“….so, this year it is Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Court, and next year we’ll be in Sumeria.” Running around getting things organised for the workshops always involves the attempted acquisition of some strange items. I frequently get asked what I’m hoping to use them for and that inevitably leads to questions about what we do, how and why.
“Sumeria?” The face was blank.
“An ancient civilisation, goes back five thousand years and more…” The face brightened with understanding.
“Oh.” There was a weird sort of relief too. “Cave men,” she said, thereby dismissing the great city of Uruk with two words.
“Not exactly…” But where do you start? The great walled city of Uruk, home to around eighty thousand people, was founded six thousand years ago, predating the rise of ancient Egyptian civilisation by a thousand years. The Sumerian culture had been growing for a long time before that too.
Say ‘Egypt’ and everyone thinks of the fabulous art, the gold and the temples that remain. We have no problem accepting that ancient Egypt was civilised, but unless there is a particular interest, most of us don’t have much of an idea about dates. Say, ‘five thousand years ago’ and ‘cave man’ is still the image in many minds. Say ‘prehistoric’ and that conjures dinosaurs, say ‘stone age’ and you are probably thinking Fred Flintstone.
Prehistoric means simply that period before written history… and written language first began, we believe, in Sumeria… over five thousand years ago. Archaeology has revealed the beauty and artistry of the culture, from musical instruments to fabulously worked gold and miniature carved seals. Prior to the beginnings of written history, the prehistoric culture was already exceptionally rich.
The various ‘Ages’, like Stone, Bronze and Iron, refer in brief to a leap in technology. Thus, the basic advance in the Bronze Age was the ability to work with metal. Before that, stone was the prime technology and, while it may have begun with the use of a simple rock or a worked flint arrowhead, it ended with the complexity of the enigmatic monuments that still draw us today.
Stonehenge is perhaps the best known in this country. No mere pile of rocks, but a fantastic feat of engineering by any standards, where mortice and tenon joints allow the stones, weighing tons apiece, to ‘float’ above the circle. The construction of Stonehenge too was begun five thousand years ago. What remains suggests a complex mathematical and geometrical understanding, even though it may not have taken the form we now use. It also implies a knowledge of astronomy as well as an established culture strong enough to build the monument. And Stonehenge is just one of over a thousand known circles in these islands…
But why does it matter? That is another question frequently asked regarding the workshops. What possible benefit can there be to delving into the past for our workshops, be it the few hundred years back to the Elizabethan Court, or a few thousand?
We could answer that there is no particular benefit at all… that the stories we weave through our workshops are no more than frames for the spiritual concepts we explore. That would be true, but not the whole truth. Although we spend months crafting detailed and researched scripts, it is not the stories that matter, any more than it is the frame of a picture that holds the true value. On the other hand, those stories allow us to capture the imagination, engage the heart, mind and body, and bring our whole being to the concepts we explore. Instead of dry lectures, we learn through experience, laughter and through play… and that is always the best way to learn.
Nature has designed her children to learn that way; from lambs in a field to humans in the playground, we learn and experience hard lessons within a relatively safe world of play. The Inner Child can learn and explore the inner realms in the same way…and that is one reason why we craft such stories, taking our cue from the ancient Mystery Plays that brought the stories of the gods to life… and the gods, be it remembered, represent the cosmic principles behind the natural forces of the universe.
So, and that leads on to the next common question, are we saying that the ancients knew more than we do? That they had a lost knowledge that we lack? Well, the obvious answer there is that if there were a ‘lost’ knowledge, then by definition, we do not have it and cannot know what it was. We can, however, look at the fragments they have left and infer that they had a different and more personal relationship with their environment, seeing divinity made manifest in the hills, rocks and streams. Would it be a bad thing to renew that relationship with the earth as a sacred and living being? Given the parlous state of the environment in this industrialised era, it could only be a good thing.
Did our ancestors have an inner knowledge that we lack? Again, in the absence of written records, we can only infer and intuit. Given that, in the days before antiseptic, disinfectant and antibiotics, life and death were separated by the most tenuous of threads, it is entirely probable that their only fear of death was of the pain of dying and loss, and the practical problems posed by decomposition. Today, as a society, we fear death and the dissolution of the personal ego; we seek ever to deny and defer the ageing process and in doing so, we create for ourselves an unsettled, dissatisfied world.
Whatever our ancestors saw, whatever forged their beliefs, is still there, in the natural world, waiting to teach us. By taking the time to look and to explore our relationship with Nature, we may glimpse the world through older eyes…for our ancestors are not separate or different from us, they are part of who we are, both in the concrete terms of genetic coding and in the accumulated knowledge and wisdom handed down to us over the centuries.
Whether, like the emerging scientists of the Elizabethan Age, we choose to take a logical and evidence-based view, or whether, like our ancient ancestors, it is the beauty and tides of Nature that speak to us, there is a path that may call us to a turning point in our own lives, echoing those pivotal points of history that have heralded a new age and a new beginning.
The stories we have woven over the years have been set in both past and future, rooted in the land as well as in myth. Each one has told a different tale, each from a different era. They are held together by a single common thread… Strip away the characters, props, and costumes designed to transport the imagination, and they are all fragments of the same story… that of the journey of the human heart and soul.