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…


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Wednesday Wander – Watchet, Somerset

This little harbour town in Somerset is has neither the fame of San Francisco nor the glamour of Biarritz, yet it is where I’m wandering this week.

Watchet is a charming place with an ancient history, situated at the mouth of the River Severn. An Iron age hill-fort nearby, later re-fortified by Alfred the Great, is said to be the origin of the settlement, with the harbour originally named Gow Coed by the Celts, meaning ‘under the wood’. Across the water lie the misty hills of Wales and it is from the harbour, looking at the view, that Coleridge is said to have been inspired to write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. A statue marks the spot, the Ancient Mariner and his albatross together for eternity.

We stayed in a pink-painted cottage with a view of the sea, walking the cobbled streets to the local pub or fish and chip shop, wandering the bric-a-brac and antique stores (where I scored an excellent pair of vintage boots).

A trip to the nearby beach produced further treasure in the shape of fossils – ammonites and oyster shells frozen in time for millions of years, tumbled among the stones that lined the shore.

As we walked back from the beach we took a bramble-lined path running between the trainline and the sea. In the 19th century, Watchet was a centre of the industrialised paper industry, its products travelling country-wide. Now the tracks are used by commuters and sightseers, and it was a rather special day. The famous Flying Scotsman steam train was in town, taking people on journeys through the beautiful green countryside. People lined the tracks to watch it pass, and so did we.

We had only a couple of days in Watchet, yet it made an impression that lingers, of hidden houses down curving streets, distant hills and fossil beaches, and water that changes with the sky and tides. I hope to go back there one day…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


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.

 

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 6 – Rain to Bow

Along winding roads through green fields, the purpling hills beyond, we travelled back to where our journey began – Easter Aquhorthies. We returned to a circle transformed from the screaming wind and rain of the previous day – this time, the sun drew shadows from the stones, the distant peak of Mither Tap clear against patches of blue sky. There was still rain around, but none really came to trouble us as we once more found our stones and learned more about their alignments.

‘My’ stone was warm, welcoming again, and I gave it a gift, something I’d been carrying with me, looking for the right place to leave it. It seemed to have been accepted. I learned that ‘my’ stone aligned with the winter solstice sunset, and also with the viewing platform we could see through the trees… which also lined up with the circle and carved stone in the housing estate beyond. Truly, the people who created these monuments worked on a large scale and with great accuracy, the alignments of sun and moon and land precise to the decimal point.

Another group came through to the circle, four people, and we could hear them talking amongst themselves, wondering what we were all doing. A joke was made about practising for the sacrifice later, and that we only needed four willing victims. They laughed, but didn’t stay too much longer – we were just joking, honestly!

One of the interesting features of the circle is the two smaller stones sitting against the huge recumbent. They are angled out slightly, almost like welcoming arms and, we discovered that, if you sit down between them, your voice will carry throughout the circle, even through howling wind. However, stand tall and it is lost. And so, with the weather a little kinder, Stuart treated us all to a gentle chant, the notes rising and falling around the stones, vibrating among us all. We were invited to join in, if we chose – I did not, choosing to listen again, my eyes closing as I leaned against ‘my’ stone.

… I stood with my back to the stone and could feel the alignments, arrow straight, running through me to the left and right of the stone, making a perfect angle. The alignments behind me didn’t matter – it was only the ones that ran in front of me across the circle that were important. I could feel the curve of the circle, too, and I was reminded of the shape I saw earlier, carved into an ancient stone – the broken spear, intersecting the curve. The lines were strong, the stone at my back comforting, a gentle guide…

I opened my eyes and the sky was transformed, rainbows around us, bright against the grey clouds. After the fierceness of the previous evening, it felt like a balm, a gift and, perhaps, an acknowledgement. If the storm and rain had been a test, perhaps we had passed?

After ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking photos, we left en masse. It was getting close to dinner time and we were all feeling hungry. After a brief moment of struggle when one of our party’s vehicles became stuck in a ditch (huge thank yous to the LandRover driver who pulled them out!), we headed back to our respective hotels with a plan to meet for dinner later.

To be honest, I was tired at this point. It had been a long and intense day, from the darkness at Cullerlie to the brightness of rainbows at Easter Aquhorthies. I was cold as well – despite the rain clearing it had been windy on the hillsides. My bed beckoned… but I decided to head out once more. It wasn’t often I got to spend time with the group, and I was looking forward to catching up over another meal. However, Saturday night in Inverurie coupled with the size of our group meant dinner bookings were hard to come by – we managed eventually, to find something.

I sat next to Stuart at dinner, and he leaned over and said ‘I have something for you. It’s a book.’ I was surprised, and got the feeling there was more to it than just something new to read. He continued,’ It’s from a friend of ours, who passed away. I’ve been told I’m to give it to you.’

Another coincidence. I’d never met the woman who owned the book, but remembered reading about her on Sue’s blog, and how she’d seemed quite a wonderful character. And now I was to have something of hers. It seemed fitting, on such a weekend, when the role of women was a theme that presented itself again and again, that I was to receive this gift. I felt honoured, to be honest – it was no small thing. And, as I sat opposite another new friend and reminisced about places and people we’d both once known, living in the same town for years but never meeting until this moment, I wondered to myself about the way the Universe seems to present things, waiting until the right moment.

Some of the group decided to head back up to Easter Aquhorthies – the night was clear and it was a chance to see the stars almost as the ancients would have, out among the hills. I declined – it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Perhaps I was tired, or perhaps I felt unready, but I did feel that I might get the chance to do so again one day. So instead I went back to my hotel to rest, ready for the last day of our adventure…

This is my account of a recent weekend spent away with The Silent Eye. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.


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.

Maiden, Mother, Crone – Part 2 – Easter Aquhorthies

I realise that Wednesday is usually my day to wander. However, I’m also writing up my weekend with The Silent Eye. So, I’m combining the two and taking a wander to Easter Aquhorthies Stone Circle, near Inverurie, Scotland, for the second part of my experience.‘I must be insane,’ I thought to myself. I was standing in the centre of a stone circle on a Scottish hillside, near-horizontal rain and hail hitting the back of my jacket like millions of ball bearings. My hands were frozen and I could feel that my waterproof trousers were not living up to their name. And yet… even though I knew the rest of the group were as cold and saturated, if not more so, than I was, none of us made any move to leave. It was one of those moments that defies explanation. And yet, wasn’t that what I was there for, after all? …

A hour or so earlier I’d walked into a shop, glad to get inside. The weather had alternated between rain and sort-of-rain as I’d made the ten-minute walk into the town centre, and I was glad I’d put on my wet weather gear before leaving the hotel.

A small sign directed me into the café where I’d be meeting the group of companions, and I entered to see I was almost the last to arrive, a table full of smiling faces greeting me. A warm hug from Sue and several other companions I’d met on my last Silent Eye weekend, and then I was introduced to the rest of the group.

And so the connections continued. I knew Running Elk from blogland, so it was nice to meet him in person. It was also a pleasure to meet his wife and her daughter, who happened to be Canadian. ‘Where are you from?’ I asked, having lived many years in Canada myself. ‘Oh, just outside Toronto,’ came the answer. I smiled. I knew that answer well, as it was one I made myself whenever I was asked where I’d lived when I was there. ‘I went to high school in––‘ I answered, and the shock in both their faces was profound. ‘That’s where we’re from!’ It was a wonderful extra layer to the weekend, and led to a lot of reminiscing.

But first, we were to be taken to the first stop on the tour. Running Elk had planned the weekend, so Sue, Stuart and Steve were as much in the dark as the rest of us as to where we were going to go. We piled into cars and headed out of town, following the (somewhat vague) directions we’d been given. The weather ranged between rain and clear, small patches of blue visible among the grey clouds overhead. Not the best outlook for a weekend we would be spending mostly outdoors, but it wasn’t going to stop us from exploring.

Heading along a private road, the land rising to either side of us, we eventually pulled in to a small car park. A track led away from it into fields bounded by low stone walls and lines of trees, the landscape opening up around us as we neared the stone circle we’d come to visit, Easter Aquhorthies.

The circle is a recumbent type, one of only a few remaining complete, and the name Aquhorthies comes from a Scottish Gaelic word meaning ‘field of prayer.’ Recumbent refers to the large red granite monolith lying on one side, a feature unique to this type of stone circle.

We wandered up the muddy track and through the gate. Upon entry, our guide invited us to enter the circle, and find a place where we felt comfortable. I skirted the outside at first but, as I passed the huge recumbent stone, the one just beyond seemed to call to me.

…‘stay with me, I’ll protect you’ The stone offered shelter and, as I stood in front of it, I felt a warmth on my back, like sunshine, or a hug, or the heat from a fireplace. Welcoming. There was no other stone for me…

Once we’d all found our stones, we listened as our guide explained the significance of each one, the alignments in land and sky. I turned to look beyond my stone, and saw a pointed mountain in the distance, the peak disappearing then reappearing in the swirling mists and cloud, like a mirage of a lost land.

Our guide beckoned us into the centre, to stand in a smaller circle around him. I was loath to leave the protection of my stone; the rain, which had been mizzling and drizzling since we’d entered the circle, had increased in intensity, as had the wind. However, it was time to join the others so I stepped away from ‘my’ stone and went to join them. By this point the weather had picked up to storm level and, as we stood there in howling wind and near horizontal rain and hail, straining to hear what he was saying, I must say I doubted my sanity. Yet, at the same time, there was no great desire to leave. The dog of one of our companions, who looked around at us all from time to time with a wonderful expression of doubt, sat still in the wet grass, waiting for whatever we silly humans were doing to finish.

… we were a group, a circle within a circle, listening, no matter what the weather threw at us…

Eventually, there came a point where even our guide had had enough, the wild weather turning blue denim black and filling shoes and pockets with water, even waterproofs not enough to withstand its force. The decision was made to go and so we did, making our way along the muddy track back to the cars.

By the time we got there, only a few minutes later, the sky was showing patches of blue once more.

Later, after warm showers and a change of clothes, we all met for dinner, a convivial evening where we laughed about the afternoon’s events, the weather seeming to most of us to have been a test of sorts. Whether we had passed or not, would be decided when we returned the following day. But there were other sites to visit first…


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.

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

Circles Beyond Time – Release

This is the continued story of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. For the first instalment, please click here.

img_3545We left The Fox House in a small convoy of cars, heading towards Carl Wark. It’s a Neolithic site, designated a hill fort despite the fact it is like no other hill fort in the area. As we left the cars and started along the trail, we passed between two large stones. Though they were set far back from the path, they nonetheless felt to me as though they marked a gateway of sorts, the beginning of a path.

As we walked the curving path, talking among ourselves, the landscape opened up. To the right the stone was tumbled and jagged, evidence of more recent human activity, blasting into the natural rock for building materials. It felt unnatural, like a scar on the landscape when compared to the sweeping natural beauty to the left of us. Then the path changed, turning down towards a narrow stream that cut the valley in two. A low stone bridge was the only way across. But it was blocked.

img_3581A figure stood there in robes of wool, hair wild, a symbol bound on his brow, his staff held out to bar the way. We stopped. The figure looked like Stuart, and it sounded like Stuart, but there was an echo there of an earlier time. ‘Under the weather indeed,’ we muttered, equally entertained and enthralled by the spectacle. It was well done, as was the next part – each of us taking our turn to cross the narrow bridge and be welcomed into the land.

Ritual can be as simple as a few spoken words or a silent acknowledgement – it does not need to be complicated. And so it was here, words spoken and a welcome given, along with a name – a reminder that she was stepping back in time. As she crossed the water and began to ascend, her mood changed, emotion running high. Her fingers strayed to two rings on her right hand, gifts from her two beloved grandmothers – they were quite valuable, but she had felt bound to wear them. Tears prickled her eyes as she touched the golden circles, reminded of their love.

img_3551We ascended through heather and bracken, the path boggy in parts, large stones seeming to mark the way. I was feeling more and more teary for some reason, and I turned to Sue, who was behind me. ‘This is quite an emotional place, isn’t it?’

She nodded. ‘So you’re feeling it too.’

Ah. Yes, I was definitely feeling something. Sorrow, but an old sorrow, as though I were releasing a pain long held. I told Sue, though I don’t know why, that I had brought my grandmothers with me. She responded by telling me that was a good thing, as we were going to be working with the ancestors. Hmmm.

img_3549As we neared the summit, the scale of the stones crowning the hill became apparent. Large blocks and shapes were placed precariously along the edge, including one that stood out and seemed to change as we approached – one moment a fish, then a bird, then a curling shell, it drew the eye from every angle. Finally, we reached the top, and were greeted by an extraordinary Neolithic stone wall. After taking a few photos, we entered the enclosure to find stones placed everywhere, shaped and carved, defining pathways and areas to sit and take in the views. Yet the large stone perched on the cliff edge stood out, and it felt strangely as though it were watching me.

…all at once she could see that the stone was a raven, wings furled, beaked head turned to greet her. She caught a glimpse of blue and cloth of gold, the raven’s eye following her wherever she went.

‘Kneel.’

The command came, and in her mind’s eye she knelt, weeping as two ravens, living feather and bone, flew past, black against the smoky valley below.

img_3561My eyes were full of tears, emotion rolling over me. Stu and Sue came back along the path and I whimpered something incoherent about ravens and grandmothers before wandering further in, gradually regaining my calm. Eventually, we gathered once more as a group, taking shelter from the wind among a cluster of huge boulders to hear more about the history of the place, and to share any poems or readings we felt might be appropriate. There were a few poems read, then one of the group gifted us with a song, his voice rising with the wind across the valley, a lovely serenade to the landscape. When he finished we all applauded, then Sue invited us into a meditation.

…the great stone seemed to rise and fall beneath her, a movement separate from the buffeting wind, from the rhythm of the song. As though she leant against the side of some great beast, breath blowing in and out, a creature of earth and rock. She spiralled back through the years, travelling out across the valley to the high ridges beyond, a silver thread connecting her back to the group at the rocks…

img_3576We were going to stay and watch the sun set, but the wind was growing stronger and the low grey clouds meant there probably wouldn’t have been much to see other than a darkening sky, so the decision was made to head back to The Fox House and see if we could get our reserved table any earlier. We headed back to the stone wall for a group photo, then started back down the slope. As we crossed the bridge over the stream we each paused, taking a moment in our own way to mark the sanctity of the place we’d just visited. I felt quite different than how I had when I ascended, something I had been carrying a long time released.

img_3570When we reached The Fox House, they were happy to accommodate us. Amid the good food and conversation, I mentioned to Sue that I’d written a poem for the weekend. ‘But it didn’t feel the right time to read it,’ I’d said, ‘plus I think there’s another verse.’ There was certainly another line – ‘Sleepers awake! Tell us your dreams.’ It turned round and round in my mind, and I knew it had to be included somehow. I pulled the notebook from my bag and gave it to Sue to read. She did, then passed it on to Stuart. He read it, then nodded at me.

‘We can work with this tomorrow, if that’s okay with you.’

#writephoto – The Glade

dancing-trees

I do love Sue’s photo prompts – her photos are so evocative, and she gets such a wide range of responses in different styles and genres. My response this week is… well, I guess it’s sort of a poem. I don’t fancy myself as any sort of poet, though, so perhaps it’s more, these are the words that came to me when I saw this image.

I walk,

Crack and snap

Of leaves underfoot,

Moss cool on my tattered skin.

The journey has been long,

And I a traveller

Through stars and time and shattered woodland

To this place where branches twist,

And stones tumble.

Sunlight golden

As I kneel, humbled.

At journey’s end.

To add an entry of your own, simply visit Sue’s blog for more details, then set a pingback to your post (making sure to post by May 25th). And don’t forget to use the #writephoto hashtag in your title!