When I was twelve, my family moved from London to a house in the country only a few miles from the town of Glastonbury and its mythical Tor. Many times as a teenager I scrambled up the steep slopes of this strange hill to the small chapel on the top. I wandered through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey with its beautiful octagonal "Abbot's Kitchen," or sat in the stillness beside the Chalice Well. Driving from London to our house we would pass by Stonehenge, where one could stop and walk among the ancient stones. These were in the days before new-age tourism, before fences and kiosks. The Tor, the ruins, the well, and the ancient standing stones beside the road, were as they had been for centuries—mysterious but also just present. This was a landscape that held the rich magic of centuries, of ancient peoples and sacred place.
Later, in my late teens, I would come to know about ley lines, the energy patterns in the Earth, and how these sacred sites were at a confluence of many such lines. Even the small parish churches from the Middle Ages that dot the English countryside were built on older sites, part of this inner energy grid. Here the worlds came together, worship and wonder woven into the land. At that time I spent a few weeks in Chartres Cathedral, mainly studying the maze—a pattern on the floor that guides the pilgrim on a journey of initiation.(1) Built on a site sacred to the Black Madonna, this Gothic cathedral was a pinnacle of sacred geometry and stained glass; and one night when a pilgrimage came from Paris—each person holding a candle, linking hands around the building, and then standing in the empty interior—I knew the power of the place. Here there was an ancient wisdom, long forgotten in our present time. Sacred space, sacred land, and esoteric teachings had aligned the hidden energies of the Earth and the heavens.
At Chartres there had been a medieval mystery school that taught the sacred sciences: geometry, music, astronomy. The initiates knew how to channel the spiritual energy of the inner worlds, the power of the sacred that can help awaken an individual pilgrim, but also nourish the whole community and the land itself. This was a spirituality that was not confined to personal transformation, but part of a deeper understanding of spiritual energy, how it belongs to the whole of humanity and the Earth itself.
The Tor that I climbed as a teenager, Stonehenge, and Chartres Cathedral whose maze is a model of the universe, are part of a global network of sites of spiritual power—the ancient power grid of the planet. Many of these sites have been looked after by Indigenous peoples. From the Golden Mountains of the Altai in Siberia, to the "Heart of the World" of the Kogi in the Sierra Nevada, there is a web of sacred sites that traditionally hold the balance between the inner and outer worlds. Many shamans and others believe that in caring for these sites we can restore our reverential relationship to the sacred and spiritual realms, and thus help the forces of nature rebalance the world.
Soon after visiting Chartres I met my teacher. Sitting at her feet in a small room in North London I came to know of another dimension of spiritual power, the presence of spiritual masters who work in the inner worlds of light. The work of these masters is not only to help the spiritual development of their disciples, but also in service to the whole of humanity and its evolution. In the Middle East and India the existence of such spiritual masters has long been recognized. However, when in the last century different spiritual traditions came from the East, for some reason this element rarely made the transition. As a result in the West there is little understanding of the existence of these masters or their work in the world—it does not belong to our collective spiritual consciousness. Our focus on the individual, and understanding spirituality as being primarily about personal transformation, has blinkered us to this vaster dimension of spiritual work.
In Sufism there is a tradition of the awliyâ, the friends of God. They are a fixed number of evolved human beings who look after the spiritual well-being of the world. "He has made the awliya governors of the universe… Through the blessing of their advent the rain falls from heaven, and through the purity of their lives the plants spring up from the earth,"(2) In Judaism there is a similar tradition of a group of evolved human beings who help keep the spiritual balance in the world. They are known as the Lamed Vav Tzadikim, or "Righteous Ones." In this tradition every generation has 36 such saints on whose piety the fate of the world depends. These holy people are hidden, nobody knows who they are.
Now, the fate of our world hangs in balance. Our planet is dying, ravaged by our exploitation and greed—soil made toxic, waters polluted—we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of species, or Anthropocene, the first mass extinction caused primarily by human beings. In just a few decades since I first struggled up the Tor, touched the standing stones, our world has lost part of its wild beauty, become more of a clear-cut wasteland caused by our present materialistic nightmare. Some say we have passed the "tipping point" of irreversible climate change, while others hope for a scientific solution, some "green economy" that can allow us to continue this dream that is destroying the fragile web of life. And the Earth itself is crying, her body and soul calling out to all who might listen, what the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls "the bells of mindfulness."
And those of us who hear Her cry are responding, searching for "a new story," one that is not based upon economic progress but real sustainability for all of creation, a story that supports the Earth and Her many communities.(3) This is a story that will restore reverence to the Earth and reconnect our souls to the sacred within creation, a story that will save our planet. Some have even already begun to articulate such a story: a beautiful and compelling vision of the entire universe as a single, inextricably interconnected, living whole, returning to us a sense of wonder that nourishes our body and soul.
But for this story to come alive, to step off the pages of our imagination into living reality, we need spiritual power—both the ancient power and magic of the Earth, and the esoteric wisdom of the masters. We need the knowledge of the wisdom keepers of the ancient traditions, of the Indigenous people's who walked this land and spoke with its spirits for centuries. They hold the knowledge of the "original instructions" that were given to humanity from the beginning. They can help us to remember the old ways, when everything was sacred, when the standing stones were alive, when the power of sacred space was understood, when heaven and Earth, the Sun and the stars, were bonded together and the names of creation were known.
And we need the power and understanding of the spiritual masters who know the alchemy of light and love, and how to work with the higher energies within the individual and the cosmos—how the individual is a microcosm of the whole—in Sufi symbolism, the lesser adam in relation to the greater Adam,(4) and how spiritual power works not just for the journey of the individual, but for the whole of humanity and the Earth. Because working with love and light is most closely aligned with my own Sufi path, it is this knowledge that this book mainly seeks to uncover. This tradition holds many secrets, some of which are needed at this time of transition.
When I first wrote this book, over a decade and a half ago, it was guided by a vision of this new story, this awakening Earth, arising through the debris of our dying civilization like green shoots coming through a barren and bleak wasteland. And there are such hints of a global awakening or Great Turning—in individuals and groups envisioning the Earth and humanity as a living unity—where we have moved beyond the image of separation into the consciousness of oneness as our collective awareness. And yet we are also witnessing an accelerating destruction of the ecosystem, an ecocide that is devastating the inner and outer worlds. And in our present civilization there is increasing divisiveness, with an ever smaller percentage holding greater wealth and visible power. As this old story holds a tighter and tighter grip on the world and its resources, as its seductive vision of materialism drags even more people into its soulless nightmare, the question remains whether this story driven by greed and desire needs to completely self-destruct before something new can be fully born? Will the whole fragile structure of our world fall apart as we descend into a dark age, or can the world turn before it is too late?
I believe in the ancient powers of the Earth and the work of the masters, but also see the wreckage we are causing, and how it may last for centuries. This book does not make any promises, but rather opens a doorway to a different way of being, to an understanding of spiritual power that can take us to the future that is waiting, whenever we decide to walk through this doorway. It is not a "how to" book, providing instructions how to work with spiritual power. Rather it hopes to expand our awareness to include a dimension of spiritual work that is rarely part of our collective spiritual conversation. In particular it looks at the relationships we need to make, relationships with the inner world of the soul and life itself.(5) The new story of humanity will be formed from patterns of relationship—with each other, with the inner worlds, and with the Earth.
In recent years there have been important steps towards reconnecting with the original wisdom of Indigenous traditions, which are vital if we are to understand how to care for the Earth as a living interconnected whole. Spiritual work that belongs to the inner dimensions of light and love is less well known—traditionally it has been more hidden. But this aspect of spiritual power has an important part to play in our collective evolution. We need this energy, this magic and light, to help humanity to awaken from its nightmare. As I describe in these chapters, much work of preparation has been done, but the world today also hangs by a thin thread.
(1) When the pilgrim had traversed the winding path of the Chartres maze, often on their knees, they would reach the center and turning, see the light coming through the mandala of the western rose window, symbolic of an awakened heart. This study of the maze produced the book: Chartres Maze: A Model of the Universe? by Keith Critchlow, Jane Carroll, and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.
(2) Hujwiri, Kashf Al-Mahjub, p. 213.
(3) For further resources on this subject, see Vaughan-Lee, Changing the Story: www.workingwithoneness.org/articles/changing-the-story/ and www.workingwithoneness.org/uncategorized/changing-the-story-the- need-for-magic-2/
(4) Man as microcosm is also imaged in Leonardo da Vinci's iconic image of Vitruvian Man, with the square and the circle symbolizing Earth and heaven.
(5) The phrase "inner world" refers to subtle states of consciousness that transcend the known physical universe. This concept may be found in religious, metaphysical, and esoteric teachings, which propound the idea of a whole series of subtle planes or worlds or dimensions which, from a center, interpenetrate themselves and the physical planet in which we live, the solar systems, and all the physical structures of the universe. This interpenetration of planes creates a multi- dimensional universe with many different levels of consciousness.