The Quest for Immortality: Anomalies…

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Given that much of the Epic of Gilgamesh

has found its way into the Hebrew Book of Genesis

in a somewhat garbled form…

Why, we may wonder,

is the flood story re-told almost word for word?

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We say ‘almost’ because there are some intriguing discrepancies.

Unlike Utnapishtim, Noah is in no sense regarded as immortal.

The rainbow, as a necklace and love gift of Sky to Earth,

is infinitely preferable to the covenant

of a contrite and remorseful God,

and is also highly poetic.

Yet, as a reason for implementing the ‘catastrophe’

in the first place, noise and godlessness

can be regarded as equally arbitrary?

*

The institution of Patriarchy seems already well established

in the culture that produced the Epic…

The only Goddess to remain on the Divine Council is Ishtar,

although it is apparent that the Moon God,

Nanna, was once also feminine.

Be that as it may a number of Gilgamesh’s titles

still appear to be ironic?

*

With this in mind, in the final analysis,

perhaps, it is not Lords, nor indeed Ladies,

of the Deep which are needed

so much as disseminators of its wisdom,

and that task falls to all those who receive it…

*

Our thanks to those who could not make it but tuned in anyway.

Our heartfelt thanks to those that did make it.

See you all next time!

Lord of the Deep: Outrunning the sun

“Can’t stop,” said I, dashing through the corridor. “I’ve got to paint celery…”

“Can you help me with my skin?”

“Sure. I’ll just grab the pins…”

There were a number of puzzled looks, as if to say, ‘she’s finally lost it…’. It had been a hectic weekend… but edibly-gilded celery and a Lycra-clad snake were both required for the final ritual drama, and we’d had a whale of a time coming up with a suitable costume for the skin-shedding serpent that would finally unravel Gilgamesh…

Following the directions of Shiduri, Gilgamesh seeks out Urshanabi, the boatman of Utnapishtim, who is in the forest, trimming cedar boughs. But, she tells him, Gilgamesh must be wary, for Urshanabi is with the Stone Men.

As he enters a clearing in the forest, Gilgamesh hears a voice,

“We are the Stone Men!” The King raises his sword and charges, but before the blow can fall, another speaks. “We are the cold men!” Changing direction, Gilgamesh rushes at the second speaker, but before his raised sword can fall, “How will you cross the Waters of Death with us in your boat?” Another voice turns him from the kill.

“We are easy to destroy. One strike will smash us into smithereens!” And again his blow is halted. “Like you destroyed the Bull of Heaven.” In rage, Gilgamesh tries to strike, but another speaks… “Like you destroyed the Cedar Forest.” Gilgamesh snarls… then the voices in unison stop him in his tracks.

“Would you destroy the ground you walk upon?” And now, at last, he begins to understand what he has done. Reeling with the realisation, he hears yet another voice, that of Urshanabi, the ferryman.

“You cannot cross the Waters of Death with war in your heart…”  Urshanabi holds out his hands for the sword of the King. He tells Gilgamesh that the Waters of Death are not what he believes them to be. They are the Underworld that Shamash, the Sun, traverses every night before his daily rebirth; would Gilgamesh take that path also? Then the King must outrun the Sun that halts for no man.

For nine hours of utter darkness, Gilgamesh ran. With no light to guide him, he passed through the Underworld, the Sun hot on his heels. But when exhausted, he again came into the light, he found himself in the garden of the gods where jewels grow as flowers on the trees and the fruits are of lapis lazuli.

Gilgamesh walked amazed through this paradise until he came face to face with the immortal, Utnapishtim. And, in spite of all, his first thought is for his weapon.

“I was going to fight you, but I gave away my sword…”

Utnapishtim considers Gilgamesh, commenting upon his haggard looks. The King says that he has neither eaten nor slept during his quest. That he has mourned his friend for six days and seven nights ‘until a maggot fell out of his nose’. Utnapishtim asks him what he has achieved by all this, apart from bring himself a day closer to death, and asks if he has ever stopped to compare himself to a fool to whom only the dregs and crusts are given?

Gilgamesh wants only to know the secret of immortality, but Utnapishtim tells how the gods gathered at the end of all things, after the Flood when he had built the great ship called Preserver of Life, to grant eternal life to himself and his wife, Shiduri.

Why should the gods gather for Gilgamesh? How would they know he deserved that grace?

Gilgamesh says he will do anything. Utnapishtim tells him that he must stay awake for seven days and nights…for if he can prevail against sleep, he may also prevail against death. Gilgamesh agrees, but Utnapishtim tells Shiduri that he will try to deceive them when he fails.

The eternal couple watch from afar and, whenever Gilgamesh sleeps, Shiduri bakes a loaf of bread and places it before the King. After seven nights, Gilgamesh lies, trying to convince Utnapishtim that he had not slept. The couple show him the seven loaves, from the freshest to the stalest, and Gilgamesh falls into despair. He sees only Death around him.

Utnapishtim tells him he must leave the garden of the gods, never to return. He orders fine raiment to be brought, as befits a king, to clothe him before he leaves. But Shiduri takes pity on Gilgamesh and entreats her husband to tell him of the Herb of Immortality… a thorny plant that grows in the waters of the Great Deep that will grant its bearer eternal youth.

Tying two stones to his feet, Gilgamesh plunges into the Great Deep to find the Herb and emerges triumphant. But there is no thought of service to his people in his mind. He will, he says, take it back to Wall-Girt Uruk and there he will test its powers on an old man. If it works, he himself will eat the rest and be eternally young!

***

The road back to the city is long and exhausting, but Gilgamesh walks with a spring in his step, grasping the Herb. Outside the city walls, he stops by a spring to wash and sleep awhile before his triumphal return, still grasping the golden Herb securely in his hand.

But, while he sleeps, a serpent silently slithers from beyond the Veil and, taking the herb from the sleeping King’s hand, eats it… shedding its skin before disappearing once more beyond the Veil.

When Gilgamesh wakes and sees his empty hand, all he can do is weep.

Now at last he sees his own folly. Now, at last, he understands and accepts both the responsibility and the consequences of his actions. Now, when all his plans are dashed, and he stands empty-handed before the walls of his city, he begins to understand the twin mysteries of death and life… and he passes through the Veil with heart and mind open.

And now the Fates speak, telling once more of the glories of Wall-Girt Uruk where, for the first time, ‘in their bedchambers at night, the young folk sleep soundly.’

***

Gilgamesh stands at the portal. Beside him stands Enkidu, his Other Self. Here, there is no death. Together they answer the call, and side by side, kneel before Shamhat, the High Priestess who is the vessel of the Goddess. She binds their hands with threads of red and gold, placing in their joined hands the Voice of Destiny, that the twin halves may speak with one voice. With fragrant oils, upon each brow, she traces twin symbols in blessing. One third man, one third beast, one third divine… no longer fragmented but whole.

Gilgamesh tells of his journey, but Enkidu says it was no failure… that the gods have granted them a glimpse of the immortality all carry. As Enkidu speaks, a circle of hands surrounds them with a gesture that says, ‘fear not’.

From each wrist hangs a bracelet of wood, red as cedar, bearing the symbol of the Tree of Life… the Herb of Immortality… that all have carried with them from the beginning, and that all will carry with them when they depart.

The Key to the Temple.

As all depart for the final time, they pass beneath the Rainbow, held aloft by Anu and Aruru, the Sky-Father and the Earth Mother.

“When the waters receded, and dry land appeared, I set free the animals to roam.

That day I burned reeds and cedar and myrtle branches.

Smelling their fragrance, the gods gathered round.

Aruru came first, relieved that people had survived the destruction.

She held aloft her necklace-of-many-colours,

which had been Anu’s gift to her when their love was young.”

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Lord of the Deep: “Why is there such grief..?”

Preparing the temple for the final ritual drama of the weekend is always bittersweet. It is the last stage of a journey that has been years in the making. This story, the tale of Gilgamesh, is older than any other we have used; the three years we have worked with it are but a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands of years it has been in existence.

The stories that we use, whether based on ancient texts or written specifically for the workshops, illustrate aspects of the human journey to awareness, which is the spiritual journey by another name. Not all stories have happy endings, but it is our job, when preparing the rituals, to end on a note of hope, and although the character of Gilgamesh seems to leave little scope for anything other than continuing disaster, there is always hope.

The character of the King, Gilgamesh, is so exaggerated that it is almost a caricature of the worst excesses of the human ego, but, like all good caricatures, elements of the depiction are recognisable and, to greater or lesser degree, present in every one of us. The incredulous horror with which we watch the King fall into every trap the ego presents, is made all the more poignant when we realise that we might all do the same, in essence if not in scale. We are left with the hope that whatever light he finds at the end of his personal tunnel will be bright enough to shine for us all.

Steve had done a magnificent job of embodying the difficult character of Gilgamesh. It is not easy to portray such a gamut of emotion. He cannot be played as a pantomime villain, gleefully indulging in evil machinations… he is, rather, a man who has an absolute belief in his own rightness and in the divine right of his kingship. As such, in spite of his Machiavellian manipulation of others and his rewriting of events to cast glory upon himself, he is, in an odd way, as innocent as a babe. He has no experience of being less than the best… in his own eyes at least. The very traits that have made him a strong warrior-king have prevented him from growing as a man. He simply knows no other way to be.

As the story has unfolded, we have watched Gilgamesh begin to learn that there is another way… beginning to see the consequences of his actions and, at least for a moment, accept them as his responsibility. But, whenever he takes a step towards awareness, he is drawn back as soon as the ego reasserts its hold.

At the start of the final ritual drama, we find Gilgamesh roaming the wilderness on his quest to find Utnapishtim, the immortal. Gilgamesh wishes to conquer death itself, and truly believes in his own affirmation that he does this only for his people. It will not be long, however, before that fallacy is exposed…

In spite of his preparations, his crown and the fine robes he donned when he set out upon his quest, by the time we meet the King, his travels have rendered him unkempt and the burden of grief weighs heavily upon him. He seems almost a ‘wild man’, like Enkidu… his Other Self, twice-slain as a result of Gilgamesh’s own actions.

As he wanders, Gilgamesh is seen by Shiduri, the ale-wife, who watches over her golden brewing pot. There is that in his demeanour that makes her think him a murderer, but she does not flee. Instead, she locks the golden lid of her vat and awaits his coming.

She asks his purpose; Gilgamesh gives her his name and titles, telling her that he seeks Utnapishtim and the Herb of Immortality. Shiduri, looking beyond his words to the core of his being, responds with a question,

“Why is there so much grief in your heart?”

Gilgamesh says that his beloved friend, Enkidu, is ‘turned to clay’. “Won’t I too, one day, lay down in the dirt like him and never rise again?”

The words are telling. In spite of his avowal that he seeks the Herb only for his people, he is revealing his own fear, both of dying and the condemnation of his body to ‘lay down in the dirt’, rather than of its natural return to earth as part of the great cycle of life.

Almost as if he seeks to counter this revelation, when Shiduri tells him that none but Shamash, the god of the Sun, can cross the Great Ocean to where Utnapishtim resides, Gilgamesh draws his sword and tells her how he slew ‘the demon’, Humbaba, and tore the Bull of Heaven limb from limb.

Shiduri considers for a moment then tells him that there may be a way ‘for one such as you’… Urshanabi, the boatman of Utnapishtim, is nearby… but he is with the fearsome Stone Men…

Lord of the Deep. Saturday Morning ~ Willow Willers

Willow continues her journey with the Lord of the Deep:

After breakfast we met in the the temple to first to discuss and then to perform Ritual Drama Two. A second self.

“Aruru moistened her hands
She pinched off clay
She kneaded it…
She shaped her idea into it
Then she threw it into the wilderness…”

Does that remind you of anything, it does me. Yes it truly reminds me of how “God” made Adam. ..

Steve read the above verse to us before we entered the temple. It was only the second time I had entered the temple as Limma but somehow I didn’t need the script I was guided in. First in line with Fate Ia to my left with the other four fates behind us, we followed Gilgamesh in, bowing to the temple guardian on entering. We walk towards the throne bow, to the king of Urk and the East and peel off to our spheres.

Continue reading at willowdot21

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.

 

The Quest for Immortality: Gods…

 

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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…

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The Quest for Immortality: Giants…

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It was during one of our meetings…

Traditionally, the first three gatherings of the new year are given over to a read through of the first three ritual dramas of the April Workshop.

Unlike some of our stories Lord of the Deep was based on a traditional text, the oldest written epic currently known to humankind.

Though ‘written’ may be stretching it…

Given that the cuneiform text is preserved in baked clay tablets, ‘chiselled’ would, perhaps be more accurate.

And this being the case, the text is not whole but fragmentary.

Roughly twenty percent of the neatly transcribed columns consist of lacunae.

But there is something else missing.

Even were all the tablets intact the epic gives no motivations for the trajectory of its plot.

The story is so familiar, so well known, that it is assumed by the story-teller that the motivations are also second nature to the audience and really all that remains is a series of vignettes or snap-shots which move the story along to its inevitable conclusion.

For a modern audience this will never do.

Not only do the motivations have to be made plain they also have to be made dramatic in order to dynamically and meaningfully drive the story forward.

So when our Trapper enters the throne room of Gilgamesh with his incredible tale of a terrifying Giant wandering the wilderness we are quite justified in pointing out, as one of our companions did, that Gilgamesh too is a Giant so the trapper’s story should not be quite so incredible.

But only if the tale is expected to be taken literally!

If it is not then it means that the civilisation responsible for producing it were more advanced than the best part of Christendom, who to this day regard the story of the life and death of Christ as an actual historical occurance, accurate in all its details.

So, is there any evidence in the text itself that the Gigantism is not meant to be taken literally?

There is!

When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk after overcoming the ‘Forest Demon’, Hum-Ba-Ba, his people do not recognise him.

This is hardly credible if his Gigantism is supposed to be read literally.

But if Gilgamesh’s and Enkidu’s Gigantism is not literal what can it represent?

Try, the two most important aspects of the human psyche, the Ego and the Id…

The Quest for Immortality: Seeds…

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“And in their bed chambers at night…

The young-folk of Uruk cry themselves to sleep…”

*

“When the wild-man succumbs,

the animals will leave him forever.

He will no longer be a part of the herd…”

*

“Where Hu-Wa-Wa comes and goes

are tracks whose ways are well trodden…”

*

‘This desperate wanderer must be a killer’,

thought Shiduri, ‘Why else would he

be heading straight for me?’

*

“When Aruru came, she held up in the air

her necklace of lapis lazuli,

Anu’s gift to her when their love was young…”

 

Gilgamesh descending (1) ~ Steve Tanham

Steve begins the tale of his personal journey through the Lord of the Deep weekend, playing the mighty king, Gilgamesh:

Julius Caesar, speaking after winning an important battle in Asia Minor, is quoted as saying ‘I came, I saw, I conquered…’The same cannot be said for Gilgamesh the King – one of Julius Caesar’s mighty empire-building forebears, who ruled the land of Sumer from the city of Uruk in the southernmost region of Mesopotamia. The story of King Gilgamesh may or may not be based upon fact. Its importance to our lives – and probably survival – is due to it being an unusual kind of story: one that contains the power to initiate inner change in the human mind and heart.

The epic of Gilgamesh was written down in fragments, beginning 2,500 years ago. It is a mysterious tale, and was seen as ideal for adaptation to the Silent Eye’s purposes by the writing team of Stuart France and Sue Vincent (France and Vincent).

Planes, trains and automobiles. Friday, April 26th finally arrives and an excited group assembles at the Nightingale Centre in the tiny village of Great Hucklow – a gem within the Derbyshire hills. Stuart had chosen the epic of Gilgamesh two years prior as the basis for the 2019 Silent Eye workshop. A great deal of work had been put in by he and Sue to bring it to life. Now, we were costumed, breathing deeply, silent and lined up for entry into what would become our emotional and spiritual home for the next two and a half days…. The word ‘intense’ is appropriate, but not sufficient…

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini