The Quest for Immortality: Gods…

 

*

The workshops serve as a Celtic Cauldron of Plenty…

Everyone gets what they most need.

How is this possible?

How is it possible that three years on

from first tentatively considering the Epic of Gilgamesh

as a potential subject for treatment at such an event

it can still be teaching us things?

Lots of things!

Like a Celtic Cauldron of Plenty it keeps on giving…

*

Quite early on we wondered about the conception of the Sumerian ‘Gods’,

and precisely how they could be said to ‘move amongst the people’?

And when our numbers grew,

we knew that we had to embody them in the East of our Temple.

One by one we lost them,

to illness or circumstance or both…

Before we had quite lost them all,

it had become inevitable that the East would be populated by a vacuum…

*

…And then during the preparation for, ‘The Bull of Heaven’,

one of our Companions suggested that the Fates could also play the Gods…

And people who had initially shrunk from playing one role,

eagerly took on two…

And brought them both home!

*

The workshops serve as a Celtic Cauldron of Plenty.

Nobody gets everything.

Everybody gets something.

And we now know how the Sumerian ‘Gods’

can be said to move amongst the people…

*

Gilgamesh descending (5)

And now we must move swiftly, as the king’s heartbeat quickens with purpose.

Again, he watches the Fate Dancers… and begins to see the depths of what they do. These movements describe a ‘whole’. They are parts of how that unity evolves itself, while carrying its essential nature, unchanged… except for the result of its own process, working on the material of that which is not yet awakened to that change. It is something for which the mind has no language – except to watch the dancing…

Gilgamesh knows he is the agent of change… That all good change in the face of the chaos that came before comes from him. Enkidu – his brother and twin – is learning well. But there is a test of his new life coming up. Gilgamesh has determined that the kingdom of Uruk is still not safe; that there is another threat to his consolidated power. The demon named Humbaba lurks in the wild cedar forest. It is time to plan the death of this wild force so that all may be brought under the rule of Uruk.

His energy is all-consuming…. I am consumed.

They do not understand. Before, they did not need to understand. What has changed? Is it the presence of my brother, Enkidu, next to me, as we take turns to sleep in this vast cedar forest, where the trees really do touch the sky – this place of the greatest wildness in the whole of Sumer? The sky-father will bless me for this, as his night-time rest will no longer be disturbed by the hissing of Humbaba’s deadly whispers, echoed though the tall trees… Soon, there will be no great trees here, as they fall to the bloody blade of that which will kill the tree-demon… King Gilgamesh.

The final battle approaches, I can feel it. For seven days and nights we have gone deeper into the great cedars – to get to the heart of where cowardly Humbaba hides. My brother, Enkidu, is failing me. When confronting the Council, he even said he thought I was wrong! I, his brother, who shared with him my life and my throne, He said that Humbaba, the source of all our ills, was really Huwawa, the great and provident spirit of the cedar forest!

I had to compel him, showing him the nature of true strength in the face of the weak. Only when kneeling, again, before my mother, Ninsun, did I waver for a second, when she took Enkidu as her own child, leaving my blessing until the end of our audience. I bit my tongue, knowing that to prove my strength would vindicate me. Knowing that, on our return, she would hold me up in triumph…

Each night in the darkening forest, we take turns to sleep while the other watches. He says I cry out in the blackest of hours, but I know I have no need of dreams. When he sleeps he cries and rolls on ground, as though clutching his heart… With each night of dreaming he seems to lose a little colour, and awaken a paler man. When me met in battle in the square of Uruk, he was resplendent with the bright colours of adventure… Now, they fail him, but I know that at the bottom of that black pit lies courage; and that his dreams of suns falling from the sky into valleys are his loss of his bravery.

I know, too, that when the colours of cowardice have washed away in that valley of his mind, there will come a blackness – a blackness within which he will find, as all good warriors do, his inner nature… and then, in victory, he will shine once more.

When I stand guard over his fevered sleep, I take my sword from his leather bindings and hold it over him, sweeping the air to rid him of these ghosts. But his writhing continues and I am sickened. Tonight, there is a yellow sickliness about him, but, as I stand over him, I see that it is leaving his body and draining into the earth.

I sit back and watch this wonderful return of bravery, as shining black takes over his skin. While his courage steels itself, I hold my sword and will its strength into him, my brother. They do not understand my sword, whose handle grows too wide in the palm of anyone else who tries to hold it. Its potency is mine, alone… They do not understand the curve of the blade and how it reflects the arc of the sky – home of the Sky-Father who, I know, guides me.

Above all, they do not understand that it has a name, a curving, shining black name, that I shall never speak… For to speak it would be the death of what I do…

There comes the sound of crashing trees, giant cedar trees… and Humbaba is upon us! Wake, my brother, I call, your time of courage is now. And he does, and rises mighty and restored and shining black from the inner victory over his final nightmare. With a skill equal to mine, he weighs up the monster whose magic emerges from all around us, then calls Come Gilgamesh! and charges at its hidden heart.

The battle is long and has many faces, all of them screaming. The mighty cedars roar with rage that I dare to lead this attack upon the demon they have concealed… but it matters little, for the sword that has no name and that cannot be held by another is singing its black song… and nothing, not even tree-demons, can stand in the way of its will – my will.

Humbaba the tree-demon is dead. The trees are silent. They are silent because I have cut them all down. My black strength surged after I let Enkindu deliver the last blow… it was important that he see his re-found courage at work. He kneels at the side of the monster, Humbaba, sliced open in a thousand places.

I clear the last of the trees from the place of our final sleep and return to look at the kneeling Enkidu. He is slumped forward, as though praying. I clutch his shoulder to give him strength but he falls into the blood and the maw before us both.

Now, there is only the blood-lust and the beatings of both our hearts; and the other is not Enkidu, for I see, with a scream that fills what was a mighty forest, that Enkidu is dead…

The hidden eyes in the forest are downcast, as are mine. Not even the temple guardian can look upon the devastation.

Other parts in this series:

Part One> Part Two> Part Three> Part Four> This is part five

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

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.

Gilgamesh descending (2)

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:

Part One,

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.