Three days of the Oyster-catcher (Part 3) – A Pictish Headland

The Moray Firth is vast, wild and beautiful. Examined on a map it resembles a child’s geometry exercise in triangles, with the coast between its ‘origin’ at Inverness and far-away Fraserburgh being a virtually flat west-east baseline. From Fraserburgh the great inlet of the Moray Firth reaches northwards into the North Sea. The final line in the triangle, from Inverness moving north-east, ends at the tip of Scotland: John o’ Groats.

Above: The vast Moray Firth, a small section of which formed the northern boundary of our Silent Unicorn weekend. Map Google Maps

Our huge geographic triangle pivots around Inverness -which is also the place where Loch Ness meets the sea. What we know as Loch Ness today is the result of the shearing of two vast tectonic plates four-hundred million years ago. This geological event produced a ‘line’ of fracture that is now the line of Loch Ness but runs further across the entire width of Scotland and beyond. The east-west depression is known as the Great Glen.

Above: The mighty Moray Firth, stretching northwards towards Scandinavia.

If you are sensitive to ancientness, when you stand on this, the south coast of the Moray Firth, you can feel the immense age of this beautiful place – and its importance in Scotland’s history.

Above: The Pictish Brandsbutt Symbol Stone from nearby Inverurie. Archeologists have painted-in part of the stone design to show how the original may have looked

The mysterious race known as the Picts, did just that… and they built what would be in our terms a mighty city. Today, the small town that grew in its ruins is known as Burghead.

Above: The scale of the original ‘fort’ can be seen by the fact that it took up the entire area of the Burghead headland – and jutted out boldly into the Moray Firth. Photographed from the Burghead Headland information board.

When we arrived we knew nothing of the above history. Dean (who had made a mysterious stop at one of the shops in the small high street) had arranged to take us through a warren of passageways to get to the famous and mysterious well.

Above: An unlikely route to a magical location.

Another turn and we approached our goal. It’s worth showing an edited copy of the Historic Scotland’s schematic. This pinpoints exactly where we now were in terms of the old fort…

Above: The location of the ancient well, though enshrouded, now, in the small town’s streets, was in Pictish times against the outer wall of the landward side of the city; shown here next to the blue dot.

We stood before the wooden fence reading the Historic Scotland information boards. The Burghead Well is kept locked but Dean had collected the key from one of buildings in the main street. About to enter, we were surprised when a visiting family arrived and said they believed that he had the key! Graciously, we stood back while they added to their holiday enjoyment. They soon returned and we entered the strange space in what looked like a large garden with a depression in the middle…

The Burghead Well. First impressions are of a garden lawn sunken in the middle.

” An old man suggested that they should dig in a certain spot, where, according to immemorial tradition, a well would be found”

Gentlemen’s Magazine, 1828

A strange descent to the well-chamber below….

The well-chamber is accessed by a descent of twenty rock-cut steps. The entire structure was hewn out of the local rock. The chamber is square, with rounded corners; and measures 5m by 5m. In the centre of the chamber is a pool surrounded by a narrow ledge 0.9m wide. The well pool is 1.3m deep. It was once emptied for maintenance and took six days to refill.

The information board shows a drawing from the 1800s describing the shape and the angle of access to the well chamber.

Burghead Well is described as a ‘Pictish puzzle’

It is not known when Burghead Well was constructed, nor why. As we have seen from the schematic, it lies on the rampart line of the inner Pictish fort – built between the 4th and 6th centuries AD. The well may not have been part of the fort’s design. The well could have been added later or it could be even older than the ramparts themselves.

Even after millennia, the construction is still resilient.

The well could be considered as a water supply for the Pictish fort, but a shaft would be of more practical use. The rock-cut chamber is 5m wide and contains a 1m deep pool which is fed by a spring.

The act of descending into the earth is likely to have had spiritual significance – as mirrored in the Greek myth of Persephone and Hecate.

Different explanations have been put forward. These include a ritual drowning pool, a shrine to Celtic water deities or perhaps an early Christian baptistery.

Above: Note the beautifully rounded corners of the chamber. The dank-looking water was a shock… we had no right to expect anything better but felt helpless in the face of such a spiritually ‘unused’ place.
Then Sue suggested something profound….

After so much buildup, the actual water looked, for want of a better word, ‘sad’. Everyone spent a quiet moment taking in the age and cultural Pictish significance of this very special place. With a collective heavy heart, we began to move back up the rock steps… Then Sue stole the moment and suggested that we do some of our chants…

Music and chanting have been part of sacred practices for as long as man gazed in wonder at the stars and the sunrise. Over the years we have developed a set of chants that come under the general heading of ‘vowel sounds’. Stuart suggested a combination we had used before; one ending in the powerful ‘Awen’ sound.

Structures – particularly stone structures – have resonant frequencies. On a few notable occasions, such as when visiting the West Kennet barrow, just outside Avebury, we have been amazed and delighted when the artefact in which we were chanting ‘came alive’ and appeared to sing with us.

The Burghead Well did the same. In a second of incredible transformation the beautiful but neglected stone chamber began to ring with the human voice and to speak to us. It spoke of water, of the power of water, of the home of water. It spoke of the journey we were making from the element of earth to that of water, and everyone present left that beautiful and hallowed place in a state of deep reflection…

Above: Dean’s use of the mystical (and mathematical) Pentagram equated the ancient ‘Elements’ with (anti-clockwise from Air) The Boundary Self; the Potential Self; the Weak Self: the Limited Self and finally the Core and Shadow Selves. In this journey we travelled from Earth to Fire, from the Potential Self to the Limited Self.

We may not have ‘connected’ with the ancient Picts, but we certain did so with what they left behind…

The morning was still not finished. Before we had our long-awaited lunch at the Findhorn Bakery, another laying-out of our water-oriented pentagrams was to be made on Findhorn Beach… or was it?

In passing, though not part of our agenda, it is worth noting that Burghead connects with its past in a very special way. It is the only Scottish town that still carries out the ceremony of the ‘Burning of the Clavie’ – the origins of which are lost in history. This takes place on the ‘old new year’ date of January 11th, unless that is a Sunday, in which case the 12th is used, instead.

Elders of the town carry a flaming ‘Clavie’ – half of a cask filled with burning, inflammable materials and topped with tar – through the town. The procession ends at the ruins of an altar on the Pictish headland where the Clavie is made the centre of a ritual bonfire. When the originating Clavie finally falls apart, the people of the town rush forward to claim a piece of the still-burning material and take it back to ward evil from their homes…

The culmination of the fire ritual which takes place on 11th January each year. It might relate to the sacking of Burghead by the Vikings… or it might be part of something much older.
The burning of the Clavie
CC BY-SA 2.0
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_of_the_Clavie

To be continued….

Other parts in this series

Part One, Part Two, This is Part Three

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

 

Harlequin Solstice

Harlequin Solstice

St John Kin

A picture in the fading sun

A race of fingers, digits

Of Solstice long earned

Short departed

How little

How sadly

You are understood

Your music the struggle

Of madness

Made harmony

Until this moment

When kings detach your strings

When single song

Descends

Towards the dark arms

But brighter eyes

Of St Stephen

©Stephen Tanham

Three days of the Oyster-catcher (1)

We were standing close to the River Spey in the grounds of Strathallan church a few miles from the centre of Grantown-on-Spey: one of the gems of the north-eastern highlands of Scotland. The previous hour had seen us all meet at a tea room in the centre of the town. We discussed the plans for the weekend, drank tea and had cake…

Strathallan church is famous for its beautiful location by the river. But it is also the site of an ancient pictish stone; one that bears markings related to the mysterious number at the heart of the pentagram – Phi.

The Pictish stone in the graveyard of Strathallan Church

The call of the nearby oyster-catcher rose till it was overwhelming.

“A lone female,” the groundsman of the nearby church explained, as he prepared to wield his petrol strimmer against the long grass around the neighbouring gravestones. “Down to one surviving egg,” he shouted, lowering his ear mufflers. “Makes a terrible racket!”

Whatever else he was trying to convey to our suspicious-looking bunch of clipboard-wielding visitors was lost in the mayhem that followed. You have to wonder if the oyster-catcher was chuckling…

You get days like this in the pursuit of mystical experiences…

Luckily, our guide and teacher for the weekend, Dean Powell, was used to dealing with adversity. We have shared many an adventure, he and I. This, the Silent Unicorn weekend – a union of the Silent Eye and his Scottish Lodge – was to be one of the best.

Dean introducing us to the local landscape on the Friday evening

We stuck the twin noises as long as possible, then moved to the edge of a high wall, near the river, against which we could begin our construction of ‘pentagrams from ribbons’. We had no plans to enact moonlit rituals! To start with, there’s precious little darkness this far into northern Scotland so close to the summer solstice. Darkness lasts a few hours at best, and the dawn is about 03:00.

The pentagrams were to be the basis of a psychological analysis of ourselves. Their five-pointed shapes would come to represent our journeys of self-enquiry as we let rationality slip away within the glorious green of the Spey valley, the Findhorn coastline, and the mysterious castles of Macbeth country…

The river Spey’s course is just over one hundred miles long and is the fastest flowing river in Scotland. Its beautiful landscapes are famous for salmon fishing and the production of Scotch whisky. It flows northwards, ending in the Moray Firth a few miles west of Buckie. We were to see many of its beautiful faces as the weekend progressed.

Map showing the course of the River Spey as it flows towards the Moray Firth. Source: Wikipedia, licence SA 3.0

The groundsman’s strimmer fell silent. The oyster-catcher’s urgent protest stilled. We would be reunited soon enough.

Dean pointed to our first-attempt pentagrams and allocated names to the five points; later backed up by a comprehensive set of handouts.

The pentagram has long been a symbol of both the human and the place of the human in the scheme of creation. In other posts, I have detailed the unique geometric properties of its shape. The primary mystery of it lies in the embedded ‘magical’ number Phi. Phi allows the division of a ‘whole’ into two parts such that the child pieces retain their relationship with their dimension of origin. Phi is the ‘seen’ symmetry in plants and seashells, and can be found throughout nature. Famous artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, based much of their work on this mysterious number.

Dean’s use of the pentagram was as a map of the human self, using the headings of:

  • Core
  • Potential
  • Limited
  • Boundary
  • Weak/Defect
  • Shadow

The meanings of these would unfold within the beauty of the landscape. We were in for quite a weekend…

To be continued….

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

The Way to Dusty Death?

We were in Ulverston, Dean and I. We’d just climbed the famous ‘Hoad’ – a tall monument on the top of a tall hill that looks like a lighthouse… but isn’t. There’s some important symbology in that, but we’ll return to it later.

Light and dark….a walk in Glenlivet…including a view from the stone circle at the Doune of Dalmore toward Drumin castle…both scenes of coming derring-do on Sunday. Photo: Dean Powell.

He was on his way back from Somerset to northern Scotland – the Glenlivet area of the North Cairngorms, where he and his loved ones have their home. Our house in Cumbria is en-route, so the door is always open to break his journey. After a night involving Bernie’s excellent cooking and a glass of red wine or two, we decided that a local (ish) walk would put some air into the bloodstream for his second leg and return to the far north.

Ulverston is one of our local favourites. It’s about a half-hour journey up the fast Barrow road. A coffee in Ford Park and then the short but taxing climb up ‘The Hoad’ to get to the famous lighthouse that isn’t. It can be seen all over the expanse of Morecambe Bay. It’s actually a monument to the famous engineer Sir John Barrow.

We’d got our breath back by the time we got to the monument. The Silent Eye had recently carried out the ‘Jewel in the Claw’ spring workshop at Great Hucklow – our annual biggie. We had used a Shakespearean theme, casting one of our Californian visitors as Queen Elizabeth – ruling over a giant chessboard which was the royal court; and upon which the players moved with great caution… under her watchful eye.

Dean and Alionora had played two of the central characters: Lord Mortido and Lady Libido – death and life in the fullest sense. They were superb. Leaving the tiny village Dean had reflected that there might be scope for doing something else ‘Shakespearean’, in the form of a journey around Macbeth Country, centred in Grantown-on-Spey, not far from where he and Gordon live.

Now, on top of the world and next to the faux lighthouse, we began to discuss it in earnest.

It would involve several kinds of journey. First, it was a long way to travel; but we had all driven down to Dorset the year before for the similar summer weekend, so we knew we’d get the support from our hardy regulars…

Second, there had to be a dual journey in terms of both spiritual discovery and visiting the landscape. The event was to take place in a triangle of land between Grantown, the Findhorn Coast and the Macbeth castles just south of Inverness. There would be no lack of scenery! Dean had already assembled a set of places with that ‘special feel’, including a mysterious old church and a stone circle. Within this combined landscape he proposed leading a journey of self-discovery using an ancient magical symbol. Macbeth’s ‘witches’ had to be honoured – they were a very real force in the time of James VI of Scotland – and subsequently the English king on the death of Elizabeth I. Dean has an intensely esoteric background and is a qualified NLP therapist and teacher as well as the local leader of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. He has recently developed the idea of the ‘magical matrix’ and proposed to use this to accompany our journey in the highland landscape.

I hadn’t realised until he told me that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. The event would mix his Scottish team and the Silent Eye, and we proposed it be called the Silent Unicorn.

Somewhat pleased with the plan, we took the long and winding path down from the Hoad to have a fruitful cafe lunch in Ulverston.

And now it is upon us. Like Macbeth we must earn our keep (sorry) and ‘strut and fret’ upon the magnificent stage of the highlands. Our weekend’s tower must be a true one and not false. Only with that intent – that something deeper is afoot, will we attract the intellectual and emotional harmony that so typifies these Silent Eye ‘landscape journeys’. By the time this is published, we will be leaving Cumbria, to join up with friends old and new from across the UK. We all face a long journey; but a very rewarding one.

For more information on joining us for one of the Silent Eye ‘discovery in the landscape’ weekends, click to see our forthcoming events, here.

The road to Inverness awaits….

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (2)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunflower-sm-wiki-sa-by-cc-2.5.jpg
Sunflower florets are arranged in a natural spiral having a Fibonacci sequence, with different values for clockwise and anticlockwise rotation. Image Wiki CC by SA 2.5 L. Shyamal – Own work.

In Part One, we looked at a very simple sequence of numbers that ‘orbited’ or homed-in on a certain value. Now we need to examine that value and look at the sheer magic of what it represents.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screenshot-2019-06-02-at-16.31.54.png
The ‘planet’ which has captured our spaceship emerges in the third line of black numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

This new number was 1.618. It’s derivation is summarised in the diagram above, and described in the previous post. Simply: (red numbers) we add the two previous numbers to get the next. Next: (green numbers) we offset the first line of numbers one place to the right and, using a calculator to three decimal places, we treat the offset numbers of fractions, one number above the other. The third (black) line gives the calculator results, which stabilise at 1.618.

The ‘series’ that generates it – known as the Fibonacci series – came into existence at the time the world was abandoning the old and (by then) clumsy Roman notation (I, II, IV etc) and moving to the Arab-derived numerals that we use today.

The special number 1.618 is known by many names, such a the Golden Ratio and the Golden Mean. It is a number that shows us how we can divide something to protect its ‘wholeness’ in a harmonic way. By doing this, the divided figure will always exhibit pleasing proportions when placed next to (or within) the ‘parent’ figure. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci used it, extensively, in his most famous pictures.

But there are much deeper implications to this than something that looks or feels good, important though that is.

The materialist sees the world as having numbers by virtue of an ‘accident’ that they fit how we see and describe things. The mystic looks for the experience of ‘oneness’ with the processes that created the universe. You can’t find that experience unless you look for it. The universe owes us no debt of making it happen in our minds and hearts – the search must be ours… then the doors of perception will be opened.

Imagine that we have a strip of paper that we are going to divide by cutting with scissors. Let’s say the length of the initial strip is represented by the letter ‘A’. When we cut the strip we will have three values: the initial length (A); and the lengths of the two pieces we produce. We can name the two ‘child’ pieces (a) – the longest, and (b) – the shortest.

Under all circumstances, the original length (A) would be equal to the sum of the two children (a+b) . We can write this A=b+c, the most simple kind of ‘equation’ we could every want to see.

The miraculous Fibonacci number (given the name Phi in the 20th century) gives us the means to divide the original strip of paper such that the longer of the two child pieces bears the same relationship (ratio) to the original strip, as the larger child does to the smaller…

We can keep on doing this – cutting each successive larger portion – with smaller and smaller divisions of the original strip of paper. The whole ‘creation’ will be in harmonic proportions. This generation of smaller and smaller ‘harmonic’ children is called self-similarity.

Nature uses ‘Phi’ all the time. The recent science of Fractals shows how essential self-similar division is for nature to achieve its purposes. A tree is a fractal, for example, as are our lungs. Our blood vessels can carry oxygen to our cells because they follow fractal rules of becoming smaller and smaller within the finite space of our bodies. Only by using such structures can incredibly large processes fit into small spaces. The generation of Phi is not a fractal process, but it perfectly illustrates the marvel of the related fractal structures in nature.

Examples of this in nature include the petals of flowers, such as the sunflower, and the spirals of nautilus sea shells… But there are innumerable examples.

So, how would we actually work out the Phi-derived point of where to cut our twenty-unit strip of paper? We can arrange the self-similar formula so that we have a quadratic equation to solve, but where’s the fun in that!

Instead, we can look at the workings of the older graphical method carried out with the use of compass and straight edge. This brings home the inclusive and ‘connective’ nature of working by hand and is illustrated below:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is phi-geometry-package-diagaa-sm.jpg

The horizontal line A-B is the length of paper we wish to divide into the harmonic proportions given by the Fibonacci-derived Phi number 1.618. In this example, the length is 20 units.

To begin, we imagine we have turned the base line (A-B) into a square of four sides and select its right-hand vertical halfway point.

To shorten this, I have simply created point C at the correct half-value (10). The compass is placed on point C and set to the distance of C-B. We begin to draw an upward arc from B to the intersection with the hypotenuse A-C. We then set the compass to a base at the origin – A, and extend its pencil to the previous intersection with the hypotenuse. This time we draw downwards until the curve intersects with the original length A-B. The point of crossing is the length of the largest ‘child’ as above.

The length value, the golden ratio, gives us a new ‘longest child’ length of 12.36 units. We could cut at this point. The relationship of the larger child to the smaller is the same relationship as the original full length to the largest child.

This process could be repeated to infinity using the successive larger pieces. The entire family of larger pieces would inherit the divine proportions of the ‘mother’ length.

In the final post, next week, we will examine how the pentagram combines all the above properties into a single figure of dynamic value to mankind.

Other posts in this series:

One This is Two.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

Five Faces of the Macbeth Human

Exploring the faces of the ‘human condition’ should be consuming our world at the moment. We might reasonably conclude that understanding the heights and depths of our shared experience, as we drain the planet of its living life, would be of interest to us.

But we don’t…

Instead, if we ask any questions at all, we spend months looking at things from a political perspective – from power; assuming against expectation, that somehow, the political process will throw up something good for our world.

Psychopaths are having a field-day. Across the globe, they are running things, some of them even showing us how deluded we are to worry about this; that it’s all nonsense…

The story of one of the most successful psychopaths in fictional history was set in northern Scotland. A hardy group of us are shortly to spend a day driving to the town of Grantown-on-Spey, in the northern Cairngorms, to work out our personal and mythical relationships to Macbeth – Shakespeare’s fabled warrior, who, assisted by his wife, Lady Macbeth, rose from glory to bloody dominance before being toppled by forces from within himself – and herself, if you widen the mystical interpretation of the story.

We will carry with us the means to construct our own ‘Guiding Star’ – a five pointed figure well known to everyone as the pentagram.

Throughout our history, scholars have questioned the source of the negative side of being human. Since ancient times, geometric figures have been used to explore and question human nature, often being viewed as somehow ‘magical’ when they were simply an aid to what we now call psychological understanding. The value of such figures – derived from the properties of the circle – is to show how forces that act upon us – psychologically – are related to each other, and do not act in isolation. That, alone, should give us food for thought.

Within the Silent Eye, we use another figure – the enneagram, which is ‘nine pointed’ – as the basis for our self-exploration. But the pentagram is older, and considers the inner and ‘magical’ nature of mankind within a mapping of five qualities: Air, Earth, Fire, Water and one other…

Mystically, these are called the Elements. Although they derive from an age in which modern science had not thrown its analytical light on the atomic and vibrational nature of matter and energy, the philosophers of that age did not see a valid division between the inner and outer worlds experienced by our consciousness.

Because of this, the four elements were seen to be both subjective and objective, coming together in a fifth – Spirit- which opened the door to mastery and harmony in which the created and the creator were re-united, within the creation; the world in which we live and breathe and have our being.

At a simple level, the element of Earth may be seen as our foundation of physicality. It is slow and cold in its operation. Without animation from others elements, it cannot evolve.

Air is what we breathe and also how we communicate. It provides one of three elements of what makes our biology work: the other elements being the intake of Water (also emotions) and the stability of the foundational Earth. Fire is something different and is closely aligned with energy and transformation; burning off the dross of the lower forms of mortality.

The sequential alignment of the self with each of these Elements is a key process in so-called ‘magic’. For magic, we should read self-transformation; a concept for which we now have deeper psychological understanding, though psychology still does not acknowledge the deeper implications of this approach.

The key is the sequence used, and the fundamental attraction generated with what turns out to be higher aspects of the self; known as the Self. Implicit in this approach is the presence of the famous golden ratio – an intrinsic property of the pentagram, and one of the basic dimensions of biological life.

In a triangle of landscapes between Grantown-on-Spey, the highland coast at Findhorn and the historic Macbeth castles near Inverness, we will explore these relationships and the potential for alignment with the Self, using prompts from Shakespeare’s famous play. The story of Macbeth, seen as an allegory, is the story of our own confrontation with materiality and the wrong kind of ambition.

Dean Powell, who is based in the north Cairngorms, runs a local esoteric group: Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. Dean will be leading our group through his adopted Highland landscape in an exciting journey of self-discovery shared by all.

The Silent Unicorn is the name of a workshop (14-16 June, 2019) which will bring together the work of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba and the Silent Eye into a weekend of physical and spiritual exploration in the setting of the Scottish Highlands.

If this blog has given you an appetite to join us, there are still a few places remaining. Send an email to rivingtide@gmail.com and we’ll provide more details.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

The Bedouin

Image by Cuyahoga from Pixabay

It is said we learn most from those we would wish to emulate. Not copy, perhaps, but take from them an essence of thought, of action. If we are younger, of style, even…

There must have been a thousand people in the room. The university hall was full. When he stood up to speak, his movements were relaxed. His body language gentle, open.

What was it, that air? It wasn’t bravado…. just a sense of being at home, there.

Before him, there had been a speaker giving lots of do’s and don’ts – mainly don’ts. The celebratory mood with which we had all gathered had been blunted. The new speaker looked around the room to encompass the space – as though drawing in all the negative energy and using it as raw material for something very different – like crushed stones in roadbuilding. That act, alone, taught me so much; that you can always ‘dance on’ negativity and treat it as a foundation layer, thereby giving it a home, rather than resisting it. Therein is true magic…

He looked around, drawing in breath to begin. Then smiled…. just that; a silent smile. I swear that all of us leaned forward when he did that, waiting for him to fill the pause: the not-thing, the empty glass he had just created. Instead of words, he filled it with gesture. There was a hush as everyone realised that they were not smiling and addressed it accordingly.

We smiled….

“Good morning,” he said, not looking or sounding like anyone should after a recent transatlantic flight.

Everyone responded, some twice and more loudly the second time. Laughing, good-natured. So far all he had done was to speak those three words; yet most of those watching were already with him, already a joyous part of what was being created.

And that was when I had the mind-picture of drifting sand; sand making lazy, curling and twisting patterns in the hot breeze…

“So the question is…” He spoke fluently, breathing and talking in measured beats, letting the rounded language sink in before moving to the next idea in what he was building. The rise and fall reminded me of a wave… and then I saw where the wave and the tumbling sand were headed. And I saw the dune – a vast wind-blown barchan, set in the middle of a hot desert, with a beautiful blue sky. A savage place to be, perhaps, but not in this projected mental space.

“I need a couple of people to help me?”

My raised hand was too far back to be noticed. His playful eyes ranged over the first few rows, picking out a man and a woman. They rose from their chairs as assured as I was that they would form part of something wonderful – that they needed to have no apprehension, let alone fear, in the spiritual composition to come.

He gave them each a simple prop and asked them to describe it, moving with the microphone to stand alongside them – not across – as they spoke. He nodded at the answers, taking what he needed from each.

“So what happens when we combine any two of these?” he asked.

As in a dance, he moved the two of them around the small stage, being playful but purposeful. At each key angle of his imagined circle, he stopped to check the arrangement and smiled. Whatever was being built grew…. there was no doubt in anyone’s mind; we could feel it. We might recognise the elements being used, and the circular pattern, but what he was creating was still a mystery.

“And now any three of them…” From his battered leather document case he produced a crescent of silver… and the beautiful desert in my mind was suddenly under faint stars and a bright moon. His two volunteers saw the pattern, and each, independently, began moving towards their host.

Three figures stood at the top of the dune. He took their hands and aligned them, stepping behind both and disappearing…

For a moment before the thunder of applause struck, the hall was full of a beauty that could never be rehearsed. Then the wind blew and the beautiful grains of desert sand dispersed into the imagined night…

I never forgot the Bedouin… and I have carried his lesson with me ever since.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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 (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.