One of the questions people don’t like to ask is whether or not our ritual drama weekends serve any useful purpose. It is all very well coming along to share the fun… and they are always fun… or enjoying a shared experience that is outside the norm for most of us. It is good, too, to meet and work with people from widely different backgrounds and with varied beliefs and approaches to the spiritual journey; the group dynamic augments personal experience, creating something far greater than the sum of its parts, and people also feel less isolated, for the spiritual path can sometimes seem a lonely one to walk.
We use the ancient format of ritualistic drama to open the doors of the mind, letting imagination lead the way to levels of awareness and understanding beyond the surface mind. But does any of what we do ever filter through into everyday life?
We, who organise these weekends, can see the changes in our own lives. On the outer levels, such changes can be rationalised by the growth in confidence that comes with standing up in front of a group to speak, crafting a long and detailed script, and the organising and presenting of a complex workshop. The changes that we have each felt within our own inner lives and attitudes may be profound, but as we are the ones organising these events, anything we can say is of little value to people wondering what benefits, if any, our weekends may offer.
Only those who have attended can paint a true picture of what the events have meant to them, and each person will take away something different. We are lucky in that, after our events, some of the attendees will write of their experiences and allow us to share their stories. Those are the testimonials that matter.
This year, I have been in the unique position of watching at close quarters as some of the seeds sown at the Lord of the Deep weekend took root. My son came along to be our Technician and take care of the music for us and, as such, was better placed than most to simply observe and listen. He came along to the presentations and watched the story of Gilgamesh unfold. Since the workshop, I have been quietly watching as one of the major symbolic themes of the weekend seems to be growing in his life.
During the workshop, the ‘Quest for Immortality’ was approached through two primary avenues. One was the story of Gilgamesh, whose ego sought immortality through the illusions of worldly success. He wished to carve his place in history…which, in spite of everything, he did; his name lives on in the ancient Epic from which we were learning. The other strand concerned the ‘Herb of Immortality’. This part of Gilgamesh’s story was not mentioned until close to the end of the story, yet we had built the symbolism of the Herb into the weekend… depicted as a Tree of Life… right from the very first moments, but without highlighting or explaining any of it.
The temple itself was dressed in reds and orange, with twin Trees as a backdrop, reminiscent of the two Trees of Knowledge and Life in the story of the Garden of Eden. During the welcome session, we had given each of the Companions a wooden bracelet bearing a charm incised with a Tree, telling them that this was their Key to the temple, but with no other explanation. The twin staffs we dressed with the veils representing the colours of life were both natural tree branches, gifted by the trees themselves. The two tokens each Companion carried beyond the Veil bore the images of trees.
Then, in the final ritual, Shiduri, the ale-wife, guides Gilgamesh on his journey to find the Herb. Lorraine, who took the role of Shiduri, also most appropriately, focussed on trees for part of her presentation on the relationship between Man, Nature and Spirit. She spoke from a Druidic perspective, but drew upon the latest scientific research about the consciousness of trees… something we are barely beginning to understand, but which has been part of many sacred and legendary traditions since time immemorial. She also suggested ways we could attune to the life and energy of trees.
My son took little notice of symbolic details, he simply followed the story and was focussed on getting the music right. Trees were not mentioned at all when we discussed the weekend afterwards. But he is having to have his garden ripped out and rebuilt as it has become unsafe for both feet and wheelchair.
The cost of making the garden safe and durable is prohibitive, so all our thoughts are on creating the hard-landscape. Plants…in which my son has absolutely no interest except to look at them… will have to be salvaged from the existing garden, so our now-daily trips to the various local garden centres have all been about aggregates and slabs. Knowing me to be a plant-addict with a very empty garden, he even banned me from looking at anything green and growing… until something caught his eye.
Instructing me to push him through all the plants to this one bit of foliage, he promptly fell in love. It was an acer, a Japanese maple, of a variety named Inabe Shidare, which was close enough to Shiduri for me to take notice straight away. Its red leaves echoed the colours of the temple; it was glorious…and would cost a ‘mere’ six hundred pounds.
Reluctantly leaving the tree behind, we ended up looking at every acer that we could find, in every garden centre and online, from the tiniest bonsai to young saplings. Being slow-growing trees, a sapling would take a very long time to reach the maturity of the huge, potted tree with which he had fallen in love, but gardening and patience go hand in hand.
As this was the first time he had ever evinced any interest in plants, let alone an all-consuming passion, I really wanted to be able to find something. And, on one rain-battered trip to the last garden centre in the area, I spotted a distant patch of red.
A young Inabe Shidare, its slender stem standing six feet tall and beautifully twisted into a spiralling column, wept deep red leaves at the back of a display. A bit of rummaging and I found a price tag… an affordable fraction of the expected price… and it was soon on its way home.
That would have been odd enough, but by next day, my son had not only researched everything about caring for the tree, decided where it would be planted when the garden is done and purchased specific acer food, he was also talking about it as a living being, not ‘just’ a tree. He checked on its well-being continually and even launched himself across the room… bearing in mind he cannot walk unaided… when he heard something outside that made him worry for the tree’s safety.
His passion for this tree spilled over and he began taking notice of the other trees around his garden, which, until now, have been no more than a green backdrop… and from there, the needs of Nature and his own response to them have begun to change the way he sees the world around him, in a quite dramatic fashion.
In the grand scheme, it may seem a small thing perhaps, but something has completely changed one man’s awareness of the natural world and its creatures, opening his mind to a new way of looking at Nature with conscious love and respect.
We cannot know where the motivation came from, what level of mind and heart were awakened to the life of trees, nor where that awakening was born, but it does seem a little ‘coincidental’. And, were the experiences of the weekend to achieve no more than that, I think we could say it had served a useful purpose.