The Last Post?

Gawain's last post

We are now only two days away from the Silent Eye’s 2016 workshop, Leaf and Flame, organised by my two co-directors of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness Stuart France and Sue Vincent.

I have the dubious honour of having the largest vehicle. Tomorrow, I will spend five hours or so loading the major fixtures needed to create the Temple of the Mysteries that we use to stage our magical dramas. On Friday morning, very early, I will collect the single passenger needed to fill up the one seat not taken up by the fittings, and we will journey to the lovely village of Great Hucklow, and the wonderful Nightingale Centre, home of the last three of the Silent Eye’s annual workshops.

This year’s Leaf and Flame event tells the Arthurian story of Sir Gawain and his doomed quest to protect King Arthur from the consequences of accepting the Green Knight’s beheading challenge. Essentially, the Green Knight, riding into Camelot on New Year’s Day, challenges any of the Knights present to chop off his head; as long as he may do the same a year from then. Sensing extreme trickery, Gawain persuades King Arthur that he should not accept the challenge, but let it fall to himself (Gawain) instead.

We may assume that Gawain was suspicious of the actions of the green giant, but did not want to expose his beloved King to the dark forces involved. Sure enough, having chopped the head from the otherwise peaceful invader, Gawain awakens to a scenario of horror as the Green Knight picks up his severed head and rides out, stating that he’ll see his failed executioner in a year’s time, at a place called the Green Chapel, for the return blow – a blow that Gawain knows he does not have the magic to survive.

And so the scene is set for a mysterious series of adventures, culminating in a frozen and nearly dead Sir Gawain, in honourable search for the Green Chapel to surrender his life, arriving at an unknown castle and being taken in by the Lord and Lady who run it. They thus save his life and assure him that he has time, before paying his grisly debt, to recover amidst their generous hospitality, as the mysterious Green Chapel is nearby.

In return for this rescue, the Lord proposes a game: that, on each of three days’ hunting that follow, he will give to Gawain everything he wins. In return Gawain is to give to him everything that he receives, during his recovery in the warmth of the castle. So far so good, but when the Lord has left to hunt, the following morning, the Lady of the castle steals into Gawain’s bedchamber and attempts to seduce him… There follows a verbal fencing match where Gawain, decidedly under-dressed under his bed covers, is kept prisoner by the Lady while she works her seductive mischief. The original 14th century text is cleverly composed to show how the Lady changes strategies several times to try to outwit Gawain, who clings to his Knightly principles in what he senses is a losing game…

For three days, this twin metaphor of hunting and seduction is played out, with Gawain finally succumbing either to a magical token (the Lady’s garter) that may just help him survive his immanent beheading at the hands of the nearby Green Knight; or to sex with the lovely seductress. The interpretation relies very much on your point of view of the mores of the medieval times. Sex and Death were common themes, particularly in those tales that derive, as does the story of Gawain, from older Celtic traditions, where plain-speaking was the norm.

A similar historical eye is needed for the details of the Lord’s grisly hunting scenes, which otherwise might seem unnecessarily bloodthirsty…The original story was written about a time not long after the Norman invasion, where a strict code of hunting rewards were part of the hierarchy of the controlling elite.

I will not finish the formal story, as Leaf and Flame is not exactly sticking to the original plot, instead, as I wrote to a friend, earlier:

“In the hands of Stuart and Sue, The Leaf and Flame story of Sir Gawain becomes a sophisticated tale of the different ‘selves’ of the human; from the ‘lower’ and animalistic levels (and, below that, the foundation of survival, itself) to the assumed higher and intellectual levels. In the ‘middle’ we have the powerhouse that is the emotional ‘self’. The three ‘levels’ are not necessarily to be seen as stacked vertically…nor in the order given above..

The five act mystical drama follows the initial beheading of The Green Knight (who does not die, but rides off with his head under his arm) to the subsequent trials of Sir Gawain, who volunteered to enter this cursed action to save the honour of King Arthur. In the 14th century original, Gawain is ‘nicked’ on the neck rather than beheaded, following a partly successful seduction by the wife of a noble related to the Green Knight. Along the way, Leaf and Flame weaves in the story of Lady Ragnell, a woman cursed to be ugly to her suitors until one breaks the spell, thus freeing her to be what she is…

The greater story is that of the impossibility of divorcing the different elements of the ‘Whole Human’ whose nature has to be realised, in the words of Sue and Stuart, as “Fully human and fully divine”. The workshop is a cryptic journey through all these levels and how they operate within the life of, in this case, one victim, played by at least two people – Sir Gawain and his alter egos. Of his survival or not, I cannot speak, since my parters are keeping me in ignorance! I can only say that I sense some horror ahead; and that they are not necessarily keeping to the original story!”

I am, as you may have guessed, playing the part of Sir Gawain… it was not my idea, but my active acceptance of the doom ahead (whatever that turns out to be–and I really do not know the important details) needs to be a fitting tribute to their wonderful efforts. Whatever my ‘loathly end’ turns out to be, it will be followed by one of the most spectacular outside fire-dances, in the form of a performance by the mysterious Langsett Fox Dancers, whose dramatic performance will light up the night, though I probably won’t be there to see it, so to speak…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have an appointment with a grisly end and this may well be my last post…

Can micro-surgery stick heads back on, yet?

Normal service will be resumed, hopefully, next week…

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. adeleulnais says:

    Good luck Sir Gawain and I hope that the workshop is fantastic. Wish I could be there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Adele. Wish you could too! Come to the next one in April 2017?

      Like

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