I am lucky enough to live only a short walk from Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight. It is home to some very beautiful mosaics. One of the images that fascinates me is a stylised eye, earthy tones of tesserae, diamond shaped with a circle at the centre. The decorated floors radiate out from it; scenes of gods and goddesses of nature and the turning cycle of seasons. Some are vibrantly clear, others deeply faded or partially absent, each appearing to bleed through from the earth below as if the soil herself were a deep well of memory, her images rising up through the layers of matter and time.
The mosaics’ meanings appear puzzling and yet paradoxically familiar: the goddess Ceres hands her corn to Triptolemus; the nymph Ambrosia transforms into vines; a shepherd holds his crook and panpipes; a river nymph with reeds in her hair pours life – giving waters from her jar, while mermen cavort with mermaids. When viewing these images, the distant lives of the Romano-British seem remarkably close. This island still grows its corn, the vineyards still nestle on the slopes of its downs, the sheep graze, the River Yar meanders through the valley and the fishermen bring their catches to shore as they have always done. If by some means time were reversed and our ancestors could view mosaics of our lives, despite our technological advances, I am sure they would recognise much – for the foundations of living and surviving remain the same.
I can only speculate on the original meaning of the mosaic eye but the image draws me. Eyes are compelling symbols. When we meet another’s eyes, it is the circles of iris and pupil that we focus upon. The circle is an equally compelling shape. It possesses such great significance for modern Pagans. We worship within its enfolding boundary. We feel its cyclical flow and energy in the seasons of earth, moon, sun and life, travelling along its curved and eternal edge. We also stand at its still hub, enveloped by its peace as it holds us at the very centre of each moment. Within its beautiful shape we find equality – none standing in greater value than another – the hierarchical structure of the old Divine order brought down to earth. In the circle our hearts are open and accessible to all who stand with us; all aspects of life are valued and understood as an interconnected and interdependent whole. It is the shape of sanctuary; the shape of a deep, spiritual ecology. The fullest expression of the circle is the globe. Nature’s many and diverse parts interact to form a miraculously functioning whole and what more perfect a shape to articulate such wholeness then the globe? It is no accident that this is the shape of our beautiful planet; the shape of the eye also.
It occurs to me that what I find compelling about the mosaic eye at Brading Villa is that it speaks to me something of nature’s mystery. Mosaics are made up of individual pieces; when we focus on a single square, its meaning remains obscure. When we expand our perspective – allowing our eyes to order the seemingly chaotic and scattered tessera into a pattern – we begin to appreciate the meaning of the wider picture. Similarly, when we perceive of ourselves as one part of nature’s complex totality, our eyes can open to its beauty and value.
In truth, our connections to those that have been, those that are and those yet to be born are closer than we might at first imagine; we each exist on different curves of the same spiralling thread. This thread holds all that has ever been or ever will be in a complex web of relationship and connection. We rest upon its lines, each at our own special point in history, quivering like notes upon a stave, the sounds of our living rippling back and forth in time.