`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
She gyred and gimbled down the steep slope of the hillside; full of music, laughter and the generally infectious good will that is the core of Ali – she of the golden heart, and one of the heroines of the River of the Sun, the Silent Eye’s 2015 main workshop in the lovely hills of Derbyshire.
Quite why Ali picked this poem (Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll) I’ll never know, but, as she bounced, singing playfully, down the steep, green meadow and back towards the Nightingale Centre, it became one of those iconic and wonderful moments, when any trace of pomposity would meet a ruthless evisceration from the moment, from the ‘now’ . . .
Her utterly human humour was a wonderful contrast to the fifteen minutes of chanting a greeting to the dawn that we had just carried out in the fine early morning that ushered in the Saturday of the weekend event. The chant, a pseudo-Egyptian creation that we had crafted and layered over a dimly remembered melody from a French folk song about the ancient cathedrals of ancient Paris, had rung out over the hillside towards a dawn that stubbornly moved itself along the line of its expected appearance and appeared only during our descent – no doubt summoned by Ali’s Jabberwocky and not our Egyptian chant with accompanying text from the Hymn of Akhenaten.
And that is the most perfect cameo I can think of to express the success of the Silent Eye’s third such workshop and our second birthday – duly celebrated at the end of the weekend with a gorgeous cake baked by one of my fellow Directors of the School, Sue Vincent.
The contrast between planned ‘perfection’ and the reality of mischievous manifestation was at the heart of what rescued the River of the Sun from the annals of what would have been groaning oblivion, as those present hurried to bury the memories in gestures of goodwill and personal reassurances.
The River of the Sun took a year to conceive and three months of solid writing to bring to readiness; but then disaster struck in the last week, with four people having to drop out with health-related issues. Even two of those present turned up full of the horrible flu bug that seems intent on incapacitating much of Britain. One of them, David, was new to the whole thing, and had heroically accepted the central role of Rameses the Great for which he had done months of preparation.
The surviving cast, of what should have been twenty-two members, were to fill the roles of either the ‘royal family’ – Rameses II, his senior military command, Obion, and a mysterious and elderly Mage named Menascare; the Temple Vessels of the Gods: Sekhmet, Hathor, Khonsu, Tefnut, Ptah, Thoth and Ma’at; or the fearsome Talatat, the military elite guard of Rameses under its commander, Obion. The island temple on the Nile was lead by the High Priestess of Mut and her brother the High Priest, who had recently adopted a promising young orphan, Amkhren, and his ‘bent old grandmother’ nicknamed Snefer, who was his sole surviving relative.
But seventeen people do not equate to twenty-plus parts, even when a bit of last-minute whittling of the 150 pages of script had eliminated two of the Talatat, ridding the temple of the practitioners of the dark specialisms of inquisition and vengeance, part of the enneagram’s ‘outer leaves’ of the darker side of humanity.
They must have seen the despair in my eyes as we began the workshop with apologies for the decimation of our expected acting population and our inability to carry out the five rather vivid ritual dramas that formed the backbone of the event.
Dead in the water? Not on your Nellie . . . not with the magical edge of the esoteric fraternity present. Within seconds of expressing my sadness, regret and (at Sue’s timely prompting) our condolences for those who had been struck down with the vicious bug, two experienced volunteers had stood up to offer to be heroes. One was Ali, the aforementioned singer of ‘nonsense’ verse; the other was an old friend and senior figure in another esoteric School with whom several of us had shared many years of magical past – Dean.
For the Friday evening and on through Saturday and Sunday morning, the two of them battled the logistics, angular distance and the perils of the twin Wheels of Egyptian time – eternity and recurrence, as they skilfully played out multiple roles to hold together the coherence of the script.
Amkhren, now seven years older and about to be initiated into the priesthood, was duly petrified by the arrival of the river-borne war party of the young Rameses, travelling up the Nile for one last hunting mission and eager to drop in, unannounced, on the temple he suspected of harbouring one of the last pockets of support for the religion of now-erased Akhenaten, the self-styled Son of the Sun.
The scene was set for a confrontation of unequal forces as the gentle Temple Vessels battled with the cruel onslaught of the King-in-Rising and the military prowess of his elite guard – now played by a red-haired dervish (Ali) who could disappear into one of the time wheels on the perimeter of the enneagram-shaped temple only to reappear, a heartbeat later, as a different warrior with changed voice and persona at the other side of the temple . . . It should have been funny, but it wasn’t – it was brilliant! In like fashion, Dean, brandishing what must have been the heaviest replica sword we have ever sourced, darted and dashed through the internals of the enneagram of humanity and rounded up the missing and the fallen, re-animating them with spirit and vigour.
With considerable emotion, Amkhren repaid his mentors by charming and impressing the young Rameses; so much so that the King-in-Rising’s final act was to steal him to be be a royal priest in the family palace. The devious Menascare, the mage who turned out to be more sympathetic to the recent past than his new ruler liked, was led away to his death by the triumphant Obion, again with sword and, by now, well exercised arm muscles . . . The temple was not only spared, but given new royal patronage, and Rameses (brilliantly played by David, Sheila’s son) declared himself happy with the unconventional worship of the Divine Feminine.
During the third of the three ‘theory talks’ which always accompany the ritual dramas, I thanked those present for rescuing our workshop. The success had come, not from the play, but from the magnificent souls who had animated it. We were talking at the time about the Silent Eye’s use of the Djed Pillar and the Scarab. Ali’s character – the bent Snefer, was in the process of being elevated, with royal approval, to the Lady Scarab, in a twist of events, which were, in many ways, the reverse of those events which had brought us to the edge of disaster.
I was told later that, at that moment, the ‘presence’ in the room changed and I went off-script for a period of about ten minutes to talk about our approach to Being in a quite different way than before. I cannot remember all of it – I was truly ‘streaming’ something from another place; but I came back to normal consciousness and realised what had happened. There was no loss of continuity, but the content had gone into a gentle overdrive . . . truly a magical moment, made possible by the goodwill of all those present and my dawning realisation that the intellectually dominated approach to taking all the risks out of an endeavour like this is entirely secondary to the Spirit’s ability to mould and fashion the moment for its purposes.
We had people present who were new to us and also the return of many old friends. The Sunday morning saw the emotional content peak with Sue and Stuart’s Rite of the Seers, during which we were all led off, in threes, by the Vessel of Sekhmet, to come face to face with a living Ankh, marked out in another room in lights on the floor, with a projected picture of the Cosmos on the wall beyond. We returned with scrolls of Egyptian wisdom upon which to meditate in the main temple.
But my moment of the weekend remains that of watching Ali-Snefer-the Lady Scarab, lovely Slithy Tove that she is, bouncing down her green hillside, in the full power of her glorious and heart-warming humanity. The Nightingale Centre nestles at the foot of a Derbyshire edge that hosts a gliding and paraponting school. As Sunday’s glorious sun warmed the day, the air was full of people with wings or para-wings riding down and up on their thermal gradients above us. It struck me that we might need a new word for the way Ali could descend the green slopes below, chanting her ‘nonsense’ poem. I propose Jabberwalking . . . any offers?
Thank you to all. I believe you enjoyed our annual rite of the spring. We wish those stricken with the ‘flu a speedy recovery. Out target for next year is thirty to thirty-five people, so, if you’re interested in the 2016 event, the Foliate Man, which will cast the Arthurian legend of the Green Man and Gawain in the language of the magical enneagram, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the website below.