Gilgamesh descending (7)

Sun in Gemini

I watch as he runs. I am tired of his slow-witted learning. Act Four is half way through, but already he has exhausted the patience of everyone but his mother….

Where did that come from! One of the features of a central role in these mystery plays is a certain degree of exhaustion. Even if you are familiar with it, the script will have many points where you will wish you had studied it in more detail. Sometimes the fine details cannot be pre-written into the script, and have to be adapted to the conditions on the day.

We three – the annual writers in rotation – are by no means above making a mistake or three… and these crop up as part of the ‘testing’ that must apply if this ritual drama experience is to be raised beyond a simple ‘reading’ of the text.

We learned our temple craft…

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Lord of the Deep: Surfing the Web

Saturday is always a heavy day, with three rituals and attendant prep sessions, as well as two explorations, led this time by Lorraine and Jan, both of whom are ordained ministers, but who follow rather different personal paths. You can find the basis of Jan’s exploration here, while Lorraine took an informal approach to engage us in a discussion exploring the relationship between Spirit, Humankind and Nature from a Druidic perspective.

Many Paths are represented on these weekends; beliefs wear many faces and Names, but the more you learn and the more you get to know the people who walk these paths, the more you realise that, although the outer form may differ, at the heart of each is the same Light.

Every year, we try to build in time to just spend getting to know each other, but there is always just so much to do… But, in spite of a day so full we learned of an ‘in’ joke saying you have to diarise time for flatulence on a Silent Eye weekend, and there was much laughter in the pub on Saturday night. We occupied the tiny snug of the four-hundred-year-old inn and set about the serious business of learning more about each other. It is one of the joys of these weekends that we get to spend time with people we only usually get to speak with online or on the phone.

There are inevitable and invisible barriers around us all, created to protect us in a world full of strangers and possible dangers. By the time we have worked through the first ritual on Friday, most barriers are down… and by Saturday evening, you would never know they had been there at all. The shared experience of something so far outside our ‘normal’ lives brings us together in friendship and companionship. The release of the tensions built up by the story we have been exploring opens the doors of the heart and it is a lively, laughing band that occupies the little bar, talking long and late.

So, Sunday morning, we did not officially greet the dawn, though some of us were already up to prepare the temple, which we had opened early for private meditation. It did not escape notice that, after two days of torrential rain, during which time the Fates had told the pre-biblical, Sumerian story of the Flood, Sunday began with clear and sunny skies.

Photo: Willow Willers

It was tempting to throw open the curtains and flood the temple with light, but shadows too have their place and the illusion we had created within that room would have been destroyed. Even so, the sun seemed intent on finding every chink in the curtains as we gathered for the Triad ritual after breakfast, as if the light itself wanted to join with us for what we were about to do.

The Triad ritual, shared by Steve, Stuart and I, is a yearly reaffirmation and celebration of our shared intent and purpose within, and as, a School. It is usually followed by the ceremonial ratification of those initiations that have taken place that year, but for the first time, none of our candidates had been able to attend.  Instead, we asked them to add their voices to our own as we, and all the Companions, joined together in the Web of Light meditation.

This is not a one-time meditation; it can be used at any time, by anyone, adding their light to the Web of Light that is growing across this world. But there is something truly magical in the augmented strength that comes from working together as we do within the temple. Nor were we alone in that temple hallowed by the loving hearts of the Companions, as we felt the presence of countless others, from across the world, who joined us with a shared intent.

I am notoriously useless during these moments, when hearts open to speak with one voice of Love, and was in tears before we had even read the words of our absent friends out loud. Both laughter and tears have their place in the temple,  especially when both may be born of joy or spring from a vision of beauty. Even so, I had a hard time holding it together as, one after the other, the Companions held the flame to their hearts and spoke for the voiceless of this world. It was a ritual I shall not easily forget.

Although we had been sharing the pre-biblical story of the Flood during the rituals that weekend, it was of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that I was thinking as we left the temple, when the Old Testament God had agreed to spare the cities for the sake of ten just men. We were more than ten within the temple, and many more minds and hearts were joining with us as we spoke for the earth and its creatures. What we have chosen to call the Web of Light grows, nurtured by many people worldwide, following myriad Paths and of all shades of faith, religion and belief, each in their own way.

In that, I see hope.

Gilgamesh descending (6)

Sun in Gemini

Faces… If there is one thing upon which Gilgamesh would wager his life, is that life is all about faces…

His own face now burns with a permanent redness; whether of anger or something deeper, he does not know. But it burns… and gets hotter with every passing encounter with the faces that fight to decry and destroy what he has achieved as king… and before that, if they would gaze down from their indifferent heights and invest in understanding his noble life.

Once more, he clutches the jewel at his throat: the amulet taken from Enkidu’s dead body in the forest, the jewel bestowed on his lost brother by Ninsum, Gilgamesh’s half-god, half human mother.

He is becoming thin, he can feel it. There has been little sustenance of any nature in the past few days. Enkidu’s death has robbed him of all appetite. All he can do is…

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Lord of the Deep: Rebuilding the citadel

Once more the fates move. Now, while Gilgamesh steps beyond himself, he and Enkidu, Life and Death, Man and Nature, become the portal that guards the Veil of the Beyond. Each offers their gifts as the Companions, one by one, pass through the Veil. What each may find there is for them alone.

For three days, Gilgamesh wanders, lost in the labyrinth, until, by chance…if chance it be… he stumbles through the door that leads to the Holy of Holies. The room is empty, but ‘to breach that space and breathe in its silence is always to summon forth that which is most needful to the soul.’

The gods appear to Gilgamesh and Utu, the god of the Sun, requires the King to attend and to contemplate the vanities of his heart. In turn they speak, echoing the words of Shamhat when she had asked Gilgamesh why he had refused all the priestesses when they had offered their bodies as a portal to the gods. He had found them unworthy of himself. But now, the gods reveal what might have been had he had the courage to accept their gifts.

Nanna tells him that the dreams they offered might have saved Enkidu…and throws down the white Veil of the Moon. Ninurta tells him that the strengths of his priestesses might have taught Gilgamesh when to apply them…and when to withhold his hand. He throws down the black Veil of Saturn. Gugalanna speaks of the arts of resolving conflict…and throws down the red veil of Mars.  Inanna, speaking of subtlety and understanding, throws down the green Veil of Venus. Enki speaks of the wisdom to see true and casts down the grey Veil of Mercury. Enlil speaks of seeing the divine through joy and throws the orange veil of Saturn at his feet.

“Thus,” says Utu, “do the lights of your soul speak, O King.”

Gilgamesh is distraught, seeing at last where his actions and attitudes have brought him. He looks for a way to make reparation… and decides that, as he cannot recall Enkidu from the dead, no other in his kingdom will ever die again!

The gods withdraw, knowing and seeing more than they will say. The Fates once more turn the wheels of destiny. Gilgamesh regains the sunlight and goes straight to his mother, the goddess Ninsun, seeking her blessing on a new quest, which, says Gilgamesh, he and he alone can encompass. His ego, so lately laid bare and humbled, has already begun to reassert itself.

“So soon?” asks Ninsun. Had he not slain the ‘demon, Humbaba’? Gilgamesh, rewriting events in his mind, to reflect glory upon himself, tells her that the Forest Demon is indeed dead, as is the Bull of Heaven whom he had found ‘skulking beneath the Temple’…

Should he and Enkidu not be at a victory parade? No, says Gilgamesh, holding out the amulet she had bestowed upon Enkidu and telling Ninsun that he is dead. Ninsun asks if the fallen should not then be honoured, but Gilgamesh replies that there can be no honour until he has banished death from his kingdom.

“But my dear child, all things are brought to birth, all things live, and all things must die. It is the natural order. Why even the Divine Council themselves will die, one day, in their turn.”

“There was one, who… defeated death… and gained immortality. The Old Tales tell of it. The tales that I read and re-read in my youth honour the name of Utnapishtim. He stole the Herb of Immortality from the denizens of the Underworld and he still lives to this day in a paradise beyond the mortal realms.”

“My dear boy, even if Utnapishtim is not some story-tellers whim, do you suppose you can find him?”

“I,” says Gilgamesh, drawing himself up to his full height “and no other!”

Ninsun is dubious about his motives, but grants her blessing…if he can assure her that he does this only for the people of Uruk, and has relinquished all thought of self-aggrandisement and his own glory. Gilgamesh, blinded once more by the walls of his own ego, assures her that it is so… and again the Fates move.

Gilgamesh prepares himself for his journey, bathing in the Great River, arraying himself in rich and gorgeous robes and placing his crown upon his head.

“Who,” says the man who has abandoned all thought of self-glory,  “is the handsomest of men? Who is the bravest of heroes? Who slaughtered the Bull of Heaven? Who obliterated the Forest Demon? And who shall discover the whereabouts of Utnapishtim and bring back The Herb of Immortality for his people?”

Who indeed? The man that Gilgamesh, once again looking through the eyes of the ego, believes himself to be?

Lord of the Deep: Stepping beyond…

When Lord of the Deep was being written, decisions had to be made about which elements of the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh to include, which to leave out altogether and which to adapt to aid the flow of our story. We do not slavishly follow historic texts, as, on a spiritual workshop, it is not the story that matters, so much as the deeper meaning and symbolism it contains.

As Gilgamesh descends, ever-deeper into the dark maze of his own ego, he is guided only by reactions. Believing himself superior to all other men…and possibly the gods too… he cannot see the consequences of his actions, as he has no access to empathy. Can we blame him for this? That is a sticky question. We do not blame water for being wet or the blade for being sharp. Neither can we blame the ego for striving, with every weapon in its arsenal, to protect itself. But that does not make its choices right.

The ego is created from our reactions to everything we have ever experienced. It consists of what we might call useful illusions that allow us to face the world as who we think we are. Gilgamesh is the king of a mighty city-state, a fearsome warrior, incalculably rich and powerful. Why would he question what has brought him such success?

But, just as water can drown and the blade can maim or slay, the ego, when allowed to rule our being, can bring us to ruin…

***

Gilgamesh rages. He is lost in the labyrinthine passages beneath the temple, following the goddess Ishtar, whom he still believes to be Shamhat, the High Priestess who rejected his advances.

Ishtar calls down the Bull of Heaven, crying that when he bellows, the earth will shake. Gilgamesh follows, maddened by anger. The goddess flees, crying that when the Bull of Heaven snorts the earth will open, swallowing all the men-folk… all the women-folk… and all the children. Gilgamesh follows, blind to all but anger. But the goddess has gone… and in her place stands the Bull of Heaven.

“Gilgamesh…” As the Bull of Heaven speaks his name, Gilgamesh brandishes his axe and begins to curse and threaten.  “You have offended the Divine Council., the watchman of the Cedar Forest.” Gilgamesh snarls and advances on the Bull,

“You dare to accuse me?” Hefting the axe, the King attacks the Bull as if cutting through Time itself. The fearsome Bull of Heaven does nothing to defend itself.

“You have slaughtered Huwawa…” it whispers, as it sinks, dying, to its knees. But, as Gilgamesh takes the mask from the face of the Bull, he recognises his brother in arms. He cries out his name…Enkidu!… then buries his head in his hands and sobs.

He has killed the one thing he loved… his own Second Self. Now, at last, Gilgamesh can see where his arrogance and manipulation have led and what his kingship has truly wrought in wall-girt Uruk, where riches and plenty abound…and where, ‘in their beds at night, the young people cry themselves to sleep’.

Colin as the Bull of Heaven… before the unmasking.

 

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.

Lord of the Deep: True colours?

Gilgamesh and Enkidu journey into the wilderness; pursuing the king’s desire for personal glory, the two have left Uruk to seek out the ‘forest demon’, Humbaba. Gilgamesh has vowed to kill the demon and cut down the Great Trees of the forest, seeking to prove his own might and carve his name in the annals of memory.

His mother, the goddess Ninsun, had blessed the two brothers in arms before their departure… but had offered advice; the gods know the value of free-will and the necessity of choice. His people had begged their king to set aside this quest, and he had scoffed, having no value for the opinion of those he should have served. Even Enkidu, who had stood beside him on many a quest, tried to persuade him against the journey, knowing that the apparently fearsome Humbaba is none other than Huwawa, the Great Spirit of the Cedar Forest. Gilgamesh chose to see only cowardice in his brother’s concern, shaming and manipulating him into agreeing to the quest.

Friendship with Enkidu had appeared to temper the ego and arrogance of the King, but the ego, jealous of its standing and self-image, continually strives to reassert itself. Gilgamesh, who has been hailed as the greatest of kings and the mightiest of warriors, has never consciously questioned his own supremacy… yet the heart of arrogance is shaped by insecurity and feels a constant need to prove itself to itself and all others. On the journey into the wilderness, Gilgamesh begins to show his true colours.

As they travel towards the Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh and Enkidu take it in turns to watch and to rest, unaware that, even here, they are within the realm of Huwawa, whose influence permeates their dreams. When Gilgamesh sleeps, he denies remembering any dreams, although Enkidu seems to have shared them as a half-waking vision. When Enkidu sleeps, the dreams are his alone.

Each dream is the same in essence… the two warriors are walking through a valley between two mountain peaks. Above them, the sun blazes, each time a different hue, bringing destruction. Each time, the two are lost from the valley.

In the first dream, says Enkidu, a white sun bleaches the valley. He believes it to be a bad omen for their quest, but Gilgamesh dismisses his fears.

In the second dream, a red sun withers the land. Enkidu fears that the dream is a warning against their quest to slay the divinely ordained Guardian of the Forest, Huwawa. Gilgamesh once again dismisses the dream, saying that the red sun is Humbaba, the demon, who they will break with their own strong hands.

In the third dream, a grey sun fell from the sky, subsuming all beneath it. He again tries to convince Gilgamesh that their quest is misguided, but the King, calls it nonsense; the grey sun is the demon they will divest of his ‘ill-gotten gains’.

In the fourth dream, an orange sun broke into falling fragments, crushing all who walked beneath it. Once more, his fears are dismissed by the King, and, with each dream, that dismissal becomes more pointed, manipulative, highlighting Enkidu’s apparent lack of courage.

In the fifth dream, a green sun fell as a shower of leaves, suffocating all below. Enkidu states his belief that their quest is doomed to fail… and Gilgamesh barely restrains his accusation of cowardice.

In the sixth dream, a yellow sun blinked out from the sky, leaving all below in darkness. The valley no longer existed. Enkidu believes that the slaying of Huwawa will destroy the world… but once again, Gilgamesh ridicules his fears.

Closer they come to the Cedar Forest and, finally, they hear a thunderous roar and confront Huwawa. His aspect shifts and changes, cycling through the many faces of Nature. He calls them fools… and tells them to prepare to die.

There is no longer any other choice for Gilgamesh and Enkidu…all choices have brought them to this moment and it must be faced. Bowing to the inevitable, Enkidu tells Gilgamesh that they must strike now, before Huwawa enters the depths of the Forest, enveloping himself in his seven auras, for here, the Spirit of the Forest wears only one.

Neither Gilgamesh nor Enkidu realise that, as they had slept and dreamed, Huwawa had come to them as a shadow. With each falling sun they had dreamed, he had removed a Veil from Enkidu, stripping him of the colours of the gift of life, bestowed by the gods and the hand of Shamhat. Only  the black Veil remained.

A mighty battle ensues… the clouds turn black, fog shrouds the Forest,  the winds blow in from the four corners of the Earth… until, finally, Gilgamesh and Enkidu prevail. But, as the final blow is struck and together, the warriors raise the severed head of Huwawa, Enkidu stumbles and falls. The life within him has gone and, with the dying of the Spirit of the Forest, Enkidu is dead.

Not in grief, but in anger, Gilgamesh takes up Enkidu’s weapon and attacks the Great Trees of the Forest. But, as he hacks at the wood, destroying their physical form, the Trees withdraw their life and the gods move to protect their essence…for nothing is wholly lost to existence, even when its form is destroyed.

Gilgamesh did not stop until the outer form of the Cedar Forest lay in splinters around him. Only then did he gather the scattered Veils and, casting them over the form of his dead friend, begin to mourn…

Lord of the Deep: The Tyrant and the Priestess

 

We began the workshop weekend by opening a whole can of worms.

Gilgamesh, Lord of the mighty city-state of Uruk, stands within the temple of Ishtar, face to face with the High Priestess, Shamhat, and demanding her favours, and when that fails, commanding her obedience. Shamhat refuses; within the temple, her obedience is owed only to the gods.

She is no longer one of the harimtu, the priestesses who offer their bodies to all supplicants as a portal to the goddess. She has served at each of the seven altars of the gods, holding the hues of their power for the sacred act that opens a portal to the stars and beyond; she has earned the right to choose.

“Is it not the law that the priestesses must offer themselves to all who ask?”

“No, Great One, it is the law that they must offer their bodies to all who worship here…”

Gilgamesh does not see the distinction between the physical and subtle. He wants none of her ‘underlings’. Each day he has visited the temple with his demands and the priestesses of the seven gods have offered their gifts to him. As Shamhat tells him of those gifts…the dreams, insights and strengths each would bring… Gilgamesh dismisses them. Those, he believes, he has no need of, or can have for the asking.

The one thing he is denied has become the focus of his desire. Sensing a power within the priestess that he neither understands nor owns, he is determined to prevail. But, says Shamhat, High Priestess of the Temple of Ishtar,

“I am Woman, and I serve no man.”

The existing fragments of the original story, that has come down to us through the millennia, are missing many of the human motivations that tie the tale together. We had to try to understand and create, from those fragments, a workable narrative that would illustrate the principles taught within the Silent Eye , while staying as true to the original as possible.

We chose to present the story as a series of vignettes and, between each of them, show the wheels of creation in motion as the Fates walked the Hexaflow, the paths between the points of the Enneagram. These paths represent process, which can be defined as an “interlinked and interdependent set of actions that transform input to output”. Within the Silent Eye, we use it to symbolise the evolution and alignment of the personality. Within the workshop, we used it to portray the process of the ‘cosmic machinery’ in motion. The two are not so very far apart.

 

Voice of Destiny

The Fates moved as events unfolded, carrying before them the Voice of Destiny mask through which they spoke with one voice. They filled in the gaps in our version of the story, drawing heavily upon the original text. They also told a parallel story…that of the Flood, the earliest version of which is  found in Sumerian texts.

As the Fates moved and the wheels of destiny were turned by the actions of the characters, the story took a new direction. Input to output… a process with which we are all familiar through the effects of our own actions. The altercation between the King and the Priestess sets the scene for a later part of the story, when Gilgamesh sees an opportunity for revenge.

Gilgamesh and Ninsun in a lighter moment

The story that we know also works on many levels. It is, first of all, an exciting story…which is possibly why it has survived for so long. It also shows an exceptional understanding of human psychology… and why should it not? People have always been people and we do our ancestors a vast disservice if we think they did not understand psychology, just because the label would not be invented for another few thousand years. It is also deeply symbolic, and symbols are designed to convey, through the imagination, concepts for which words are never enough.

Within this very brief opening scene, we had established the character of Gilgamesh. All-powerful king, a great warrior and rich beyond measure, he holds his kingdom secure… and yet, he burns for anything he feels he is denied. The original text extols his virtues as the strong Lord of Uruk and yet tells us that, in their beds at night, the young people of the city cried themselves to sleep…

dress

Clearly, there is something lacking. The unbalanced force of his personality is missing an essential ingredient and, in desperation, the citizens of Uruk plead with the gods for help.

They call upon Anu, the Sky-Father and greatest of the gods, who intercedes. He summons Aruru, the Mother, to whom, as a love-token, he had given the rainbow as a necklace. From clay that she takes from her heart and her own spittle, Aruru, on the threshold of Beyond, forms a man to be the Second Self of Gilgamesh. She calls him Enkidu and sets him to run with the wild things at the heart of nature.

That night, the King dreams, and, disturbed by the vision, seeks counsel of his mother, the goddess Ninsun. The goddess, who lives upon Earth in human form, explains what Anu and Aruru have done. She knows that her son is not whole… he is two-thirds divine, one third-man… and that Enkidu, the newly created ‘wild man’, is two-thirds animal, one-third man. If they could work in harmony, combining the aspects of their natures, then balance would be attained. All Gilgamesh can do is await the unfolding of the story…

Steve, our Gilgamesh, had chosen to wear black and gold as his royal raiment. The colours were apt for the character, both as the king and as an echo of his dual nature. Anu, the Sky Father, wore white, for the Light that contains all colours, girdled with the green of Earth.  The Fates also wore white, as the blank pages upon which our stories are written.

Anu and Aruru

Aruru was garbed in the greens and browns of Earth. Shamhat had chosen red… not as a ‘scarlet woman’, but to symbolise life and passion… with golden beads describing two incomplete circles linked by the vesica, a feminine symbol. Such details may pass unnoticed, but these are the symbols that can speak beyond words.

However, perhaps the most memorable costume of that first ritual drama was our wild man, Enkidu, who chose to attend his own creation in a ‘leopard skin’ loin cloth and wildly dishevelled wig. Sadly, we have no pictures of many of the costumes as very few are taken… and never while we are working.

There is a serious psychological and spiritual intent to these weekends… we would not run them otherwise… but no-one said that spirituality cannot be fun. A light heart learns easily and laughter can be a wonderful teacher.

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.