In order to indicate the passage of time and distance in our story, we tend to walk the circular form of the temple. The third ritual drama began with Shamhat giving Enkidu one of her own scarlet robes and leading him towards the great walled city of Uruk, where he was determined to confront its king, Gilgamesh. In this instance, the circuits indicated something else too; for the first two, Shamhat led the erstwhile wild man towards his destiny… but on the third circuit, he took the lead.
The symbolism is subtle… one of the many minor details to which we attend, but which we do not expect everyone to notice. During the workshop, there are many symbols woven, almost invisibly, into the dramatic tapestry. They do not need to be acknowledged… or even noticed… to add depth and colour to what we are portraying. When Shamhat steps back and Enkidu takes the lead, you could simply see it as his haste to reach Gilgamesh leading his feet. You might also see it as the ‘child’ becoming a man… for Shamhat, as a representative of the Divine Feminine, has served as Mother to the nascent personality. You might also, given that the masculine powers now rule the land, see in this a symbol of the moment when patriarchy comes to the fore.
Nowhere is this male dominance more clearly seen than when we find the bride cowering in the marriage chamber, her husband banished to wait while the Lord of Uruk takes as his right that which should be freely given in love. But Gilgamesh finds his way barred by Enkidu. The ‘right’ is challenged and the two mighty men fight, while Shamhat spirits away the bride and restores her to her husband.
Neither can prevail…they are, though they do not know it, two halves of a whole; in many ways, a truer marriage than any made by Man. They call a truce; Enkidu demands that Gilgamesh forfeit his right to the marriage beds of his people. The King demands that Enkidu become his brother in arms.
Many battles they fight side by side, assuring the safety of the realm and its people. Many adventures they share until all foes are vanquished. Except, it seems, one final threat to the kingdom. Gilgamesh has heard of a demon that roams the Cedar Forest and decides that he must be slain. The demon, says Gilgamesh, is called Humbaba. Will Enkidu join him on this final mission to slay the demon?
Enkidu agrees, but he is troubled. The demon Humbaba, described by Gilgamesh, sounds very much like another being that he knew when he ran with the beasts… Huwawa, the great Spirit of the Cedar Forest, beloved of the gods.
Before they set out, the brothers in arms seek out the goddess Ninsun, mother of Gilgamesh. She gives the pair her blessing, adopting Enkidu as her own son and placing an amulet around his neck, and asks him to protect Gilgamesh in all things. Nevertheless, her blessing comes with a caveat… Gilgamesh must summon the Elders of the city to acquaint them of his intentions… and he must listen to what they advise.
This passage, penned thousands of years ago, was particularly poignant. It seems so very pertinent to where we are today, when the natural world faces so many threats from the overweening arrogance of Man.
Sealing the Seven gates of the city, the King summons the Elders, but his mind is already made up and focussed on personal glory. He tells them that he, Gilgamesh, mighty king and the greatest of warriors, will slay the evil demon, Humbaba, cut down the Great Trees of the forest and make such a name for himself that all men will know him and remember him forever!
Enkidu then tells the Elders of Huwawa, voicing his belief that the ‘demon’ and the blessed Spirit of the Forest are one. He tells how the birds begin to sing as Huwawa passes, of the joy of the animals and the song of the wind in the trees.
The Elders confer and, having listened to the wise words of Enkidu and the bluster of their King, they advise against the venture, begging Gilgamesh to remain with his people. The King pours scorn upon them, refusing to listen, and accuses Enkidu of cowardice. None may thwart the King’s desire, no matter what the cost!
Saddened, yet bound by loyalty and his oath to stand beside Gilgamesh in all things, Enkidu reluctantly agrees to accompany the King. They choose a double-headed axe that they unbind to separate into two identical weapons, but in that gesture of apparent harmony, the bonds that join them too begin to unravel.
No longer do they share a vision to protect and serve wall-girt Uruk and her people. Their quest now serves only the ego of Gilgamesh. It can only end in disaster…