“Saints don’t just disappear!” Bernie was getting a little exasperated with my poor attempt at stringing together a viable theory to account for the cultural disappearance of St Duthac. “There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation… we just have to find it.”
I’d already found it, But I wasn’t letting on. It’s not that I’m cleverer than she is, but one of the sources I’d been studying on the iPhone, overnight, had given the game away.
We were driving back to Tain the day after our first encounter with the abandoned Chapel of St Duthac. Our short holiday was coming to an end. Returning for a second look at Tain’s clues showed how much we had become fascinated with our mystery.
We had a puzzle…
The most popular saint in Scotland had vanished from the records of its history; yet within three hundred years, three of Scotland’s kings were making visits to his grave; one of them, James IV, making more than ten pilgrimages, and travelling across land and water with a sophisticated entourage that was part scholarly, part circus… plus one unescorted dash on horseback and in disguise, taking less than two full days to journey from Edinburgh to Tain. Quite an achievement, and not one you would undertake lightly.
“It’s probably the Reformation… the Scottish Reformation, which was different to the English one.” Bernie looked pleased.
She’d got it, and without the help of the scholarly text on which I had been relying. The Scottish Reformation, like its English counterpart, broke the hold of the Catholic Church, which it accused of widespread corruption. Martin Luther’s Protestantism ushered in a long era of ‘plain-ness’ across Europe. No singing – except psalms; No decorated churches; few rights for women, many of whom were suspected of being behind Scotland’s widespread witchcraft problem – something that paralysed several of the kings with terror.
And no saints…
All of them bundled off to oblivion, their names written secretly by loyal families, who stored these treasures in decorated boxes as the ‘plain persecution’ swept the land, and dour Kirks replaced Chapels. It was not to last forever, of course, though Scotland went through its own equivalent of the English Civil War, with powerful factions fighting over the future of the country, and even executing rivals.
Now on the final leg of the car journey to Tain, we discussed the Scottish Reformation and its effects, concluding that St Duthac was lucky to have lived centuries before it…
We parked the car close to The Pilgrimage. We had been here the day before, but it was late in the afternoon and the church-like structure was closed. This was our last chance to tie up some of the loose ends about the life of St Duthac, the vanishing saint.
To our surprise it was open, though the visitor centre was still closed due to Covid restrictions. We had the entire complex to ourselves, including the interior of the building, which felt a little strange, as though they were carrying out repairs.
I’ve learned to ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ – in a purely photographic sense, when faced with this kind of opportunity. We knew this building held most, if not all, of the answers to our questions.
What had looked like an unremarkable and recent church, re-purposed to be a pilgrimage centre, turned out to be something far more remarkable and germane to our search.
St Duthac Memorial Church was built between the 14th and 15th centuries by William 5th Earl of Ross, a very powerful Scottish nobleman and Lord of the Isles. He owned Balnagown Castle, the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan Ross in Kildary, Easter Ross.
In 1457 a chaplaincy was endowed, associated with the church by King James II – something we had spotted on the ferry sign at Nigg, that had prompted the whole search for St Duthac. King James III continued the endowment, and by 1487 the the church had gained full collegiate status, meaning it was dedicated ‘to the singing of masses for the souls of the founders.’ – in this case, the King, his family and heirs.
A Papal Bull of Pope Innocent VIII confirmed the foundation charter for the church and town was issued in 1492. There was a copy in the nearby (closed) museum.
The notice board states that King James IV visited the church at least 18 times over a period of 20 years, before being killed at the battle of Flodden.
And then another reference that shocked us:
‘Alhough St Duthac was born a Scot in about the year 1000, nearly two hundred years later, in June 1253, his relics were returned to Tain from the site of his death in Ireland…’
We had some more answers… and a lot more questions.
We now knew that St Duthac had, at the end of his life and before his peaceful death, returned to Ireland, the place where he received his spiritual training – very likely in the traditions of the old Celtic Christian faith. That he did this, knowing he was leaving his beloved Tain for the last time, must have been prompted by deep feelings. What was this long-lasting relationship to whoever introduced him to the depth of spirituality that led to him being declared a saint?
We knew, now, that the various pilgrimages by King James II, III and IV were made to the place of his relics – where his bones were – in the ‘new’ church built to house them, St Duthac Memorial Church.
We had found out why the original chapel in which St Duthac had carried out his ministry and performed his miracles had been left to ruin. The newer memorial church had taken its place, and provided a more refined site for the Kings’ pilgrimages. Hopefully his spirit was unperturbed by this display of the grandiose…
We took advantage of the empty church to look around, The interior was empty of pews and furnishings. It was a place no longer used for its original purpose… but, we suspected, still an active place of pilgrimage. It still had some very fine stained glass windows.
One of the stained glass windows caught my eye. It looked more modern than the rest and stood out, dramatically, high in the north wall of the church. It was a detailed image of St Duthac looking skywards to God and clutching a pen. The inscription reads:
‘I saw the Holy City coming down from God out of Heaven, and he said unto me write’
I had only the iPhone with me, so there was little chance of getting a clear telephoto shot of the very top of the glass, where I could see what looked like an inscription.
I was astonished when I looked at the picture and saw how well the phone had captured the detail. There, on the dome of the ‘Citadel’ was written something very special in Hebrew: Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. However, I had never seen the Tetragrammaton ‘name of God’ written on a church stained glass window, before.
But I knew of its deeper mystical significance. And I knew it was a frequent motif of another organisation that had also emerged from the ‘plain’ years of the Scottish Reformation, remaining strong, independent and supportive to this day. Perhaps another ‘protector’ of St Duthac lay close by…
Series to be concluded in next week’s post.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
Certain internal ‘states’ are realities deep within us. Love, strength, and boundlessness are examples of levels of conscious experience that are not simply psychological constructs; they indicate that our ordinary ‘day-consciousness’ is in contact with the deepest parts of who and where we really are.
These deepest layer of self – Self, as we write it, in order to differentiate this from the egoic ‘me’- are more real than the outer identity, but we have tuned our reality to our outer experience, only, so miss their significance and spend our lives struggling to interpret them.
The mystical journey of self to Self is one that restores the balance between the reactive ‘me’ of the egoic personality and the sheer belonging of the inner Self. Both are important. Without the egoic nature, and its attunement to the world, we wouldn’t have a mechanism for the inspired Self to ‘do’ in the world.
One element of this inner Self is the experience of contentment: literally, without wishes, as often discussed in ancient mystical texts. This is described as a peaceful state of a meditative nature… and so it can be. But it also has a dynamic side, and this expresses itself in an active state of completeness, rather than a withdrawn contentment.
To experience completeness is to be entirely ‘full with oneness’ in the moment. This changes the nature of our desires, in the sense that whatever happens to us is the very nature and gift of the now. To resist this is to place ourselves in a position of thinking we know better than the universe what we most need to experience next…
To cease this resistance to reality is like being held by a lover. Indeed, there is frequently a ‘glow’ in the upper front body and arms that accompanies it.
The inner reality of the now gently peels away what would have been the reactive layers of memory-based perception, replacing them with a freshness and sureness in which our core is not only central to the experience, but is secure enough to meet anything we may face in life – but in a new and more measured way.
For many of us, the sheer presence of that feeling may be the first proof that there is more to us than the physical body. Though this state of warmth in the chest and upper arms may feel entirely physical (which is a good thing!) its energy originates at a higher level of what we might think of as the ‘super-physical’.
The familiarity of its co-existence through the levels of our Self-self is a wonderful and warm experience. This experiential evidence that we are more than we thought we were, is a moment gifted from within to show we have embarked on something truly real that belongs, without any doubt, to us.
This ‘empowering by completeness’ can become a compass-needle for the further journey into the real Self, via its essential properties.
Essence is the term used for the inner architecture of our Being. This first experience triggers the opening of a whole path before us, one filled with delight and, above all else, a sense of personal truth and self-belonging…
If you’d like to approach this via a guided mediation, try this:
Sit quietly in a place of calmness. Close your eyes and imagine a wide circle around you at a distance of about 10 metres in radius. Breathe in so that you are gently filling about half your chest capacity, then breathe it all out, holding the final ‘empty-state’ for a second, before taking in a full breath that begins in the lower lungs and fills like a curve, upwards, until you are charged with fresh air.
Expel the new air gently, and, as you do so, move your inner vision, clockwise around the circumference of the visualised circle, placing on the circle all the valued physical things in your life, like your home, your car, your best clothes, your warmest winter coat, and so on.
When you’ve finished populating the circle, come back to the start point and draw another series of breaths, as before.
Then see each of these precious objects gradually fading over time, losing their specialness and disappearing as the inevitable processes of form and decay take their toll. Let your circle devolve to a state of emptiness.
Now, begin to feel a warmth from this ‘nothing’ as you circle clockwise in your mind.
Halve the diameter of the circle and feel it closing this loving warmth around you. Halve it again and feel it like a skin, warming as it approaches your skin. Close your eyes and enjoy the warm belonging. Remove any desires from your mind and let this new and joyous place of completeness be a temporary home to which you can return whenever you wish, just by triggering the memory of that warmth in the upper arms and chest.
The exercise is self-contained. Its context and deeper understanding is part of the Silent Eye’s three-year distance-learning programme.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
One of the joys of a bright summer day, few though they may be, is the way the intense light creates a new zone of interest beneath a tall object.
A classic example, here, is the Race Office of the Morecambe Sailing Club (MSC). It sits high, overlooking Morecambe Bay on the edge of the town centre.
The Race Office sits on an engineered platform made from sections of steel lattice. It’s a simple and stark structure, but visually fascinating.
From the bright promenade, I noticed the deep shadows beneath the structure. Moving beneath the tall supporting pillars, I was surrounded by muted shadow effects that captivated the eye. After that, it was simply a matter of finding the best angles to highlight the ususual perspectives on offer.
The final image, below, is of the MSC Race Office, photographed at ‘surface level’.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
“You’d have thought they would have looked after it, better!’
Bernie can be highly critical on these occasions. Mind you, we had trudged all the way around the small town of Tain to find it.
The original chapel of St Duthac. The priest to whose church three Scottish kings travelled to pay their respects, sits as an unmarked ruin in the middle of the town’s graveyard, not far from the main railway line, its station and the shore. Steel barriers, leaned casually against what’s left of the old walls, prevent any access to the interior, which, presumably, is dangerous.
What happened? Why has the original place of veneration of this remarkable man been left to such a fate? Money must be one reason… but there may be another.
To build a context for the saint’s strong links to the town of Tain, we had to establish something reliable from the different versions of his life-story. The ‘Tain through time’ centre in the heart of the town would have offered some help, but it was closed – due to Covid. Our only recourse was online, and overnight.. Back in the cottage on the Black Isle, we began our research before we paid our second visit to Tain the following day. Quite a challenge, given the quality of broadband in the Scottish Highlands… Thank goodness for the iPhone and the independence of its 4G!
Several hours of coffee-assisted digging brought up an academic paper on the life of St Duthac, written by an assistant lecturer at Stirling University. We finally had some reliable information… except, as with any good study, the first thing stressed by the researcher was the fact that many different versions of Duthac’s life existed in the ‘records’.
A broad brush of St Duthac’s life reveals a straightforward and pious ‘good man’ who lived in the 11th century. He is placed in the category of those saints who gave up riches and title for their faith, thereafter following a simple life of service. In the west, we have little time for the idea of a modern saint; a view caused by our more cynical outlook on power, society and manipulation. With few exceptions, we let our saints be ‘long ago’, while science is now. But the tradition of living saints continues in Asia and the East.
To believe that a spiritual person has a deeper connection with the essential nature of life is hard for us. Yet most of us believe that layer of the human exists – and by inference – exists in ourselves, if only in potential.
Reliable records state that Saint Duthac was a man of noble birth from northern Scotland who displayed signs of unusual holiness – ‘sanctity’, as a child. He performed his first miracle by apparently carrying hot coals without suffering burns. The skeptic in me wonders where his parents were?
Duthac trained in Ireland, then returned to Tain to take up his work as a priest. Later, he was made Bishop of Tain – a position he held until his death. At the end of his life, he returned to Ireland, where his relics lay for two hundred years before being returned to Tain.
Duthac was sent to Ireland for his religious education. This period is central to his story and shows his formative education in the Irish church; the former home of the original, Celtic version of the faith which had been the Christianity in Britain prior to the advance of the rival Roman faith.
These venerated men and women of older traditions and times shared common paths: they lived simply; they were content with what they had, and they sought no more than that – including fame. Their fame was created by others, not themselves, usually long after their death.
Saint Duthac fits this profile, well… His wider history begins long after his death, when a line of Scottish kings began to visit Tain in pilgrimage to him.
Tain, the area to the north of Inverness where Duthac lived, was remote from the rest of Scotland. It had more in common with its neighbours to the north and west than the seat of power in southern Scotland, and was thought of as belonging to an ‘Hibernio-Norse’ culture. This was to change as the growing legend of St Duthac became important political capital in centralising religious control.
Online, I stumbled on another reference to the life of Saint Duthac: the statement that he had been regarded by those in power as ‘The demi-God of the north’. Such utterances are not made lightly, and demonstrated both veneration and, possibly, fear…
Aside from ‘carrying the hot coals’, records show Duthac performed three further miracles during his lifetime. Here, we might begin to consider the symbolism in the wider context of the traditional and the mystical interpretations of miracles…
Let’s begin with the literal stories. We will consider the possible deeper meanings in the next post.
In the first of the miracles, a man was struck down with a headache. In order to alleviate his pain he sent one of Duthac’s disciples to the saint with a gold ring and some meat. Because of the young cleric’s negligence, a kite stole the gifts, but the youth continued on his way and petitioned Duthac to forgive his failure. Duthac forgave the worried young man and summoned the bird, allowing it to keep the food and returning the ring to its owner.
The second miracle took place during a famine. The saint attended a feast at which a special cake was served. The saint performed a miraculous enlarging of the cake, so that it could feed the whole community. Its crumbs were seen to be bestowed with healing properties. The parallels with the Bible story of Christ feeding the five thousand are obvious.
In the third miracle the saint caused a footpath, on which a canon from Dornoch was carrying a gift of meat to Duthac, to illuminate itself through dangerous terrain, leading the young man to safety on a dark and stormy night.
Seven years after Duthac’s death, and following an exhumation of his body – found to be uncorrupted – his ‘sanctitiy’ was confirmed and he was made a Saint.
Duthac was described by scholars as leading a simple and austere lifestyle and having a reputation for the miraculous; something that surrounded him both in life and death. He was well known locally, but it took the later interests of Scottish kings to establish his wider reputation.
One historical tradition, which seems to have stemmed from the area close to the shrine, draws an important connection between the life of the saint and the establishment of Tain as a royal burgh. It places Duthac firmly in the eleventh century. This relationship between town and saint was the subject of the burgh seal. Duthac’s role as ‘guarantor’ of the burgh’s rights and privileges was emerging, which explains a lot about Duthac’s importance to the temporal and spiritual aspects of Tain’s history.
Later, King James IV was to make Duthac the subject of annual pilgrimages from Edinburgh, once even riding alone, in disguise, and arriving in two days. Historians consider James to have been a wise ruler, and a sincere follower of the spiritual life. He earned himself the name ‘The Pilgrim King’, but his life did not end well. He is said to have ‘consulted’ three of his favourite saints, including Duthac, for a decision on whether to ride south to make war with the English. Sadly, he chose to ignore their ‘oracular advice’ and King James IV died, butchered beyond recognition, at the battle of Flodden, in September 1513.
By the time of the death of King James IV, in 1513, Duthac was established as one of the three most important saints in Scotland. Yet, nowadays, He is unknown to most people. What happened? What rift created that chasm between the older and newer worlds of religious ‘sanctity’?
The answer lies in a movement that had both good and ill in it; one that shattered the papal grip on Scotland, yet, at the same time, established a regime that frequently demonised women. Singing and any other form of levity was banned or severely curtailed and the heavy hand of religious authoritarianism replaced the art and expression of the former act of worship.
And the saints were banished…
But one saint, once branded a demi-God, whose service and goodness had helped establish a town, found his legacy being protected by that town, in a form that grew more mysterious as time passed. And four ancient letters engraved in stained glass tell a story of inheritance and protection of something precious…
But that’s for next week…
We were looking for dolphins…
Between Rosemarkie and Fortrose, on the shores of the Black Isle, north of Inverness, there is a promontory named Channonry Point. It projects out into the Moray Firth in such a way that the local population of some sixty bottlenose dolphins take delight in swimming in the rapid tidal races just off its rocky shore.
We had just missed them (wrong state of the tide) when I spotted the notice board describing Pale Kenneth…. Suddenly there was something more interesting than the disappointment of missing the bottlenoses.
His name was Coinneach Odhar which means ‘Pale Kenneth’. But the real meaning is ‘sallow’, an older and more historically charged description of a ‘fey’ person. Coinneach Odhar, then, is Kenneth the Sallow.
Kenneth was a 17th century seer from the Hebridean island of Lewis who came to work at Brahan (Bra’an) Castle near Dingwall, about ten miles from where the dolphins swim though the tidal races at Channonary Point.
He is portrayed in a slightly comic fashion on the information board, but, having looked into this, I suspect this carries some cultural sarcasm…
The ‘seer’, literally ‘see-er’ had possession of a ‘second sight’ – whereby the holder could see two worlds at once; the normal and the inner, more supernatural. The second sight was viewed in Scottish history as more of a curse than a blessing.
Local legends say that Kenneth the Sallow’s mother was responsible for his second sight. She was passing through a graveyard one night when the ghost of a Danish princess appeared before her, intent on returning to her grave. Kenneth’s mother demanded that, in return for her free passage, she should pay her a tribute. She asked that her son be given the magical sight. Later that day, Kenneth the Sallow found a small stone with a hole in – through which he would look and see the ‘second world’.
“Ah, take patience with the lad for he has the Sight and it is a terrible affliction.”
Exercising this ability, the man known by then as the Brahan Seer, or Coinneach Odhar saw visions that came unbidden by day or night. His prophesies were viewed as impressive and accurate, and his fame spread… Some of these prophesies are still quoted to this day
The Brahan estate, where Kenneth worked, was the seat of the Seaforth chieftains, from somewhere around 1675. These became powerful families with great authority and wealth.
Some of Kenneth’s prophetic visions that came true in the years following his death include the Battle of Culloden (1745), which he uttered at the site, and his words were recorded. “Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side.”
Kenneth the Sallow’s other prophesies include:
⁃ The joining of the lochs in the Great Glen. This was accomplished by the construction of the Caledonian Canal in the 19th Century.
⁃ He talked of great black, bridleless horses, belching fire and steam, drawing lines of carriages through the glens. More than 200 years later, railways were built through the Highlands.
⁃ North Sea oil was foretold : “A black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen”
⁃ He even told of the day when Scotland would again have its own parliament. He said this would come when men could walk ‘dry shod’ from England to France. The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 was followed by the opening of the first Scottish Parliament since 1707
⁃ He said that “Streams of fire and water would run beneath the streets of Inverness and into every house… Gas and water pipes were laid in the 19th century.
⁃ Pointing to a field far from seashore, loch or river, he said that a ship would anchor there one day. “A village with four churches will get another spire,” said Coinneach, “and a ship will come from the sky and moor at it.” This happened in 1932 when an airship made an emergency landing and was tied up to the spire of the new church.
⁃ “The sheep shall eat the men” During the Highland Clearances, families were driven from the Highlands by the landowners and the land they farmed was given over to the grazing of sheep.
At the height of his fame and powers, Odhar made a fateful prediction which would ultimately cost him his life. Isabella, wife of the Earl of Seaforth, asked for his advice. It appears she wanted assurances of the true nature of her husband’s visit to Paris. Sallow Kenneth reassured her that the Earl was in good health but would not be drawn further.
The enraged Countess Isabella demanded that he tell her everything or she would have him killed. Kenneth said that her husband was with another woman, fairer than herself, and then he foretold the end of the Seaforth line, with the last heir being deaf and dumb…
The truth is written in Scotland’s history.
Francis Humberston Mackenzie, deaf and dumb from scarlet fever as a child, inherited the title in 1783. He had four children who died prematurely.The line, indeed, came to an end.
Countess Isabella was so incensed by this, she had Kenneth the Sallow seized and thrown head-first into a barrel of boiling tar.
But the actual history may have been different, though the legend of Sallow Kenneth is a firm part of Scotlands traditions. There is no record of a Coinneach Odhar ever having existed in the Highlands during the the 17th century.
But there is in the 16th century…
Parliamentary records from 1577 show that two writs were issued for the arrest of a ‘principle enchanter’ known as Coinneach Odhar. He was reputedly a gypsy known to supply poison. His skills were purchased by a Catherine Ross, who sought to remove the rivals to the inheritance she wanted for her sons. It was said she had already paid for the skills of over twenty witches, each of whom had each failed.
The records show that many of the witches were caught and burnt – Scotland had a terrible reputation for witchcraft, something that terrified many of its kings. What happened to Coinneach remains a mystery. If he was caught it is likely that he too would have been burnt, which reflects the later legend that he was killed in a spiked tar barrel.
Was this legend transplanted a hundred years into the future?
But what is the link with the lighthouse and the dolphins at Chanonry Point, near Fortrose, the place where our story began?
There is a stone slab at Chanonry Point that is said to mark the spot where Sallow Kenneth died. The inscription reads: “This stone commemorates the legend of Coinneach Odhar better known as the BRAHAN SEER – Many of his prophesies were fulfilled and tradition holds that his untimely death by burning in tar followed his final prophecy of the doom of the House of Seaforth.”
Were these two different people or the same? Perhaps the 16th century Coinneach was the grandfather of the Brahan Seer?
Whatever the truth, these legends, and the prophesies they bear, are set as stone in Scottish lore. One prophesy carries particular resonance.
An important Pictish stone, the Eagle Stone, stands in Strathpeffer, Ross-shire. The Seer predicted that if the stone fell down three times, then Loch Ussie would flood the valley below so that ships could sail to Strathpeffer.
The stone has fallen down twice: apparently it is now set in concrete, indicating that the legend of Sallow Kenneth continues to hold sway in these parts…
Beneath the chosen trigger
The lines of light go dark
As possible and probable
Of sky-rained fire unstoppable
Resolve to make their mark
Beneath the chosen trigger
The chosen infant dies
The cloud of God’s unknowing
Had barely left his eyes.
‘Human nature, unchecked by strong values, drifts downwards towards chaos, drowning the vital and corrective energy of individuality…‘
Read the full post here…
With bright May light streaming through the window, there’s little to match the exuberance of living green and glassy blue as it splashes across the bathroom’s pure white.
It’s a riot of gorgeous colour and a moment that might be brief, so I step out of the shower and still dripping, grab the iPhone…
I’m glad I did. Seconds later, the latest heavy cloud covered the light and the world sank back into this eternally cold ‘spring’.
Later, I used the softening effect in Lightroom to finish the image.
It’s like a beautiful, glittering kite, flown high and above the regular considerations of our lives; and yet this part of us, long recognised by psychology, has the potential to transform us into people of being, rather than reaction…
(750 words, a five-minutes read)
When we are children, we have to be seen. By this, I mean that special feeling when your parents see you shining at something and radiate pride in what their child is doing.
The young child, hungry for this feeling that is essential to the development of their self, demands constant attention with trivial things. Over time, these become refined, as the youngster comes to appreciate the quality of the seeing – the energy it brings to their developing being.
The child begins to understand that when this is mixed with something real, something that brings achievement in the world, the eyes of the parents radiate a special energy of appreciation, knowing their child is showing the first signs of adult achievement and self-discipline.
Some children never get this. Their glittering kite, flown constantly and increasingly desperately for the parent’s seeing, goes unnoticed, as yet another aspect of play. The parents are too involved with their own lives; too wrapped up in the set expectations they have for their offspring to see the reality of what is played out before them. The child’s real identity is never acknowledged, though their existence may be comfortable and even luxurious.
For children whose kite is never seen, the string gets longer, they let out more and more of it so the glittering object rises higher and higher, barely visible… only seen by the child, itself; but at least protected.
Psychology calls the kite the ego-ideal. It is part of the set of self-states that we form as we explore our relationship to the world. Later, we may come to understand it as our world, but that requires that we grasp a deeper level of reality.
In terms of Freudian psychology, which was the foundation for so much else, the growing sense of a ‘reality of me’ has the building blocks of ego, id, and superego. The ego is what we think of ourselves. The superego is the constant sense of ‘should do’ that sits on our shoulders and nags us to be better. The id is the wild energy of our being that is suppressed ‘below’, like dark fire, ready to erupt and ruin our place in society.
The young science of psychology was shocked to find that the ‘self’ is capable of dividing itself to form separate self-states, but it does; such is its power and importance – a strong and stable ego being the main goal of modern psychology.
So where does the kite, the ego-ideal, fit into this? In the heart of the Superego there lives a single attribute based on us – our identity – rather than the imposition of expectations. It is the best of us, and, seen or unseen, it represents our metaphorical sword, our armour, even our wings, because it has never lost its connection to our real Self, the one we are born with, but which, through lack of recognition, seldom gets to grow and bear its jewelled fruit in our lives.
We all know people who have that certain energy of being. They may not be wealthy, but they have a naturalness of expression and a bigness of soul that carries them, shining eyed, though life. These have never lost their connection with who they are. By accident or nurturing, they have protected and refines their selves so that they can express what is within them.
Psychology usually stops there… but spirituality doesn’t.
And, at the end of that other journey, we can feel the emergence of a completely new us. Stronger and more real than anything we could have imagined.
That kite, because it is real, can become the seed of a new level of being. We can pull it down from the high blue sky in which we have kept it safe, and explore its reality. We can let its true energy spill over into the rest of our lives as we contrast its presence with that of lesser things. We can choose to look and find other aspects of our real selves because we know the taste…
Perhaps then, walking along the beach of our lives, we can come across other little children flying their lonely kites; and help them see the reality of what’s on the end of that fragile string…
In clouds, I find endless joy and food for both emotion and meditation. People often say, humorously, “You seem to be able to get clouds to do things for you!” I’m not sure that’s the case, but I am sure that I have an affinity with the sky and with the formation, shape and movement of these wonderful entities – and that has altered my way of seeing.
As a photographer, I’m always looking… and that’s the key. What’s out there is the same, but, because I’m watching on a subconscious level, the things that will be of interest come to my attention and ‘alert me’ to take a closer look.
Also, I’ve found I don’t ‘look’ with ordinary consciousness. What I’ve discovered I do, after years of taking such photos, is ‘constantly scan’ for a certain symmetry, a certain harmony, a pleasing sense of proportion or an unusual mixture of colours. But I don’t do this with the conscious mind. My regular attention will suddenly be alerted to the potential of another shot for reasons I’m not initially conscious of.
And it’s not just clouds. I’m constantly looking for the visual experience of the beautiful and the unusual. Even an ordinary line of buildings can, with the right light, become a object of fascination. My wife, Bernie, has become used to me darting off – often with the collie in tow – to try out ‘that shot, over there!
The shot may be fine as it is, or it may lack what a thought I saw when I had that flash of potential. For the latter, I will later use the iPhone’s editing suite of ‘sliders’ to see if I can restore what I felt when I first saw it. I’m not trying to take ‘purist’ photos; I’m looking for a combination of technology and art.
It doesn’t always work. Of the hundreds of thousands of photos I’ve taken, only a few hundred have been notable successes. We are lucky to live in a digital age where the rejects are simply deleted from the computer, instead of the former piles of expensive prints, laboriously dropped off and collected from the local photo processing store.
Fitting, perhaps, for the Beltane weekend, that the final mile of my Collie walk was graced with this turning of the earth of the river path to reveal the most beautiful ochre-gold of sunset across the ground.
Shortly after, we crossed the old bridge. Tess went down to the water to drink, photo-bombing my carefully framed attempt at a ‘Constable shot’.
It was then I realised that we’d had two of the ‘alchemical’ elements, Earth and Water. Never really about the literal words, these are ‘trigger symbols’ for psychological and energetic states. This quaternary of four elements is important to anyone who delves into humanity’s emotional and mental origins. They are rightly prized at all major points of the solar year, and the May Day (Beltane) festivals are key to the return of the Sun.
I set off, again, wondering if there could possibly be equally good photo opportunities of the other two ‘elements’. I need not have worried. The Beltane fairy-folk were obviously present to guide my steps…
Leaving the river behind, we climbed up through the rapidly darkening meadow to the towpath of the former Preston-Kendal canal. I felt a brush of faint warmth at my back and turned to see the western horizon ablaze. Sunsets don’t always photograph well with phone cameras, but this one did…
Through the small wood, then back into the open meadow to the edge of the village. I was still missing an experience and an image that corresponded with alchemical air… and then I remembered that, at the start of the walk, I had stopped to set the camera at ground level in order to capture a dandelion seed head in a way that mirrored its spherical shape with the distance sun. At the time, I had just put the iPhone back into my pocket.
Now, at the end of the walk, I had chance to see what I had recorded. Sure enough, there was as good an image for alchemical air as you could wish for.
My journey was complete. I hope your May Day was filled with the delights of this special time, when, in the ancient calendars, the spring gave way to summer
There are ancient techniques that describe the gentle coordination of belly, heart and head to make the self a peaceful place. In this short article, we discuss a modern approach to their use…
(1000 words; a five minute read)
The philosopher G. I. Gurdjieff rose to prominence in the first half of the last century. This enigmatic Armenian created a no-nonsense system of self development that incorporated the ancient wisdom of how to observe and balance belly, head and heart.
Modern schools of mystical self-development, like the Silent Eye, have carried on this work. Here, we present a simple technique for the balancing of ‘gut-reactions’, emotions and intellect; something of great value in these times of upheaval and shifting identities.
It’s relatively easy to locate these three ‘centres’ of self-activity in our physical makeup. The belly, or ‘gut’ can be thought of as centred in the stomach, a place we are all familiar with, if only through the needs of eating and the occasional upset through tension.
Even a few minutes of sending gentle kindness to this part of us may ease present tensions. Once discomfort is removed, continuing this may also being up associations of the gut with our instinctive reactions to life. These are there to protect us. They have been with us for a very long time.
There is a problem with how they fit into modern ‘civilisation, in that the fight or flight reaction they engender may, literally, have ‘nowhere to go’ in our modern lives, thus leading to a draining of our vital energies.
Test your own gut, now. Is your stomach in a knot? We may find we live that way most of the time. Awareness is everything in such self-discovery. When we are aware of this tension, we can, by continually returning to it for a few seconds of loving presence, reassure it that it need not maintain that tense vigilance. That makes it sound like we are dealing with a separate ‘being’ within ourselves… and, in many ways, this is true. These three powerful centres have a high degree of autonomy, designed to free up the composite ‘self’ and let it perform higher functions. We will return to what these might be, later in this article.
Now we move up our spine and come to the heart region. A simple question will suffice: are we feeling any love? Not just for our partner, if we are lucky enough to have one, but for others in our life and our care. How about pets? Those who have cats or dogs know the unconditional love which which they gaze up at us… That kind of feeling is a good one to take inwards at this stage.
We can easily bring that feeling into our heart centre. If it’s not already present, then we know that our regular life may be colder in this regard than we would like. With this awareness, bring love into your heart, now. Add it to the calm and now purposeful belly, letting each of these two centres be acknowledged and appreciated for the magnificent work they do for our ‘wholeness’.
Now we move up through the throat and neck into the head, the traditional seat of thought and the mind. The gut is associated with our instinctive powers. The heart has a vast potential for nurturing relationships, caring for others, and extending our actual presence out into a group of people… or even into the world. The heart can radiate kindness, and doesn’t need a target; it can just BE.
The head centre is slightly different. It has a complex role to fulfil. The brain filters our experience so that we are not overwhelmed by its intensity and the sheer volume of events. The mind learns what parts of that flow are connected, making pictures of concepts that can work for us like an army of sensing machines. Test your own head now… is it a mass of buzzing, whirling concerns? What might its other functions be?
One in particular is of the greatest value… and sadly, largely forgotten. The head centre allows us to remember ourselves. Gurdjieff called it ‘Self Remembering’, and stressed how essential it was to the truly balanced human.
At first, this sounds trivial. We react by saying, “Of course I know myself, I don’t need to remember it all the time!” But this is not the heart of the matter. In the constant exercise of filtering the world, we have forgotten what lies at its centre – our selves. We can never truly know the external world. But there is a place of calmness in the middle of that engine of perception, and when the attention is, gently and kindly, directed to it, the busy and noisy world drops away in the fascination and power of what we had forgotten…
Perhaps we can can try that now? We don’t have to enter a meditation, though that is perfect when we can. We simply have to remember the ‘me’ in the middle of the storm of our thoughts. When we do, we may feel the immediate engagement of the gut, as it wrestles itself into tension to protect us from all the demons that are associated with our ‘present’. Tell the gut that we are engaged in something higher, and that we will return to its vigilance in a moment. Let it melt, with a feeling of gold and the gentle colours of the sunrise…
Now return to the head and the self, again. Find the place that is simply you. Don’t judge or quantify it… just find it, and hold your loving gentleness on it. The spinning world is a reaction; a complex set of millions of responses to which we have granted a fixed reality.
The real world is not so. Its is inextricably linked to how and, in a mystical sense, where, we are…
The the journey of true reality begins with that self within. Find it again, and, this time let the heart centre engage with the feelings of green and pink, climbing like roses to embrace the head in a sea of calm attention, devoid of the noise and any sense of panic. Let the roots of that rose wrap around the tensions of the gut and, in the centre of the head, let the rose flower bloom, as our inner eye is lost in the rapture of its petals…and its fragrance and value.