides to hundred of walks in the Lake District.

Above: ridge paths can be very narrow places – looking back from Helm Crag at Grasmere, far below

We choose to risk the ridge, knowing that it would take us longer than leaving the high-ground at Helm Crag and descending to the bridge below. What we didn’t know was how much longer the ridge walk was going to take…

I pointed the camera at the vital bridge hundreds of feet below. The long lens made it look much closer than it was. But it was to be a lot more distant before we had the chance to change direction, again….

The Lion and the Lamb Rocks are visible from below, but it is only from above that you get the sheer scale of this famous landmark.

Above: seen from the peak, the Lion and the Lamb rocks reveal their true size

We had made our decision and now time was passing – and we had a long way to go. We estimated that the walk along the ridge, alone, would be at least five miles. Walking at an average speed of between two and three miles an hour, we reckoned that it would take us at least two hours to pass Gibson’s Knot and reach the junction of paths at the head of the valley below us and to the left.

Our first surprise was that we had to climb, again, to follow the ridge-path. Not only that, but the path that had been smooth and stepped on the lower slopes now became rough and rocky. Walking became a process of carefully placing each footfall… and was consequently very slow.

I didn’t help much, either. The trip was the first outing for my new camera. The telephoto lens was wonderful at reaching into the far distance and I ended up taking over a hundred shots… stopping each time to compose and frame them. The photo below illustrates what happens when you do this and look up to see where your friends are!

To our right (the east) the outline of the vast edge of the Fairfield Ring was becoming clear. The Fairfield Ring marks the high glacial bowl (Corrie) from which one of the largest glaciers carved out the northern basin of Lake Windermere – England’s largest lake.

From this perspective (below), you can only see the rim of Fairfield. The full walk around it, beginning at Ambleside, takes six to eight hours! These are not trivial landscapes!

To our left, the steep sides of the fell showed evidence of less and less habitation, as the ground gave way to the rocky floor of one half of the Easedale valley – known at this point as ‘Far Easedale Gill’

Above: Flashing forward in time… The ridge and valley: the two halves of our eventual walk. The photo was taken when we had finally ended our walk along the ridge – but still had to walk back to Grasmere along the valley floor.

The above photo shows the hidden difficulty we faced: each section along the ridge was a serious further climb; a fact that we hadn’t realised when we left Helm Crag. Locate the second ‘hump’ on the ridge. This is the point we had reached in the narrative…

We had developed a method of making as much progress as our diminishing strength would allow. We would walk for an hour, solid, then stop to sit on a pile of friendly rocks and share water and some fruit chocolate that Jon had resourcefully brought with him. It was only later, looking back, that we realised how much we were climbing in each leg.

The ridge was narrow, and each twist of the path revealed new vistas on the right and left. We were ascending, of course, and could see more of the surrounding landscape from each intermediate peak.

It was only when we realised that we had passed Gibson’s Knot (see schematic) without noticing that we became aware of how fatigued we were becoming. Our tireless Collie, Tess, was doing her best to help us – continually running from the back of her ‘pack’ to the front to keep the herd motivated to maintain their progress to market… a true ‘drover’. The photographer was often guilty of being some way behind the other three!

We took another break and reflected… It was 15:41. We had been walking since mid-morning. We had no choices left. Our only hope was to continue along the ridge. We looked at the diminishing water supplies and watched Jon search his backpack for more chocolate… worst of all, we were still at least an hour from the most northerly point of the valley; in other words, we were still walking away from Grasmere, the point where we started!

img_4570

Would our bleached remains be found by future walkers?

A slight panic tends to set in at such times. It pays to think laterally if only to clear the head. I found myself wondering if we could cross the high wall of the glacial Corrie to our north and hitch a lift from a passing 555 Bus, which would take us back to Grasmere… clearly ludicrous, as there were no paths marked on the map.

Then, ahead of me, I saw Kathy turn herself into an aeroplane and try to fly… so I wasn’t alone. Could we camp out on the mountain, Bernie might have been  thinking. I could tell by her knitted brows she was worried…

Only Jon seemed calm. And he was studying his map, intently. He looked up and smiled.

“I think I’ve got some good news,” he said. We moved closer, following his pointing finger…

p1020012

To be concluded in Part Three

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.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part One)

(Above) The Lion and Lamb rocks, above Grasmere

We were delighted to meet up with some friends from the UK who had emigrated to New Zealand many years ago. Bernie went to school with Kathryn and the couple had kindly collected and put us up in Auckland – their home, now – at the end of our short cruise from Sydney, last November.

Jon is a keen walker, and has fond memories of the Lake District from when he lived in England. He asked if, during their few days with us, we had time to fit in a ‘decent walk’. We decided that the ‘Lion and the Lamb’ offered the best combination of a relatively quick ascent and the possibility of fitting it all into a half-day; thereby allowing some time to wander around the delightful ‘Wordsworth’ town of Grasmere, which nestles below the Lion and the Lamb rocks.

(Above) The Lion and the Lamb sits at the end of a glacial valley overlooking Grasmere (photo from the author’s own map)

The small town of Grasmere is one of the most beautiful in the English Lake District. Famous as the place where William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived and wrote much of their work, the town also boasts some of the most spectacular and accessible fells of Lakeland’s central region.

(Above) The start of the climb

We began the four-hundred metre ascent by following the Easedale Road, northwards from the centre of Grasmere. The main A591 road between Windermere and Keswick runs parallel to this along the steeply glacial valley that is part-formed by the fell on which the Lion and Lamb rocks sit.

(Above) The main A591 – visible as a tiny strip in the distance – follows the valley to the east of the Lion and the Lamb

The path to the Lion and the Lamb summit winds up from the river valley to the west of the fell on which the rocks sit – Helm Crag. The river Rothay, below, is formed from the confluence of the Easedale becks that cascade down the steep, glacial landscape.

Even after a short ascent, the valley floor begins to reveal its features; one of which is the lip of Easdale Tarn, which I hoped would form the second leg of a triangular walk, following the ascent of Helm Crag and a cooling drink beneath the Lion and Lamb rocks.

(Above) You can just see the surface of the water of over the lip of Easedale Tarn in the distance.

The path gets quite steep as you near the first summit – Helm Crag. It was there that we encountered a group of the local Herdwick sheep. Herdwicks are a hardy breed, much treasured for their fine and warm wool. They begin as black lambs, then go deep brown and, finally, grey-white.

(Above) The Herdwick lifecycle conveniently displayed! Black (lambs) to brown to grey-white

The final leg of the climb is what used to be a steep meadow; but we found that the ferns had overgrown much of the surface and, in places, there was barely a path remaining.

(Above) The ‘meadow path’ to the first summit – Helm Crag

Then, suddenly, the climb ceases and you are in one of the most beautiful grassy plateaus in Lakeland. To the east, south and west are some of the best views of the central Lakes region.

To the south, Grasmere is revealed in all its picture-postcard beauty. The weather helped, too!

The town of Grasmere and its beautiful lake. Wordsworth’s house is to the left of the town, next to what is now the main A591 road

To the west, the twin valleys of the glaciers that formed this region are revealed. One contains Easedale Tarn – a possible return leg for our walk; the other is bounded by the ridge formed from Helm Crag and Calf Crag; seen here in the distance. Glaciers from both ‘corries’ forged the landscape here and south of Grasmere.

The head of the former glacier near Calf Crag – from later in the walk

To the east, the scenery of central Lakeland gives way to the rugged and high fells that lead hardy walkers to Helvellyn and Fairfield, the latter is the glacial basin that formed the northern half of Lake Windermere. You can see why the Lion and the Lamb walk is justly famous for its views…

(Above) One of the walker’s ways to Helvellyn or Fairfield…

We looked at the views and thanked the elements for such a lovely day. The ever vigilant Collie, Tess, had ‘driven’ us up the hill, front and backing the pack as we climbed. It’s what drover dogs do, in contrast with Border Collies and other herders whose genetic pattern is to round-up.

Tess the ever-watchful Smooth Collie

I had envisaged that, from here, we would descend to cross the river at the bridge and take the short walk up to Easdale Tarn, completing the triangle back to Grasmere…

But Bernie and Jon, who were both voracious studiers of maps, instead proposed that we might enjoy a simple walk further along the ridge (that we had already climbed) and a return leg back via the head of the valley and Calf Crag.

It was a fateful moment… and, contrary to anyone’s expectations, it was to cost us another six hours walking, but led to the best beer any of us has ever had…. But that part of the day’s story will have to wait…

Part two to follow next week.