Voices from the past

There was a jaw-dropping moment when it finally hit home…

We knew the story… we had discussed it long before Stuart had started working with it. The ‘hero’ was a historical king who lived around five thousand years ago. About a thousand years later, tales of his doings, combining events both real and symbolic, were collected and written down. Given the way that history…and particularly folk history… works, the scribe probably included tales once told of even older characters, going back seven thousand years or more, and reassigned them to our Hero.  A few hundred years later, they were standardised under the title ‘He who Saw the Abyss’…

Facts, dates and historical data are all very well. They allow you to arrange events on the canvas of space and time. What they do not seem to do is to really put things in perspective. When the realisation hit, it was mind-blowing… we were actually working with stories from one of the earliest human civilisations. These were tales that were already old before the pyramids were built. Two, three, some of them maybe even four times as old as the stories in the New Testament. Many of them contain the obvious origins of biblical tales… precursors to stories we associate with the early books of the Old Testament. And we were not only working with those tales… we were finding them wholly relevant to the world today.

Take Dickens… You read his work and he brings to life the world as he knew it. You can picture Victorian England quite readily, just because of his words. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters take you back another century or so. Shakespeare another couple of hundred years. Julius Caesar wrote of his world two thousand years ago. Plato taught four hundred years before that… And that still only takes you about half way back in time to the birth of the tales we are working with! That starts to put things in perspective a bit.

It is not just the almost unimaginable distance in time and culture between then and now that is so startling, it is the way the characters are drawn, playing out timeless moments of human interaction. So many thousands of years…and we have changed not at all. Arrogance, entitlement, compassion and misguided emotions all played out then exactly as they do today. We did not need to translate an ancient tale into terms the modern mind could understand, it was already there.

The problems and scenarios they faced too, were not dissimilar to our own. Love and loss, anger and grief… and the wider issues of power and politics, ecology, the destruction of habitats and a obsession with the quest for eternal youth… they were all part of life thousands of years ago.

In some ways, it seems a tragedy that we have changed and learned so little. In others, it is reassuring, for the threads that bind past to present are unbroken and the learning curve continues. A few thousand years, after all, are but a very small part of the hundreds of thousands of years that our species has been around.

Hominins, our earliest ancestors, first made use of stone tools almost three and a half million years ago. Homo sapiens has only been around for some three hundred thousand years, and for most of that time we were busy evolving from our origins. ‘Civilisation’  took us a while… it is still a new venture for humankind, and we are  probably little more than pre-schoolers, compared to what we may one day become.  As long as we don’t break our ‘toys’ by squabbling over them, I see a good deal of hope in that.

As individuals, we learn best from experience. As societies, we learn from history… but the tendency is to see anything ‘prehistoric’ as irrelevant. Prehistory tends to refer to the period before written records were kept, and one of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform, came from the same time and place as the story of the king, Gilgamesh. There are so many similarities with the people in that story, and parts of it probably arose before the invention of writing… bridging the gap between history and prehistory. And we get to work with those stories for this year’s workshop… The moment that really hit home was a moment of utter awe.

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

14 thoughts on “Voices from the past

    1. I can be an armchair archaeologist with this one. Stuart picked the oldest great work of literature to work with and a civilisation we knew nothing about until the nineteenth century… and it is amazing to explore it. I love this kind of research, but it does make digging up facts quite a long job 🙂

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  1. It’s interesting to think about how little humans have changed on some levels. After all, we’re biological animals with certain predispositions and instincts, a conglomeration of emotions that once served our survival. At the same time, we have these amazing intellects, the ability to story-tell and learn, to pass on our wisdom through time. I love it that you’re traveling back in time and delving into ancient stories that still play out today. The thread of connection is mesmerizing. 🙂

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    1. We grow rather than change…and hopefully, we will eventually ‘grow up’ a bit and grow into our potential. We shouldn’t really expect to be all that different at heart than we have always been. The sabre-soothed tiger may look more like our boss or a shadow in a dark alley, bt the instincts that protected us them still work 🙂

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  2. I think one of the many Collage Soul Card I made back in 2010 speaks to this from my own thinking. I wish I could share the art itself, but have not figured out a way. But this seems to answer for me at least these issues that we all are pondering.

    I am the one who ponders
    The road in life
    And what it means to me
    And to all of us.
    Why am I here
    And what is my purpose?
    Have I done the right things?
    Am I one of the players
    In the Great Plan someone
    Created for everything?
    Or am I just
    A biological adventure
    of nature?

    Life is an endless mystery, and I think that looking at it and thinking of what is written in one point of time becomes so much when later generations write the same things but add their own stories that may indeed have come from a deeper and much older time than that one time. Is it one person, one life, one time, or are we all stirred into a giant swelling mass that sometimes works well together and sometimes is like a bunch of wrong ingredients. There is so much to learn in this span of time we are in, and every culture in every part of the world has surely pondered these same things and wished for the wisdom that may well be imparted to us through studying these people/creatures/nature itself.

    If there were any way I could fly as I used to in my dreams, I would be there for this incredible event. Whether or not we ever fully know all the answers or not, this study and event will not go wasted.

    I love all the research that everyone involved with this course of study has done, and their true dedication not just to learning new things, but to helping us to see life and the universe very differently. Thank you one and all.

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