Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 5 – Failure

I recently attended a workshop with The Silent Eye about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part five of my account, parts one, two, three and four can be found here…

We left Tideswell and headed into the hills. The sun was shining, the temperature warm enough for just a light jacket – not exactly the kind of weather one associates with fear. However, so far we had faced pestilence, death, and the idea of losing everyone you hold dear to be left alone in a changed world. Quite intense for the first afternoon! I started to get the inkling that this weekend would be about challenging myself internally, as well as externally…

Fear is something that is both universal, and specific to the individual. There are fears that hearken back to our ancestral roots – the fear of being vulnerable, cast out, or killed by some predator. Then there are fears that are more personal – some people suffer from claustrophobia, whereas others dislike large open spaces. Some people are scared of heights, others of spiders – it really depends on the individual. There are modern fears – nuclear war, gender-based violence, terrorism – and age-old ones such as poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness. Fear is unique to each individual, and yet is something we all share. Our next destination was a place where people were tested against an ancient fear, yet where the same tradition is still observed to this day.

We arrived at a very busy car park with people everywhere, a coach disgorging even more walkers near the entrance. While it was a pleasure to be out in the Peak district in such glorious weather, rather than in the rain I’d experienced last time I was there, it did mean it was a bit more crowded than usual. There also seemed to be some sort of event on, with officials seated a tables, people wearing numbers and carrying water bottles. Still, it was a wide and glorious space and there was plenty of room for everyone, plus it made for a more social walk, with lots of lovely dogs to be petted and conversations to be had. Nothing to be scared of here, unless you don’t like dogs or conversation.

After a short conversation our group split, with some of us taking the path running along the cliff edge, while others took the more gentle path among the heather and cairns. For this was a land of the dead – an ancestral burial ground, with scrying bowls carved into stones, small piles of rock dotting the landscape. It didn’t bother me, though – the dead are at peace in such places. So I took in the view, and we remarked how it felt as though the wind was scouring us clean, blowing away the last vestiges of the strangeness we’d experienced the day before.

As the path turned a large stone, standing alone among the cairns, became visible. This is the Eagle Stone, so named because, from one angle, it looks like an eagle at rest. Carved by the elements into fantastic shapes, it has been used since time immemorial as a testing ground for young men to show that they are ready to be wed. Before they were allowed to marry, the young man at first needed to climb the stone to the top, a test of manhood to prove their worth.

While it may seem a simple task, closer inspection revealed there is no easy way to the top. A couple of our group tried, but even to get a short way up was far more difficult than it looked. This would have been a test of both strength and ingenuity, an indication to the tribe that the young man in question was a suitable candidate to marry and pass on their skills to their children.

So the fear to be faced here is the fear of failure, both on a personal level, and of the tribe. If no young men were able to climb the rock, then the tribe was doomed to weaken and die out. And for the young men in question, they would lose both respect and the chance to marry the one they loved. Interestingly, the custom persists, as young men from the village below still climb the rock before they get married, often with the help of friends, and with a veil tied around their waists. As Sue put it so eloquently, ‘perhaps ‘manhood’ is not only defined by the ability to face fears and overcome hurdles, but by the ability to cooperate and help each other.’

As I stood in the shadow of the rock I considered how, perhaps, ancient traditions designed to propagate the strength and fertility of the tribes have become twisted over the centuries, so the idea of fighting for a woman’s favour, of not giving up until it’s bestowed, the idea that it is somehow owed in return for making an effort, has gained traction with some segments of society. And that there is a different kind of fear attached to such behaviour today.

But, as we laughed and joked and made friends with yet another lovely dog, I felt a world apart from such things. It had been a lovely peaceful morning, especially after the strange events of the previous afternoon, and it was nice to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air. However, I had no idea what the rest of the day had in store…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Fire Dance

‘‘A firedance through the night.’ What d’you suppose they meant by that?’

‘Who?’

‘That band, you know the ones, all floppy hair and white teeth. You know, catchy melodies. They had fancy lyrics, too.’

‘Oh, yeah. I dunno.’

‘You dunno the band, or you dunno what they meant?’

“Both. It was a while ago, wasn’t it?’

They continued along the dark road, footsteps echoing in the cold night air.

‘Maybe they were talking about those fire dancers, you know, the ones you see on the beach, twirling their fire sticks. Remember that holiday we went on?’

‘Yeah. Nice, that.’

***

On the hillside beyond, fire bloomed, like an exotic red gold flower opening, throwing smoke into the velvet sky.

***

‘It was a catchy tune. One of my favourites, back in the day.’

‘Oh well. That’s nice. Cold tonight, isn’t it?’

‘Lovely and clear though. Look at them stars.’

‘Won’t mind getting in though. A nice cup of tea, I think.’

‘Sounds good.’

***

Above them, drumming rang in the high places. Figures masked and cloaked moved between the fires, casting long shadows. Their dance was older than history, older than the hills. It had been sung and written about many times, ribbons of memory woven into pictures anew.

But they did not concern themselves with the world. All they needed was the dance.

This was my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt for this week.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Stonehenge and Solstice

It’s Midsummer today, or Litha in the old calendar, the point where the great wheel of the year turns towards winter once more, the nights gradually growing shorter until Yule, the great festival of Light. On a hot day such as this one the thought of winter is almost welcome, to be honest.

Today is also one of two points during the year when the sun’s rising is marked at Stonehenge, the famous stone monument in Wiltshire. On Midsummer morning the sunrise aligns perfectly with the Heel Stone, and crowds gather to watch the spectacle, one of the few times in the year that people are allowed within the ancient circle of stone.

I have yet to mark Midsummer or Midwinter at Stonehenge, but it is on my list to do so. There is something about the tumbled grey stones, still standing proud upon Salisbury Plain, that tugs at me. The mystery surrounding their use, the precision with which they mark the turning of the year and have done so for millennia, and the astonishing fact that many of the massive stones came from miles away in Wales, brought to the site using technology that still remains undefined, despite efforts to replicate the feat.

I visited Stonehenge most recently in March, on a cool sunny day. Once again the stones remained inscrutable, their message like a song almost heard, dancing on the edge of sound. The light changed the shapes and shadows, and up above a small plane swooped and wheeled, coming so low that concerned staff came out to monitor its progress, worried it might perhaps crash into the stones. But it disappeared after a while, buzzing away across the plains, above the old barrows and hidden earthworks to destinations unknown.

I also visited the brand new visitor centre, set back some way so it is not visible from the monument. It is a vast improvement on the old centre. Shuttle buses take visitors to a point closer to the stones, the road that used to run past them on one side now closed except to walkers, meaning we reached the stones on foot as was done originally. The new centre is very well done, with some excellent interactive exhibits and artifacts excavated at the site – it kept the gorgeous girl busy for quite some time! There were also some replica Bronze Age roundhouses outside, the plaster walls and thatched roofs against a blue sky somehow timeless, and as though they could have been anywhere in the world.

I have wandered to Stonehenge before, and no doubt will do so again – a place holding such magic is worth more than one visit. Thanks for coming on this Wednesday Wander with me – see you again next time!

PS I LOVE this! Nothing like a Spinal Tap reference to make the day complete 🙂


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Thursday Doors – The Tower Of London

I will be doing a post (or two!) at some point about the Tower of London, but as it’s Thursday I thought I’d share a selection of doors from inside the fortress.

The Tower, one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, is almost a thousand years old. It’s built on older Roman foundations, so there are layers upon layers of history.

And there are quite a variety of doors as well, from elegant panelled affairs to hulking great hobnailed beasts, designed to keep people out.. or in.

To be honest, even though we were there for several hours, we didn’t see everything (although we did see the Crown Jewels). So I imagine I’ll be taking a trip back to the White Tower again soon.

This has been my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

#writephoto – The Spring

the-silver-well-3It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for another lovely #writephoto prompt, courtesy of Sue Vincent. Here’s my response to this week’s image:

Squat and heavy, the stone sat next to the little spring, which was all boxed in and bricked up, water pooling, corralled, channelled, rather than roaming free.

The stone had been there so long it remembered a time when the water ran through green grass, from a natural pool lined with tiny flowers in curled leaves, the earth so dark and rich it was almost black.

The stone had held a different shape then. More curves, less angles. It had been chosen for its shape, placed there with careful hands, venerated and looped with flowers and ribbons. Now all that adorned it was moss, and the hands that touched it were no longer so careful, using sharp metal and blunt force to control its shape as they had controlled the spring, wanting to impose order on the land.

But the water still flowed, still clear and cold, tasting of deep caverns where light never shone, where dark towers of stone held crystal roofs high. The stone remembered being there, deep in the earth, in the place where the water was born.

And now, bit by bit, it flowed back there again, the spring taking it home.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Seventeen – Early Morning

img_4673Earlier this week I shared this image on my Instagram account. It was taken one early morning as I walked past the park. Mist hung low beneath the trees, the light behind turning them to silhouettes and it seemed so serene to me, the mist like a blanket on the grass, that I had to stop and take a photo. It also reminded me a little of my first Ambeth book, Oak and Mist. Perhaps if I’d stepped between the trees I would have found myself… somewhere else.

I usually wake up early. I am a morning person – once I’m awake it’s very tough for me to go back to sleep again. However, I don’t like to feel rushed in the morning. I’d much prefer to wake a half hour earlier and breakfast leisurely, rather than running around in a panic to leave the house on time.

img_3684While away with The Silent Eye on a magical weekend, we watched the sun rise. It was bitterly cold but clear, ancient rock formations wreathed with mist like dragon’s breath, golden light turning small graven pools to mirrors. It was utterly beautiful. I do believe there is magic in the  turn from night to day, and day to night – they are moments of power, of possibility.

img_3702And so early morning, like early evening, is one of my favourite times of day.

This was my response to Day 17 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge – today’s prompt is: Early Morning


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Circles Beyond Time – Dawn

img_3662This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here for parts one, two, three, four and five.

5:11am.

Ugh. I hadn’t slept well, and my alarm jolted me out of a dream. Yet, once I’d woken fully, I was excited. This morning we were heading up into the hills to chase the sunrise. I wouldn’t have missed it, no matter how tired I was. I showered and dressed quickly, managing to gulp a few mouthfuls of tea before heading down to the deserted hotel lobby. There was a small moment of panic when I thought I was locked in, but I emerged eventually onto the still-dark street, a pale glow of light in the sky heralding the coming dawn.

We were to meet the rest of the group in the Fox House car park – my companion and I were the first ones there, so I wandered off to take some photos of the view, trees silhouetted against the pastel-hued sky. The air was cool and still, and I was glad of my extra sweatshirt and wool hat against the pre-dawn chill.

img_3671Then we were off, taking the winding road higher and higher until we reached a small parking area. Leaving the cars we climbed higher still, up stone stairs to where an ancient hillfort crowned the peak, views in every direction. The stones were large, in some cases huge, carved and shaped and most definitely placed there. But by whom, exactly, is lost in time.

img_3674We gathered as a group to watch the sun make its appearance over the far ridge, golden light moving across the valley floor, pushing mist ahead of it. The group chose to greet the sun in their own way – I stood to one side, for some reason feeling the need to be alone.

…it seemed that her path lay through solitude. Companions there would be, but in the end, she had to choose her own way, be true to her own self. So she faced the dawn apart, but not alone, sending a greeting from a place deep within…

img_3684Once the sun was above the ridge we were free to explore, wandering along sandy pathways studded with tiny pieces of white crystal. I walked among the stones, listening to the morning sing and watching mist rise like dragon’s breath from distant Carl Wark, where the weekend’s journey had begun.

…as she walked the peak to the sunrise, all at once it was as though she stood on a pathway of stars, the heavens above reflected below, and she a dancing figure poised in between. The feel of something older, something beyond…

img_3699As the light grew brighter, I amused myself by taking shots of my shadow against the golden-lit rocks. We weren’t the only ones up there, a few photographers taking advantage of the clear morning and glorious views.

 

img_3681I took several photos of the small depressions carved into many of the rocks, their reflections like a path of stepping stones towards the sun. One particularly large rock formation had taken my attention and I turned to Sue.

img_3693‘Those stones…’ I began.

‘Oh yes,’ she said, smiling.

…a piled stone figure, lion messenger of the people who were once here. It reminded her of ancient doorways an ocean away, of stone figures left on mountainous shores, marks of the peoples who lived there. It was both welcome and warning, that here she stood on ancient land…

img_3694We continued to wander the hilltop a while longer, but it was getting cold and breakfast was beckoning. The decision was made to descend, arrangements made to meet up later for our final trip to the stone circle at Arbor Low. The golden sunrise promised a fine day ahead…

img_3702