The Warrior in the Headless Mask

In a fundamental shift from the ‘Tanham’ era at the helm of the Silent Eye’s annual workshops in Derbyshire, next year’s event, 22-24 April, 2016 marks a new departure on two fronts: we are taking the now well-practiced enneagram temple format into the Arthurian Mysteries, something that may never have been done before and which may see Mr Gurdjieff’s ghost coming after me for its just deserts with mutterings about ‘abuse of imagination’ and a few other choice sentiments; and secondly, we (read: they) are to set the five-act ritual drama, and supporting meditations and outdoor gatherings around the combined stories of Sir Gawain, the Green Knight and Lady Ragnell, with the possibility of a little fire-dancing as well.

By way of an appeal from the dock, I would point out that, with total reverence for the elegance and power of the Gurdjieff System of personal exploration, we have stayed as true as possible to the core model, yet appear to have successfully integrated it with the Western Mystery approach in using many of the elements of a traditional magical temple. Our approach to a modern temple design is integrated within a sacred space containing the Silent Eye’s own variant of the enneagram and set of two encompassing rings which represent the realms of Being and Becoming. Finally, all this is set within a compass square which brings in the traditional East, West, South and North, and their alchemical associations.

I used the word ‘they‘ above because, in the tradition of these things, and now being the junior ‘creative’ partner, I actually know very little of what will transpire on the weekend of the 22-24 April next year. It has become a tradition – established by me, apparently, to keep the other two in our ‘Triad’ in state of general ignorance until very close to the event. This year, Sue and Stuart are running things; ostensibly to ‘give me a break’. Hmmmm . . .

This means that, although I will be constructing some of the supporting parts of the weekend, the only thing I know is that I will be playing the part of Sir Gawain in the five-act ritual dramas . . .

Now Gawain is an interesting character. I’ve played him before in a wonderful SOL workshop in Tintagel, the traditional site of ancient Arthurian Camelot. But there is something much more risky about playing in the variant of the Gawain tales that ‘les enfants terribles’ have in mind. At this point I need to explain something of the dynamics of the three of us. The other two in our creative threesome, Sue and Stuart, spend a lot of time writing and plotting together. It’s a general sport of theirs that anytime they can generate panic in my gentle soul, they do so . . .

The stories of King Arthur, Sir Gawain, The Green Knight and his wife, and Lady Ragnell form a different cycle to the better-known Arthurian tales and probably originate from an earlier era. Both stories involve the carrying out, or the threat of, decapitation; which in Stuart and Sue’s rendering, will have a much deeper meaning than mere execution.
The story of the Green Knight sees him ride on horseback into Arthur’s New Year feast and issue a challenge. One of the knights can cut off his head as long as the same knight is prepared to seek out his castle in a year’s time, and present himself for the same fate. Never having seen a beheaded man live to fight another encounter, Sir Gawain puts himself forward to defend Arthur’s honour, and duly beheads the rude and outrageous ingrate, using the Green Knight’s own axe . . . only to find that the challenger can function perfectly well without his head; after which the dismembered head, itself, reminds Gawain of his fate, a year from then, and leaves the court, carried by its body – still on horseback.
The general theme of the ‘headless’ or beheaded man is one of the major threads in the research done by Stuart and Sue in their cycle of books begun with “The Initiate” and continued into their recent books. Many of the executed figures (some of them quite humble) which they have encountered in the religious history of Britain have been killed in this way – too many for it to be just a simple form of putting to death. Some of the fruits of their research will be seen in the workshop and in the way this theme is integrated into our temple settings.  The general subtext is ‘The Foliate Man” – the strange, green figure with foliage growing abundantly out of his mouth. The overall meaning of this will be explored in the context of all our lives and our relationship to Nature and the world – our world – around us.
I have been told that I may rely on the plot being true to the myths – well ‘most of the time’, hinting that there may be some variation on minor details, such as the final location of Gawain’s head at the conclusion of his exacting encounter with the Green Knight and his Lady Wife.  I’m sure I can count on the rendering of Gawain’s near-death travels to reach that fateful castle as he journeys through the snow and ice in search of a place whose location is unknown to him.
Gawain is a key figure in both the stories of the Green Knight and of Lady Ragnell, it will be interesting to see how my character’s twin destinies are woven by the terrible twins. I may as well smile my way to the start of next April. Last week, my delightful, if challenging, partners in crime presented me with an early birthday present in the form of a rather tasty pocket watch crafted with the image of the Foliate Man. The card which accompanied it was a representation of the historic scene involving the classical figure of ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ – you can do your own translation!

At the bottom of the card is written: “The clock is ticking . . . .”  Sometimes, it’s not easy being the founder . . . sigh.