Divination – Art or Science? (1)

(Above: The Yin Yang symbol depicting polar opposites united in their life)

For as long as there have been humans on Earth, we have sought to find answers. Wise women and wise men have been cherished throughout history for their ability to throw ‘light’ on complex problems and situations. In our modern age, more people than ever find at least comfort and, often, guidance in some kind of fortune telling.

My grandmother used to read tea leaves, using the pattern left when the (leaf) tea was swirled out of a cup at the end of a routine or ritualised consultation. Her advice was often sought.

I had a interesting childhood. I was raised in a mystically-active family, but felt the pull of a scientific career – ending up in computing. I never had any trouble reconciling the two, but was always hesitant to talk about it to other scientific types… There is a ‘religion’ of despising such things among the purists of science. Their prejudice is a strong as any of history’s zealous priests. Having said, that, the scientific method has brought immense benefits to mankind.

I was comfortable with divination because I could always see a bigger picture… Let me try to describe the basis of this:

What happens ‘inside me’, in terms of consciousness, is not really separated from the ‘out there’ of the world and its constant changes. I felt this long before I could offer any explanation for it. I knew that if I changed how I felt about someone, their behaviour to me would miraculously change, too. This doesn’t mean that I always did this, far from it…. our emotions are very strong with those we dislike and often override the still small voice of inner guidance.

We began this consideration of ancient Chinese wisdom by looking at the work of Lao Tzu (The Book of the Way – Dao Je Jing); (see The Old One and the Gatekeeper series).

The other great ‘book’, older than the Dao Je Jing, is the Book of Changes, otherwise known as the I Ching. Adopted by pop culture in the 1960s, the Yin Yang symbol was seen on everything from notebooks to tee-shirt. The I Ching came first. The Yin-Yang symbol is a later development, and has been associated with I Ching because its elements representing Yin – black, and Yang – White, are found in the broken and unbroken lines of the Hexagrams that form the basis of what is to be ‘read’. We will examine this process in the next post.

The Yin Yang symbol illustrates an idea from ancient times that the ‘whole’ is in constant motion – change. And that change, itself, is the real nature of the world. Things can be opposite yet still exist harmoniously. Each thing contains its opposite. Each thing becomes its opposite when it has reached its fullness and begins to decline.

We must learn to ride that constant change and be at peace with this. This is quite a statement. We are used to reality being the solidity of what is – and endures. Within the I Ching, the reality is shifted ‘upstairs’ to that process of change from which we take snapshots of our reality, much like, in quantum physics, how an electron in an atom obligingly reveals itself under quantum measurement, but is otherwise indeterminate in velocity and position.

Evolved and educated to seek stability as a basis for survival and prosperity, human nature finds this idea of harmony through change a difficult concept to embrace. Without stability, we reason, ‘fortune’ may be a fickle companion.

This idea has its parallel in Newton’s older and simpler non-quantum physics. Objects that move seldom do so with constant speed (velocity) – unless they are spacecraft. Newton showed, through a maths process called differentiation, that the derivative of a formula for velocity (speed) would produce a formula for acceleration. The latter is far more revealing, since it is linked to the real world of force.

To slow an object requires force – imagine the sting of catching a well-struck cricket ball! Equally, to make an object move away from you with a throw requires the force of an uncurling arm. The ‘speeding up’ – acceleration, is equal to the force divided by its mass: the amount of substance it possesses.

Driving a car is, for example, a continuous process of acceleration and deceleration; controlled through exploding petrol in an engine moderated by the right foot. No wonder driving takes a while to grasp…

Perhaps the difference between a driver and a watcher of fortune is that the driver is following a short-term goal of getting somewhere, whereas the ‘fortune hunter’ just wants to feel secure.

It’s a dramatic conclusion, but the universal Sea of Being does not offer security. Instead, it offers a science of personal change and an opportunity to learn how to sail.

All this may seem academic. However, in order to see that there is a ‘higher science’ of existence that lives happily in a dimension of ‘change’, we need to have these proven models to align us, correctly, with the potential to see differently.

This is the I Ching…

If we see the ‘out there’ as divided, we are not in harmony with the inevitable currents of change. If we see it as a fluid medium which must change, we begin to bring our consciousness into the ‘now’, taking new nourishment from the fact that its sparkling presence is the result of that constant ‘replenishment’. The present state cannot do anything put ‘perish’ to make way for the next packet of the new…

Science has shown us that both matter and energy cannot be destroyed. We can only change the form – the organisation – of its substance. Nor can we know that substance as something separate from our own consciousness.

The I Ching is a ‘book’ of collective wisdom, drawn from truly ancient times, and refined over the centuries. One of the most insightful teachers I know refers to it as a ‘Solar Work’ and uses it, herself, to describe the inner detail of a pattern of events. She has done this for many decades and views the I Ching as a constant and reliable companion.

This ‘book’ has been condensed into 64 ‘cores’ of wisdom, rendered as hexagrams, as in the image, below. The process of consulting the I Ching is one of ‘drawing’ a randomised reference to these hexagrams and reading the wisdom it offers, at various levels of detail.

(Above: A hexagram as used by the I Ching)

You can even buy I Ching Apps for your mobile phone…. good ones, too. The best give you a choice of having random numbers generated for you or letting you throw three coins and entering the results to get the reading.

We will look at this, the consulting process, in the next post. For now, it is important to consider the idea of divination, itself…

The elements of effective divination are:

  1. To have a repeatable process of consultation – ‘looking up’ a guiding text or picture in response to a question, a feeling, or just to set a reflective theme for the day.
  2. To actively feel a connection to the external actions. In the sense of my explanation, above, to know that there is no real separation from in-here and out-there, other than what we are taught about the pre-eminence of reason over everything else.
  3. To loosen the faculty of reason and let something else speak, by way of inspiration.
  4. To open and close the process with respect… and a certain feeling of love for something that is letting us ‘touch’ another reality.

Next week, I will consult the I Ching before writing the Thursday blog. We shall see what it has to offer us in terms of describing itself!

To be continued

21 May 2020

©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 Old One and the Gatekeeper (3): non-action

37

The Dao abides in non-action but there is nothing it does not do.
When the leaders abide,
The myriad of things transform by itself;
Transformed yet desire to act,
I lead the community by not naming the simplicity of things;
Without naming the simplicity of things, thus lead to no desire;
Without desire, with tranquility,
The world correct by itself.

——-

The above is chapter 37 of Lao Tzu’s Book of the Way (Dao Je Jing) quoted from the Wikipedia Opensource project Wikisource.org. Further extracts are quoted below from the same source.

In Part One and Part Two we set the scene for the Lao Tzu’s approach to life and how to live it using the Dao (The Way). It’s a method which seems alien to the west in our so-called modern age. Perhaps the great thoughts of the world simply cycle round from age to age? One of Lao Tzu’s principle tenets is the noble art of ‘not-doing’, a concept very difficult for the western mind to grasp.

It could be said that technology’s advancement merely gives us the idea of progress. Perhaps in the heart and mind of mankind there remains the same hunger for a different truth as when the New Testament quoted Jesus as saying people should ‘turn the other cheek’.

Resistance is something we live with daily. Something happens – arises in our lives, for it has no meaning unless it affects us – and we either like or dislike it. If I like something I will want more of it; I will want to be closer to the source of it.

If I dislike something, I will want to oppose it – to arrest its motion or progress. The spectrum of my response will vary all the way to outright hatred; something currently felt by millions of people with respect to the polarised state of world politics. Such polarisation is fed by a new generation of vastly wealthy ‘disruptors’, who have seen how easily the intelligence of the public can be misfed and misled, particularly with complex economic and social topics. Fear is a reliable ally for those who have the power to manipulate…

The Book of the Way does not advocate us being passive for its own sake. Nor does it really advocate doing nothing. But it does propose a response that seems utterly radical and revolutionary: It says we should be conscious of the whole and protect the whole, while not taking a side and injecting our energies; energies that may disrupt the whole, which knows how to change its shape with the changes – no matter how powerful the villains.

(Above: Figure 2 – The wholeness of the Dao and its origination and place in the perceived world of mankind)

Consider Figure 2, above. It shows the origin of our world – really the origin of the consciousness of our world. If ‘I’ am not here then this world is not here, either. ‘A world’ may be present, but it is not the world I know, nor would I be part of it… The greater question might be: would there be an I without the world to externalise?

If ‘I’ have power to do, then I can push the pendulum towards what I consider to be evil or good. Usually, people believe they are doing good despite the opposite opinions of others. The creation is the whole cone within the diagram.

When I push the pendulum, part of the creation with a sense of ‘I’ (separateness) is altering the internal balance of the creation, but not altering the container of the whole creation. The part of the creation with a sense of ‘I’ may think it knows better than the whole of the creation, but its real duty is to be a fully conscious part of the whole – the Dao – the ‘flowing way of rightness’.

34

Implications of the Tao are broad and extensive. Ubiquitous!
Capable of contravening and swaying anything left or right.
The myriad things depend on it yet it never turns its back away,
Fulfilling without recognitions.
Submitting to the myriad things without assuming ownership,
Always undesirable,
Thus be called modest;
Submerged by the myriad things without accepting ownership,
Thus be called great.
Hence the master foregoes greatness,
Therefore is capable of accomplishing great deeds.

(source)


Lao Tzu says that there is a loving intelligence flowing in the world – in creation. This loving intelligence is always in contact with the whole of the creation. It is like saying that there is a flowing medium that is the substance of the world – a very alchemical notion – and our ‘right’ relationship to it will only be shown us when we learn to SEE it as it IS, not as an abstract and habitual picture to react to.

In the Wilhelm translation, the person who achieves that seeing is named ‘The Man/Woman of Calling”, who ‘never makes himself look great’ and thus achieves a noble goal by being in harmony with the Dao.

This philosophy has caused great confusion over the ages since it was written (six hundred years BCE). Comprehension of it is based upon an understanding that ‘not-doing’ is not doing nothing. Not-doing might be re-termed not-reacting; or waiting to see what the world does with it without our intervention – yet remaining fully aware and empathetic to what is happening.

As though we were an (as yet unconscious) intrinsic part of this intelligent and loving energy. Which just might be the truth…

There are no definitive opinions, here. We are all free to decide that the Book of the Way means for us. These are my personal views. Like the I Ching, the Book of the Way (Dao Je Jing) makes for a wonderful daily dose of radical wisdom in what seems to be a tired world… or is it?

In the next post, we will consider the nature of the I Ching and its remarkable powers of divination.

To be continued

13 May 2020

©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 Old One and the Gatekeeper (2)

The story of the Old One and the Gatekeeper told in Part One may be just that – a story. Or it may be the truth, turned into legend. Classical Chinese history places Lao Tzu as a 6th century BC contemporary of Confucius, and there are reliable records of their meetings. They were said to have great respect for each other’s work.

But, beyond his book, very little is known about the mysterious sage Lao Tzu, other than he was an imperial archivist in the outgoing Zhou dynasty in the 6th century BC.

In contrast, the story of Confucius is set (by himself) in a well-documented historical milieu. His heroes are the legendary figures of the past. In comparison with Lao Tzu who left no historical basis of his own existence, The Analects, compiled by Confucius’ disciples after his death, presents twenty volumes of work that weave their teacher’s life into China’s history.

Lao Tzu, the author of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) had no interest in such temporal things… he had other matters on his mind and in his heart. His quest was what we would now call a mystical one, and that is the reason I embarked on this difficult project – to put forward some hopefully helpful comparisons between the Book of the Way and modern mysticism. Lao Tzu is credited as being the father of Daoism, but scholars of philosophy find little similarity between his provocative and enigmatic writings and the animistic religion of present-day Daoism.

In terms of spirituality, Chinese antiquity focuses on the two great teachers Confucius and Lao Tzu. Our first posts will look at the work of the latter. Later, we will consider the part that the I Ching (Book of Changes) played and continues to play in the transmission of ancient oriental wisdom. Confucius did not create the I Ching, which was already an old and established system of divination when Lao Tzu wrote his book in the sixth century BC, but it was said he drew heavily on its for his own philosophy.

A detailed consideration of the life and work of Confucius is beyond the scope of this series of posts.

The two books: the Book of the Way and the older Book of Changes were not related and were different in their intentions. Confucius did not write the Book of Changes – I Ching – but it is considered to be far more Confucian than the Book of the Way written by Lao Tzu. There is a tendency in the west to consider the two traditions as related or even the same. But they are different.

However, the mixture of wisdom from the two sources informed Chinese thought and life for hundreds of years to such an extent that later extrapolations of meaning carry the flavour of both. The spirit of Confucianism was focussed on effective and moral behaviour, and good government. The spirit of Lao Tzu’s teachings was to step aside from traditional explanations of the world and look at it in an entirely different and radical way.

Lao Tzu was a spiritual revolutionary – though he sought no notoriety – and, in my opinion, was more similar to the much later mystical Sufis than any of his contemporaries. Tradition says he left China heading west, and is believed to have settled in India. There is no suggestion that he was instrumental in the establishment of Buddhism, which sprang from that region at the same time, but there are certain similarities of approach in how the two systems see our relationship with the world.

Nothing in Lao Tzu’s work suggests that he wanted himself to be remembered, but everything in his work is aimed at the retention of the thoughts, ideas and practices put forward in the 81 aphorisms of the Book of the Way – a set of wisdom texts that were to be consulted as such, and not used as the basis for divination in the way the I Ching was.

Richard Wilhelm, one of the most famous translators and interpreters of China’s ancient traditions, divides Lao Tzu’s translated work into three sections based on the the sage’s naming of the book, itself.

Dao De Jing translates, literally as Way-Life-Meaning

The three divisions are: The Way and The Life and then their combination, the Meaning. As a prelude we might consider two of the core considerations of the work: the nature of our relationship with the world; and, by inference, the nature of duality.

Lao Tzu’s work begins by instructing us in the nature of consciousness and the nature of its inherent duality.

Lao Tzu’s work begins by instructing us in the nature of consciousness and the nature of its inherent duality. These are necessarily subjective, as we each gain insight from the aphorisms appropriate to our understanding at the time:

The universe is undivided.

Only our way of perceiving it is divided.

Such division is necessary for us to come into the world and see it because we are of the world.

We are the world seeing itself and are capable of gradually realising our true relationship with it.

The societies into which we are born may resist our attempts to do this; and insist that we adopt the ruling dogma. This can be the hardest of tasks.

The diagram – my own – illustrates these points in terms of the establishment of duality. The universe – the whole – establishes ‘existence’: a field within which there will first be chaos. There is a purpose in the manifestation of the universe and this is served by the establishment of order over chaos. Mankind’s intelligence is expected to play its part in this task. S/he has been given a brain in order to use it in service to the universal cause, this is the primary belonging that should be borne in mind.

Mankind has been given a heart so that sympathy will be felt and become a motivator to assist others

We belong to this quest, not to our self-aggrandisment.

The One therefore divides itself, as seen from below. To itself it is whole and undivided; but chaos must now be mastered with order, with symbolic ‘light’.

The children of the One exist at their own levels, but they are also of the One and seen from above are undivided; that is, they carry the seed of greatness within them, a seed designed to germinate in the spirit of service to the group quest.

A ‘child’ looking back up at the universe sees only duality: it and the world. To see beyond this requires the intervention of the spark of the One within the child. There are certain conditions under which this will be favourable.

To be continued…

6 May 2020

©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 Old One and the Gatekeeper

The Old One crested the rise in the road and turned to look back at the land he had loved. If all went to plan, it would be the last time he saw his home.

The breeze that should have been summer-warm was cold and frigid, yet carried the warm stink of corruption. He could no longer breathe its air. He had to leave; had to find a new home for the few years that remained. The low nature of man had triumphed. Now, only nature, herself, could return the rotted civilisation to the country’s soil and make it fit for fresh seeds.

Ahead of him the final barrier to his exile loomed in the near darkness. The old tower that guarded entry and exit along the western road spanned the track, its heavy wooden gate lowered to forbid the unbidden. High up in a recess in the black stone, a single light burned. Had he been seen? The skin on the back of his head began its familiar sensation of ripples in the sand, as though an incoming tide was patterning his mind, as in the paintings he had seen of beaches…

There was no escaping the onset; in the other world, he was being eaten by the way, the path, the track… In the other world; the one that flowed over and alongside this seemingly fixed and rigid one. The one that was more real than this land of rocks could ever be.

Ahead of me a lamp in one of the high windows burns. The thought would not leave, the rippling scalp remained. Its signature was on this moment. There would be no escape from the payment demanded.

Before he could cross the short distance to the gatekeeper’s door, the heavy portal opened and a kindly face – at least as old as his – peered out, straining to see in the half-light.

“Is it you?” the voice croaked at his approach.

The Old One was startled… and began to laugh at the sentiment. Is it me, indeed?, he mused, tripping over an unseen stone by the roadside and landing in the dust at the other’s feet.

“It would appear to be me… arrived in all my diminishing glory.”

The Gatekeeper smiled down at him, extending his hand to a man he did not know, but had wanted to all his life. The Old One took it, grateful, and they came face to face.

“I saw you once, passing through the royal courts. You’re the Royal Archivist, yes?”

“I was…” The Old One replied, returning the gentle fire in the other’s eyes. Glad to be with a man he hoped would not only understand but become a friend. “Now I am nothing… and hope to stay that way…”

The Gatekeeper nodded. “Many now leave the realm by this west gate. Have no fear. My respect for you is as great as my thirst for your knowledge of the Way.” He looked down, embarrassed at what he was about to say. But the old eyes blazed with fire and resolution.

“I will give you food and shelter and in return I ask that you teach me a little of that understanding.”

“You cannot teach understanding,” the Old One said. “But I will pass to you some knowledge and we will see if you can begin the Way… for those whose first steps are firm may find the Way teaches them.”

The Gatekeeper nodded and they climbed the wooden stairs together – slowly, for the four legs had seen younger days…

——-

The warm fire smouldered in the grate. The wooden bowls contained only crumbs – and few at that. Before them, the two wooden goblets of huangjiu, the local yellow wine, lay untouched; to be savoured during the discourse to come. The Gatekeeper’s eyes were fixed on the Old One, but he said nothing to his guest, who appeared to be sleeping in his chair.

“I am not asleep,” the Old One remarked, eventually. “I am listening to the Way, and how it will approach the task of leaving you something meaningful.”

The Gatekeeper bowed and remained silent.

“Do you remember how I fell over the rock in the road?” The Old One smiled at the memory.

The Gatekeeper shook with mirth. “Solid things, rocks…”

The Old One’s head nodded. “More sense to go around it, had I seen it at all!”

The Gatekeeper was seized with a sudden depth of understanding. “And you speak, not just of that rock, perhaps Lǎoshī!”

The teacher smiled at the use of the formal name. “Good. The Way is a flow, it does not resist, for to resist is to increase the ‘me and it’ : the opposition of the situation. Action belongs to The Way, and so, in any situation, it will seek the flow by which the resistance is made small…When we are aligned with The Way, then we become it, in action – which is its own fulfilment.”

The Gatekeeper bowed his head, again, understanding. He was silent for a while, while the Old One watched. Then he asked, “How do I come to know The Way, Lǎoshī?”

“You must talk with it, Gatekeeper.” said the Old One. “You must read its thoughts and let them guide the changes in your life.”

“And how will I read those thoughts, Lǎoshī?”

“You will consult a book of its wisdom, and in that way become a Man of Calling.”

“And where will I find this book, Lǎoshī?”

“When you wake in the morning, you will find it waiting for you… Now drink your yellow wine and sleep.”

“And what will you be doing, while I sleep, Lǎoshī?”

“I will be writing the book!” said the Old One, furrowing his brows in mock anger.


When he awoke in the morning, the Gatekeeper found the Dao Book of the Way (Dao De Jing) on his table. There was no sign of his guest, whose last action was inaction – leaving no trace. No-one ever recorded meeting with Lao Tzu, (literally, the ‘Old One’), again, though many, including Confucius, had known and respected him.

In the next few posts, we will explore Lao Tzu’s astonishing legacy, beginning with some of the fundamental principles that informed his view of life, the universe and the meaning of ‘meaning’.

We will also look at the second such ‘book’ of ancient Chinese wisdom, the more familiar ‘I Ching’ – Book of Changes, and consider the process and power of divination using such treasure-chests of wisdom.

We’re all going to need access to wisdom in the coming years of turmoil – much as Lao Tzu did in the face of a collapsing society whose values had become meaningless.

30 April 2020

©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.

Shaman, viral… collective unconscious

The last time it happened, I was in Mexico, in the Mayan temple of Chichen Itza. After a long coach journey, and a beautiful swim in cold but crystal clear cenote, we had arrived at the fabled temple complex; and were lucky enough to have one the best guides I have ever encountered.

He was of the native people and described – with great gentleness – how the spirit of what happened at the city-temple complex was gradually being lost. As we were guided around the different locations in the vast complex, the day grew hotter, but the warmth seemed to take on an aliveness which fed me, rather than drained.

Minutes later I had a vivid image of a jaguar leaping from the central pyramid at me… Later the guide told the group of the importance of the Jaguar to the ancient Mayan priests.

My good friends Allan and Ann Pringle assured me this was a Shamanistic experience…. and implied that I had better get used to them. Several more followed in the heat of that day. Throughout, I felt no fatigue, although those around me were becoming visibly tired by the day.

Allan is a trained Zuni Shaman. In the same year, I had a similar experience at Uluru Rock in central Australia, while visiting my eldest son and his family. Again, there was the sense of being nourished by the heat.

Today it was a simple fire that triggered it; that and a thought I considered to be of great importance for my forthcoming Tuesday blog on Sun in Gemini – still unwritten at that point.

We have had a hard-working day, mainly in the garden. There’s not a lot of choice of location in this Covid-19 lockdown period. So, jobs that have been put off for a while are brought to the fore, and Bernie and I find ourselves putting in a long day of quite intense physical work. Our lawn has suffered over the very wet Cumbrian winter. The moss has overtaken the grass in large parts of the garden. The only cure is to scarify the three separate lawns – made simpler by a petrol-driven machine we bought a few years ago; but still a five or six hour job. We had set aside the whole day to get it done.

Extraordinarily for an English April, the sun has been beating down for weeks. Monday dawned the same. By the start of the afternoon, it was obvious that cooler weather was not coming to our aid. We began the work. It was towards the end of this very physical period of over five hours that I decided we needed a small bonfire to get rid of some of our excess cardboard and help reduce a pile of old logs that have been accumulating as we demolished earlier attempts at landscaping.

I was lighting the fire when the thought that had been in the back of my mind came again. Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, I have been having vivid dreams. Some of them have seemed to contain a message that my sleeping mind has struggled to retain. Usually, during the course of the day, these are lost to waking consciousness, but today I awoke with a clear picture of what I wanted to set down.

Over the previous week, I had noticed that other bloggers were making reference to similarly intense dreams. I believe they are all connected.

Staring into the flames of the garden fire, I recovered the clarity of my own dream. Jung spoke of the ‘collective unconscious’ – a shared place of conscious awareness which speaks to us in dreams and symbols. Throughout mankind’s history, periods of turmoil and chaos have been interpreted as being of deeper importance than just the ‘physics’ of their happening. I’m not fanciful in these matters, but I believe that it is essential that we throw off old ways of thinking. We have many crises to solve, but the old and powerful controlling forces that hold the planet’s social and economic conventions intact are resistant to change – seemingly regardless of the cost to life on Earth.

I believe that the intense dreams many are having are the seeds of the new. These will need to germinate in the collective unconscious mind until they are strong enough to break free into the ‘day-world’ of our social, political and economic lives.

When I came back to ordinary consciousness, I was still staring at the fire. The sun was setting and some time had passed. I felt at peace that the earlier dream memory had been recovered.

Time will tell if the vision is accurate or even important, but I sense a period of great change – one brought about by the breaking down of the present order of things and the fragility of our ecosystems on this beautiful planet.

There will be no escaping Earth if we get it wrong. I find the idea repulsive that, having failed to be guardians to such a beautiful place, we could escape a dying Earth to seek other hospitable planets without fixing ourselves first. There will be no second chance. We must fix things here…

Still intensely moved by this, I walked around the garden in the sunset to take a few photos that I hope express this mood… and this feeling of hope and renewal. I hope you like them.

©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.

Isolation or Soul-Elation?

Caroline Ormrod is one of the Companions of the Silent Eye working through the first year of the three-year journey towards the real nature of the individual Soul. I am delighted to be her supervisor for this process. Her brief and light-hearted bio is appended to this post. Recently, along with her weekly email ‘journal’ of progress and experiences, she sent me a short article she had written inspired by the upside of what we are all going through with the Covid-19 virus and its imposed social isolation.

(Above: Caroline Ormrod, the author of the rest of this post)

In this, she used the words ‘I-soul-ation’ (to replace isolation), and ‘In-soul-ation’ (to replace insulation). I asked if she would consider contributing it to our weekly cycle of posts here on the Silent Eye. She did this with gusto, and also provided the photographs and quotations used here.

I hope this gives the reader as much inspiration as it did me. Our thanks to Caroline for this important contribution to the Silent Eye’s Work.

Here is her article…


The Gifts of I-soul-ation and In-soul-ation

During this time of global uncertainty, we are being gifted a brief glimpse into possibilities and the wonder of the Universe.  Many of us are in isolation, insulating ourselves from the daily habits and interactions to which we have become accustomed.  Now, we are being required to slow down and reassess, to connect with and re-experience our Selves; to take into account the words of Ralph Waldo Emmerson who warns ‘But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation’. (see Ref 1, below).

(Above: Figure 1 – Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)

The act of isolation is becoming one of i-soul-ation in which ‘I’ gets to tear off the mask of our habitual being and dive down deep into that which makes the ‘I’ unique – the purpose and goal of your Essence.  Isolation is alternatively, ‘the  condition of being  alone, especially when this makes you  feel  unhappy’ and ‘the  fact that something is  separate and not connected to other things’. (Ref 2)

(Above: Figure 2 – Photo by the Author)

However, neither of these definitions is ever true.  Although we may physically be separated (and, therefore, the ‘other’ may not even exist), we are intimately connected, not only to each other, but also to the whole world and Universe, as the spread of the C-19 virus demonstrates.  Just as we cannot see the threads that connect us to each other – or even, really, see each other at all – in times of isolation, the threads are present and gifted to us, just as they are present in our connection with our Soul.  This gift of i-soul-ating is donating time, space and direction to our ultimate goal of soul-connection. 

(Above: Figure 3 Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)

We have been offered a choice here – we can buy into the propaganda which declares that isolation is horrific and we should be struggling and unhappy with the situation or we can be proactive and productive and buck that perspective by utilising this time offered to refine and condense our Selves into ourselves. 

(Above: Figure Four – Taken by the Author)

Similarly, the act of insulation, in-soul-ation, asks that ‘I’ find that which warms and comforts the Soul; in reality, that ‘I’ who finds warmth and comfort from the Soul like a big thick blanket and a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.   Insulation is ‘the act of covering something to stop heat, sound, or electricity from escaping  or entering, or the  fact that something is covered in this way’. (Ref 3)  These aspects that we are stopping are our energies, our life resources that, although they may be invisible (like the threads joining us all), are vital to our survival, not only physically, but our whole being on all levels, especially those that access hope, faith, joy and love.  By in-soul-ating, we invite our Soul to join us in our daily physical lives, to merge with the already-well-practiced physical being who feels disconnected and alone.


(Above: Figure 5 Photo courtesy of Kristie Virgoe)

We are back-end co-ordinators – and, if you are reading this, then you are too, whether you recognise it immediately or not – and we are being called to our Work at this time.  We are being offered an opportunity, not only to i-soul-ate and in-soul-ate personally and individually, but also to support the whole population of the Earth, all her beings and the larger, wonderfully expansive and giving Universe of which we are a part.  In i-soul-ation, we move inside to explore our gorgeous inner Soul; in in-soul-ation, we encompass that energy and allow it to expand into the farthest reaches of our Cosmos, insulating all.  We are being summoned by the words of George Bernard Shaw who said ‘I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can’. (Ref 4)

It is time for us to practice our own privilege.


(Above: Figure 6 Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)  

Author’s Bio:

Caroline Ormrod is an eternal student, questioning and exploring all aspects of this marvellous universe in which we live. She is proud to be a Companion in The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, having graduated from, among other things, the Servants of the Light New Main Course and achieving a Masters’ in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the Sophia Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Mother of four home-schooled young adults, Caroline enjoys spending time with her family, writing and editing and contemplating the mysteries of the Universe. During this time of i-soul-ation and i-soul-ation, Caroline is reviving her love of yoga and keeping the candle industry strong and vibrant!

Caroline lives in Canada and is currently anchoring an etheric ‘Indigo Energy Tsunami’ at 1:00 p.m. E.S.T.  to in-soul-ate the world. All are welcome to take a seat, light a candle and send prayers, love, grace and gratitude to all the beings of our planet, to our beloved Mother Earth and out into the magnificent Cosmos.

References:

[Ref 1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Essays: First Series (1841), [accessed March 30, 2020] https://emersoncentral.com/ebook/Self-Reliance.pdf p. 16. [1] (Cambridge Dictionary Online, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolation, accessed March 25, 2020).

(Ref 2) (Cambridge Dictionary Online, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolation, accessed March 25, 2020).

[Ref 3] (Cambridge Dictionary online https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/insulation accessed March 25, 2020). 

[Ref 4] George Bernard Shaw, As referenced to a private conversation with Professor Henderson and quoted in Edwin Björkman, ‘The Serious Bernard Shaw’, The American Review of Reviews (1911), 43: 425 [accessed March 30, 2020] https://todayinsci.com/S/Shaw_GeorgeBernard/ShawGeorgeBernard-Quotations.htm

©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 Echo Cafe…

‘Nighthawks’ by American artist Edward Hopper, Wikipedia Public Domain (link)

It would have been difficult to foresee the full social effects of the internet. It is now apparent that our lives have been changed, forever, in ways that are simultaneously warped and wonderful.

Being socially and politically aware was difficult enough in a pre-online world. In this new, ‘wired’ age, where perceived connections of opinion are shared across social media, the intersection of money, politics and psychological manipulation has created an entirely new ‘world’ in which groups of people live immersed in opinion which they believe to be shared by the majority of that world.

To my mind, a powerful way of visualising this is as a cafe, where we may drop in at any time of the world’s day and night. It never closes, though we may experience peak response determined by the physical location (otherwise irrelevant) of our fellow customers. The cafe does not charge entry, and its drinks and meals are free, too… It’s very popular, especially with younger people – though specific groups of oldsters are catching on, fast.

The cafe is styled to appeal to us. It may be subtle and muted or vividly angry The really great thing is that the cafe’s owners have just the same taste in texture, colour and how information is displayed as we do!

The cafe has eye-catching posters that challenge legality, or use advanced digital techniques to show famous people speaking – or, more likely, shouting, angrily. Most impressively, the posters know who is looking at them and seem to focus on their watchers very carefully, getting pleasure from knowing the highs and lows of attention paid. This is great, because each time we go in for a coffee or a burger the electronic posters get more and more interesting – sometimes anticipating that subtle opinion towards which we were edging – prompted by our mates, of course.

Soon, with a few visits, we get a real feeling of warmth and belonging when we enter this cafe. An increasing number of our new friends come to sit with us to sip the delicious coffee, with its many exotic syrups. The food is cooked exactly as we like it, and the general decor keeps being updated in a way that makes us feel entirely at home.

One of the great things about our cafe is that it doesn’t argue with us. At home, or back in the dull world of work, we are struck by how stupid other people are; how they don’t feel this rush of emotion and righteous anger when the self-evident truths shown in the cafe posters are updated on our entry into its warm interior.

It’s the Echo Cafe, of course. And a frightening number of voting-age adults eat and drink there. We all live there in some fashion, unless we have become digital monks and eschew the cafe’s delights, altogether. It’s the most powerful cafe in history, and shadowy billionaires pay vast sums to tailor the fabulous posters on its walls.

The problem with the Echo Cafe is that it only shows us what we already ‘like’… There is no plurality of opinion, because we do not want our posters clogged up with the musing of idiots. By signing up to groups, we can immediately add hundreds of new friends to our dining and coffee sessions. In a way, it’s a new kind of village – but one in which the population is millions, possibly billions.

The Echo Cafe is deadly because it’s taking our very real leisure time (upstairs in our den, say) and joining us with great numbers of people who think exactly as we do. A humans, we grew into adulthood by facing up to the challenges of working with people who thought very differently than us. Some of them were just losers. Others turned out to be profoundly intelligent and knew the side-roads we had to learn to navigate before we could join the highway, safely.

We didn’t learn much from those that thought as we did. But those that didn’t changed our lives, not our comics.

©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 (10): final resting place…

continued from Part 9

The village of Lastingham, of the southern edge of the North York Moors, was a fitting place to end our weekend – both for its mysterious wells and also on the basis that the crypt of St Mary’s Church marks the final resting place of St Cedd. Following the fateful Synod of Whitby in AD 664, Bishop Cedd returned to his beloved Lastingham, the place where he had founded his originally monastery; but tragically caught the plague and died, bequeathing the care of Lastingham to his brother, Bishop Chad – later St Chad. Chad became bishop of Lichfield shortly thereafter and had to manage his brother’s bequest from afar.

(Above: St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, in all its simple beauty…)

We have to wonder at the irony and sadness of this: first to lose (in the service of his king, Oswiu) the Celtic Christian tradition in which he had been raised since a boy; then to lose his life in one final visit to his beloved Lastingham.

Cedd was buried here, and the place of his burial in AD664 became the ground on which all the layers of the present church were constructed.

(Above: The unusual semi-circular apse of St Mary’s church contains the entire history of the building and its ancient foundations)

St Mary’s church attracts visitors from all over the world. Christian and non-Christian ‘pilgrims’ are welcomed here in a warm spirit of spiritual openness. Though not formally a Christian, I am entirely happy with the scriptural idea of Christ as the ideal and perfected ‘inner man’. I am at home in most temples of the spirit, but seldom have I felt the kind of harmonic energies that are present in St Mary’s.

There is, in the words of one of our companions of the weekend ‘Something very special here…’ And you can feel its presence in the air around you.

(Above: Ancient Celtic designs in the crypt)

The original monastery was wooden, and nothing remains of it. But the present church of St Mary’s is built upon its site, and specifically, upon the original crypt that was constructed over the location of St Cedd’s grave two hundred years after his death. This region (of what was then Northumbria) was a wild place, and lawless – possibly one reason why Cedd devoted so much of his time establishing the original monastery as a spiritual refuge for the local people and their hard lives.

(Above: St Mary’s extraordinary crypt)

After the Synod of 664, the seat of religious power moved south from Lindisfarne to York, though Whitby survived for a while, in the form of the influential Abbey whose abbecy passed from Hild to Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu, upon his death. A royal princess and later queen to Oswiu, she brought grace and dedication to the abbey in the town that would later become Whitby.

(Above: the Benedictine Abbey at Whitby)

But, the age of the Vikings was upon the land and the northern Saxon kingdoms were eventually overrun. Little is known of life here during that period and the former monastery was left to decay.

Over four hundred years later, in 1078, Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, obtained permission from no less a person than William the Conqueror to take a team of skilled monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen designed the crypt we see today and built it over the place where Cedd had been buried. Above this crypt he began to build a new abbey church, but work was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved from Whitby to the all-powerful York; there to build St Mary’s Abbey… This may have been due to the increasing lawlessness of life within the hills making things impossible for the monks.

The Lastingham Crypt deserves a post in itself, but our story of the Keys of Heaven weekend (now ten posts) has to be brought to a close.

There was a communion service on that Sunday morning. We took care to arrive after it had finished, but I hoped we would be able to meet one or two of the local team. Historic places are fascinating, but the ‘now’ contains some miracles, too. As we pushed open the heavy oak door, one of the church wardens greeted us and we were welcomed into the ‘coffee area’ of the church and urged to join the larger than expected residual group of parishioners.

(Above: The main floor of St Mary’s interior – above the crypt, but the shape of the apse walls reveals the upwards continuity of the structure)

This was my third visit to St Mary’s. The main floor of the building is special in its own right, but I knew the ‘attracting power’ of what lay beneath. Most of our companions drank their coffees then melted quietly away down the stone staircase and into the crypt. But, by that time, as leader of our group, I had not only been given ample coffee and biscuits, but introduced to a cleric in a splendid set of robes… somewhat grander than I had expected for a small village.

Bishop Godfrey is well known throughout the North York area. He has served the Christian cause all his life and is now part-retired with a special attachment to Lastingham; a place in which he feels very much at home. He asked about our group and I was honest about our affiliations and goals. He seemed delighted with our attempts at local scholarship and offered to solve my one remaining problem of the weekend…

(Above: the kindly Bishop Godfrey with Briony, one of our companions of the weekend)

Ten minutes later, happy to pose for a photo as long as someone else was in it, Bishop Godfrey waved us with his blessing down into Lastingham’s very special crypt – the final resting place of St Cedd. As I walked down the stone steps I couldn’t help but feel just a little ‘blessed’ as we finally entered the place where the mortal remains of another very special bishop were interred.

(Above: a peaceful figure in meditation…)

Most of the group had already found their bearings, and were quietly exploring the beautiful crypt. But, one figure sat in the middle of a stone pew locked in total inner and outer silence. His back was to us, and he later described how the crypt had both embraced and entranced him… exactly the effect it had always had on me.

(Above: the vaults of the crypt are filled with priceless history)

The meeting with Bishop Godfrey had made me late into the crypt and we had two important things to do. With an inner certainty, I knew that this visit was for my companions. I had done my part in bringing them here and the magical place was doing the rest. Snapping a few photographs to supplement the ones I had taken in October, I sat quietly, giving thanks that the weekend had gone well; and that we had largely achieved what we set out to do.

(Above: just across from the church – the Blacksmiths Arms)

I could see that the group were tired and in need of some lunch. Across the road from the church is the Blacksmith’s Arms, a lovely and traditional Yorkshire pub with a fine Sunday lunch menu. There are no ‘facilities’ in St Mary’s church, but Bishop Godfrey and the landlord have reached an amicable agreement. The pub displays a sign saying that those attending or visiting the church may use the pub toilets but are asked to leave a donation towards the upkeep of the church. The bishop had smiled as he told us of the monthly cheque the landlord brought him…

The lunch was wonderful… An hour later, with the afternoon upon us and time running out, we set out on the last trek – a last walk around the village to visit Lastingham’s celebrated wells.

(Above: the first well is on private property)

Space does not permit too much description, but, briefly, there are four of them. Two are set into the walls of local properties and one is in the garden of a private house near the church. None of these are currently flowing… but the fourth one – St Mary Magdelene’s well – is. The problem is that it’s well outside the village and very hard to locate. On our recce trip in October, Bernie and I had failed to discover its location, despite directions from the Blacksmith Pub’s landlord.

(Above: St Cedd’s well)

But now I was miraculously equipped with the more precise instructions from Bishop Godfrey and I could feel the ‘cogs of happenstance’ aligning.

(Above: St Cadmon’s well)

I explained to our companions that we had the chance to discover St Mary’s well in a very real way. We drove to a where the place where I had given up looking in October and I pointed out the sloping bank to which Bishop Godfrey had directed us.

(Above: Finally found! St Mary Magdalene’s well)

Within seconds, Gary – the figure in a peaceful trance in the crypt – had found it…

We stood around it in an arc and I explained the final purpose of the small empty jars given out to everyone on our opening trip to the beach, so long ago on the late Friday afternoon.

St Mary’s well is a small arch of stonework set into a stream-filled bank that leads down to the small river that flows through Lastingham. And now, as the only person with wellingtons, I needed to fill each of the jars. The only way to do it was to stretch my legs over the small valley of the spring and lean towards the stone arch, reaching down (thank you, Pilates) to fill each jar. I could hear the mental bets being taken that I would end up in the water, but reached the last jar still vertical, albeit locked into the muddy banks on either side…

(Now to try to fill the small jars…)

A set of friendly hands were outstretched in case I lost my footing, but, with one last push and the weekend’s second sound of a mired boot breaking free, I managed to reunite my legs and scramble away from the water and mud. Everyone now had a Christmas candle and a small jar of very rare St Mary’s well water to take away.

Moments later, with jars tucked safely into travel bags, we hugged and said our goodbyes. The Keys of Heaven workshop was over; and it had been a success. In silence, I drove back to Runswick Bay to collect Bernie for our promised beach walk for Tess and our extra night in the location to unwind.

Later, we would walk through the darkness to the Cod and Lobster and reflect on the weekend. But that is where our story began…

End of Series

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine This is Part Ten, the final part.

©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.

Keys of Heaven (9): blown down the mountain

The welcoming warmth of the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge

continued from Part 8

My companions of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ weekend were waiting when I arrived at the Lion Inn. We had coffee and biscuits and we discussed the options for our last day of the workshop. Everyone was looking forward to the visit to the celebrated St Mary’s church at Lastingham – the final resting place of St Cedd.

The coffee before the storm…

There was a group excitement; a buzz. Human nature responds to being ‘on top of things’ in both a physical and metaphorical sense. We had all managed to find the Lion Inn – it’s not trivial! We were at the highest point in the North York National Park, but we weren’t there just for coffee and the views. We planned to take advantage of the rich history to be found in the immediate area of the Inn, which, although completely isolated, has a site that has been occupied for hundreds of years; and contains archeology that is thousands of years old.

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(Above) Top of the world…

There are some very special pathways that cross these high moors. Some of them link ancient sacred sites, often marked by crosses that surprise with their age – over a thousand years old in some, cases… possibly a lot older in others.

Where they cross – or meet, might be a better word – they create a special place of exchange and, often, hospitality. Years pass, then hundred of years, and there becomes established a place of meeting. In a few rare cases the meeting point defies the often hostile elements by becoming a permanent building of refuge and hospitality.

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(Above) The Lion Inn – a refuge in the sky

The Lion Inn on the top of Blakey Ridge is one such. As high as you can be in the North York National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern road linking Castleton to Hutton-le-Hole. The Inn has been run by the Crossland family since 1980. Being on the highest point, it offers breathtaking views down into the Rosedale and Farndale Valleys.

The story of the inn on Blakey Moor dates back to the 16th century. During the reign of King Edward III a house and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars, who had been unable to find a home in York.. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough has two. Since that time there has always been an inn here.

We were fortunate that two of the most significant historic sites are adjacent to the inn. All we had to do was take the short walk from the Inn’s door.

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(Above) The Neolithic Burial mound of Loose Howe is next to the Lion Inn

The grave at Loose Howe (above) is a short scramble up a hillock to the east of the inn. It can be seen from the windows in the bar. Here, a Bronze Age chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin: armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn, facing the Ferndale valley, below.

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(above) Cockpit Howe

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and the Ralph Crosses (previous post) bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this pinnacle of the North York moors. The earliest history of these markers remains a mystery.

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We had a plan. Our destinations were all within a few hundred metres of the Inn – two of them much closer. The above photos (taken during our recce trip in October) show how simple it should have been…

But…

What really happened, when we stepped out of the Lion Inn on that freezing December Sunday, was this:

Loose Howe stands about twenty metres taller than the Lion Inn. By the time we had climbed half that height the winds were making it difficult to walk forward. By the time we reached the mound itself, we had to huddle or grasp the stone to stay upright.

The expressions and body language are all the narrative needed. Photo by Gary Vasey
Loose Howe – moving safely was a two-person job! The intense wind was literally tearing at our clothes.

It was no better down behind the Inn at Cockpit Howe. If anything, it was worse. The wind was so strong that it was becoming dangerous.

(Above: Even a strong figure like Gary struggled for a secure footing)

By the time we got to the third site, a marker stone a hundred metres down the Blakey Ridge road, only a handful of us were still able stand against the ferocious winds. We knew when to give up.

Our four of us made the final leg along the Blakey Road to the last standing stone…

My success crossing the bog, earlier in the morning, seemed a long time ago…. The winter had won. Our only choice was to abandon the peak at Blakey Moor and escape down the mountain, earlier than planned… However, wildness has its attractions and no-one seemed unhappy with the experience!

But fate and circumstance have a habit of ringing the changes… and continuing to do so. We retreated to the safety of the cars and, once warm again, drove – slowly – down to Lastingham,

Where the magic was waiting…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight This is Part Nine

©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.

Keys of Heaven (8): crosses at heaven’s gate

The traveller’s ancient friend: Young Ralph’s Cross

The high pass over the North York Moors is seventeen miles long and crosses the ‘roof of the world’ in the heart of the national park. You’d think twice about going there once the autumn has given way to winter. Local photos show the many times that groups of people have been stranded on the long line of its peak. In one case, in December 2010, a group of seven (two customers and five staff) were snowed in for eight days at the nearby Lion Inn that straddles the highest point on the road – a route known simply and famously as Blakey Ridge.

(Above: December 2010. Snowed-in for eight days at the Lion Inn. From the Inn’s own website)

We were arriving at this elevated meeting point – in my case, an hour early – to begin the Sunday morning of the Silent Eye’s Keys of Heaven workshop. The plan was to gather an hour later at the very top of the pass; at the Lion Inn, an historic place of refuge, and the centre of local history going back thousands of years. But, in order to create a dramatic extra experience for the group, I had something else to do, first.

You’d have to take great care if you were planning to take a group there on a weekend in early December. But, if the forecast was good, you might take the risk and gain the sheer exhilaration of being in one of the most wild and remote places you could imagine.

The local weather forecast – clear of snow and ice for our Sunday – doesn’t always show the likely winds…winds that are not an issue, twenty miles away in Whitby, but here on the roof of the world…

(Above: A schematic of the whole North York Moors National Park. Map Google
The heart of the North Yorks Moors. Locate Castleton (middle top) and trace the white road to the words ‘North York Moors National Park’. Just beyond there is the peak, and the location of the Lion Inn – our first destination for the Sunday of the Keys of Heaven workshop. Map Google.

This was my second visit to Blakey Ridge. Bernie and I had visited during our recce trip in October. The weather, then, had been cold, wet and dreary, so we didn’t linger. We had to get across the moors and down to Lastingham to check out the final location… and to find a missing sacred well! We had only a few hours to finish our planning trip and get back to Kendal in time to collect our cat from the local cattery…

Now, I was back; and back in time to do what we hadn’t had time to do on the previous visit: to find and photograph Young Ralph’s Cross

The first step is easy: you can’t miss the junction for the Westerdale road that descends into the Farndale valley to the right of Blakey Ridge. It’s marked by a nine-foot stone cross, set into a sturdy platform – the first of the ‘Ralph Crosses’ – Young Ralph’s Cross. The location of this is important, for it marks the start of a walk that will get you to the more mysterious ‘Old Ralph’s Cross’ – whose location, according to the guidebooks, is not visible from the roadway.

(Above) Young Ralph’s Cross – old, but nowhere near as old as what lies on the ridge behind it

The age of Young Ralph’s Cross is uncertain; but it likely marks the site of a much older Anglo-Saxon wooden cross from the medieval period. The presence of the older cross is referred to in folklore as ‘The Roda Cross’, meaning Rude (primitive) Cross. Folklore tells that the older, wooden cross was carved with a large ‘R’.

Whatever the origin, it is certain that Young Ralph’s Cross is an important way-marker on this ancient ‘high’ way. Sitting in the warm cabin of the car, reviewing my notes, I wondered why anyone would expose themselves to the elements in this way – on foot, or if they were wealthy – on horseback. Surely the valleys below would have been more sheltered?

My question would shortly be answered in a very graphic way…

The legends surrounding Young Ralph’s Cross are even more interesting. The most common folk-tale tells of a local farmer – one Ralph from Danby – who found there the dead body of a penniless traveller who had starved to death on his journey – only a mile from the Lion Inn – a centuries old Friar’s Inn, which, had he possessed a few pennies, could have offered him at least a meal.

Farmer Ralph had the cross made, then carved a hollow into its top. Wealthy travellers, on horseback and mindful of their own need for good fortune, would be encouraged to place a few coins there. The coins would be accessible to any poor travellers who could ‘shin up’ the cross, enabling them to buy a hot meal at the nearby inn.

Farmer Ralph vowed that the tragic death of the unknown traveller would never be repeated… and his ‘good work’ seems to have carried its own spell, though damage to the cross over the past half-century might indicate that visitors have been over zealous in their attempts to scale the nine-foot stone centrepiece…

Somewhere beyond Young Ralph’s Cross lies another, older one. To find Old Ralph’s Cross you have to take a compass bearing from its brother and cross what may have once been a side path, but is now more difficult.

Time to begin, I thought, noting that the car was moving slightly in the wind… As soon as I opened the driver’s door, I realised why the car had felt so buffeted during the half hour journey from Runswick Bay. The large door, acting like a sail, swung open in the fierce wind and I was dragged from the cabin and onto the muddy rocks of the lay-by, my arms and at least one leg in the carriageway of the road.

Shaken but undeterred (must turn that one into a one-liner…) I wiped myself clean of freezing, muddy water and crossed the road; there to take the photos of Young Ralph. I took a bearing on my phone’s compass app and set off across the moor.. with a great deal of trepidation.

“And, boys and girls, he was never seen again…”

The guidebook instructions for locating Old Ralph’s Cross advise walking in summer and with good boots. It was December, but I did have my long wellington-style boots, which were protective and waterproof. As the above photo shows, there are no paths; only joined-up gaps in the heather and bracken.

In simple terms, at least in December, it’s a bog… And I had at least two hundred metres of the stuff to traverse.

The first time one of my boots slid, mid-calf, into the mud, I thought about abandoning the quest. I turned to look back at the car – now quite distant, and the icy winds tore into me again. I reasoned that I had less distance to travel than I had come… and, slowly and noisily wrenching my boot free, carried on… mentally marking the spot and praying it was the worst such location.

And, it was then that I understood the significance of the ridge – the path, now the road… By definition, the ridge had to be made of hard material – stone. Water runs downwards from this, so the valleys below would not be as sure a path in the worst of the weather, but the ridge would alway be there. In my mind, I could see generations of travellers gripping their garments around them and trudging along this track through the day – or even night – to reach the safety of the Inn, a mile ahead.

Shortly after, my resolve to continue through the bog was rewarded by the first sight of the cross in the near-distance. The local landscape had changed – there was a new energy here… as there often is in places that are designated as ‘magical’ in some way. With growing confidence and a sense of elation, I crossed the final few metres through the bracken to stand before Old Ralph’s Cross.

(Above: Old Ralph’s Cross – the highest point on Blakey Moor)

Old Ralph’s Cross is located on Ledging Hill – the highest point on Blakey Ridge. It dates from at least AD1200 and is probably a hundred years older than that. One of the previous owners of the land, Charles Duncombe, had holdings that spanned the 40,000 acre Helmsley Estate on which Old Ralph stood. He had his initials carved onto the north face of the cross in 1708. On the top of the cross – more accessible than Young Ralph’s Cross, is another depression for coins to be left for travellers.

(Above: coins placed in the ‘bowl’ of Old Ralph’s Cross)

Testing my weight, and being as gentle as possible with the ancient stone, I pulled myself onto the plinth and smiled to see a few coins already there. Dangling in the freezing wind. but smiling, I pulled a silver coin from my pocket and placed it into the ‘bowl’. I wanted the ‘ferryman’ to oversee my safe return across the watery bog to the safety of the car.

No-one knows the origin of Old Ralph’s Cross. The symbolism of the cross is pre-Christian, but the majority of ancient stone crosses date from a period when Christianity was becoming the dominant religion. In the case of this former part of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, there were even two forms of Christianity; one of which – what we know now as Celtic Christianity – was much closer to the ‘nature-following’ paths that would now be considered pagan or druidic.

Generally, ancient crosses would supplant whatever ‘landscape marker’ was there before. These would include market crosses, village crosses, wayside and boundary markers.

A short distance from Old Ralph’s Cross I found a more recent memorial (below) – probably pagan. The beautiful flowers, newly placed, felt very symbolic of the joy of getting here…

(Above: I was not alone in viewing Old Ralph’s Cross as reverential… Near to the cross I found another, freshly tended)

The words I had drawn from the bag at our Friday meeting came back to me:

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

As the workshop’s author, I knew their significance, but there was a special resonance in this wild place. Sometimes we have to surrender to a greater will to achieve a purpose for a group. In so doing, we make the internal journey towards inner reality signified by the partial ‘path’ of the four words above.

I had hoped to bring the group here after coffee at the Lion Inn – and hence my need to find the path. I realised now that this was impossible. The dangers were too great and we could, literally, die of exposure here… We had enough before us in the local history of the Lion Inn and its historic environs (see next post) and the wonders of Lastingham on this final morning… and at least I had my photographs to share over the forthcoming coffee..

Departing, I walked around Old Ralph’s Cross one last time. It had been a very special meeting. I located the car on the horizon of the moor… lined up the two… and said a small prayer.

(Above: leaving Old Ralph’s Cross.. with a small prayer for my safe path back to the car!. The colour of the sky gives some idea of the winter temperature…)

Fifteen minutes later, grateful but frozen, I made it back to the car without sinking into the bog, again. I sat with the engine running and thought about the sheer intensity of the experience…

We were insulated travellers on this moor. Our cars remove us from the anguish and the ‘being’ of crossing its forbidding paths. What we gain in time is lost in the depth of experience – any walker will tell you this. Are we really equipped to understand the past of a landscape this dramatic?

The journey here was intended to be symbolic of that taken by Bishop (later Saint) Cedd as he walked across this moor to establish his church in the lovely valley at Lastingham. A little hardship had done me no harm at all… and, as I pulled the car back onto the old road and towards the Lion Inn, I gave thanks to whatever ‘spirits’ had guided my feet in that treacherous place.

Ahead of me, my Companions of the Keys of Heaven weekend would be gathering by a warm fire for coffee and biscuits to begin our final day.

The Lion Inn’s fire is always lit during working hours. It awaited me…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven this is Part Eight

©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.