I enter the temple at the head of the twin columns of the Dancers of Fate. Those of the kingdom enter behind their King in silent reverence as we pass the Guardian and bow our respects.
Alone, but knowing they follow, I cross the centre of the exotic floor and move towards the east of the temple. The gold-draped chair is waiting. I turn and stand, watching the precise formation of Fate Dancers peel away left and right, to literally flow down the circumference of the large circle that is the enneagram; the heart of this temple of the mysteries.
All wait for the King. I take a deep breath before beginning. He is waiting in the space around the golden chair… The familiar feel of an autocratic king from thousands of years ago.
I realise that I am the break in his continuity. Settling into the seated vessel, once more, this ancient king breaks with tradition and gazes across to look at the woman who is half human, half goddess – Ninsun, his mother. The memory is still fresh in his mind: the dream of the rock that fell from the sky to the ground, the way it was adored – the way he hugged and loved it! His strong body curls with the strangeness of it; the embarrassment of how he knelt before her as in a trance, asking her to tell him what it meant…
A friend, Ninsun had said. Even a man capable of being a brother! He was to come into my life… I can feel the King’s astonishment, even though I know he is cuniform words in clay from nearly three thousand years ago. And then the separation leaves us… and there is just Gilgamesh the King on his large throne, whose arms curl up into two wooden hands that hold his beloved sword. He is calm… purposeful. But the most powerful man in the world knows that world is changing.
He was beloved of the Gods, he knew. Why else had the world fallen at his feet? Surely, he had nothing to fear.
Now, there is no more time to indulge the mystery. The women are dancing again and he must watch, captivated. The women known as the Fate Dancers had devised these movements for his pleasure, though he divined the hidden hand of the gods in the way it stroked his heart, like a lyre whose music was not heard, but felt.
Everyone in the royal palace loved the hypnotic flow of the Fates’ dance. Shamhat had even petitioned him to let them make its gliding patterns permanent in the floor of the royal chamber. And he had agreed; at a great cost to the royal purse… for the dancers, but most of all for her. For Shamhat.
But that had been before she refused his advances, saying she had served her time and no longer answered to him but to the Divine Council, alone. His fingers grip the blade of his sword. No other circumstance in the world could have frustrated him like this! The Fate Dancers dance on… unperturbed.
“Shamhat!” He spits out the word. The High Priestess’s name etches a bitter taste on his tongue… Before him, like flickers of half-seen light, the Fate Dancers maintain the perfection of their movements; but Gilgamesh, with his hawk-like vision, sees their eyes flicker, before, smiling, his fingertips bid them continue.
Shamhat! He would make her pay for her public refusal to share her bed with the God King. But it would have to be subtle. Like him, she was partly God, partly human… and clever.
He looks down from his throne at the elegant and beautiful movements across the glistening white floor of his chamber. The Fate Dancers’ feet follow a pattern of lines that intersect the large circle at nine points. Three of them are formed into a triangle bounded by golden stars set into the white crystals. The other six lines intersect like the ghostly pattern of a gemstone and their intersections with the circle are marked with stars of dark blue lapis lazuli.
All this had been created for Shamhat, working – he now saw – to aid in this strange contest of the mind and body with which she saw fit to challenge his authority. But he loved the movements of the dancers. So much so that he could feel his world shifting each time they began to flow across the magical glyph before him.
There would be time to fix this, he thought to himself, settling back into his throne and reaching for his golden cup of mead.
He must have dozed off… Before him, the floor design glitters in the flickering light of the tallow candles. A rough man dressed in furs kneels at the edge of the court and he could sense another behind him. Gilgamesh reaches for his sword, but the vizier’s hand stops him, gently.
“My apologies, King Gilgamesh, I sought not to disturb your rest. There is no threat.”
Gilgamesh lets go the grip on his sword. “That is a dangerous place to stand, even for a royal vizier!”
The vizier bows and points at the kneeling supplicant. “He has news we felt you would wish to know, especially in these… uncertain times.”
Gilgamesh can taste the dawning of the new in the air all around him.
“Speak, man!” he shouts at the trapper. “If what you say is true, let us have no ceremony. What is it you have seen?”
“Why, I have seen a giant, my king!”
The king laughs, refreshed, relaxed and alert. He is amused. Good-naturedly, he tells the trapper that he has been listening to tavern stories. The man protests and the king is about to dismiss him as a fool when he realises that the description of the powerful and fleet wild man is remarkably close to how he, the king, would be described by a stranger, had he lived from the land.
“There is truth in your voice,” Gilgamesh concludes. Reluctantly, he asks the trapper why this has such importance that he risks his life coming to the royal palace to report it.
“My Lord,” says the trembling man, “he could be your very twin.”
Gilgamesh takes a breath and gazes upwards, letting it out slowly. No-one can see his smile.
Time passes. The royal chamber is empty, apart from the king. The tallow candles have burned low. They are making sputtering noises in their flickering death. Gilgamesh follows the spirals of soot high into the dimness of the chamber.
He is pleased with himself. The trapper has been despatched to find the high priestess, who will be told that she is to use her divine arts to seduce and civilise the wild twin. He knows that this action will open up a new sea of possibilities, but he does not care.
All that matters is that he will have vengeance on the woman he used to love…
Other parts in this series:
Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.
This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.
Header image by Sue Vincent, copyright the Silent Eye.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.