Gilgamesh descending (9)- final part

And now you will want an ending…

Like day gives way to night, though there is no single point where we could all agree that it was either…

Like the moment of sleep or awakening, though one drifts into the other and each knows little of its twin…

Like the point in the play where the character releases the player from his undertaking and becomes what the character has always been and was before the play started…

A pattern. Existence… we will speak of this, later.

Dare we speak of death and life, now?

But some patterns are not like others; when planted in receptive soil these patterns become a living thing. As an idea will take root, so will the seed of an oak.

As I am not simply a character, but a seed called The Story of Gilgamesh, I will call an ending to his time – the player; that he may reflect, and share good times but sad parting, and take away my pattern, as I hope will you.

Do I, the pattern of Gilgamesh within the Story of Gilgamesh remain a prisoner? I have never been so. My origins are unknown, lost in pre-history; but useful patterns, like wheels, have a habit of going and coming around. For thousands of revolutions of your planet around its sun, I remained in stone, waiting…

Only in your past hundred years has human kind shone a light into the outer soul and fully named the parts of the journey towards awakening. Yet here, in what you read, and in the hot desert of your – by now – tired consciousness, lies the story of that journey, whose stones were inscribed in cuneiform when the mighty Sun, Shamash, gazed out on a planet thousands of years younger.

Before we release him – the player – we must let him play out… most of… the story: the story that is his and yours.

His dusty and crumpled robe fits, doubly so as it mirrors his failure… so let him wear it one last time while I encourage him, using my words, to describe an ending…

******

Just this last act of the play to live through, now. I wear the descending king one last time. Carried on my back and in my brain like the threads of black and gold of the robe that was once glorious, and is now worn but washed, as is my lustrous hair that was matted. On my head is my finest crown and my sword which has no name – save to me – shines, polished and sharpened in its leather sheath.

Moments before I saw her, I was singing my made-up song:

“Who is the handsomest of men? Who is the bravest of heroes? Who slaughtered the Bull of Heaven? Who obliterated the Forest Demon…”

And then a giant crescent of paths coalesce into a single point and she is sitting there, brewing beer – Shiduri the tavern keeper and wife of Utnapishtim. As I stride towards her, she looks at my sword and rises, fearful. I state my business, honestly:

“I am the king of Uruk. I am going to find Utnapishtim and ask him about the Herb of Immortality.”

She looks into my eyes and asks me why there is so much grief in my heart. The question weighs heavy, but, as I was before my mother Ninsun, I am ready. I tell Shiduri about the loss of my beloved friend, Enkidu, and impress upon her my need to find immortality and not die in the dirt as he had…

She laughs and tells me that there are none who can cross the Waters of Death to Utnapishtim; that Shamash the sun is the only one brave enough.

I make myself tall and tell her about the death of Humbaba, the tree demon; I tell her about how Gilgamesh tore the Bull of Heaven apart. I tell her that she is right: there is no other who could cross the Waters of Death, but only because she has never met Gilgamesh the King.

There is a smile. She suggests that there may be a way that one such as I can do it…. but that I will need a boatman. She points me to the forest where he is to be found working the cedar boughs, but cautions that he has the fearsome Stone Men with him.

With my laughter ringing in her ears I leave Shiduri and enter the fearful forest…

Despite my bravado, there is, here, a depth of doom I have not felt before. Surely I have prevailed over much worse in my years of war? I breathe deeply and unsheath my sword, speaking its name beneath my breath as it rises, singing and alive, into the air. For a heartbeat of supreme power we are one… Then it spins to show me the attacker from behind, a man made of stone only feet away from me. Together, the sword and I move around faster than he can attack and he falls back, saying they will make the boatman’s vessel too heavy for me. He stops but his eyes never leave the shining black of my hissing sword… What he has said gnaws at my mind in a way that distracts… heavy… the world sinks through my mind and heart.

“We are the cold men!” comes the next voice, seeking to decoy me from the first at an angle just behind my line of vision. We spin again, sword and warrior set to strike; only to be pulled to water-wading slowness by the awful power of the second Stone Man’s words. The cold lead sinks into my bones. Sapping my internal fire…

“Strike!” the stone voices mock me.

“Like you destroyed the Bull of Heaven!”

“Like you destroyed the Cedar Forest.”

In an agony of slowness, I cease trying to spin to kill them.

“Will you destroy the ground you walk on?”

I stagger into the centre of the clearing. The boatman waves the Stone Men away; they have done their work. For the first time in my life, I am lost–within and without.

Urshanabi’s eyes are gentle, intelligent. The love in them breaks the ice that has embraced my blood. He tells me I cannot cross the Waters of Death to meet with Utnapishtim with war in my heart. With what do I replace it?… But, my question dies unspoken as he holds out both his hands for Deep Cut

Arms that seem not to be mine straighten, then pull back, in an agony of doubt. But then something inside breaks and I lay my beloved sword on the gentle palms that wait. His eyes say what I cannot.  More than anyone other than Ninsum, my mother, this man understands what is happening to me…

It is not rage that powers me through the dark Underworld faster than any giant cat can run. It is not fear of being burned to a crisp by shining Shamash, should he catch me before I can race the dawn. At the ninth hour I break through the darkness as Shamash the Sun begins to burn my heels.  Before me the garden of the gods opens out. Trees and shrubs of precious stones: rubies, lapis and coral clusters. I walk through its splendour as though in a dream.

Utnapishtim is not what I expected. He is an ordinary man. To my eyes, he looks just like me. “I was going to fight you, but I gave away my sword,” I say. He seems unmoved by my former gesture…

He asks why I am ragged, thin and hollow-cheeked. Without anger, I can only tell him of the recent misery of my existence. He begins to say things I know are important to my understanding of immortality; that I have worn myself out with ceaseless striving and am simply a day closer to death.

For a while I do not respond, then I remember that, after mourning my beloved Enkidu for seven days a maggot fell out of his nose.  Utnapishtim is silent, understanding this and wondering if I do…

When he responds it crushes what is left of my spirit. “Do you not compare your lot to that of a fool?”

I hold my fists to my temples. “I want the gates of sorrow to be shut behind me!”

He toys with me, saying that, at the end of all things, the gods had been assembled by Enlil to grant he and his wife Shiduri, eternal life. Then asks who will assemble the gods for me?

My hands indicate I will do anything to earn this eternal life… he says nothing, but, seeing how tired I am, invites me to try to stay awake – as an immortal would. He knows, I see later, that I will be unable, but will lie about it. His wife, Shiduri, bakes me seven daily loaves which slowly rot as my exhausted body sleeps. But I wake up clutching the first and last of these and denying I slept. They look at me with understanding and pity.

Utnapishtim and his wife confer and make me an offer. They tell me that at the bottom of the Great Deep grows the Herb of Immortality. If I can dive to its depth, risk the skin of my hands on its barbs and return with it, then I will be allowed to take it back to Uruk.

Sword or not, I grasp this lifeline… and, with heavy rocks tied to my ankles, succeed in diving for the precious Herb.

I am washed, dressed in finery, fed and sent on my way with all the trappings of a visiting king. I do not sleep through the entire journey home. Finally, at a watering hole close to my city of Uruk, I pause to rest and bathe, again – within sight of the city’s walls. The victorious Gilgamesh, Lord of the Deep, cannot enter his city dirty and haggard.

I fall asleep, waking shortly after to see that a snake has eaten some of the Herb of Immortality clutched in my hand, shed its skin and is stealing what is left of the precious herb. In total despair, I watch the serpent disappear through the undergrowth.

It is gone…

I look at the glowing walls of Uruk, the city I built… we built…

They despised me when I had everything, how much more will they hate me now that I have nothing… not even my sword?

With my head bowed, I pass through the city gates. From somewhere deep, I feel the real Gilgamesh asking me to say goodbye. I must walk these final steps alone, now that I am no more a king than the lowliest servant in this place. His final thought is that if I let this go, then something wonderful will happen… with that, in the manner of the gods, he is gone.

In the main square the Fate Dancers are announcing my failure, mocking my glorification of Uruk as it was. I raise my head and listen for the end, the words that will tell that, for all my self-proclaimed glory, that the children cry themselves to sleep at night.

When the line comes it is not what I was expecting.

“And in their bed chambers at night, the young-folk sleep soundly.”

The man who was their king has tears, now… and through the waters of understanding I see a figure at the top of the temple steps waiting for me… Shamhat. Her eyes are glistening, too. She comes halfway down the steps to take my hand and pulls me into the temple.

They are waiting, all of them… and someone else. For a third time, Enkidu has been raised from death. Shamhat places my right hand in his left and clasps her hand around our cedar and silver bracelets – a gift from Anu and Aruru when we began, She brings us before the East – the place of the King.

Directed, we kneel at the East and Shamhat binds our joined wrists with red cord.

We, the unblessed players, are then blessed…and raised up.

For perhaps the first time, I, Gilgamesh, tell the truth about what happened with the Great Deep, the walk in paradise and the meeting with the immortal couple.

“They told me where to find the herb of Eternal Youth and I retrieved it from the depths of the Great Deep. It was stolen from me by the serpent that crawls upon the earth on its belly.”

My brother, Enkidu, tells those in the temple that this was no failure. That the gods have granted us a glimpse of true immortality. He raises our arms to show that we bear the tokens of immortality given to us early in the story. For the first time I notice that the humble cedar and silver bracelets bear the symbol of a tree… and that another, larger one adorns the temple.

Shamhat raises our joined wrists… and everyone salutes, raising their bracelets and making the sign for ‘Fear Not’.

Bearing the Mask of Destiny – the centrepiece of the Fate Dancer’s movements – Enkidu and his brother Gilgamesh leave the temple… Beneath the rainbow arch held aloft by the arms of Anu and Aruru…followed by a smiling company of players.

The play is finished.

******

They are gone now. The last of the crates were packed into the two cars and they left, slowly, as always… reluctant to leave all this depth behind.

Only the pattern remains for a while: the pattern that is the story of the Journey of Gilgamesh, Lord of the Deep. It does not promise easy understanding. The full meaning must be teased out from the carefully chosen words, particularly the enigmatic ending.

Patterns are the mark of existence… For something to come into existence, it must be possible. When it does, the pattern is the dominant principle. The pattern is in no hurry… it is eternal.

Living things are patterns, too…

The pattern waits… as it has always waited, to be brought to life in the hearts and minds that search for the deeper meanings of death and life in a world where the Deep dwells within matter. This beautiful planet needs its Lords of the Deep – now, more than ever…

Thank you, Stuart. Thank you, Sue.

And thank you to the lovely people who came to make it real…

Other parts in this series:

Part One  Part Two  Part  Three

Part Four    Part Five  Part Six

Part Seven   Part Eight   This is Part Nine, the end.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Gilgamesh descending (5)

And now we must move swiftly, as the king’s heartbeat quickens with purpose.

Again, he watches the Fate Dancers… and begins to see the depths of what they do. These movements describe a ‘whole’. They are parts of how that unity evolves itself, while carrying its essential nature, unchanged… except for the result of its own process, working on the material of that which is not yet awakened to that change. It is something for which the mind has no language – except to watch the dancing…

Gilgamesh knows he is the agent of change… That all good change in the face of the chaos that came before comes from him. Enkidu – his brother and twin – is learning well. But there is a test of his new life coming up. Gilgamesh has determined that the kingdom of Uruk is still not safe; that there is another threat to his consolidated power. The demon named Humbaba lurks in the wild cedar forest. It is time to plan the death of this wild force so that all may be brought under the rule of Uruk.

His energy is all-consuming…. I am consumed.

They do not understand. Before, they did not need to understand. What has changed? Is it the presence of my brother, Enkidu, next to me, as we take turns to sleep in this vast cedar forest, where the trees really do touch the sky – this place of the greatest wildness in the whole of Sumer? The sky-father will bless me for this, as his night-time rest will no longer be disturbed by the hissing of Humbaba’s deadly whispers, echoed though the tall trees… Soon, there will be no great trees here, as they fall to the bloody blade of that which will kill the tree-demon… King Gilgamesh.

The final battle approaches, I can feel it. For seven days and nights we have gone deeper into the great cedars – to get to the heart of where cowardly Humbaba hides. My brother, Enkidu, is failing me. When confronting the Council, he even said he thought I was wrong! I, his brother, who shared with him my life and my throne, He said that Humbaba, the source of all our ills, was really Huwawa, the great and provident spirit of the cedar forest!

I had to compel him, showing him the nature of true strength in the face of the weak. Only when kneeling, again, before my mother, Ninsun, did I waver for a second, when she took Enkidu as her own child, leaving my blessing until the end of our audience. I bit my tongue, knowing that to prove my strength would vindicate me. Knowing that, on our return, she would hold me up in triumph…

Each night in the darkening forest, we take turns to sleep while the other watches. He says I cry out in the blackest of hours, but I know I have no need of dreams. When he sleeps he cries and rolls on ground, as though clutching his heart… With each night of dreaming he seems to lose a little colour, and awaken a paler man. When me met in battle in the square of Uruk, he was resplendent with the bright colours of adventure… Now, they fail him, but I know that at the bottom of that black pit lies courage; and that his dreams of suns falling from the sky into valleys are his loss of his bravery.

I know, too, that when the colours of cowardice have washed away in that valley of his mind, there will come a blackness – a blackness within which he will find, as all good warriors do, his inner nature… and then, in victory, he will shine once more.

When I stand guard over his fevered sleep, I take my sword from his leather bindings and hold it over him, sweeping the air to rid him of these ghosts. But his writhing continues and I am sickened. Tonight, there is a yellow sickliness about him, but, as I stand over him, I see that it is leaving his body and draining into the earth.

I sit back and watch this wonderful return of bravery, as shining black takes over his skin. While his courage steels itself, I hold my sword and will its strength into him, my brother. They do not understand my sword, whose handle grows too wide in the palm of anyone else who tries to hold it. Its potency is mine, alone… They do not understand the curve of the blade and how it reflects the arc of the sky – home of the Sky-Father who, I know, guides me.

Above all, they do not understand that it has a name, a curving, shining black name, that I shall never speak… For to speak it would be the death of what I do…

There comes the sound of crashing trees, giant cedar trees… and Humbaba is upon us! Wake, my brother, I call, your time of courage is now. And he does, and rises mighty and restored and shining black from the inner victory over his final nightmare. With a skill equal to mine, he weighs up the monster whose magic emerges from all around us, then calls Come Gilgamesh! and charges at its hidden heart.

The battle is long and has many faces, all of them screaming. The mighty cedars roar with rage that I dare to lead this attack upon the demon they have concealed… but it matters little, for the sword that has no name and that cannot be held by another is singing its black song… and nothing, not even tree-demons, can stand in the way of its will – my will.

Humbaba the tree-demon is dead. The trees are silent. They are silent because I have cut them all down. My black strength surged after I let Enkindu deliver the last blow… it was important that he see his re-found courage at work. He kneels at the side of the monster, Humbaba, sliced open in a thousand places.

I clear the last of the trees from the place of our final sleep and return to look at the kneeling Enkidu. He is slumped forward, as though praying. I clutch his shoulder to give him strength but he falls into the blood and the maw before us both.

Now, there is only the blood-lust and the beatings of both our hearts; and the other is not Enkidu, for I see, with a scream that fills what was a mighty forest, that Enkidu is dead…

The hidden eyes in the forest are downcast, as are mine. Not even the temple guardian can look upon the devastation.

Other parts in this series:

Part One> Part Two> Part Three> Part Four> This is part five

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Gilgamesh descending (2)

I enter the temple at the head of the twin columns of the Dancers of Fate. Those of the kingdom enter behind their King in silent reverence as we pass the Guardian and bow our respects.

Alone, but knowing they follow, I cross the centre of the exotic floor and move towards the east of the temple. The gold-draped chair is waiting. I turn and stand, watching the precise formation of Fate Dancers peel away left and right, to literally flow down the circumference of the large circle that is the enneagram; the heart of this temple of the mysteries.

All wait for the King. I take a deep breath before beginning. He is waiting in the space around the golden chair… The familiar feel of an autocratic king from thousands of years ago.

I realise that I am the break in his continuity. Settling into the seated vessel, once more, this ancient king breaks with tradition and gazes across to look at the woman who is half human, half goddess – Ninsun, his mother. The memory is still fresh in his mind: the dream of the rock that fell from the sky to the ground, the way it was adored – the way he hugged and loved it! His strong body curls with the strangeness of it; the embarrassment of how he knelt before her as in a trance, asking her to tell him what it meant…

A friend, Ninsun had said. Even a man capable of being a brother! He was to come into my life… I can feel the King’s astonishment, even though I know he is cuniform words in clay from nearly three thousand years ago. And then the separation leaves us… and there is just Gilgamesh the King on his large throne, whose arms curl up into two wooden hands that hold his beloved sword. He is calm… purposeful. But the most powerful man in the world knows that world is changing.

He was beloved of the Gods, he knew. Why else had the world fallen at his feet? Surely, he had nothing to fear.

Now, there is no more time to indulge the mystery. The women are dancing again and he must watch, captivated. The women known as the Fate Dancers had devised these movements for his pleasure, though he divined the hidden hand of the gods in the way it stroked his heart, like a lyre whose music was not heard, but felt.

Everyone in the royal palace loved the hypnotic flow of the Fates’ dance. Shamhat had even petitioned him to let them make its gliding patterns permanent in the floor of the royal chamber. And he had agreed; at a great cost to the royal purse… for the dancers, but most of all for her. For Shamhat.

But that had been before she refused his advances, saying she had served her time and no longer answered to him but to the Divine Council, alone. His fingers grip the blade of his sword. No other circumstance in the world could have frustrated him like this! The Fate Dancers dance on… unperturbed.

“Shamhat!” He spits out the word. The High Priestess’s name etches a bitter taste on his tongue… Before him, like flickers of half-seen light, the Fate Dancers maintain the perfection of their movements; but Gilgamesh, with his hawk-like vision, sees their eyes flicker, before, smiling, his fingertips bid them continue.

Shamhat! He would make her pay for her public refusal to share her bed with the God King. But it would have to be subtle. Like him, she was partly God, partly human… and clever.

He looks down from his throne at the elegant and beautiful movements across the glistening white floor of his chamber. The Fate Dancers’ feet follow a pattern of lines that intersect the large circle at nine points. Three of them are formed into a triangle bounded by golden stars set into the white crystals. The other six lines intersect like the ghostly pattern of a gemstone and their intersections with the circle are marked with stars of dark blue lapis lazuli.

All this had been created for Shamhat, working – he now saw – to aid in this strange contest of the mind and body with which she saw fit to challenge his authority. But he loved the movements of the dancers. So much so that he could feel his world shifting each time they began to flow across the magical glyph before him.

There would be time to fix this, he thought to himself, settling back into his throne and reaching for his golden cup of mead.

He must have dozed off… Before him, the floor design glitters in the flickering light of the tallow candles. A rough man dressed in furs kneels at the edge of the court and he could sense another behind him. Gilgamesh reaches for his sword, but the vizier’s hand stops him, gently.

“My apologies, King Gilgamesh, I sought not to disturb your rest. There is no threat.”

Gilgamesh lets go the grip on his sword. “That is a dangerous place to stand, even for a royal vizier!”

The vizier bows and points at the kneeling supplicant. “He has news we felt you would wish to know, especially in these… uncertain times.”

Gilgamesh can taste the dawning of the new in the air all around him.

“Speak, man!” he shouts at the trapper. “If what you say is true, let us have no ceremony. What is it you have seen?”

“Why, I have seen a giant, my king!”

The king laughs, refreshed, relaxed and alert. He is amused. Good-naturedly, he tells the trapper that he has been listening to tavern stories. The man protests and the king is about to dismiss him as a fool when he realises that the description of the powerful and fleet wild man is remarkably close to how he, the king, would be described by a stranger, had he lived from the land.

“There is truth in your voice,” Gilgamesh concludes. Reluctantly, he asks the trapper why this has such importance that he risks his life coming to the royal palace to report it.

“My Lord,” says the trembling man, “he could be your very twin.”

Gilgamesh takes a breath and gazes upwards, letting it out slowly. No-one can see his smile.

Time passes. The royal chamber is empty, apart from the king. The tallow candles have burned low. They are making sputtering noises in their flickering death. Gilgamesh follows the spirals of soot high into the dimness of the chamber.

He is pleased with himself. The trapper has been despatched to find the high priestess, who will be told that she is to use her divine arts to seduce and civilise the wild twin. He knows that this action will open up a new sea of possibilities, but he does not care.

All that matters is that he will have vengeance on the woman he used to love…

Other parts in this series:

Part One,

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, copyright the Silent Eye.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Dominions of Cnut – #Silenti

cnut_1014_1035
image source CC BY-SA
Pity poor King Canute (Real name ‘Cnut’ pron: Kn-ootr). He went down in English history as the King who was so self-important that he sat in a ceremonial chair, on the beach, ordering the tide not to come in…

Only, according to many leading historians, he didn’t…

This intelligent eleventh century ruler of England, Norway and Denmark – the ‘North Sea Empire’, as it was known, had conquered the English by force of arms, but sought to rule with fairness. The gesture with the incoming tide was to illustrate that the only Will that really mattered was of a much higher nature than his own. He carried out the quoted royal act to illustrate his impotence in the face of God’s will, expressed through nature’s forces, to show that even Kings were subject to higher laws.

We could call this the art of ‘acceptance’, but there is a modern use of the word ‘allowing’ that ascribes a more potent meaning. Potency is the key, here; one will subsumed into another – a greater flow that we are all part of – one whose nature, though often unpredictable, is both to support and teach us…

Many would dispute that, believing that the hostile world of nature is one which teaches us only survival – and devil take the hindmost. It’s an attitude prevalent in some sections of modern political life, who feel that liberal values and compassion have gone too far and it’s time to look after ourselves.

We can liken life to a river. We can stand on the riverbank and observe a part of the river that constantly changes as it flows past, or we can jump in and be part of the river’s life, taking our chances. In the former, we are completely passive to the great flow, and likely to have a stagnant, if safe, existence. In the latter, we can, at least, exercise our own choices about how we navigate the fluid body around us – and to recognise that we are very much made of the same stuff, with one special attribute.

We can swim – that act of staying alive is analogous to surviving to reproductive maturity. Better swimming produces the art of direction: we can choose where in the immediate flow we wish to be. But we can’t choose (unless we want to daydream) to be somewhere unrelated to where we already are; we can only get there by a series of heres. And there may have changed from our perceptions when we get to it… You can’t anticipate reality, you can only be it.

We can do nothing about that nasty fork in the river’s flow, just ahead of us; nor the rocks we narrowly avoided a minute ago. We have our dominion, and it’s largely around our intimate space. If that floating log behind us gets any closer, we have the right and the ability to fend it off, but not to choose whether it’s there or not.

The ‘Life in a River’ idea can teach us a lot, but it’s finite in its extensions. At the heart of all the world’s truly deep spiritual traditions is the idea that things are really perfect if we can only see them objectively. Nothing I know of causes more unrest in the modern intellect. We cry out that we haven’t come this far in evolution to surrender to blind and stupid forces, intent on eroding our values and way of life. We’ve climbed out of that bloody river, says the angry self, and there’s no way we’re going back – even if most of humanity are still in there…

At the heart of this tale of the riverbank is an erosion of fundamental trust. Psychologically, we come into our lives with total trust, experienced as oneness in the womb. This absolute trust is eroded shortly after birth when the harsher, separated world – even with Mother’s help – cannot satisfy all our needs. The egoic self, (used, here, in its positive connotation), develops from this, shedding trust and learning fear as it develops to fend for it-self.

Civilisations go through this kind of cycle, too, though the cycle time is very much longer. Families understand compassion, but extending that boundary into a society involves bumping into power and greed and they often have guns and want to control through trust in fear.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example of a wisdom-story designed to help those ready to understand what happens if you leap into the river. The symbolic son, leaving home, has to make his/her way in the world, but eventually comes to realise what a store of providence was already on the table at home. The price of that return is his experience, bitter and wonderful, which he ‘lays’ on his Father’s table, while his uncomprehending brother looks on… from the riverbank.

In mystical terminology, the Prodigal Son flows out, at the end of the river’s course, into the sea, realising that what he/she truly is, is the water made conscious – infinitely changing and unending. The ‘forms’ of those left on the riverbank lose their vitality, eventually, and decompose to become part of the life of the soil, again. Nothing wrong with that, but we can imagine that the sparkling sea is more fun?

To even speak of such things can mark you out as crazy. To be a King and attempt to demonstrate them may always be doomed to failure. But what’s the harm in trying to be a misunderstood Cnut once in a while…

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

Going west – walking with angels

Wales 105

We didn’t have to climb the whole height of the mountain; there is a makeshift car park about halfway up. I was glad of that, as my poor, much abused feet were not happy. I spend much of my life barefoot, the soles of my feet offer better protection than most of my shoes these days and anyway, I like to feel the earth beneath my feet. Left to my own devices, I would have walked in the flimsy lace slippers that allow them to breathe and expand, but common sense demanded the walking shoes be worn. It would be a long way to carry an idiot with a twisted ankle back down the mountain and we had been warned of a scramble over loose scree at the top.

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Walking shoes come into their own in rain and winter weather…or when crossing the boggy stretches of moorland born of upland springs that bar your way, even when it hasn’t rained for weeks. Their soles are thick and rigid with excellent grip, their uppers breathable, their construction protective and waterproof and they hug the feet securely. They are faultless and comfortable… except when it is already hot and said feet are gasping for air and threatening to go on all-out strike if not given worker’s rights.

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Just to add insult to injury, as soon as my feet overheat at present, the pain and the itching of the spider bites returns. Consequently, my ascent of the mountain was slow, punctuated by muttered expletives and lacked the grace of the supercilious sheep and the ponies that watched our progress. They, I noted, had surrendered to the heat of the day and were comfortably lying on the grass.

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It is one of the inevitabilities of the ageing process that the body starts to impose limitations long before the inner self has begun to slow down. I am not sure that we ever have to leave our youthful eagerness and joy in life behind… but the consequences of the lives we have lived etch themselves on muscle and bone. Growing older is a privilege that should be appreciated for the gift it is…and one we would probably appreciate more often if it didn’t hurt so much.

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Sometimes, though, a slower pace is not such a bad thing. A leisurely stroll with frequent stops gives plenty of time to observe the land and its creatures, and this landscape was certainly worth more time than we would have. You could probably spend a lifetime on the mountain and still not learn all its secrets. Sometimes, too, that slower pace has unseen reasons that shadow forth a purpose other than our own. Without the aching feet, I would have missed something that will remain with me for a very long time.

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St Brynach, a local saint of the 6thC, is said to have climbed Mynydd Carningli many times,  when the busy life at the monastery he founded in Nevern became too much for him. He would walk to the summit to pray in the silence, surrounded by the beauty of his God’s Creation and ‘commune with the angels’.

Carningli_hillfort map by Brian John
                      Map of Carningli hillfort by Brian John, who set the hill at the heart of his books.

Mynydd Carningli, the ‘Hill of the Angels’, is an ancient volcano that rises some 1,138 feet above the sea and its origins are written in its stone. It is part of the Prescelli range of hills from which the famous Bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried and carried  some 140 miles to their home at the heart of the Hanging Stones. It appears to have been a sacred place for much of mankind’s history and is rich in archaeology. There would be no time to explore the massive hillfort that crowns the mountain and which goes back to the Bronze Age, or to go searching for the hut circles, gateways and revetments that make this such a fascinating, as well as such a beautiful place. We were climbing for other reasons.

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I wasn’t the only one struggling with the ascent that day. The fittest amongst us were way ahead of us, stopping occasionally to allow us to catch up for a while. The laggard group fell further and further behind and one of our Companions, already beyond his usual limits, started looking for another path back down.

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I could sympathise, but was determined to make the top. Our guide for the weekend was taking us to places that spoke to her heart and soul in words of silent beauty. They meant something to her, far beyond their undoubted historical or aesthetic value. In sharing them with us, she was opening a door through which we could see a glimmer of her own inner light. That level of trust a  thing of great beauty in itself.

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And there was another reason too… we planned on a sharing a healing meditation there for a much-loved friend whose health was giving cause for concern. I voiced this, as much to affirm my own determination as for any other reason and witnessed what was, for me, the most singularly beautiful moment of the whole weekend. “I needed to hear that right now,” said our weary Companion, straightening his back and striding on up the mountain. What he might not have attempted for himself he would do for Love.

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You have to climb to reach any summit, just as you have to travel to reach any destination. That journey is not only part of the experience, but gives value to its attainment. Stuart has a theory that the effort of the ascent is the willing sacrifice we make when we climb these sacred hills and what may be granted in return is exponential to the offering of self that you have made. Watching that determined back precede me up the mountain is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It is in such moments that you glimpse the true strength and beauty of the human heart and soul.

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Animal Magic #4

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So Gwythyr took his cloak, his horn, and his clarsach, and he
went to Yellow Owl, “I have come to ask
whether or not you know the whereabouts of Big Chief Hawthorn,
and his daughter Creiddylad whom I am destined to sleep with ?”

Said Yellow Owl, “when first I came here
there was a smith’s anvil in this place and from that time to this
no work has been done on it save the sharpening of my beak
every evening so that the remains of it now are not so much
as the size of a nut but in all that time though I have heard tell
of such a man, I have not yet come across him of whom you inquire.”

Said Gwythyr-the-Bright, “O Silent Stealer of
Souls in the Night, will you tell me what you know ?”

“Indeed I will young Gwythyr but what I have heard
will not be easy on your ears for it is said that:

for his people
in the cruelest hour
he is fuel to light their fire;

so hot is his core
all he holds stays dry
even in the heaviest downpour;

keen is his eyesight with aim so true,
a wren he can shoot the two legs through;

eight and forty rafters the colour red his
untrimmed beard covers when outspread;

from the forge like a mass of heat
fly sparks from the soles of his feet;

and that, young Gwythyr, is all I can tell of him though
there is one who knows more than I do, Black
Salmon will be better able to help you.”

*

So Gwythyr took his cloak, his horn, and his clarsach,
and he went to Black Salmon.

Black Salmon was lying in mud flats on the edge of a reed
bed with nine large fish spears protruding from his back.

He groaned aloud when he saw Gwythyr approaching,
“O save me from this end of regret, draw out the spears
from my back, and forever shall I be in your debt.”

So Gwythyr did as he was bidden, and one by one
he withdrew the fish spears from Black Salmon’s back.

“A blessing be upon you for this service,” said Black Salmon
as each of the spears fell away with a splash into the lake.

But no sooner had the last spear left Black Salmon’s flesh, than in
one swift movement the fish leaped into the air, opened its mouth,
swallowed Gwythyr and plunged beneath the waters of Llyn Llwy.

Crucible of the Sun

12

 Weekend of 22-24 April, 2016.

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire Dales. England.

Click the image for further details of this weekend workshop with the Silent Eye

and a special appearance by Mister Fox.

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