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The west portal of Chartres Cathedral.

Chartres Mystery School Intensive

The Chartres Mystery School is a production of Wisdom University out of California. It is patterned after the original mystery school founded by Bishop Fulbert in 1006, with the necessary additions and adaptations to make it applicable to the 21st century. The complete program is series of seven of these seven day intensives, one per year that began in 2006.

We first heard about the school from our friend and teacher Jeremy Taylor, while doing a Dream workshop with him. Going on little more than Jeremy's brief description and a cursory review of Wisdom U's website we decided attend uncharacteristically spontaneous to say the least! But commit we did, and then wondered at the wisdom of it right up to the time we got there. In hindsight I can now say two things: it was worth everything we put into it, and I know what called me to go.

If I were asked to write a mission statement for the Mystery School it would go like this: "The purpose of this school is to empower and inspire servant leaders to serve in their own ways the transmutation of the coming global crisis into a profound evolutionary shift for our species." This is certainly what it did for me, through the magic of the place and the brilliance of the facilitators.

 

The People That Made It Happen

The facilitators I feature below, are the folks that I had the most direct personal contact with, many others however made the school what it is. Jim Garrison is the president of Wisdom University under who's umbrella the school runs. The whole idea for the school was put together by Jim and Andrew Harvey. Lauren Artress deserves special mention for her knowledge of the Cathedral and her ability to gain exclusive access to it for the school. Other notable contributors: Lynn Bell, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Valerie, Paul Ray, Karuna Erickson, Kim Rosen, and Caroline Myss. Bob Meyer (a.k.a. Robert de Chartres) handled the very significant amount of administration that was behind the smooth running of the school.

Jeremy Taylor has played a significant part in my personal growth in recent times. Through his workshops and his book (Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill) he has helped me gain vastly greater access to the information embedded in my dreams. He is an awesome teacher, a subtle but powerful facilitator and a delightful friend. During the general sessions at the school he often brought a much needed dissenting voice to the room, in particular pointing out the collective avoidance of the need to embrace the shadow in order to do the work of the light. In the break-out sessions he led in the afternoons, his encyclopedic knowledge, humour and gentle guidance opened the door of the unconscious to many of us.

Jeremy Taylor and Brad Cassidy in the streets of Chartres.
" 'Spiritual Progress', is directly
dependent on the individual's ability
and willingness to descent into personal and collective 'Darkness'." Jeremy Taylor
Andrew Harvey, Ronaye and Brad Cassidy in front of the south portal of Chartres Cathedral.

My first awareness of Andrew Harvey was as the author of the book "Return to the Mother" which I read about 10 years ago. I really valued that book, but lost track of what Andrew was up to until last January when Anodea Judith showed his dvd "Sacred Activism" at one of her workshops. It is a profound view of the state of our species. Andrew is in my mind a mystic for our times. He does not restrict himself to any one mystical spiritual tradition, but draws on an eclectic background in Hinduism, Sufism and Christianity. He is a great lover of both God and Goddess and is eminently capable of facilitating others to connect with them. He is also a wonderfully warm, contactful and witty companion at dinner, as we had the privilege of experiencing.

"Finally we have come to a crisis severe enough to defeat the boundless agility of our narcissism."     Andrew Harvey

Apela Colorado ,was not someone I had any experience of before going to Chartres. My enjoyment of her ceremonies and my general affinity for native people caused me to pursue having dinner with her and her charming daughter. At dinner I discovered specifically why I was drawn to her and her gifts. Apela is a researcher, teacher and facilitator of tribal wisdom. She herself is of two distinct tribal roots, Iroquois and French (Frank), and she values and has explored both. Her message is that everyone, of whatever ethnicity, needs to value and explore their tribal roots in order to anchor and empower themselves to be all that they can be in the present day. As well as a scholar and educator Apela is a delightful, warm engaging human being.

Apela Colorado and Brad Cassidy in the Secret Garden at St. Yves.
Apela Colorado

 

My Affinity Group during the Intensive.

My "Affinity Group" during the Intensive. Paradoxically these small working groups were not self-selecting based on affinity, rather we were sorted by a lottery run by the faculty. However, I couldn't have been luckier! Unlike many new arbitrary groupings, our group didn't face the usual inter-personal struggles but settled quickly to the challenge of exploring our collective wisdom. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with these bright, sensitive and creative seekers.

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What Did I Learn?

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."
                                                                    Albert Einstein

I learned a lot of things; ranging from the personal to the transpersonal, and from intriguing minutiae to profound universal concepts. Probably the single most important thing overall is a much deeper understanding of what has brought our species into the environmental, ethical and spiritual crisis we are now facing and what we might do about it.

I see now that if our species is to make the next evolutionary step from the love of power to the power of love (see: "Waking the Global Heart", A. Judith) as I believe we must, it will demand a fundamental change in how we conceive of the human experience on multiple levels. The many shifts that I see necessary fall under three general categories: the mind, the emotions and the spirit.

In an extraordinary act of collective self-awareness we need to examine our most basic assumptions and the mechanism of thought that our minds use to order our world. In particular "polarity thinking" and unconscious projection. There are other processes of the mind, and a myriad of tricks and illusions, that could be addressed, but if our species can come to terms with just the two mentioned we will have made marvelous progress.

Polarity thinking is the primitive faculty of the mind which gives rise to the insistence on things being either this way or that, a world divided into good or bad, and the concept of single right answers. We are at a stage where we need to add to such simple linear assessment the embracing of paradox, acceptance of uncertainty and systems thinking that allow for chaos as well as order. Failure to break this simplistic habit of mind condemns us to continued moral rigidity, fanaticism, bigotry, war and ignorance of our complex world.

Unconscious projection is the mental transference of disowned positive or negative aspects of the self onto others. Projection just seems to be something that all human beings do and it seems we must accept that. However, whether the "projection" in question is conscious or unconscious makes all the difference in the world. If unconscious our positive projections displace valuable potential elements of ourselves onto others an unfortunate loss. In the case of unconscious negative projections the results are even worse, allowing us to remain ignorant of a part of ourselves that would be much better known and identifying the other with this unpleasant and unknown part of ourselves. It is the mechanism that allows us to rationalize all manner of hatred, bigotry, vengeance and feelings of superiority.

The act of bringing our projections conscious not only has the obvious benefits of dismantling unpleasant or dangerous attitudes in ourselves and society, there are other benefits as well. By "taking back" our projections, positive and negative, we are called to explore the projected element as a part of the self. This offers vast scope to explore who we really are, to test the integrity of our way of being and to develop hidden potentials. In short it's a golden key to personal development and it greatly supports compassion and tolerance.

A great coming of age emotionally is also called for, involving taking responsibility for our emotion and their effects. Many still believe that emotions just happen to them and there is little or nothing to be done about them. Or equally unsuccessful is the idea that emotions can and should be controlled by force of will. Neither of these beliefs empower the individual to the level of mastery of their emotions that is possible for them.

Mastery is neither the victimhood of being powerless nor the totalitarianism of repression, but a blend of skills and self-awareness with the natural spontaneity of being human. We now have enough knowledge of how human emotions work, and effective methods of teaching the skills needed to employ it. All that is needed in addition is the longing of the heart for the peace and maturity that will provide the courage to grow and change.
(the range of emotional issues needing attention is too large a subject to take on here)

Since the dawn of humankind we have pursued an understanding of the nature of existence through ritual, practices, art, building, and endeavors of all sorts. Spiritual longing is a real and concrete part of the human experience. In our present era there seems to be great confusion about what to do about this deep need. Some people simply deny it, claiming all need for meaning and understanding can be gained from Science (or more properly Scientism). Others cling desperately to one of the traditional religions that are as likely to be a compensation as an inspiration. More, in the West at least, have sought all sorts of syntheses of ideas and practices as in the New Age movement. I see a need for a revisioning of our concept of spirituality and to create, if possible, some consensus on it's meaning and purpose.

Spirituality refers to the individual's relationship with life, its meaning and purpose, and their place in it. It also very often includes a perception of a Higher Power or the Divine. It is a universal human need and serves the same purpose as every other such need; to nourish, empower and support the individuals development. As such, it shouldn't matter to us what practice, form or religion our neighbours follow (or don't), only that we have arrived at what genuinely serves our deep needs. A major step toward peace and cooperation would occur if we could look at our neighbour, and seeing them in authentic pursuit of their path of spirituality, wish them well knowing that their success will contribute to a better world for all.

Very simply, the main message I got at the Chartres Intensive was clear confirmation that there are severe challenges in store for our species and that the only thing that will get us through them is the love, creativity and maturity of the individual. I've believed for a long time that we will not be "saved" by some great political, scientific or religious leader. In fact we cannot afford to project our responsibilities onto such people because such an act renders us impotent to do the very thing that is needed. It is time for us individually and collectively to grow out of our present juvenile stage of development. It is time for each of to stand on our own two feet and walk together towards the realization of our species potential.

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The Cathedral

A photo or the Notre Dame Cathedral of Chartres.

Ronaye and I arrived a day early for the Intensive and after checking in went for a little walk; to the Cathedral of course. My writing skills won't do justice to such a monument, it is staggering. From the outside it's ornate carvings, sweeping lines and sheer size are nearly overwhelming. I was pulled between the aesthetic beauty and the immensity of the structure as an engineering achievement. Hundreds of tons of stone, hundreds of feet in the air in an intricate balance that has stood for eight hundred years!

Upon entering Cathedral I was in for a surprise of a different kind. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the soft light, and then it hit me a surge of energy and sensation from deep in my gut surged up into my chest and throat. Emotionally, I was touched with joy and the wonder of life. Vaguely, my mind contemplated with awe the potential of our species.

The experience passed, I returned to my normal state of being and I thought, "What just happened?". It wasn't a religious experience, I have no connection to Christianity or it's symbols. It was definitely a spiritual experience though and I wondered could something situated and built by human hands do that? Short answer: you bet!

Subsequent experiences in (and under) the Cathedral, coupled with reading and web research has given me a much better idea of what is going on. There is mystery here, in fact several of them, and mostly they remain unanswered. What I have been able to conclude is that the Cathedral represents a situation of unique harmony. A harmony between earth energies, human intention, the ancient arts of sacred geometry, alchemy and astrology, and Divine Intention. Most amazing to me is that human knowledge and intent could fit in with the other elements to produce such a wonder.

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Recorded history of the site dates from the writings of the Roman invaders and their geographers. These scant cultural references indicate the importance of Chartres as a gathering place and a sacred site of the Celts of Gaul. There is better records of the military and political manoevering that ended in a revolt by the Celts which was crushed by Julius Ceasar. It can be assumed then that the cultures began to merge, and eventually Christianity took root and flourished there.

The Christians build on the ancient holy site of the Celts, obscuring any remanent of it except the holy well. Churches came and went and then Cathedrals did the same. These were built on top of each other forming a complex crypt beneath the present day Cathedral.

A plan of the crypt beneath Chartres Cathedral.

Click here to see excellent images of the crypt.

4th century: Gallo-roman church dates from this period.
6th Century: Building of a Merovingian church.
8th Century: In 743 the Cathedral is destroyed by Hunald, duke of Aquitaine. Another cathedral is rebuilt at the same place
9th Century: Carolingian crypt, called St Lubins crypt.
11th Century: Romanesque crypt, called St Fulbert crypt. It is the longest in France (220m). Fulbert taught at the famous Chartres Cathedral School, and became bishop in 1006.
1194: Fire, after which this cathedral was rebuilt on the remains of previous buildings (the crypts).
Around 1220: functional completion of the present Cathedral.

A number of features make Chartres unique, even among other gothic cathedrals. For one thing, there are no burials in the Cathedral or the crypt. There are also virtually no depictions of the crucifixion of in the inside of the structure. I would seem that the whole focus of Chartres Cathedral is birth, growth and life rather refreshing!

Possibly the most famous feature of Chartres is the labyrinth inlaid into the floor of the nave. Labyrinths are an pre-Christian (therefore pagan) symbol, and I've never quite figured out why they appeared in gothic cathedrals at a time when heretics were being burned alive. During the 17th and 18th centuries evidently some church fathers shared my confusion and sadly many of the gothic labyrinths were destroyed. The wise bishops of Chartres would allow no destruction of their Cathedral, though the labyrinth fell into disuse and was covered over by chairs until fairly recently.

Lauren Artress, the founder of Veriditas and a world recognized authority on the study of labyrinths, was our guide to the labyrinth and the crypt. She arranged for our group to have an evening in the Cathedral by ourselves in order to walk the labyrinth. The procession was done in silence other than the five man acappella group singing traditional plainsong of the gothic era. The overall result was a very powerful and sensual, spiritual experience.

A view of a section of the Cathedral crypt.

The evening in the crypt (right) was another ritual experience that Lauren organized. This was very special to me, largely because it took place beside the "Well of the Strong", the ancient Celtic Holy Well. When Ronaye and I first took the decision to go to the Intensive at Chartres, I knew little about the place, other then there was a Gothic Cathedral with a labyrinth. However, having studied some geomancy, I was quite sure that this Cathedral would have been built on a far more ancient holy site. In Gaul, that would mean a Celtic holy site that would be in a grove, likely including a dolmen and surely including a holy well or spring.

Looking into the Well of the Strong.


My assumption was that all of these things would have been swept away by the new order of Christianity. For the most part this is true: there are no Oak trees on the hill of Chartres, nor is there any sure knowledge of a dolmen, though there is considerable speculation that somewhere buried in or beneath the crypt there is one. However, amazingly, the holy well still exists. I was stunned and delighted to learn this, and even more excited when I learned that the ritual Lauren planned would take place next to the well. I must confess that the ritual itself was somewhat lost to me in the excitement of being beside, and gazing down, the Holy Well. I could see the water far below (unlike the photo here) and I was inspired to call the name of one of the Old Gods into the well. I was touched very deeply by the connection that I felt, and feel, for that holy place. I hope some day to return.

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The City of Chartres

A collage of some of the sights in the City of Chartres.

Chartres is a beautiful "Medieval Town" set in a tranquil agricultural area of the department of Centre, France. It's great claim to fame is the Gothic Cathedral, but it had been an important site for humans for a long time before that edifice was built. The earliest written records are from the Roman invasion of Gaul, and they reported that the town that became know as Chartres seemed to be the major cultural seat of Gaul.

Before Celtic tribe known as the Carnutes, there were people on this land and this site would have no doubt been important to them as well. From what I've learned this was no doubt due to the presence of the sacred well found in a grove on the highest point of land around. It seems this well, now known as the Well of the Strong, was a place of pilgrimage well before the birth of Christ, and it continued to be for Christians up to about 1000 c.e.

The dominant feature now is the Cathedral, the glory of which is supplemented by the many medieval building, narrow crooked streets and public wells on the river Eure. The place has very serious Charm, and the people are friendly, having been used to pilgrims and tourists for centuries! A special delight for me was the food, in particular the wines and cheeses. We went to many restaurants and never had a meal short of excellent.

Another striking feature of the town is the very elegant way in which the French have been able to modernize the ancient buildings without damaging their character to any great degree. For example, we stayed in the Hotel St. Yves, which was originally built as a monastery in 1568. We had electric lights, tiny but fully appointed bathrooms, telephone and even an internet connection downstairs. All of this without any gaudy displays of pipes, wires or ducts very clever!

All in all, Chartres is a wonderful place to visit!

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