Only a Horse and a Sword

We become habitual in our thinking. It’s a good idea (and fun) to play little games with our mind to help us look at things differently.

One of these is to look at things in a ‘zero-sum’ way: that is, to consider life as a vast journey of ‘bought and sold’: acquisition, usage and disposal…

Saladin, (Salah ad-Din) the legendary first Sultan of the combined lands of Egypt and Syria, and scourge of the western Crusaders, is recorded as having given away most of his belongings before his death.

At the end, his only possessions were his horse and a sword.

But that’s ‘just’ end-of-life, stuff. How about if we lived our lives such that everything we ‘took in’ to our lives had to be used, valued and then disposed of in a positive way as we went along?

What might this include? Well, our possessions of every kind would have to be acquired alongside the sentiment: ‘I want this, but I will ensure that others benefit from it, too…’. Then, when the thing ceased to be of use to us, we would look for others to whom it would be useful.

Not too much to ask, or too onerous?

Our home would be open to others, as long as they honoured its ‘foundations’. Those would include a certain attitude to looking after it and respecting its conventions. Our family – something not acquired in the same way, but given to us – would need to be considered, too. At the end of our days, how would our balance sheet look? Did we leave others ‘richer’ than we found them? Did our presence bring some joy, along the way. There are always struggles with family, which is often the most difficult ‘school’ of our lives, but, overall, did we try?

Our careers would be an important part of this, too. We work in increasingly ‘compressive’ environments, where we are expected to conform to behaviours that are not native to our higher natures. How do we manage this? There may be few choices – externally. But we can always project an inner air of integrity, even if what is around us is ruthless, uncaring or downright cruel.

Examining our lives across these broader timescales will bring us back to much shorter ones. One consideration will be that we will look for things that we did not earn in any way, short of being present. Our food and other means of sustenance is a vital part of our lives. The ‘Maslow’ approach to this was that we cannot hope to lead a higher personal life until our basic needs have been fulfilled; and we should be examining others’ lives on this basis, too, before we judge them.

On an even smaller scale, how about breathing? We take in air whose creation and preparation has nothing to do with our own effort. At this smallest scale, we are literally given life every few seconds. There is no bill at the end of this most basic of meals.

In such situations, perhaps we can think of it as a debt. We owe…

And, maybe that sense of owing would begin to renew both our ‘selves’ and the planet, replacing the viciousness of entitlement so prevalent among those who ‘rule’ us. It seems that, as the world’s wealth comes to belong to fewer and fewer people, civilisation goes back in time to a more feudal basis. It’s a frightening thought that our ‘democracies’ have become so feeble that even the most educated feel powerless to stop the erosion of what were – not so long ago- shared values.

But we are not the first to live in troubled times. It may be that they are there to teach us to act responsibly and collectively. Unless we can do so, we are powerless to change things.

We may conclude that, as an individual, we can do nothing to change the politics of our ‘world’; in which case we live in an age where only our personal behaviour can make a difference: good examples of light in darkness can catch the spirit of the times and become visible flames.

Saladin was a great warrior and is said to have been a fair and just ruler. He had a vast kingdom and ended the power of the Crusading forces.

Our true kingdom is our lives, not how much we possess. Will we be able to look back on our lives from our single horse, and kiss the keen blade of thoughts and feeling that brought us through? And then will we have the grace to leave both behind, in a final act of giving, before surrendering our physical existence to the drifting sands beneath our feet…

©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

The two-faced god and the peacock

Peacock feathers (2)

I remember when I was younger… and it doesn’t seem so very long ago… thinking how strange it would seem to be alive when we moved into a new millennium. To an imagination fed on the early science fiction programmes like Star Trek, it felt as if the world would be unrecognisable by then. In some ways it was too and many of the fanciful gadgets mocked up by the props department are now part of everyday life. These days I am more likely to wonder if I will share my grandmothers’ longevity and still be around to see the turning point of the century in 2050… and what the world will look like then as technology advances with the rapidity of a snowball while humankind remains stuck in a behavioural rut.

In a few days’ time, we will all be watching the clock, waiting for yet another year to slide into the past and a new one to dawn. Celebrations from across the globe will hit our screens as midnight strikes around the world, yet we will wake to a dawn that is both no different from any other… and as unique as they always are. The first day of January will feel no different from any other day… except for the global number of hangovers. How many will wake to the vow that they are never drinking again? They won’t be the only ones making such promises, as many will take the opportunity to make a New Year resolution.

The practice of making promises of good behaviour at New Year began, as far as we can tell, in ancient Babylon. There the new year was celebrated with a festival lasting eleven days in March and promises were made to the gods to return and repay what was owed in the hope that the gods would look favourably upon such actions and perhaps as a measure of gratitude for blessings received. After all, we cannot repay the gods except by being the best human beings we can.

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For the Egyptians, New Year fell within the season of Akhet when the annual floods brought new life to the lands of the Nile. They celebrated with a five day festival… the five ‘extra’ intercalary days that Thoth, the god of wisdom, had won from the Khonsu, the moon, and during which the younger and best known gods of Egypt came into the world… Isis and Osiris, Set, Nephthys and Horus. Here too it was a time of birth and new beginnings and each year, those five days ‘out of time’ gave an opportunity to remember and realise the reflection of the changing seasons of the land within the heart of man.

The move to the first day of January as the official New Year is attributable to ancient Rome. The festival was already in place when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC and remained the beginning of the year under the later Gregorian calendar. As the year turned, the Romans offered their promises to Janus, the two-faced god of transitions who sees both what has been and what is to come. It has been posited that Janus may have been one of the most important gods in the archaic pantheon. There was no dedicated high priest of Janus, his rites were the responsibility of the rex sacrorum, and such was the importance of Janus, he was invoked at all religious feasts, regardless of which god was presiding over the occasion.

Janus faced both forward and backward and was seen as a god of change and transition, of beginnings, and of the progression of time. Poised as he is, in a moment of absolute awareness between past and future, in modern terms we could call him the god of the Now.

Peacock feathers (1)

In medieval times, knights would yearly renew their promise to adhere to the principles of chivalry. In 1312, Jacques de Longuyon wrote of the Voeux du Paon, the Peacock Vows, describing the moment and introducing the idea of the Nine Worthies… three groups of three representatives of perfect knightly virtue drawn from the Pagan, Christian and Jewish traditions. Within the Silent Eye we work with the nine-pointed enneagram as a symbol of both the human personality and the three tiered journey to Being; the symbolic possibilities of the Worthies become relevant once again.

As we approach the new year, thousands of people start thinking about what they would like to change… what they intend to change, in the coming months. We know full well that three-quarters of all such resolutions will have failed and been forgotten by the end of the month named for Janus. I wonder if, by taking the sacredness out of the proceedings, we have lost an important part of our armoury against such broken promises.

There are still the promises made in faith and most religions have a moment in the liturgical year for reflection and resolution to be made with a view to spiritual progress. But for the most part these days, our resolutions are more worldly. We either keep silent about our resolutions, or else state our intent to friends and family and even across social media. Few offer their promises with reverence to Deity and the thought of doing so seems to sit uneasily with most people. We do not necessarily imagine a personified god who takes a personal interest in our small doings. I do not believe we need that vision of a humanoid god in order to recognise the consciousness of the Divine at work within existence… and within our own inner life. Can we not simply recognise the spark of Light within as part of a greater Life? And if we do so, then every promise we make, even within the silence of self, becomes a sacred trust.

Peacock feathers (4)

Aslan, Egypt and the surgeon’s knife

The writer, Clive Staples Lewis, is best known as the creator of the Narnia books, much loved by several generations of children. It may pass unnoticed to the eyes of a child that the story of Aslan, the great Lion, bears a striking resemblance to that of Jesus. It matters little whether the child makes that connection in their mind, to those who fall in love with the landscape of Narnia, Aslan will hold a special place in their heart and children of all faiths can learn the basic lessons of honesty, kindness, courage and, above all, love from these stories. Children see no religious separateness until they learn it from the world or their own experience.

Cover art by Pauline Baynes, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Cover art by Pauline Baynes, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Raised in the Christian faith, Lewis had become an atheist in his teens, believing, like many others, that a world created by any God he could conceive would have been less imperfect. Yet he said that even then, he was “angry with God for not existing”. He was to come back to Christianity “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape,” and many of his later works reflect a faith built upon a deeper understanding of how the world moves.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

That Lewis was no stranger to the concept of necessary evil is evident, even at the very birth of the world of Narnia, when Jadis, a witch from another world, comes into the fledgling land, brought via the streets of London from her own decaying world. It is centuries later in the life of Narnia when four children wander through the back of a wardrobe and find the perpetual winter of the White Witch… once known as Jadis. It is because of the introduction of this evil at the birth of the world that Aslan is slain and comes back to life. Without the presence of evil, that sacrifice and resurrection would not have been possible.

Yet the essence of that story is far older than Christianity. In ancient Egypt the gods Set and Osiris were brothers. Set, the darker twin, was responsible for the death of Osiris… a death which permitted the green god of fertility to be ‘reborn’ as king of the Underworld. The fratricide was also the direct cause of the mystical conception and birth of Horus and the subsequent Contending between the young Horus and Set was what allowed the Child to assume his true place as the Hawk of the Sun.

Set is seen as the embodiment of evil… yet paradoxically, he was also the Protector of the Boat of Ra, defending it against the elder and monstrous creature that swallowed the sun each night, as well as Defender of Maat… Truth. A statue showing the coronation of Rameses III has Set and Horus standing, on equal terms, to bless the pharaoh.

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Horus and Set blessing the pharaoh. image source

Here too, Set is not true evil, only a perception of evil… a force that has the potential to both destroy… and enable. Without his presence in the story, the story, and thus the creation of the mythos of Egypt… a complex and sophisticated vision of the creation of the universe and all it holds… could not have come into being.

“What had my brother (Set) hoped to prove, the mastery over my golden Hawk… or revenge for his own mutilation? Or was he perhaps once again the unwitting Right Arm? These things deserve thought… for from the eyes came sun and moon and the lotus of rebirth … and from Horus’ seed Set brought forth the disc of the Sun from his crown, a Light for the crown of Wisdom. There is meaning to this for those who seek it.” The Osiriad

Dion Fortune, the Qabalist, wrote of the concepts of positive and negative evil… defining the latter as being ‘the thrust-block of Good’ as well as the catabolic principle, the ‘Scavenger of the Gods’ that ‘clears up behind the advancing tide of evolution’.

In our own lives, we see the force of necessary evil in action… usually in retrospect. Just as the surgeon’s knife may hurt when it cuts, so too it can excise the tumour that threatens our lives. At the time, as we are beset by problems, contending with all manner of challenges and feeling as if our world is falling apart, it is difficult to see any deeper than the ‘evil’ that we perceive. Yet, once we are through the dark time and out on the other side, we may begin to see many bright consequences that have grown from our choices and reactions.

The challenges we face may be dire as we traverse them, walking through a black tunnel full of fear that drags at our limbs like cold tendrils. When we look back, we may see other routes we could have taken, we may see the things we have now ‘lost’ and left behind… but we see them from a place we have reached through the courage to walk onwards and face our fears. In order to grow we must always leave behind those things that no longer serve. We have a choice… to cower and stay still or to walk forward… and eventually reach a place of light.

Would you like a Free place at our workshop this weekend?


One Free place available

Would YOU like to join us for the Silent Eye Workshop in Derbyshire this weekend?

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One of our Companions is too ill to attend and has generously donated his place to anyone who would like to attend in his stead but cannot afford to do so.

At such short notice and with our Companion’s blessing, we decided to throw this to the winds and see if anyone would like to attend. The free place includes the weekend workshop, room and all meals throughout the weekend.


You can read more about this magical workshop by clicking the link here.

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 River of the Sun Derbyshire, 24-26 April, 2015.

Full brochure, prices and booking form can be downloaded here. Remember, we have one free place available:

SE15 Feb15 brochureAA

If you would like to be a part of the workshop and spend a relaxed and interesting weekend in the Derbyshire dales… please email us at

There is only one FREE place available, but there is still time to join the fun!

Wish you were coming?

 River of the Sun Derbyshire, 24-26 April, 2015.

Full brochure, prices and booking form can be downloaded here:

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The January Man

Jan15 stone wall

“December man looks through the snow to let eleven brothers know . . . that they’re all a little older.”

December is, finally, gone. There is a weariness about January. The comfort and festivities with which we brace ourselves against the oncoming winter have lost their potency – and, thankfully, their habitual power to affect our errant waistlines, for which we now have to atone . . . The tree and glitter are put away, and the howling and cold winds remind us that the spring is yet far away.

“The January man he goes around in woollen coat and boots of leather,” continues Christy Moore, singing on the music machine in the corner of the living room. It was recorded live at the eponymous Vicar Street in Dublin, and is one of our favourite albums, though it has not been played for a year or two.

Humming the tune, I look out on a garden turned to thin greens and muddy browns, and wonder, as I always do in the pale light of the year’s first month, about the sheer effort we have to make to transform this rather empty time of year into the purposeful soil that will bring a rich harvest of time well spent as the sun’s daytime arc overcomes the darkness and tips the fourfold scales of the seasons into the spring.

Aside from the usual family commitments, this time of year comprises the final three months before the Silent Eye’s Spring Workshop. This is our main annual event, held in April, which takes place in the lovely Derbyshire village of Great Hucklow. More than anything else, these weekend events define what the three of us – Sue, Stuart and myself – have both been and what we have become.

Been, because the elements of discussions, shared explorations and ritual drama are a very precise synthesis of where we came from, and what we learned from our past work, spanning many decades. We always honour those traditions in which we learned our craft. Although different, they gave us that breadth of experience which now constitutes the core of the Silent Eye School.

Become, because any attempt to establish a modern mystery school inevitably draws you into an alchemy – both personal and shared – in which you cannot be in the mix of the act of creation unless you are prepared to be changed by it – a sentiment pioneered by Carl Jung.

This year’s workshop, the River of the Sun, is based on a fictional but very spiritual tale, whose context is the real history of the period three generations after the death of the enigmatic ‘heretical’ pharaoh Akhenaten. The creation of such a workshop requires that we let go of last year’s model and reach deep for something new, something which will carry the spirit of the times. The importance of the ‘now’ and its creative flow, was one of the lessons brought home to us during our year-long series of talks given in Glastonbury in the twelve months just finished.

The actual effort to write the workshop – usually running to 150 pages of workbook scripts, plus five talks which reinforce the backbone of the School’s teaching – fills most of what will be the next three months. Five key elements of how the soul evolves will be illustrated by the ritual dramas. These reflect real life, in that certain characters are set up as adversaries. For this year’s plot, the enigmatic figure of Menascare, chief mage and spymaster to the incoming young pharaoh, Rameses II, represents the physical power which intercepts the initiatic life of the Isis temple on the Nile island of Philae. The chief priestess and priest of Isis are suspected of harbouring an inner thread of a different teaching, hidden and protected within the traditional worship of the goddess.

Staring out at the cold and sodden garden, I wonder at the process that will take us from here to there. In practice, we can only begin it. We bring the seed of an idea and plant it into the dark soil of January, trusting that the magic of the winter will nurture it within that subconscious land of Persephone. There, we find the most wonderful of processes at work. The seed of the first set of ideas produces a harvest of a second generation; this is examined and re-planted back in the soil of February.

“February man still shakes the snow from off his clothes and blows his hands,” continues Christy Moore.

The hands are indeed the key, as furious fingers home in on ideas that thaw from the raw stuff of potential, becoming fixed on the pages of the growing scripts.

“The man of March he sees the spring and wonders what the year will bring; and hopes for better weather.”

The process is repeated, producing a crop that is the nearly finished offering, towards the end of March, subject to the fine tuning that ensures that everyone attending has a (scripted) role that they will play for the whole weekend. Thus, their own, growing subjective experience becomes part of the unique alchemical mix.

The man of March has another role. He must make a judgement regarding the point at which the crop will be harvested, the ideas set down on the page, allowing time only for the final tuning and fitting to the confirmed attendees.

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“through April rain the man goes down to watch the birds come in to share the summer.”

To share the summer, indeed – or at least the spring. The final group of people arrive in the tiny village of Great Hucklow, where the venue – the Nightingale Centre – is a two minute walk from the Queen Anne, a pub with a warm open fire and warmer welcome. If new, they are made very welcome; and introduced to those sharing the event. Any nerves give way to relaxation and enjoyment as the Silent Eye’s traditional welcoming spirit pervades the gathering.

The Friday night formal beginning to the weekend sees the introduction of each of the characters, as the fast boat of Rameses, carrying Menascare and a phalanx of elite soldiers, glides through the dark night to force an arrogant interruption to the Isis temple space in which the initiation of a young and very special priest is taking place . . .

By Saturday morning, everyone is living their roles, and the magic unfolds. Gone are the walls of the Nightingale Centre, replaced by the living presence of ancient Egypt, as the birds of the spirit emerge from the inner and judge the framework fitting for their purposes . . .

. . . becoming present.

With a sigh that lasts three months, I am back in the now where all this exists in potential, only. I look out at the sodden soil of the garden . . . But something has changed – there is a heartbeat, albeit a slow one, in the depths of that dark earth.

In the deep of winter and in the hearts and minds of the January ‘men’, something new has begun to germinate . . .


For anyone interested in what it’s like to be at a Silent Eye workshop, the book “The Land of the Exiles“, available in Kindle or Paperback format, will give a good idea of what to expect from the April event.  We look forward to making you very welcome.

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Ozymandias – the unchosen

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1279 BCE, The Nile at Philae

Darkness had just fallen when the Dark Apep rounded the curve in the river and fixed its course on the stone landing of the Island of Philae. The ranks of the Obion Guard relaxed their stroke, feathering their oars as one. Menascare, the most trusted friend and arch mage of the Pharaoh elect, strode from the raised command point at the rear of the craft and stood with him in the prow, looking at the lights of torches which ringed the fringes of the temple island.

“A welcome, Hem?” asked Menascare, using the newly significant royal form of address.

“No,” said the Pharaoh elect, “they could not know of our arrival. We travel in darkness for a reason . . .”

“Then why their lights?”

“I think we join them at a fortuitous time.”

“A ritual in progress?”

The younger man put the wooden block on which he had been scribbling into the pocket of his cape and leaned over the prow of the boat, thrusting his face towards his target. “Won’t that be interesting!” he said with a cruel smile. “What a shock we will deliver! Maybe we will catch them out?”

Menascare considered his words, carefully. “But we have no evidence against them,” he said. ” The whole of the land speaks of the excellence of their work and the discipline of their methods . . . ” He leaned as close as he dared to the young ruler. “Surely we should not judge what we do not know?”

“Perhaps,” answered his royal companion. “but my father had his suspicions, as did my namesake grandfather. Rameses the not-forgottten.” He pulled himself upright and patted Menascare on the shoulders.

“But that is why you are here, old friend . . . to find out the truth”

“The truth, Hem, can be an elusive thing . . . and I would not begin by suspecting the rites of Isis, and the celebrated High Priestess and her brother”

“Is not the renowned Menascare the most revered hunter of truth of all those along the great river?” It was a sly response, but it illustrated the young man’s flickeringly deadly intelligence.

Menascare thought of the twist of fate that had befallen the royal house. Initially groomed for Kingship as the eldest son of Seti, Nebchasetnebet had died in a tragic accident at sixteen years. The family had swiftly elevated the younger brother to the position of Regent – a role for which he seemed admirably suited. Now, with the imminent death of Seti, he was on his way to Thebes to take the twin crowns and assume absolute power.

The Dark Apep on which they were travelling was the fastest boat on the Nile, and was propelled by the Obion Guard, a hand picked cadre of royal defenders who would, unhesitatingly, put their lives at risk to defend their King. They were agile, strong and fearsome, though the world along the great river knew little about their existence. “Yet . . . ” whispered Menascare, speaking the last of his thoughts out loud. “Yet . . .”

The black boat approached the stone pier. Four of the Obion oarsmen brought it to a perfect landing, and soon, the ropes held it fast. Rameses II stepped onto the island, throwing to Menascare the wooden tablet on which he had been scribbling before their arrival. Caught off guard, Menascare dropped it, but stooped to pick it up.  He would forget all about the unfinished piece, but the fragment would remain among his records and later be found by scholars searching for clues to the motivations of the man who would become ‘King of Kings’.

Ozymandias the Unchosen

It was not always like this.

There was not always a sleek-boat,

driving relentlessly along the great river,

in search of the white rats of the Sun.

Soon, I will be taken from here, made less by my duties.

Made king where once there was the brother.

Oh fate, how strange thy serpentine turns and twists,

But he is truly gone.

Now laughter in the darkness

Where stealth failed, now follows the vulture.

Horizons mourn for I shall not; but beware soft world,

Of he who was not chosen, your gentle time is gone . . .

Brave father, bold and faithful, now dying far from here.

No fault to you, no scarab walks your lies.

I will honour you before all others, as you did, lately, me

And though unchosen I will absorb your hate,

That what you feared shall pass to me.

And, riding my head, we shall hunt down

All the last traces of the Erased.

And fool who thinks it other, like women, washing waters,

who ebb and flow around what should be target of archers’s bows.

Brave island of Isis, now ahead in lanterns’ lights. Let them beware

For if, as sand-talk lies on the wind, they hold harbour for such flights of mind

As those who, leaving, spoke, be true.

Then swift swords of Obion will prevail, and those that there survive

Will walk a different path,

When Great River’s banks again swell,

And fill with abundance

My coffers, gold and green will bloom

To protect noble Egypt, soon to be made mighty, again.

Weak white fool, let his despite live like lemon’s spit on the tongue

That each sad reflection on the riser over horizons come to nothing.

What matters lives and breathes,

Who rules carries a sword,

They that plough know nought of power

What does not live and breathe is a dream.

Who lives and breathes and dreams is a fool

Let those who live plough or take the sword

One man alone steers a boat, the rest empower

Swish, swish, the water from the oars.

No slaves here, the Obion are chosen,

Cousins to the blade, the whip, the Royal order.

The river is mine, at least that part which dares to hold me.

Mighty river, that I might fill thy length, as I do other women,

But so dares the arrogance of youth!

Yet time will not blunt me.

Now do I go to receive the fire . . .


And so, the scene is set for the initial confrontation in  “The River of the Sun” the Silent Eye’s April 2015 annual workshop. For more details click here.

The workshop explores the nature of living a magical life within the hard reality of a world dominated by power and materiality. Using the setting of ancient Egypt and the aftermath of Akhenaten’s doomed reign, a living story is told of two great forces which collide. The one, inspired by the vision of the long dead heretic seeks to embody what is known of his teachings, hidden within the worship of Isis. The other is the man known as the Eye of the Cobra, a deputy of the new Pharaoh, Rameses, who is left on the island of Philae to spy on the suspect High Priestess and her brother.

Into this maelstrom flows the life of a young man, Amkhren, whose long-held desire has been to serve for the priesthood. But his life will turn out to be very different from what he had envisaged.

Join us for this exciting weekend in the Derbyshire hills.  From the team that brought you “The Song of the Troubadour” and “The Land of the Exiles.”

The event offers a mixture of lectures and ritual dramas in which each of us will play a single role for the duration of the weekend.  Each person will play a (fully scripted) role – you only need to read from the scripts and do your best to bring it to life. Creativity will be welcome and encouraged, and we will all explore the deeper meanings of Egyptian symbology by living it.  Fun will most certainly be a theme and there is a lovely pub next door, which sees occasional use from the Silent Eye crowd . . .

Dates: Weekend of 24-26 April, 2015. Location: The lovely Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow, Derbyshire Dales. England.

Don’t miss it! Demand will be high and there are limited places.

For further details or to reserve your place:

The Silent Eye, a Modern Mystery School


The Light and the Eye of the Cobra

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The water was soft on his skin. He was used to bathing in the river at sunset, but there was something special about today. He looked across at the glittering image of the sun as its reflection folded on the water, bouncing the golden light across the gentle waves at him. A boat had just sailed by and he felt the lapping waves caressing his thighs. It tickled and he giggled to the river.

His reverie was disturbed by the sound of his Grandmother’s voice.”Wash, Amkhren, stop your daydreaming!”

He smiled his cheeky smile back at Snefer, sole guardian to him since the death of his parents many years ago, in the fire that had destroyed their home while they slept. The name, which he had given her, made her smile, though he was too young, yet, to know the kindness behind such tolerance. The name derived from a present from his father, which he still kept. His father had travelled in his own youth – selling his beautifully hand-woven carpets, which he would pile onto his faithful donkey, before leaving for days or even weeks. He always came back with tales of his adventures, and Amkhren’s delight had been to sit, balanced precariously on his knee; and listen . . .

One day, his father had returned with a carved wooden object – a present to his son. He took it from his bedroll and presented it, smiling as he did so. He had carved it out of a block of wood. It was like one of the drawings his father had shown him of the fabulous white pillars that legend said graced the upper parts of the river, just before it spread and flowed into the sea. The wooden carving had a square base, whose four corners rose in two stages, to meet at a single vertical point. The angle of the climbing sides became shallower half way up and this gave the whole things a comic element. His father had said that the place it was located was called Sneferu, and it was known as the bent pillar. The day after that, Amkhren had pointed at his grandmother and said, “Grandma is bent, too! Can we call her Sneferu, like the carving?”. His father had looked at his own mother and smiled in that mischievous way that his young son had inherited. Then he had said, “Well, we don’t want to anger the Gods, so let’s shorten it to Snefer!”

She had sighed, inside, on that day. But now the memory of that time brought back such happiness that old Snefer didn’t mind at all. She looked at the boy, who had finally taken off his loin-cloth and was washing himself. Her heart burned with feeling for him – the sole survivor of a family that had known how to love and to laugh, together. The sight of him always drove away the aches and pains that had begun to afflict her ageing frame . . . and the sad memories.

The sound of footsteps behind her made her whirl in alarm. After that, she could only drop to her knees in the sand.

“High Priestess, forgive me!” She bowed her head to the mud. Before her was one of the most beautiful and stately women she had ever encountered – Neferaset, the woman who led the worship at the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae, across the river a mile or so away. Alongside her brother, Anzety, they were the most powerful of the bright people.

“Do not be frightened, old woman,” said the glowing one, bending down to take the hands in the dust and pull Snefer up to her normal, if bent, standing position. “We are not in the temple, and, if I choose to leave the sanctuary of the island and walk along the river, I am going to meet strangers . . .”

Snefer kept her head bowed. But spoke, “My grandson is bathing in the river. Forgive his rude nakedness.”

Neferaset looked beyond the bowed woman and saw her relative. He was talking to another boy who stood ahead of him in the deeper water.

“And who is that with him?” she asked.

“There is no-one with him, High Priestess . . .”

Neferaset frowned, then moved the sight into place to gain more distance; and blinked her eyes, focussing on the two boys in the shallows. One was plainly visible, his naked form dancing in the water. But he was definitely speaking to another boy – one who stood motionless before him and had a bright but much less distinct outline . . .

Amkhren was delighted with his new friend. As golden as the ripples on the river, he had appeared before him in the beautiful sunset, smiling. He had asked Amkhren’s name, but refused to give his own. Now, the other watched, while Amkhren bathed, as though the act of seeing someone so vividly alive fascinated him. Amkhren was about to press for his name, again, when he heard his grandma calling from the bank.

“Amkhren, put on your garment and come here at once!”

Amkhren, saddened, but obedient, spun back to say goodbye to his friend; but the other boy was gone. He peered deep into the waves in case his friend had swum off, but there was no trace of the other. A second, and sterner call from Snefer dragged him from his searching. Panting, he retrieved his rags and tied them across his wet waistline. Only then did he look up to locate the old woman. She was standing, with her head bowed, next to another woman. This was a day of surprises! He looked harder, narrowing his eyes to carry his vision deeper into the tableau. Then, he stopped walking and his mouth fell open. There on the raised bank, his grandma was talking, though her head was bowed, with the High Priestess of Isis – a woman he had once stolen a look at from the sanctuary of a hastily built log raft, which had floundered shortly thereafter.

The day had been baking hot and Amkhren had walked along the river bank, far from where Snefer had said it was safe for him to travel. He had gradually been extending his exploring, because he knew that the Island of Philae lay somewhere beyond the next twist of the river’s course. On that day, he had caught sight of a temple procession on the sacred isle and had thrown caution to the wind, and trusted his life to a few logs hastily lashed together with the stalks of reeds in the way that his father had shown him, so long ago.

Before the raft had fallen apart, he had caught sight of the winged one, as he thought of her. She had shone in the sun in her finery and splendour. All around her there was total silence, total reverence. Beside her, another of equal stature walked, but this one was a man, tall and purposeful, yet with a hint of gentleness to his bearing.

The reed bindings had given way, the logs parted and, plunging into the river with a cry, he was forced to cling to the largest as it rolled. Gone were the wild thoughts that someday he would find a way to return to Philae to serve them. Choking on the inhaled river water, he clung desperately to the remains of his capsized raft and forced his legs to kick, pushing the log slowly towards the far bank.

Now the Goddess stood before him. Disguised, yes, but it was her . . .

Amkhren took a few more steps and fell to his knees, prostrating himself in the dust.

“I feel I know you, boy?” said the shining one.

“Oh, you couldn’t know us, High Priestess – we are just beggars in your world,” blurted out his grandma, her head still bowed.

Amkhren’s mind raced. Should he tell her of his moment on the raft? Surely it would be to invite death . . . and yet, he didn’t want to miss the only chance that his life might contain to reach for that impossible goal.

“The river has many secrets, High Priestess,” he managed, somewhat proud of his utterance.

“And dreams, perhaps?” the tone of her voice was soft. There was deadliness there, too, but her knives were sheathed.

She knelt down in the dust of the bank and, with gentle hands that yet contained more power than he had ever felt, pulled his head up to stare back at her almond eyes.

“And what does this young man dream of?” she asked, running a painted finger up the side of his jaw.


So begins “The River of the Sun” the Silent Eye’s April 2015 annual workshop. You can read more about it here.

The workshop explores the nature of living a magical life within the hard reality of a world dominated by power and materiality. Using the setting of ancient Egypt and the aftermath of Akhenaten’s doomed reign, a living story is told of two great forces which collide. The one, inspired by the vision of the long dead heretic seeks to embody what is known of his teachings, hidden within the worship of Isis. The other is the man known as the Eye of the Cobra, a deputy of the new Pharaoh, Rameses, who is left on the island of Philae to spy on the suspect High Priestess and her brother.

Into this maelstrom flows the life of a young man, Amkhren, whose long-held desire has been to serve for the priesthood. But his life will turn out to be very different from what he had envisaged.

Join us for this exciting weekend in the Derbyshire hills.  From the team that brought you “The Song of the Troubadour” and “The Land of the Exiles.”

The event offers a mixture of lectures and ritual dramas in which each of us will play a single role for the duration of the weekend.  Each person will play a (fully scripted) role – you only need to read from the scripts and do your best to bring it to life. Creativity will be welcome and encouraged, and we will all explore the deeper meanings of Egyptian symbology by living it.  Fun will most certainly be a theme and there is a lovely pub next door, which sees occasional use from the Silent Eye crowd . . .

Dates: Weekend of 24-26 April, 2015. Location: The lovely Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow, Derbyshire Dales. England.

Don’t miss it! Demand will be high and there are limited places.

For further details or to reserve your place:

The Silent Eye, a Modern Mystery School