Keys of Heaven (7): the path to gentle darkness

The tiny fishing village of Staithes is a place of peaceful beauty. It lies part way between Whitby and Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s geology is also one of the few breaks in the vast cliffs that define this region; and which are the main source of the famous Whitby Jet semi-precious stone.

(Above) The path of Whitby Abbey to Staithes along the Cleveland Way. Image Google Maps

Staithes was our destination… and I was taking a calculated risk in order to give us a dramatic contrast to the morning. The visit to the Abbey – to recreate in our own minds the seismic events of AD664 – had been intense. At the conclusion of the synod, Bishop Colman had known that his world was over; that the new age of Christianity would follow the Church of Rome model. He took his followers and walked out of the Abbey, northwards.

(Above) Whitby Museum – full of ghosts…

We can never know the emotion that flowed between Bishop Colman, King Oswiu (who was, until that point, a Celtic Christian) and the two facilitators of the synod, Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild, but we can know that it did exist, and that as wise and experienced a king as Oswiu would not have acted without being aware of the consequences – including the impact on the holy island of Lindisfarne…

Symbolically, the group of us walking against the keen winds on the cliffs beyond Port Mulgrave had as little a choice as had Bishop Colman, walking away from Whitby – but our predicament was brief – whereas his changed the rest of his life.

We had been dropped off a Mulgrave… our only refuge would be to get to Staithes. Our risk was not great. The weather has been kind: windy but not too cold. December on the high Cleveland Way can be very different…

(Above) The sun begins to set on the Cleveland Way, which follows the edge of the cliffs from Whitby, north to Saltburn

Development of the Cleveland Way began in the 1930s when the Teesside Ramblers’ Association pressed for the creation of a long distance path in the north-east of Yorkshire linking existing paths along the boundaries of the North York Moors and footpaths on the Yorkshire coast.

(Above) The Cleveland Way: over one hundred miles of wild beauty from Helmsley to Filey (source)

A formal proposal to create the route was submitted in 1953 to the council North Riding of Yorkshire, by the National Parks Commission. In 1969, the path was finally opened – only the second of its kind in the UK.

Our problem was not the cold. It was the light. The path was muddier than we had expected and progress towards Staithes was slow. At an open place where the views of the coast fell away on either side, we stopped for our final exercise of the day. Once again, we revisited the sequence of four words we had each selected at the opening meal. By now, we knew each ‘pointed’ to a process whereby we could bring to consciousness one related set of psychological obstacles to our spiritual growth.

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

Facing the wind off the sea, we each voiced how our words could be seen as one of the keys of inner transformation.

With the light beginning to fade, we came down from the cliff path and onto the flat agricultural land that borders the upper village of Staithes.

(Above) The high cliffs from which we had descended to get to the fishing village of Staithes

Below us, the lights of Staithes were twinkling.

A ‘staithe’ is an old English word meaning ‘landing place’. The plural name “Staithes” of the fishing port is due to its twin ‘landing places’; one on each side of the stream that flows down from the moor and into the sea- named Roxy Beck.

(Above) Staithes’ twin ‘landing stages’.

Staithes was once one of the largest fishing ports on the north-east coast. It was also an important source of minerals such as jet, iron, alum and potash. These days, the huddle of cottages nestled between towering cliffs is an attractive holiday destination and lies within the North York Moors National Park.

The village is famous as a source of inspiration for artists, in particular the impressionist artist colony known as the Staithes Group, among them Laura and Harold Knight. The quality of light and the variety of perspectives offered by cliff-top views and winding paths have made Staithes a magnet for artists.

(Above) The timeless image of Staithes’ harbour front

The risk had been worth it. We arrived at our destination just as a gentle darkness fell. We had picked the Cod and Lobster tavern on the main quayside as a meeting point. Those who had been unable to make the walk met us there. After the intensity of the day, we needed simple refreshment. Tomorrow would be a challenging day.

(Above) The Cod and Lobster – our final destination for Saturday

To be continued…

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

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Keys of Heaven (6): the greater force

The greater force... What did they know of it!

Anyone could see it in the fall of boulders in the mountains; in the crashing of the seas on the rocks, in the burning of the forests when the wildfires took hold; in the legends of the earth boiling and glowing when the ground ruptured…

But only a few could see it at work in the eyes of men… and some women, thought King Oswiu, looking across the chamber at Abbess Hild, seated across the square of the small, altar-like table in the chamber at the Abbey of Streanshalch, facing her fellow warrior of the mind – Bishop Cedd. King Oswiu had ordered that neither were allowed to take a side in the arguments that had raged all day in the chamber. That was Wilfrid and Colman’s role; but both had steered the course of that passion to bring it to this point of pregnant silence; silent but not finished…

Beside Oswiu, the Queen’s chair was barely cold. The King had sent her to bed, seeing the pain her hunger caused. Perhaps the final part of the day would bring her some ease from the Lenten observances?

The King put down his drained goblet of mead and gazed at the embers of the fire. He had prevented the page boy from replenishing both grate and cup. He wanted to watch their faces as the fire began to lose its power… and the darkness and cold from the clifftop crept into the abbey’s warmth… affecting the imagined power they took to be theirs.

He wanted them to feel that dread, that uncertainty; and to know that was how he had lived his entire life. His ageing eyes followed the thin red flames as flickered across the blackened logs. A distant memory returned, unbidden. He was a boy of four again, gazing at the living source of heat and life in the burning peat of that far place called Iona.

Across the night, and north to Iona – still the seat of the Ionan Christian faith – he sent his undying love back to the monastery established by Columba, to where he and his brothers had been spirited on the death – in battle – of their father. There to be brought up in the love and compassion of Christ within a dedicated and artistic tradition rich in myth, devotion and the potential for individual creation. How he missed the simplicity of those times… Iona had been even colder than this place, yet his life had been warm beyond measure.

Outside, now, was the coldest night. Outside were the robbers who roved the dark paths of his kingdom of Northumbria – more animal than human. The King looked across at Cedd, along with Hild one of his true friends in this theatre of the soul. There were rumours that bishop Cedd wished to build a church in those high places – or the valleys beyond. The King shuddered at the thought… and wondered at the man’s courage.

Cedd must have know that his sovereign’s thoughts were on him. He stood, holding the silence in a way that was customary only for Kings… and yet, with total humility.

“My Lord,” he said. “the hour is late, and you have instructed us to finish this before the sun rises?”

King Oswiu felt the forces of the world-to-be stirring. What did they know of power, these scholars? Or fate or circumstance and the dreaded whirlpools with which it turned the ground beneath your feet to liquid… a liquid that ran away down paths and ravines never seen before; yet which had lived as foundations to a man’s life. Unseen, unfelt, until that terrible moment of unfreezing.

King Oswiu gestured to the page to refill his mead, but did not extend the kindness to the others. “Timely spoken, Bishop Cedd,” he said. “We must find a way of bringing these matters to a head?”

The statement was rhetoric. Both knew. Cedd bowed. “Will the principals from York and Lindisfarne present their closing arguments!” he said. It was not a question. Everyone in the room feared the intellects of both Cedd and the Abbess Hild – a noblewoman in her own right. But all knew that Oswiu had placed them in a position where they could only facilitate, not act as guardians of one position or the other.

Scholar Wilfrid rose to take his place in history, eager and licking lips made dry with fine words. “My Lo–” he began, but was immediately interrupted by the King.

“We will hear the words of Bishop Colman, first!”

The chamber flooded with silence. “My Lord!” Wilfrid bent his head low, keeping it there as he returned to his seat. Bishop Colman rose, stiffly, his older bones slow. He stared at the churchman’s still-bowed head, finding amusement but little comfort in its angle. For a second his eyes, returning to the gaze of the King, found mirth in that shared and momentary exchange. But both knew that such kinship of mind was built on earth that was merely frozen.

The King sipped his mead, allowing Bishop Coleman time to compose the most important words of his life…

These monks knew their scriptures… and knew the King’s passion for that same cause. But Wilfrid’s bird-like eyes did not speak of this. His furtive movements and cruel smile – whenever he or his scholars scored a point against Colman’s men – spoke of the man’s soul. There was a sadness in Oswiu as he studied Wilfrid. He knew the scholar’s presence here was entirely due to the machinations of his own son, Alchfrith – regional king of Deira, part of Oswiu’s overarching Northumbria… and a never-ending source of agitation and provocation.

But Alchfrith had been clever, first promoting the ambitious churchman Wilfrid to his own Ripon estate, then sending him to Pope Gregory’s Rome to prepare himself for the arguments to come. The Pope had sent back the scholar Wilfrid as its intellectual spear, sharpened and focussed for this moment.

Bishop Colman straightened his neck and spoke. “My Lord, the matters before us are simply stated, but dense with implications…” he let the words settle on the gathering.

The King nodded his head imperceptibly. Everyone new what was at stake, here. The matter of the monks’ tonsure was trivial. No-one was going to lose sleep over a haircut.

“You may limit yourself to the important matter of the computus,” instructed Oswiu. “We must end this, swiftly…”

Bishop Cedd let his body fall, gently, back into the chair, freeing the space in the centre of the room for Coleman’s piece. Knowing, with great sadness, that what followed would make not the slightest difference to the outcome. The computus was the method used to calculate the date of Easter, and only scholars understood it. It required a complex cross-reference of the tables of Sun and Moon, now wrenched free of its Jewish roots by Rome, which insisted it be on a Sunday… The original date had been set down by St John, viewed as the most mystical of the scripture writers, whose work now faced being sidelined by political forces.

Bishop Colman was closing his remarks, guided in brevity by his King.

“We honour our God who made the stars and the sun and moon, that in their written heavens lies the truth… unmoved by man’s adjustments, my Lord.” He bowed, and withdrew from the fading warmth of the space by the King.

Scholar Wilfrid of Ripon was eager to bring his case to point.

“And so, my Lord, the case from York – from…” he hesitated, “…from Rome… is this: that the proposed computus is that used in Rome, where the apostles lived, suffered and are buried.”

Wilfrid paused to look at his king. Oswiu’s return stare gave nothing away, but the King’s words had a sting: “I suppose you will tell me that the customs of the apostle John were peculiar to the needs of his community and his times and that, since then, the Council of Nicaea has established a different practice?”

“Yes, my Lord,” continued Wilfrid, seeing no reason to pause in his attacking torrent. “And that this method is the universal practice not only in Rome, where lie St Peter’s bones, but throughout the civilised world. Bishop Columba did his best with the skills at his disposal, but our methods have become more refined…”

The voice in the centre of the room was gentle, knowing that what it had to say would honour the intellectual forebears but hold no sway in what would follow. But like a blade she drove it home..

“Except that this method proposed by York and… Rome is not actually practiced in Rome at all…” Rising to stand, Abbess Hild’s words cut Wilfrid like a knife. “The nearest to Rome these methods are actually in use is Alexandria, in Egypt!”

There came a noise like grinding… then King Oswiu’s goblet shattered with the pressure his right hand was applying to it. Shards of white-edged pot flew from the arms of his throne across the room. No one dared move…

“Power sacrifices truth each and every day,” he said, in deadly tones, silencing the voices of dissent and disbelief. “One question alone will decide this!” His breath was visible and icy in the darkening room. He stood and pulled his heavy cloak around his shoulders.

“Who holds the Keys of Heaven?”

Cedd watched the world melt at the feet of the King as the greater force was released; looked deep into the royal eyes of despair as an age ended and another began to run its muddy coarse; watched as all nobility and striving was lost in the torrent of dirty mud… and then realised what the life of a King truly consisted of…

Minutes later, Wilfrid, triumphant, was led by his acolytes from the room. The King had spoken. The Roman way was to be the way. The authority of St Peter was restored… from Rome to Pope to York, Ripon and, now, the place that would one day be called Whitby, in a wooden building lost to time in all but deed, replaced and commemorated in the rigidness of stone.

The Synod of Whitby had ended…

{the above is a work of historical fiction, though based upon the facts known to history. It was written in this form to give the reader a flavour of the political and religious importance of the events that took place at the Synod of Whitby in AD664}

Epilogue:

Bishop Coleman returned to the monastery at Lindisfarne to resign and take his remaining Celtic flock back to Iona, where they prospered for a while among the Scots before retreating back to Ireland, where Celtic Christianity had, for a time at least, a surer footing

Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild continued their work, adapting to the new Roman ways. Cedd died a year later in Lastingham, after contracting the plague.

It seems that King Oswiu’s son, Alchfrith, disappeared from the historical records in the year after the fateful events of AD664. It is unlikely that he profited from the use of religion to upset the reign of his father via Wilfrid’s participation in the events above.

Wilfrid did, initially, prosper from the synod and was made Bishop of Northumbria by King Oswiu’s son, Alchfrith. Wilfrid led an ostentatious life and refused to be consecrated in England, saying he believed it to be insufficiently sacred ground. Instead, he went to be consecrated in France. While he was away, Alchfrith mounted an uprising against his father, which was unsuccessful. Exposing their collusion, King Oswiu stripped Wifrid of his title and role. For the next decade, Wilfrid repeatedly appealed to Rome for his ball back, but his fortunes were repeatedly dogged by English attempts to thwart him.

King Oswiu lived on in peace until his death six years later, in AD670. His domestic life made simpler by the fact that he and his wife (Queen Eanflaed) could now enjoy their Lent and Easter fasting and feasting together, instead of being out of sync within the different Christian traditions. After Oswiu’s death, Queen Eanflaed succeeded Hild as Abbess of Whitby. She continued this distinguished role until her death.

The Gospel of St John the Apostle and Evangelist continues to be studied by those of a ‘Christian Mystical’ persuasion, in the tradition of Celtic Christianity.

To be continued…

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

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Keys of Heaven (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 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can barely grasp the solemnity of the occasion.

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

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

You never know when you’ll need them…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Christmas carol singers near the swing bridge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Keys of Heaven (1): Cod and Lobster

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

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

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

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

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

(Above A coastline full of delightful villages)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above) The Crypt at Lastingham

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

(Above) the mysterious wells of Lastingham.

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

More when we get there in the narrative!

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

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

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

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

(c) Copyright Stephen Tanham.

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

Divide and be Conquered

It’s a funny thing, division – its principles apply to many aspects of our lives. We can cut something up, but its original ‘wholeness’ persists in ways we may never have considered.

Wholeness as a concept is worth some thought. Can we step back and consider why we think something is whole? Is it simply that ‘it works’ – in the way that a car works because all the pieces are in the correct working order and create a functioning machine?

Humanity has an innate skill in its ability to decide something is whole. Maturity teaches us that our individual life’s learning leads to a degree of wisdom. This is reflected in what we admire. Music is a good example of this. If we are considered person, whose state of mind is calm and searches for insights into the world and how it impacts us, then we will seek out music that – in its wholeness – reflects this. If we are a younger or less mature person, our state of agitation or angst might be reflected in a love for a more discordant style, whose essence is rebellious… or even violent.

The songs or instrumental tracks we seek out will have a certain resonance with how we feel about life, and , importantly, how we choose to extend our experience. In this way our ‘comfort level of wholeness’ will guide how we allow experience to make our life ‘bigger’.

Experience is, potentially, so vivid that, if we have the means, we may end up rejecting it and turning away from the new. Most adults do this to some degree; indeed, we may consider society’s measure of maturity to be the ability to throw a kind of ‘shield’ in front of the stream of life experience that would otherwise come at us – like a gale-force wind.

In so doing, we are saying to the universe ‘I have enough. I’ve learnt what I need to, I don’t want to go back into that fearful place where what I have stored up as ‘me’ can be threatened by change…’

And then we stop and look at that last sentiment: ‘threatened by change’.

It’s a frightening moment in itself. Are we to cast off the defences we have constructed over a mature lifetime? We will, at the end of our lives, go through an enormous change, as our physical mechanisms lose their ability to stabilise the flow of apparently chaotic universe coming at us.

Yet, people report seeing great peace on the faces of those loved ones they have partly accompanied on that journey. I have watched a small number of people die, and seen nothing but peace in that passing.

But, such considerations are for the end of our lives. What about the catastrophes that seem to triumph against our values, against what we call our civilisation? There is a widespread feeling that our beloved planet is beset by these from both political and environmental sources. New super-powers are arising, often with very different value systems to those we respect in the so-called West. Even within our societies, there is a renewed arising of populism, which seeks to throw away that which is established, simply because it is so.

I suspect it had always been that way; that we have lived through an unparalleled period of post-war prosperity and stability. Sadly, the lessons of the major wars of the past one hundred years seem to count for nothing within whole sections of our world. A historian friend once said to me: ‘When you forget about the real horror of societal chaos, it is free to live again…’

It may be that our coming struggle with what we are doing to the natural systems – wholeness – of the Earth are a kind of final maturing of the being and consciousness of its dominant life form. But, it is hard to see how our present political systems would permit the needed changes.

Perhaps even this is wrong. Maybe when what seems like self-evident goodness is swept away it is because it has been passed on as learning and opinion and not as experience. But, how could we pass on experience? It is impossible – and therefore eternally transient and changing. Its value is to the individual who collects it, consciously – who seeks it out. When enough such people combine their selfless desires and experience, a new civilisation is born.

When the dams break we may face our greatest test; and it may not be further resistance, but ‘going with the flow’ and being a true ‘elder’ in a world that will desperately be seeking a living memory of the former wholeness – even though the age may need a new one… It’s own.

It is a vast wheel – as depicted in the sacred literature of the ancient ones. The only bit of it we are in control of is our refection of that whole, filtered by the lenses of perception we have established from what has happened to us.

In that there is a great key to our lives. And, within the wholeness of our humanity may lie much deeper answers than we have encountered before.

In our forthcoming weekend workshop: The Keys of Heaven – In the footsteps of St Cedd, 6-8 December, we will be considering these deepest of questions from the perspective of the spiritual psychology of mankind, and its ability to interact with our fate. A few places are still available.

©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 (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.