Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Rosslyn Chapel Crypt

The Rosslyn Crypt: A Place Apart

The simultaneous arrival of a coach load of tourists as we pulled into the carpark, did not bode well for our visit to Rosslyn Chapel, nestled in the shadow of the Pentland Hills, just south of Edinburgh. The glass edifice of the new “visitor centre” only increased the sense of foreboding – to be surrounded by an overwhelming mass of tourists at this holy site did not bear thinking about. It was of course our own fault: since first becoming aware of chapel and its occult/ esoteric significance, it had taken us some ten years to finally get here; in the intervening period the inclusion of the Chapel in the Da Vinci Code (novel and film) had multiplied the annual visitor rate one hundred fold. But wherefore this sense of superiority? Our pilgrim’s tour had been motivated by a desire, a need, to be here – the motivation may have differed very slightly from our fellow travellers – but forget not that the original pilgrimages to such places as Canterbury, were the original “package tours” – pilgrim/ tourist: not that different really!

In Fear of a Green World

But then a very strange thing happened: just as I stepped across the threshold, the anticipated noise and distraction in this hive of activity, created by so many animated bodies in so small a space, did not materialise! Yes, there was a mass of people, many of them pushing through non-existent spaces, talking at the upper limit of their voices, illuminating the sacred with their profane i-phones – but none of this mattered as it was as if I was hermetically sealed within a personal all-surrounding invisible shield: all spatial and temporal influence suspended. As I meditated under the stars and flowers (“Every Man and Every Woman is a Star”) which arched in ribs over the choir, I was oblivious to all but the moment and the space: nothing else mattered. 

A Fiery Ouroboros

The paganness of the place, of which I was aware having done my research, was still overwhelming. A proliferation of Green Men leered and glared from every nook and cranny; a Tree of Life (identified, perhaps misleadingly, as the Apprentice Pillar) with its actual bee-hives hidden far above – from which at some early point honey must have dripped, filling the Lady Chapel and Sacristy with a mind-blowing sweetness; Lucifer falling, his wings fully extended, entwined in a snake-like coil of rope, very reminiscent of the Tarot hanged man; knights conversed with angels, eight dragons writhed in a fiery ouroboros  at the foot of the tree – an alchemical reminder that everything is cyclical and transcends duality. And this walled forest is deliberately placed on the edge of Rosslyn Glen, like a mighty megalithic stone circle, with a backsight that is positioned towards a cleft in the hills, through which the sunrises on both the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.1
 Oh holy, holy, holy sacred visitations!

Lucifer Falls

And then, with all synapses firing in attuned harmony, I descend the steep flight of steps into the crypt. Half-way down I am overcome by an almost palpable sense of deja-vu. I stumble… and whatever it was is gone. But a lingering sense of the connection stays with me in this underworld. A threshold, the second today, was marked and crossed – and I feel decidedly out of kilter, the suspension of temporal and spatial influence evident above is now, paradoxically, magnified and distilled. This lower world is a place apart, almost devoid of decoration and with no evidence of any entombment, it seems to oscillate on a high frequency of otherness. The air down here seems denser, clotted with vibrations, accumulated over centuries. This is a mind-altering location. I long to explore its mystery properly, to meditiate and journey – but the threat of being trampled underfoot means that this undoubted pleasure must be postponed.  I return above ground with the growing awareness that the ornamentation visible up here is a manifestation of what is below; and what is below fuels this space like a mystical battery. Believe the hype and prepare to enter inner space at Rosslyn: but come early in the morning, as I plan to do next time.

Blessed be!

 1. See Rosslyn Chapel Decoded by Alan Butler and John Ritchie

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Water thresholds1: Holy Wells

Ladywell: Glasgow

At the foot of the imposing mound on which sits the City of the Dead, we finally discovered Glasgow’s Ladywell. Nestled between the lower reaches of the Necropolis and the modern equivalent of a dark satanic mill, seemingly cast out by its location, but yet most obviously significant by its presence/ atmosphere. We had fruitlessly tried to locate it during one of our previous visits; this time armed with information gleaned from Google Earth, we would not be denied. The clouds, which just moments previously had threatened a significant level of precipitation, were cast aside by the Sunny boy keen to get into the act.

It is no accident that the well is located at the end of one of the oldest streets in Glasgow; that is the reason why the street is one of the earliest to be trodden by our ancestors  when it was no more than a track – and so, no doubt, the story goes in all of the oldest settlements on these islands. The head of the well has been capped for years, but there is no mistaking the feeling of power emanating from the depths; biding its time – Nature will return to all such places, to restore the essential flow and to re-set the balance.

Water – one of the four alchemical elements, from which primordial ooze our ancestors spilled forth onto the Earth: making an elemental connection overwhelming in its significance. And yet an arching back to the water, a short circuit of evolution, producing Undines, Mermaids, Mermen. 

Come away, O human child!/ To the waters and the wild/ With a faery hand in hand/ For the world’s more full of weeping/ Than you can understand.
                                   W.B. Yeats: The Stolen Child

[As an aside - check out The Waterboys version of Yeats's poem here: The Waterboys: The Stolen Child

Yes! The Waterboys (no accidental name) with chief diviner Mike Scott channelling W.B.Yeats and dowsing deep into the heart spring to which we are all connected; linking to the fixed stars which govern all our lives; focussed on the Water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.] 

By our very dependence on alchemical H2O, we are unwittingly ruled by the Early European Bird and Snake Goddess who rules over the life giving force of water; symbolically everywhere on ancient pot and wall, her eyes burn forth from the deep centre of the world: the perfect sphere with a mythical stream of water issuing from its heart spring.   The bicameral minds of our Celtic forbearers not only venerating the water of river, spring and well, but in direct and literal holy communion with them. The Thames a holy river – a Celtic Ganges given the name of the holy Egyptian goddess, our beloved Isis; clogged with votive offerings: swords, brooches and bodies. 

Once we danced naked on the banks of our rivers, by our wells and springs all holy, all connected, all one – no separation, the dead and the living alike. Celebrating our ancestors at holy head wells; the head, the temple of the soul, placed in the holiest of locations, in close proximity with life giving water. Life-giving and protecting, a deep source of healing and a connection to the underworld; but also, paradoxically separating the land of the living from the land of the dead by way of the River Styx.

Glasgow's City of the Dead

And then the rebranding of pagan holy sites ordered by Pope Gregory in 601 CE, leading to the “blessing” of pagan springs and wells and the  sprinkling of  droplets of “holy” water on the relatively vast oceanic springs and wells, on their deep holiness in homeopathic ritual and a re-wiring of the circuit to connect to the Christian Goddess, Earth Mother Mary. But the holiness remains, unmoved by the changing nomenclature, unchanged by the moving away from the three worlds by the majority. They have survived, they are maintained and they await any pilgrim shaman who wishes to re-connect to the past and the future. Seek them out, tread the pathways of your ancestors, re-vitalise both yourself and this world. Blessed be.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Re-connecting with our ancestors

We recently took a trip along the North Antrim time coast to re-connect with the spirits of our ancestors ( a very important element of our shamanic practice). Visiting ancient holy wells, the remains of castles and a stone circle which encloses a C. of I. church, by the end of the trail – on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, next stop the Americas! -  we were filled with a grounding ecstasy. What follows is an attempt to sum the experience up – accompanied by a trio of photos taken on the day.


We pilgrims sat together, questioning, at the edge of our world
where the clouds swirled and the dirt track ended.
Far above two hawks began a spiral dance,
carried by our minds divine, 
holy well, holy stones, holy time.

In these birds a prayer we pray, 
our souls corkscrew a double helix, on a journey
to a sky burial; a blazing ghat; or a soundless plot
split by a banshee lament,
at the walls of a  church set down within a stone circle:
sanctified short circuit producing angelic messages of change in discarded  feathers,
holy well, holy stones, holy time,
holy well, holy stones, holy time.

Change my feathers black for the voice of angel;
my feathers white for consideration and understanding.
Burn me down beyond the bleached bones of skeleton;
fill my skull with moss saturated with peaty water;
give me myriad leaves where I had words;
fill my veins with all the species of small black insects;
make my skin crawl with creepy things;
scorch my soul with the green word;
fill my ears with the crackle and hiss of creation;
the sough and toss of surf on a stony beach;
rip out my eyes and in the sockets plant a forest,
and in the forest the smell of damp and decay,
holy well, holy stones, holy time,
holy well, holy stones, holy time,
holy well, holy stones, holy time,
holy fire, holy breath, holy rhyme.

Privilege is everywhere
Life is what happens
when you look away.  

Sunday, 18 August 2013

In The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies: A Visit to Aberfoyle Kirk and Doon Faery Knowe

A mass of ancient trees surround us, their presence is overwhelming. Roots break the skin of earth, tripping the unwary; roots which draw sustenance from deep underground, from another world. As we push deeper into the wood immediate silence envelopes our pilgrim line, the chatter and cough of grey backed crows; the insistent spitting chirrup of the robin – gone! For we are interlopers here: visitors on a suspect day-pass, watched by unseen eyes. We are on the cusp of the “between” which is not a void, a barrier to contact, but rather it is a space which has unique temporal and spatial qualities. It is as the between which is the pause between the inbreath and the outbreath, and which exists both before the breath  and after the breath. When Shiva speaks, in the ancient Sanskrit text Centreing, of the fusing of the inbreath and the outbreath this does not eliminate the between, rather it is transformed into a threshold between in and out, past and future, between the Inner and Outer realms, between each of the Three Worlds.1

This is what Iain Sinclair called “ a privileged memory-space”- albeit he was writing about the London Fields Lido, but his description resonates here “enclosed, tree-surrounded, off-limits: and therefore interesting”. There is a very palpable feeling of being “off-limits” here – in the midst of the ancient, deciduous woodland on the slopes of Doone Faery Knowe, just outside Aberfoyle in Scotland. The footsteps in which we are following are those of Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle in the late seventeenth century, and author of the most important book about faeries ever written: The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. My interest in Kirk and all things faery was piqued in the 1990s by reading a series of books on Celtic and Underground traditions by R.J. Stewart. In Earth Light I first read of the Reverend Robert Kirk; how he had written The Secret Commonwealth, revealing the secrets of the faery realm situated in the Underworld; how his body was discovered on the slopes of the faery hill; and how this was an empty husk, a simulacrum, Kirk himself having been spirited away to the faery realm as revenge for his revelations.2 For anyone interested in following a shamanic path rooted in the earth of these islands, Stewart’s writing is essential reading.3

The lowering clouds created an appropriately gothic atmosphere on our arrival in Aberfoyle. First stop the Tourist Information office/STB shop to check out the info on Kirk; however, having combed the extensive resources on all things Scottish and Aberfoylian I had to accept that Aberfoyle’s most famous son was not represented in any way: no copy of  The Secret Commonwealth, no biography, no tea towel, not even a map of the walk we were about to undertake – in the words of David Byrne of Talking Heads  “same as it ever was”. 

Unaware of the circumstances, conspiratorial or not, which created this most glaring of omissions, we made our way out of the car park and walked towards the ruins of the Old Kirk. Just outside the iron gates a well-weathered board, by word and illustration, told the story of Robert Kirk’s involvement with Aberfoyle kirk. As the gates laboured and creaked a robin appeared on the path, a feathered guide. As I moved towards the ruin of the kirk it flew before me, flitting from gravestone to gravestone; from its demeanour it seemed to be in tune with both the kirkyard and my objective. However, I managed to miss Kirk’s grave on the way in, on which it must be said on reflection, Robbie had hesitated, chirruping a message before flying off in disgust. I missed it because I had misread the information board and thought that Kirk’s stone was inside the kirk: foolish mortal that I am!

From the kirkyard the tree-clad Faery Knowe was visible, irresistible: in thrall we made our way towards it. As we commenced our climb through the trees, I felt an overwhelming sense of strangeness and charm, of eldritch otherness, of having strayed off the beaten path into a time and place out of joint. But, of course, we had not strayed, we were on a quest (not a mission, a mission is different: patriarchial, dominating, forcing acceptance and change – one big negative, maaan!), a quest which by its purpose and orientation had supplied us with the suspect day-pass into the alternate reality of the “faery knowe”. The quilt of silence, which wrapped around us as we climbed, was occasionally broken by a far off rumble, like some great beast woken from its slumbers, but even this disappeared as we approached the hill’s summit. Here the silence was complete, and in its completeness it provided both comfort and threat; a tangible between signifying a threshold – sandwiched between worlds.

The summit, with its multi-coloured cloutie trees, gave the impression of a Tibetan sky burial, an impression heightened by the presence of several Tibetan prayer flags.  I placed a small moss covered twig, which I had brought from the graveyard path below, at the base of the main cloutie tree – a simple ritual symbolically re-uniting the body and soul of the Reverend Kirk.

Lost in meditation, our imaginations literally “away with the faeries”, we spent some time– how much time I’m not sure, silently contemplating, communing, journeying deep into the silence on the knowe. I placed a small silver coin at the entrance, before returning down the root rocked path to the main track, where Robbie greeted us briefly, before speeding off to meet his next clients.4 

This is a place of undoubted strangeness, on the cusp between a reality restricted by the senses and a reality limited only by the imagination. If you do come here, and tread beyond the beaten track, take care to make your approach with respect, only leave – do not take, and may the  “faery beame upon you”.5

1. Centreing, an ancient Sanskrit text from the Vigyan Bhairava, the Sochanda Tantra and the Malini Vijaya Tantra – dating from approximately five thousand years ago, the elements of breath, the space beyond words and the between, are drawn together - centred. Taking the form of questions posed by Devi to his consort Shiva, “in a language of love we have yet to learn,” it is “about the immanent experience (and) presents 112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness.” Even though Devi is already enlightened he asks the following six questions so that the unenlightened may benefit from Shiva’s responses: 

O Shiva, what is your reality ? 
What is this wonder-filled universe? 
What constitutes seed ? 
Who centres the universal wheel ?
 What is this life beyond form pervading forms?
 How may we enter it fully, above space and time; names and descriptions?
 Let my doubts be cleared. 

Shiva’s fist six responses are:                                                            

1. Radiant one, this experience may dawn between two breaths. After breath comes in (down) and just before turning up (out) - the beneficence.
2. As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves from up to down - through both these turns, realize.
3. Or, whenever inbreath and outbreath fuse, at this instant touch the energyless energy-filled centre.
4. Or, when breath is all out (up) and stopped of itself, or all in (down) and stopped - in such universal pause, one's small self vanishes. This is difficult only for the impure.
5. Consider your essence as light rays rising from centre to centre up the vertebrae, and so rises livingness in you.
6.Or in the spaces between, feel this as lightning.

2. In his new edition, Stewart lists the fundamental concepts to be found in The Secret Commonwealth:

There is another world or dimension that mirrors our own: it is located underground. The cycle of energies and events in that place is a polarised image of our own, thus they have summer when we have winter, day when we have night, and so forth.

The inhabitants of this world are real beings in their own right, and have certain 
               substantial supernatural powers.

Certain people, mainly male seers, are gifted with the ability to see such beings from the mirror or underworld, and to receive communications from them.

The subterranean people are able through signs and mimicry or dramatic actions to show seers what will come to pass in the human world. It is up to the seer to 
                develop means of interpretation.

Humans can and do physically transfer to the fairy- or underworld.

The subterranean people are linked to the land, each region having its counterpart in the underworld. Thus they are, in one respect, the genii loci of the ancient world.

The spirits of the dead and of ancestors are also found in this underworld, though they are often distinct from the Fairy Race themselves.

Both the subterranean people and the seers who perceive them retain fragments of
              ancient religious and philosophical tradition, often at variance with the religious                                                               
              and scientific viewpoints of the day.

There are spiritual or psychic healers in the human world who work through methods laid down by tradition, often using corrupted prayers and incantations to accompany their healing ceremonies. These are of a different category to the seers, and do not seem to receive aid from the subterranean or underworld fairies.

3. I recommend Earth Light, Power Within the Land and Robert Kirk: Walker Between the Worlds (a new edition of The Secret Commonwealth with an excellent commentary by Stewart: all available via   www.rjstewart.org
 4.We used the excellent walk guidance notes provided on http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochlomond/doon-hill.shtml 
 5.From the Jackman’s Song by Ben Johnson included by R.J. Stewart in Robert Kirk: Walker Between the Worlds


The use of the word threshold in the blog title implies a coming into, a point of entry, a beginning; it signifies the potential of connection/interaction. (Literally THRESH-HOLD that which keeps the threshed corn within a room; the threshold crossed into Anne Hathaway’s cottage, with the apples lying rotting in the orchard without.) If we thresh we separate, take apart, a violent act, but the violence is negated/countered by the hold, the feminine hold, the protective hold -  “hold me close and never let me go”. There is an implication of trespass, transgression, invasion; a selective barrier, preventing the movement of some, but not all; a limit below which a stimulus causes no reaction; a trap for the unwary. To move beyond the threshold is to enter a new place/time/world. It is both barrier and opportunity, pleasure and pain, freedom and restriction. Brink; Beginning; Dawn.