Keys of Heaven (5): the will of the king – gathering

We climb the steps to the Abbey at Whitby, aware that something different is happening; that the curtain of time is being drawn back… for as long as we can keep the critical mind at bay

The years pass away. From the present keepers back through years of being a rich man’s possession… As – in a mist – we see the year 1539 and the sacking and wrecking of King Henry’s agents as they work the carnage of ‘Tudor Dissolution’.

The pillaged ruins are left as we see them now.

A Norman conqueror named William appears. The beaches of Hastings see the death of King Harold and the Norman age of Britain begins. The Benedictine Monastery – the ruins of which we see today – rises and prospers on the wind-ravaged headland left empty after the mysterious vanishing of St Hild’s Anglian community. The likely agents being the same invading Norsemen who attacked the nearby holy island of Lindisfarne.

Everything in these parts unfolds before the Danelaw… at least for a while…

A woman stands at the head of the steps. Her name is Hild…. later St Hild of Whitby, though the name ‘Whitby’ came later, given when the port was established by Danish sailors. As we reach the top step and her outstretched hands, we are in the seventh century and this place is named Streaneshalch. The building before us – the new Abbey created by the grace of King Oswiu, King of Northumbria – has been built because of the influence of the woman who now waits… for our final steps.

(Above: St Hild. Source Wikipedia, public domain)

Later in history, she will be described by the historian Bede as being ‘the most precious necklace that was destined to fill all Britain with the glory of its brilliance’.

Hild is the Abbess of this place; whose name is not yet Whitby but Streanshalch. With another, she is about to perform the most important duty of her life: to oversee the Synod that will determine the nature of Christian worship in Britain.

Her voice welcomes and her arms pass us to those serving her. Men and women in plain robes appear out of the mist behind and stand in silence, ready to ferry us forward. Many of them look well-bred, and it is known that she takes such people on trust into her tuition, ensuring that their luxurious lives are left behind so that they can devote themselves to the development of the soul.

When all have been greeted she turns and says, “Be here without sin; but not in falseness, or fear, or with that attention whose heart is turned away.”

Strangely, she walks backward to the head of the stairway. “Walk this path with all your mind and heart and you will remain true…” she says.

Another figures crests the stairs, wrapped in a grey cloak of thick wool. He is a young man with intense eyes – which he keeps lowered…

Abbess Hild turns to a him. “Bishop Cedd, be welcome here…”

She holds out her right hand. From beneath the wet wool his appears and clasps hers. He seems intent on being as unnoticed as possible.

No words follow, but much is said in the three breaths before the fingers part. 

Abbess Hild ushers us through the great carved door of the monastery and into the warmth of its interior on this cold day. 

Chamber by chamber, we are led into the deep interior.

Until we stand before a crackling fire, as though high in a mountain fastness, and Hild is bowing before King Oswiu. Oswiu who, as a boy, was once an exile on the Scottish island of Iona. Returned as a king who has united the northern lands, he has forged the Kingdom of Northumbria in wisdom and, eventually, peace.

Mightiest of the Anglo-Saxon lords, his is the power on which the Church of Rome seeks to extend its empire of the book. 

But there are others here… of the Christ but whose book is slightly different… and whose path to God has a very different taste..

To the barely swallowed anger of another, the Abbess present us to a man whose gentle eyes speak only of love. Bishop Coleman bows and asks why we have come so far – then laughs, and says “and so high!” Then his arm steers us to meet the angry man. 

“This is Wilfrid “ he says. “A scholar of York via Augustine’s Canterbury… and Rome.”

Wilfrid bristles. But swallows his anger.

A woman enters the room and all rise. Her beauty is so intense that the King’s eyes become moist as she comes to stand beside him. Yet, for all this display of love, the Queen has eyes that are unmistakably sad.

To be continued…

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

©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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can barely grasp the solemnity of the occasion.

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

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

You never know when you’ll need them…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Christmas carol singers near the swing bridge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

Keys to Heaven: Gluttony…

Stuart’s ‘spoke of words’ gains momentum…

The Silent Eye

Image result for odin's cross


The Norse God, Odin, hangs over all.

His attendant wolves symbolise our lower self,

and both their names can be translated, ‘greed’, which leads us to glut…


For most people the plan is simple:

to experience all they can in sensations quest,

and this too can lead to a sort of glut…


One cannot have too much of a good thing, can one?


After breakfasting we meet at the Whalebone Arch,

and it is difficult not to wonder how

long it will be before our gluttony

as a species empties the oceans…


From here, framed within the jaw bones of the once great sea beast,

we can see the skeletal remains of Whitby Abbey,

where weighty decisions about the religious tenor

of our country were once made.


We, though, make our way back into town, and a Cafe…

and from there, eventually, up to…

View original post 208 more words

Keys of Heaven (3): the synchronicity of kindness

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: the Church of St Oswald at Lythe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: the unrestored state of the stone coffin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Whitby Abbey awaits on the following morning)

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

Let go… G. Michael Vasey

Gary was with us at the Whitby weekend. Here are some of his experiences…

The Silent Eye

Gary continues to share his experiences on the recent weekend workshop in North Yorkshire:

The last time I visited Whitby Abbey I was a boy. I recall little of it. Just that I was bored. Of course, I have been to Whitby many times since, often with my father who had business there. He would leave me for an hour or so to wander and once I recall taking my oil paints to paint the harbor. I was last there just a few years ago with my parents, ex-partner and daughter. I do like Whitby!

I must say that the abbey ruins are fairly impressive but I felt no atmosphere or energies. It seemed a dead ruin to me. A stark reminder of other times. As we pondered aspects of the Abbey in the context of the spiritual prompts of the weekend, my sense was of the skeletal remains of…

View original post 126 more words

Keys of Heaven (2): a pocket left open for magic

It’s a winter’s tale, so best told in warm snippets… With a weekend workshop carefully envisaged, there’s always a moment where that mental and emotional picture becomes ‘invested’ with life. These old English words contain a wealth of linguistic depth so easily passed over in modern usage.

After months of refining the stages, and a preparatory visit, the latest of our ‘Landscape’ workshops was beginning in the far north of Yorkshire, to the east of the North York National Park – the coastline from Whitby to Saltburn, inland of the vast and wild hills of the moors.

(Above pic: The interior of the Barn Owl Cafe, near Staithes)

Whenever possible, we meet for a light lunch and to gather to discuss the purpose and plan for the weekend. This sets the scene for what follows and invites everyone to play their part.

December is cold, especially here, so we had arranged to meet at the Barn Owl Cafe just off the A174 coast road from Whitby. Bernie and I had visited Staithes on our scoping trip in October. We knew that the Barn Owl would be easy to find, and that its renowned warmth and hospitality would be welcome after the long journeys here.

I was early. I’m a stickler for that. But I was delighted to find the last of the companions for the weekend pulling in at the gravel car park with me. We left the cold of the exterior to find the owners had provided us with a large circular table; perfect for the planned soup and sandwiches, and also ideal to lay out the maps and handouts. The rest of the group were already seated, chatting and enjoying hot drinks.

(Pic above – First of the handouts: the all important Itinerary)

I had managed to condense the weekend’s busy itinerary into a ‘single pager’ which Misti the cat is now sitting on as I write (pic above)… You can see it’s well thumbed and has survived the weekend’s downpours – and frequent origami before being stuffed back into coat pockets.

An hour later, the company had been provided with maps; summary descriptions of the main locations; and an expectation of a busy but fun two and a half days. We were keen to begin. The right level of preparation is important to deliver a robust ‘skeleton’ – lots of coffee stops, for example, to counter the expected freezing temperatures of the Whitby coast.

But it’s also important to leave room for the ‘entry of magic’. These are spiritually focussed weekends, but not in a conventional sense. What we look for is the special quality of experience that can happen when a group of people work together towards a common goal. I think of this as ‘a pocket left open for magic’. It’s not provided consciously by the group; and certainly not by the planning. It’s filled by the ‘spirit of the moment’: a feeling with which many will be familiar. When this happens, the ‘air’ around us changes as though we had stepped into a world that runs parallel to our everyday one.

This kind of magic is very real.

Stuart France, one of my fellow Directors of the Silent Eye, has written a post on his blog about this recently.

Next, we spoke about the ‘heart of the matter’ – the psychological and spiritual basis of the weekend. The selection of Whitby was based upon an event from the distant year AD 664, known as the Synod of Whitby. This took place in an age when British Christianity had two flavours: the older Celtic Christian faith brought over from Ireland via Iona and Lindisfarne, and the newer Roman faith inspired by the work of Augustine.

Our workshop was subtitled: In the footsteps of St Cedd. The central character of our deliberations was the man who became St Cedd. Raised by the Celtic Christian monks on Lindisfarne, Bishop Cedd was a renowned spiritual and intellectual authority in what was then the Kingdom of Northumbria – ruled by the powerful Anglo-Saxon King Oswiu (Anglicised later as Oswald).

Under various pressures, the King hosted the Synod of 664 at the newly established Abbey of Whitby and arrange for the Abbess (later St Hild) to chair the process. Bishop (later Saint) Cedd was appointed to be what we would call today, the ‘Facilitator’. In so doing, Cedd had to use all his personal skills to mediate a solution to two central issues: the way the monks cut their hair (the tonsure); and the way the date of Easter was calculated.

The first sounds trivial to us. The second was profoundly important as Easter was and is the most important date in the Christian calendar.

King Oswiu was a Celtic Christian, his wife a Roman Christian… and thereby lies a familial tale for which there is not sufficient space in this post.

In the end, the King decided for the Roman faith and Cedd had to bear witness to what he knew would be the death of a tradition in which he had been raised and loved. The poignancy and spiritual nature of this task was the backbone of our deliberations for the weekend.

There are obvious parallels to our own times, here…

Just before leaving the Barn Owl Cafe, we asked each person to select a folded piece of paper from a small cloth bag containing nine of them. When unfolded, each had before them four words.

In my case the words were:

  • Flattery
  • Pride
  • Humility
  • Will

Mysterious and seemingly contradictory, they contained the personal seed-thoughts of an inner journey that would mirror the outer locations. More will be said on this in future posts.

There are challenges to running this kind of outdoor event in December; chief of which is the shortness of the days. As soon as we’d finished our lunch, it was time to visit a very special local church at Lythe, a village just to the north of Whitby. But to tell that requires a full blog, so I will return to the story of our visit to St Oswald’s church in the next post.

With the light fading on our short December day, we drove back up the A171 to carry out an important task – to construct the movements!

(Above pic – the beach at Runswick Bay; the place where we created the weekend’s ‘movements’)

Runswick Bay is one of the most beautiful of the coves between Whitby and Saltburn. The ebbing tide had left us a wide swathe of beach to allow our work. Sadly, the beach cafe was closed for the winter so a coffee would have to wait. What we were about to do would be an important part of our undertakings at each further location…

The idea of a set of movements to accompany the ‘pocket left open for magic’ is not new. One of the giants of the past from whom we derive many of the Silent Eye’s principles is Gurdjieff – a philosopher from the early years of the last century who gave the world a system that became known as the Fourth Way. Gurdjieff was from Armenia and his upbringing had made him a skilled musician and dancer. To assist with the absorption of the spiritual side of his teachings, he developed a set of unusual dances or ‘movements’.

The three of us who run the Silent Eye have been looking at the creation of a set of simple set-movements to be carried out, wordlessly, to establish a place of working in the outdoors. This was our chance to let the moment ‘speak’ and guide us…

(Pic above: In the fading light, four of the group prepare to demonstrate the idea of the ‘movements’ (photo Gary Vasey)

Almost as soon as we started, we were blessed with the birth of a set of movements that perfectly reflected not only the nature, but the historical and traditional basis we had selected for our Whitby-centred workshop.

We put it in our pockets and took it with us for the weekend…

Fish and chips beckoned. How could we come to Whitby and not do so! An early night and we were ready for what the morning would bring.

©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

Keys of Heaven (1): Cod and Lobster

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

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

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

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

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

(Above A coastline full of delightful villages)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above) The Crypt at Lastingham

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

(Above) the mysterious wells of Lastingham.

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

More when we get there in the narrative!

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

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

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

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

(c) Copyright Stephen Tanham.

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

Cycles of Light (2) – Wheels of Fortune

Part two of our investigation into the mysterious mental and emotional construct we call the ‘week’ and its celestial influences… This time we begin to examine the intimate relationship between events on Earth and the map of the ancient heavens.

©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