Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Deductive Syllogism

Aristotle believed and taught that the best means of orienting ourselves in the world was through thinking.

He did not reject Plato’s teaching of the world of Forms and Archetypes, but he had some trenchant criticisms to make of it. (E.g. How would the form donkey relate to the form horse? How would either of these relate to the form animal?)

Aristotle taught that there are two kinds of knowledge: that which is arrived at deductively ( i.e. from conditioned to cause; such as footprints in the sand, indicating that someone has walked on it ) and that which is arrived at inductively ( i.e. from consideration of particulars we arrive at the universal; such as if all the carrots you have ever seen are orange, this indicates that all carrots are orange.)

BUT! Can we really be sure that we have seen enough carrots to make the judgment that all carrots are always orange? In other words, inductive thinking is inferior because we can never be sure that we have enumerated all the cases.)

Aristotle gave us the categories which enable us to carry out the processes of thought. These are:
i) substance, ii) quality, iii) quantity, iv) relation, v) place, vi) time, vii) posture,
viii) possession, ix) action, x) passivity

If we have a hallucination or see a mirage, these things are present, but if we ascribe extra-mental reality to them, ( i.e. if we think they are real) it is our judgment that is at fault.

Aristotle and his students worked out a grammar of thinking called logic as a means of testing the reality of statements.

The deductive syllogism is a series of three statements connected in theme. The first statement is the Major Premiss. The second statement is the Minor Premiss. The third statement, the Conclusion, is the only statement that can be made as a logical deduction from the two previous statements.

There are four kinds of statement in logic: the Universal Affirmative (A) the Universal Negative (E) the Particular Affirmative (I) and the Particular Negative (O). These make up the Mood of a syllogism. (See below.)

 Valid Moods

The medieval scholars who developed formal logic used names with which they were familiar to apply to the Valid Moods for each figure.

A Mood is identified by the nature of each statement, whether they are Universal Affirmative, Universal Negative, Particular Affirmative and Particular Negative.

Universal Affirmative = A
Universal negative = E
Particular Affirmative = I
Particular Negative = O

All tortoises have shells. (All tortoises in the universe have shells.)                                  A
No fish ride bicycles. (No fish ever in the entire world ride bicycles.)                  E
This bus is red. (Other buses may be other colours, but this one is red.)                        I
This man is not a postman. (Other men may be postmen, but not this one.)                   O

Particular affirmatives might be indicated by e.g. Some, as in “Some women are ballerinas”; “Some guitarists are left-handed”.

There are three figures in logic. (Some logicians have found a fourth figure, though this has not been universally accepted.)

Fig. 1=             M – P             
                        S – M
                        S – P
The valid moods for Fig. 1 are:- BARBARA, DARII, CELARENT, FERIO

In Fig. 1 the Major Premiss is always Universal (an A or an E type) the Minor Premiss is always affirmative. (An A or an I type.)

Fig. 2=             P – M
                        S – M
                        S – P
The valid moods for Fig. 2 are:- BAROCO, CAMESTRES, CESARE, FESTINO

In Fig. 2 the Major Premiss is always Universal, (an A or an E type) and one premiss is always negative. (An E or an O type).

Fig. 3=             M – P
                        M – S
                        S – P
The valid moods for Fig. 3 are:- BOCADO, DARAPTI, DATISI, DISAMIS,         FELAPTON, FERISON

In Fig. 3 the Middle Term is the subject in both premises. The Minor Premiss is always affirmative, (A or I) and the Conclusion is always particular (I or O).


Fig. 1

All neap tides are ebb tides. (Major Premiss) Universal Affirmative.                       A
This is a neap tide. (Minor Premiss) Particular Affirmative.                         I
:. This is an ebb tide. (Conclusion) Particular Affirmative.                                       I

Fig. 2

All soldiers learn to shoot. (Major Premiss) Universal Affirmative.              A
No milkmen learn to shoot. (Minor Premiss) Universal Negative.                            E
:. No milkmen are soldiers. (Conclusion) Universal Negative.                                  E

Fig. 3

All trumpets are made of brass. (Major Premiss) Universal Affirmative.                 A
All trumpets are musical instruments. (Minor Premiss) Universal Affirmative.       A
:. Some musical instruments are made of brass. (Conclusion) Particular Affirmative.                                                                                                                    I

Analysing the Syllogism

We start with the Conclusion.
As in grammar, we identify the Subject  (S) and the Predicate. (P)
 - Here the resemblance to grammar ends! -

In the Minor Premiss, we try to identify where the Subject (S) occurs.
What is left is the Middle Term (M).

In the Major Premiss, we identify where the Middle Term and the Predicate occur.             
For example, in Fig. 1“This” is the Subject.
In Fig. 2 “soldiers” is the Predicate
In Fig. 3 “trumpets” is the Middle Term.

If the mood does not fit the figure, the syllogism is no good.

For instance:-

All lobsters are red.                                                   A
All communists are red.                                             A
:. All communists are lobsters.                                  A

Conclusion: “All communists” = Subject.
“are lobsters” = Predicate

Minor Premiss “All communists” =  Subject
“are red” = Middle Term

Major Premiss “All lobsters” = Predicate
“are red” =  Middle Term

Fig =    P – M
            S – M
            S – P

So this is Fig. 2           


The mood is AAA (BARBARA) and NOT a valid mood for Fig. 2. So the syllogism is no good.

Consider this:-

God is that than which no greater can be thought.

But that than which no greater can be thought must exist, not only mentally, in idea, but extra-mentally.

:. God must exist, not only mentally, in idea, but extra-mentally.

This was a proof given by St. Anselm in the 11th Century for the existence of God. Does it work out?

Lewis Carrol, the author of Alice in Wonderland, turned the deductive syllogism into a board game, and tried to explain it to the 11year-old Alice Liddell, who promptly fell asleep.

With the basics as you have them, can you work out how this might be turned into a board game with counters of different colours, etc? (N.B. There might be some money in this!)


I tugged those boliauns all day
in the sea air off the lough,
and my hands were raw, too sore
to barrow out the weeds to burn
and so I let them lie, smudged
and stringy with the pulling.

That evening, Paul let the cows
into the field. They plodded, trusting;
great belly sacks slung
on a rugged geometry, down
to the shore hedge.

Next afternoon, the vet came
with a long, hollow knife for the bloat.
A cow lay rolling  her bulging eyes
to show the dark-veined whites,
her guts blown like a galleon sail,
a fallen zeppelin with a crazy idol’s head.

Paul said the vet swore blind
it wasn’t ragwort poisoning,

but there was the knife
and the bursting eyes’ distress.
I felt their reproach all through,
like asthma.

Durer's Melencolia I

Albrecht Dürer lived from 1471 – 1528; a time of change and upheaval in the cultural and spiritual life of Europe. He was born in Nuremberg, and travelled widely in Europe, becoming one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, and one who first developed the self-portrait as a meaningful artistic study.

His engraving Melencolia I is one of his best known works, but there seems to be no real consensus about the interpretation of the subject matter. At all events, it is an evocative picture, richly suggestive in its composition and subject matter. It is generally thought to belong to a series that includes The Knight, Death and the Devil; The Prodigal Son and St. Jerome. However, its title, Melencolia I, seems to argue that there should be three other engravings on the theme of the three other humours, Sanguinity, Choler and Phlegma. No such engravings exist, as far as we know, and one would be hard put to it to ascribe with any certainty the humours mentioned to the other three named works. The chemist and author John Read sees Melencolia I as full of alchemical symbolism, and the art historian Erwin Panofsky calls it a “spiritual self-portrait”. Others again see the influence of Plato’s Hippias Major (a dialogue on the nature of beauty) and of the Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli’s De Divina Proportia (a study of mathematical and artistic proportion); works which Dürer is known to have studied. I have no wish to contradict any of these commentators, but I should like to offer another alternative reading of the work.

To try to come a little closer to the picture, we might consider one particular aspect of the cultural life of the time, namely the field of education.

During the Renaissance, the subjects taught at school were those that had been taught since the Middle Ages: the Trivium: Grammar, Rhetoric and Dialectics (later replaced by Logic) and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Music, Astronomy and Geometry. These were known collectively as the Seven Lively Arts. It is true that Grammar, Arithmetic and so on can be thought of today as dry, abstract things, but once upon a time we told stories about them, and even had an idea of how they looked. They were visualised like this:

Grammar is the oldest. She is a hag who had come into the world at the time of Osiris. She lived far from the haunts of men until she was discovered by Hermes. She carries a sharp knife to perform surgery on the lips and teeth of those who could not otherwise speak properly. Her planet is the Moon.

Rhetoric is a beautiful, majestic woman of mature years, dressed in a highly colourful robe. Her planet is Venus.

Dialectics is a pale woman of severe aspect, dressed all in black. She holds a serpent in her hand, ready to sting with the venom of sleepiness those not attuned to head-knowledge. Mercury is her planet.

Arithmetic is a beautiful and stately figure. Rays of light radiate from her brow and ray back, emerging from unity and returning to unity. She belongs to the Sun.

Astronomy appears in a fiery ball of light. She is a maiden in a robe decorated all over with diamonds. She wears a crown of stars, and in her hands is a book made of various metals in which the progress and paths of the stars are described. Her planet is Saturn.

Music comes announced by a symphony, and is accompanied by the Three Graces, who go before her, singing as they go. She is harmonious and well-balanced, and her planet is Mars.

Last of all comes Geometry: a woman of sturdy limbs, who holds a pair of compasses in one hand and a sphere in the other. Her task is to describe and explain the world of Nature to the Gods. She belongs to the planet Jupiter.

A story in which they each take a small but important part is told in the Anticlaudianus of Alanus ab Insulis, the 12th century scholar, better known, perhaps, for his contribution to the School of Chartres. This was a spiritual movement that, among other things, tried to reconcile in an organic way the teachings of Plato, with its insistence on things in the material world being representations of spiritual truths, and the work of Aristotle, which held thinking to be of prime importance in the spiritual life of humanity. The teachings of the School of Chartres were encapsulated in artistic form in the great cathedral of Chartres. For them, philosophy was a vivid and colourful drama of the spirit. To illustrate this a little, here in a simplified form is the story of The Perfect Man, from the Anticlaudianus of Alanus ab Insulis.

The Perfect Man

The Goddess Natura was at the side of God at the Creation. Her garment was a robe of great beauty, and represented on it were all the creatures in nature. Only one part of her robe was torn and grimy, the part representing the human being.

The gods of the world came together to discuss the creation of a new and perfect human being. The world of nature could supply the body, but a new soul would be necessary for such a being. However, only God could provide a new soul.

The seven Virtues, Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Courage, Faith, Hope and Love, decided among themselves who should make the long journey through the planetary spheres to ask for this new human soul. It was agreed among them that Prudence should be the one to undertake this journey.

The Seven Lively Arts worked together to provide a vehicle in which Prudence should travel. Grammar made the shafts, and Rhetoric decorated them with bright colours and designs. Dialectics fashioned the axles, and Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy each provided a wheel.

The chariot was to be drawn by five horses, each horse one of the outer five senses. And so Prudence started on her long voyage through the starry spaces and the planetary spheres towards the Godhead.

On the way, the five horses began to fail. One by one they fell asleep and would not be awakened. Only Hearing remained wakeful, and alone drew the chariot onwards. Prudence found her strength and courage failing, and fainted, but Faith came to her aid and revived her. Together they made the rest of the journey.

They made their request, to which God acceded. He commanded nous, the Holy Spirit, to produce the Idea of the new human soul. When this was done, God created the soul from the Idea that the Holy Spirit had formed.

Prudence and Faith now returned to the world with the soul of the new human being. The Four Elements provided a body for this pristine new being, and Music, Arithmetic and Harmony brought the soul and the body together.

Seeing this new creation, spirits of vengeance, the Furies, began a ferocious attack, but the seven Virtues protected the Human Being, who was now free to live in the world, and to reign over the new Golden Age.

Melencolia I

Now, think of Dürer's "Melencolia I". The seated figure is clearly a picture of Geometry. Note the compasses in her hand, and the sphere on the left of the picture. Notice also the magic square on the wall. Each planet has its own particular magic square, and this one is for Jupiter, Geometry's planet. Then, there is the large geometrically formed block, the so-called "Dürer Solid". It somehow seems to clutter the scene in its weightiness, and yet it is not rough rock, but carefully formed. There are carpentry tools lying on the floor, - and what is carpentry if not a version of practical geometry?  Outside, the world is darkening, in spite of the rainbow and comet in the background and the “black bat night” of Melancholy unfurls her banner.

Why then is Geometry no longer describing and explaining the world to the Gods? The putto, or cherub to the left of the central figure, with nothing to report, looks listless and glum as Geometry sits motionlessly watching, her eyes burning into the distance. The ladder seems to lead nowhere; the bell is still; the sands of time trickle through the hourglass.

The melancholy temperament occurs when the physical, the material, weighs on the soul, threatening to overwhelm it. That seems to be what is happening in this picture. The Dürer Solid form, the wood and carpentry tools lying about, and the ladder almost overwhelm the composition. The scales on the wall remind us again of the weight of things, while also hinting at the direction in which science is moving. Only that which can be weighed and measured will be accorded any reality. Meanwhile the dog - symbolic of the active soul from the days of Socrates until the Grail writers of the 13th century - lies inert. What has become of the Golden Age?

Dürer himself was one who was well able to describe, if not to explain, the world to his fellow man. We have only to think of his plant and animal studies, especially his study of the rhinoceros – a creature that he never saw, but was able to reconstruct almost perfectly, from a description given him by another! The artist himself looks out at us from his self-portraits, and we see there something of a melancholy calm, and a questioning look. He was well aware of the intellectual life of his time and highly sensitive to the changes in the spiritual life that led to the Reformation. The Human Being comes increasingly to the fore as the Gods appear to withdraw their influence. Questions arise about the role of the Human Being. About eighty years after Dürer, Shakespeare’s characters, speak of “this muddy vesture of decay” or “this quintessence of dust” in reference to the human body. What has become, here, of the Perfect Man? The Earth is either a “goodly frame” or on the other hand, “a sterile promontory”; while the heavens, “this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire” can be described in the same breath as “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours”.

This view of the world is surely what inspires Melencolia I. Dürer was among the first to see the onset of materialism and to understand the price that we pay for it. The Seven Lively Arts have lost their liveliness. By the time Shakespeare goes to school, Dialectics is replaced by Logic, and which is Logic’s planet? Mercury, planet of communication, can be seen as busily active in Dialectics, the rigorous pursuit, through question and answer, of truth. Logic, on the other hand, relies entirely on the morality of those who use it, whether it is employed in the pursuit of truth or not. At this moment in History, 1514, date of Melencolia I, the connection with the cosmos is fading, and human beings begin to experience themselves as more and more distant from the Gods.

Those exalted female beings, the Seven Lively Arts, make up the “sevenfold feminine” which, in Goethe’s words, “leads us on high”. What might appear to us now as mundane academic subjects were once experienced as living beings of a soul nature that can lead us to higher realms of consciousness. Goethe was able to appreciate their qualities, and this appreciation enlivened his scientific studies. However, as Rudolf Steiner once mentioned, “these ladies have become rather thin”. 

It is some five centuries since Dürer pointed the way that things were going. The materialistic view of the world is wearily familiar to us. Nevertheless, we can all have a passion, for instance, for music, or become very enthusiastic about the study of astronomy, or, indeed, any of these so-called lively arts, and ‘enthusiasm’ once meant possession by a God. It was the study of geometry that first warmed Rudolf Steiner’s heart with the hope that it is indeed possible to share spiritual truths with others in an objective, scientific way. The Goetheanistic approach to science is gathering interest in more and more places. There is modest reason to be hopeful that, in the words of Christopher Fry’s character Meadows in his play A Sleep of Prisoners:

                        “…The frozen misery
                        Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
                        The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
                        The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.”

There is no doubt, however, that a grave spiritual crisis confronts us. The summer edition of New View is largely devoted to this theme. In A Sleep of Prisoners, Meadows goes on to say that, in our time, “wrong/ Comes up to face us everywhere, /Never to leave us till we take/ The longest stride of soul men ever took.”

Yet, Goethe once described the essence of duty as “loving that which we have to do.” We all certainly have to do with the Seven Lively Arts, one way or another. Perhaps if we could bring some fresh warmth of heart to them, truly learn to love them anew as the gifts of mighty beings of soul, we might begin to put some flesh once again on the bones of the poor “thin ladies”, and thereby maybe equip ourselves for that “longest stride of soul”.

What does that mean in practice? I believe that it means something like this: that Grammar is no longer perceived as simply parsing and clause analysis, or the pedantic jostling of syntax, but the life force in the living and continually evolving being of language. Rhetoric need not be a matter of slogans, clichés and sound bites, but can find herself again in the beauty and truth of poetry. Logic should no longer be the amoral mechanism of electric switch-like syllogistic exercises, or quasi-mathematical processes, but achieve that moral quality needed to be part of the highest aspirations of humankind. Astronomy might reveal to us not only the beauty of the cosmos, but also its form and meaning. Arithmetic could be no longer a matter of the manipulation of figures, often taking place outside the manipulator’s consciousness, on calculators and the like. She could once more be the study of the luminous rainbow qualities of numbers, for ever emanating from and returning to the single brilliance of the One. Music would continue to delight us as it always has, but she could be exalted from the darker rhythms of the will so that we could begin to hear again the hidden music in the world around and above us. Geometry could be perceived once more as the interplay of spiritual beings; the metamorphoses of line, point and plane; expanding our inner world to infinity. All our areas of study could come to new life once we realise with enthusiasm what they truly are.

What a liberation this could mean from the dull, mechanistic world view that is presented to us in our culture from so many sides! Dürer’s melancholy Geometry might then have something new to report to the Gods.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Michael Scot's recipe for making gold

Michael Scot was born towards the end of the 12th century, and became renowned during the 13th century as a scholar, linguist, classicist and alchemist on Continental Europe. In Scotland, the country of his birth, he was thought of as a warlock, and many are the tales of Michael, being taught by the devil, drinking a broth made from a serpent's head and receiving occult wisdom, cleaving the Eildon Hills in three, putting a kerb of basalt to the River Tweed, riding on a demonic horse to Rome to discover the date of Easter, and finally, at his death, having his heart rescued by a dove from the talons of a raven, thus signifying that he had attained eternal rest in Heaven, and escaped the chamber of fire and ice that was prepared for him in the nether regions.

In fact, his true biography is as interesting as any folk tale. He studied medicine and it is said that he discovered a cure for leprosy.He was tutor to the strange character, the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II, and tried to influence him for the good in the government of the country; he translated many works of philosophy and alchemy; he foretold (accurately) where Friedrich would die and foresaw his own death, from a piece of falling masonry. He was proved right in that, too. He wrote a number of prophecies, for which Dante, in The Divine Comedy,  ascribed him a place in hell, with his head on back to front (forever looking backward, as befits those who prophecy the future). James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd put him into a work of fiction, as have many other Scottish writers.

But look at the recipe below, and make of it what you will. I would caution you, however to consider these questions: how much urine from a young badger is needed? How young should the young badger be? How much blood from a ruddy man should you take? How ruddy is ruddy? Where does one find the rest of these ingredients? And at the end, have you, in fact, just got gold-coloured lead?

Medibabaz the Saracen of Africa used to change lead into gold in the following manner:
Take lead and melt it thrice with caustic, red arsenic, sublimate of vitriol, sugar of alum, and with that red tuchia of India which is found on the shore of the Red Sea, and let the whole be again and again quenched in the juice of the Portulaca marina, the wild cucumber, a solution of sal ammoniac, and the urine of a young badger. Let all these ingredients then, when well mixed, be set on the fire, with the addition of some common salt, and well boiled until they be reduced to one third of their original bulk, when you must proceed to distil them with care. Then take the marchasite of gold, prepared talc, roots of coral, some carcha-root, which is an herb very like the Portulaca marina; alum of cumae something red and saltish, Roman alum and vitriol, and let the latter be made red; sugar of alum, Cyprus earth, some of the red Barbary earth, for that gives a good colour; Cumaean earth of the red sort, African tuchia, which is a stone of variegated colours and being melted with copper changeth it into gold; Cumaean salt; pure red arsenic, the blood of a ruddy man, red tartar, gumma of Barbary, which is red and worketh wonders in this art; salt of Sardinia. Let all these be beaten together in a brazen mortar, then sifted finely and made into a paste with the above water. Dry this paste and again rub it fine on the marble slab. Then take the lead you have prepared as directed above, and melt it together with the powder, adding some red alum and some more of the various salts. This alum is found about Aleppo and in Armenia, and will give your metal a good colour. When you have so done, you shall see the lead changed into the finest gold, as good as what comes from Arabia.
This have I, Michael Scot, often put to the proof and ever found it to be true.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Gawain & the Green Knight

Ever since I first read it, I've loved the tale of Gawain's journey to the Green Chapel, to uphold both his own honour, and that of the Round Table.

But the more I read it, the more I see in this story. First of all, the story takes place in the space of just over a year, but this passage of time represents not just the passing of the seasons. Something in Gawain changes in this period. At first, he is the young hero who wishes to bring a speedy and conclusive finish to the adventure that has arrived at Camelot, but by the end, he has learned something about himself.

The description of his shield tells us more about him: the five-pointed star, each of whose points stands for something five-fold. As Leonardo's Vitruvian Man reminds us, five is the number of the Human Being. There is something deeply spiritual at stake here. But the star is the side that Gawain shows the world. The picture of Madonna and Child, on the inside of the shield, is what he keeps turned to his heart. This picture is often thought of as simply a representation, rather sentimental, of an event long ago in Palestine. Perhaps we could also think of it as representing The Divine Sophia holding the Christ; spiritual potential waiting to be born in human beings. This is the aspect of the central image of Christmas that perhaps has been forgotten over the years.

Arthur's court is composed of twelve knights, Arthur himself and Guinevere. The cosmic picture of the twelve knights, each representing a House of the Zodiac, and King and Queen as Sun and Moon is another pointer to the story's esoteric content. Also present is Bishop Baldwin, representing higher powers beyond the Zodiac circle.

Gawain sets off at Michaelmas, the time of new initiatives and beginnings. At each threshold in the world of Nature, he has an enemy to overcome. Here, we are being directed to the inner steps that Gawain is taking, overcoming the obstacles in his own nature. He finds himself in the neighbourhood of Bertilak's castle on Christmas Eve. He is welcomed to the castle in St. Peter's name, which indicates to Gawain that he is, spiritually speaking, in safe hands. There are games, a meal of fish dishes and Midnight Mass. Then comes Bertilak's strange proposal: that he should share with Gawain the best of what he gains in the hunt, and Gawain should share with him the best of what he receives in the castle.

Bertilak's first two hunts are described in great detail. They show Bertilak as almost a force of nature in his strength and determination. First he hunts a stag, then a boar. On the third day, he brings home a fox, which he considers poor game indeed. Discussion of the significance of these creatures is for another time.

Gawain's great struggle in this story, is not with enemies, but with himself. Bertilak's wife tries very hard, three mornings in succession, to seduce him. Gawain has to master his sexuality, in the face of such extreme temptation, but do it in a way that does not insult the lady. This he manages, but only just. He does, however, accept her gift of a green girdle, which, she says, will keep him from harm. This he accepts, on the understanding that he will make no mention of it to Bertilak, thereby breaking the terms of the agreement with his host.

When Gawain finally confronts the Green Knight again, he has to receive the blow that he gave the Green Knight the previous year. At first he flinches from the axe. The Green Knight reproves him, and Gawain has to overcome his instinctive reactions; to master his own will. Then, when the Green Knight raises the axe again, he pauses. Gawain, in fear and anger, shouts at the Green Knight to hurry up and get on with it. Again, the Green Knight gently reminds Gawain that he made no such fuss a year ago. Gawain now has to gain mastery over his feelings. The third time, the axe descends, but only to graze Gawain's neck. Now that a few drops of his blood have been shed, Gawain can legitimately rise and defend himself. But now the Green Knight reveals himself as Bertilak, and the whole adventure as the invention of Morgan le Fay, Arthur's half-sister, and one who often in the tales of the Round Table, challenges its honour and integrity.

So Gawain has had to overcome his youthful zeal in favour of more measured responses; he has had to overcome aspects of his nature that hold him back from realising his true potential; he has had to master his will, his feeling and thinking; he has finally, to recognize the ways in which Nature can reflect to him his own nature. At the end, he gains the respect of Bertilak, Arthur and the Court of the Round Table, but he is left with a picture of himself that humbles him.

After this adventure, Gawain is ready to become the accompanying hero to Parzival in the Grail story.

Gawain and the Green Knight – the tale
At Camelot, the twelve days of Christmas were always celebrated with much feasting, merriment and telling of tales, such as the stories of the Trojan ancestors of the Britons; Brutus, Corineus and the rest. Those homeless warriors gathered on the island of Malta, where Brutus prayed to the Goddess Diana to show him where was a land his people could make their own. Diana appeared to Brutus, and told of an island in the North, between Ireland and Gaul, where none lived but giants. This place they could make theirs. And so it was: they sailed to the island and overcame the giants they found there, so that the island became the land of the people of Brutus, the British.
Arthur watched his court from the shadows. He had heard these old tales before, but it was his unswerving custom on feast days and holidays not to sit down to eat until he had heard of a new adventure, or that someone brought an adventure to Camelot by way of a petition for justice, a challenge, or news of monstrous attack. So far this Christmas, none had come, and so Arthur forsook his seat at the feast table, and waited.
All at once, a strange, eerie atmosphere descended on the feast hall. Everyone fell silent in fearful expectation.
Then, the great doors of the hall swung slowly open, by no human action, and a giant of a man entered, riding a huge horse.
The company were relieved to see that the mighty stranger carried a branch of holly, for that was the sign of peace, but the great double-headed axe in his other hand was less comforting to see. But these things were the least strange about the visitor: he was green. Clothes, boots and accoutrements were all of different shades of green, but so was his skin, and the hair of his head that hung over his shoulders like a cloak. His beard was a darker green, and hung like a bush over his breast. The horse, too, was of this shade, apart from the gold wire plaited among his mane.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the newcomer was his eyes, which were no shade of green, but a luminous red.
“I bring a challenge to the knights of the Table Round,” boomed the voice of the visitor: “Is there a man here who dare give me a blow with this axe?”
A low muttering and whispering arose and died away among the company.
“But if there is such a man here,” the Green Knight continued, “he must be willing to receive a like blow from me a year and a day hence.”
Now silence fell on the company. None dared to step forward to make this adventure his own. Arthur, watching from the dimness of the corner, felt shame sting him like a thousand tiny insects. No man stood forward, and so he must himself undertake the adventure.
“Here stand I, Arthur of the Britons,” he cried, breaking the spell of silence that held the company in thrall. “I will give the blow. Give me the axe!”
But Gawain now found his voice: “Nay Uncle! This adventure is mine!”
Arthur looked the young man steadily in the eye, and saw that he was resolute.
“We may yet make a short tale of it,” Gawain said with a slight smile.
The Green Knight handed the axe to Gawain, and dismounted from his great steed. He knelt, and bared his neck. Gawain swung the axe, and struck off the giant’s head, which rolled round the room like a green comet. The ladies drew back their skirts in horror as it passed, the men kicked at it.
“This was a short adventure,” said Gawain, but what was this? The headless man arose and strode to where his head lay among the rushes on the floor. He lifted it, and held it at the level of his heart. The head then spoke, and as it spoke, the red eyes were fixed on Queen Guinevere. So piercing was that gaze, that had Lancelot been there, he could not have forborne to spring to her side in protection. But Lancelot was not there, and Arthur was at the far end of the hall.
“Now Gawain, you have promised to be willing to receive the same blow from me a year and a day hence! I hereby bind you to that promise. Look for me at the Green Chapel a year and a day from this!”
So saying, the Green Knight leaped into the saddle, and turned his horse’s head to the doors. As he left, those doors swung slowly shut.
As soon as the doors were closed, the strange, magical atmosphere that had fallen on the assembly lifted. Conversation began. Had these things really happened that they had witnessed? Was it not a strange dream that all had dreamed at once?
For answer, Arthur stooped and picked up the great axe that the Green Knight had left behind him, as though in proof of the truth of the visit.
“This axe shall hang above my seat at the Table Round,” Arthur announced, “until the adventure is all accomplished and told.”
                        *                                  *                                  *
Christmas passed, and the greenery that bedecked the hall at Camelot was taken down. Winter now held no more promise of joy. Candlemas came and went, and the days began to lengthen, and the ice and frost to recede. Spring came, and the drab days of Lent gave way to Easter and the promise of new life was fulfilled in the fields and the byres. Summer came, and harvest time, and Lammas came and went, and the trees were growing golden as Michaelmas approached.
Arthur sought out Gawain, who was standing at the ramparts, gazing at the treetops that showed so many colours.
“You will be thinking of your adventure,” said Arthur gently.
“Indeed, my Uncle, I have thought of little else since the day it began,” Gawain answered.
“It lies in your power to refuse it,” Arthur said.
“Not so, Uncle. I gave my promise. And that promise was not made just on my honour alone, but on the honour of the Table Round, and therefore I cannot refuse it!”
Arthur turned his head away to hide the tear that rimmed his eye.
“Of all my knights, Gawain, I would not lose you,” he said, “but it is, as you say, not for your honour alone, but for the honour of the Table Round that you undertake this adventure, and we are not our own masters that take our seats there, but servants of all mankind. Therefore we must honour all our promises.”
Thus, Gawain began to make ready. He had no inkling where the Green Chapel lay, but felt in his bones that the adventure would find him out, and guessed that his way lay due north. He gathered his equipment, and saddled his horse Gringuljet of the Red ears. He took his sword and lifted his shield. This shield had two sides; the side that he showed to the world was painted red, and blazoned with the five-pointed star in gold. Each of the five points of the star stood for a fivefold thing: the five fingers and toes of each hand and foot, the five senses, the five joys of Mary – Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension and Assumption – the five wounds of Christ and the five knightly virtues – to be ever cleanly, to be chivalrous, to be generous, to be comradely, and to be compassionate. These were all symbolized in the five-pointed star, or the endless knot as it was also called. The inside of the shield, the side he had closest to his heart, was painted with a representation of the Mother of God and the Christ-child.
The knights of the Council of the Table Round all came to see Gawain’s departure, and the song numbered these among them: Sir Dodinal, Sir Eric, Sir Urien, Sir Lucan, Sir Ywain, Sir Lionel, Sir Bors, Sir Bedivere, Sir Mador, The Duke of Clarence and Sir Lancelot. The priest and confessor to Camelot, Bishop Baldwin, was also there, and Arthur and Guinevere gave Gawain their blessing.
                        *                                  *                                  *
The way was hard at the waning of the year. Gawain found that at every riverbank, every forest edge, at the foot of each hill there was an enemy to conquer. Each threshold in the world of Nature was guarded by something that Gawain had to meet and overcome.
Everywhere he asked for directions to the Green Chapel, but none knew of it, and the year was wasting. Gawain was due to meet the Green Knight again on New Year’s morn. By his own reckoning, it was now Christmas Eve, and nowhere in sight was there a place where he could celebrate Christmas, this being most likely his last Christmas on Earth.
He shipped off his shield, and set it up on a rock with the holy image outwards, and knelt to pray. On opening his eyes, he saw, a little way off, a ring of shining oak trees, and in their midst, a castle. Praising his good fortune, he rode to the castle, and called for entry.
“Welcome in the name of St. Peter,” called a porter from the gate. “You are right welcome at this Christmastide!”
The drawbridge slowly lowered itself, and Gawain rode his red-eared horse Gringuljet forward into the castle. The lord of the castle came forth; a big, bluff, hearty man, who welcomed Gawain right cordially.
“Come and be our Christmas guest,” he cried. All are welcome at our table at this tide, and a knight such as yourself more than most. My name is Bertilak. Tell me, sir, who are you?”
“Gawain is my name, of the Table Round,” came the reply. Bertilak’s eyes widened in astonishment and joy.
“Sir Gawain? Nay, we are more honoured by your presence than we can say! A hundred thousand welcomes! Make this humble castle your home for as long as you wish, and join us to celebrate Christmas!”
All the comforts that the castle could afford were lavished on Gawain. He had a hot bath and clean, rich robes were sent for him. He was shown to a deep chair by a fire burning bright, and Bertilak asked him many a question about Camelot and the Table Round.
A bell was heard summoning the company to the chapel. Gawain gladly joined the worshippers, but a surprise awaited him there. Among the ladies was one so passing fair that she made Guinevere look plain and ordinary by comparison. Next to this lady of such surpassing beauty was an old woman who was as ugly as the younger was comely. It was as much as Gawain could do to keep his mind on things of the spirit, when things of the body were so bravely shown nearby.
After Midnight Mass came a meal of fish; the best the nearby rivers and lakes could yield: salmon and trout of the finest. And after the meal there were games in the hall, where Gawain showed himself a worthy competitor. All was merriment and jollity in keeping with the season, and Gawain, for a moment, was able to forget the grim destiny that awaited him at the hands of the Green Knight.
                        *                                  *                                  *
On the Feast of St. Stephen, Bertilak came to Gawain and made an offer that Gawain found strange.
“Tomorrow, I shall go hunting. I shall give you the best of what I win at the hunt, and you, in return, will give me the best of what you win here in the castle. Is it agreed?”
“Shall I give you what is already yours?” Gawain asked, “for this is your house. What is there in this house that is not yours by right?”
“Come, it is Christmas, a time of giving. Let us keep to this plan of mine,” insisted Bertilak, and Gawain, though puzzled, agreed, for after all, what harm could come of it?
The next day, Bertilak set out to hunt with his company. They soon put up a stag, and Bertilak gave chase, crashing through the forest in pursuit, and always at the head of the hunt, setting a punishing pace for his men. Up hill and down into the dingles with their wintry thorns he rode, the stag leading them fleetly, over streams, splashing through ponds and mire, heading for where the trees were too thick to penetrate, but Bertilak was too nimble in pursuit, and headed the magnificent beast into a glade where it turned and faced them with lowered antlers.
Bertilak slew the stag, and they gralloched it where it lay, as was the custom in those times. Each man received what was his rightful cut of the meat, and the dogs took their share, too, of the guts and offal. Even the ravens, when the place was clear, flew down for their share, the hause-bone.
While the hunt was at its height, Gawain lay in bed. Suddenly, he heard the latch of his chamber lift, and footsteps moving almost soundlessly towards his bed. The bed-curtain was pulled aside, and there was the beautiful lady, who sat on the edge of the bed.
“What an honour for our castle to have Gawain for a guest,” said the lady, and Gawain smelled the sweetness of her breath as she spoke, and marvelled at the clear, pale skin and the deep, dark eyes.
“How great an honour it would be for a lady to have you as her champion,” she whispered; “what lady would not grant the sweetest favours to such a knight!”
How beautiful she was! How Gawain longed to take her in his arms and grant her wish! And yet, soon, he was to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. Could he stand there with such a thing on his conscience? But would not God forgive him the few hours spent in bliss with this lovely lady?
Of course, Gawain knew that he must refuse the lady, but he had to do so without giving her any insult. He must be courteous to the end, and overcome the strongest enemy; his own nature.
At last, after Gawain had struggled to turn the lady’s entreaties with the gift of his wit, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
“I see you are too strong for me, Gawain,” she said, and tiptoed from the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Bertilak returned, and Gawain greeted him with a brotherly kiss.
“A haunch of venison for our guest,” announced Bertilak, and servants brought in Bertilak’s gift to Gawain.
“Tomorrow, let us try the same game again,” Bertilak said, and Gawain, still mystified by the poor part of the bargain that Bertilak would receive from this arrangement, nevertheless agreed.
The following day, Bertilak set out to hunt, and the party startled a great boar, that crashed off through the undergrowth with Bertilak in close pursuit. The boar was a seasoned denizen of the forest, and knew how to plunge and turn from the path to shake off its hunters. Bertilak was an old hunter himself, and knew the tricks of boar-hunting. He expected every twist of the path of his quarry, and was close behind the creature, his spear ready to stick the beast.
The boar made a giant leap into the midst of a river, turning to face his foes. Bertilak dismounted, and, drawing his sword, plunged in after it, and slew the creature there in the river, with the icy water foaming all around him, and then, by main force, dragged the carcase to the bank.
As Bertilak was galloping after his prey, Gawain lay in his bed, and again heard the lifting of the latch, and the quiet footsteps across the floor, and the twitching aside of the bed-curtain. There, once again, was the lady, looking, if anything, even more beautiful than before. Once again, she made Gawain the rich offer of her sweet charms, and once again, Gawain had the great struggle to refuse the lady with charm and courtesy, and to work against the grain of his manly nature to do so.
At last, she leaned forward and kissed Gawain twice.
“You fight too cleverly for me,” she said, and left the room.
Bertilak’s return was marked by much laughter and noise, and he strode into the hall bearing a flitch of bacon from the carcase of the boar. Gawain greeted Bertilak with a brotherly kiss on each cheek, and once again accepted the gift with gratitude.
“Let us try our luck again tomorrow,” said Bertilak, and, though he still could not understand how this could be of any profit other than to himself, Gawain agreed.
The next morning, as Bertilak was at the hunt, the lady again entered Gawain’s chamber, this time in a gown cut low at the back, so that the smooth skin of her body was revealed. Her entreaties were now of such a yearning that it was as much as Gawain could do to prevent himself drawing her into his arms and assuaging the desire that rilled through his veins like a river in spate. However, at last, she rose, kissing him three times.
“You are indeed a worthy opponent, Gawain,” she said, “but let me at least give you a gift!”
“Your hospitality in this castle is gift enough for me, lady,” Gawain said, but she pressed her finger to his lips.
“This green girdle,” she said, untying it from about her waist, “has magical properties. It will keep the wearer safe from harm. I beg you to accept it!”
Gawain, mindful of the fate that grew ever closer day by day, took the girdle, and thanked her.
“But please,” she warned, “not a word to my husband!”
Gawain agreed to be silent about this gift, and tied it on under his robes.
When Bertilak returned, Gawain greeted him with three brotherly kisses, but Bertilak told him that all he had won in the hunt was a fox.
“Vermin that it is, it is his that wants it,” Bertilak said, and flung the fox into a corner of the hall.
“Well, Sir Gawain, shall we keep to our bargain again tomorrow?” Bertilak asked as he sat, pouring himself a glass of wine.
“Alas, my time here must come to an end,” said Gawain: “I have a most important tryst at a place that I have yet to find, and I must be there by New Year’s morn.”
“What place is this?”
“The Green Chapel.”
“Why,” said Bertilak, laughing, “that lies no more than half a day’s ride from here. One of my servants can take you in the morning!”
                        *                                  *                                  *
The day dawned cold, with icy winds playing around the castle battlements. Gawain made ready to meet the Green Knight, tying on the green girdle that the lady had given him. At least, he thought, he could make his peace with God in the Green Chapel. It was not great comfort, but it was all that he had.
A young squire led him, shivering as much with fear as with cold as he did so.
“My advice to you, Sir Knight, is to flee. Turn and go home now! This is an evil place, and nothing but danger awaits you. Turn and go. Go now while you still can!”
Gawain curtly told the squire to keep his advice to himself, but in vain. The squire prattled to himself of his fear, and the unwisdom of continuing. Gawain was fearful enough for himself, without the squire adding to his anxieties.
Their path took them along the bank of a river. A cold and desolate place it was, and ice gathered at the river’s edge.
“Your path lies just a little further that way,” the squire said through his chattering teeth, and turned his horse’s head and galloped away.
Gawain was left alone in the grey dawn and the cold. From the far bank of the river he heard a sound like s shrill keening in sorrow for the dead. It was the noise of an axe being sharpened. Gawain rode a little further, and came to where the Green Chapel stood. To Gawain’s horror, it was no Christian chapel, but an old domelike construction from the time before the Gospel had reached the shores of Britain.
A movement caught his attention, and there, on the far bank, was the Green Knight as on the day Gawain had first seen him, but riding no horse and bearing no holly garland. He was running, carrying a long-handled Danish axe, which he used to vault over the river, his long green hair flying behind as he leaped. He landed and stood opposite Gawain.
“I see you have kept your bargain,” said the Green Knight.
“As you see.”
“Are you ready to receive the blow that you gave me a year and a day since?”
“I am here for that purpose.”
“Very well. Then you must kneel before me.”
Gawain knelt. The Green Knight raised the axe, and, just as it was about to fall, Gawain flinched aside to avoid the blow.
“Ah, now, you must not flinch,” the Green Knight warned; “I did not flinch; neither must you.”
Gawain knelt again, and drove his fingers deep through the hoar frost to the roots of the grass beneath, to hold himself steady. Once again the Green Knight raised the axe. He paused.
“Come then, strike if you must!” Gawain shouted angrily.
“Nay, not so, Sir Knight! I showed no anger! You must bear your neck patiently.”
Again, Gawain took a firm grip of the grass roots, determined not to let his feelings show, but to receive the blow in calm.
Once again the Green Knight raised the axe, and brought it down –
The blade did no more than to graze Gawain’s neck. Some drops of his blood fell into the frosty ground, and with the shedding of his blood, Gawain was no longer obliged to anything the Green Knight demanded. He sprang to his feet, drawing his sword, ready to sell his life dearly.
But a change was coming over the Green Knight. His green colour was fading; he was shrinking, shrinking to a size of human proportions, though still a big man for all that. Gawain could hardly believe his eyes. There before him stood Bertilak.
“You have done well, Gawain of the Table Round,” he was saying through his laughter.
“What is the reading of this riddle,” demanded Gawain.
“First, you must know that this adventure was the notion of the old lady that you saw in the chapel at my castle. She is Morgan le Fay, and it was she who wished to test the honour and integrity of the Table Round. If Arthur’s knights are to work for the good of the land of Britain, they must be worthy of that task. You have shown that the knights of the Round Table are worthy men indeed.
“We made a bargain. You were to give me the best of what you won in the castle, while I was to give you the best of what I won in the hunt. On the first day, you greeted me with a kiss, which was the best of what you gained in the castle, and I gave you a haunch of venison. Just so. The second day, you greeted me with kisses twain, which was what you gained that day, and I gave you the flitch of bacon. But on the third day, ah. You greeted me with three kisses, but you said nothing of the green girdle. For that I gave you the punishment that you feel on your neck now.”
Gawain felt shame pricking his brow and the backs of his hands. It was true. He had not remained true to the bargain as it was agreed! He had kept silent about the girdle at the lady’s request!
“Do not reproach yourself, Gawain,” Bertilak said, “I doubt there is a man in Christendom who could do what you have done in this adventure. You are indeed a worthy knight!”
“Ah, but reproach myself I do!” said Gawain; “I did not keep to the bargain, and I am all unworthy.”
“Not so, neither, but a man worthiest to sit at the Table Round. Go back to Camelot, Gawain, and tell how the adventure played itself out.”
Gawain turned his horse’s head, and sadly made his way southwards to Camelot.
When he arrived, he told the whole tale of the adventure, leaving nothing out, especially what he perceived to be his greatest failing, keeping dumb about the green girdle.
“Nay,” said Arthur, “Bertilak was right. No man could have done what you did, Gawain, and no man here dare reproach you for remaining silent about the green girdle. The adventure is yours, and the honour of the Round Table is upheld, though my sister Morgan will give us other tests in the future, which we must meet with the courage and steadfastness that you have shown. From henceforth, all knights of the Table Round shall wear a green baldrick to their shields in honour of the adventure, and in honour of you. Honi soit qui mal y pense! Evil to him who evil thinks.”
And thus the adventure was ended.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Gallese's idea

I was inspired recently by the work of Vittorio Gallese, the Italian neurophysiologist, who has discovered that when we see someone perform a meaningful action, there are neurones in our  brains that light up in sympathy. These neurones are the ones that we would use if we performed the same action. In our brains, we mirror each other's actions! He suggests that this is the physical basis of empathy. The moral, social and educational implications of his work are immense. What, for instance, do we do to others when we perform an action? What should our actions be, and how should they be performed? The list of questions goes on.
He goes on to argue that there are some conditions, such as schizophrenia, or autism, where these so-called "mirror neurones" don't do their work properly, and that study of this aspect of brain physiology could be a useful step forward in the treatment of those psychoses.
It was Gallese's work that gave me the idea for the work in progress on the blog. It is a meditation on aspects of human relations, set mostly in a clinic - Gallese's "shared manifold" or healing space - where human interactions are somewhat separate from terrible world events, but not untouched by them.

Work in Progress

                                    The Mirror and the Birds
                                      Peter Snow
…The shared manifold...This matching mechanism, constituted by mirror neurons originally discovered and described in the domain of action, could well be a basic organizational feature of our brain, enabling our rich and diversified intersubjective experiences…
                                                            Prof. Vittorio Gallese
I A Couple

No words because we were in a hurry. So it was supposed to happen in a pocket of time, one night; only one night, and no words.
One night. No words: such was the contract unspoken, but understood. For we were impatient, because they bind and remind of the other’s humanity.
We took to our separate streets, separate lives, unconnectable dreams. From the first, she hated me for raising the question, and I have no gift for the tragic.
It ended in a sanatorium by a lake with mountains mirrored in its surface, and two people placed carefully beside each other on the sunlit terrace.
Tea was brought in, and the tension broke: we all relaxed into quiet chatter, dropping biscuit crumbs for watchful chaffinches the teaspoons catching the sunlight. It was late, but we were still not ready for the truth.
What had they parted with?
They searched their memories. The man idly turned a coin in his fingers, catching the sunlight.
The woman fingered a key on a chain round her neck.
The nurses in bright uniforms with watches at the breast, catching the sunlight, brought tea on a rattling trolley, filling the cups from a steel pot catching the sunlight.
Fingers touching lightly the spines of the books in the library, lips barely moving, whispering the titles. These words touch something: it is what inspiration is like, what spiritual health is like; rising to the unknown like a snail’s horn stretching in ignorance towards the light.
“Tell me again about these mountains?”
There was no disguising veil there of orange light; no traffic noise. Heaven was closer, the stars nearer, taking their places as the night deepened, like a silent audience, their attention undivided, watching how we act out and improvise on their compositions.
Or perhaps they were, rather, doctors, looking into us to perform their gentle surgery while sleep anaesthetised us?
Certainly something was happening there that you could call “theatre”.
“Yes. And in the daytime?”
The sky shone through holes in the turf: there is no name for its colour. It was like peach blossom, like the colour of life itself. The mountains bore on their shoulders heavy clouds; gravity their business.
But we were on a springy raft of peat and heather, stretching across the sky, drawing from it into our limbs the equal and opposite force of levity.
The bark of a fox in the night, and a stag's hooves beating into the distance of the forest.
I remember a wood-ants' nest, moving, rich with activity. There was the summer sun
and the sound of the cold stream.
“Yes. And afterwards?”
Our pulses regulated to the mutual mistake. We kept finding ways back to each other.
Later, while trying to salvage our hearts, the shape emerged from beneath the middens of contempt, the shape of what we separately longed for.
Somewhere else, with someone else, the form, the outline of love.
The yellow oblongs of light of the windows in the evening and the thought of warmth
waiting indoors.
And that is the true object of desire ; a universe of meaning that cannot be explored in one night, even though such an exploration might require no words.
I remember a candle flickering on your dressing table. Was that the brightest you could stand, or do you light up all around you? Let us consider how your light is spent. Sooty rings round your eyes, and the fire of your personality burning low, still smouldering.
I do not count my own ashes, or how I was seared in your flame.
Moths, after all, deserve what they get. I, too, have chewed holes in some clothes; but we were talking about you. I’ll leave the rest of the conversation to you.
Another time. If there is time.
There were times when her step behind me or the sight of her coming towards me held my heart like a new toy in a child’s hands. Now I allow bitterness to corrode the edges of memory’s pictures.
The horns of the mountains are touched with gold. Pigeons flutter fatly from branch to branch. Other creatures start forth, their own time beginning.

II The Clinic

The shared manifold, the meaning space is not yet established in the healing place. The beat of wings fills the mountain air and conversation tails off. Silence reaches deep into the ear, finding echoes of itself. The sun sets, gilding the roofs and the trees gather shadow under their canopies.
With each sunset, something, a little, seems to be gained, something has been overcome, a spell removed.
Night falls and passes, the shadows shrink; even the boldest stars fade, and the world begins again. What has been watching us, what pursues us, ransacking our darkness? A nerve thrills, as if to answer. A word slips away from us like an eel; the sense remains of not much time left.
What is overcome? To know that, we must interrogate the powers arising from that part of ourselves that is not quite human. Those powers, too, await their sunrise, and the maturing of the merely magical into the miraculous.
An aeroplane winks its lights among the stars, following its rational course, and is gone, and the stars follow their rational courses.

III Dreams And Time Passing

The day, like a farm horse, plods, harnessed to some obscure duty, through the furrows and when the work is over, a still view of quiet pastures and a mouthful of clover is all, and enough, that the labour yields.
In the High and Horned Mountains, the horses’ coats turn to scales like pine-needles. Their tails and manes are thin. The lions’ bass roar echoes among the fountains frozen among the rocks. Their ribs are clear beneath their fur, and old blood mats their locks.
At night, the only birdsong is the owl on the lower slopes, and by day the knotty branches are home to none but crows. The roots of the High and Horned Mountains reach far into the earth, and the ploughshares of far distant farmers bring their rocks to birth again.
Convinced of his beauty, that unquestioning imperialist, the cock, the King of the Birds struts among the dried wheel-ruts, pecking up young scorpions; a grateful materialist.

IV Therapy Begins

I was condemned to be myself, sentenced to ignore the commonplace version of who I am. The mask for negotiating with the world had to lie unused, a caricature. I needed no mask in the shadows of my hiding place; all was pure. I only wondered how I would behave if men in other masks broke past the guards. Who would I be in the face of death? Would my face be a blank, or would the mask that I had discarded prove to have shaped my features? The horror comes when a man takes off his mask, and there is nothing underneath; a blank. Another horror is the mask melding perfectly with the face underneath, or the face in the mirror becoming an unfamiliar mask.
But the wearer of the mask doesn’t know what it looks like.
It matters. How they would characterise me matters, for that would be what they describe to the world, and I am forced to be a stickler for the truth.
Whose was the face at the window when the tree fell on the barn and the dogs ran wild in the wood and the chickens were found torn and scattered among drifting feathers and the chimney caught fire and the spring ran dry and the shadow of a great beast in the moonlight fell across the yard?
It was a pale face, afraid.
No, it was dark and leering.
No, it was handsome, and looked alarmed.
No, it was a woman sorrowing.
No, it was a smiling child.
No, it was a hag, fierce and cunning.
No, it was my own face, astonished.

V Conversation In The Day-Room

I remember car journeys, the unfolding of well-known roads through strange landscapes, veiled in familiarity. A couple walked through a field, two horses galloped over the tussocks. Sheep were herded across a bridge, a girl walked down a village street. A man had made unexpected choices about his facial hair. Carloads of unexplored universes urged themselves forward, trying to push back the limits that are always so elastic.
Is it hard? To let the mysteries of others reveal themselves? Is it difficult?
But will there be time enough for it? The fibres of other lives brush the fibres of ours.
And once again, the fabric is refolded; a craft beyond all reproach. What is the time for if not for that?
What did we witness, after all? The trees moved in the wind, a dog barked, a horse galloped away in a field, a light came on in a distant house. What shall we tell?
We are surrounded all the time by miracles. We shall speak of miracles or remain silent.
What do they call the flowers that grow on the distant hillsides, out of reach? And those birds with unexpected flashes of colour in the woods. What are their names? And there's the animal that comes in the middle of the night, rooting in the garden. Give me their names and I shall know them.
You will not.
A magpie chatters and labours on short wings to another tree; seagulls wheel and swoop and glide.
Listen, and I shall tell you about an old Chinese prophecy. In the last days, the end shall be signalled by the sound of the clash of arms and preparations for war, heard from the mirrors.
The Emperor stood at his window and as far as his eyes could see he created his world, his mind the inside of all outside it. The royal self he had created looked at him from the mirror and was satisfied. His peacocks and panthers strutted and prowled among his jasmine and aromatic trees; a fountain plashed in his pool of carp which rose to the surface, mouthing Om. Om. Om.
But what was that bird? No-one had ever seen such a creature. The Emperor saw it rise, and consulted his memory. No, it was new. He turned from the bright window to ponder in the shadows. There was a distant noise of the clash of arms that seemed to come from within the mirrors.

VI New Patient

Nuns in grey habits raced down to the river’s edge like a flock of furious birds. They drew from the water a woman with white, moonlike skin, wailing and whimpering as they wrapped her in towels. Their feet moved like a pack of sleek rats, quick and purposeful, bulging the black polished leather of their shoes, and her naked and cut feet captive among them, hobbled up the gravel path.
“Sister Concepta,” explained a boy, placidly watching:” She’s mad.”

VII Therapy Continues

“Let us examine the facts: facts are things that can be examined. They render themselves susceptible of analysis. They speak for themselves. Good. The statue, you say, had once been painted, and two shadowy discs remained for the irises of the eyes. Then, you claim, as you looked, the eyes turned to look at you, and then moved back to their original positions. I put it to you that such could not possibly happen. It must have been a delusion, a trick of the light, wishful thinking. Yet you insist.”
Yes. I insist because I must. The impossible thing happened, but you will not reflect it within yourself. We shall speak of miracles or remain silent.

VIII She Explains Herself

“In my pockets are charms and talismans. I blink my eyes for a shower of sparks. The heels of my boots beat smoke out of the ground and my toes point the way to the hidden kingdom. My rings shine and sparkle with ancient magic and my teeth hold the key to secrets. I dance enchantments and skip unbreakable spells; my voice is thunder, or a whisper in the trees. The birds tell me their discoveries, the beasts seek my advice. My back is alive with sense. Tell me your dreams and I’ll tell you your story. I smell out wickedness and clap my hands to expel it; I leap seven leagues and cheat the wind. I am human in spirit and nature and I strive beyond both.”
She might be a mad, ragged hag if she were not beautiful. Her curses, jargon of the dispossessed, are potent.
“May dogs growl and bite when you pass and cats hiss and scratch. May crows dash at your head in the streets; may your hair fall and clog your sink and your teeth shatter and crumble on a nut; may your fingers fail to grip and your tongue to find words; may your toes turn backwards and your head twist on your neck; may the holes of your body be stopped until you burst with bad air and foul matter; may a toad squat on your coffin to keep your soul from flying; and all for a slight you gave me, child of love. Or was it you, at all? Children of love are we all, and all cursed the same.”
She fled the cloister, and fed herself from bird feeders, and dogs’ bowls, shooing the creatures away, such was her madness. They watched her, waiting. They had plenty of time. The nurses have given her new clothes. Her hair is growing back.

IX Overheard Conversations

A male nurse with bare, freckled forearms, unfolds another mystery, tucking blankets round an old blind woman in a gleaming wheelchair.
“At first we didn’t believe it. Then Tom came back and said it was all true. That convinced some, those who thought Tom was a good bloke, but it wasn’t good enough for me. Then two or three others burst in with the news. That changed a lot of people’s minds, but I don’t reckon you can be too careful. So I held my peace and didn’t say a yea or a nay. Well, when the dog died, it convinced a lot of the others who were still swithering. A voice at the back of my mind said the dog was old, after all. It could have been natural. But I was one voice amongst many, and so I went along with it, against my better judgement. But you can’t argue with the majority.”
Below in the city, the streets are full of magic. Statues wink. Pigeons curl their coral toes on sentient stone heads.
Rain out of a blue sky; it can happen sometimes; or dew blown from trees. It is not impossible. I felt it today, rain out of a blue sky. The trees were blown dry long since. So it must have been rain. Just rain out of a blue sky.
Wise birds sit in the branches of municipal trees. The roofs and garden walls are patrolled by familiar cats. A dog barks, and the bushes are alive with intelligence learned by the birds from the barking. The moon delivers wisdom in the form of moonlight on the rain wet slates. Some call it the Green Language, but it is silver.
“Looking back, I see a city; I turn and walk through dark stinking alleys, and dingy side streets, loud with cursing, past the shebeens and brothels, past fights and grudging looks from dirty windows, or turn into broad avenues, full of noisy men. There are houses where women weep and children are hurt, or afraid. There are occasional bursts of laughter. I keep walking, looking for broad boulevards of handsome buildings in the sunlight, summer parks and fountains, and happy, innocent people.
Where do we look; to the skies, into the world, into ourselves, waiting for a response from the silence within? Or into each other, into the eyes, the gestures of each other, listening to each other's voices, reaching to comfort or congratulate?”
The skies, the clouds, lakes and oceans forests and desert places, the dunes, the ice floes; none are meaningful unless we see them reflected in another's eyes.
The nun comes, rattling softly her pills in her fist before throwing them far over the balcony, to be inspected and rejected by small animals.
Somewhere in sands of the desert, the lone and level sands; nothing beside remains.                     
“In the Green Language, the world is described in the gaps between things, between breaths, between light and shadow, in words that don't always quite seem to fit. Like flashing neon reflected in a puddle, my notions come.”
I know. I know.

X Shadows Lengthen

Tell me again: In the high and horned mountains? What was it, your tale?
An old blind woman in the corner sends her hearing searching. Her hand twitches at the fringes of her shawl, like a bat, tentative flutterings of a creature that lives by sound. She adds her fluting voice, snatching at the words of others from her darkness, piecing together their conversations from shards of what she has heard; what she can remember: phrases from an index of first lines.
All kings, and all their favourites, amidst their very tears, they'll smile to see an idle poet here and there.
Yes yes, I remember. Long work of love; going, going. Somewhere in sands of the desert: Look on my works. I remember.

XI The Doctor’s Office

The gleaming stethoscope, the sphygmomanometer reflecting the bright day; all my instruments are alight: the fountain pen and the telephone. The photograph on my desk shows a melancholy boy.
“The lake pours from the sun. I love the water; learned to swim held in my father's arms.”
He is smiling proudly; he holds up a snorkel and mask.
“I feel pondweed tangle in my toes, and currents moving underwater. Sometimes, out of water, I hear buzzing and smell burning. They come to me then when I sleep. I wake up weary.
I hear my mother calling from the bank. The buzzing starts again. But now it grows and grows – and it is voices singing; the lake is burning and the world is on fire. They have kept the promise that they made when I fell down and slept. I hear my mother calling from the bank, and other voices calling, but I am going, going to my older home.”
Put the photograph down. Its place on the desk is clear, beside the blotter, the telephone, the address book, a small vase of flowers. This order reflects me. It is my defence. I guard this place from the creatures that leap in silently and range between me and the fire, flicking their dry tongues over rough lips or those that come down on vigorous wings, coiling their claws round the branch above me; a bullet line between their fury and purpose.
Was it a lion or just an impression of strength, passing on a scent of something beastlike? Was it a snake, pouring itself into a narrow crack in the rock, or just a lash and flicker of subtlety? I am sure those were monkeys chattering and showing their teeth, throwing filth at what they could not reach. Something beautiful and lively galloped by on light hooves.

XII Song In The Dawn

Old hag in the corner, old man in the sky,
whither, oh whither oh whither so high?
 - I put the pearls in the oyster shells.
 - And I am besought for cantrips and spells.
 - Riding a donkey or riding an ass;
this is the road the royalty pass.
 - Give them an acre, give them a yard;
the life of a healer is terrible hard.
What is the bird that will see you right?
 - Hark to the hoolet, hooting at night.
But I am a raven steadfast and strong.
-         The time of your power will not be long.
The cock stretched forth his neck and shook out his feathers and sang in the morning, ordering the sun to rise. The dog turned three times in his basket, licked his lips and slept again. The cat alert for twitches in the shadows, watched with blank intensity. The sweet smell of the byre and the swish of tails and the warm breath of the beasts and movements of sparrows among the rafters brought in the daylight.

XIII Case History

A smell of knives in the air and the sky like tarnished silver; a good night for a hero. Life is an epic to him who wills.
In the last days, sounds of battle preparation shall be heard from within mirrors and looking-glasses, say the Chinese: but life is an epic to him who wills.
His Odyssey, his mission, was to transform the world transpeculate, before our shadows could rebel against us, flooding bathrooms, wrecking bedrooms, making free with barbers' cutlery, smashing bottles in pub gantries; misbehaving on the ceilings of brothels. Alone, he would impose his will on his reflection, bending it to do his bidding – his alone. He practised at the dressing table, not without success. He lined the attic room with mirrors, door and all, and took a lamp, and sat, the centre of a replicating universe, and clenched his will. So did his doubles. Meanwhile, his brother and his wife were sharing chocolates on the sofa. His brother loved the freckles in her breast; brown sugar sinking into cream: hazelnut, rum truffle, cherry fondant, coffee, nougat, montelimar. There was a cry; the windows rattled, the mirror clattered on the wall; she started, hand to freckled breast; he missed the caramel and bit his tongue. They calmed themselves. She soothed his tongue with hers. He slid her hem a little higher.
Upstairs, the hero lay exhausted on the floor, his enemies stretched out around him. The lamp went out; they all imploded in the dark to one slumped shape.
Downstairs the lovers fell apart, mimicked by the couple in the mirror. At last she reached down for the box and fed him from the lower tray. She dropped them all and screamed to see the couple in the mirror spring apart, and dress, in different clothes from their own, to distant sounds of steel.

XIV They Move Towards Each Other

Between the lines shapes of meaning trick themselves out in borrowed metaphors and similes; second-hand tropes; until some meaning emerges.
In some otherworld, in the grey wastes of dread. Fragments pasted together, like a blackmailer’s letter.
What shall we do with the hidden knowledge;, what shall we do with the magic spells?
Send winds across the seas and storms down dry valleys; startle the flocks up the braes; make the salmon leap the wrong way; blow down trees and bothies? Or shall we send unexpected cheques to old women on low pensions; leave briefcases full of money to be discovered at bus stops; cause treasure to rise to the plough? Or shall we keep our magic all a secret, and watch the world?

XV Crisis

Time is running out. Enemies are embracing their moment. The oars are beating the water moving like slow thighs; the gulls follow close above the deck. The distant land is grey on the horizon and soon will appear green and its scents carry across the waves. Smoke and woodland and good earth, the horns of mountains in the distance. The blades are sharp in their sheaths and the eyes of the warriors are hot.
Surely the Sun will turn its face away and the deeds be done in the darkness? Surely the sight of buildings, all the civilized institutions, will remind them of their humanity? A priest is praying in a tower and the bell rope near at hand. One in the garden straightens his back to look out at the sails on the incoming tide.
Once, we might have said: The sword is loose in its sheath, the arrow is on the string. Now, the ammunition is packed tight in metal boxes. Our equipment is all gunmetal and other hard edges.
We are the soldiers coming to ransack your house. We’ll take our fifes and drums and play the tune the old cow died of to sicken your heifers. We’ll smash your holy statues and start fires with your votive lights. We’ll dump your mattresses in the mud and linen in the river; trample all your delft with our hobnails and fire the shards at your familiar stars. We’ll rename your hills and valleys, rivers and woods to make them sound like ours. This will all be done in a spirit of play. It’s well for you that we let you off lightly. Because we love you, it’s well for you.

XVI Aftermath

The tall towers and the winding stairs: what do we see from the top?
The darkness drops again; boundless and bare, vexed to nightmare. Look on my works.
The shards are being swept from the shattered streets; the sirens are keening in the distance. Nurses are hanging fresh blood packs beside the beds of the injured innocent; switchboard operators are channelling the anxieties of the many to the ears of the patient few.
What return shall I make, responsible for what I reflect to the wise stars? The round world and all its inhabitants; who else has built it out from the sea, poised it on the hidden streams?
Round the decay of that colossal wreck reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
Love is a long work never finished. Let us at last remember what courage and honour mean.
A universe of meaning that cannot be explored in one night, even though such an exploration might require no words.
We each have our patch of ground and the task is to ensoul it with our work. And that task is at least honourable, and indeed requires courage, in spite of those who would sow salt and napalm the woodlands and fields, plant the device in the crowded shopping centre.
His fit has passed now. He has returned tired and sick. The nurses have drawn the curtains round his bed like a tent. Hector is laid in the earth at last, under the twinkling silent path of the satellites in their rational courses spread over the whole world, persevering steadfast, bearing witness.

XVII The Healing Space

If I tell you, you will never believe me, though you must believe me; we are created so that we shall believe each other, feeling into the common space of experience.
I remember the call of an oystercatcher and the smell of seaweed, the rhythm of the waves and the feel of sand yielding underfoot, or shingle and the tide running through the stones, a crab under a rock and seagulls calling hilariously and the bell tolling.
All this I piece together, sitting on a dry dune next to the old concrete pillbox, and another piece of the world reflects itself to the knowing universe. Things are as they are and will end as they must; with our help one way; without it, another.
Who else loaded the ships with weapons, packed the bullets into the aircraft’s wings,
loaded the bombs into the metal bellies?
The sun sets, gilding the roofs and the trees gather shadow under their canopies. The horns of the mountains are touched with gold. Other creatures start forth. The world is theirs in the dark.
What looks like love can remind us of what love is. Therefore, it is a gift; a gift of a different kind, but none the less a gift for all that. Love is a long work, either building or reparation, it is never finished.
There are two or three of us gathered on the terrace, looking at the reflection of high mountains in the lake water, and the sunrise.
A silence falls; ‘angels passing’. We allow them plenty of space. Something beautiful and lively galloped by on light hooves catching the sunlight. A scent like incense is borne on the wind; the smell of the burning nest:  above our heads the beat of wings.