Jan Malique , a Companion of the Silent Eye, has kindly agreed to allow us to share the text of a presention she gave at the Lord of the Deep workshop, which addresses some of the core themes of the story…
Offspring of Silence Grasping for Immortality: Journeys Beyond Death
This presentation was born out of speculation and a result of the dialogue with Silence. Life, Death and Immortality are huge concepts to grapple with, and not always easy to understand. Like Gilgamesh, humans have strived to keep the approach of death at bay, perhaps hoping our glories and creative efforts will ensure an immortality of sorts. Maybe not physical immortality, but something greater, an enduring essence of spirit, of our names being uttered by those left behind. There’s an ancient Egyptian New Kingdom tomb inscription that beautifully encapsulates the essence of what immortality may really mean:
“To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.
It restoreth the Breath of Life to him who has vanished”
After several thousand years we’re still reading the exploits of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, so wouldn’t say they’ve entered into the glorious landscape of Eternity? Now what of the heroes of this drama? I suppose Enkidu would be the perfect person to begin with.
Cries from the Silence
Enkidu, was called “offspring of silence”, a romantic and terribly poignant title for anyone to bear. He was moulded out of clay and given life, an unbridled example of physical vigour and its appetites. A being who was the fearsome wilderness present outside the city gates, being a primeval manifestation of humanity’s psyche, its original innocence perhaps. A perfect companion to Gilgamesh the warrior king. They appeared invincible, immune from the ravages of time and hand of death. Might they be considered immortal even? Physically, no. It was achieved in other ways.
Their story made me think “aren’t we all offspring of silence?,” creatures born from the Great Silence that is the Unmanifest Universe. A place beyond mortal understanding and perception, forever veiled and open to perpetual speculation. We’re born from silence and enter into a world of noise, yet, the silence is ever-present and promises we’ll return to its embrace eventually. Even the Universe must return to a state of non-being, embrace the fire of destruction when the end comes. Then, only darkness and utter silence exist as the Cosmic Consciousness lies slumbering, gestating new worlds. Does this sound like total annihilation? No, but our fear of being extinguished totally at death is understandable, to become dust and clay covering the vestiges of civilisation in an inglorious end. A bleak viewpoint, but only one perception of a Universe that’s manifestly alive and filled with mystery.
The story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is also humanity’s search for eternal life throughout the ages, as well as the fear of loss, of memories, loved ones, physical deterioration, and status. Philosophy and metaphysics have explored questions of existence and death at great length, but to what end? We continue to grasp yearningly at an elusive prize, despondent at the obliteration of the Self who returns once more to the earth.
How do we articulate our fears except to use the words of Gilgamesh in his conversation with Siduri the Alewife:
I am afraid of Death [and so I roam open country].
The words of my friend [weigh upon me].
[I roam open country] for long distances; the
Words of my friend Enkidu weigh upon me.
I roam open country on long journeys.
[How, o how] could I stay silent, how, O how
Could I keep quiet [ ]?
My friend whom I love has turned to clay:
Enkidu my friend whom I love [has turned to clay].
Am I not like him? Must I lie down too,
Never to rise, ever again?
(Dalley, S. 1989, Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, And Others, OUP, p.101)
Further words of regret will fall from his lips, when he eventually locates and (loses) the physical source of rejuvenation, a plant called “the restoration of old age to youth” found in the primordial waters of Apsu. The prize is his only for a brief moment, then snatched by a serpent who ingests it and immediately sheds its skin.There’s symbolism aplenty to mull over in this extract.
As for Gilgamesh, he finds healing but not the prize sought so desperately. The return to Uruk is still filled with grief for the loss of his friend, and a yearning to learn of the secrets of existence after death. A wish that can only bring further regret and reinforce the futility of mortal existence.
From Blood and Clay arisen
For those who are seekers of the Greater Mysteries, we know death is not the end, but only a doorway to greater states of consciousness. Through training we can prepare for the moment of transition and what lies beyond. Regardless, grief and a sense of loss is still ours to experience despite the inner knowing. The human part of our nature knows this to be true, and the divine part? It urges us to look beyond the trappings of illusion and perceive reality as it truly is. It makes me wonder whether our eventual evolution will be into a state of pure consciousness, infinite and complete. A lovely thought.
Immortality has been the focus of humanity’s hopes and dreams since early times, infusing our creative and intellectual endeavours in its pursuit. One can speculate at length about what has been lost before the advent of written language. The conferring of immortality by the gods was a rare gift, achieved after tremendous trial and tribulation. Those so favoured were blessed indeed, touched by divinity, to be eventually placed amongst the stars in the heavenly firmament. What of the rest of humanity not so favoured?
One early Babylonian epic entitled “Atrahasis” describes the creation of humans from clay and the blood of a god who was sacrificed for this specific purpose. What inauspicious beginnings these fragile creatures sprang from, part human and part divine, yet never likely to taste of immortality. Humanity’s sole purpose was to serve the gods and provide them with daily care. A life of servitude meant being subject to deities whose fickle natures may offer a benevolent hand on one day and rain down vengeance on another. The human condition was defined by mortality and lives of hardship for many. The soul’s existence in the afterlife was dependent on the social status of the individual, and for those of a lower status the afterlife presented no cessation of hardships. Therefore the prevailing attitude was “why prepare for it?”
Descent into the Earth
Indeed, why prepare for it? The Soul’s existence in the afterlife was dependent on several factors:
- Social status while alive
- Care given to their body, grave and cult statue after death
- The number of offspring they had, especially sons, as the eldest was responsible for making offerings
If these conditions were met, the deceased would have to navigate many dangers before it reached the place of judgement in the Underworld, presided over by Ereshkigal, Goddess of the Underworld and seven judges, the Annunaki. Once judgment had been passed, they would be assigned a place within the city of the dead.
Accounts of the Underworld describe it as a great cave beneath the earth, with the Earth being a mountain and the cave as a hollow within. The cave was a huge, dark place, surrounded by seven gates and walls, an invincible fortress guarded by Namtar, the god of pestilence. He prevented the living from entering and the dead from escaping. It was a place of decay, inactivity and devoid of joy. The Underworld wasn’t considered a “hell” as it is in certain cultures, only a duller version of life. On reflection, this could be regarded as hell by many.
The Mesopotamians didn’t consider physical death to be the end, as the dead were thought to exist in the form of a spirit called gidim (Sumerian) and etemmu (Akkadian). It was an entity closely related to the physical corpse. Death was a state of transition from one existence into another and in order for that to happen the proper funerary rites had to be performed. If not, the spirit was reduced to begging in the Underworld and could either become a restless ghost or demon plaguing the living. The living had a variety of methods to deal with these vengeful entities including:
- Tying magical knots
- Using magical ointments
- Pouring libations while chanting magical spells
- Making amulets
- Burying figures representing the ghost
- Drinking magical potions
This is only a fragment of what could be told about the dead and Underworld, but for the sake of our souls perhaps best not to linger in this dark and dismal place. Like Ishtar we need to return to life and the manifest world, bringing to light wisdom gained between states of transition and consciousness.
Arise Creature of Flesh and Divinity
The journey of “Offspring of Silence” is nearing its end and what have we learned from the experience? That physical immortality is not within reach, and perhaps not a viable option to avoid either the grave or funeral pyre. Who wants to be immortal anyway? To never age and die, to always suffer grief at the loss of loved ones as they wither and fade into nothingness, be witness to the ebb and flow of civilisations, see them rise and disappear into the dust, hear their songs being carried on the breeze and lament their passing. What do we think Eternity will offer us as we cling to our vehicles of clay and blood? Who will remember us and our lives? Can we transcend our attachments to objects and people, and find solace in the vastness of the Universe around us?
These questions haunt the figure sitting on the quayside, beyond which lies the vast Ocean of Creation and Death. Hot salty tears slide down their cheeks, all appears lost at this point of the heroic journey. Then a gentle hand wipes away their tears. The figure lifts their head to face themselves, infinite and complete.