The Opening

I know the words

The long-learned words

With which this view is framed

These slats of wood I crafted round

The Opening…

Yet there it lies, unshut before me

The rawness of the world

Behind my words I kneel, now

Afraid to stop their flow’s intent

In widening my wood

One day the words will be unspeakable

The splinters brushed aside

By the eye beyond the Opening

And we – the world and it’s child

Will speak in unbroken silence

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

It’s not the best of photo resolutions, but the above image says it all. Briony saluting the Derbyshire landscape in her own way at the end of three days of the Silent Eye’s Tideswell-based workshop: Sue and Stuart’s creation; and a wonderful experience for the group of souls who braved the provocative title for the weekend…

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

…and decided that they would examine the roots of their own fears… and face them in the warmth of loving companionship and symbolic danger.

It’s a time-honoured formula for all mystical organisations; one that brings us all to a point where the day to day ‘fog’ of habitual perception is cut through by the vividness of landscape and experience. That’s what we hope to achieve on these weekends. This one worked well – and in different ways for each person, as it should, for we all have different stories that have brought us to our ‘now’.

Sometimes, especially in reviewing such things, it’s better to start at the end. The picture (above) of Briony is of her at the ‘peak’ of the weekend; the last act of the formal part of our physical, emotional and spiritual wanderings across the ancient and mysterious landscapes of Derbyshire.

A short time later, we would be laughing in one of the oddest, oldest and most wonderful pubs in England…

But that’s for the final chapter of this short series of blogs. For now, let’s drift backwards in time to the sunshine of the Saturday morning. A day of ‘Indian Summer’ as good as any we been blessed with over the years.

Baslow Ridge

We were up high in a place called Baslow Ridge. Looking down on a series of valleys that lead to places like Bakewell, and the glories of the Chatsworth Estate.

The Eagle Stone – a place of proof of maturity, and a precursor to local marriage

The Eagle Stone stands alone, an outlier from a distant time of glaciation. It dominates the landscape like the monolith did in Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey. People are drawn to it from miles around. It even featured in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the place that Elizabeth Bennett visited and climbed… to get away from it all.

It is still used by local folk as a rite of passage. Those who seek the hand of marriage with the girls and ladies of the nearby town of Baslow are expected to demonstrate their suitability by climbing the stone unaided. It’s not a trivial ascent, as this second shot of the rock shows:

The Eagle Stone close-up shows how the higher layers overhang the lower; making an ascent difficult

The Eagle Stone is an example of a sacred folk-object at the centre of a local custom; a ritual, in this case. The ritual was a gateway into adulthood–and maturity. There would be real caution – if not fear- for anyone faced with the challenge. But, with some secret help from your friends, there was only an element of danger, rather than the certainty of death…

The Riley Graves

But many in the history of these parts have not been so lucky. Going back in time to our first visit of the weekend, we were brought face to face with personal fear and sadness of a degree that would be hard to envisage in modern life… and one of the most heart-rending sacrifices we could have encountered.

It’s 1666 in a small High Peak town, not far from Chatsworth. In the space of a single week, a lone woman buries all six of her children and then her husband. No-one will help her; no-one can help her. It is the most awful piece of personal history imaginable and yet the act which surrounds it is of the highest nobility.

Stuart… showing how it should be done

And so the story – the plot – of the weekend, moves from an historic example of fear and self-sacrifice – but seen through modern eyes, through the ancient stones set in the Derbyshire landscape and their cultural and symbolic use, to its finale in a rather foreboding place, high above a valley with a dark history…

Seen like this – backwards from the end, we can appreciate the careful construction of the weekend carried out by Sue and Stuart. Sue has begun its re-telling in her Silent Eye and personal blogs. She’s a great storyteller and there is little point in my replicating her excellent eye for detail.

Instead, I will pick certain moments of significance and focus on them – and hence this backwards-in-time introduction to set the scene.

It’s a long way from the Friday meeting place at Eyam to our final (small for drivers) glass of Dark Lurcher at the Three Stag’s Heads near ‘Hanging Rock’, but it’s a fascinating journey. The weekend demanded a degree of serious intent… but we had lot of fun, too.

In the end, on Sunday morning, everyone was alone for a moment on that dark peak… Very Carlos Castenada, really…. but that’s just my personal take on it.

Next time we meet, it will be August 1666 and, in this part of Derbyshire, something remarkable, unique and utterly selfless will be about to happen.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Land of the Heart

This is a self-help exercise I developed recently. I call it ‘Land of the Heart’

It’s an exercise that involves the surrender of the small self that feels so much pain and anguish, especially at a time of national division, such as we have on both sides of the Atlantic, today.

It’s an exercise that addresses that feeling of helplessness that many of us are enduring as we watch our civilisations change. We have been raised in an age that encourages us to take responsibility for things. On a personal level, this is healthy; but when confronted with the kind of societal change we now face, we can become narrow and negatively focussed by thinking we should be making a difference. In truth, we can only make a difference to our selves.

But the power of that should not be underestimated…

This exercise involves packing all those troubles – many of which are imagined, for we are seldom in real pain or danger – into a little mental kitbag and carrying that ‘wrapped’ bag with us into the world – our daily world – in a very special way.

At this stage we don’t surrender those troubles, feelings or anguish; we just keep them wrapped. But we carry in our hearts a conviction that there is somewhere else they belong.

As we set off into our daily world, we think of that little kitbag, perhaps slung over our shoulder like the Tarot card of the Fool.


The Original Rider-Waite Tarot card of The Fool, by Pamela Coleman Smith. Source Wikipedia

The Fool card, with its happy and ‘naive’ figure has different levels of significance. It would take a full blog just to provide an outline of them. It is the first of the Major Aracana of the Tarot and sits on the Tree of Life in a position that links the place of the Crown of consciousness with the place of the first emanation in the act of cosmic creation.

For the purpose of our exercise, the naivety of the supposed Fool is important. He has no fear of what lies ‘beneath’ him (or her) in the creation. This is because he IS the unfolding act of creation…

One more thing remains before we can take the walk of the Fool into the Land of the Heart. We need to find an old leaf, or a dead or dying flower… or something similar, that has experienced the glory of life, but is now fading… Its pattern remains, to show us something important; but a higher pattern that imprinted it has departed, to return to its pre-life potency.

Above: Find a leaf, flower or other organic vehicle, now discarded

Our final search is to find (or ask to be show) somewhere of great beauty. We need not be physically there, though that’s wonderful if it is possible. A photo of such a place works well, as does an abstract image. If the first photo in this blog moves you (as it did me) then feel free to have it and hold it.

We now have everything we need to carry out the exercise. In our minds we become the Fool in the Tarot card. Walking forward into our new day. We take the old leaf or flower and hold it in one of our hands, feeling love for the wonder of its life, but knowing that what it really WAS is gone… to become another IS.

Looking at the view or image of the place we have selected, we surrender our small self and the kitbag into the image of the eternal and constantly changing world of which we can only ever have a tiny amount of knowledge.

And then, crushing the remains of the leaf or flower, we return the pieces to the ground, to feed what needs to grow next, thinking of the Fool’s kitbag as we do so.

We have freed ourselves from the contents of the kitbag. We have embraced and surrendered the smallness of our personal self. In so doing we have become a living part of the Land of the Heart.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Primal screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understand of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Have you seen it, yet?

Do you see it all, sometimes?

Turn, doing something strange with your mind

Look back with different eyes

And see the path that led to you?

A moment of vast lucidity…

But there’s one thing you don’t see

The thing that can’t be seen

Have you seen it, yet?

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

The creature on the beach beyond thought

It lay there, head in the sky, gazing at the radiance. Its tail was still in the ocean of thought, the gentle waves urging it back where it belonged…

The gaps in the waves had always been there; they were the rhythm of life. But it had never thought to use them as a way through.

To where?

To beauty, certainly. The sights and sounds and smells of newness were all around it, the warm sand beneath. But it was a different newness. It lay there, laughing at the thought that newness could be new. The sea began to analyse this, pulling it, gently, back into its waves, but it pushed out its hands and grasped the glittering sand, and breathed deep the air that could only be new… and knew it was home.

Why had it never seen that, before?

Perhaps you had to be steered; gently guided into the shallows so the edge of the glittering sand became apparent. Behind it, the ocean of thought began to clamour for its attention, perhaps desperately seeing the last chance to put it back into the sleep of thought’s conditioning.

Conditioning: it was a hard word, and yet described the whole ocean; even the parts where it had tried to reason the way out of it. Life had conditioned it to love, to fear, to survive; and yet the very spark of life had not come from that sea of thought and reaction. The sea was only the cradle for that which could not be conditioned – did not react, because the real nature had a sheer power to be with the truth of anything, just being there was its truth, and all else bowed before it…

All else was its child.

The waves called to it in a different voice, now. They sang of love; of a role performed, of the golden drops of sun-kissed water flowing from the rapidly-changing body and finding their way back into the sea, where they shone – briefly – differently.

Stronger, surer by the second, he raised eyes that were new… to the Sun.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Gilgamesh descending (9) – final part

And now you will want an ending…

Like day gives way to night, though there is no single point where we could all agree that it was either…

Like the moment of sleep or awakening, though one drifts into the other and each knows little of its twin…

Like the point in the play where the character releases the player from his undertaking and becomes what the character has always been and was before the play started…

A pattern. Existence… we will speak of this, later.

Dare we speak of death and life, now?

But some patterns are not like others; when planted in receptive soil these patterns become a living thing. As an idea will take root, so will the seed of an oak.

As I am not simply a character, but a seed called The Story of Gilgamesh, I will call an ending to his time – the player; that he may reflect, and share good times but sad parting, and take away my pattern, as I hope will you.

Do I, the pattern of Gilgamesh within the Story of Gilgamesh remain a prisoner? I have never been so. My origins are unknown, lost in pre-history; but useful patterns, like wheels, have a habit of going and coming around. For thousands of revolutions of your planet around its sun, I remained in stone, waiting…

Only in your past hundred years has human kind shone a light into the outer soul and fully named the parts of the journey towards awakening. Yet here, in what you read, and in the hot desert of your – by now – tired consciousness, lies the story of that journey, whose stones were inscribed in cuneiform when the mighty Sun, Shamash, gazed out on a planet thousands of years younger.

Before we release him – the player – we must let him play out… most of… the story: the story that is his and yours.

His dusty and crumpled robe fits, doubly so as it mirrors his failure… so let him wear it one last time while I encourage him, using my words, to describe an ending…

******

Just this last act of the play to live through, now. I wear the descending king one last time. Carried on my back and in my brain like the threads of black and gold of the robe that was once glorious, and is now worn but washed, as is my lustrous hair that was matted. On my head is my finest crown and my sword which has no name – save to me – shines, polished and sharpened in its leather sheath.

Moments before I saw her, I was singing my made-up song:

“Who is the handsomest of men? Who is the bravest of heroes? Who slaughtered the Bull of Heaven? Who obliterated the Forest Demon…”

And then a giant crescent of paths coalesce into a single point and she is sitting there, brewing beer – Shiduri the tavern keeper and wife of Utnapishtim. As I stride towards her, she looks at my sword and rises, fearful. I state my business, honestly:

“I am the king of Uruk. I am going to find Utnapishtim and ask him about the Herb of Immortality.”

She looks into my eyes and asks me why there is so much grief in my heart. The question weighs heavy, but, as I was before my mother Ninsun, I am ready. I tell Shiduri about the loss of my beloved friend, Enkidu, and impress upon her my need to find immortality and not die in the dirt as he had…

She laughs and tells me that there are none who can cross the Waters of Death to Utnapishtim; that Shamash the sun is the only one brave enough.

I make myself tall and tell her about the death of Humbaba, the tree demon; I tell her about how Gilgamesh tore the Bull of Heaven apart. I tell her that she is right: there is no other who could cross the Waters of Death, but only because she has never met Gilgamesh the King.

There is a smile. She suggests that there may be a way that one such as I can do it…. but that I will need a boatman. She points me to the forest where he is to be found working the cedar boughs, but cautions that he has the fearsome Stone Men with him.

With my laughter ringing in her ears I leave Shiduri and enter the fearful forest…

Despite my bravado, there is, here, a depth of doom I have not felt before. Surely I have prevailed over much worse in my years of war? I breathe deeply and unsheath my sword, speaking its name beneath my breath as it rises, singing and alive, into the air. For a heartbeat of supreme power we are one… Then it spins to show me the attacker from behind, a man made of stone only feet away from me. Together, the sword and I move around faster than he can attack and he falls back, saying they will make the boatman’s vessel too heavy for me. He stops but his eyes never leave the shining black of my hissing sword… What he has said gnaws at my mind in a way that distracts… heavy… the world sinks through my mind and heart.

“We are the cold men!” comes the next voice, seeking to decoy me from the first at an angle just behind my line of vision. We spin again, sword and warrior set to strike; only to be pulled to water-wading slowness by the awful power of the second Stone Man’s words. The cold lead sinks into my bones. Sapping my internal fire…

“Strike!” the stone voices mock me.

“Like you destroyed the Bull of Heaven!”

“Like you destroyed the Cedar Forest.”

In an agony of slowness, I cease trying to spin to kill them.

“Will you destroy the ground you walk on?”

I stagger into the centre of the clearing. The boatman waves the Stone Men away; they have done their work. For the first time in my life, I am lost–within and without.

Urshanabi’s eyes are gentle, intelligent. The love in them breaks the ice that has embraced my blood. He tells me I cannot cross the Waters of Death to meet with Utnapishtim with war in my heart. With what do I replace it?… But, my question dies unspoken as he holds out both his hands for Deep Cut

Arms that seem not to be mine straighten, then pull back, in an agony of doubt. But then something inside breaks and I lay my beloved sword on the gentle palms that wait. His eyes say what I cannot.  More than anyone other than Ninsum, my mother, this man understands what is happening to me…

It is not rage that powers me through the dark Underworld faster than any giant cat can run. It is not fear of being burned to a crisp by shining Shamash, should he catch me before I can race the dawn. At the ninth hour I break through the darkness as Shamash the Sun begins to burn my heels.  Before me the garden of the gods opens out. Trees and shrubs of precious stones: rubies, lapis and coral clusters. I walk through its splendour as though in a dream.

Utnapishtim is not what I expected. He is an ordinary man. To my eyes, he looks just like me. “I was going to fight you, but I gave away my sword,” I say. He seems unmoved by my former gesture…

He asks why I am ragged, thin and hollow-cheeked. Without anger, I can only tell him of the recent misery of my existence. He begins to say things I know are important to my understanding of immortality; that I have worn myself out with ceaseless striving and am simply a day closer to death.

For a while I do not respond, then I remember that, after mourning my beloved Enkidu for seven days a maggot fell out of his nose.  Utnapishtim is silent, understanding this and wondering if I do…

When he responds it crushes what is left of my spirit. “Do you not compare your lot to that of a fool?”

I hold my fists to my temples. “I want the gates of sorrow to be shut behind me!”

He toys with me, saying that, at the end of all things, the gods had been assembled by Enlil to grant he and his wife Shiduri, eternal life. Then asks who will assemble the gods for me?

My hands indicate I will do anything to earn this eternal life… he says nothing, but, seeing how tired I am, invites me to try to stay awake, as an immortal would. He knows, I see later, that I will be unable, but will lie about it. His wife, Shiduri, bakes me seven daily loaves which slowly rot as my exhausted body sleeps, but I wake up clutching the first and last of these and denying I slept. They look at me with understanding but pity.

Utnapishtim and his wife confer and make me an offer. They tell me that at the bottom of the Great Deep grows the Herb of Immortality. If I can dive to its depth, risk the skin of my hands on its barbs and return with it, then I will be allowed to take it back to Uruk.

Sword or not, I grasp this lifeline… and, with heavy rocks tied to my ankles, succeed in diving for the precious Herb.

I am washed, dressed in finery, fed and sent on my way with all the trappings of a visiting king. I do not sleep through the entire journey home. Finally, at a watering hole close to my city of Uruk, I pause to rest and bathe, again – within sight of the city’s walls. The victorious Gilgamesh, Lord of the Deep, cannot enter his city dirty and haggard.

I fall asleep, waking shortly after to see that a snake has eaten some of the Herb of Immortality clutched in my hand, shed its skin and is stealing what is left of the precious herb. In total despair, I watch the serpent disappear through the undergrowth.

It is gone…

I look at the glowing walls of Uruk, the city I built… we built…

They despised me when I had everything, how much more will they hate me now that I have nothing… not even my sword?

With my head bowed, I pass through the city gates. From somewhere deep, I feel the real Gilgamesh asking me to say goodbye. I must walk these final steps alone, now that I am no more a king than the lowliest servant in this place. His final thought is that if I let this go, then something wonderful will happen… with that, in the manner of the gods, he is gone.

In the main square the Fate Dancers are announcing my failure, mocking my glorification of Uruk as it was. I raise my head and listen for the end, the words that will tell that, for all my self-proclaimed glory, that the children cry themselves to sleep at night.

When the line comes it is not what I was expecting.

“And in their bed chambers at night, the young-folk sleep soundly.”

The man who was their king has tears, now… and through the waters of understanding I see a figure at the top of the temple steps waiting for me… Shamhat. Her eyes are glistening, too. She comes halfway down the steps to take my hand and pulls me into the temple.

They are waiting, all of them… and someone else. For a third time, Enkidu has been raised from death. Shamhat places my right hand in his left and clasps her hand around our cedar and silver bracelets – a gift from Anu and Aruru when we began, She brings us before the East – the place of the King.

Directed, we kneel at the East and Shamhat binds our joined wrists with red cord.

We, the unblessed players, are then blessed…and raised up.

For perhaps the first time, I, Gilgamesh, tell the truth about what happened with the Great Deep, the walk in paradise and the meeting with the immortal couple.

“They told me where to find the herb of Eternal Youth and I retrieved it from the depths of the Great Deep. It was stolen from me by the serpent that crawls upon the earth on its belly.”

My brother, Enkidu, tells those in the temple that this was no failure. That the gods have granted us a glimpse of true immortality. He raises our arms to show that we bear the tokens of immortality given to us early in the story. For the first time I notice that the humble cedar and silver bracelets bear the symbol of a tree… and that another, larger one adorns the temple.

Shamhat raises our joined wrists… and everyone salutes, raising their bracelets and making the sign for ‘Fear Not’.

Bearing the Mask of Destiny – the centrepiece of the Fate Dancer’s movements – Enkidu and his brother Gilgamesh leave the temple… Beneath the rainbow arch held aloft by the arms of Anu and Aruru…followed by a smiling company of players.

The play is finished.

******

They are gone now. The last of the crates were packed into the two cars and they left, slowly, as always… reluctant to leave all this depth behind.

Only the pattern remains for a while: the pattern that is the story of the Journey of Gilgamesh, Lord of the Deep. It does not promise easy understanding. The full meaning must be teased out from the carefully chosen words, particularly the enigmatic ending.

Patterns are the mark of existence… For something to come into existence, it must be possible. When it does, the pattern is the dominant principle. The pattern is in no hurry… it is eternal.

Living things are patterns, too…

The pattern waits… as it has always waited, to be brought to life in the hearts and minds that search for the deeper meanings of death and life in a world where the Deep dwells within matter. This beautiful planet needs its Lords of the Deep – now, more than ever…

Thank you, Stuart. Thank you, Sue.

And thank you to the lovely people who came to make it real…

Other parts in this series:

Part One  Part Two  Part  Three

Part Four    Part Five  Part Six

Part Seven   Part Eight   This is Part Nine, the end.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Gilgamesh descending (8)

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.

I expect them to look down on me in my disgrace, in my dirt and sweat; but they do not. Their kind eyes seem to reach into my misery. With this thought the air in the chamber changes, taking on a lightness.

A voice speaks without sound, “Gilgamesh! You have found your way to the Holy of Holies, Attend now to the vanities of your heart and contemplate them well.”

Vanities… I consider the word. It’s a subtle, insidious thing that creeps into life and weakens a man’s purpose. In my youth I despised those who displayed it, and, if they would not learn from my words, I would show them them the power of the sword that has no name…

The fingers of my right hand clutch in reflex at the empty air of my waist.

Have I become vain in my victories, in my glory? The wall images are coming to life … Utu had spoken the words, but I also recognise around me the rest of the powers that convey the energies of the seven planets to us all: Nanna, Ninurta, Gugalanna, Inanna, Enki and Enlil. For long minutes their quiet words burn me as no fire ever has. Each in their turn tells me that the gentle gifts I refused, one by one, in my hatred of Shamhat, would have been sufficient to change the course of all of the disasters I created in my vanity.

It is too painful to bear… and yet, there is nowhere else to go but to remain within that fire. And in that sense of ‘not going’ I begin to see another Gilgamesh; one who would embrace, instead, ‘nowhere else to be…”

“I am sorry,” I say, meaning it. “I was blind but now I see.” My head falls, but I raise it, again, to continue staring into the mysterious air of the chamber – air that had become fire is becoming something for which there is no name…

“I will make recompense to the people of Uruk…”

An energy from my youth fills my consciousness. I know what I must do…

The feet that carry me from that place are not entirely my own. The Fate Dancers are moving in the square as I finally escape from the confines of the Ishtar Temple and out into the glorious sun. They part to let me pass. There are half-smiles on their faces. A bath, sacred oils and my best robes await, but first, I must be with someone else; and she will not mind my dirty and unkempt appearance, she knows me for what I am…

“O Lady Ninsum, mother and goddess,” I say, kneeling before her. “I am resolved to set out on the quest of my life, and, as always, I seek your blessing.”

There is a coldness about her manner. I did not expect this; it chills my heart.

“So soon, my son? Should you not rest awhile?” She leans forward in her ornate chair to study me more closely. “Surely killing the fearsome demon of the Cedar Forest was magnificent, my son?” She pauses. “You and my other son, Enkidu, have a right to celebrate your victory…”

She knows… I know she knows, but she is making me pay for the loss of her adopted son, Enkidu. I tell her that it is because of Enkidu’s death that I must leave to fight the greatest battle of my life – to rid Uruk of the power of death: to kill death!

She waits and watches. “Life and death are part of the same cycle, my son. Even those in the Divine Council will one day die.”

I am ready for this, for my future depends on the answer. “There is one who did not die, Ninsun – you taught me this when you told me the story of the great flood, in the days when I sat on your knee and listened and learned.”

“Utnapishtim…” she whispers, her gaze directed far away. “You will journey to find if Utnapishtim is real… and if he still lives?”

“And I will end death, itself, when he guides me, for never has such a king made this quest… a quest to honour my lost brother and your lost son.”

“You go to steal the Herb of Immortality from the denizens of the deep, then?”

“Yes, mother and goddess Ninsum.”

I can sense the sea-change in her mood. There is a slight turning of the mouth. She sees the value of this challenge and I press my advantage. “I and only I can do this…”

Her eyes are suddenly bright, she gets to her feet and comes to stand over me.

“There must always be a choice, Gilgamesh. Remember that. If there is no choice there can be no victory.”

I do not understand, but I nod my head as though I do.

I, Gilgamesh have already made my choice…

Ninsum lays her left hand upon my head. In a world become desert it is the kindest thing anyone has done for me in a long time. My face – the King’s face – is wet with tears as he gazes up through the waters into the loving but challenging eyes of his mother.

“Go, then! And with my blessing, but remember this,” she places her other hand on my head. “If the truth were what we thought it was, then it would contain no power to change us…”

She smiles and kisses where her hands are. “It must always be deeper than our search… Now leave and learn to embrace that deep.”

She holds my head in a way she has never done, before. My left leg feels suddenly stiff and heavy in this kneeling position. There is a resistance. My hand flies to where my sword should be… and finds it.

Other parts in this series:

Part One> Part Two> Part Three> Part Four> (opens in a new tab)” href=”https://stevetanham.wordpress.com/2019/05/09/gilgamesh-descending-5/” target=”_blank”>Part Five> (opens in a new tab)”>Part Six>

(opens in a new tab)”>Part Seven> This is part Eight

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of King Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Gilgamesh descending (7)

I watch as he runs. I am tired of his slow-witted learning. Act Four is half way through, but already he has exhausted the patience of everyone but his mother….

Where did that come from! One of the features of a central role in these mystery plays is a certain degree of exhaustion. Even if you are familiar with it, the script will have many points where you will wish you had studied it in more detail. Sometimes the fine details cannot be pre-written into the script, and have to be adapted to the conditions on the day.

We three – the annual writers in rotation – are by no means above making a mistake or three… and these crop up as part of the ‘testing’ that must apply if this ritual drama experience is to be raised beyond a simple ‘reading’ of the text.

We learned our temple craft from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, the former head of the Servants of the Light organisation. I remember her saying, at the beginning of one such intensive weekend:

“Long before the end, you will be tired, very tired – and that exhaustion is a part of the process. Do not forget to learn from what is happening to the player as well as the character…”

The character you bring to life in these mystery plays is what Dolores would have called a thought form. Sue’s, recent post, Lord of the Deep: Getting under the Skin touched on this process. When you realise how much power you can bring to such an occasion, you have a double responsibility on your head and in your heart. You must guard and guide the role… and your self playing it. Both are part of the emerging alchemy of intent and delivery.

So now we face a double danger. Gilgamesh charges through the labyrinthine passageways of the temple of Ishtar, not realising that he is in a magical place that is not subject to the laws he knows and can control. Clutched in his sweat-streaked right hand is Enkidu’s axe… He pursues a woman he thinks is his enemy – Shamhat. But this is not the high priestess but the goddess to whom the Temple of Ishtar is dedicated.

But now I must surrender to his presence and, literally, be there for him…

She is inhuman, this Shamhat who can outrun her King. As the passageways get darker, I know I am losing her in the endless triangles along which she flees… Surely, we must be near the very centre of the temple – the Holy of Holies. My feet slide on the warm stone and I arrest my movement facing one who stands before me, unafraid–so familiar and yet, other-worldly. The Bull of Heaven is like a man, but his face is masked in pure white, as though a pot has been thrown to demonstrate the perfection of the art…

He calls to me from across this chamber, “Gilgamesh, you have offended the Divine Council.”

I snarl back that I will cast his corpse down the narrow streets, so that the city orphans may gorge on it. My taunts seem to leave him unmoved. I would be disappointed if it were other than this…

I am about to tell him of the bravery of my brother, who died leading the fight against Humbaba, the tree-demon, but, as though knowing my thoughts he says, “You have slaughtered Hu-Wa-Wa, the watchman of the Cedar Forest.”

I raise my weapon. It is time to silence this half-animal fool. I will not have the memory of Enkidu besmirched. But the weight of the blow is wrong, and only then do I realise I am clutching an axe – Enkidu’s axe; the one with which he led the attack on the demon. My soul soars, knowing that Enkidu is somehow here with me, in the form of his fearsome weapon. A warrior knows how to tune his strike – learning in an instant how to make fine changes to its arc and balance. I have earned and defended my kingship…

The blow splits the head of the Bull of Heaven and he sinks to his knees. Not even granting him time to die, I cast away the dripping axe to rip off the pure, white mask he wears…

And die another death… Before me is the stricken and bloody face of my brother Enkidu. I have killed him with his own axe.

In death – again – I can see he was, indeed, my twin; that the word brother does not encompass the wholeness of my love for him.

But how have I twice caused his death? Only beneath the spires of Ishtar can I imagine that this has been arranged by the Fate Dancers to show me the pitiful place to which my will and desires have brought me. Sobbing, my life seems to spill out from eyes that have seen too much, the hot tears falling through my fingers and becoming lost in the old dust that covers the stone floor of the inner temple of Ishtar. It is a fitting picture of my life…

Unseen hands raise me, the Fate Dancers are directing my life more openly, now. With eyes than can cry no more I watch as I am placed at the left side of a portal. Disbelieving, I see that a ghostly Enkidu has been raised to stand at the portal’s right side. Like two statues unearthed from the ground, we stand, undead, as the Fates and their charges pass through this portal of inner learning to their blessings.

Only the ghostly Enkidu and the worthless Gilgamesh remain unblessed…

The temple Guardian looks at me with something like pity in his eyes, seeing my exhaustion… and his. The King’s fingers clutch at where his sword used to rest on the wide leather belt… But, for now, there is nothing.

Other parts in this series:

Part One> Part Two> Part Three> Part Four> (opens in a new tab)” href=”https://stevetanham.wordpress.com/2019/05/09/gilgamesh-descending-5/” target=”_blank”>Part five> (opens in a new tab)”>Part Six> This is Part Seven

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of King Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.

Gilgamesh descending (6)

Faces… If there is one thing upon which Gilgamesh would wager his life, it is that life is all about faces…

His own face now burns with a permanent redness; whether from anger or something deeper, he does not know. But it burns… and gets hotter with every passing encounter with the faces that fight to decry and destroy what he has achieved as king… and before that, as they would see if they gazed down from their indifferent heights and invested in understanding his noble life.

Once more, he clutches the jewel at his throat: the amulet taken from Enkidu’s dead body in the forest – the jewel bestowed on his lost brother by Ninsum, Gilgamesh’s half-goddess, half human mother.

He is becoming thin, he can feel it. There has been little sustenance of any nature in the past few days. Enkidu’s death has robbed him of all appetite. All he can do is to carry on…

With heavy tread, he returns to the city of Uruk – his city, though it now feels controlled by strangers – who do not wish him well. He tries to tell those who will listen that Enkidu is dead, that, though, together, they slew the dreadful demon Humbaba, his brother died like a hero, with their king, Gilgamesh, fighting to save him.

But, no-one is listening. He shuffles away, seeking the shadows. His bent and dirty form goes unrecognised as he hides from the people – choosing alleyways, where once he strode in splendour through the main streets.

He is surprised when he looks up and sees that his feet have brought him to the pillared front of the main temple – the home of the high priestess, Shamhat, his enemy… Everything in him curls inwards as her mocking voice calls to his ragged and dirty form. He sees her shape in the shadows, emerging to witness his disgrace. His greasy hand clutches his sword and raises it, but its power is absorbed by the temple and he sinks to his knees, screaming in frustration.

Then, from nowhere, the Fate Dancers encircle him and begin their dance; only this time, he is not in the King’s position – in the withdrawn east of the temple – he is in the centre of its pattern, his fate being spun like a toy in their cruel movements.

As their dance comes to a close – but before they withdraw – he sees two faces looking down at him from between the pillars of the Temple of Ishtar, but, when he blinks away the tears of rejection and sorrow, there is only one… Shamhat’s face shimmers as she gazes down on his…

“Rise and bed me, O mighty Gilgamesh. Give me of your luscious fruits,” she mocks. “Be my sweet man…”

The taunts burn him as nothing ever has before, though the words offer him everything he could have desired. His mouth fills with bile and he sputters his reply. His voice is a dull rasp. “In my pride you scorned me, yet now you offer yourself freely. Why do you mock me at this, my lowest estate?”

He sees it now. Shamhat’s motives are revealed. She will try to destroy the King in retaliation for the death of her lover, his brother, Enkidu…

With this anger, a wild energy at the heart of Gilgamesh returns to empower him and he leaps to his feet, shouting, “A curse of destruction on you and your temple of harlots”

Shamhat, her edges shining and twisting as though person and shadow have mixed, laughs and turns to enter the dark chambers of the temple. She disappears into the internal labyrinth of its passageways and Gilgamesh charges after her, blazing, as his fury consumes him… He does not see that the movements of the Fates have changed his sword into Enkidu’s axe.

Outside, in the brightly-lit city, the Fate Dancers are dancing, again.

Other parts in this series:

Part One> Part Two> Part Three> Part Four> (opens in a new tab)”>Part five> This is Part Six

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism 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.