The Red Spear of Lyra

A little bit of space amazingness: it seems that our recent interstellar visitor has an unusual shape – long and thin as in this artist’s reconstruction. The interstellar object, named ‘Oumuamua (Hawaiian for scout) came from the direction of the constellation Lyra, passing through the solar system earlier this year, swinging past the sun in early September at a speed of nearly 200,000 miles per hour. It’s now on it’s way out again.

Eso1737a

‘Oumuamua

By ESO/M. Kornmesser (http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1737a/)
[CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D,
via Wikimedia Commons

 ‘Oumuamua is not icy like a comet, but has a reddish colour like some outer solar system objects. A bit more reading suggests that the colour could be down to Tholin or ‘space tar’, a complex mix of organic chemicals formed in space from simple molecules by radiation. Some researchers have speculated that Earth may have been seeded by organic compounds early in its development by tholin-rich comets, providing the raw material necessary for life to develop.

It all seems like a science fiction film – but it’s not.

What a time to be alive!

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Scorhill Stone Circle

“To the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
William Blake

Last week I went with a friend to see Scorhill stone circle on Dartmoor. It was a magical visit on a lovely autumn day, and the fire of my imagination was kindled!

The Valley

Walking over the gentle hill from the village of Gidleigh, the view opens up onto a moorland valley, with the stone circle resting on the slope below.

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Walking down the hill to the stones

The valley is huge, and the open vista makes my heart expand to meet it. To the left below us there is a river, and there are other smaller streams glinting in the valley. Even on the hilltop there are small pools of water.

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Looking to the left, the North Teign river flows through the valley

The Stone Circle

The stones themselves are beautiful, filled with sparkling crystals and painted with lichen. The largest stone is about 8 foot tall. If you look closely you can see black protrusions in this stone, like crystalline balls embedded in the rock. According to one commentator [1], they represent women’s breasts, and are the reason why this stone was chosen for the circle, but there are other stones in the area with the same ‘breasts’.

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Closeup of the stone with crystals and lichen

According to Dartmoor 365 [2], if you stand in the centre of the circle, you can see the sun set over this tall stone on a midsummer evening.

We watch the clouds on the horizon, forming shapes which change by the minute: a bird, a fish, it’s gone.

Imagine a summer night at the stones, with the bowl of the valley beneath our feet, and the bowl of sky above. Stars, moon and planets slowly swing by. What constellations and planets rise and set on the horizon? Behind which hills? At what hour? There would be the usual two circles in the sky – one the path of the stars, and the other the path of the sun, moon and planets. Perhaps at special times, beacons were lit on the hilltops, making another circle of light. And at the centre of it all the stone circle – in vibrant stillness.

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Looking across the circle to the tall stone

A Legend

There are many legends about the stones – my favourite is a modern one told on the Legendary Dartmoor site:

“A modern happening reported in 1998 was that a small herd of moorland ponies were seen to walk up to the circle. The herd leader entered the ring of stones and stood there for about a minute, it then rejoined the rest of the ponies. One by one all the ponies did the same thing, went into the circle stood there for 30 – 60 seconds and then came out. All the animals faced the same direction whilst they were stood in the stone ring. It was suggested at the time that the ponies were ‘taking energy’ from the stones – who knows?”

I wonder what direction the ponies were facing? My guess would be that were facing south-east towards the rocky outcrop of Kes tor. I don’t know why I think that.

The River

Walking down the hill from the circle to the river, we first cross the Walla Brook, a lovely fast flowing stream with many-coloured water plants waving in the flow.

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The Walla flows into the North Teign River, and as it approaches the junction the sound of the water becomes musical. The shape of the stream bed and the boulders it flows around make it drum and tinkle and trill as it flows.

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Walla Brook

The Tolmen Stone

Just downstream of the meeting point of the Walla and the Teign is a large boulder which has a hole in it big enough to allow an average sized person through. Called the Tolmen stone, its name derives from the Celtic words for hole and stone, (in a similar etymology to the Cornish Men an Tol stone).

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The Tolmen Stone

The Legendary Dartmoor site has several stories about the stone, including the legend that it was used by Druids for purification: wrongdoers would be lowered through the hole into the water for lustration. Possible other associations would be with fertility or healing, and of course the stone forms a portal.

There are some nice pictures of modern use of the stone here!

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Looking down through the hole

Imagine on a summers night, people walk down into the valley, coming from Kes Tor perhaps, and they pause at the river, listening to the music of the waters. One by one they cross the bridge and step out onto the Tolmen stone. With help where needed each one passes down through the hole into the waters of the river, making a transition to sacred land. They wash and then sit a while by the river before walking up to Scorhill circle and the special night.

 


Notes:

[1] Burl, A. 2000. The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, London: Yale University Press. Quoted by Legendary Dartmoor

[2] “Dartmoor 365: An Exploration of Every One of the 365 Square Miles in the Dartmoor National Park”, by John Hayward. (Scorhill is in square E.12).

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Vine Month

According to the Celtic Tree calendar today is the first day of Vine month, and the grapes on my little vine are ripening, whilst the birds and I keep a watchful eye!

There are quite a few vineyards nearby, and with global warming we might see them extending up into the north before long. People think that the Romans brought the vine to Britain, but I came across a New Scientist article [1] suggesting the possibility that Ancient Britons were amongst the first to cultivate the vine.

So remember your ancestors! Drink a little wine or a little grape juice today and welcome in the season of mellow fruitfulness! Hwyl /|\

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[1] New Scientist article.

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New Scientist, 3rd Dec 1987 [1]

 

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Worshipping Space

A friend asked me the other day what I worshipped in nature – was it trees, rivers, mountains for example? I’m not quite sure about ‘worship’, but thinking for a while, I went for space – that unthinkably huge collection of galaxies, stars and planets that surrounds us, extending to the unbelievably distant, but still within sight in the night sky.

Then I listened to this great BBC podcast of a program with Martin Rees, Bernard Carr and Fay Dowker talking about the multiverse – the idea that even beyond what we can see there may be other universes. From the idea of us on earth at the centre of everything, we’ve been moving our thoughts outwards to other stars with planets like ours, to galaxies like ours made of 100 billion stars,  to clusters of galaxies visible to us, and now many universes making up a multiverse.

What a time to be alive!

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Hubble image showing about 10,000 galaxies. Via Huffington Post

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Shaper of Forms

It looks like bodies have been half-formed from the molten rock in this amazing photo of a lava skylight. It reminds me of the thoughts I had about the Cailleach (the old goddess) at Sligo in Ireland: “a shaper of forms, working very deep, with the earth and with the living creatures of the earth. The shaper of the mammoth and the mountain. She whom the cave painters addressed.”

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(Picture Credit: Laszlo Kestay, USGS. Public domain.)
https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/west-kamokuna-skylight

 

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Healing Dreams

I recently had major surgery, and during the early days of recovery I experienced a lot of dreaming which I think was to do with the healing process. I want to briefly describe two of these dreams.

The first dream was of a goddess, sitting in the air above my hospital bed. She seemed to be sitting on a circular cushion, and her attention was on me, and also deep beneath me, where different forms were coming into being and passing away. It was her task to see or to decide whether I was to live or die, and I was reassured when her decision became clear that I should live!

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My attempt to draw the goddess figure

The second dream was of her helpers, witches, who surrounded me. The witches were seated on floating cushions or maybe branches (I was reminded on the witches in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy). They worked alongside the nurses and doctors, and I had the strong feeling that the whilst the healthcare professionals were looking after my body, the witches were doing something deeper, at the meeting point of mind and body. Both types of work are needed for healing.

I imagine that followers of other traditions would see these figures in a different way, but I think that the reality is there – in some way we receive healing from the goddess and her helpers, or (seen in another way) from god and his angels, or (seen in another way)  from the depths of our own mind.

Who is the goddess?

My thoughts at the time were that the goddess I saw could have been the Cailleach – the old woman of Scottish and Irish legend. In my recent field trips to the Cailleach’s House in Scotland, and particularly Sligo in Ireland, I got an impression of the Cailleach as a protective mother, a mistress of forms and life.

I was also thinking about Mari, the goddess of Basque Mythology. Mari is served by witches called Sorginak.

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Modern rendering of Mari by Josu Goñi, via Wikipedia

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The Octave and the Tree of Life

This post is part of a series about the octave as a way of understanding the world.
The previous post was about Gurdjieff’s Law of Seven.

The central image of the modern Kabbalah is the Tree of Life – an image of the relationship between the divine and the material worlds, mediated by ten sefirot.

In his 1972 book Tree of Life, Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi wrote about the Octave and the Tree of Life. The Octave, or the Law of Seven, is shown descending down the tree from Keter to Malkhut following the  traditional lightning flash path which zig-zags down the tree. This brings in some new ways of understanding both the octave and the tree.

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Tree of Life and the Octave

Structure of the Tree

The Tree of Life is formed of ten sefirot, ‘spheres’ or ‘lights’. They are arranged in three columns or pillars – to the one side is the pillar of light or mercy or active force, and on the other side is its opposite – the pillar of darkness, severity, passive form. The central pillar, sometimes called the pillar of consciousness, reconciles these extremes.

The sefirot are also arranged in levels. The simplest way to think of this is that the divine or heavenly world is at the top, centred on the sefira Keter, and the material world is at the bottom, centred on the sefira Malkhut. There are many ways to work with this, but one way is to think about the creation of the world proceeding down the path of the lightning flash at the moment that God said ‘let there be light’:

From Kether (the Crown) the lightning flash goes to Hokhmah (wisdom) then Binah (understanding), then it crosses the abyss – within which lies Daat (knowledge).

Stepping down from the upper world, the lightning flash passes on to Hesed (loving kindness), Gevurah (strength) and then Tiferet (beauty), the heart of the tree.

The lower triad is formed of Nezah (victory), Hod (splendour) and Yesod (foundation), leading to Malkhut (the kingdom).

The Octave on the Tree

The octave follows the lightning flash, descending from do at Kether to do at Malkhut. As you can see in the diagram, the mi-fa interval lies over the abyss (and Daat), and the final ti-do interval lies within the sephira Yesod. The central sephira Tiferet is in the place of the Gurdjieffian Harnel Aoot, the interval which in Gurdjieff’s scheme was ‘disharmonised’ by the effects of the other two intervals. Halevi calls this “the thing itself”

This arrangement of the octave has the effect of relating the notes and intervals in the octave to different elements of the tree: the notes re, fa and la are on the active pillar, set against the notes mi, sol and si which are on the passive pillar. The do notes, the two intervals and the Harnel Aoot all lie on the central pillar of equilibrium or consciousness.

Four Worlds

This arrangement of the octave on the tree works well with the idea of the extended tree, which is a way of understanding the tree of life operating in four worlds from the divine to the material.

The extended tree (also called Jacob’s ladder) is an interlocking form of the Tree of Life where trees in the four worlds are shown as overlapping, so that for example the tree in the world of formation, Yetzirah, has its base in the sefira Tiferet in the material world of Assiah. The extended tree was first publicly presented in Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi’s books published in the early 1970s.

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How the tree in each of the four worlds overlap to make the extended tree.

From the point of view of the octave, the extended tree is a series of interlocking octaves, where for example the mi-fa interval of one octave coincides with the si-do interval of the one above.

Planetary Correspondences

The octave has been related to the planets and the music of the spheres since the Pythagorean Octave. This relationship is also mirrored in the correspondences of the sefirot:

Kether (the Crown) Do  
Hokhmah (wisdom) Re Zodiac
Binah (understanding) Mi Saturn
(Daat (knowledge). – interval –  
Hesed (loving kindness) fa Jupiter
Gevurah (strength) sol Mars
Tiferet (beauty) – the thing itself – Sun
Nezah (victory) la Venus
Hod (splendour) si Mercury
Yesod (foundation) – interval – Moon
Malkhut (the kingdom) do Earth

In this scheme we see the planets arranged in effect by their apparent speed from the earth, fitting with the idea of the planets moving on a set of nested celestial crystal spheres about the earth, making music as they go.

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The edge of the firmament: wood engraving from an 1888 book by Flammarion.

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