Lord of the Deep: Dancing the Seven Veils

 

File:Myths and legends of Babylonia and Assyria (1916) (14801964123).jpg
The Mother-goddess Ishtar, by Evelyn Paul . Illustration from Lewis Spence: Myths and legends of Babylonia and Assyria (1916)

The first part of the second ritual drama was easy enough to design.

The Trapper…who looked so good in his costume, he should really dress that way all the time… brought the news to Gilgamesh that a strange and wild man had been seen in the forest, running with the animals. A man who could be the King’s double.

Gilgamesh, recognising that this might be the personage whose appearance was prophesied by his dream, ponders how best to address the situation. He cannot be seen to be over-eager to greet this new being… that would be perceived as a weakness…especially as, in that dream, this new being seemed to receive all the adulation normally reserved for himself.  Nor can he ignore the perceived threat of having his ‘double’ roam free within the kingdom. Control is everything to Gilgamesh…as it is to the untamed ego.

He finds what he believes to be the perfect solution… he will send Shamhat, the High Priestess, to ‘civilise’ this wild man by giving herself to him. Then she will bring him to the royal court, thus allowing Gilgamesh to gain the upper hand while, at the same time, taking his revenge for the Priestess’s earlier rejection of his demands by forcing her to accept this uncouth lover.

The Trapper is despatched with the King’s command… a term to which the High Priestess objects. She has already explained to the King that, where the gift of her body is concerned, she need obey only her own heart… or the will of the gods.

It is the Trapper who, with a mind and heart unclouded by political chicanery or heightened emotion, poses the question that stops the angry Priestess in her tracks; just what is the will of the gods in this matter? The Fates turn the wheels of Destiny as Shamhat seeks her answer from the Divine Council.

The Council, knowing that the wild man is Enkidu, the being formed from the heart of the goddess Aruru to be Gilgamesh’s Second Self, tell the Priestess that she must go to him, using all the gifts of love to bring his humanity to life, balancing the beast within and opening his heart.

And here, we met a problem. The original, Sumerian story is unashamedly graphic on exactly how Shamhat ‘civilised’ Enkidu over the course of seven nights… Not something we could, or would, enact on a workshop weekend!

We could only relate this passage of the story in a symbolic manner and, as the number seven features prominently in the symbolism of the tale, we decided that Shamhat would civilise Enkidu with the Dance of the Seven Veils. Luckily, we had a beautiful and voluptuous woman embodying Shamhat… until her health decided that she couldn’t come.

Which left me to play the part… and my son, who had come along to take care of the music for us, laughingly insistent that we leave him a blindfold handy to protect him from things he would rather not see…

We were able to reassure him that the Dance would be entirely decorous. To this end, the gods each entrusted Shamhat with a coloured Veil, symbolising an aspect of their own essence, that she must pass to Enkidu.

Encountering the man-beast at the water hole, Shamhat lures him with the colours of the Veils. Each Veil represents the influence of the Planetary Beings; each Veil carries a gift to bring the wild man to fullness of life.

The white Veil of the Moon shows Enkidu the vision of the tides of life and how their ebb and flow is eternal motion in perfect balance. The red Veil of Mars teaches discrimination, allowing him to choose action, rather than unthinking reaction. The grey Veil of Mercury brings communion with others through communication, giving the gift of speech. The orange Veil of Jupiter brings the qualities of humanity and kingship together… justice and compassion, service and protection in accordance with cosmic law. The green Veil of Venus opens the heart, turning the desire of the beast to the generosity of love. The black Veil of Saturn brings the wisdom of the sower and the reaper, and with it, the gift of Time.

Shamhat is High Priestess and a channel for the divine energies of the Goddess who can be maiden, mother and crone all at the same time. As such, she represents the Divine Feminine.  As each Veil is danced, it is placed upon Enkidu. As each Veil is placed, the untamed beast recedes and the Man emerges… a balance is found as he learns to understand the wholeness of his being. When he has received the gifts of the Seven, Enkidu  knows Love, and thus he is beautiful.

On the seventh night, as they rest, Enkidu dreams of a bright and lofty gathering, sharing a sacred meal of bread and wine. When he wakes, Shamhat, in a final act of ‘civilisation’, shows him how to share the symbols of physical and spiritual sustenance and a unified life.

Together they dwell with the shepherds, sharing a simple life. No longer can Enkidu run with the beasts… now they run from him, for he has become Man. Yet that loss is balanced by Love and he lives with Shamhat in joy. Until, one day, Enkidu sees the Trapper, gaily dressed, and asks him where he is going…

The Trapper explains that he is going to a wedding feast. He tells of the music and merrymaking and how, at the appointed time, the bride will put away her new husband as Gilgamesh, the king, comes to pluck the first flower of the marriage bed as is his right.

Enkidu, newly aware of the joy and beauty of that sharing in love, is horrified. By what right can this gift be stolen from a young couple? Incensed, and sounding very like Gilgamesh himself, though with pure and unselfish motives, he determines to confront the King.

And there we left it… The second ritual drama was over. My son had survived witnessing the Dance of the Seven Veils.

But what would happen when Enkidu and Gilgamesh, who could be each other’s very twin, came face to face at the wedding feast…?

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