Through a child’s eyes…

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I love Lady’s Mantle… Alchemilla mollis… the soft little alchemist. The shape and gentle shade of the downy leaves and the pale froth of yellow-green flowers. It is a lovely thing in my eyes. Yet it is not till the rain falls on the upturned leaves that you see its full beauty. Tiny creatures are caught in the water droplets, magnified into strange shapes. The water looks like ice, the surface tension palpable. I am reminded of the movement of mercury. Diamond-bright spheres nestle in the folds like so many crystal balls and the child who gazes into them can see worlds and dreams unfold there.

nicks 02622A cluster of tiny orb weaver spiderlings on the fence… hundreds of miniature jewels, alive and wriggling… the whole ball no more than an inch across. They had come together and woven a world. The finest of webs anchored them to the fence. Just watching them my imagination wove stories too… flashes of fairytale and science fiction, incomplete and exciting; ephemeral images that were gone as soon as they arose.

birds 2 0541A fly lands on a rose leaf, brilliant and iridescent. A creature usually an annoyance revealed in all its beauty, illuminated by the morning sun, casting rainbows from its back. Tiny, sensitive hairs protrude from the colour and multifaceted eyes looks back with an expression I cannot read. It is an alien creature. Another lands on the fence, metallic turquoise, the colour of ancient Egypt… I dream of a land unseen and a time long lost in the gilded mists of another clime.

birds 2 064A big bumble bee with its deceptively lazy flight lands on the pond brush, left to dry on a flower bed. What can it be looking for amongst the plastic bristles? What has it found to keep its interest? It ignores me completely as I watch, seeing the light reflect on the flat planes of its legs, wishing I could stroke the fat, furry body. Is it a bumble bee? I think it might be a tree bee… the fox red and the white rump… It doesn’t matter, it is beautiful anyway. I remember fairytales from my childhood about bees… they are magical creatures.

birds 2 062Another lands briefly on an orange rose; a last raindrop trembles on the tip of a leaf, mirroring an inversed world. The heart of the rose is a firework exploding into life… a rayed sun in a heart of flame. A universe being born. Close by the irises are opening in the pond and the stars are out as the seed pods of the marsh marigolds burst open revealing their hidden treasure of seeds. In each tiny seed new life awaits, and that is both magic and miracle.

birds 2 048“I have forgotten how to play.” I read this sad statement a few days ago. The ability to play as children is something we take for granted until, one day, we realise we are grown and the carefree games cease. If we are lucky, we may share play with children of our own, laughing with them and feeling once again the inner liberty that can express itself through the unselfconscious movement of body and the imagination. If we are luckier still, we do not forget but find other ways for that inner child to be held in wonder at the world as it unfolds before our eyes.

birds 2 091Yet the heart and eyes of a child live on in all of us; asleep, perhaps, ignored sometimes. Do you remember the child you were when the adults talked over your head? Or when you were told it was bedtime yet you could hear people still laughing downstairs? Remember how that felt?

nicks 1There is a child within who still wants to play, to gaze on the world with eyes full of wonder and a light heart. To feel the magic of fairytales alive in the buzzing of a bee, to weave delicious stories around faces in rock and tree.  Sometimes, all you have to do is open your eyes and heart, letting your imagination run wild with bare, grass-stained feet and the Otherworld will open its doors and let you in.

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The Wicker-Tree…

F4AD6DA9-7EA0-4185-98F1-32EC6712AF8F

*

Why meet again, we three?

To quell a raging psychopath…

and tell the Way of the Wicker-Tree.

*

Why we three?

Why a circle?

Why a dance?

*

Because this way

None can say

Which witch is which…

*

Nor can any see

a beginning or an end

to the Wicker-Tree.

*

The Silent Unicorn

The Silent Eye and Lodge Unicorn na h’Alba

The Unicorn is an iconic spiritual symbol in the British Isles and particularly in Scotland. We will use the power of the elements and spirit of the unicorn to create your own Silent Unicorn within, culminating at the old hidden seminary at Scalan in the remote Braes of Glenlivet.

Dates:  Weekend  Friday 14th – Sunday 16th June, 2019

Location:  Based in Grantown–on–Spey and area

Cost: Workshop costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

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Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

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

Next stop, Scotland…

It seems incredible that it is almost two years since we were last far in the north, exploring ancient circles and carved stones and drinking in the beauty of the Northeast Scotland and the Highlands. It seems almost as incredible that we will soon be there again, exploring the landscape and once again in the company of friends. Our next workshop, organised in conjunction with Lodge Unicorn na h’Alba, is calling us northwards.

It is crucial to have local knowledge when holding a workshop and we would usually make a special trip to research the sites for ourselves. This time, though, we have a guide who lives in the area and knows it well.

We have recently seen the list of places where we will be going and the journey will be a magical one. It will take us from castles to holy wells, from churches to beaches and from lonely stones to stone circles… and who knows what else we will find on the journey? One glance at the map of ancient sites in the area shows that we would need weeks to explore properly… but time, on these weekends, has a habit of allowing us to do more than the hours at our disposal should allow.

There are other reasons to look forward to this workshop though. Not only do we get the chance to spend time with folk we too seldom see, we will also get to work with them and learn from them. We may meet people from other traditions and who work in ways different from our own, but all magical and mystical roads lead to the same Centre and the more we know of the paths others have chosen, the more we can hope to understand those who walk them and, in so doing, the more we can hope to learn about ourselves.

Knowledge is only a small step towards understanding. Until you taste the salt spray on your lips, the sea is no more than a body of water. Until you stand within a circle of stones, they are no more than an archaeological curiosity. Until its magic touches your heart, even beauty is no more than an idea. Knowledge needs experience to bring it to life… and that is what these weekends in the landscape can offer.

Wheels are in motion… and Scotland is our next stop…

2

 

The Silent Unicorn

The Silent Eye and Lodge Unicorn na h’Alba

The Unicorn is an iconic spiritual symbol in the British Isles and particularly in Scotland. We will use the power of the elements and spirit of the unicorn to create your own Silent Unicorn within, culminating at the old hidden seminary at Scalan in the remote Braes of Glenlivet.

Dates:  Weekend  Friday 14th – Sunday 16th June, 2019

Location:  Based in Grantown–on–Spey and area

Cost: Workshop costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Untitled

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

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

Where Beauty Sleeps ~ The Silent Eye Annual Workshop 2020

waddesdon_manor_sleeping_beauty_4

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

But that is another story…

“What dreams may come…”

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

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

Awaken the beauty that sleeps within.

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

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

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

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

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

Click below to
Download a Booking Form – pdf

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

Where Beauty Sleeps

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

17-19 April, 2020

The Quest for Immortality: Anomalies…

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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!

Lord of the Deep: Taking root

One of the questions people don’t like to ask is whether or not our ritual drama weekends serve any useful purpose. It is all very well coming along to share the fun… and they are always fun… or enjoying a shared experience that is outside the norm for most of us. It is good, too, to meet and work with people from widely different backgrounds and with varied beliefs and approaches to the spiritual journey; the group dynamic augments personal experience, creating something far greater than the sum of its parts, and people also feel less isolated, for the spiritual path can sometimes seem a lonely one to walk.

We use the ancient format of ritualistic drama to open the doors of the mind, letting imagination lead the way to levels of awareness and understanding beyond the surface mind. But does any of what we do ever filter through into everyday life?

We, who organise these weekends, can see the changes in our own lives. On the outer levels, such changes can be rationalised by the growth in confidence that comes with standing up in front of a group to speak, crafting a long and detailed script, and the organising and presenting of a complex workshop. The changes that we have each felt within our own inner lives and attitudes may be profound, but as we are the ones organising these events, anything we can say is of little value to people wondering what benefits, if any, our weekends may offer.

Only those who have attended can paint a true picture of what the events have meant to them, and each person will take away something different. We are lucky in that, after our events, some of the attendees will write of their experiences and allow us to share their stories. Those are the testimonials that matter.

This year, I have been in the unique position of watching at close quarters as some of the seeds sown at the Lord of the Deep weekend took root. My son came along to be our Technician and take care of the music for us and, as such, was better placed than most to simply observe and listen. He came along to the presentations and watched the story of Gilgamesh unfold. Since the workshop, I have been quietly watching as one of the major symbolic themes of the weekend seems to be growing in his life.

During the workshop, the ‘Quest for Immortality’ was approached through two primary avenues. One was the story of Gilgamesh, whose ego sought immortality through the illusions of worldly success. He wished to carve his place in history…which, in spite of everything, he did; his name lives on in the ancient Epic from which we were learning. The other strand concerned the ‘Herb of Immortality’. This part of Gilgamesh’s story was not mentioned until close to the end of the story, yet we had built the symbolism of the Herb into the weekend… depicted as a Tree of Life… right from the very first moments, but without highlighting or explaining any of it.

The temple itself was dressed in reds and orange, with twin Trees as a backdrop, reminiscent of the two Trees of Knowledge and Life in the story of the Garden of Eden. During the welcome session, we had given each of the Companions a wooden bracelet bearing a charm incised with a Tree, telling them that this was their Key to the temple, but with no other explanation. The twin staffs we dressed with the veils representing the colours of life were both natural tree branches, gifted by the trees themselves. The two tokens each Companion carried beyond the Veil bore the images of trees.

Then, in the final ritual, Shiduri, the ale-wife, guides Gilgamesh on his journey to find the Herb. Lorraine, who took the role of Shiduri, also most appropriately, focussed on trees for part of her presentation on the relationship between Man, Nature and Spirit. She spoke from a Druidic perspective, but drew upon the latest scientific research about the consciousness of trees… something we are barely beginning to understand, but which has been part of many sacred and legendary traditions since time immemorial. She also suggested ways we could attune to the life and energy of trees.

My son took little notice of symbolic details, he simply followed the story and was focussed on getting the music right. Trees were not mentioned at all when we discussed the weekend afterwards. But he is having to have his garden ripped out and rebuilt as it has become unsafe for both feet and wheelchair.

The cost of making the garden safe and durable is prohibitive, so all our thoughts are on creating the hard-landscape. Plants…in which my son has absolutely no interest except to look at them… will have to be salvaged from the existing garden, so our now-daily trips to the various local garden centres have all been about aggregates and slabs. Knowing me to be a plant-addict with a very empty garden, he even banned me from looking at anything green and growing… until something caught his eye.

Instructing me to push him through all the plants to this one bit of foliage, he promptly fell in love. It was an acer, a Japanese maple, of a variety named Inabe Shidare, which was close enough to Shiduri for me to take notice straight away. Its red leaves echoed the colours of the temple; it was glorious…and would cost a ‘mere’ six hundred pounds.

Reluctantly leaving the tree behind, we ended up looking at every acer that we could find, in every garden centre and online, from the tiniest bonsai to young saplings. Being slow-growing trees, a sapling would take a very long time to reach the maturity of the huge, potted tree with which he had fallen in love, but gardening and patience go hand in hand.

As this was the first time he had ever evinced any interest in plants, let alone an all-consuming passion, I really wanted to be able to find something. And, on one rain-battered trip to the last garden centre in the area, I spotted a distant patch of red.

A young Inabe Shidare, its slender stem standing six feet tall and beautifully twisted into a spiralling column, wept deep red leaves at the back of a display. A bit of rummaging and I found a price tag… an affordable fraction of the expected price… and it was soon on its way home.

That would have been odd enough, but by next day, my son had not only researched everything about caring for the tree, decided where it would be planted when the garden is done and purchased specific acer food, he was also talking about it as a living being, not ‘just’ a tree. He checked on its well-being continually and even launched himself across the room… bearing in mind he cannot walk unaided… when he heard something outside that made him worry for the tree’s safety.

His passion for this tree spilled over and he began taking notice of the other trees around his garden, which, until now, have been no more than a green backdrop… and from there, the needs of Nature and his own response to them have begun to change the way he sees the world around him, in a quite dramatic fashion.

In the grand scheme, it may seem a small thing perhaps, but something has completely changed one man’s awareness of the natural world and its creatures, opening his mind to a new way of looking at Nature with conscious love and respect.

We cannot know where the motivation came from, what level of mind and heart were awakened to the life of trees, nor where that awakening was born, but it does seem a little ‘coincidental’. And, were the experiences of the weekend to achieve no more than that, I think we could say it had served a useful purpose.

Lord of the Deep: Outrunning the sun

“Can’t stop,” said I, dashing through the corridor. “I’ve got to paint celery…”

“Can you help me with my skin?”

“Sure. I’ll just grab the pins…”

There were a number of puzzled looks, as if to say, ‘she’s finally lost it…’. It had been a hectic weekend… but edibly-gilded celery and a Lycra-clad snake were both required for the final ritual drama, and we’d had a whale of a time coming up with a suitable costume for the skin-shedding serpent that would finally unravel Gilgamesh…

Following the directions of Shiduri, Gilgamesh seeks out Urshanabi, the boatman of Utnapishtim, who is in the forest, trimming cedar boughs. But, she tells him, Gilgamesh must be wary, for Urshanabi is with the Stone Men.

As he enters a clearing in the forest, Gilgamesh hears a voice,

“We are the Stone Men!” The King raises his sword and charges, but before the blow can fall, another speaks. “We are the cold men!” Changing direction, Gilgamesh rushes at the second speaker, but before his raised sword can fall, “How will you cross the Waters of Death with us in your boat?” Another voice turns him from the kill.

“We are easy to destroy. One strike will smash us into smithereens!” And again his blow is halted. “Like you destroyed the Bull of Heaven.” In rage, Gilgamesh tries to strike, but another speaks… “Like you destroyed the Cedar Forest.” Gilgamesh snarls… then the voices in unison stop him in his tracks.

“Would you destroy the ground you walk upon?” And now, at last, he begins to understand what he has done. Reeling with the realisation, he hears yet another voice, that of Urshanabi, the ferryman.

“You cannot cross the Waters of Death with war in your heart…”  Urshanabi holds out his hands for the sword of the King. He tells Gilgamesh that the Waters of Death are not what he believes them to be. They are the Underworld that Shamash, the Sun, traverses every night before his daily rebirth; would Gilgamesh take that path also? Then the King must outrun the Sun that halts for no man.

For nine hours of utter darkness, Gilgamesh ran. With no light to guide him, he passed through the Underworld, the Sun hot on his heels. But when exhausted, he again came into the light, he found himself in the garden of the gods where jewels grow as flowers on the trees and the fruits are of lapis lazuli.

Gilgamesh walked amazed through this paradise until he came face to face with the immortal, Utnapishtim. And, in spite of all, his first thought is for his weapon.

“I was going to fight you, but I gave away my sword…”

Utnapishtim considers Gilgamesh, commenting upon his haggard looks. The King says that he has neither eaten nor slept during his quest. That he has mourned his friend for six days and seven nights ‘until a maggot fell out of his nose’. Utnapishtim asks him what he has achieved by all this, apart from bring himself a day closer to death, and asks if he has ever stopped to compare himself to a fool to whom only the dregs and crusts are given?

Gilgamesh wants only to know the secret of immortality, but Utnapishtim tells how the gods gathered at the end of all things, after the Flood when he had built the great ship called Preserver of Life, to grant eternal life to himself and his wife, Shiduri.

Why should the gods gather for Gilgamesh? How would they know he deserved that grace?

Gilgamesh says he will do anything. Utnapishtim tells him that he must stay awake for seven days and nights…for if he can prevail against sleep, he may also prevail against death. Gilgamesh agrees, but Utnapishtim tells Shiduri that he will try to deceive them when he fails.

The eternal couple watch from afar and, whenever Gilgamesh sleeps, Shiduri bakes a loaf of bread and places it before the King. After seven nights, Gilgamesh lies, trying to convince Utnapishtim that he had not slept. The couple show him the seven loaves, from the freshest to the stalest, and Gilgamesh falls into despair. He sees only Death around him.

Utnapishtim tells him he must leave the garden of the gods, never to return. He orders fine raiment to be brought, as befits a king, to clothe him before he leaves. But Shiduri takes pity on Gilgamesh and entreats her husband to tell him of the Herb of Immortality… a thorny plant that grows in the waters of the Great Deep that will grant its bearer eternal youth.

Tying two stones to his feet, Gilgamesh plunges into the Great Deep to find the Herb and emerges triumphant. But there is no thought of service to his people in his mind. He will, he says, take it back to Wall-Girt Uruk and there he will test its powers on an old man. If it works, he himself will eat the rest and be eternally young!

***

The road back to the city is long and exhausting, but Gilgamesh walks with a spring in his step, grasping the Herb. Outside the city walls, he stops by a spring to wash and sleep awhile before his triumphal return, still grasping the golden Herb securely in his hand.

But, while he sleeps, a serpent silently slithers from beyond the Veil and, taking the herb from the sleeping King’s hand, eats it… shedding its skin before disappearing once more beyond the Veil.

When Gilgamesh wakes and sees his empty hand, all he can do is weep.

Now at last he sees his own folly. Now, at last, he understands and accepts both the responsibility and the consequences of his actions. Now, when all his plans are dashed, and he stands empty-handed before the walls of his city, he begins to understand the twin mysteries of death and life… and he passes through the Veil with heart and mind open.

And now the Fates speak, telling once more of the glories of Wall-Girt Uruk where, for the first time, ‘in their bedchambers at night, the young folk sleep soundly.’

***

Gilgamesh stands at the portal. Beside him stands Enkidu, his Other Self. Here, there is no death. Together they answer the call, and side by side, kneel before Shamhat, the High Priestess who is the vessel of the Goddess. She binds their hands with threads of red and gold, placing in their joined hands the Voice of Destiny, that the twin halves may speak with one voice. With fragrant oils, upon each brow, she traces twin symbols in blessing. One third man, one third beast, one third divine… no longer fragmented but whole.

Gilgamesh tells of his journey, but Enkidu says it was no failure… that the gods have granted them a glimpse of the immortality all carry. As Enkidu speaks, a circle of hands surrounds them with a gesture that says, ‘fear not’.

From each wrist hangs a bracelet of wood, red as cedar, bearing the symbol of the Tree of Life… the Herb of Immortality… that all have carried with them from the beginning, and that all will carry with them when they depart.

The Key to the Temple.

As all depart for the final time, they pass beneath the Rainbow, held aloft by Anu and Aruru, the Sky-Father and the Earth Mother.

“When the waters receded, and dry land appeared, I set free the animals to roam.

That day I burned reeds and cedar and myrtle branches.

Smelling their fragrance, the gods gathered round.

Aruru came first, relieved that people had survived the destruction.

She held aloft her necklace-of-many-colours,

which had been Anu’s gift to her when their love was young.”

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Lord of the Deep: “Why is there such grief..?”

Preparing the temple for the final ritual drama of the weekend is always bittersweet. It is the last stage of a journey that has been years in the making. This story, the tale of Gilgamesh, is older than any other we have used; the three years we have worked with it are but a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands of years it has been in existence.

The stories that we use, whether based on ancient texts or written specifically for the workshops, illustrate aspects of the human journey to awareness, which is the spiritual journey by another name. Not all stories have happy endings, but it is our job, when preparing the rituals, to end on a note of hope, and although the character of Gilgamesh seems to leave little scope for anything other than continuing disaster, there is always hope.

The character of the King, Gilgamesh, is so exaggerated that it is almost a caricature of the worst excesses of the human ego, but, like all good caricatures, elements of the depiction are recognisable and, to greater or lesser degree, present in every one of us. The incredulous horror with which we watch the King fall into every trap the ego presents, is made all the more poignant when we realise that we might all do the same, in essence if not in scale. We are left with the hope that whatever light he finds at the end of his personal tunnel will be bright enough to shine for us all.

Steve had done a magnificent job of embodying the difficult character of Gilgamesh. It is not easy to portray such a gamut of emotion. He cannot be played as a pantomime villain, gleefully indulging in evil machinations… he is, rather, a man who has an absolute belief in his own rightness and in the divine right of his kingship. As such, in spite of his Machiavellian manipulation of others and his rewriting of events to cast glory upon himself, he is, in an odd way, as innocent as a babe. He has no experience of being less than the best… in his own eyes at least. The very traits that have made him a strong warrior-king have prevented him from growing as a man. He simply knows no other way to be.

As the story has unfolded, we have watched Gilgamesh begin to learn that there is another way… beginning to see the consequences of his actions and, at least for a moment, accept them as his responsibility. But, whenever he takes a step towards awareness, he is drawn back as soon as the ego reasserts its hold.

At the start of the final ritual drama, we find Gilgamesh roaming the wilderness on his quest to find Utnapishtim, the immortal. Gilgamesh wishes to conquer death itself, and truly believes in his own affirmation that he does this only for his people. It will not be long, however, before that fallacy is exposed…

In spite of his preparations, his crown and the fine robes he donned when he set out upon his quest, by the time we meet the King, his travels have rendered him unkempt and the burden of grief weighs heavily upon him. He seems almost a ‘wild man’, like Enkidu… his Other Self, twice-slain as a result of Gilgamesh’s own actions.

As he wanders, Gilgamesh is seen by Shiduri, the ale-wife, who watches over her golden brewing pot. There is that in his demeanour that makes her think him a murderer, but she does not flee. Instead, she locks the golden lid of her vat and awaits his coming.

She asks his purpose; Gilgamesh gives her his name and titles, telling her that he seeks Utnapishtim and the Herb of Immortality. Shiduri, looking beyond his words to the core of his being, responds with a question,

“Why is there so much grief in your heart?”

Gilgamesh says that his beloved friend, Enkidu, is ‘turned to clay’. “Won’t I too, one day, lay down in the dirt like him and never rise again?”

The words are telling. In spite of his avowal that he seeks the Herb only for his people, he is revealing his own fear, both of dying and the condemnation of his body to ‘lay down in the dirt’, rather than of its natural return to earth as part of the great cycle of life.

Almost as if he seeks to counter this revelation, when Shiduri tells him that none but Shamash, the god of the Sun, can cross the Great Ocean to where Utnapishtim resides, Gilgamesh draws his sword and tells her how he slew ‘the demon’, Humbaba, and tore the Bull of Heaven limb from limb.

Shiduri considers for a moment then tells him that there may be a way ‘for one such as you’… Urshanabi, the boatman of Utnapishtim, is nearby… but he is with the fearsome Stone Men…

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?