Remarkable Rocks

Even from a distance, it separates itself from the landscape that gave it birth. After two hundred million years, its many faces continue to laugh at the sky – in the defiant way that large rocks often do… or perhaps it is long-lost love…

Its act of separation is not one of colour, for the hues are not dissimilar to those around it on that hard-faced dome above the Southern Ocean. Its perpetual difference is one of shape…

On a place where mature male kangaroos spring without warning from hidden gaps in the gumtrees that line the side of newly tarmaced roads – and will wreck a car doing any more that forty miles per hour – the Remarkable Rocks of the Flinders Nature Reserve occupy a liminal zone between the ancient and the modern faces of this place – Kangaroo Island – Australia’s third largest island, after Tasmania and Melville.

It is the way of Australia, that casual, no-nonsense approach to naming things, that renders this collective edifice of two hundred million years as merely ‘remarkable’. Yet that is their name – Remarkable Rocks, and has been for hundreds of years. No-one knows where the name came from, but my guess is that it originated in Aboriginal lore as something that was subsequently translated back into English.

Kangaroo Island separated from mainland Australia around 10,000 years ago, due to rising sea level after the last glacial period. You might imagine there were no human witnesses, but it may surprise you (as it did me) that the Aboriginal peoples date back an astonishing 60,000 years, so they would have actually experienced the gradual separation of what had become a shrinking peninsula from the mainland.

They left the island then, but not before naming it Karta (“Island of the Dead”). Their existence here was told in their stories, but has been proved recently by the presence of stone tools and shell middens. If you’ve followed the Silent Eye’s posts you may be familiar with the idea that such sites can be seen (and experienced) as not just honouring the ancestors, but as living links with them – places where communion with the collective ‘spirit’ of they who came before is possible. Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ is a good basis for considering a rigorous basis to such investigative beliefs.

They would have honoured its strangeness and gathered here to watch the sparks of their wise fires. For all we know, their spirits may gather now, flowing in from the surrounding greenery, to hold wise counsel when the bewildered tourists have gone home in their coaches and four-wheel drive cars. You cannot leave here without an intense feeling that you ‘missed something’. The inner laughter generated by Remarkable Rocks may well be designed to call you back, to be part of the commune-ity

The rocks share a process of origination with Uluru, which we were fortunate enough to visit on our last trip to Australian, two years ago. They were once a giant dome of molten lava, thrust upwards into beds of sedimentary rocks ten kilometres below the surface. The intense pressure and heat turned the sedimentary layers into hardened and crystallised metamorphic rocks. Two million years of erosion did the rest – leaving us with the other-worldly shapes found today.

You cannot stand here without being spoken to. Like Uluru, the giant rock in the centre of Australia, to which the Remarkable Rocks are related, these stones invite you to run, to dance around them, regardless of the dangerousness of the steeply shelving platform of basalt that tapers down to the sea – faster in its seduction than the wits of the unwary traveller. No fences or barriers prevent this; you are guided only by a small, written warning to be careful… Which leaves the raw danger untouched by laws of health and safety and invites you to dance around and through the strange shapes, with their curving hollows, sharing the danger as the price of Being here.

It was only as I was leaving that I had a flash of what was so compelling about the shapes of the Remarkable Rocks: they are like one of Salvador Dali’s surrealistic paintings. Once seen, you expect to turn another face of the rock and find a watch face, drooping around a ninety degree corner, moulded to the same magnetic override that shaped the rock on which it lies – its trivial purpose defeated by the incomprehensible age of that which supports it.

And, of course, you want these rocks, this place, to yourself… You want to watch its strangeness and come to terms with its shapes in solitude. I suspect that is seldom possible. Instead, an assorted cross-section of nationalities carry out their individual approximations to presence within the uncompromising shapes. It is playful and there is a feeling that there is no insult to the rocks in that play…. They have, quite literally, seen it all.

The Remarkable Rocks do something to the light. Again, like Uluru, they seem to drink it, allowing it to reflect different faces – different stories – from the vastness of their age and experience. It is impossible not to wonder how they ‘see’ the presence of the civilised men and women around them.

And then, we, too, have to go – urgently – to get to the tiny airport at the far end of the island that will take four adults and two young girls back to their home in Adelaide. I race one final time around the dangerous granite base, intent on taking with me the most precious of the emotions in the form of images. I want to be here…. This brief encounter was not enough. I will bridge the distance with heart and mind in meditation.

©Stephen Tanham

Patterned in Dorset (3)

It is said that a chapel dedicated to St Catherine once stood on this hill, looking down at the little town of Cerne Abbas, below.

The original St Catherine was a pre-Christian figure about whom very little is known. She was associated with the symbol of an eight-armed wheel – the famous ‘Catherine wheel’, remembered now in the name of a firework….

Those visiting hadn’t known of the site’s link to St Catherine when the plans for the Silent Eye’s pre-solstice weekend were created by Stuart and Sue. But the presence of symbols related to St Catherine only added to the power of what would unfold in a hidden enclave, below.

Above: the hidden path down to The Silver Well

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Two women wait in the green-kissed shadows of a path leading down to a holy well. They are both recent graduates of the Silent Eye’s three-year course in Self-knowledge. One had her graduation celebrated at the April ‘Jewel in the Claw” workshop; the other has travelled far, from another continent, to be with us on this weekend. In return, we wanted to mark her graduation in a very special way….

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The story of St Catherine, like so many of the ancient legends, was absorbed into early Christian mythology. There are many references to her in these parts of the south-west of England, and many are likely to be ‘Pagan’ in origin. The term ‘pagan’ was created to diminish anything that came before Christianity; but the discovery of our own rich spiritual past has given a different tint to this word, in much the same way that the word ‘Quaker’ was originally an insult to those of their persecuted and noble faith.

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The woman who has already passed through the rite holds the hand of the other, who is blindfold. The beauty of the place of the flowing water is to be revealed in stages. From the site of the Silver Well, below, the chime is heard. Together: one in knowledge, the other in trust, they descend the path….

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In the Christianised version, Catherine was the talented daughter of a noble Alexandrian family. She converted to Christianity as a child, after a vision of the Virgin and Christ Child. After speaking out against a corrupt emperor, she was ordered to be ‘broken’ on an eight-armed wheel. But the wheel broke, rather than its tortured occupant, and the eighteen year old girl was beheaded, instead.

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The guiding hand stops the other at the very edge of the flowing water. She can only hear the beauty of what lies ahead. From across the water she senses before her, she hears the first of three voices. A question is asked: she must state what she understands has happened to her in the course of her inner work of three years. There are no right or wrong answers, but the consolidation of the achievement is an important blessing on the soul at this threshold….

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The original eight-spoked wheel associated with St Catherine is likely to have been a symbol of the eight agricultural ‘festival’ dates of equinoxes, solstices and the cross-quarter days. Such a finely-tuned calendar would link the subtle changes in the human consciousness to the revolutions of the solar year.

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Intense minutes have passed. The three voices beyond the water have ended their friendly questioning. The answers have been recorded and delivered, as a scroll, to the graduate. The blindfold is removed by the guiding companion. The beauty of the Silver Well and its mystical altar are revealed. Ahead of her lies a choice of paths across the stream. There is no wrong path, only what the soul chooses….

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When the original St Catherine’s chapel had long gone from its hillside, the monastery of St Augustine stood at the edge of the town; and in its gardens there was a secret place, marked by a well. The well was loved and tended by the townsfolk. It provided much of their drinking water, being at its purest in the spring months when the flow from the hills was plentiful.

The monastery was, eventually, ‘dissolved’ on the orders of the King, whose name was Henry. Only a stone tower (now a private dwelling) and the well, which was likely to have been incorporated into the monastery buildings – as ancient holy wells often were – survive.

(Below: The pure and flowing water is also carved into the top stone of the altar)

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She is shown the choice of paths, and chooses the stone bridge, over which the waters of the stream gently wash. Her shoes are removed and, entering the shallow waters, she crosses to the place of the graduates…

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Although the monastery is gone, there remains an altar in this holy place. On its front edge are the Christian words ‘Whoever believes in me’. The full quotation from St John is continued around two of the edges of the altar stone:

‘Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

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She stands on the bare earth before the altar. With water and with words her hands and feet are washed, and the way forward is revealed. She takes her place and is embraced by all.

The simple rite is finished… The water flows.

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Above: Catherine of the wheel is still here….

The Silver Well remains. The almost-hidden St Catherine’s wheel by the Silver Well maintains its silent presence by the waters.

The Benedictine monastery is long dissolved. The older chapel on the hillside is gone. The ancient saviour-warrior figure carved into the hillside endures, together with the legend of St Catherine. The town celebrates them all, together with the work of its fine church.

There is harmony in Cerne Abbas… and the waters flow.


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

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

Within, you’ll find friends, practical mysticism, poetry, literature and photography…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Journal of the Far Side – 4: The 1954 Coffee Bar

The pictures on the wall tell the story – they’re an homage to how the world was in 1954, the year that Pellegrini came to Melbourne and established his iconic coffee bar. 

It was also the year I was born, and a small assortment of Italian-owned coffee bars were a favourite haunt of my mother and grandmother when they met, three times a week, to catch up in the industrial but self-proud Bolton of the pre-sixties. It explains a lot… and I remember it, vividly. I also remember how happy my beloved maternal grandmother was when we were in one of those wonderful spaces. 


There’s nothing quite like Italian coffee. The taste is a seamless invocation of how the typically-small coffee bars smelled when you entered, taking your place at the counter on one of the plastic-covered bar stools, unless you were lucky enough to get one of the few small tables. 

I think grandma had an arrangement with Nonna Tognarelli in Bolton, because we always had a table…


Pellegrinis is typical of what happens to you when you travel Northwards through the inner grid of Melbourne’s CBD – see, I’m getting the hang of these ubiquitous Australian city terms – Central Business District; every major city seems to have one. 


The old and historic tram service will take you, for free, anywhere within the CBD’s rectangle, as will the swish modern ones, which cut across and out, but the former will ensure you stay within the free zone, whereas the latter pose a risk for the unwary!

In the Northern end of the CBD, the shops, bars and cafes become older and much more individual. It’s no accident that the city’s China Town is here, too, with a new version of ‘capsule’ bar stool eating that is reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s furtive meal in the classic film ‘Blade Runner’. 

None of this bothers Signor Pelligrini, sitting at the end of his quietly-celebrated bar and having his wife – another Nonna – be part of the occasional tourist’s photograph. 


Most don’t, though. They enter, and are immediately sized-up by the quiet and respectful regulars and the genial staff. ‘Are you capable of coffee and quiet?’ their expressions seem to ask…


We are, and were. Sipping our coffee and resolving to come back for my first-ever spaghetti bolognese breakfast the morning after… it looked so good…

It’s a pipe-dream. We have to be at the airport to get our return flight to Adelaide, to rejoin the Aussie branch of our loved ones. 

‘Seize the day’ captions the elegant lady in what is obviously a favourite image from that quieter and more contemplative era, long gone… We did. 

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017. 

Facing Oblivion, Scroll Three

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Greetings, high priestess Camma

How humbled I was to receive your message, my love of so many years ago! We of the Roman army may think ourselves focussed and disciplined, but your simple message cuts me as would the blades of your fabled twin daggers.

You did not mean to do, this, I know; and you did it with such care that I could, indeed, in the dropping of the veil that time has thrown over our love, feel as we did, those years ago.

Are we so changed, my love of the groves and the moonlit lakes? Do the tides of Môna no longer speak of the unseen mists where mind and heart meet with the wonders of the wild things?

Suetonius Paulinus arrives soon. He will need to be advised of the ways of crossing the deadly straits of Môna Insula, where a man – or even a horse – may be swept to their deaths in the blink of an unprepared eye. Tell, me beloved High Priestess, how I may divert his keen eye so that, as we invade your island sanctuary, armed to exterminate, you may slip away, your tribe intact, via some other seaward route?

I do not believe that you want to die. There are many gods known to the Romans, but none of them would demand that we lay down our lives in this way. Is this simply the Roman gift of practicality, or does the Druid faith go so much deeper into the cycle of life that we have simply never known of the worlds you already inhabit?

You speak of ‘The Living Other’ when you instruct me in your ways of seeing what lies before you; a state that is not simply the Camma I know and loved, but a merging with something much greater. My time among you, in my youth, was obviously not sufficient for me to grasp this. I would know how this idea can be so powerful that you stand, unafraid, in the face of the might of Rome.

Answer this, if nothing else, my love of old. I know I intrude yet again, and risk the life of this runner, who continues to serve our dwindling exchanges. If I do nothing, the beaches, groves and sacred pools of your – our – ancient home will run red with your blood. There must be another way?

Amathus, Centurion.

Previous scrolls: One, Two,


Môna Insula was the Roman word for the Isle of Anglesey, the location for the Silent Eye’s December 2016 pre-Solstice weekend and the last stronghold of the Druids in A.D. 60.

Anglesey screen grab for WordPress

For more information about the “Of Ash and Flame”, weekend, 2nd-4th December, 2016,  Click here to download the PDF of the event. This is a ‘walk and talk’ weekend and everyone is welcome. The workshop fees are £50.00 per person. Accommodation and Food are not included.

©Stephen Tanham, 2016. The Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Facing Oblivion, Scroll Two

 

anglesey-dec-2016-druid-motif2aaGreetings, Amathus

How my heart leapt when I read the scroll your brave courier risked his life to bring. My own life has moved far from those innocent days when we gave that thin and trembling boy food and shelter. For several years we raised you as one of our own. I helped, of course, and watched and studied that intense boy with the blue-green eyes.

It has always been the custom among the Môecini to let the fates weave their pattern, especially within the minds and hearts of those in the care of the Druid tribes. So, when they saw us falling in love, they let us be; knowing that the life-thread would both add to the depth of my training as Priestess, and broaden the dimensions of your young life.

I know, without asking, that we hold in our hearts the memory of that final parting, in the grove by the sacred pool, when we pledged, on the light of the full moon, our undying love for each other…

How life broadens the view of such moments. Can the child determine what is right for the mature warrior or priestess? Of course not; and so I had cast you from my mind, dear Amethus, thus freeing you to continue your adventures… and me to turn, forcefully, to the study of the magic of the women and men who walk the paths of the spirit, in the love of the land.

We have both changed so much, my love…

I put aside my cloak of power; my wrought silver that sings to the Moon; my twin daggers that determine life and death when cast into the shallows of the waters by the grove when she is full.

I put them aside, for but a moment, so that I may speak to you as you remember me, and only for that moment; so that we may share one more time, and for the last time, the joy and the thrill of our short journey, together.

I do this because I, too, remember how perfect that love was. But like the traces of the far-line of the returning sea on the beaches of Môna, it was swept away by currents bigger and more righteous than our little hearts.

Do not strain your Centurion’s heart for me, my once-love. Do not think in terms of blood and sacrifice. We have long known that our days were ending. We do not see the divisions of life and death; only the turning of life-seasons, as the plant rises above the soil, ripens, is taken for its goodness, falls and is returned to the soil, again, to leave the root to work its magic in the dark places and re-kindle that silver blood that is life in the world.

Your leader, Suetonius Paulinus is well known to us. His coming, and its meaning, are written in the living silences of the sacred groves. We do not fear what must come to pass.

Be peaceful. Learn to read what must be, and study its unfolding for what others miss. We taught you this, once. Honour us, now, by holding it in front of your heart with the sword you must wield. My little gift accompanies this wish. May your courier ride on the hidden wings of the night.

Do your duty, brave warrior. Do not question that my flesh and blood are the fateful price of that meeting to come… Be true to the weave.

Camma, High Priestess, Môecini Druid People.

Other parts of this story:

Scroll One,


Môna Insula was the Roman word for the Isle of Anglesey, the location for the Silent Eye’s December 2016 pre-Solstice weekend and the last stronghold of the Druids in A.D. 60.

Anglesey screen grab for WordPress

For more information about the “Of Ash and Flame”, weekend, 2nd-4th December, 2016,  Click here to download the PDF of the event. This is a ‘walk and talk’ weekend and everyone is welcome. The workshop fees are £50.00 per person. Accommodation and Food are not included.

©Stephen Tanham, 2016. The Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Facing Oblivion, Scroll One

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Greetings, high priestess Camma

Where my heart would speak I must make my rank as Roman soldier talk in bitter tones. I long to place my arms around you, once again, and protect you from what is coming, but we have little time.

Suetonius Paulinus, a veteran of campaigns in North Africa, and much honoured in Rome, makes his way north, in haste, and means to cross the treacherous straits to Môna Insula with infantry and cavalry. His reputation is a bloody one and I fear for your people.

How little he knows of them! Would that I could open to him the gifts of my time with your tribe of Druids and show him the gentle and cultured face of those whose defiance and bravery have caused such fear in the hearts of the sons of Rome.

Alas, I may not tell my own story. Suetonius Paulinus can never know of the time a new priestess befriended a young traveller, a man between worlds and searching for meaning. He can never know how you and your people made him one of your own, before his returning wanderlust set his immature mind and heart on other paths…

How cruel that those other paths and lands would see him earn a reputation as a learned scholar, capable of many tongues, a man who was also gifted in close combat – born of too many encounters with thieves and rogues on the long journeys of discovery.

How cruel that the fates now cast him absorbed into Rome’s vast army and commanding a hundred soldiers, soon to unite with Suetonius Paulinus’ army which comes to slaughter you and your brethren…

Let me help you, beloved of my youth!  Let me lead you from Môna Insula to a place of safety. Be certain, my love, that he means to put you all to the sword and the flames; and also to destroy your sacred groves and defile your ancient pools.

Nothing will be spared.

He plans to be at the straits of Môna Insula by the next full moon. Let this secret scroll, carried by a runner braver than I, be your way back from the jaws of death. Send me your answer at once. The runner will wait.

Amathus, Centurion.


Môna Insula was the Roman word for the Isle of Anglesey, the location for the Silent Eye’s December 2016 pre-Solstice weekend and the last stronghold of the Druids in A.D. 60.

Anglesey screen grab for WordPress

For more information about the “Of Ash and Flame”, weekend, 2nd-4th December, 2016,  Click here to download the PDF of the event. This is a ‘walk and talk’ weekend and everyone is welcome. The workshop fees are £50.00 per person. Accommodation and Food are not included.

©Stephen Tanham, 2016. The Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

The Bristly Hog: Ghost Dancer

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I’m undergoing a kind of self-imposed emotional therapy at the moment, one that has nothing to do with my physical injury. I also have two ‘therapists’ in the wider sense of the word. The one looking after my lower left limb is located nearby in Kendal, the other is… rather more virtual.

As often happens with emotional therapy, the associated synchronicities are coming thick and fast… They are very helpful, these coincidences, for I’m seeking to shed a weighty and depressing load from the past two months, involving dilemmas of mass commercial suicide, the madness of power, and that understandable human compulsion to shoot the person who’s helping you the most.

I also have a plaguing ache from my left knee…

I don’t know my emotional therapist, but I’d like to. There’s not much he could do for my wounded knee, but he’s working wonders for my view of the collective lunacy that recently passed for the UK’s referendum, now known simply by the label of the victors: Brexit.

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“We just wanted to teach ’em a lesson.”

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I’m sitting in a place I love: my new ‘office’ in town – town being Kendal, on the edge of the English Lake District, and not in Indonesia, as Facebook insists; to which we retired after twenty-three years running a Manchester based software company. The Bristly Hog is a very special place, located in the main street of Kendal’s town centre. I’m waiting for my wife, Bernie, to join me, at the end of her shopping, for a late breakfast. I have Tess, our collie, lying peacefully next to me. The two of us have enjoyed frisbee throwing in the park and a walk up the footpath of the river Kent into town. It’s a tough life… and I’m hungry.

The Bristly Hog is a coffee bar with real food; an ‘indie’, to be exact. It’s one of the new generation of upmarket (but not expensive) startups that give you hope that the big boys can be taken on at their own game. The coffee is delightful; the food so good it actually makes your mouth water. Bernie arrives and our food arrives shortly after. I drizzle lemon juice on my tuna melt, knowing the delight to come with that first fork-full, and muse that there’s nothing mass-produced about anything in this wonderful place.

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In local terms, the cluster of buildings in which the Bristly Hog sits is historically famous. Its name is Black Hall, which, in the manner of the best of synchronicities, describes both my mood and the name of my emotional therapist, who also happens to be called Hall.

Rich Hall

Rich Hall is an American and does not know me; but he is capable of reaching out to those of us surrounded by lunacy. His combination of acerbic wit and fiery intelligence, combined with a determination to speak up whenever he finds that ‘gloo’ has glooped into the collective brain of flatlining local mankind is wonderfully therapeutic. I’ve followed him for years, but now I’m coming to count on him more than ever.

He is a comedian and a musician. He has graced British television for several years now with his panel game presence and his ability to create inspiring and off-the-wall docu-comedies about the most insane bits of our “Western’ lives. His latest one re-aired on BBC Four is about the real history of the Native American Indian, whose story he has savagely and intelligently condensed into one of the BBC’s slots. You can still watch it on iPlayer.

It contains a section on the ‘battle’ of Wounded Knee, the hilltop massacre of three hundred Sioux in the last act of resistance of the so-called Indian Wars. Their crime was to paint their faces white, in order to honour their ancestors, and to enact a mystical dance called the ‘Ghost Dance’, which created unease in the surrounding ‘white’ population. Chiefs Sitting Bull and Big Foot were assassinated in the few days encompassing the event – which still stands as a landmark to what collective fear can do…

I do not point the finger at America, here. Britain has too many such skeletons in its closet; ranging from its earlier colonial policy to the dispossession (in partnership with the French government) of the Palestinians in 1948; an event that sowed the seeds for much of the chaos of today’s middle east.

With full synchronicities engaged, I reflect that I do, actually, have a wounded knee. My left leg has troubled me for months, following a nasty groin injury. Only the valiant efforts of a local physiotherapist have prised me out of the conviction that, at sixty-two, I am finally developing arthritis – something that plagued my maternal grandfather and therefore has me in its clock-is-ticking sights. I do my muscle-restorative exercises for the ‘atrophied’ parts of my left leg faithfully – well, most days.

In the newspaper before me, I see that Nissan are preparing us for the ‘possibility’ that continuing to invest in their premier European plant, at Sunderland, the ‘town that broke the pound‘ might not make sense in the future.

“Brexit means Brexit” is the new mantra, even among those newly elevated politicians with the power to engineer a second run at public opinion now that “We’ve taught them a lesson” has been delivered.

It reminds me of an irascible maths teacher we once had who walked around, mocking our algebra tests by saying “one equals one”.  The whole thing brings to mind a Monty Python sketch from long ago where ten or so army officers around a dinner table rose solemnly, one by one, to go outside the room to shoot themselves because they did things like pass the after dinner Port in the wrong direction.

The regions that benefited most from the EU (for example, the North-West, Wales, the North East, Cornwall, and the Midlands) were the ones who regretted their ‘loss of sovereignty’ so much that they saw the light and ‘took back control’ in the same sort of gloopy way that must have made sense to those surrounding the Ghost Dance at Wounded Knee.

As the man from Sunderland said from the pub on the recent programme “Brexit – the battle for Britain” “we just wanted to teach them a lesson.”

I can understand the ‘teach them a lesson thing’. Along with many others, I’ve long objected to the centralisation of wealth in Britain within London and the South-East. But, like in other countries, it’s not a result of a policy, it’s the result of not having a policy… And it requires a different kind of politics to actually interfere with power and money – even if it’s only to get people to work on time and in enough comfort to make sure they can work all day.

Further into my newspaper I see that someone called Trump has, apparently, implied that the ‘Second Amendment people’ might just rid the world of Hilary by a well aimed bullet or six. Did she Ghost Dance, I wonder? It’s a dangerous business. I can feel my skin getting whiter.

My second coffee arrives. In our post-Brexit ‘English’ world, in which racist crimes are escalating – newly empowered by victorious Brexit’s focus on Immigration- the eclectic bunch of people serving us might feel threatened. But in Kendal they are probably safe.

One of these economic underlings serving us is a delightful Australian who we know well and has left behind the world of corporate coffee to bring her charm and warmth to the grateful customers of the Bristly Hog. Behind the counter is a tall ‘girl’ in colourful pigtails and a popsy set of dungarees. ‘She’ is a delight and very intelligent.  The manageress glides through, smiling at her varied, expressive and happy staff and nodding at the satisfaction of those partaking of food and drink.

I do not feel threatened by any of these people, Ghost Dancers or not. I hope they do not feel threatened by me.

I like aliens, I decide. I want to stay with them. I’m in good company, here in Kendal, which, as an old Quaker town, is remarkable tolerant. Alone in, I’m ashamed to say, a Northern sea of Brexiteers, victorious in their achievement of laying the foundations for the most vicious period of economic depression we have ever faced, South Lakes, as our little region is called, voted Remain (i.e. not Brexit). I’m rather proud of that…

My politics have always been complex. Raised in a socialist family, I later went into business and discovered the truth, good and bad, about the realities of living in an ‘aspiring’ society. I was one of the lucky ones. I took my chances and did okay. I wonder how many kids growing up now in Sunderland will be so lucky… and whether there will be any chances for them, at all.

I like to think I retained the ‘common touch’ at least from my Bolton roots. My philosophy, I’d answer, if I was pressed, is the kind use of intelligence; my religion; compassion. Simple, really, and not new at all.

“We just wanted to teach them a lesson…” It sticks in my mind like an itchy sore that the Monty Python doctor has said you can’t scratch…

We live in strange times, and, if you promise not to shoot me, I might just make regular posts from the alien world of the Bristly Hog… But I’m not ghost dancing… far too dangerous!

The Bristly Hog is a real place. Bring your open mind and have a lovely coffee!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016.

Whispers in the West – part three

Whispers 3 - 1

Whispers in the West – part three

After the group’s successful ascent of Carningli (panorama shot above), the second day of the Silent Eye’s Whispers in the West weekend continued, with a short, further car journey to one of the historic highlights of the trip – Pentre Ifan.

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Pentre Ifan is the best known, and because of its height, the most impressive megalithic monuments in Wales. It is believed to be the remains of a chambered tomb for the communal burial of the dead, which would have been used, continuously, for some period before being finally sealed for good. The tomb was erected in the Neolithic age, perhaps as early as 3.500 B.C.

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The burial chamber itself was once partially covered by a great cairn (see schematic, below), extending well to the rear, but the stones have long since been removed; so it now lacks its original covering.

Pentre Ifan schematic from board

(Schematic taken from a partial photograph of the CADW information board at the site)

Pentre Ifan is classified as of the Portal Dolmen type, with the front of the chamber composed of three large uprights set in an ‘H’ formation – though here it is placed, unusually, at the centre of a curving facade of slabs, in line with the design shown in the schematic.

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The enormous capstone, nearly 17 feet long, weighs over sixteen tons and is supported on just three stones, as can be seen in the above photograph. It is believed that the juxtaposition of supporting and non-supporting stones was part of the design of the dolmen.

The weather continued to be wonderful, as you can see from the photographs. Beyond this, though, and the fact that it was now late afternoon, there was a very peaceful atmosphere about Pentre Ifan. It is a very beautiful and spiritual place. No-one in our party wanted to depart…

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In leaving, we took one final look beyond the perimeter hedge, to see the now-familiar shape of Carningli, mountain of the angels, from which we had just come. Seen from this angle, you can see how high it is, and how it dominates the land around.

And then it was back in the cars for a short journey into a very beautiful valley to the north of Pentre Ifan to see St Brynach’s church in the lovely village of Nevern.

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The church is most famous for one of its many yew trees, near to the gate, which is called the “Bleeding Yew”. The yew tree is about 700 years old, which is extraordinary in itself.

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It has a red sap running out of it which has the consistency of blood – though it dries pink rather than brown. Trees are known to ‘bleed’ when their internal flow structures are exposed, but, according to local legend, St Brynach’s bleeding yew has been in that state for hundreds of years.

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There are many myths about why the Nevern yew tree bleeds: some say that as Jesus was crucified on a cross it is bleeding in sympathy. One myth says that a monk was hanged on this tree for a crime of which he was innocent and the tree is still protesting the injustice. There are many other stories, but the church and its surroundings have much more to offer than just the Bleeding Yew.

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Further up the main path to the church is a large and dominant Celtic Cross, carved with the familiar Celtic knot-work pattens seen elsewhere in western Europe.

The cross is one of the most perfect examples of ancient Celtic stone carving in all Wales. The total height is thirteen feet and the cross is two feet in diameter at its thickest point.

Experts date the cross as late 10th or early 11th century.  The four sides of the cross are carved with geometric interlacing patterns.

The West and East faces have inscriptions. One is Ans, meaning Dominus, latin for Master. The other is not as certain, and could be the word for Hellelujah.

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Language is major feature of the inside of St Brynach’s church, which unashamedly celebrates the Celtic history of the land around it. The famous Nevern Ogham Stone, which has inscriptions in both ‘Celtic – Ogham’ and Latin, has been laid as the lintel of one of the windows in the south side of the transept.

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The photo shows the Ogham lines cut into the corners of the stone to form words. There is even a notice showing you how to use the stone to write your name in Ogham – assuming there are sufficient letters.

And with that, our time in Nevern had come to an end. It had been a long and wonderful day of discovery and we were due to have an early dinner at the Sloop pub in Porthgain, on the twenty mile return journey to St David’s.

Lizzy had arranged things so that we would just have time for a slight detour on the way there to have a very special glass of Welsh cider at a place called (locally) Bessie’s pub in Cwm Gwaun. The valley which houses Bessie’s is well hidden and I would not have liked to find it on my own! Having said that, the village was delightful and full of friendly local people, sitting on their doorsteps in the early evening sun, who smiled at our band of weary travellers and waved us towards Bessie’s – the only pub in the valley.

And the cider? Well, if you get chance, have a pint of Black Dragon if you’re passing through these parts. ‘Nectar of the Gods’ springs to mind…

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The final part of this series of posts will conclude, next week, with our Sunday morning walk to St David’s Cathedral, via the coastal footpath and St Non’s clifftop church and shrine. St Non was the mother of St David.


The Silent Eye runs four such weekends per year; in April, June, September, and the start of December. Apart from the main April workshop, which combines mystical drama with teachings, they are very informal occasions, but a good way to meet some of the names and faces from the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. Everyone is welcome – we simply wander in a landscape and get to know each other.

The formal teaching programme of the Silent Eye School is a three-year correspondence course, studied at home and in the individual’s daily world, with personal supervision via email, and workshops. The teaching programme is based on a guided journey through the spiritual layers of a nine-pointed figure called the Enneagram (below). The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation and charges as little as possible for its work.

The Silent Eye's version of the enneagram has a few extra features added to the core (but unchanged) symbol.
The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram.

You can find details of the forthcoming events for the year on our website.

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