Reflections

X heather weekend 058

‘Know thyself’… Pausanius tells us it was inscribed in the court before the temple of Apollo at Delphi. We are given to understand it is associated too with the Inner Temples in ancient Egypt. It is one of the first phrases we come across in esoteric studies and where else could we begin? It is not the easiest thing to look into the mirror of the soul and admit to oneself what one finds there. Even less to share that openly with others by dropping the social masks and simply being who we are.

I first learned the concept as a child from my grandfather, but it was one it took years to begin to truly understand and longer still to try and put into practice. As we grow through adolescence and youth our self-image constantly shifts, changing as it reflects the desire to become who we think we ought to be, the image we feel the world should see, the mirage of our desire to become something different, perhaps, from who we are.

I have a feeling that it is only later that we have the inner space to truly look into that mirror, and by that time the masks we wear are so firmly in place it is difficult to strip them away and see what lies beneath. Many of us find it difficult to admit our worse characteristics, our fragilities and weaknesses. Even more, perhaps, do we find it difficult to truly admit our good points, gifts and talents as human beings. Our society tends to call this pride or ego and we see that as something to be shunned. Yet why should we fail to recognise the good when we can, it seems, accept the flaws far more easily? We are complex creatures.

Of course, unless we know ourselves from all angles, understanding who we are, how we move in the world, what the impulses are behind our reactions and actions, we cannot even begin to make a conscious change. Without that knowledge the changes that occur naturally through time and experience are simply reactions. Yet there is a difference , too, between knowledge and understanding. A child may know that fire is hot and learn not to touch. A parent sees the danger of the invisible ‘fire’ in radiators, hot irons, cookers… and understands how to keep the child safe.

I want to learn, to know. To understand. Both inwardly and outwardly… my inner self and the life around me, for I feel the two to be inextricably linked. Life, of course, involves me in a very personal way, the ultimate intimacy. It demands that I take account of, and responsibility for, thought, word and deed… it demands my awareness and my active participation in my own conscience, my own being. And this awareness is not separate from the rest of my life, but permeates every part of it. It provides the matrix by which I can live with my eyes open, allowing me to begin to glimpse the pattern.

Yet I was reminded recently that there is more to the phrase than the two words so often quoted. It is said that in learning to know oneself one can begin, however dimly, to see God. Whatever Name we choose to give to the Divine, there is that small spark of Light, a memory of our origins, and perhaps a foreshadowing of our destination, burning brightly like a jewel in the soul. Perhaps we have to look beyond not only the masks society sees us wearing, but also beyond the complex contradictions of the human personality we assume, to see that spark of Light within.

Not only is there a need to understand the impulses and characteristics that move us through the world daily, wearing a familiar face, but there is, I think, a need to look deeper towards the inner mysteries of who we are. By turning inwards in silence, which may at first glance, seem a self-centred thing to do, perhaps we are actually opening ourselves to a reality wider, vaster, deeper than we may see elsewhere, and by looking within we open ourselves to the whole wonderful vista of manifestation?

The ultimate robbery?

sheffield chesterfield hare 590It was going to be one of those conversations…

“… So what do you think happens then?”

“Nothing… non-existence.”

“So what is there to fear in that?”

“Well, I’ll stop existing!” he said, as if that should explain it.

“But if you don’t exist… you won’t exist to know about it. So why be afraid?” I watched the wheels turn, yet even in acceptance of the logic, there was a kickback of ‘yeah, but’. Myself, I am convinced of the survival of the spark of being… not necessarily the ‘me’ I know… perhaps more of ‘me’ than I know, yet not the ‘me’ who walks through life daily and looks out through brown eyes. Not the personality.

I have the best of both worlds, so to speak. If I am right, then there cannot be a reason to fear. If I am wrong, ‘I’ won’t exist to know about it… so there can be no reason to fear.

Dying, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. Like most people, I worry about the manner in which the Reaper comes calling, even though, when he does, whatever means he imposes will,by definition, be finite.

In an ideal world I would die like my great-grandmother… in her own bed, surrounded by her family and fully aware of what was happening and how. But the world seldom delivers ideal situations and like most people the manner of transit sort of matters. Death itself, though, holds no terror…. no more than birth and just as inevitable, once the process of life incarnate has begun.

“It is dissolution you are afraid of?”

“Yep.” Now, you see, for me there is a subsuming into something greater than our individuality, a loss of the personal self, perhaps, but that personality is only a fragmentary reflection of what we are.

“Ego death.” My interlocutor bristled at that… the connotation of the word ‘ego’ raises spectres of selfishness, yet it should only raise the idea of self centred being. No, he wasn’t going to like that either. Let’s say, ‘a being who looks out at the world from its own central point of focus’ then.

He growled a disclaimer. Dissolution. The loss of who we see ourselves as being now… the only aspect of self we really feel we know. This is what most of us fear when we think of death rather than dying… and probably why we avoid the issue so much in our modern, egocentric society. We view death almost as the ultimate robbery, a violation of who we are.

It wasn’t always thus; once the dead were honoured and their transition seen as just another rite of passage. The bones of the ancestors were kept and venerated, the presence of their spirit welcomed at the hearth; their wisdom, gleaned over a lifetime and beyond, revered.

It is hard to get our heads around the concept of our own ‘not being’; the dissolution of our personality is quite literally unthinkable… how to imagine a state where thought, emotion… we…are not? There are many who attribute the belief in some kind of survival after death as simply a fear-reaction to that unimaginable oblivion. Yet for many of us there is a simple, inner certainty that there is more to it than that.

Yet does it truly matter? Whatever we believe… unless we believe in all the tortures of the various hells… there should be no need to fear. And regardless of what lies beyond the gates of life, we still have to live each day in the world as best we can. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what we will meet then, so much as it matters whether we have lived our lives as if they matter… because every single life does; in our uniqueness we shape the face of the world with every breath and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to make each breath count.

The Quest for Immortality: Anomalies…

*

Given that much of the Epic of Gilgamesh

has found its way into the Hebrew Book of Genesis

in a somewhat garbled form…

Why, we may wonder,

is the flood story re-told almost word for word?

*

We say ‘almost’ because there are some intriguing discrepancies.

Unlike Utnapishtim, Noah is in no sense regarded as immortal.

The rainbow, as a necklace and love gift of Sky to Earth,

is infinitely preferable to the covenant

of a contrite and remorseful God,

and is also highly poetic.

Yet, as a reason for implementing the ‘catastrophe’

in the first place, noise and godlessness

can be regarded as equally arbitrary?

*

The institution of Patriarchy seems already well established

in the culture that produced the Epic…

The only Goddess to remain on the Divine Council is Ishtar,

although it is apparent that the Moon God,

Nanna, was once also feminine.

Be that as it may a number of Gilgamesh’s titles

still appear to be ironic?

*

With this in mind, in the final analysis,

perhaps, it is not Lords, nor indeed Ladies,

of the Deep which are needed

so much as disseminators of its wisdom,

and that task falls to all those who receive it…

*

Our thanks to those who could not make it but tuned in anyway.

Our heartfelt thanks to those that did make it.

See you all next time!

The Quest for Immortality: Snakes…

*

In the Ancient World snakes were renowned for wisdom.

For most westerners they are now associated with both temptation and sin…

*

As with much else in the Epic of Gilgamesh,

we are treated to a brief, tantalising glimpse of the Old World Wisdom.

May it be sufficient to sustain us…

*

Our serpent emerges from Beyond the Veil,

and slithers to the Watering-Hole,

where Gilgamesh, ‘The One Who Never Sleeps’, again lies sleeping…

*

‘The sleeper and the dead, how alike they are!’

*

So says Utnapishtim, the immortal

who lives in a paradisical garden of ‘jewel-bright’ trees,

at the source of two rivers.

*

But if sleep and death are so similar, what then is dream?

*

In his dreamless sleep Gilgamesh still clutches his prize,

the herb of eternal youth, retrieved by him,

from The Deep over which he now considers himself the lord…

*

As Gilgamesh sleeps,

the snake steals the herb,

eats it,

sheds its skin,

and then returns,

back Beyond the Veil…

*

Could anything be clearer?

 

 

 

 

The Quest for Immortality: Masks…

*

It has to be owned…

The Temple Space has never looked finer.

Mind you, we say that every year!

*

Even Coyote, a late, somewhat incongruous

addition to proceedings looks well:

‘How will people know what not to do, unless I show them?’

*

*

Our Veil of the Beyond,

stumbled upon during ‘Leaf and Flame’ for the oath-takings,

and finding its feet in ‘Feathered Seer’ for the walk-of-fear,

seems now, almost perfected!

*

Is a veil also a mask?

Are there deeper significancies to ‘dressing the temple’?

What did our face look like before we were born?

*

In waking life our roles, which for many, define us

are the masks behind which our true selves cower and tremble.

Yet, get the player to put on a mask for a drama and watch them unfurl!

*

*

After slaying Hu-Wa-Wa, whose mask is an intestinal tract,

Gilgamesh finds himself embroiled in the labrynthine like coils

of his own mind, deep within the bowels of the Temple of Ishtar…

*

Gilgamesh spectacularly fails this test as he has done so many others,

and again strides forth to meet his destiny…

As must we all.

*

 

 

 

 

The Quest for Immortality: Dreams…

*

When the people of Uruk rebel against the tyranny of Gilgamesh,

they petition the Gods…

*

Hearing their plea the Goddess, Aruru, fashions the twin of Gilgamesh

from the clay of her heart

and sets him loose in the wilderness

where he lives and runs with wild animals…

*

Then Aruru sends Gilgamesh a dream.

*

Although vivid the dream is obscure to Gilgamesh

so he seeks an interpretation from his mother, the Goddess Ninsun…

*

In this dream Enkidu, the wild man, is likened to a boulder

which falls to earth from the sky.

*

The people of Uruk adore this fallen sky-stone

and treat it as though it were a divine-child.

*

The Quest for Immortality: Giants…

*

It was during one of our meetings…

Traditionally, the first three gatherings of the new year are given over to a read through of the first three ritual dramas of the April Workshop.

Unlike some of our stories Lord of the Deep was based on a traditional text, the oldest written epic currently known to humankind.

Though ‘written’ may be stretching it…

Given that the cuneiform text is preserved in baked clay tablets, ‘chiselled’ would, perhaps be more accurate.

And this being the case, the text is not whole but fragmentary.

Roughly twenty percent of the neatly transcribed columns consist of lacunae.

But there is something else missing.

Even were all the tablets intact the epic gives no motivations for the trajectory of its plot.

The story is so familiar, so well known, that it is assumed by the story-teller that the motivations are also second nature to the audience and really all that remains is a series of vignettes or snap-shots which move the story along to its inevitable conclusion.

For a modern audience this will never do.

Not only do the motivations have to be made plain they also have to be made dramatic in order to dynamically and meaningfully drive the story forward.

So when our Trapper enters the throne room of Gilgamesh with his incredible tale of a terrifying Giant wandering the wilderness we are quite justified in pointing out, as one of our companions did, that Gilgamesh too is a Giant so the trapper’s story should not be quite so incredible.

But only if the tale is expected to be taken literally!

If it is not then it means that the civilisation responsible for producing it were more advanced than the best part of Christendom, who to this day regard the story of the life and death of Christ as an actual historical occurance, accurate in all its details.

So, is there any evidence in the text itself that the Gigantism is not meant to be taken literally?

There is!

When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk after overcoming the ‘Forest Demon’, Hum-Ba-Ba, his people do not recognise him.

This is hardly credible if his Gigantism is supposed to be read literally.

But if Gilgamesh’s and Enkidu’s Gigantism is not literal what can it represent?

Try, the two most important aspects of the human psyche, the Ego and the Id…

Almost…

Last minute preparations are underway. I’m looking at the pile of props, costumes and workbooks and wondering how I’ll squeeze everything and a wheelchair into the car, even though we have done this so many times before and in much smaller vehicles. Wondering what I’ve forgotten… there is bound to be something… even though I have everything from safety pins and string to gilded plant pots.

On the surface it all looks like panic stations, yet, beyond that is a pool of perfect calm. I know that no matter what we have forgotten, or how things appear to be going… it will be fine. It is a matter of trust…and of experience.

There have been lost and misplaced items, things that should have been to hand at crucial moments but were, inexplicably, not. There was the year when a last minute epidemic hit the group and two of our Companions stepped up to the mark and shared nine roles between them. Wardrobe disasters, technical glitches, on the hoof rewrites… you name it, we’ve had it, and for the most part, no one even notices.

Although we do put a lot of care into staging these workshops, that is as close to theatrical as they get. The dramatic element is not about playing a part, as you would in amateur dramatics. There are no lines to learn, there is no audience to please, no need to be anything other than yourself.

We take a story, drawn from myth, imagination, or even stranger sources, and play it out symbolically. The story always addresses some of the spiritual and psychological principles behind the human journey and, through such rituals, we seek not only to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, but to set in motion the wheels of change.

This year, the story is inspired by the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that was old when the pyramids were raised. Over the weekend of the event and afterwards, we will share the story and open the doors of the temple a little to give a glimpse of what we do. We will also be asking you to join us in a meditation. ‘Raising awareness’ can have more than one meaning…

As soon as you mention temples, rituals and robes, people react. Some are intrigued, some scoff or shy away and others make the mental equivalent of the ancient sign against witchcraft. The Mysteries have always been shrouded in secrecy and there is good reason for that where the inner teachings are concerned, for they represent an experiential journey which must be taken, not taught.  It is called by many names in many systems, but essentially it is the quest for the realisation of the true Self and its orgins…and how we can apply what we learn to our daily lives in order to grow and live in the world, fully present. The journey for each of us is as individual as we are, and there are as many paths to that realisation as there are stars.

The robes are worn simply to signify a change of state… our intent to step aside from the world for a moment to align ourselves with the sacred, by whatever name we know it or through whatever paradigm we approach it. Within the ritual drama workshops, we may also use costumes, which serve the same purpose but with a more precise symbolism. They also help set the mood for whatever theme we are using and allow us to attune to it more readily by appealing to the imagination.

The sacred space that we call a temple is, on the face of it, no such thing. It is a large, sunny room with its curtains closed and a few symbolic items that serve a similar purpose to the robes.  We don’t worship dark gods…in fact everyone is free to choose their own definition of divinity and, every year, we have an eclectic mix that ranges through a whole spectrum of beliefs, from shamanic to druidic, from Qabalists to ministers. That is one of the joys of these workshops, that folk from so many from different paths, countries and backgrounds can work together as one and share their differing beliefs in harmony, learning from each other in mutual respect.

We don’t go in for sacrificing goats (or anything else) either.  Quite apart from being a pointless waste of life, it would be exceedingly messy and land us with a heck of a cleaning bill. The only blood likely to be let is on the point of a sewing needle while making costumes. In spite of the number of times we have had to disappoint those who were expecting to learn we got up to something more exotic, the only thing we sacrifice is time, attention and energy.

The ritual dramas are scripted, with each person taking a role for the weekend. The scripts are read, not learned, so there is no demand for memorising, and each is crafted to tell a story.  We’ve even published some of the scripts, so there is no mystery there. On the surface it all seems pretty safe and innocuous…little more than amateur dramatics without the bother of rehearsals. So why on earth do people come half way round the world every year to attend?

There is more than meets the eye to what is brought to birth at these workshops and the effects can be deep and long-lasting.

It is a communion of spirit. People of many paths but one intent come together to share a journey of the heart, mind and soul that leads towards a common goal. The focused intent and dedication of the Companions are the magical ingredients that change everything and, when we come together, what comes into being is greater than the sum of its parts. Many small candles, each no more than a single flame, together can illuminate the darkness. Words that seem no more than a story when seen on a cold page become fraught with meaning when awareness shifts from the mundane to the sacred and they are voiced with emotion and understanding. Doors are opened in the mind that lead to paths as yet untrodden. Simple robes become sacred vestments and an ordinary room becomes a timeless Temple when filled with that dedication to the Light.

“…a pale blue light rises behind the seated Temple officials. The East is flooded with its purity, and I am blinded by its intensity.”

The single flame that symbolises the Eternal Light is kindled in the heart and its glow lingers.  Such magic is not born of words or gestures, nor will you find it in the robes or the trappings of ritual. It comes from within when we turn ourselves to face the Light and we find ourselves within It.


Would you like to know more?

For details of the School and our methods, how to join our Correspondence Course, or to find out more about our Workshops and Events please explore our website or email The Silent Eye at rivingtide@gmail.com

To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.