Hunting the Unicorn: “Upon the earth…”

 

Our morning began with an early meditation upon the hillside, turning our attention to the light, both in literal and symbolic terms. It was a moment to drink in the beauty of the land as a ‘false dawn’ opened a window in the clouds and we placed the work of the weekend under the aegis of Spirit. Each of us brings our own peculiar interpretation to that word and concept… and that is how it should be; the relationship between each of us and whatever we conceive of as spirit, divinity or a guiding presence is both unique and personal.

In simple rituals and in spite of a multitude of perspectives, we can set differences easily aside, colouring the symbols we use with our own interpretations in order to work together towards a common goal. That is one of the ever-present joys of such workshop weekends. We were using a five-pointed star, but there is always a hidden point to any symbol and, magically, that always operates on a different level to the symbol itself. The opalescent horn of the Unicorn would be both the guardian of the threshold and would point the way for us.

Having established the Unicorn as a symbol of Spirit the night before, we were about to begin a more personal journey into the elements of our own nature. Using imagination, knowledge, memory and the senses, we would map that journey onto the five points of the pentagram. Dean had carefully chosen passages from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to illustrate the psychological aspects of the elements as they are played out within the human psyche. He had chosen stones with different colours, patterns and textures to represent the physical  elements with which we would weight down the ribbon paths we were to walk around the pentagram and chosen sites for us to visit that reflected the elemental principles too. In other words, he had tied the journey together beautifully on all levels.

 

Our next stop would be Duffus Castle, built around 1140 and abandoned in the eighteenth century. As Steve has already covered the history of the castle, I need not repeat the details of its construction and ownership, but can take a more personal perspective.

The castle is surrounded by the remains of a moat, now a pure, clear stream, teeming with wildflowers and small creatures. It was here that we began to get an inkling of Dean’s deep love and knowledge of the natural environment of his adoptive home, much of which he would share with us over the weekend. It is a very beautiful site, an island in a green land. Rising from the Laich of Moray, it dominates the landscape and, from a distance, seems to epitomise our idea of a ‘proper’ castle.

The mound upon which the fortifications are built is imposing. Both the motte that holds the castle keep and the bailey… the lower enclosure that once protected the stables, people and day-to-day practicalities of castle life… are intact.

It is only as you come closer that you see that the castle has not only suffered the depredations of time, but is gradually slipping down the slope of the motte to be swallowed by the hill. Windows have broken, whole sections of the structure seem to be sailing away. It is almost as if the most solid-looking part of the castle is the most fragile… and what a good analogy for our own masks that might be.

It has a very different ‘feel’ than its Norman counterparts in England. So often these were built by the conquerors on sites already important to the community, thus both wresting position and imposing authority on the land and its people in one fell swoop. There is a lot of research ongoing at the moment, looking into the age of motte and bailey-type earthworks that were once Norman castles… and had, we now know, sometimes origins and uses of a  much earlier date.

Here though, the castle mound was purpose-built. There was none of the underlying trauma or conflict felt at many other such sites. Sadly, though, it may be this very fact that has proven to be its downfall; the ancients were pretty good at building earthworks. Apparently, the castle-builders had needed to learn a bit more about foundations…

And that carried us neatly into the next part of our work, for the foundations of our own personalities need to be firmly built and deeply rooted before we can build upon them.

We were looking at ourselves from a magical perspective and the spiritual journey of each of us has to start somewhere. We all start at the beginning, knowing nothing, and build gradually from that point. How you build will determine how you will develop.

Most of us start by devouring information… books, articles, courses…whatever we can find, like newly-hatched chicks in need of nourishment. Some will believe that is enough and will construct an impressive-looking façade from what they have learned. You can carry on adding knowledge for decades… but unless you do the ‘spade-work’, the spiritual edifice you are building will one day crumble and swallow itself.

You may even find that, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the ‘power’ you think you have attained demands more and more of you in order to maintain its illusion. The real ‘spade-work’ of a spiritual system tends to include getting to know yourself… and that may mean digging into areas of the mind, heart and memory that can be as unpleasant as a blocked sewer.

It also means finding ways to put into practice what you have learned. That’s where this type of workshop can be useful. The written word can only teach knowledge and report experience… it cannot teach understanding, though it may show a way towards it.

But maybe, too, this broken castle might symbolise the freedom that comes when we can cast down the walls behind which we so often feel the need to hide, opening ourselves to light and life. Either way, it was a great place to start our day.

Hunting the Unicorn: Dusk in the kirkyard…

On the banks of the river Spey, Dean introduced us to some of the concepts we would be working with over the weekend before leading us into Inverallan burial ground. It is an interesting place in its own right, with a fair amount of history and home, as we would soon find out, to a voluble, nesting oyster-catcher.

There is no longer a church at the cemetery, although one was recorded on the site as far back as 1230. It is believed to have been dedicated to St Futach, an Irish saint whose name is derived from ‘fiachra’ which means, appropriately enough, ‘raven’ and which can be found in the ancient Irish tales like that of the Children of Lir.

The walls of the lost church were uncovered and destroyed in 1888, when the graveyard was being extended and no trace now remains of them… though there are clues to be discovered that a kirk once stood there and who knows how much further back the site was held in reverence.

An upright stone, known as the Priest’s Stone, bears a simple, incised Roman cross on both its faces. The stone on the Canmore photograph, looks like a gravestone, or even a standing stone, and it would not  be the first time we have seen a pagan stone ‘rebranded’ and purified for Christian use. There was also an ancient holy well on the site too… and a huge stone basin that was, we are officially told, ‘probably’ a baptismal font.

Is it pure speculation to wonder whether the sanctity of the site might pre-date Christianity? Not entirely… the well, the ‘raven’ and the basin would be enough to raise possible questions, and the presence of a weathered, Pictish symbol stone, found when the walls of the kirk were uncovered, confirms that the site was seen as important.

 

Pictish symbol stones are generally dated as being carved between the sixth and ninth centuries, with the earlier ones bearing no Cross, while the later ones may be Christianised.  The meaning and purpose of the symbols remains a subject of debate, but the worn designs were familiar as we had met them before at a previous workshop in Scotland.

The Inverallan stone is a very early one, bearing an undecorated crescent, V-rod, two legged rectangle and Z-rod. It was, principally, for the V-rod that overlays the lunar crescent that we had congregated in a graveyard. Its angle relates both to the movements of the planets and to the internal angle of the pentagram, a symbol we would be using during a personal and psychological exploration throughout the weekend.

Pictish symbol stone, near Inverurie, showing crescent and V-rod

While Dean explained how this journey would be undertaken, using a magical symbol, Steve explained why the pentagram is such a perfect symbol to use when seeking inner harmony. Many minds will glaze over at the mere thought of mathematics, but there is more to the subject than  ’just’ the numbers and Steve gave a very clear explanation of how mathematics can illustrate the cosmic and natural laws that apply equally to a flower, a universe or a human being.

We would also be working with the symbol of the Unicorn… the spirit animal of Scotland. There are many interpretations of the symbolism of the unicorn, some obvious, some perhaps less so. From its single-pointed horn, to its associations with innocence and purity, to its place at the heart of the magical menagerie, it is a symbol worth contemplating in meditation and one we have used before in the Silent Eye, for a similar purpose but in a different way from the one that was planned for the workshop. The Unicorn too, was a perfect choice of symbol.

But, perfect or not, we can only imagine what it might have looked like had anyone come into the graveyard to find five large pentagrams being laid out on the ground as daylight began to fade…

Hunting the Unicorn: Heading north…

I hit the road after work for the first leg of what would prove to be a very long journey and one full of unexpected adventures. From my home in the south, I drove to Yorkshire to collect Stuart. Next morning, we left for Scotland, choosing, as always, a route that would avoid the oppressive and insistent clamour of motorways. It undoubtedly takes much longer, but if you are going to work with the landscape, there is no better way to begin to connect with it than by experiencing it… even if only through the windscreen of a car.

We were heading into the Highlands to attend The Silent Unicorn workshop, a joint venture with our own school and a magical Lodge. The weekend would be presented by Dean Powell, who now lives in the area and who would guide us to sites ranging from the ancient, to the historic, to the simply beautiful. The weekend would be an opportunity to connect with old friends we see too seldom as well as, we hoped, enabling us to meet up with friends who live in the far north. But not all plans work out the way we have envisaged…

Passing through the Derbyshire and Yorkshire Dales, we skirted the peaks of Cumbria and, around lunchtime, paused in Penrith. One of the tyres appeared to have a slow puncture and, given the miles and terrain we were planning on covering, a dodgy tyre was the last thing we would need. The mechanic removed the tyre, duly checked it and, in spite of its previous and persistent loss of air, pronounced it to be fine. We paid the bill and resumed our journey.

The Scottish Borders flew by, with memories of previous journeys into the north coming back as we drove. It was getting late by the time we arrived at Kinross, and there was just time to stretch travel-weary legs with a wander around Loch Leven before settling for the night.

In the evening light, the loch was beautiful. It has long been protected as a nature reserve and abounds with wildlife. Its banks starred with wildflowers, its waters silver and home to many waterfowl. The squat, solid remains of Loch Leven Castle occupy one of the seven islands in the lake and it was here that Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567 and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son. A silver and ivory sceptre engraved with her name was found when the loch was partially drained in the nineteenth century. Whether it was dropped or discarded during her arrival, or when she escaped the castle with the help of her gaoler’s family, we will never know. A poignant illustration, perhaps, of how easily the trappings of worldly success can be lost.

Beside the loch, a graveyard reinforces the point, with the tombs of both the great and the small of the world weathering side by side. As with many Scottish cemeteries, the Kirkgate burial ground stands at the edge of the town and was guarded against graverobbers. Many of the tombstones are carved with skulls and bones, others bear witness to Masonic allegiances. Names, achievements and stories fade together into the shadows as memory and history replace them with newer tales.

In many ways, it was the perfect place to begin considering the weekend ahead. We would be delving into our own psyche, seeking out elements of our own nature and how we are affected by events, fears and reactions. All of which, could we but realise it, are as insignificant against the vast backdrop of history as a butterfly against the panorama of the Lomond hills.

Such considerations, however, were driven from our minds by our first encounter with a true Scottish legend… the midge. Larger than their southerly counterpart and prone to forming vast, voracious clouds, we did not linger and hurried back to the car, glad that the Highlands awaited… at a latitude where the midges do not venture.

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

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.

Gilgamesh descending (8) ~ Steve Tanham

The portal through which all the others have passed – except ghostly Enkidu and forlorn Gilgamesh – shimmers and fades. My brother – his twin – fades… And he and I… and then only I am left alone in the middle of the most threatening inner space I can imagine…

There is the dominating sense of ‘nowhere else to go’; and yet I know that there is only ‘me’ in here… until I look at the walls, made gently visible by the light that is not light in this atmosphere of total darkness.

The feeling of ‘shimmering outline’ comes again, as it had when I chased Shamhat through the labyrinthine passageways. In the dimness, I can see carved images in the stone all around me. The recognition of these strengthens their form, and I can make out that they are the figures and faces of the Divine Council of Elders of Uruk… Those whom I scorned as ‘effete’ only a short while ago.

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini

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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