Dancing with the ghost in the machine

If you’ve ever been involved with anything of an ‘amateur dramatic’ nature, you will know that moment: the protagonist, hated until the final few moments (when the greater picture is revealed) shuffles off, in rags, to his doom; and the shared and questioning silence longs for the gentle and poignant soothing that only the right music can bring….

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. .

Frantic sound of fingers fiddling.

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. and then the final piece, a gentle Sufi melody cuts in… only it’s about twenty decibels too high in the flying fingers’ frantic search for sound… any sound.

The much maligned King Gilgamesh (who turns out to be only 99% schmuck) looks to the heavens in an unscripted gesture. Everyone is stunned… but for all the wrong reasons.

It didn’t happen, not yet… but it’s time to make sure it can’t…

Amateur actors – our annual workshop participants – such as the Silent Eye seems to be able to attract year on year, are wonderful people. They are enthusiastic, flexible and multi-tasking. They stand, clutching their scripts, in the middle of a space invested with spiritual emotion, power and purpose and give their all… to such an extent that, come the start of Sunday afternoon, no-one wants to leave and break up the intense camaraderie that these warm and mystical adventures generate.

There are no mistakes, just real-time variations in the script. Like Jazz, the best bits can be improvised, often with humour from above… Ask Barbara, who we once completely lost, Schrödinger-like, in the middle of Act Three in the centre of the room. To this day, no-one knows where she went.

Being the technician can be a difficult job. And, it’s near impossible to be one of the characters in the mystery play and the technician. So, the partial answer is to make the soundtrack as free-standing as possible.

The problem is the technology, or, rather, the combination of technology and the media – sound – that is required to be ‘piped’ through the technology. Most domestic music players are just not up to the job.

The epic stories of Gilgamesh the King are the oldest known legends on Earth. Using this as a basis, Stuart France has re-envisaged the story in five acts of ritual drama, where everyone attending plays their part, large or small. Stuart and Sue Vincent have crafted a workbook of nearly two hundred pages of beautifully laid out script.

I have been volunteered to play the part of Gilgamesh, but since I have taken our technology forward, too, I’m taking no chances…

Gone are the multiple CD machines, laid out at strategic points in the temple space of the mystery play; each one involving a lightning sprint from compass point to compass point. Gone, even, is the use of an uncooperative Apple iTunes with its incomplete staging of cues. Gone is any notion of carrying around the sound with a portable speaker – one of the past’s more heroic failures…

Instead of Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence, we have this on the iPad screen:

It’s a deck… a sound-deck in software. It’s what professionals use to control the music and lighting for stage shows, moving with consummate timing from event to event as the production progresses. If you were into William Gibson’s sci-fi (Burning Chrome etc) it’s what the pre-internet generation used to ‘jack into’ the ‘net and control the world with…

Tired of playing games that couldn’t really argue back, they began to design real software; masterpieces that really could kick-ass… but in a good way.

This scaled down masterpiece of software, called iMiX Pro, runs on an Apple iPad – mine. This is not to say that it does all the work for you. Oh, no… shoot, man, there’s a bucketload of stuff y’all need to do up frooont! (Sorry, that’s my inner Texan coming out). I’ve been sitting at this ‘deck’ for two days and only now… am I winning. And that’s the thing with these systems, you have to get the music into the machine before the ‘ghost’ that is the combination of producer and good software design come together in glorious expletives that do sound decidedly Texan.

In the beginning, there is the raw music, or other sound files; so, as before, you have to get them onto (in my case) your Mac and into… Hmmmm iTunes.

In the process, you have to re-name the tracks you want to use so that, when they re-appear in the iMiX software, they are recognisable. So, lovingly and carefully, you work out a naming scheme that shortens the track names in order to see something of their name in the individual panels on the iPad screen. The above first window is the result.

Next, you need to take the original files and convert them into one of Apple’s ‘Playlists’. These are just collections of songs. So it’s easy. You group all the original tracks and select ‘Add to Playlist’… and off she goes. You then have all your music in a second and more pliable container.

The use of a Playlist is essential because they have to be in this format to get the group of tracks across to the iPad. Along the way you get to put them in order – no mean feat with over twenty tracks. But, finally, they are ready to be beamed (okay, wired) across to their new portable home – a bit like the NASA lunar lander making a bid for freedom from the orbiter module. Once you’ve set off for the weekend, the iPad is on its own.

An hour later, you finally figure out how you did it last time and the transfer is complete… except the Apple transfer software has lost your carefully constructed sequencing and you’ve just got the order it decides you need on the iPad. They’re all in there, somewhere, you’ve just got to find each one again. So, you think about making paper list – or contact Sue, who recognises sleep-deprivation and provides one as a list of what should be happening in each act.

A small bottle of gin later, you realise that it doesn’t matter what the Apple software has done to your weekend’s sequence because the iMiX’s colossus of a DECK is about to rescue you!

Look back to the original diagram. Each of those vertical ‘pods’ is a beautifully programmed home for your hard-won music and sound tracks. And it offers you total control over how and when that track is played…. heaven.

You can control the volume; you can trim the clip regardless of what any other piece of software has done to it. You can select its unique fade-in and fade-out. And written up the side of the ‘pod’ is the full name of the track you so lovingly created…Texan sounds…

So, two days after I began, we have the Deck, fully programmed and ready to be operated, in lightning-fast real time, by our mega-techno dude who insists on being nameless.

But he’s related to one of the Directors.

There will be no ‘Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence’. So, while I won’t actually be operating the Deck, I’ll be the ghost in the machine…

Houston, we’re good to go.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to best play that ego-maniac, Gilgamesh…There are lots of ego-maniacs in the world at the moment. Very timely, that, Stuart…

Wish us luck… please. Even better, come and join us. We can fit in a few more people if you’d like to join this merry but sincere band. And we promise that you, too, won’t want to leave, come Sunday lunch…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Into the Deep…

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…Shiduri, the tavern keeper, sat,

at the edge of the Great Ocean,

her golden brewing-vat resting by her side.

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Gilgamesh, whose heart was still full of anguish,

strode toward her…

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‘This desperate man must be a murderer,’ thought Shiduri,

‘Why else would he be heading straight for me?’

She locked the lid of her brewing-vat and stood in front of it.

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Gilgamesh heard the lock click and looked up.

There stood Shiduri staring at him, “Who are you,

and where are you going?” she said.

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“I am the king of Wall-Girt Uruk,” said Gilgamesh, “I am

going to find Utnapishtim, so that I can ask him about the Herb of Immortality.”

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“Why is there so much grief in your heart?” said Shiduri.

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“My beloved friend, Enkidu, is turned to clay,” said Gilgamesh,

“Won’t I too, one day, lie down in the dirt like him

and never again rise?”

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“There are none who can cross the Great Ocean

to Utnapishtim,” said Shiduri,

“Only Shamash, who traverses the sky, is brave enough!”

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“But I am the man who slew the tree demon, Humbaba.

And it was I who tore the Bull of Heaven limb from limb.

There must be a way!” cried Gilgamesh, drawing his knife…

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

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The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

A Dramatic adaptation of the Epic of Gilgamesh…

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

 

The Round Ark?

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The story of Noah’s Ark is one of the first Biblical Tales that people in the western world hear.

Yet the story far pre-dates the compilation of that venerable book.

A tablet recently came to light dating back to Ancient Babylonia, that threw the Bilblical account into question.

Not only was the story of the flood far older than the Bible but it appears the Ark was round!…

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Many of the tales we know from the Bible have more ancient counterparts,

including this one which in its earliest known form comprises a part of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

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In this epic, the character we now know as Noah is named Utnapishtim

and it is he who holds the key to immortal life….

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

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The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

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

 

Religious Syncretism…

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“Then, Samson went down to the vineyards of Timnath and a young lion roared against him.

The Spirit of the Lord came upon him so that, with nothing in his hands, he rent mightily the lion as though it were a young goat.”

Judges 14

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“And then Samson found a jawbone of an ass and he took it and with it he slew heaps upon heaps of men to the number of a thousand.”

– Judges 16

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“You know, I’m not sure syncretism is quite the right word,” says Wen, eyeing the icon of Gilgamesh with some trepidation.

We are in the British Museum doing ‘research’ as Wen likes to call it.

‘Pick up your staff and pen,’ she said, ‘we have work to do.’

Which means in Wen-Speak, among other things, more churches…

“Your doubts are probably well founded. Mr Graves called it ‘iconotropy’ – turning religious iconography to new religious purpose.”

“Oh, him again. No one knows who Robert Graves is.”

“Well, they should! Anyway, in ‘King Jesus’ he has a Priestess of Astarte and Joshua-ben-Miriam go through a whole series of cave-bound images with each of them giving a different yet perfectly valid interpretation of the self same icon.”

“Cave-bound?”

“Inscribed in a cave.”

“It hardly seems possible.”

“Religious interpretation, I should have said.”

“It still hardly seems possible.”

“Why isn’t anything, anything else?”

“You’re being obscure again,” says Wen.

“It’s what we bring to the table!”

“I like that,” says Wen, looking slightly perturbed as I hone in with a Gob-Stopper to hand.

“ifzattthicklynekxazzery,” says Wen, her mouth full of Gob-Stopper.

“Our own journey is entirely imaginary,” I continue in my obscure way, “that is its strength. Longman says so and he is never wrong.”

“Oooh, the Long-Man of Wilmington,” says Wen having now unceremoniously discarded the Gob-Stopper, “now there’s a thought.”

“So, that’s that then…”

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LORD OF THE DEEP: THE QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY

A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download Booking Form

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Why Myth? III…

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…We do not pretend to be expert in Australian Aboriginal myth.
We have probably in our whole life-time to date read only a handful of their stories.
We have though spent some time in Australia crossing the country bottom to top from Melbourne to Cairns in a, by today’s standards, somewhat dilapidated, ‘chippy-van’.
Had we known previously that height was an effective deterrent against mosquitoes we would surely have utilised such knowledge.
We have the utmost respect for anyone who heads out into that landscape alone and on foot and with only a digging stick for company.
I shudder to think what might have been the outcome of our trip had the ‘chippy-van’ broken down in the out-back.
Thankfully it did not although at the time that possibility barely permeated our consciousness.

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Why do such stories resonate so deeply with us?
They are so far removed from the world we have created for ourselves as to be utterly alien.
And yet they are recognisably human in every fundamental aspect.
In the un-adapted version of the story the reason for the young woman’s journey is given as the desire to reach the next linguistic area of the country.
This in itself may have been seen as a ‘no-no’ for the mores of her societal hierarchy.
But it is a journey into the unknown, an adventure, and our heroine doth ‘boldly go…’
Obstacles are encountered and adeptly overcome until the inevitable intrusion of the supernatural.
We say inevitable because myth the world over concerns itself with the other-worldly or supernatural.
One could even go so far as to say, ‘that is its brief…’
It turns out badly in the version of the story we have.
The Dust-Devil ‘wins’.
Beware the Bogey-Man!

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In Ancient Greek Mythology it is the Gorgons, those ferocious female demons of whose number Medusa is probably the most memorable who possess the ability to turn mankind into stone.
Such transformations can be read in a number of ways and one of the most interesting is the psychological which would have the young hero’s heart turned to stone by the encounter with the ‘unfettered’ feminine.
A condition which can last a whole life time through if not recognised and addressed.
But the Ancient Greek Myths for the most part are late and although by turns noble and dazzling and glamorous they also display unmistakeable signs of high artifice.
The rift with the land which is in that corpus of work treated as merely a backdrop for heroic human exploits is already apparent in a way that is not to be seen in the Aboriginal stories.
In those stories the land itself is regarded as a being and is treated as such.
But how, we may wonder, can one imagine a supine young woman to be in a rock or a stone?

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Why Myth? II…

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‘…So, what is the significant act?’
‘All the acts in the story are significant.’
‘What is the story about?’
‘It is about a Dust-Devil.’
‘For the human body there are really only five significant acts: the first is breathing. The second is eating. The third is defecating. The fourth is sleeping and the fifth is… copulating.
At least three of these are represented in the story.
Is there one act more significant than the others for this particular story?’
‘The sex act…’
‘Would it surprise you to know that this was a story told by a father to his pubescent daughter?’
‘It is a cautionary tale?’
‘It is a cautionary tale now but there are signs that this was not always the case.’
‘Those signs are?’
‘The fire-stick at the outset of the tale may not be an original component of the story.’
‘We are not told the nature of the creatures that were eaten at the camp sites.’
‘We are not even told that those creatures were actually eaten.’
‘Only vegetable stuff is eventually traded with the Dust-Devil and there appears to be a lacuna when the young woman looks around the cave house after slashing the neck of the Dust-Devil.’
‘Did she at one time in the telling of this story find the fire-stick there and then?’
‘The nature of the Dust-Devil appears to be equivocal.’
‘Is he killed or not?’

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‘And what is a Dust-Devil anyway?’
‘Ninety-percent of the dust in any house, even a cave house, is comprised of skin shed from the body.’
‘Ashes to Ashes…’
‘Throughout the story there is a lot of emphasis on the correspondences between eating and copulating.’
‘The two concepts seem almost interchangeable.’
‘By cooking one makes unpalatable things palatable.’
‘At one time this may have been an ‘origin of cooking’ myth.’
‘For these people, then, cooking may have been ‘invented’ or ‘discovered’ by a female culture hero, or if you prefer a heroine…’
‘…Along with sleeping platforms and paper-bark canoes?’
‘That is also a distinct possibility.’
‘Presumably she wouldn’t have been turned into a rock in that version…’
‘…Presumably not.’
‘Who were these people? Where is the story set?’
‘The tale is set somewhere with a warm climate because of the mosquitoes.’
‘All that walking about with nothing but a digging stick for survival…’
‘It has probably got to be Aboriginal Australia.’
‘And yet there are elements in the story that are echoed in the mythologies of all people.’
‘The ‘held captive in a rock’ motif for example is familiar from the Arthurian Mythos…’
‘Both via the sword in the stone and in Merlin’s ultimate demise and perhaps even in the cave which traditionally holds the Sleeping King and his Knights.’
‘The Dust-Devil is reminiscent of some of the demons which in the Apocryphal Bible stories Lilith, the first Eve, is said to comport with in the desert.’

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‘… And how many times in the world’s mythologies does a protagonist cross a body of water in order to secure a boon for their people?’
‘In the folk-tales of these isles people are forever being turned to stone.’
‘How else could we explain all those stone circles plonked bang-smack in the middle of… now-here?’
‘They would have had to have walked there as people and started to dance before they were turned to stone right?’
‘Yeah, right…’
‘But stones or rocks with holes in them do make sounds when the wind blows through them and they could well have provided inspiration for the first musical instruments.’
‘I’d like to include walking and dancing as significant acts of the human body…’
‘…Any more?’
‘Making and playing musical instruments.’
‘That makes nine.’
‘You didn’t answer the question.’
‘What question?’
‘Why Myth?’
‘Because Mythology is ‘My Theology’ and the ‘my’ here does not belong to me nor does it belong to the ego either…’
‘It is not really about the body is it?’
‘What is it about?’
‘It is about the body being a vehicle for spirit.’

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Why Myth?…

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‘…history became legend, legend became myth…’

What a pleasant conceit, to suppose that this process produces myth. Whilst undoubtedly true for many legends the process can also work the other way. Many legends for example have produced history. Pre-eminently in this respect, at least for Britain, is ‘King Arthur’ whose story the scholars do indeed now refer to as a mythos.

But what is really going on here?

It is probably more accurate to regard all these forms as stories. We are not supposed to regard History as a story but as ‘recorded fact’ and also ‘true’, but well, really, the clue is in the name. So why do we set such store by stories? The clue is in the question.
The truth of stories lies in a realm other than the literal. And what is ‘the literal’ anyway’?

‘The literal is something that actually happened.’

‘And what do we mean by something?’

‘We mean an ‘act’.’

‘Do we mean an act in a play?’

‘No, we mean a physical act; we mean the physical actions of a person.’

‘What, any act, and any person?’

‘Usually a significant act and a significant person’…

*

*

…A woman set off in the west, coming this way.
She was carrying her baskets for plant foods, her digging stick and a fire-stick.
She was coming, travelling along, camping and then setting off again.
As she went along she was looking about her and where she saw plenty of small creatures and plant food she would stop and eat and then camp.
At sunset she would settle down and sleep and early in the morning she would set off again.
Going on she saw that salt-water tide had come up at a place she hoped to go across.
So she camped there.
She made a sleeping platform in a tree because so many mosquitoes were biting her.
When at last early morning came she made a paper-bark canoe, paddling with her hands to cross to the other side.
Then she started off again and eventually came to a cave house…

*

*

…A Dust-Devil was living in the cave house.
Tall, thin and hairy he was with a crooked body and bat-like wings.
‘My woman has come,’ he said, ‘my body’s no good but today we two will sleep together.’
When they met the woman offered him vegetable food and the Dust-Devil reciprocated with fish.
They slept together but the woman did not like the look of him so she cast about the cave house, found a stone axe and began sharpening it whilst he slept.
The Dust-Devil woke up.
He stretched himself and was preparing to eat the woman. She slashed his neck.
Then she looked around made a fire and cooked his body.
Perhaps he just tossed away the flames that Dust-Devil?
He came out the fire, ‘you woman, why did you kill me? I will cover you with my wings.’
The woman tried to hide but he found her.
He sealed her up in the cave where she was lying.
That cave remained for her then a dark cave.
She kept on talking in there, abusing the Dust-Devil.
At last she became like a rock.
She stands there a rock, forever.

A Young Woman meets a Dust-Devil

(Adapted from ‘Speaking Land’ by R.M. Berndt and C.H. Berndt)

A Second-Self…

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Gilgamesh

My vizier says you have tidings of some import to my realm?

Trapper

Great lord, I bring dire news! A threat to the kingdom… 

Gilgamesh

Speak, man! If what you say is true, let us have no ceremony. What is it that you have seen?

Trapper

Why, I have seen a giant, my king!

Gilgamesh

A giant? Pah! You have been listening to tavern stories.

Trapper

No, my lord, with my own eyes I saw him.

Gilgamesh

If your eyes have played you false, then your tongue sets you at risk, Trapper. Tell me of this giant…

Trapper

My eyes serve me well, my lord, and are, as always, at your service. 

Gilgamesh

Where and when did you see this apparition?

Trapper

I was hunting in the forest, lord. It is true that there was gossip in the tavern, but I thought as you…that it was no more than a drunken tale.

As the dusk fell near the watering hole, three days ago, I saw him… My lord… forgive me…but I have seen such a savage man at the watering-hole.

He has muscles like rock.

He outruns the wild animals he lives with.

Tall he was… and broad… as an ox.

Rough, unkempt, uncivilised.

His speech, if speech it was, is like to that of the animals with whom he runs.

He fills the pits I have dug and tears out the traps I have set so that the animals again run free.

I can catch nothing.

My livelihood has gone.

I fear no beast, my lord, but seeing this creature, I was afraid…

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The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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

*

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

*

Click here to download the Booking Form

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For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

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Lord of the Deep: The Quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

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The Tyrant of Uruk…

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 “The Eternal City of Uruk…

See how its ramparts gleam like copper in the sun…

Climb the ancient staircases up stone more ancient than mind…

Approach the Temple of Eanna…

Sacred precinct of the Goddess Ishtar…

Her priestesses stand laughing and chatting flushed with joy…

Ready to serve mens’ pleasure for her honour…

Walk the Great Wall of Uruk…

The men-folk dressed in their splendour…

In fine linen and embroidered wool…

Their fringed shawls and wide belts brilliantly coloured…

Follow its leg-wearying course around the city…

Inspect the mighty foundations…

Examine the masonry…

How masterful is its construction…

Wallow in the land it encloses…

Its palm trees and gardens…

Its orchards and lakes…

The glorious palaces and temples…

The shops and market places…

The homesteads and public squares…

Every day is a festival in Uruk where people sing and dance in the streets…

The musicians of Uruk play incessantly on their drums and lyres…

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And in their bed chambers at night…

The young-folk cry themselves to sleep…”

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The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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

*

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

*

Click here to download the Booking Form

*

*

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

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Lord of the Deep: The Quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

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