Where Beauty Sleeps ~ The Silent Eye Annual Workshop 2020

waddesdon_manor_sleeping_beauty_4

It is a familiar story. Both gifted and cursed at birth, a princess grows within the safety of a castle. Reaching adulthood, she is cast into sleep in the most inaccessible tower, surrounded by walls of stone and a hedge of thorns… waiting for the brave prince to cut his way through the briars and awaken her with the kiss of true love…

There is a lot more to fairytales than the wide eyed child understands, but we seldom question them as we grow up and tell them to our own children. We are so very familiar with them that they simply ‘are’.

Take the Sleeping Beauty story, for example, but in place of the princess, think of that essential Self we call the soul.

We are born into a magical world, where our childhood is peopled with fairies and wonders. We are given gifts and talents, yet we must grow within our bodies, like the princess in the castle… this is the place we inhabit and come to know as home. As we reach adulthood, the magic fades, or more precisely, our awareness of it fades, clouded by the small doings of everyday, by logic and necessity. Like the princess, something within us falls asleep; we are lost to the song of the soul as the ‘curse’ takes hold… waiting….

 

Around us the thick, thorny wall of ego grows and separates us from the world, holding us prisoner within its bounds. It may bear roses, it may bear fruit… it may sustain a whole ecology of other lives… yet the thorns are there making any passage through them, from the inside or from afar, fraught with difficulty and pain.

The princess’ sleep continues until the prince becomes aware of her and braves the thorns, cutting his way through the briars. Her plight touches his heart and calls to him and in turn he searches until he finds her. It is a quest of love. He has only rumours to guide him, yet he is called to the task.

There is a turning within that calls us too at odd moments, like the whispered rumour of a sleeping princess heard by the hearthfire. We sleep, yet there is something that pulls us, knowing we can wake. Our dreams reach out across our inner landscape and call the kiss of awakening to us… in turn the hero within each of us journeys through the maze of thorns in search of the truth that lies sleeping.

We cannot see what waits beyond the thorns; there may be dragons and ogres… there may be nothing more than a fairytale… or beauty may lie sleeping there in truth. But it is Love that calls us to the quest. We are both Prince and Princess in our own stories and through the reaching out from within, may find that something reaches out to us in equal measure, waiting to awaken us with the kiss of Love. Then, like the phoenix, we can be reborn from our own ashes…

But that is another story…

“What dreams may come…”

From the Big Bad Wolf to Pinocchio, from Ogres and Giants, to the Pied Piper and the Wicked Witch… Have you ever wondered what happens when Beauty sleeps?

Join us for a weekend in heart of Derbyshire to find out…

Awaken the beauty that sleeps within.

What lies beneath the surface of familiar childhood tales? How do these old stories relate to our own lives? What can we learn from the archetypes and recurring themes? What can they teach us about ourselves?

Our workshops are open to all. Using techniques both ancient and modern, we explore the spiritual journey through symbolic stories, meditations and fully scripted ritual drama. No prior experience is needed, just come along and enjoy the weekend!

The weekend runs from the evening of 17th April 2020, to the afternoon of Sunday 19th. Fully catered accommodation is included in the workshop price of £240 – £265. An electronic copy of the workbook for the weekend will be supplied prior to the event, with paper copies available to purchase if preferred.

To read what it is like to attend your first workshop with the Silent Eye, click HERE.

Bookings are now being taken for the Silent Eye’s Annual Workshop 2020.

Click below to
Download a Booking Form – pdf

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

Where Beauty Sleeps

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

17-19 April, 2020

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.

Joining the dots…

The waiting room was busy and the woman beside me said so… it was the opening gambit of one of those brief and revealing conversations that happen so often, where stranger speaks to stranger and they part as friends who will probably never see each other again.

Whenever you sit down and talk to someone, face to face, you begin to get a feel for their lives. From word, eye and gesture, from snippets of personal history that colour their conversations, you begin to learn, slowly building up a picture of who they are, and who they see themselves as being. The two do not always go hand in hand; from those with illusions of their own importance, to the ones so lacking in self confidence that they cannot see their own beauty.

Many things can blind us to ourselves. Those who raise us do the best they know how to do; parenthood does not come with an instruction manual or a failsafe. Yet their own inner shadows and insecurities, their beliefs, fears, and their joys, colour how we grow… not always without creating areas that are shaded grey, not always without some incongruous dabs of over-bright primaries. Experience is our next teacher, adding layer upon layer to our self-image, from all ends of the spectrum, as our lives and our choices shape us and our reactions to the reactions of others change us and mould our nascent personalities.

Imagine a pure, white lamp, then lay over it thin veils coloured tissue. Each layer is a clear colour, yet each layer, added to those that went before, will dim the lamp, changing its light, until very soon it will be impossible to see the original brilliance or determine either its own hue or the true colours of the overlay. The light within becomes muddied.

Whenever you sit down and talk face to face with someone who has chosen to consciously follow a spiritual path, you get a feeling that the life that streams behind them like a shadow has been… interesting. Not always good, not always easy, but somehow its peaks and troughs are sharp and vivid. Have their experiences been outside the norm? Are they any different from anyone else? Perhaps… and perhaps not. Their lives may have followed the same route and faced the same hurdles as thousands of others. Yet the glimpses that you see are sharper, carved in deeper relief.

Is it some magical ingredient? I think so, though not some arcane magic closed to the uninitiated. I think that the vividness comes from a clarity of consciousness… the awareness that seekers begin to develop from the moment they reach the turning point, ceasing to focus solely on the mundane life and instead gazing with intent upon the path ahead. That clarity is timeless and, like sunlight banishing shade, slowly extends across the past as well as present and future, throwing light into the dark corners of life and creating a new perspective, where everything has the potential to serve a greater good.

That perspective changes everything, infusing the minutiae with possibility and casting the larger events as opportunities for growth. Some may see this as a simplistic view, but to those who feel its touch, it makes perfect sense.

There are many, walking the varied spiritual paths, whose lives appear to have held more challenges than is usual, either from external events or from their own internal alchemy. Some have posited that this is why many turn to the Mysteries, seeking a validation… reasons, excuses, escape, depending on the mindset of the commentator. Having lived and worked within those circles all my life, I would say that nothing could be further from the truth… because what they are seeking is Truth… both personal and universal, and that is seldom comfortable when applied to the self… and that is where the magic has to begin.

There are no wands to erase the past in a puff of fairy dust. But we can change the essence of the past and how it overlays our own inner light, by learning to see clearly how what has gone before has shaped and influenced what is. We can learn to look upon the past… including the worst of events… even, and especially, our past self… with a love that wears the face of compassion and understanding.

There are neither potions nor spells that will instantly shape the future. It is the intent, the will, the imagination and, above all, the dedication of the individual that shapes the time to come.

And the present? We have to release the hold that we allow past emotions and future fears to have upon us, allowing ourselves to be whole, which is usually far easier said than done, as it means looking in the mirror of self with clear and honest eyes.

‘Living in the now’ has become a buzzword, but few say what they think it means. For me, it is neither the erasure of an unalterable past, nor a refusal to see some mythical future, by fixing our eyes solely on the moment at hand. It is more akin to joining the dots across time, like a child’s puzzle that reveals the hidden shape of that moment, or tracing the patterns we can barely discern in a starry sky, to bring all parts of being to a presence and awareness of what is and what it means to be a single point of light within a picture far greater than any one of us… but of which we are a part.

Too much light…

The soft colours of dawn were painting the sky as I left for work. The village streets, preternaturally quiet now that the schools were on holiday, were, for once, easy to negotiate. Parked cars take up half the width of every street and, on a school day and with oncoming traffic, getting out of the village becomes a slalom exercise in courtesy and patience.

By the time I reached the long stretch into town, the sun was cresting the horizon, setting fire to the skyline and casting long shadows across the road. Another mile, a bend in the road, and the brilliant disc had revealed itself in all its golden glory. I, and every other motorist in the now-queuing traffic, hit the brakes, dazzled by the low-lying orb on a road that runs due east.

There is, I thought, such a thing as too much light.

As the traffic crawled into town, I thought about that from another perspective. Is there ever such a thing as too much Light on the spiritual path? That Light could be said to be our goal, and so you would not immediately think so, and yet I concluded that yes, it was entirely possible.

As far back as I can remember, aspects of the spiritual path were part of my life. I was brought up in a family whose members each found their own way towards a shared goal. Their paths took many forms, encompassing the magical, mystical, spiritual and religious, but their goal seemed essentially the same, and whether they sought to attain the Christian Heaven, a Buddhist Nirvana, or a more abstract Union, each saw Light… formless, timeless and ineffable… as a perfect symbol for what drew and guided them. How could there be too much of that?

The car in front came to an abrupt halt, brake lights blazing. I saw the driver pull down the sun visor. He could not see the road ahead nor its hazards, any more than I could and had reacted by almost causing an accident.

That’s the problem with too much Light. The road we travel through life has hazards enough as it is, without our eyes being so firmly fixed on the Light that we fail to see them. We are, I believe, here for a purpose. Whether we are an incredible accident of Nature as evolutionary science would have us believe, or part of the design of some Cosmic Intelligence, we are here for a reason and with a purpose to fulfil, whether we are thinking at species level or as individuals.

If you accept that we are part of the design, and that there is a spiritual purpose to that design, there comes a point when you have to ask yourself, “Why right here? Why right now?” And, if there is indeed a purpose to our individual presence here and now, surely we need to be paying attention to where we are? This is practically impossible if your eyes are fixed firmly on the dazzling Light ahead and are blinded to all else.

 

The true mystic sees that Light and seeks to become one with it. Worldly considerations cease to matter… all else is but a shadow. While this is a rare and beautiful path to follow, it is a path for the few who feel called to that life. Those who follow the esoteric path see the Light and seek to align themselves with it, moving towards it while moving through the world with attention. This path is open to all. No path is better than another, as long as you are following the one that speaks to your heart.

My personal belief is that we may need the mystics to show us the way, but that for most of us, paying heed to the lessons, possibilities and opportunities of this life is more likely to answer the need of the inner self, allowing us a chance to learn why here and why now.  Few of us are able to divorce ourselves from the mundane business of living, but that need not mean that we cannot address those needs with due regard to spirit.

The spiritual path should not need to separate us from the earthly and physical life we have been given; it should enhance our awareness of it and bring us to an understanding that shows us that living is a spiritual journey.

The spiritual minefield

“’Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought,’” said my son, reading out the daily inspirational quote he has delivered to his phone. “It says it is by Basho. Who’s he?”
“Seventeenth century Japanese poet.” It was a short answer, but enough for the question.
“Okay, Google,” he said with disgust. He was not using voice commands…that is one of the politer names he calls me.

It was a good quote though, when I had just been writing up another of our visits to an ancient sacred site. It summed up perfectly why these places matter so much to us and what it is we find there. We do not seek to return to an earlier time or belief system, but to move beyond the imposed and acquired dogma of our times. Somewhere, beyond both the beliefs of the ancients and our own, is the source of the questions mankind has asked of both his heart and the heavens; whatever path we have chosen to follow and in whatever era we have lived, ultimately our goal is the same.

The symbols we use, the stories we believe, or in which we have faith, all arose from a need to understand. We want to know about the origins of life and our planetary home, our place in the cosmos and the forces that shape all we know. We want to know why we are here, and what is the purpose of it all.

We have sought answers to how we should live and developed moral codes by which we are supposed to abide. Some are practical… if we must live as part of a community, then there are basic behaviours by which we abide. Other rules we have made and think of as universal, yet across time and culture, they too have changed and shifted their parameters so much, and so often, that mankind starts wars because we cannot agree on the basic details of how we ought to live. Or how our gods should behave.

At one point in history, gods could be vengeful, jealous, permissively polyamorous and sometimes downright vicious. Another era sees its gods…or at least their priests… exercising strict control over every aspect of their people, while yet another time sees the gods as loving, forgiving and nurturing. And sometimes, the same god, over the course of time, will run the gamut of all of the above.

Within their time and place, all these manifestations were acceptable to the populace. They filled a need that matched the era and culture… and when they ceased to fill it, new gods came in to supplant them. But the same questions remained.

There is knowledge to be had about our planet and solar system. We now know a great deal about how nature actually works. We can see brain activity and are busily engineering nano-robots to send into the body to fix its problems. The scope of human knowledge is vast, even if there is still far more to learn than we can know or imagine at this moment. But all these things are just facts.

The questions held in the recesses of the human heart and mind cannot be answered so simply and the answers must be found by each of us, in our own way and our own time. Only knowledge can be transmitted. Knowledge may point a way, but it cannot grant understanding, only show us what and where someone else sought and found their own answers.

And then there is the dichotomy of seeking and not-seeking. The only way we know how to find anything is to look for it, or stumble across it by accident. We are told by spiritual teachers and philosophers that we should seek and strive to grow… and told by just as many of them that we should neither seek nor strive, but just be. We are promised paradise if we adhere to one set of rules or another, and a thousand shades of torment if we choose the wrong path. And that path can be any or all of the ones who promised paradise in the first place.

Spirituality is a minefield. So, what is a seeker, especially when we are not supposed to seek, supposed to do?

Seek what they sought. Look beyond the stories to why they were told… beyond the dogma, the rules and conventions and listen for what sings to your heart. We may be too small to encompass the entire understanding of Creation, but we may get a glimpse that sheds enough light on our path to carry us forward. It matters little upon which path we begin, for once we have found a song of the soul that calls to us, the path chooses us and it lives in truth within us.

Birds eye view

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There must have been thirty starlings, mainly youngsters, in the garden at my son’s home today. The great tits and blue tits are very tame and happy to peck away at the feeding stations even when you are very close. Robins, thrushes and blackbirds are regular visitors, along with the many sparrows, the inevitable pigeons, magpies and doves and the clever jackdaws that fly in. I often see the wrens, I think I spotted a dunnock, and there are buzzards, red kites and the local heron flying over daily.

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The heron can see the pond, but it was constructed to make it almost impossible for it to land, which is just as well given the monsters that lurk in its depths. My son keeps some rather large sturgeon as well a plethora of other fish. The other birds bathe in the corner of the stream overhung with plants and the kites sail over, watching.

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There have been a lot of birds over the past couple of weeks. Not ‘just’ birds… they are always there… but ones you seldom see, or that were very tame… or just a sheer delight. There were cuckoos, woodpeckers and a tree mouse in the woods, plus this little guy, caught on zoom. I’ve seen peacocks and swallows, ibises, robins, grouse and an owl. And birds have a habit of making me think.

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I suppose because they are wild, free creatures, that when they come so close within our lives, or seem to allow us into their world for a moment, we are touching nature in a way our towns and cities seldom let us do. They wake us from our complacency with their presence and song and remind us of the changing seasons of the year. In general their lives are much shorter than ours and they use them busily, especially this time of year when the young need to be fed and educated.

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It has been lovely watching the young family of starlings with their parents, from the first, curious visits to the bird table, where, still yellow around the beak, the babies sat open mouthed and waited for their parents to feed them, to their growing confidence as adolescents, still in the family group, still under the watchful eye of parents who encourage them now to fend for themselves. They were clumsy when they first came, flying awkwardly and frequently falling off their perches. Now they are confident, though they still stick together and several families seem to be merging into a larger flock.

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Watching the young birds find their feet… and their wings… has been a joy this spring. They were made to fly… streamlined, graceful and swift in flight. Yet leaving the egg, instinct or not, is something they have to do under their own steam, breaking out of the shell when the moment is right, into a world unknown. Ii it a scary place for them or an adventure? Is it fear or curiosity that they feel?

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I think it was C.S Lewis who wrote that it has to be hard for a bird to leave the egg, but it would be an awful lot harder learn to fly if it stayed in there. He went on to compare human beings to eggs… saying that we cannot remain eggs forever, even perfectly good ones; we either change, or go bad. And to be honest, there can be few things worse than what is locked inside a decomposing egg.

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Once our shell is cracked, though, there can be no going back… we must break out, and breathe the air… and the egg is empty of anything that will nourish us. The only way forward means a dramatic change in everything we have known so far. There will be predators, there will be the risk of the unknown to face with ecxcitement or fear. Yet it is our nature too to fly. We are children of the sun and our soul has wings; and while we may be awkward and clumsy as we grow, the heavens are waiting for us to spread our wings and fly.

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To dare, to dream, to be…

‘To know, to dare, to will… and to keep silent’… this is a phrase heard within many branches of the Mysteries and one which echoes facets of the labyrinthine journey undertaken by those of us who work within them. It is an old saying, but none the worse for that, as much of the magical and mystical tradition is rooted in history. It contains much wisdom… a veritable treasure trove that responds to exploration by the meditative mind.

When we were setting up the Silent Eye, talking about how we could encapsulate something of the essence of the School’s ethos in a few words,  that phrase was the starting point for a discussion. The school is a place where we ensure that ‘the heart and the head drink from the same stream’. It is just as easy to get lost in soggy sentimentality as it is to bury oneself in hardcore intellectualism and on the spiritual journey both ends of the spectrum need to arrive at the consensus where we find the road to Being.

It takes courage to set out on that road, for it is ultimately one that must be walked seemingly alone, facing the image of the constructed Self; the Ego that is our vehicle through this life in the mirror of the soul. It is not always a pleasant stroll; the flawed monsters that lurk within each of us are the demons the magician faces in his rites of evocation. It takes courage too to set out on a path that departs from the traditions and teachings you have worked with all your life and seek something new. To dare that road can seem like stepping off a precipice into the unknown… or it can be the most exciting voyage of a lifetime.

It is something many of us dream of doing. Yet where to start? How to translate that dream into a reality? And what is a dream anyway? It is a multivalent concept. We may think of a dream as something of no substance, the ephemera of the night; no more than a fleeting shadow of the impossible that haunts the edges of the mind. Many systems of thought, including our own, use the idea of the dream-state to reflect the limited reality of our daily lives, focussed upon the mechanical movement through the tasks and responsibilities imposed upon us, both by the world and by ourselves; seeing in our restricted and sleeping consciousness merely projected images upon the screen of the mundane world.

We can look at the Aboriginal and Shamanic dreaming that has woven its magic behind humanity’s vision, shadowing forth those aspects of being and divinity we have sought to understand for millennia. On the other hand, we may see a dream as an aspiration… something worthy of the questing soul that seeks the depth and meaning of the inner Light.

It has been asked which is the dream… does the soul dream this life… do we awake from life into a dream of the soul … are we ourselves the dream, the dreamer… or the dreamed?

Perhaps we are all of these and in that realisation… in daring to seek to bring the dream of the soul into reality, in the clear light of consciousness, we can live the dream and touch the realms of pure Being.