Dancing with the ghost in the machine

If you’ve ever been involved with anything of an ‘amateur dramatic’ nature, you will know that moment: the protagonist, hated until the final few moments (when the greater picture is revealed) shuffles off, in rags, to his doom; and the shared and questioning silence longs for the gentle and poignant soothing that only the right music can bring….

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. .

Frantic sound of fingers fiddling.

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. and then the final piece, a gentle Sufi melody cuts in… only it’s about twenty decibels too high in the flying fingers’ frantic search for sound… any sound.

The much maligned King Gilgamesh (who turns out to be only 99% schmuck) looks to the heavens in an unscripted gesture. Everyone is stunned… but for all the wrong reasons.

It didn’t happen, not yet… but it’s time to make sure it can’t…

Amateur actors – our annual workshop participants – such as the Silent Eye seems to be able to attract year on year, are wonderful people. They are enthusiastic, flexible and multi-tasking. They stand, clutching their scripts, in the middle of a space invested with spiritual emotion, power and purpose and give their all… to such an extent that, come the start of Sunday afternoon, no-one wants to leave and break up the intense camaraderie that these warm and mystical adventures generate.

There are no mistakes, just real-time variations in the script. Like Jazz, the best bits can be improvised, often with humour from above… Ask Barbara, who we once completely lost, Schrödinger-like, in the middle of Act Three in the centre of the room. To this day, no-one knows where she went.

Being the technician can be a difficult job. And, it’s near impossible to be one of the characters in the mystery play and the technician. So, the partial answer is to make the soundtrack as free-standing as possible.

The problem is the technology, or, rather, the combination of technology and the media – sound – that is required to be ‘piped’ through the technology. Most domestic music players are just not up to the job.

The epic stories of Gilgamesh the King are the oldest known legends on Earth. Using this as a basis, Stuart France has re-envisaged the story in five acts of ritual drama, where everyone attending plays their part, large or small. Stuart and Sue Vincent have crafted a workbook of nearly two hundred pages of beautifully laid out script.

I have been volunteered to play the part of Gilgamesh, but since I have taken our technology forward, too, I’m taking no chances…

Gone are the multiple CD machines, laid out at strategic points in the temple space of the mystery play; each one involving a lightning sprint from compass point to compass point. Gone, even, is the use of an uncooperative Apple iTunes with its incomplete staging of cues. Gone is any notion of carrying around the sound with a portable speaker – one of the past’s more heroic failures…

Instead of Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence, we have this on the iPad screen:

It’s a deck… a sound-deck in software. It’s what professionals use to control the music and lighting for stage shows, moving with consummate timing from event to event as the production progresses. If you were into William Gibson’s sci-fi (Burning Chrome etc) it’s what the pre-internet generation used to ‘jack into’ the ‘net and control the world with…

Tired of playing games that couldn’t really argue back, they began to design real software; masterpieces that really could kick-ass… but in a good way.

This scaled down masterpiece of software, called iMiX Pro, runs on an Apple iPad – mine. This is not to say that it does all the work for you. Oh, no… shoot, man, there’s a bucketload of stuff y’all need to do up frooont! (Sorry, that’s my inner Texan coming out). I’ve been sitting at this ‘deck’ for two days and only now… am I winning. And that’s the thing with these systems, you have to get the music into the machine before the ‘ghost’ that is the combination of producer and good software design come together in glorious expletives that do sound decidedly Texan.

In the beginning, there is the raw music, or other sound files; so, as before, you have to get them onto (in my case) your Mac and into… Hmmmm iTunes.

In the process, you have to re-name the tracks you want to use so that, when they re-appear in the iMiX software, they are recognisable. So, lovingly and carefully, you work out a naming scheme that shortens the track names in order to see something of their name in the individual panels on the iPad screen. The above first window is the result.

Next, you need to take the original files and convert them into one of Apple’s ‘Playlists’. These are just collections of songs. So it’s easy. You group all the original tracks and select ‘Add to Playlist’… and off she goes. You then have all your music in a second and more pliable container.

The use of a Playlist is essential because they have to be in this format to get the group of tracks across to the iPad. Along the way you get to put them in order – no mean feat with over twenty tracks. But, finally, they are ready to be beamed (okay, wired) across to their new portable home – a bit like the NASA lunar lander making a bid for freedom from the orbiter module. Once you’ve set off for the weekend, the iPad is on its own.

An hour later, you finally figure out how you did it last time and the transfer is complete… except the Apple transfer software has lost your carefully constructed sequencing and you’ve just got the order it decides you need on the iPad. They’re all in there, somewhere, you’ve just got to find each one again. So, you think about making paper list – or contact Sue, who recognises sleep-deprivation and provides one as a list of what should be happening in each act.

A small bottle of gin later, you realise that it doesn’t matter what the Apple software has done to your weekend’s sequence because the iMiX’s colossus of a DECK is about to rescue you!

Look back to the original diagram. Each of those vertical ‘pods’ is a beautifully programmed home for your hard-won music and sound tracks. And it offers you total control over how and when that track is played…. heaven.

You can control the volume; you can trim the clip regardless of what any other piece of software has done to it. You can select its unique fade-in and fade-out. And written up the side of the ‘pod’ is the full name of the track you so lovingly created…Texan sounds…

So, two days after I began, we have the Deck, fully programmed and ready to be operated, in lightning-fast real time, by our mega-techno dude who insists on being nameless.

But he’s related to one of the Directors.

There will be no ‘Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence’. So, while I won’t actually be operating the Deck, I’ll be the ghost in the machine…

Houston, we’re good to go.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to best play that ego-maniac, Gilgamesh…There are lots of ego-maniacs in the world at the moment. Very timely, that, Stuart…

Wish us luck… please. Even better, come and join us. We can fit in a few more people if you’d like to join this merry but sincere band. And we promise that you, too, won’t want to leave, come Sunday lunch…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

Voices from the past

There was a jaw-dropping moment when it finally hit home…

We knew the story… we had discussed it long before Stuart had started working with it. The ‘hero’ was a historical king who lived around five thousand years ago. About a thousand years later, tales of his doings, combining events both real and symbolic, were collected and written down. Given the way that history…and particularly folk history… works, the scribe probably included tales once told of even older characters, going back seven thousand years or more, and reassigned them to our Hero.  A few hundred years later, they were standardised under the title ‘He who Saw the Abyss’…

Facts, dates and historical data are all very well. They allow you to arrange events on the canvas of space and time. What they do not seem to do is to really put things in perspective. When the realisation hit, it was mind-blowing… we were actually working with stories from one of the earliest human civilisations. These were tales that were already old before the pyramids were built. Two, three, some of them maybe even four times as old as the stories in the New Testament. Many of them contain the obvious origins of biblical tales… precursors to stories we associate with the early books of the Old Testament. And we were not only working with those tales… we were finding them wholly relevant to the world today.

Take Dickens… You read his work and he brings to life the world as he knew it. You can picture Victorian England quite readily, just because of his words. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters take you back another century or so. Shakespeare another couple of hundred years. Julius Caesar wrote of his world two thousand years ago. Plato taught four hundred years before that… And that still only takes you about half way back in time to the birth of the tales we are working with! That starts to put things in perspective a bit.

It is not just the almost unimaginable distance in time and culture between then and now that is so startling, it is the way the characters are drawn, playing out timeless moments of human interaction. So many thousands of years…and we have changed not at all. Arrogance, entitlement, compassion and misguided emotions all played out then exactly as they do today. We did not need to translate an ancient tale into terms the modern mind could understand, it was already there.

The problems and scenarios they faced too, were not dissimilar to our own. Love and loss, anger and grief… and the wider issues of power and politics, ecology, the destruction of habitats and a obsession with the quest for eternal youth… they were all part of life thousands of years ago.

In some ways, it seems a tragedy that we have changed and learned so little. In others, it is reassuring, for the threads that bind past to present are unbroken and the learning curve continues. A few thousand years, after all, are but a very small part of the hundreds of thousands of years that our species has been around.

Hominins, our earliest ancestors, first made use of stone tools almost three and a half million years ago. Homo sapiens has only been around for some three hundred thousand years, and for most of that time we were busy evolving from our origins. ‘Civilisation’  took us a while… it is still a new venture for humankind, and we are  probably little more than pre-schoolers, compared to what we may one day become.  As long as we don’t break our ‘toys’ by squabbling over them, I see a good deal of hope in that.

As individuals, we learn best from experience. As societies, we learn from history… but the tendency is to see anything ‘prehistoric’ as irrelevant. Prehistory tends to refer to the period before written records were kept, and one of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform, came from the same time and place as the story of the king, Gilgamesh. There are so many similarities with the people in that story, and parts of it probably arose before the invention of writing… bridging the gap between history and prehistory. And we get to work with those stories for this year’s workshop… The moment that really hit home was a moment of utter awe.

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

Bill and Ben?

“Stand still…” I placed the newly-found basis of a godly crown upon his head.

“I am not wearing a plant pot on my head!” To be fair, I should probably have waited until there was nobody else in this section of the garden centre, but we were on a mission. And I needed the right sized plant pot.

“No-one will ever know.” He had little cause for complaint… I’d be wearing one too, seeing as I could not have the glorious golden crown of ancient Sumer.

It would be my job to make sure that we did not end up looking like a latter-day Bill and Ben… but a little ingenuity and gold paint should do the trick.

“Well, our ‘Ben’ will be playing Gilgamesh…”

“…and Gilgamesh was called Bilgamesh in the Akkadian version of the story…”

“Wiki says that translates roughly as ‘the ancestor was a young-man.'”

“Or Old-Man-Young.” That is, in itself, and interesting name to ponder. It conjures all kinds of possibilities…

The rituals are written and in the process of being edited, proof-read and polished. The task of assigning roles, creating props and costumes has begun in earnest and April seems to be speeding towards us at a rate of knots.

I love this part of the process. We do not expect those who join us for the weekend to spend a great deal of time and money creating costumes for the characters they will embody during the rituals… but they usually surpass our expectations, and each bit of colour and detail adds to the illusion we create.

That illusion is the ‘window-dressing of the mind’… an aid to the ‘suspension of disbelief’ and a route into the collective imagination. The greater the reality we can suggest through costume, props and music, the easier it becomes to open ourselves to that Greater Reality we hope to touch through these weekend workshops and the Paths each of us follow.

The core members of the group always go the extra mile to create costumes that lend something special to the atmosphere we are seeking to create… and this time, it starts with a pair of humble plant pots. Symbolically, that is actually rather neat. The deepest and most beautiful aspects of the spiritual life and journey are always rooted in the simplest of things.

As we count down to April, some of our spiritual work will involve things as mundane as glue guns, fabric and the creative curiosity of ‘what if?’  as we try to create something beautiful and useful from the scraps and tatters of life.  And that too is symbolic and leads to another question to ponder…

What if you came along and joined us for the weekend…?

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

The Round Ark?

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The story of Noah’s Ark is one of the first Biblical Tales that people in the western world hear.

Yet the story far pre-dates the compilation of that venerable book.

A tablet recently came to light dating back to Ancient Babylonia, that threw the Bilblical account into question.

Not only was the story of the flood far older than the Bible but it appears the Ark was round!…

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Many of the tales we know from the Bible have more ancient counterparts,

including this one which in its earliest known form comprises a part of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

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In this epic, the character we now know as Noah is named Utnapishtim

and it is he who holds the key to immortal life….

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‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

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The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

 

Getting there…

January…and the clock is ticking down to spring. Work that has been going on all year  now changes gear. It began in earnest last year, with a research trip to the British Museum to see the art and artefacts of an ancient civilisation that was at least the equal of Egypt, but which is less well known today… Sumer.

Over seven thousand years ago, long before the pyramids were dreamed of, the people who would become the Sumerians settled in Mesopotamia. Their culture was rich and colourful. We know that music and the arts were of great importance to them…and their city of Uruk, home to up to eighty thousand people at its height, was the centre of their world.

Gilgamesh ruled in Uruk almost five thousand years ago and his story passed into legend and thence into myth. It comes down to us, echoing through the ages, as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is regarded as the earliest great work of literature known to Man. The earliest version we now have was found in Nineveh. It was already ancient when a scribe named Sîn-lēqi-unninni collected the tales and wrote them down, over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus.

The story, though, is not ‘old’ in anything other than age. It tells of the adventures of the king, a story in which he is both villain and hero by turns. It is a very human story, though the gods of old walk through its pages, and although it can be read as ‘no more’ than a myth and an ancient curiosity, it can also be read as a representation of a human journey through life to the dawning of a greater awareness.

It is a magical story, wholly relevant to any seeker who has set their feet on a path towards self-development and a wider consciousness. It is also a story that resonates with our own time, where we encroach upon the natural world with little respect for its life and purpose.

The art and craftwork that we saw at the museum was beautiful and delicate. Tiny cylinder seals, intaglio carved and small enough to be worn in a ring, roll out scenes of gods, animals and starscapes.Jewellry of pure gold rests, fragile, on tiny springs so that leaves and flowers tremble with every movement. Ancient texts in cunieform, possibly the earliest form of writing and one of the greatest achievements of Sumer, tell forgotten tales…  It was a good place to begin and we left the museum aware that the text we would use for our April workshop sprang from a great civilisation with a deep understanding of the workings of the human mind and heart.

But, no matter how early you begin, the last few months are always against the clock as so much must be put into place when we begin to have an idea of numbers. This year, we know that once again, people will be converging from as far afield as Europe and the US to meet in a village in the Derbyshire Dales. Thousands of miles will be travelled between us as our various wheels turn and we head, from many different directions, to that central point of meeting.

It is easy to compare those diverse journeys to the greater one we have all taken as we come together at this point. Only a few who will be attending are Companions of the School, and we have each taken very different spiritual paths towards this moment in time. There are those who have followed a Shamanic path; there are Qabalists and one who refers to herself laughingly as a witch… yet who lives the life of a priestess of the old ways with all her being. There are ritualists and those who simply follow where their heart leads; Rosicrucians and mystics, Druids, housewives, magicians and scholars. We have all walked our individual paths alone, some have also studied with other groups and schools, some tend the hearthfire and many still forge their own way towards the goal we all share.

So what brings such a diverse crowd together, to share the adventure of a weekend workshop? That there will be fun goes without saying; these events are always a time of laughter. There is friendship of course… some old, some still to begin. Some are ‘old hands’, for others this will be a first time and a first meeting face to face with those only known through the ether.

Yet beyond the smiles and greetings there is something else at work. Each of us, from our own unique place in the great tapestry of life, is seeking a common understanding of something we feel to be greater than our normal human consciousness can fully grasp. We each have our own vision, our own guiding light… we may call it by many names, or know it only as a vague yet insistent pull at the heartstrings. Yet the further you walk along your chosen path, the less the details matter, you see only the light that floods both the paths and the space between them… and that light is the same.

This year the workshop takes us back five thousand years to the great civilisation of Sumeria. In exploring a world long dead, walking with the shadows of an ancient land, we are not harping back to the ‘olden days’ or hankering after times gone by… we are taking our own minds and placing them in an unfamiliar frame, where our perspective can shift. From fabric and gilding an illusion is born and, as within a dream, the illusion holds its own reality while it lasts. A ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ allows us to walk within that illusion and, as with a dream, what remains when we wake may cast the glow of understanding on our path.

We are holding up the jewel of being and letting it refract a thousand rainbows from many facets… and in those moments we may catch a glimpse of their colours. Such a moment does not bring the kind of knowledge that can be learned from books, nor the understanding of conscious thought, though these too have their place alongside what is learned through experience. What is reaped from such gatherings is no more than a seed… yet a seed may contain a tree, and a tree a forest. At the end of the weekend, each will take from this time out of time something unique to them alone which we hope will serve to shed a mirrored rainbow on their own journey.

As the wheel of the year turns towards Beltane, the time of renewal and Union, our gathering too will seek in the dark flame of a shadowy past a light for the future and perhaps move a small step closer to that greater Union between our human selves and that spark of Divine Fire that glows within every heart.

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

Lord of the Deep – Workshop April 2019

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

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The glories above were unamed.

The word for that world beneath, unuttered.

Source and time, unfettered, merged…

From the mingling waves-of-water came mud and slime.

Enshar and Kishar, twin halves of the globe, shone out of them.

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THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

Updated Gilgamesh booking form

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

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

Bearding the lion…

“You busy?”
I flick the phone onto speaker, my hands are otherwise occupied. “Just a bit.”
“What’re you up to?”
“Sticking pasta in a beard.”
There is a long silence on the other end of the phone…
“Could you repeat that?”
“You probably heard me right.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.” His startled tone makes me laugh. “Whose beard?” I can practically picture my son’s thoughts… he sports a rather magnificent beard of his own these days. Then I hear the shift as the light dawns. “Isn’t it a bit early for that?”

No, it is not too early, and even if it were, it would be worth it to have had that conversation. The annual workshop is barely past and we still have eleven months till the next April workshop, so yes, we have plenty of time to gather, make and play with props and costumes. We shouldn’t actually need many props next year, and the costumes will be simple enough, but the ones we do need have to be right. I’d rather start early, with the bits I am doing, and give myself plenty of time to start over if I make a mess. And, to be honest, I love this part of the process and couldn’t wait to get started.

And then, there is the whole time thing. It flies, these days. There are always workshops coming up, even though those we run in the landscape do not take much preparation in terms of making things, there is still research, planning and writing to be done. The time in between just seems to run away.

Our next workshop, in Dorset, is just a month away. Stuart and I have already been there for a research trip and work is ongoing, organising, writing and planning how best to illustrate the phenomenon of the mysterious patterns in the landscape.

Bamburgh Castle smaller
Image: Steve Tanham

We get to sit back in September, and simply enjoy the Castles of the Mind weekend in Northumbria, organised by Steve, where we will look at the physchological correspondences of the fortresses we build both in the mind and in stone.

We are back in the saddle for December, when we will be visting Cumbria, where Castlerigg, one of the most beautiful stone circles in the country, may show us a gateway to the otherworld of the ancient tales.

Then we will be into the final preparation for April’s residential weekend, Lord of the Deep, based upon the four-thousand year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving great work of literature.

And another year will have passed before we know it.

It is both a blessing and a curse, perhaps. The years are sliding past at an incredible rate, it is true, but they are full of purpose, direction and a joy in what we are able to share. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, if anyone has a current address for Old Father Time, I would happily beard the proverbial lion in his den and ask for an extension…