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.

 

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…

*

Lord of the Deep: Getting under the skin…

In any drama, be it ritual or otherwise, there is a fine line over which you must hover as an ‘actor’. You are not your character. Lines and scenarios that make you look amazing or, alternatively, portray you as evil, twisted or psychopathic, were not written for you at all; the words the writer puts in the character’s mouth belong to the character alone. The actions of the character are not yours. None of it is personal and you have to keep a mental and emotional distance from the role you portray. And yet…

In order for an actor to truly embody a role, he or she will give themselves over to it wholly. For the duration of the performance, they will see through their character’s eyes, speak with their voice and experience events through their emotions. That is what makes the difference between just acting and great acting. It comes down to believability, for both actor and audience.

Somewhere between the two is a place where the actor can observe both the role and the player. Because all human beings, at every end of the moral and emotional scale, share some characteristics, the observer will generally find moments where they can empathise with the character, motivations they understand, both good and not so good, points of commonality that, in spite of the ‘extremis’ of the events portrayed in drama, have the possibility of teaching them something about themselves. This is one of the reasons that we use drama in these weekends. As imaginative play allows children to ‘test-drive’ scenarios and reading fiction allows the mind to explore the impact of situations they would otherwise not encounter, so does drama allow us to explore our innermost selves.

On these workshop weekends, there are seldom any who have acting experience. Sometimes we get lucky. Some Companions have real talent… many do not know it until they try. But the ability to act is not a requirement and could, as Alethea wrote, even be an inhibiting factor rather than the reverse.

Nor do we have an audience… everyone joins in, script in hand, and everyone is in the same proverbial boat. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we may have a Seer who gets to watch most of what unfolds. Sometimes we have a Technician who takes care of the music and, apart from following the script for cues, they are as close to an audience as we get and may have a pretty good view.  This year, my son offered to Tech for us and, if he had requested a blindfold for when I Danced the Seven Veils, he was going to be glad I’d packed his earplugs for the fourth ritual drama…

The Fates move. Gilgamesh spends the night in mourning for his dead brother in arms, Enkidu, whose life was so closely tied to that of the Spirit of Nature, that, when they had, together, slain the Forest Lord, his own life had ended. In grief, Gilgamesh, the King, takes the amulet that was gifted to Enkidu by the goddess Ninsun and places it around his own neck and over his heart.

Wracked by loss, he makes his way back to the great walled city of Uruk, but when he comes there, no-one recognises him. At the Temple of the Goddess, he cries out, proclaiming his grief at the death of Enkidu. Hearing the news, the High Priestess Shamhat comes forth… she who loved Enkidu as a woman loves a man and as a priestess loves with the heart of her goddess. She stands within the portal, head bowed and heart closed in mourning. When Gilgamesh sees Shamhat, he is overcome by emotion and, with a great cry, falls to the floor.

The Fates turn the wheels of destiny. Maddened by his grief, Gilgamesh sobs before the altar, until a voice breaks the silence.

“Rise and bed me, O mighty Gilgamesh. Give me of your luscious fruits. Be my sweet man. I will grant you boons beyond your wildest dreams. I will bless everything that you own. When you enter my temple with its cedar fragrance, high priests will bow down and kiss your feet. Come, Mighty King, be my sweet man!”

The goddess Ishtar looks down upon the kneeling king, but blind to all but his own emotions, he believes her to be the High Priestess, Shamhat. She, who had refused his advances and commands, but who had yet given herself in joy to Enkidu, now offers her body when he is at his lowest ebb.

Ishtar repeats her words, though now they carry other undertones. Gilgamesh is angered and curses ‘Shamhat’ to suffer every rejection and despair that his concept of love can bring. She is the cause of his grief! She is to blame for the death of Enkidu! And now, in his grief, she offers herself to him…or so he believes.

Ishtar repeats her litany. This time the mockery is clear… and yet, there is an invitation in her voice…but to what? Laughing, the goddess departs, running high and low through the maze of corridors beneath the temple. Gilgamesh, angered beyond bearing, curses ‘Shamhat’ and her ‘temple of harlots’… and follows the fleeing goddess. But Ishtar runs swift and soon the king is hopelessly lost in the labyrinth…

The Quest for Immortality: Dreams…

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When the people of Uruk rebel against the tyranny of Gilgamesh,

they petition the Gods…

*

Hearing their plea the Goddess, Aruru, fashions the twin of Gilgamesh

from the clay of her heart

and sets him loose in the wilderness

where he lives and runs with wild animals…

*

Then Aruru sends Gilgamesh a dream.

*

Although vivid the dream is obscure to Gilgamesh

so he seeks an interpretation from his mother, the Goddess Ninsun…

*

In this dream Enkidu, the wild man, is likened to a boulder

which falls to earth from the sky.

*

The people of Uruk adore this fallen sky-stone

and treat it as though it were a divine-child.

*

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…

Gilgamesh descending (4) ~ Steve Tanham

Steve continues his view of the Lord of the Deep weekend through the eyes of Gilgamesh:

And as I watch Gilgamesh ascend towards the vast cliff-edge from which his life must fall, I wonder about the origin of the ‘play’ in human consciousness. The plot already contains characters – one of whom is dominant. They have their ‘I’s’ when invested with a player, an actor, who gives the ancient words new life. These I’s are as garments, waiting to be stepped into. If they are well-written, as Lord of the Deep was, they will be coherent and real, provoking a response of reality – merging the actor with the ‘I’ of the part she or he plays…

Precisely because of this ‘gift from the gods’, this human ability to ‘become’ someone else, we have both playing (as children, for example) and drama. When that drama is deliberately infused with a seed which will take root in the consciousness of the player, then we have a mystery play. A ritual drama sets the mystery play within a space which, through repeated use for the ‘good’ in the human soul, has a power of its own.

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini

Lord of the Deep: Going for gold…

One of the ‘simple pleasures’ of working on the Silent Eye workshops is that I get to fulfil my dream to run a wardrobe and props department. I love the challenges of making things work. Most of the time, we choose, as a friend of the School put it, to represent, rather than recreate. But that is usually a practical decision rather than through lack of research. The costumes and props are not a necessity… they are not why we produce these workshops; they are simply there to encourage the imagination to immerse itself in a time and place not of this time and, very often, not of this world.

But, it has to be said, finding solutions to knotty problems is fun. In Leaf and Flame, for example, we had to behead an axe-wielding green giant. Not only that, but he then had to pick up his head and walk, offering its contents to the assembled Companions.

We managed the beheading with shadows cast on a screen, a realistic ‘thwack’ from a wet towel for when the blow fell and a bouncing football for the fallen head. And, if the Companions in the temple laughed when said football hit the ground a little too late… for which I take the blame… they were not laughing when our now-headless giant reappeared, head in hands quite literally, to say, “Pick a card, any card…”

Many of the Companions bring their own costumes to add to the atmosphere and we never manage to get pictures of most of them as we do not take cameras into the temple… at least not until the end.

This time, the costumes we put together were, for the most part, completely inaccurate from a historical perspective, apart from Anu and the Serpent, but wholly suggestive of the era we wanted to recreate. The temple we dressed in rich colours with a symbolic design that, we hoped, would become clear as the weekend progressed. My kitchen had, for quite some time, become more of a workshop than a culinary laboratory and my garden shed became a spray booth. I must have the only gold-plated lawnmower in the village. It is just a shame it doesn’t really work…

An embroidery frame and wedding cake dowel made the sceptre of Gilgamesh. Enkidu’s boomerang was a child’s wooden toy, duly gilded. The Voice of Destiny mask, which I was dreading trying to make, was a breeze once I’d realised that pasta made superb curls for its beard. A plant pot, also gilded, with a home-made lid, made our brewing vat for Shiduri the ale-wife, and a plant pot was pressed into service for the crown of the god Anu.

Now, much has already been written about this plant pot. We have told how ‘the god’ spent ages trying on different sizes at the garden centre, much to the amusement and confusion of passers-by. We found one that fit well and I took it home to work on it. The last thing I wanted was for it to look like a plant pot…even though that is exactly what the ancient reliefs seem to show. I tried everything from fabric, to papier-mâché and plaster bandages, finally settling on an air-drying, lightweight ‘clay’ with which to cover the pot and make the horns that encircle the crown.

The other awkward one was the mask of Huwawa, the Spirit of the Cedar Forest. The various descriptions of this being cover all kinds of strange combinations of animals, most of them with scales and a lion’s heads. There is one other depiction, though, that we found far more powerful… a clay mask that appears to be made of intestines.

The symbolism of the intestines, which could have been used in divinations, seemed to fit the role better than the leonine creature. In a very real sense, Gilgamesh’s determination to slay the ‘demon’, as he perceived it, would determine his future. The intestines are about as close to symbolic earth as the body gets, processing intake and output to fuel life. In our society, we tend to shy away from such concepts, but they are a beautiful bit of organic engineering and as sacred as the rest of the physical world.

For Gilgamesh to slay Huwawa, would be to cut himself off from the sacred earth, both within himself and on a wider level.

So, we needed the mask. Clay would be too heavy to wear, and that was the only thing I could think of with which to model the details. Papier-mâché and the lightweight clay were tried and discarded. I settled for plaster bandages and a lot of mess, finally bronzing the whole with spray paint.

It was not the most artistic attempt, but, when it was worn by our Huwawa, his voice resonated and echoed within its hollow confines, his silent movements and shadowy cloak created a creature I wish we could have captured on film and the whole effect was eerily uncanny and otherworldly. He was superb…and I breathed a sign of relief that the mask actually worked.

Which is more than can be said of the plant pot.

It fit beautifully in the garden centre… but somehow, when I had clad it in clay, making it bigger and bulkier than ever, added its horns and gilded the whole… it looked even more like a plant pot…and no longer anywhere near big enough. The great god Anu decided against it and went for the spare headdress I had packed instead.

I can’t say I blame him… but at least I got a picture.

The Quest for Immortality: Terms…

*

… The terms Ego and Id had not yet been applied to the components

of the human psyche when Gilgamesh was written

but the self same dynamics are evident within it

and were clearly known about and well understood.

Curiously enough, Ekidu, contains an ‘id’.

Perhaps Freud, himself, was familiar with the Old Epic?

*

The two heroes of the epic who are, then,

actually two aspects of the same personality

meet in combat and, being perfectly matched, finally come to terms.

This appears to work for awhile but eventually fails.

Why?

Put simply, terms are ‘manufactured’ and based on ‘wants’ which are egoic,

whilst, the Id deals only in ‘needs’ which are ‘natural’ and,

therefore, also a part of the bigger picture

which the egoic will never be able to see…

*

As if there were not already enough food for thought of a psychological nature

within the structure of this ancient tale,

there may also be a folk memory of literally seizmic proportions in there too!

*

The Bull of Heaven was the Sumerian term

for the Zodiacal constellation of Taurus.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of quite how

such accurate Zodiacal knowledge was

acquired at this early date…

*

In the Epic of Gilgamesh,

the Bull of Heaven is mythologically depicted

as coming to earth with attendant catastrophic consequences

for the earth and its inhabitants:

earthquakes, tsunami’s, that sort of thing…

*

Is it beyond the realms of possibility that space debri,

in the form of a comet or asteroid,

striking the earth, could have been regarded as a fallen star system

and its effects recorded in the tale for posterity?

*