Helena Ferris [known as Hafa]
First published 1902
Like the history of many influential movements our early history is largely anecdotal and I had never thought this would change, the stories passing from mentor to apprentice through the long years of teaching and learning. It was the Silberay Nemle, formerly my apprentice, who encouraged me to undertake this work as a gift to our future and for that I am grateful since it has given my last years a purpose as well as a pleasure I had not thought to find.
The Early Years
The founder of the Silberay, Sylvia Durand, known as Sila, was born in 1710. Nothing is known of her childhood apart from two stories of incidents that may well be inventions, but since they cast light on her particular talents and her passion for creation I include them here.
Even as a very young child it seems that Sila could see further than most of her contemporaries, not just further, but into another dimension that was later to become the water dimension, a place of the mind and the spirit.
Her parents were in comfortable circumstances. Her father earned a fair wage as steward to the local landowner and was generous with his talents, freely helping his less educated neighbours when they needed something written or read.
Sila was an only child and very much loved. Some even considered her to be spoiled as she was encouraged by both her parents to think and observe and to speak her thoughts in an age when children were often expected to be silent in the presence of adults. She was taught to read and write and this too was considered an indulgence for a girl.
Legend has it that when she was ten years old she was already teaching, passing on what she had learnt to the children of the estate workers. When she was not required to work at lessons or household tasks she loved to explore, wandering the countryside dressed in boy’s clothes, a freedom condoned by her mother since it preserved her more elaborate woman’s garb and encouraged by her father who felt it gave her a degree of safety.
One day she had roamed quite far from her home and was exploring a lightly wooded area where she had previously found mushrooms to add to the family’s food supply. What she found on this occasion though was a wild creature caught in a trap, terrified and in pain from a grievous wound made by the action of the trap and deepened by its struggles for freedom.
She approached it cautiously, not wanting to frighten it further but hoping she might be able to free it and perhaps even take it home to care for its wound. She knelt beside it and reached out towards the trap. The terrified animal perceived her to be a new threat and attacked her with teeth and claws. Despite its weakened state it gave her a nasty gash but she persisted, struggling with the trap, half blinded by tears of pain and compassion.
Whether she would have been able to save it she never knew. She had not succeeded in releasing it when she heard the sound of someone approaching. She looked around, thinking to ask for help, but the man grabbed the back of her tunic and pulled her away then raised the club he carried and dealt the creature a mortal blow.
“Stupid brat!” he snarled, releasing the sad little corpse and stuffing it and the trap into a bag before going on his way.
Sick with shock and pain Sila sat beneath the trees trying to gather herself for the journey home. As if from outside herself she saw how her own blood and that of the creature mingled and seemed to melt into the earth along with her tears and it seemed to her that the earth accepted her willingness and her love and showed her, like a promise, the image of a deep pool. She sat on a rock in the middle of it and around her the creature played in the water making ripples and little splashes that caught the light like bright jewels.
The picture grew in her mind until she knew she would carry it with her always. It was a promise made to her and by her that was the seed of a future, one she could not yet grasp, but one she would strive to grow into.
Legend claims it was from here that the source of the water road emerged, the location a carefully guarded secret even from most of the Silberay. There is no one now who can confirm the truth of this tale but it is well known that Sila’s left forearm bore the scar of some past injury.
The second story is said to have taken place when Sila was thirteen. She was travelling with her mother on a visit to her mother’s family who lived in another part of the country. It was a journey of at least a week, even travelling on horseback as they did. When at last they reached the farm where her mother had spent her childhood Sila met her maternal grandparents for the first time.
Here it was that she learned that her mother’s only sibling, a much loved younger brother, had died only a few months earlier from a wound that had become septic. He was unmarried and had no issue so the land would become hers one day. Her grandparents wanted her to live with them for a time so they could get to know each other. The thought of being so far from home and staying with people who, although they cared for her, were virtual strangers, was rather daunting but she understood her duty and determined to accept her parents’ decision with good grace and learn to love and serve her grandparents.
It was not so difficult during the few weeks that her mother remained but when she went home Sila was lonely and homesick. She recognised that her grandparents wanted to love her but they were still grieving the death of her unknown uncle and it seemed she was a constant reminder to them of this loss. She tried to learn the tasks of the farm and do them cheerfully but she missed her lessons and her father’s books and struggled with the sewing at which her grandmother expected her to work.
Her solace, when she was particularly unhappy, was to walk through the fields to a small pool at the edge of the property and spend time there thinking, dreaming and watching the wild creatures that came sometimes to drink.
One day when her grandmother had been particularly scathing about the mess that was her sewing she went to weep. She sat and gazed at the pool through her tears and thought how still and peaceful it was, quietly offering itself, reflecting all the moods of the sky above, giving life to the plants at its edge and the creatures that came to drink there.
Then the smooth surface was disturbed. She was never sure, but she thought a rook had dropped a pebble as it flew over head. As she watched the ever widening circles she found herself drawn into a place of music and light, a place where she was not alone but sang in harmony with other voices.
After this time she found that if she worked at picturing these encircling ripples she could find the song and the singers again. This was the discovery that led to the practice of the discipline of the soul, or so it is said. This too cannot be confirmed, but what is known is that the harbour was Sila’s inheritance from her grandparents and the heart of the harbour, where the apprentices are confirmed, grew from that quiet pool.
The true history of the Silberay begins when Sila was approaching her 30th birthday. It was then that she inherited from her grandfather but the years between cannot have been idle because she had clearly given much thought to how she might use her inheritance for nurturing the land and the people.
Her early inclination towards thought and learning had developed into a philosophy of life that demanded action and she had already gathered a small group of like-minded friends who inspired and encouraged her. Amongst these few were Luke Danell, known as Lor, and Ruth Samuels, known as Rinteh. Together this group explored ideas, developed ideals and began to reach towards the soul song.
The discovery and use of their soul names seemed to enhance this practice and so one of the first decisions made by the group was to use these exclusively amongst themselves.
The idea of the water road itself began when Sila, Lor and Rinteh revisited the place where Sila had seen the rock and the pool and the creature playing and discovered that her imagined picture had become reality, not just reality, but more than that. The pool had overflowed and was running in a small channel down the gentle slope that fell away on one side. They shared the possibility of the power of willed imagining with the others of their group and discussed how this might be used for the good of all.
It was a time of exploration and learning, of experimentation and challenge. In everything Sila seemed quickest to grasp new possibilities but it is clear from her journal, begun about this time, that she was always ready to listen to the ideas of others.
In one of the earliest entries she wrote
“Here are already some dozen of us of like mind, gathered together to explore ideas of living, to share the fruits of our past solitude and to learn from each other.”
The solitude of which she speaks seems to refer to the solitude of difference because at that time there was no thought of planned time alone. However each member of the group had been challenged by their difference to others with whom they lived and had begun the difficult, often painful process of coming to terms with who they were.
The first reference to the water dimension comes about two weeks after this when she discovered that the water by which she felt so blessed was not visible to all.
“To have been given this privilege makes it all the more important that I use it responsibly for the good of all.”
Then two days later
“I long to believe that those of us who can live in the other dimension might find a way to share ourselves and our different understanding.”
She would never accept credit for the idea of the water road, saying only that it was given to her, but she it was who realised the idea, making the link between tears and blood and willed imagining and the analogy between the bloodstream, hidden but carrying health around the body, and the unseen water that could perhaps make them carriers of health to the world.
That first small group were fired by her passion and commitment and devoted themselves to making the oldest section of the water road, that between the little channel which led to the source and the pool which became the heart of the harbour. They discovered that physical work was also necessary since there must be bridges and then, when the landscape fell sharply that there must be locks so they learned to work with stone and clay.
With all this work though Sila insisted there must be time for the soul song. Nothing was more important than that. Several excerpts from her journal indicate how she felt about this discipline.
“Since we have discovered the soul song I am sure this must be the heart of it all. I say discovered, but perhaps I mean uncovered, because it is not a new thing, only a new understanding of something that has always been waiting for us.”
“I’m convinced that if we do nothing but practice the discipline of the soul in the places we travel this is life enhancing. If we are requested to perform some practical service or if we see some need we could meet we are merely adding something tangible to our continued offering of ourselves.”
It was this practice that underpinned all they did and it was this too that drew new members to them so that by the time the first section of the water road was complete there were fifteen more people wanting to commit themselves to following Sila’s dream.
The first boats were little more than wooden rafts which supported a small cabin, but even these took time to build since the cabin needed to be habitable in all seasons if they were to undertake the work of healing Sila had envisaged. They did not need to live richly but there must be a degree of comfort and it would be important to be warm and able to store and cook food.
At the end of five years the first twenty had floating cabins on which to live and which could be pulled to different mooring places along the water road. By this time however there were more people inspired by Sila’s passion wanting to share her dream and the group was beginning to be known and welcomed all through the area where the water road lay. Construction proceeded quickly with the help of supporters who valued their presence and assisted with labour though only those who practised the discipline of the soul were able to create the water road itself.
The boats were transformed in stages too, evolving from the rafts to wooden shells and finally to the design we have today. Day Bringer, the boat that became mine, bears very little resemblance to the first Day Bringer, built for Rinteh, but she carries the name and the line of ownership. The last significant change began thirty years ago when the wooden hulls began to be replaced with steel and engines began to be fitted. Some might say it would be better to begin anew but for us the boats are more than just objects and the long tradition for their use has built protection into them in ways more valuable than the merely utilitarian function of moving about the water road.
The swiftest growth occurred during the first forty years and by 1780 numbers had grown to 81 individuals. There were 75 boats and over 1000 miles of water road going in all directions out from the harbour where moorings, stores and dry docks had been built to support the needs of boats and people. They began to realise they needed a name that would identify them and some kind of structure to keep them together and working for the same values and ideals.
It is thought that Rinteh suggested the name Silberay and it was only Sila who voted against it. She wrote in her journal
“I am honoured that my friends and colleagues should consider themselves my people and certainly I hold them in my heart, but I fear their recognition will make me proud and persuade me to accept homage that should not be due to anything human. Luckily Lor can and does remind me of my imperfections and so brings me to my proper place.”
In these first years there were no formal gatherings and often the possibility of communication between the members of the group was limited since they were widely dispersed throughout the water road. However, although it was seldom spoken of, it eventually came to light that those first dozen who were closest to Sila had begun to develop the ability to communicate mind to mind.
The possibility of such a practice had occurred to Sila and Lor after Lor had a trivial accident that left him trapped and unable to free himself. As he began to realise his position and that he could well die of thirst if he remained undiscovered he began to think of Sila and all she meant to him. He longed for at least the chance to say goodbye to her and began to imagine that his thoughts were flying towards her, reaching her even.
She, alone on Morning Star, found herself distracted by thoughts of Lor and tried at first to put them from her, but they persisted and as she allowed them to speak to her she saw an image of him showing his predicament. Rather doubtfully she acted on the knowledge she believed she had been given and so was in time to rescue him.
Since they had already named the discipline of the soul they called this the discipline of the mind and began to work at developing it, broadening its scope as they became more skilled. It is clear from her journal that Sila recognised the dangers inherent in this practice as well as its usefulness.
“Inappropriate use of the discipline of the mind could destroy any credibility we have won through our desire to serve. I suppose it is naive of me to assume that the power we continue to develop over the mind’s thoughts will only be used with humility and compassion.”
Perhaps that was why she was very cautious about speaking of it even to others in the group and only gradually introduced the possibility to those who had her complete trust.
Sila had always been suspicious of formal structures, fearing that these enabled people to become lazy in their thinking and rely on rules and regulations rather than working at assessing each new situation as it was encountered. Now, however, as she and most of that first dozen were approaching their 70th year, she began to realise that if there was to be any continuity, if this legacy of care was to continue, then there must be some common understanding that could be passed down.
The Time Of Consolidation
The first formal Gathering was convened the day of Sila’s 70th birthday. Rinteh described the occasion in her log.
“It was surprising, even a little confronting, to realise what 71 people looked like when gathered together and seeing the harbour filled with boats was also unexpected. I think even Sila was taken aback by the numbers though she knew, as I did, how many boats had been built.
Sila welcomed everyone with grace and affection. It is hard to believe that she is 70, except that I too will turn 70 this year. Her hair is grey now, like mine, but she is still straight and lean and her face in repose is serene and wise.”
Sila had met earlier with those of the first group and together they had tried to establish some guiding principles. It is clear from her journal that even these meetings were not without their difficulties.
“Today has been a difficult day. I didn’t understand that there would be those who could not accept that trust and kindness should be our only guiding principles. It seems even a small community of like-minded individuals are still as different as they are alike.”
However, they did manage to agree in the end and their ideas were presented and voted on and accepted. Sila wanted them to remain simply guiding principles, but despite her wishes they were adopted as rules. Her reaction to this was shared with her journal and indicates her uneasiness with this development.
“Rules and regulations! If we were really pursuing the aims we believe in, would we need them? It seems the answer is yes.”
Never the less she was content, overall, with the outcomes of this first Gathering. Now there was a structure in place for welcoming apprentices, some common understanding about the discipline of the mind, and the possibility of sharing the administrative work of the harbour, its maintenance and the maintenance and upgrading of the boats. My own mentor Tala was apprenticed that year. Rinteh was her mentor and I am proud and grateful to be able to trace my own lineage back to one who was so much a part of the beginning of things. Only Sila did not take an apprentice, recognising perhaps that to be her apprentice might create some kind of hierarchy.
Numbers continued to grow steadily if not with quite the same speed as earlier. The water road too continued to be extended, often with outside help as towns began to value the Silberay not just for the health they brought but also for the carrying capacity of the boats. It became quite commonplace for Silberay to earn their living by moving goods from place to place. Anything where speed was not critical would be loaded up and since the passage was more gentle than that on the roads they were in demand for the transport of fragile goods.
This need to earn a living to support themselves and also to contribute to the upkeep of the harbour was what drove the development of the boats. Although initially most of the first group were supported by their families it was soon obvious that there would be those for whom this was not possible. Neither was it desirable to seem privileged in that way.
As she aged Sila travelled less and less. She did however have a pony to pull Morning Star for her along those sections of the water road closest to the harbour. She was not the only one to make use of a willing beast but often it was a job for the apprentice. I myself pulled for Tala. It was good learning. Although hard at times in cold or wet weather it brought us close to the land and taught us to listen with our hearts as well as being good discipline.
The practice now was to convene a Gathering every two years in early spring at the time of Sila’s birthday and this gave a new shape to the pattern of Silberay lives. It enabled classes to be organised for the apprentices, boats to be repaired or upgraded, problems and successes to be shared and, most importantly, ideas and ideals to be tested against the values of others.
Of course it was understood that it was not always possible for those at a distance to return and there was no check on who was or was not present which may have led to the problems which were to emerge some 80 years after Sila’s death. However there was no thought of problems at this time and stories suggest that Silberay were welcomed and valued for what they brought to the land.
Sila did not confide so much to her journal in these later years but what she did write indicates that she still cared and devoted much of her thought to the water road and its future. The apprentices were her special care.
“There was a time when I was tempted to have a child with Lor, but now I am grateful that I chose to devote myself wholly to my vision for the Silberay. The apprentices have become my children and fill me with hope for the future.”
She kept up with developments in boat building too and Morning Star was used to test her ideas. Those that worked were incorporated in the other boats as they went into dry dock for regular maintenance.
Rinteh’s log tells of the daily activities of the apprentices and their mentors.
“Tala was up in good time this morning. She has not needed to be reminded again and she took my reprimand in good part yesterday. I must be sure to find something interesting for her to do tomorrow. I think it is time she was introduced to the discipline of the mind. We sang together after breakfast today and she is developing in understanding of the soul song each time we practise it together.
Moved northwards for two hours, Tala pulling steadily. She assured me she was not too tired but two hours is enough for one day.”
When she was 90 Rinteh handed Day Bringer to Tala and moved ashore to live at the Harbour. Sila still lived on Morning Star but without travelling and Lor also passed Tempest to his apprentice and moved into the old farm house with Rinteh.
During the next few years these three spent much of their time together sharing and developing what would become a kind of curriculum for the apprentices. Increasingly they spent long hours practising the discipline of the soul. Sila never wavered in her belief that this was the most important activity they could undertake and it seems clear that Lor and Rinteh supported her in this.
Lor died and Sila grieved but she was aware that her own time could not be far and she still found consolation in the soul song. The last entry in her journal, two weeks before her death speaks of her belief in the ongoing life of the soul and of the future of the Silberay.
“I know Lor is there in my song although I do not distinguish him amongst the other singers. It will not be long before I too will be all song. It is humbling to look back over my life and recognise the many gifts I have been given. I am encouraged to hope that I have not wasted these because the Silberay continue to grow and to serve in ways I could never have imagined.”
She died two weeks before her 93rd birthday. Rinteh was with her and two others of her oldest friends, but most of the Silberay were at the furthest point of their travels and so it was not until the next Gathering on what would have been her 94th birthday that a ceremony was held to honour her memory.
At 93 Rinteh was the oldest of the Silberay and the last living member of the twelve who had been closest to Sila. She was able to speak at the ceremony, sharing her memories of the early years and honouring Sila, but she too was failing and died just six weeks after her 94th birthday.
The question of a new leader had arisen even while Sila was living but she had refused to consider the possibility feeling that it was not the person who led but the values, ideals and guiding principles and these must belong to all. She never did recognise her own qualities and how much who she was shaped the Silberay.
Rinteh had made it her priority to draw up suggestions for the future during the last year of her life, trying to keep faith with Sila’s dream but at the same time recognising the need for guidelines that would provide some framework for growth. She could see that there must sometimes be, if not a leader then a facilitator, who would instigate discussion and take action when new situations arose.
She it was who suggested the term ‘mentor’ rather than the more usual ‘master’ be used to describe those who had charge of an apprentice. She proposed that the mentors, who must all be 70 or older, then become the ones to offer wise council. Her proposals, written in her careful script, are still housed in the archives but not all were adopted. In hindsight it would seem that already there were those who wanted the recognition and perhaps even the possibility of power that might devolve upon an acknowledged leader.
Never the less Rinteh’s proposals guided the Silberay into the future so that Sila’s dream was not lost. The mentors did become a group who met each Gathering to share their experience and the learning that teaching brought them. The practice of the disciplines of soul and mind was clarified and the importance of the soul song emphasised and at first little changed. It was however necessary for someone to take responsibility at the Harbour and so the position of Harbour Master was created. Sila’s work with apprentices too needed to be continued and another position, that of Apprentice Master, was established.
Rinteh had clearly struggled with these concepts and her suggestion had been that the mentors choose someone in their early 60s for each position and that the positions be held for three years only. That was the way it began but by 1830, when I was apprenticed to Tala, both positions had been renewed twice to the same two men and it looked as if they might each be offered a third term.
Tala was not happy about it I remember but I did not understand why back then and Tala had only just become a mentor so she had not yet found a voice.
It was not that either of the positions were held by bad men but more that the mantle of authority had fallen on them and they enjoyed the degree of power they held. Neither of them had lived the life of the Silberay in the past six years and they were beginning to forget what was important about it. They seemed to see their role as one of leadership rather than facilitation and had lost sight of the guiding principles.
The Apprentice Master at that time wrote the first edition of “Guidelines for Mentoring the Young Apprentice” in 1832 in his third term in the position. It was launched with great ceremony at my second Gathering but I remember Tala being very indignant because none of the mentors had been consulted about it.
She used to tease me sometimes by quoting passages. Her favourites have remained in my memory.
“Maintain firm discipline. Instruct the apprentice in obedience and service and expect both at all times.”
“There may be occasions when some kind of punishment is called for. Stern words will be enough for most offences, but the behaviour of an unruly apprentice may call for the removal of privileges or even a good spanking.”
She would laugh and threaten me with a hiding occasionally but never when I had actually done something wrong. Then it would be careful discussion until I understood the reason why things had gone wrong or the reason why a different action would have been better.
When I became a mentor myself I received my own copy of the book. I read it and remembered Tala and was glad she had laughed at it because it made me realise that I did not need to follow it slavishly but act according to my own perception and understanding of my apprentice, my dear Nemle, who wanted at all times to serve me.
From notes that Rinteh left it was very clear that she was concerned that the titles, Harbour Master and Apprentice Master, would point towards both positions being filled only by men. It had proved to be the case despite there being at least as many, if not more, women amongst the Silberay. I take a little credit for pursuing change here and fighting for a very talented woman called Yelna to be appointed Apprentice Master. She proved to be outstanding at the job. In her three year term we had more new apprentices than in the previous nine years but she did not want to be offered another term and so it was back to the men, who did a conscientious but perhaps less imaginative job.
I am aware that a historian should not show bias, so perhaps I am not truly a historian, but I believe that some, at least, of the problems that surfaced at the time of the Great Debate could have been avoided if we had been more careful to follow Rinteh’s suggestions as well as Sila’s guiding principles.
The Great Debate and Beyond
It is difficult for me to be objective about the Great Debate since I was there, involved for the first time as a mentor, with a young and vulnerable apprentice to take care of as well as feeling passionate about the issues that emerged.
The Gathering that year, 1880, was planned as a celebration since it was just 100 years since the first formal Gathering. Silberay came from everywhere. People who had not appeared at a Gathering for years returned for it. There were ninety boats in the Harbour and about a third of them had apprentices so there was quite a crowd.
The Harbour Master at the time was unprepared for so many, but he found everyone a mooring and had the maintenance schedule well in hand. Apprentice classes were progressing as normal and the mentors got together informally as well as formally, which took care of two thirds of the population but the remaining third had time on their hands and spent it talking.
There was no harm in that. The purpose of a Gathering was sharing, but no one was prepared for the number of different interpretations of the guiding principles.
I suppose I was lucky really in that, knowing I was reaching the age when I could become a mentor, I had been preparing by studying the writings of both Sila and Rinteh. I had copied passages from their work so that I could think about these while at the tiller or during the long evenings alone, so I felt I had absorbed their meaning and intent. I could see that something needed to be done to help us reach some common understanding, and I was not the only one.
A couple of us went to the Harbour Master and persuaded him to organise some more formal discussions where everyone could share their understanding of the guiding principles. What emerged was disturbing. There were third and fourth year apprentices who had not been introduced to the discipline of the soul and Silberay who had not practised it often enough to understand its value. Even some of the mentors neglected it, focusing more on the discipline of the mind.
That was disturbing too. Some argued that using the discipline of the mind was more helpful than practising the discipline of the soul. They told how they had stopped this one from fighting, that one from drinking to excess, another one from punishing his horse by entering the mind to control it. It seemed dangerous to me, like playing God, especially since they could do it from the safety of the water road with no one to know they were there.
I was determined to keep Sila’s thoughts alive in our discussions and made a nuisance of myself no doubt by quoting from her journal at every possible moment, relevant or not. I even had my apprentice write a copy of one entry on a big sheet of paper and pinned it up in the big meeting room. Dear Nemle has such nice neat handwriting, much more legible than my scrawl and she seemed happy to oblige me. I assuaged my conscience by telling myself that familiarity with Sila’s thoughts could only be of benefit to her.
This is the particular passage that seemed to me to address the crux of our debate.
“Is it possible to have power and put it aside? Is it responsible to do this? I sometimes think of the discipline of the mind as a destructive practice, yet there are times when I feel I have used it for good.
Thankfully practising the discipline of the soul seems to offer guidance, developing my compassion and my ability to love. These can govern the use of power. At least I believe so.”
It became clear as we talked together that principles were not enough, there needed to be rules. I was against that because I knew Sila would have been. She thought we should be able to judge for ourselves what was right and wrong, that practising the discipline of the soul would be enough to guide us.
The difficulty with rules is that there must then be sanctions and someone to enforce these. However, the decision was made and the mentors were asked to draw up a list which would be debated and voted on in the last week of the Gathering.
So we did that, trying to keep the spirit of Sila’s principles alive in the rules. We tried to keep things simple too, just a few short sentences to sum up what was important to us. The discipline of the soul was a “do” rule and the discipline of the mind was a “don’t” rule. In a way that was the easiest to set down although there was some dissention about the extent of it.
Silberay will only control using the discipline of the mind if it is needed for self defence was what we decided on.
Do rules are more difficult.
In order to graduate to Silberay or to become mentors, individuals must be able to demonstrate that they can enter and join the soul song, is what we came up with in the end, but it is really impossible to legislate for something like that. If it is not an almost daily practice it is hard to justify being Silberay. However I am letting my own prejudices show when I write that and failing once again to be an objective historian.
When we had our rules clarified and ready to be presented the Great Debate began. Anyone who wished to speak was given a hearing, even the apprentices, although it had been decided that they could not vote when it came time for that. There were some strong opinions as well as some who just played devil’s advocate in order that all sides of the proposals should be explored.
It was the discipline of the mind that caused the real problems. Those who had been using it to control the behaviour of others were not easily convinced that this was an abuse of power.
In the end both rules were passed with a good majority but sadly there was a small group who could not accept the prohibition on using the discipline of the mind and decided to leave the Silberay. That was the first time such a thing had happened and it shocked and saddened those of us who were left, but we had no idea that these same friends would grow to become our enemies.
They turned our name inside out to become Yareblis and began recruiting on their own account, but it seems they soon not just neglected, but rejected, the discipline of the soul and so lost sight of what was good and beautiful and concentrated only on the power the discipline of the mind gave them over the behaviour of others.
The numbers of Silberay never quite built again to ninety and since then there have always been three or four boats lying up empty, which has relieved the pressure on the boat builders at least, since it is now possible to move onto one of the spares if a boat needs extensive work.
Since the time of the Great Debate the lives of the Silberay, our lives, have become more structured in various ways.
During Sila’s lifetime Silberay contributed financially according to their means but no one had realised just how much Sila had spent on establishing and maintaining the harbour. The first few Harbour Masters also had private means but it soon became clear that there would need to be a financial structure in place that allowed for the payment of wages and the maintenance of boats, buildings and structures along the water road and for the care of the older Silberay who had left their boats.
It did not happen all at once and of course there was much discussion, even argument, before any new levy was adopted.
At the time of writing all Silberay boat holders pay an annual fee and are expected to support themselves financially unless they are given a particular task which will prevent them from plying their trade, what ever that might be.
Apprentices pay a set fee on entering and most of this is paid to their mentors over the first few years while they are needing the closest guidance and teaching. There are, however measures in place to ensure that none are turned aside because of financial difficulty. My own dear Nemle would have been unable to be apprenticed if that were not the case.
There have been several increases in the levy since the Great Debate. The ten percent reduction in numbers meant a ten percent loss of income and consequent struggle to maintain services.
Along with the more structured finances came the necessity for more rules and sanctions aimed at managing all parts of our lives. It is no longer easy to keep up with all that has been written down for our guidance and for many of us just paying our dues and living up to the guiding principles are enough to manage. Some future historian will be able to judge better than I can whether it has all be necessary.
What is clear is that, as it is with most groups, we all approach our lives in different ways. There are some who jog along quietly trying to uphold Sila’s values and ideals in small, almost unnoticed ways. Others seem to feel that small ways are beneath them and want to lead and be appreciated. We all rub along together at the Gatherings and at least there every Silberay is expected to practise the discipline of the soul what ever they do at other times.
This practice is at the heart of Silberay life and as long as it is maintained Silberay will do their part in bringing healing and health to the world around them.