The Sun, the Lion and the Ashes

(Above: The beautifully restored town of Arras in northern France)

We are in northern France, visiting relatives that were only re-discovered three years ago, after an eighty years gap… My paternal grandmother was the youngest sister of an elder brother (also Stephen) who survived the horrors of WW1, married a French girl and eventually settled near Calais.

(Above: North-West France, with Arras highlighted bottom right)

When France was overrun, the Nazis wouldn’t allow Stephen to take his family back to England and, eventually, contact was lost… He escaped arrest because his adopted craft of running a local bakery – which his wife’s family had taught him, was a ‘protected’ occupation and so, apart from being watched, periodically, he was left alone. 

His frequent assistance to the Resistance went undetected, or his fate would have been very different…

Today there are two branches of our once-lost family: one in Calais (the Duffys – after my great uncle) and the other in Lille (the Bertaloots) near the Belgian border. For the first few days of our trip, we are staying with the family in Lille. Nearby is the small city of Arras, an ancient Roman town whose last-century history is dominated by the First World War. The damage to the town, and the magnificent reconstruction undertaken by the local people faced with the devastation of their home is the basis and the inspiration for this post.

We; the Tanhams, the Duffys (Stephen’s surname) of Calais and the Berteloots of Lille have become good friends – indicated by the fact that these lovely people have taken two days off work to show us around a couple of the places we asked to see.

(Above: Late January afternoon in Arras)

Returning to WW1, the ‘Battle of Arras’ was fought in May 1917, as a joint operation between general Haig – at odds with his Prime Minster, Lloyd George – and the senior French commander, General Neville. The French forces dominated this part of the war’s front and it was Haig’s job to support them.

The French plans proved over-ambitious and Haig’s forces suffered heavy casualties for little gain, though four divisions of the Canadian army combined to take the important Vimy ridge. The nearby town of Arras was largely destroyed during the shelling. 

Following the Armistice in November 1919, hostilities ceased and the battered French citizens set about the huge task of rebuilding their city…

(Above: Arras as it looked after the devastation of WW1. From a photo in the town hall. There was nothing I could do to escape the reflection in the glass!)

I found the photos of the post-war ruins poignant and relevant to current British politics.

Recently, the same people who drove the ‘Brexit’ process turned their backs at the opening session while a dignified European Parliament looked on in disbelief. The same people, still funded by the EU, now want to have London’s Big Ben strike out the chimes of Britain’s official ‘leaving date’ at the end of January in a show of jingoistic pride… one could hardly write a novel to match the recent events, but we would be unwise to consider this fantasy… nightmare, maybe.

For me and people like me, they have created a similar devastation in the minds and hearts of the half of Britain’s population who wished to remain part of the united Europe that emerged from the ashes of blitzed London and shelled Arras. 

(Above: a Canadian sculpture representing a country’s sorrow after war)

Fascism is innate in human nature. The school bully is a fascist, recruiting the weak and unthinking to a cause of personal glory which elevates his or her ego above any common cause of progress. By doing this, he finally exists… However, the emotionally settled child, perhaps growing up in a good family, knows that their existence must be balanced with the needs of a wider circle of caring humans.

What is little considered is that the dictator-fascist is only a school bully… and that sustained courage will unseat them.

(Above: the restored town hall of Arras)

Arras emerged from its ashes when its people rejected the devastation bequeathed to them by the madness of privileged ego. Everyone came together to rebuild the town; and the collective consciousness of that town recreated the ‘extravagant gothic’ style of each house and shop, street by street. 

(Above: inside the restored town hall of Arras)

A little-known fact is that, from the 17th century, it was obligatory for anyone building a new house in Arras to submit a copy of the plans to the town hall. It was the possession of these plans that enabled Arras to emerge, accurately, from the devastation of the war that exploded like a volcano around it, to reconstruct what it had been… Its past, with all its art and tolerance was documented.

(Above: the mother figure – The female Elder – at the Vimy Ridge monument to WW1 Canadian soldiers. She stares down at her empty womb…)

The process of war via fascism – all war and all fascism – is, for me, perfectly symbolised by the nearby Vimy Ridge monument. This startling sculpture by Canadian artist Walter S. Allward rises high above the ridge-line at Vimy – a place where eleven thousand Canadian soldiers were killed in order for the ridge to be taken back from the Germans.

(Above: the father-figure – the Elder – rakes his skin in anguish)

I intend to write a post dedicated to this moving monument and reveal some of its intricately-wrought emotional detail. For now, here is a glimpse of two of the figures that are revealed when you pass through the anguish of the parents and into the actuality of the war as it happened before their loss…

(Above: the process of war; its participants and victims. The downward facing side of the Vimy Ridge monument – the subject of a future post)

To conclude, let’s go back to the title of the blog: The Sun, the Lion and the Ashes.

(Above: the Lion has always been one half of the story of Arras)
(Above: the sun-symbol of Louis XIV – part of the identity of all the towns in this region of France. This example is from the Vaubon-designed Citadel at Lille)

We can all find ourselves the wrong side of how we think things should be. The views above are my own and do not necessarily represent anyone else in the Silent Eye School. What is important is how we react to the ‘ashes’ of our perceived world. If, like the people of Arras, we have ‘documented’ what be believe to be vital in our world, we will be able to begin again in the new circumstances secure in the knowledge that we brought the best of it with us.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye school of consciousness, a distance-learning organisation that operates on a not-for-profit basis to help people deepen their life experiences without fluff and with personal supervision. You can find out more about the Silent Eye by clicking here.

A prospect of Whitby (3) – Touching the Sun

(Above) Touching the Sun…

There’s something ‘monumental’ about planning to be high on the vast moorlands of the North Yorkshire National Park at the end of the first week in December. Yet that is exactly what we’ll be doing on the Sunday morning of the ‘Keys of Heaven’ workshop on the start of the workshop’s final day – weather permitting.

If it doesn’t, there’s a plan B…

Bridges and pathways…. I wrote earlier about how bridges are significant; how they divide and unite at the same time. That theme of division and unity are the twin poles on which the Silent Eye’s Whitby weekend is based. Its very topical for Britain at the moment – possibly so for the USA, also…

Pathways are significant, too, as any walker will tell you. The work done by centuries of previous walkers is reflected in the path before you – a ‘way’ made possible by their persistence against an often hostile landscape.

There are some very special pathways that cross the 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.

(Above) A warm welcome awaits…

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 that defies the often hostile elements by become a permanent building of refuge.

(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 Yorkshire National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern linking the coast to Hutton-le-Hole. It 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 history of this highest point on Blakey Ridge has been known to travellers since man first set foot here. We are fortunate in that three of the most significant sites are within a short walk of this very special place.

(Above) The Neolithic Burial mounds just behind what is now the Lion Inn

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn which we shall visit after our morning repast. The grave at Loose Howe can be see from the East window in the bar, where a  Bronze Age Chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin, armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

(above) Cockpit Howe

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 (see below), who had been unable to find a home in York and received this land for the building of an oratory and other buildings. 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 having at least two.

A Mendicant (‘living in the community’) Friar (image Britannica)

The order of Crutched or Crossed friars (Fratres Cruciferi) was a mendicant order whose origins are unknown. Despite having their own buildings, Friars from Mendicant religious orders lived and worked among those they served – usually the poor. They claimed a middle-eastern foundation in the 1st century AD, but were later reconstituted in the 4th century in Jerusalem. Time has not allowed me to look into possible Knights Templar or Knight Hospitaler links (with deliberately obscured origin) but this would bear investigation, especially given their medical work – their properties usually comprised a hospital and a chapel.

Historically, they were known in Italy in the 12th century, when Pope Alexander III gave them a constitution and rule life similar to that of the better known Augustinian order. In England, the order first appeared in England at the synod of the diocese of Rochester in 1244.

We need to consider also the proximity of Lastingham, which will be our final visit of the weekend. This Celtic Christian church was established in the 7th century, prior to the polemic Synod of Whitby. More on this will be discussed in our final blog, prior to the worskhop.

The Crossed Friars were not a large order in England, but they established houses at Colchester, London, Reigate, Oxford, Great Weltham and Barnham (Suffolk), Wotton-under-Edge (Gloucestershire), Brackley (Northamptonshire) and Kildale (Yorkshire). The order seems to have disappeared in the 15th century, possibly because of Henry VIII’s dissolution of monastic orders.

Returning to the more recent history of the Lion Inn, around 1750, local farmers from Commondale, Danby, and Fryup established a market on the site to sell surplus corn to horse breeders and stable owners from the more prosperous Rydale area,

In the 19th century, the newly established iron mines brought increased custom to the Inn. The arrival of the motor car opened up the moors to visitors, and the age of the modern Lion Inn was begun.

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and ‘Ralph’s Cross’ bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this the highest point on the North York moors. Much of its earliest history remains a mystery.

But… stand on the edge, looking down into the twin valleys and ‘feeling’ the inherent spirituality of the peak, and some of that ancient mystery becomes self-evident.

Our Sunday morning begins with a small challenge for those attending… locating and getting to the Lion Inn! So much easier by car than the hours or, more likely, days of walking that ancient visitors had to make to get to this point. Once there, we will gather for morning refreshments and to discuss the final day of our weekend.

We will also consider the ease with which we achieved the ‘climb’ and reflect on the dedication of those pilgrims whose journey was less opulent – such as the journeys by foot of St Cedd; Bishop Cedd as he was then, in the days when he travelled through his ‘diocese’ in this bandit-infested and lawless region of intense winter hostility…

Following our visit to the Lion Inn and its historic ridge, we will descend into the nearby valley to begin our visit to our final location: the magical church at Lastingham… and its wonderful and mysterious crypt…

Lastingham… our final journey

To be continued…

Details of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ Weekend

Places are still available. Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com

To be continued…

©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 Moment that Teaches

Most people who venture into the mystical encounter it before too long – that momentary sense of the world dropping away and an intense silence taking centre stage. In that silence is a new perspective which does not belong to the subjective, reasoning consciousness.

I think of it as the ‘moment that teaches’.

It is to be sought after as though it were gold. We will not find it by normal methods of analytical reason. The brain cannot reason beyond what it already knows, in some form. It can re-assemble the pieces, but the ‘moment that teaches’ comes into the consciousness whole.

That very sense of wholeness describes it as something other. Other, in this sense, means originating from a place not inside the usual stream of consciousness. The new perspective owes nothing to memory – other than the ability to try to communicate it – like this blog. That very act is doomed unless the receiver; the reader has, at some point in their lives, been ‘touched’ in this way by their own silence talking to them…

It is a natural condition that societal forces have obliged us to put to one side in favour of analytical reasoning. I’m not one who advocates disparaging the brain or its reasoning. It is a magnificent organ of consciousness that has taken millions of years to evolve. It makes sense of the billions of sense impressions available to us every second. Learning is largely a process of diminishing this flow of possible events – thereby avoiding madness and also creating a reliable picture of our world in which we can ‘not bang into things’ as a good friend of mine summarised recently.

In doing this, and allowing us to communicate the essential elements of our existence, the brain serves its purpose. It keeps us alive, and alerts us to potential and real danger. Potential danger can become anxiety, something whose collective danger I suspect we are learning society-wide as we wrestle with the moral foundations of our western lives… and the nature and value of truth.

Beyond morals lie values. And these come from a world which is not based upon logic but upon inspiration – seeing with different eyes. Each element of a moral code has at some time come into existence in the human consciousness as a spark of deeper knowing. It is seen to be ‘right’ and that rightness is grabbed, grasped and remembered by a mind opened to the entry of what mystics call ‘the higher’. The extracted facts can be passed on for contemplation Bearing witness to the truth of the revelation can only exist in the personal consciousness.

The higher speaks to us when we learn to listen to its silence. It speaks to us in moments that teach.

In the Silent Eye’s cycle of three ‘landscape’ workshops each year, we try to provide a formula of experience and place which has the greatest chance of allowing the entry into our lives of such a moment that teaches. Sometimes we do this by being in a place that has a vibrational history of the sacred. Sometimes we do it by being in an ordinary place that we psychologically ‘dress’ in the collective imagination to be somewhere different.

Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have a combination of real history and real sacred place around which to spin a special tale -based on the truth. Such a place is the internal space of Whitby Abbey, the location, in AD664, of the Synod of Whitby.

We will go into the detail in the coming weekend and in the blogs that follow, but in brief, the Synod was the place in which Saxon Britain’s most powerful king – Oswald (Oswiu in old English) set in motion a ‘court of learned opinion’ that would determine some very key elements of how Christianity flourished in the future.

Two streams of Christianity operated side by side in the seventh century. One we know a as Roman, the other Celtic. Celtic Christianity, as practised by King Oswald himself was a descended from St Patrick’s ‘conversion’ of Ireland, through the monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona and to the establishment of the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast.

A local man gave his four sons to the care of the monks at Lindisfarne. Two of them excelled in their work and became Bishops. One of them was summoned by King Oswald to carry out what we would now call the ‘facilitation’ of the competing ‘learned opinions’ of the synod.

Our deliberations are made more complex by the fact that King Oswald’s beloved queen was also a Christian, but of the Roman faith – established in Britain by Augustine and gathering momentum as the Pope pushed for consolidation of belief in an important outpost of his religious world view. Husband and wife were therefore on opposite sides of the debate… or were they?

One of the young bishops from Lindisfarne was Cedd – later St Cedd. He had risen to fame and religious prominence by the force of his intellect, and his religious devotion – learned from the Celtic Christian monks on Lindisfarne, only fifty miles north of Whitby.

The man who became St Cedd is the psychological focus of our weekend; and in the story of the last year of his life, we will trace our own footsteps – spiritual and physical, across the former landscape of Northumbria, a place that is now the beautiful county and coastline of North Yorkshire.

It begins on a Friday in December, when Bishop Cedd arrives, via the near two-hundred steps, at the Abbey of Whitby. He has a heavy heart, but knows that his duty to his king must be at odds with the only life he has every known. And he also knows that duty must come before all else, regardless of the effect it must have on everything he has always loved.

Cedd knows what he shouldn’t… and is powerless to act upon it.

In that decision, he opens himself to the moment that teaches… And we will try to follow…

The Keys of Heaven: in the footsteps of St Cedd takes place on the weekend of 6-8 December, 2019 in Whitby and surrounding region. Come and join us in the mind and heart of the man who became history’s St Cedd.

Whitby is the location for our next weekend. Above is a taste of the opening day (Friday 6th December, 2019)… a few places are still available. You can click here for our website’s events page.

©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 Landscape that Teaches

When we were creating the Silent Eye’s mentored correspondence course, we envisaged a three-year journey through a mental, emotional and spiritual landscape which would evolve as the Companion’s learning and depth of ‘being’ increased.

This landscape was to be internal – an active, meditative experience, whose presence would extend into the daily life as learning of true cause and effect deepened, and different aspects of modern living were brought into powerful harmony. In the true and ancient meaning of the word, this would become a very magical journey.

Lately, we have begun to re-examine the idea of actual landscapes being used as teaching aides; not passively, but inviting – invoking – them to work with the noble intentions of the workshop in question.

I’ve been to many workshops over the years. Many of them were good. Some of them were very good. Two or three were life-changing…

What’s the difference?

Good ones were well structured; you had a clear idea -going in – of what would be taught and what effort you would have to put in if you wanted to succeed. What was success in this context? Success has to be ‘something added’ to your life; possibly an additional skill, something to be dropped into that ‘kit bag’ that is us; a bit like the tarot Card of the Fool (below), striding, unafraid, into the morning of Life with a little dog nipping at his heels and his few important possessions slung over his/her shoulder…

Tarot image Wikipedia – Public Domain

Very good workshops were those in which you discovered that, whatever you thought in the first few minutes, it deepened way beyond that as the agenda developed. This might have been the appropriateness of the subject matter, or even the approach of the teacher.

A workshop that is life-changing is one in which the attendee immediately feels at home with the event and the inner process of the teaching – generating a hunger. That sense of ‘coming home’ is difficult to pin down, but deepens with each stage of the event.

Why this happens may not be apparent in the early stages; indeed I’ve been to a couple of such weekends where I still don’t know how that sense of sheer magic was created… But I know it was. And the fact that the memory still generates a sense of wonder, years later, shows the power they had.

‘Let go and get out of the way’…

It’s a deeply mystical insight, and it may have a lot to do with the life-changing workshops. There’s an enigma at work, here: you have prepare the ‘skeleton’ of the event in sufficient detail for it to be viable. At the same time, the structure and keys of the weekend should only be the ‘tinder that lights the greater fire’. When this works, it’s obvious that something is happening beyond the planning and the preparation. It is as though an intervention is taking place that broadens and deepens a kind of group presence…

In the Silent Eye, this is what we aim for; that the landscape, itself, becomes the teacher, gradually aligning and moving forward each person to the degree that they are able to be receptive to it. More blogs will follow as we develop this theme.

Whitby is the location for our next weekend. Above is a taste of the opening day (Friday 6th December, 2019)… a few places are still available. You can click here for our website’s events page.

©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.

A prospect of Whitby (1) The Abbey at the centre of time

Above – A Prospect of Whitby Abbey from West Cliff

The title’s cheeky… Bram Stoker created Count Dracula of Transylvania and had him come ashore at Whitby in a ship named The Prospect of Whitby. We’ll not be talking much about Dracula in our coming weekend workshop; we’ve got enough to contend with considering the truth…

There are many ways to approach the centre of Whitby, but only one to truly approach its heart… In the opening shot the phone camera is straining at the maximum of its zoom abilities, but at least generates a clear image across the considerable distance from West Cliff. Here we stand, not far from where the car is parked, and excited to be back here here after a gap of fifteen years.

The right of the image shows the key detail: the wide, winding steps ascending from the bustling streets to the ancient ruins of Whitby Abbey. Even from this distance – which is across the mouth of the estuary – there is a feeling of sheer importance about that far place… Something of immense significance happened there, and it’s our job to consider it fairly and reasonably without too much emotion… and then turn it into the basis of a deliberately emotional workshop that will involve both heart and mind – and the undoubtedly freezing winds of a December weekend on the famously cold north-east coast of Yorkshire.

(Above) An edited photo of the town map showing (red mark) where we are at West Cliff; and (green marker) where we’re going (The Abbey). The nature of ‘approaches’ is symbolic and important.

To help with that objectivity, I am doing my prep visit with my wife, Bernie, who is an historian by training… and is also a Catholic. I’m not a Catholic. I was raised in a Rosicrucian family which fell foul of the local Church of England vicar in a small Lancashire village… but that’s another story. The important thing is that, between us, we can be objective about the religious importance of Whitby and what happened here…

Fourteen hundred years ago…

We take one last look across the bay before beginning our descent into the town. It’s a bit like a mystical view of a life – seen before birth and imagined as a final glimpse of the whole before you become in-volved and begin the evolution that the individual life brings within the necessarily different existence of the gritty details…

(Above) Captain Cook was here…

Entering the grassed area at the top of the West Cliff steps we noticed an image of Captain Cook. Although not born here, he began his marine training in Whitby, aged eighteen, as an apprentice to the master of a local ship: John Walker. For the next nine years he served aboard cargo ships between London, Liverpool, Dublin, The Netherlands, and the ports of Norway and the Baltic. In the course of this, the gifted James Cook rose from apprentice to mate, developing skills that would enable him to become a master-mariner and lead his world famous voyages of discovery.

The significance of this to our forthcoming weekend is not lost on us as we walk down the steep hill. The steps become a winding road, and the road becomes the harbour that was the home of Fishburn’s yard. Fishburn’s produced all four of the Collier-class ships used by James Cook; including the famous Endeavour.

(Above) Captain Cook is celebrated with marine replicas, too…

In the broadest sense, a ship is a container…

The makers of such soul-carrying containers bear a great responsibility: to ensure they are fit for the passage of time, events and circumstance in which a group of people will travel. Our coming weekend bears little relation to Cook’s epic journeys; except in this regard: that if we make it a fitting vessel, it will serve the consciousness-deepening goals of the workshop with integrity.

“We should begin, then…” I say as we start to walk along the harbour’s quayside. Bernie gives me that look and smiles, knowing I’m about the launch forth into one of the pivotal statements for the coming workshop. “It’s not sufficient to say that the Christianity of the Anglo Saxons resembled two armies that met from north and south to meet at a battle named The Synod of Whitby – in AD 664..”

She inclines her head. Not used to such a fair-minded opening. “Mmmm… Whereas the truth is?” she asks.

“Whereas the truth is that both Celtic Christian and Roman Christian faiths were interwoven from region to region across Saxon Britain and no-one made much of a fuss about it till King Oswald (Oswiu) responded to his wife in the matter of settling the date of Easter!”

“Which was important because…?” She’s taunting.

“Which was important because he followed the Celtic Faith and she followed the Roman, which meant that when he was feasting she was fasting…”

I continue. “And, as King of Northumbria, he was the most powerful monarch in the Anglo Saxon world.

“Quite!” she says, then, “Look – fish and chips ahead… The famous Magpie Cafe… with the usual queues.”

The celebrated Magpie ‘fish and chips’ Cafe – perhaps the Friday night of the weekend?

The sudden switch reminds me that Whitby’s like that… From the deeply historic and serious to the frivolous in an instant. I look around and wonder if a Goth from the adjacent festival might rush us and offer something outrageous.

The swing bridge and then the lovely ‘Whitby jet’ jewellery shops await, on the way to the Abbey steps, but, first, we need something to eat. Breakfast was meagre and a long time ago. We can do fasting when we need to… but in Whitby the temptations are just too good…

St Mary’s Church and the Abbey await.. but it’s a long way up and we haven’t eaten yet

Across the harbour, the East Cliff looms over the town like an old guardian. But our own pilgrims will need refreshments upon their arrival on the Friday lunchtime of the weekend, so the body-not-soul research, trivial though it is, must be done before we make the climb.

To be continued…

©Stephen Tanham 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.

‘Burn after visiting…’

He sat in the old cinema in Bolton, clutching the arms of the once-silky, faded red seat as John Barry’s James Bond theme started, accompanied by the huge screen showing the dark grey rifled barrel of the would be assassin trying to shoot our hero… and being killed by a turning 007, whose gun, though smaller, was quicker.

The ‘ladies’ gun’ Beretta said it all as far as I was concerned. Agile, stylish and highly concealable… It could almost have been the symbol of new and 1960s Britain in a post-colonial world, finding its place in a Europe that had changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years.

For me, age ten, the awareness of most of that came later. At the time, it was just attraction.

Heady stuff. I’ll swear my skin is taking on a thin sheen of excitement just remembering it…

Dum….dum… dum, dum… ding, digger ding, ding, ding, ding….

Utterly unmistakable, heart pumpingly ravishing… the entry to a new, faster and more exciting life. For the two hours of the film, at least…

And the Aston Martin DB5? (Image from eBay – thank you) Wow… had one for Christmas. Wore the ejector seat to a frazzle. Everyone I hated got shot out of that roof. Never did get round to getting the real thing…

See, look… you can tell by the regret in that smile.

So, other than a bit of self-indulgent time travel, what’s this all about?

We’re at Berlin’s Spionage museum. A modern, hi-tech ‘experiential’ place that’s dedicated to the history of spying and its gadgets.

Although it is based on the Cold War era, it’s for children of all ages, and at least half those present are reliving their youth, if not childhood, like me.

Most of the museum is about other things than 007, but the Germans of this fine city have given over a lot of the final hall to our British hero. Ironic, really, when we seem hell bent on leaving behind such international friendship; especially in Berlin, a city with a bitter history of ‘walls’.

The Deutsches Spionage Museum, to give it its full name, is in Potsdamer Platz; one of the main hubs of this spread-out metropolis. The black and white photo above (from the Sony Centre’s own notice boards) shows what was left of the once-vibrant district at the end of the war, after the bulldozers had cleared the rubble.

Like the rest of Europe, it rose from the ashes of WW2, assisted by credit from the USA’s Marshall Plan. In more recent times, the Sony Centre (above) became one of the largest modern construction projects in Europe. It opened in 2000.

Berlin is no stranger to spying. The act of dividing it between the British, American, French and Russian powers at the end of the war placed it at the frontier of what was to become the Cold War. A continued exodus from east to west Germany resulted in the (literally) overnight creation of the Berlin Wall on the 13 August 1961.

Families, businesses and lives were suddenly divided, in some cases for decades, as the wall reached nearly a hundred miles in length and cut off West Berlin, completely…

The Cold War years saw an escalation of spying and its associated technologies. The museum highlights many of these, but begins with the ancient principles of encryption.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, devices have been used to convert one message to another. The museum shows different tools in use in the ancient world, including the use of a belt wrapped around an exactly sized stick so that a different message was revealed by the spiralling text. Anyone not possessing the correct stick would not get the correct message.

One of the early manual coding devices was the use of a ‘slide-rule’ mechanism that allowed a fixed set of small windows (the black piece above) to reveal a hidden message from the set of variable sliders on which it sat. There were hundreds of black ‘master-pieces’, so decoding such messages without the right key was practically impossible.

In the 20th century, communication had ceased to be by courier and was almost always electronic. The exhibition shows several of the earliest portable radio sets – which were an essential part of the Allies’ work behind the lines.

Some of the early military sets had a degree of security encoding within them.

The combination of radio communications and encoding led to the famous German Enigma Machine.

The Enigma came in two versions: one for command transmission, the other for field interpretation. Variable rotors were used to give millions of combinations without the operators being involved in the encoding.

It’s appropriate to be writing this (though entirely accidental) in a hotel room in Berlin on the day that the Bank of England have announced that Alan Turing – the mastermind that cracked the Enigma and went on to establish much of what became Britain’s computer science sector – is to be the new face on the £50.00 note. Richly deserved and long overdue…

But spying wasn’t only about sending secret messages. It was also about taking photographs.

In an age before digital processing, the race was on to produce smaller and better cameras that could be concealed and which would operate reliably in low-light situations, if necessary.

Sometimes, images were taken using concealed lenses designed to be integrated into buildings. East Germany and the Soviet spymasters led the field in this

And not just images, but sound also needed to be recorded. The development of advanced recorders for this market led on to great advances for the general use of sound recording, such as this Nagra SNS recorder in a briefcase – revolutionary at the time and subsequently a standard in quality and portability.

Of course, weaponry features in the tech needed by spies. Sometimes that takes an unexpected form. This Russian ‘frogman’ is equipped with an underwater ‘scooter’ and a bomb…

We visited the Spionage on a day when the museum was filled with children, so many of the interactive visits were crowded and unavailable. We left them to it, remembering, fondly…

Finishing off with a friendly look at our own James Bond, we settled for a coffee.

Directly outside the museum there is a single stretch of the Berlin Wall remaining. It’s popular for visitor photographs.

The place of the actual wall is marked by a line of twin cobbles that runs through the whole city; ensuring that the hateful wall is never forgotten and ensuring that Berlin always remembers its post-Nazi dedication to peace and international diplomacy.

We wish it well. It’s one of our favourite cities.

The hated wall fell in 1989. West Germany had a long-standing plan to reunify the country and set about it immediately – regardless of the cost.

©Stephen Tanham

Blue Europa

Through ancient winter streets I trod

My collar tight and scarfed below

In February’s Ghent, where waits

For travellers who’ve seen it all, a shock:

A vivid blue on winter water show

Reminding us that in this place

Though old beyond our knowing

Is found a will of restful blue

A lesson, then, for those whose fear

And hatred is their only growing

Blue birds of light in howling winds

May quiet reflection be your song

Drink deep Europa’s peaceful art

Bid those who ride the bull to war,

Become blue children who belong.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

Pilgrims of blood and stone

Castles 25Jul Rose and Warkworthv1

The blood: the Life that flows through us, taken in as breath, fresh each second, flowing out to be renewed in the world of nature; natural, given.

The stone: the fixed structures we rely on to ensure persistence of that life-force made flesh. The riddle, the contradiction – the mystery… beginning with that most profound and persistent structure: the body…

There is no more beautiful a coastline in which to explore the mystery of our being than Northumberland. The beaches are wonderful, the climate is usually mild late into the Autumn. The mellowness of September will be perfect.

This former Kingdom in its own right is rich in history; ancient and modern. Yet, it remains unvisited by most. Look on a map and you’ll see how it’s lovely hills and coast form a separate realm between England and Scotland.

Northumberland from Google
( Image above: Northumberland – an ancient Kingdom between England and Scotland. (Google Maps))

The castle or the fortified tower is capable of being used as working symbol of the way we guard against life; and Northumberland is full of such treasures. They mirror its history, from the ancient political and religious roots to its lawless centuries when gangs – land pirates – roamed, unchecked, in the times of the Border reivers.

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(Image above: the fortified Tower – about which, more later….

Pilgrims have always come this way, drawn by the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. We, too, will be drawn towards its mysterious and ancient shores, the birthplace of English (Celtic) Christianity. But, before we make that last odyssey across the causeway (or sands, for the adventurous) to that final island of the soul, we will make other journeys along the edge of the land, journeys that use coast and castle to explore the seemingly contrasting nature of survival and spirituality.

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(Image above: the castle on the far point of Lindisfarne. Taken from the Tourist Information board)

Day One: Friday 14th September, 2018

To begin our journey as pilgrims of blood and stone, we will gather, in the late afternoon, of Friday 14th September, in the lovely village of Bamburgh – home to the world famous castle of the same name. The Victoria Hotel will host us for tea, coffee and cakes while we make introductions, meet old and new friends, and discuss the plans for the weekend ahead.

(Image above: The Victoria Hotel, Bamburgh village – our Friday meeting place)

Bamburgh village - 1 (1)

After this, we will do what pilgrims have always done; we will walk, in essence, beginning the symbolic part of our journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. One of the finest beaches in Britain is a few minutes away from Bamburgh village, and we will continue to set the scene by strolling and considering the splendour of Bamburgh Castle, seen from the shore.

Castles 25Jul Bamb darkening X

During the walk, we will share thoughts and readings on the themes generated by the idea of Castles of the Mind – our name for this Walk and Talk workshop. We will ask the first of several questions, questions designed to shape the weekend from an emotional and spiritual perspective. All our answers will be unique; there is no right or wrong, they simply reflect our experiences and our aspirations.

The geographic base for our weekend is the lovely fishing harbour of Seahouses. We will retire there after our beach walk at Bamburgh

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A stroll around the harbour will help us work up an appetite for that most important ingredient of any trip to Seahouses: their world-famous fish and chips. Other dishes are available…

To finish our Friday, we will retire to one of several sea-facing pubs to relax. Tomorrow will be a busy day…

Castles 25Jul EndDayOneV4X

Day Two: Saturday 15th September, 2018img_1174To begin the Saturday, we will drive the short distance to Bamburgh Castle and tour this famous landmark, known as the King of Castles. Bamburgh is the royal seat of the kings of Northumbria and is still a family home–though no longer to kings… The admission price is £11.00 per person and, as with the entry fee for other locations, is not included in the Silent Eye’s booking fee.

The guided tour will tell the story of Bamburgh’s many incarnations over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon Royal palace to its reconstruction in the Victorian period by inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong; to whom it was the vision of a perfect castle. From the guidebook:

“Our vast and imposing walls have witnessed dark tales of rebellion and bloodshed, spellbinding myths, millionaire benefactors and ghosts who love Bamburgh Castle so much, they never want to leave.”

After this, ghosts permitting, we will take refreshments in the cafe, then gather on the ramparts overlooking the sea and consider the second of our discussion questions:

We will then drive a few miles south, along the coast, to arrive at the beautiful fishing village of Craster.

Craster is very compact, and easily explored. A short walk up the hill is the Jolly Fisherman pub, famous for its seafood dinners and ‘light’ lunches.

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This will be followed by a relaxed walk along the dramatic cliffs of the coastline between Craster and Embelton.

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A twenty minute walk will take us to the haunting ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle, which stands on a remote headland. Dunstanburgh became a key stronghold during the early fourteenth century; a tumultuous period in English history. Relations between King Edward II and Earl Thomas of Lancaster had broken down. Earl Thomas had begun the construction of the castle in 1313, very possibly as a provocative symbol of his opposition to the King. The Earl mounted a rebellion, but, when it was defeated by King Edward’s forces, he was arrested before he could reach the safety of his intended fortress.

Earl Thomas was executed in 1322. Dunstanburgh Castle passed, eventually, to John of Gaunt, who used it to defend against the Scots, converting the twin-towered gatehouse into a keep. During the Wars of the Roses, it was the scene of two sieges and eventually fell into Yorkist hands. Today, it survives as an impressive ruin, but visitors speak of how its ‘presence’ lingers in the memory….

Dunstanburgh Castle is operated by English Heritage, with reciprocal honouring of  National Trust memberships. Admission is £5.40. Concessions are available.

At Dunstanburgh, we will consider our third question, then, we will drive a few miles east, to visit one of Northumberland’s least-known historical gems: the Preston Pele Tower at Ellingham.

Northumberland, has a bloody history; largely because of its position as one of two border counties between England and Scotland. Few places convey the vivid fear and caution of the past as well as the Preston Pele Tower. The tower is owned by Major Tom Baker Cresswell and is privately managed. It was constructed in the 1390s when warfare between Scotland and England was at its height. At the time of the battle of Agincourt, there were 78 such pele towers in Northumberland. Among its owners was Sir Guiscard Harbottle, who was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513 – the conflict that brought Mary, Queen of Scots to the Scottish throne.

By the 16th century, the rest of England was enjoying peace and prosperity. But, in the Borders of Northumberland, raiders, known as ‘reivers’, crossed freely though the area, ravaging and looting. This led to the continued use of ‘tower dwellings’ among the well-off families. The idea may sound attractive – and we could say reflects today’s ‘gated communities’, but the intact interior of the Preston Pele Tower, with its reconstructed rooms, shows how primitive such living had to be.

Castles 25Jul Pele Tower interior1 X

The Preston Pele Tower (and gardens) is privately owned, and admission is a very reasonable £2.00.

The extreme nature of this isolation illustrates the power of fear to drastically change lives. With this in mind, we will carry out a mystical and psychological exercise related to our coming arrival in Lindisfarne on Sunday.

There are no refreshments at the Preston Pele Tower, but an early dinner will be booked at the nearby Pack Horse Inn in Ellingham.

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After the long day, and our early dinner, we will retire back to Seahouses for a possible nightcap before retiring for the night. A very special Sunday morning awaits…

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Day Three: Sunday 16th September, 2018

Our final day is a physical and spiritual homecoming. Our pilgrimage is to end on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which can be reached (subject to the tides) by car, over the causeway. Lindisfarne can also be reached on foot, across a three mile stretch of marked path over the sands. We will consult on the day, and if there are those who wish to make the final journey a true walking pilgrimage, then we will arrange for one or more cars to be left at Lindisfarne so that the walking is one-way only. Be prepared to be very sandy/muddy if you wish to walk! Having said that, to arrive at a place of pilgrimage after a degree of ‘hardship’ is an entirely appropriate thing.

Castles 25Jul Lindisfarne main street x - 1

Lindisfarne needs little introduction. The monastery there was founded by an Irish monk, St Aidan. Aidan had presided over the monastery at Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. He was sent to establish the Lindisfarne community in the year 634 AD, and remained there till his death in 651 AD.

The holy island of Lindisfarne has attracted pilgrims for hundreds of years. It is a fitting and beautiful place to end the Castles of the Mind weekend. The village comprises:

  • a large car park; the first major feature you come to, having crossed the tidal causeway.
  • Two main streets, one of which leads to the crossroads and, beyond, the excellent museum; the other involves a fifteen minute walk to the far end of the island where the castle is situated.
  • There is also a meditation garden, which we may use if time permits.

For ease of finding, we will meet at the Oasis Cafe, which lies on the road from the car park.

The castle is currently undergoing work, but the visitor centre within it is open. The walk down from the village is well worth the views of the beaches and the headland on which the castle is built.

If we have worked our collective intentions well, we should each feel a certain ‘presence’ when we arrive on the island of Lindisfarne.

To conclude our weekend, we will remember the bravery of the early fathers of religion, such as St Aidan, who set sail into the complete unknown to establish their faith on distant shores. We can, perhaps, have little understanding of the depth of that faith; but we can, in our own ways, recreate that ‘setting off’ into the unknown – without fear.

Our final gathering will be a powerful and moving close to a wonderful weekend. Why not see out the end of the summer in style and join us…

 

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Castles of the Mind workshop

Weekend of 14-16 September 2018.

Location: Northumberland

To join us on our Castles of the Mind weekend email us at:

rivingtide@gmail.com

Or Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Enquiries: rivingtide@gmail.com.

We’d love to have you with us. You can find our more about the Silent Eye School of Consciousness here.

Weekend Costs

There is a charge of £50.00 per person. All other expenses, such as accommodation, food and entry charge for the sites visited, are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are usually taken together in a local pub, and the costs shared.


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

On Golden Decks

On golden wood bedecked in yellow

Is love of ochre gained from you?

A fantasy glimpsed on old posters

A space where poor children are few

⦿

From a farther place now you are calling

Lost on the seas, uncharted, not gone

Your home somewhere richer and darker with meaning

Not glossy or gaudy nor stone

⦿

Let me sail down to Rio within you

Let me hold and be cherished in turn

Let’s fire up the space where the dance is the grace

Then back let us wave while we burn

⦿

©Stephen Tanham

Bright in the dark: endeavour and the lighthouse (4 – End)

SE Lighthouse from sea gates4AA

There are two schools of thought on what to wear on a cycling summer day in which there is the possibility of a downpour, far from home…

The first (Plan A)  says you should put up with the weight and pack a good set of waterproofs. Then, as soon as the heavens open, stop cycling and put them on. The second (Plan B) says that, as long as the underlying temperature is warm-ish, there’s only so wet you can get, and you’ll soon dry, so why bother…?

Which was why, at about three in the afternoon of our cycling day on Tiree, and as a proponent of Plan B, I was standing alongside my bike, skin and metal drenched, looking back down the climbing valley road at the other man in our party (a follower of Plan A)  who was doing some sort of dance with what appeared to be a bright red ghost…

But, I digress…

The lone cow on the rocky outcrop as we were pedalling away from Hynish should have warned us. Still feeling euphoric from the previous two hours, I had dismissed the ‘You’ll be sorrrry’ cartoon that sprang to mind, Warner Brothers style, from my subconscious. Failing that, the vertical orientation of the seagull’s body in the photo above should have shouted a hint, but no… what looks obvious in hindsight, in the photos, was less so on the day.

So we pedalled on, and now, looking at the shots, I can see the blue sky ahead that we embraced and the darkening silver behind, that we ignored. The deluge wasn’t instant; those dark clouds took a while to arrive, while we cycled into the seeming blue. At least wary of the weather, we had a further destination in mind: Soroby. This hamlet is the site of a graveyard of considerable interest because it links the pilgrim island of Iona with Tiree.

Much of the graveyard is relatively modern, and many of the (well-tended) graves mark the tragic loss of life of a merchant ship in World War II. Many of the bodies were washed up on the beaches of Tiree and their identities never discovered. The beautiful epithet ‘Known to God’ marks their anonymous sacrifice.

But, a smaller and older part of the graveyard is believed to be the site of a monastery established by St Columba as an extension of the work of his first church on Iona, following his self-imposed exile from Ireland, where it is said he led a rebellion and started a war which resulted in ten thousand deaths. This was prior to his conversion to Christianity, which he then vowed to spread across the seas to Scotland. This man, loved and feared in equal measure it is said, also established a monastery on Tiree for ‘wayward monks’. If you’ll forgive the humour, it appears to have been a kind of early ‘Craggy Island’ as in the Father Ted series… This was known as Baithene’s Monastery, and was founded in 565 AD.

The ruins of that original monastery have never been found, though it is known that a church stood here from the 13th to the 19th centuries. However, one very important artefact remains: a double-faced stone cross from that early period of religious life on Tiree. It is known, now, as McLean’s cross, after the clan which ruled Tiree from 1390 to 1680, it is linked to the life of Anna McLean, who was the prioress of Iona from 1509 – 1543.

The cross has two sides: the first, with its raised boss at the centre of a ‘cross and spiral’ design, is Celtic. The reverse is in the form of a Latin Cross. It suggest an ancient piece, created when Christianity was well established, yet still in touch with its Celtic roots in these parts. One of the locals suggested it was 8th century, but we had no way of verifying this, and I can find no other reference to it.

Another artefact once shared this site: the cross of Anna McLean, herself, stood here (illustration above). On it , she is shown ‘disembowelling death’; an action that merits scholarly and philosophical attention. Only the shaft of the cross is recorded, and the original was removed from the island long ago. The inscription reads ‘This is the cross of Michael, Archangel of God. Anna, Prioress of Iona‘. I would imagine no-one knows the full story of how she came to be interred on Tiree, possibly her original family home. She must have been quite a woman…

Quietly, and deep in thought, we left Soroby, intending to double-back on ourselves a short distance and take the direct road over the spine of the island and to Tiree’s north coast.

We had cycled away from the wonderful village of Hynish knowing that the best part of the day was likely over. The sheer mental adventure of discovering the story of the Shore Station and the Skerryvore Lighthouse had provided a kind of peace; a sense of a day well spent; and yet we were only a quarter of the way around the island of Tiree.

 

And then the dark clouds behind us caught up with the broken blue sky in front and the deluge hit. With a hissing of dark, low clouds, the threatened storm began. The rain was so intense that we abandoned any thought of climbing the hill towards the north coast. Instead, we fled back to the only point of refuge we knew – our morning cafe at Balemartine – and ran from the front car park into its inviting interior.

Henrietta had more sense than to be waiting for us, this time, and the staff of the Balemartine Cafe laughed in warm mirth as four wet cyclists abandoned their machines near the door and fled into the cafe’s warm interior.

“It can be verra unpredictable, the weather here,” said the lady owner of the cafe, studying our dripping state and clearly happy that the formal restaurant section was now full of decently-dressed weekend diners. She coughed gently and pointed to the coffee lounge where we had taken our late breakfast. “Will your usual table suffice?”

It did… and the humour helped; assisted by tea and cake, twice, as the building seemed to shake under the wrath of the storm god. You can feel very vulnerable in situations like this, when you’re thinly dressed, far from home, and more than slightly concerned whether the small plane from Glasgow could even get through the teeth of a highland storm like this…

And the figure jumping up and down in the red rain-suit. it was Paul, of course – the other husband in the party. After another hour in the cafe we felt duty bound to try again, despite the rain. Halfway up the road to the north coast, we abandoned any attempt at further travel. We were strung out in a line on the saturated hill. The ladies were a few hundred metres ahead of me. As group leader, and the most experienced cyclist, I was keeping a watchful eye on Paul, fighting a red ghost in the driving rain and not having the heart to tell him that the ladies had written the day off and decided we all needed to get back to the airport where we would at least be warm and, eventually, dry again.

It took us about thirty minutes to get back to Tiree Airport. We did, eventually dry off and get warm again. The plane, did get through. We did get back to Glasgow. None of the bad weather mattered, we had a wonderful day full of adventure.

It’s our turn to assemble on of these, next year. I’ll keep you posted…

Thank you, Tiree.

©Stephen Tanham

Previous posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two

Part Three

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye school of Consciousness. His personal blog is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, text and pictures. Re-use with permission.