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Gilgamesh – the final loss and rebirth

After having found the magical and mysterious plant – like a rose with thorns, at the bottom of the sea and bringing it t o the surface, Gilgamesh feels he has achieved everything that he has sought. It was this plant which restores lost youth to man.

Gilgamesh and Urshanabi then returned by the gate through which they had come. They travelled many leagues before stopping for the night.

Gilgamesh saw a well of cool water and he went down and bathed. The well symbolises the feminine principle – the womb of the great mother and the psyche. Having contact with the underworld, the well often contains magic waters with powers of healing and wish-fulfilling. The well gives rise to the Living Waters and the four rivers of Paradise.

In immersing himself in the holy and sacred well, Gilgamesh is completing himself in this final ritual. It is reminiscent of the final act in the story of The Little Humpbacked Horse, where the hero Ivan, after having dived into three separate cauldrons of cold water, boiling water and boiling milk, emerges completely transformed, into a wonderfully handsome youth. [1]

‘But deep in the pool there was lying a serpent, and the serpent sensed the sweetness of the flower. It rose out of the water and snatched it away, and immediately it sloughed its skin and returned to the well.’[2]

Deep in the pool – the realm of the great mother, lay a serpent. The well and the serpent have a symbolic relationship. It is said that the serpent often holds the fruit or herb of immortality, and in ancient Celtic mythology it is associated with healing waters or wells. Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna), great goddess of love and war, who was worshipped in the great temple of Uruk, together with Anu, is portrayed with a serpent.  The serpent is a highly complex and ancient symbol.

We are told that the serpent sensed the sweetness of the flower and snatched it away, immediately sloughing its skin. To slough the skin, as serpents do, is to put off the ‘old man’ and put on the new, to recover youth, to attain a higher state, immortality. It is the sweetness of the rose which allows the serpent to transform. The rose grows on the Tree of Life, which implies regeneration. The rose in the centre (of the cross) is the quaternity of the elements and a point of unity.

So in fact, Gilgamesh has achieved what he had been searching for Spiritually in his inner life! Immorality was never meant to be literal or physical. Gilgamesh wanted an earthly immortality ‘with its opportunity for heroic action, and for glory on earth like that of the gods in heaven’[3]’ And yet we are told that Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears rolling down his face. He felt that he had gained nothing and that a ‘beast of the earth’ now had the joy of the mystical plant of immortality. Only after the return of the snake to its pool does, he at last accept the futility of struggling for what cannot be had, ‘searching for the wind’ as Siduri had said’[4].

Already the stream had carried the serpent back twenty leagues to the channels where it had been found. These twenty leagues back to the channels, symbolise man’s journey in life.

These ancient stories were teaching tales – teaching the mysteries which only illuminated and evolved beings can understand. In a way, one can say that the story is deliberately misleading. I know of people who have actually tried to find this plant of immortality.

Another way of understanding the story is, that to gain unity and illumination, we must give up everything that we have gained, even our understanding of the Divine and the Mysteries. We must become nothing to achieve Unity. There can be no ‘I’ and Thou, only the One. This is the main premise of Sufism and mysticism.

This loss is painful and devastating – it is no wonder that Gilgamesh weeps. ‘I have found a sign and now I have lost it’, he says. He knows that the plant was a sign or symbol, but can a symbol be lost?

Gilgamesh decides to leave the boat on the bank and go back to his own land. His inner journey to gain immortality is over. But I do believe that he has found illumination.

Sanders remarks that the return is very summarily described and leaves much unexplained, like the breaking of a spell —- when everything returns to ordinary and we are back where we started. But this is how we do feel when we return to our normal lives after a great inner journey. In fact there is a formulaic feel to the words used, which have been repeated previously.

After twenty leagues they broke their fast, after thirty leagues they stopped for the night; in three days they had walked as much as a journey of a month and fifteen days. When the journey was accomplished, they arrived at Uruk.’[5]

The human part of the journey is done whilst fasting, and then the fast is broken.  When the spiritual journey is complete, they stop for the night, perhaps to contemplate and meditate. As we know, the Sumerians counted in threes and sixes, so that in three days they had walked as much as three half months. They achieve much – in one day they travel what would have taken fifteen days! In fact this symbolises a very long time indeed on the inner plane.

Having returned, Gilgamesh shows Urshanabi his city of Uruk – the walls, its foundation terrace. He explains that one third of the whole is city, one third is garden, and one third is field, with the precinct of the goddess Ishtar. These parts and the precinct are all Uruk, he says.[6]

‘Gilgamesh, the king, knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us the tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn out with labour, returning engraved on a stone the whole story’[7].

In the next blog posting, I will discuss what Gilgamesh, an illuminated being,  achieved after his return to Uruk.

 

[1] Daly, Nuria, The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press. 2017 p207

[2] Sanders, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh Penguin Classics London 1977 p 117

[3] Ibid p43

[4] Ibid p43

[5] Ibid P117

[6] Ibid p117

[7] Ibid p117

Part 7 The return of Gilgamesh

Having received his great initiation, a transformed Gilgamesh, with his teacher and guide Urshanabi, launched their boat in the water and boarded it, ready to sail away. But the wife of Utnapishtim, The Faraway, said to him; ‘Gilgamesh came here wearied out — what will you give him to carry back to his own country?’  Utnapishtim responded by ‘speaking’ to Gilgamesh, so that Gilgamesh took a pole and brought the boat back to the bank.

‘The elevation of Utnapishtim to the divine realm makes one think of the special place in Islam for the Prophets, assigned to guide humanity toward the One’. (Comment by Nawab)

Utnapishtim is a prophet who has led his people and saved them from the deluge.

Utnapishtim reflects that Gilgamesh has come to this ‘far away’ place, wearied out and ponders what to give him to take back to his own country:  Utnapishtim says: ‘I will reveal a secret thing, it is a mystery of the gods that I am telling you. There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; it will wound your hands, but if you succeed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which restores his lost youth to a man.’[1]

This is what Gilgamesh has been searching for – the plant of renewal and rebirth. It is Utnapishtim’s  wife, the Divine feminine, who suggests this to Utnapishtim – we notice that he always follows her suggestions and she follows his. They work together in the harmony of a sacred marriage.

This magical and mysterious plant is like a rose with thorns, but which grows in the depths of the ocean. The primordial waters were associated with wisdom by the Sumerians. All life arose from the sweet ground waters, while the salt water of the ocean symbolised the power of the waters, the feminine principle.

The rose with thorns is a very powerful symbol, especially when it is to be found in the depths of the ocean. It is indeed a mystery – a secret thing.  The rose is a powerful symbol of the central point – the point of Unity. It portrays eternal spring, eternal life and resurrection. It also represents secrecy and discretion and is the rebirth of the spiritual after death of the temporal. It can be seen as the divine light of the universe with its thorns representing the world of pain and sacrifice. In the symbolism of the heart the rose occupies the central point of unity.

When Gilgamesh heard about this mysterious plant, ‘he opened the sluices so that a sweet water current might carry him to the deepest channel; he tied heavy stones to his feet and they dragged him down to the depths of the water bed. There he saw the plant growing and although it pricked him, he took it in his hands; He cut the heavy stones from his feet and the sea carried him to the shore.’[2] For the Sumerians the hand was an attribute of the Great Mother as bounteous giver and protector. It is interesting that the thorns did indeed prick his hands. It is painful and difficult to reach the depths of the ocean to bring up the rose. The thorns signify pain, blood and martyrdom. As we saw in the story of The Little Humpbacked Horse, the tsar maid’s signet ring had to be found in the depths of the ocean, by a very feisty perch and brought to the surface by the noble sturgeon. The hero could not carry it by himself.[3] Here Gilgamesh has achieved this task as a great hero.

The sluices suggest a system of canals, which somehow remind me of Plato’s description of Atlantis. I have often wondered if Atlantis is the sacred place where great Teachers such as Utnapishtim and his family have journeyed to after saving his people from the flood.

Gilgamesh then tells Urshanabi to come and see this marvellous plant. By its virtue, he says, a man may win back all his former strength. He plans to take it back to his city of Uruk and give it to the old men to eat, then he will take it himself so as to retrieve his lost youth. Many have questioned why Gilgamesh did not take this plant himself first, but I believe that having achieved his great initiation and illumination, Gilgamesh was now in service to his people. He wanted to share his experience and the plant of youth, with the wise old men of his home city first. He was no longer acting on his own ego. In some ancient tales, the hero, after winning ‘the water of life’, uses it to bring fresh spring water to the village.[4] It was an act of service to the community.

So Gilgamesh returned by the gate through which he had come; Gilgamesh and Urshanabi went together.

Regarding the return of Gilgamesh through the gate by which he came, that is also a phrasing that surfaces several times in the teaching of Inayat Khan. When someone takes the spiritual quest as something to solve in the mind or according to certain concepts, they also emerge ‘from the door by which they entered.’ (Comment by Nawab)

There are three ‘gates’ which correspond to chakras: the gate at the perineum is thought to be the ‘gate through which we come’. The next gate is at the base of the sternum, and the third at the occiput (base of the skull). We can become blocked at these gates.

Love has its limitations when it is directed to limited beings, but love that is directed to God has no limitations, God alone deserves all love, and the freedom of Love is in giving it to God. Devotion to the Teacher is not for the sake of the Teacher, it is for God. Even in the case of a Teacher, the devotee may make a mistake by halting at the feet of the Teacher and not progressing to God. The Teacher is a shield covering God, a gate through which one has to go. As it is necessary to enter the gate, so to reach God it is necessary to have devotion to the Teacher first. But the ideal of real progress is that man, through his devotion, arrives to God, freeing himself from all limitations and bondages. For the Teacher, one has gratitude, but love and devotion is for God.’[5]

So the Teacher can be the gate on the journey to the Divine and that the he  has gone through that gate to be transformed as The Teacher.

It is interesting that we build our own container by doing our practices. When the container is strong, we can ‘fly’ without losing contact with our ‘ground’. We remain grounded, even as we soar in the heavens.

After having returned by the gate through which he had come, Gilgamesh and Urshanabi ‘travelled twenty leagues and then they broke their fast; after thirty leagues they stopped for the night.’[6]

Twenty signifies the whole man, as the sum of the fingers and toes; the human part of the journey. After achieving this they rest and break their fast.; It is then that we realise that they had been fasting while on this part of their journey. Thirty represents the trinity of the great Goddess times ten, being the number of the cosmos and the paradigm of creation. Thirty is thus the perfect number and signifies a return to unity within the feminine.  It is a most sacred and cosmic part of the journey.

At this point they stopped for the night.

To be continued:  Conclusion –  The final loss and rebirth.

[1] Sanders N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics.  London 1977 p 116

[2] Ibid p 116

[3] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, The Little Humpbacked Horse. Balboa Press, 2017

[4] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales. Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram Balboa Press, 2017

[5] Hazrat Inayat Khan. Sangatha III privately circulated

[6] Sander, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh P117

Part 6: Gilgamesh in the land of Utnapishtim.

At the end of part 5 of this story,  Enlil, God of earth, wind, and the universal air (ultimately spirit) has raised Utnapishtim and his wife, into the realm of the Gods where they will live ’in the distance at the mouth of the rivers’ for ever. This is the earthly paradise of Dilmun.

Gilgamesh has arrived there wanting desperately the secret of eternal life.  But now Utnapishtim asks Gilgamesh, ‘Who will assemble the Gods for your sake, so that you may find that life for which you are searching?’ Gilgamesh has come all this way and experienced so much but he cannot be given eternal life. H has done nothing to deserve it.  This is the fate of humankind. Often when we come to the goal of our inner journey, we want to stay in that place, but the goal is really at the same place as the beginning;  we must return to our outer world. Utnapishtim was raised to immortality, because he showed mankind the way to an earthly paradise and saved them from the deluge. He gave them a vision and a structure; the sacred geometry of the ‘boat’ which carried them to the sacred place. Gilgamesh has not done this. He is not ready to belong to or live in this sacred place for ever.

But, says Utnapishtim, ‘if you want to put it to the test, only prevail against sleep for six days and seven nights’. This is a very long time to stay awake, and it is a special kind of wakefulness – of being conscious and in the moment – for six days and seven nights. It is an almost impossible task for a mortal, but perhaps not impossible for an evolved being or mystic at the highest level of evolution. Six, as we know, is a special number for the Sumerians – there were six days of creation. Seven is the number of the universe and signifies completeness. This is the time to be alert and wakeful, a time of learning, of doing the inner work of completing oneself.

Even as Gilgamesh sat resting, a mist of sleep came over him. This ‘sleep’ is mysterious and has happened to Gilgamesh before in ‘The Forest Journey’. It may be that he is entering another realm, or level of consciousness. On the inner journey we move through various realms towards the Centre where there is Unity with the Divine.

Castaneda describes three levels of heightened awareness or attention, and it is only when in the deeper levels that one can remember everything that has happened in all levels. In other words, when we are in our normal day-to-day awareness, we do not remember what has happened in the other levels. It can be very frightening to enter these levels without having the training of a mystic and this requires supreme discipline and concentration. For instance, learning to become aware that we are dreaming while in the dream, and of having volition to change the outcome of the dream. Gilgamesh is seemingly asleep and unaware, but my own feeling is that that he has received teachings in that deep state but was unaware of them. He would have access to these teachings at a later stage, when he is ready.

When Utnapishtim sees him sleeping, he is very disparaging and says to his wife. ‘Look at him now, the strong man who would have everlasting life, even now the mists of sleep are drifting over him.’ His wife replied, ‘Touch the man to wake him, so that he may return to his own land in peace, going back through the same gate by which he came.’ Utnapishtim’s wife, the feminine and sacred Sophia, has sympathy for Gilgamesh, and suggests that he be wakened and allowed to return to his own land, interestingly through the gate by which he came. I think that this means an inner gateway. Utnapishtim’s wife had been raised to Godhead together with her husband, so she is a Goddess although unnamed and has an important part to play.

However, Utnapishtim tells his wife that ‘all men are deceivers’ and that Gilgamesh will try to deceive even her. So he tells her to ‘bake loaves of bread, each day one loaf, and put it beside his head; and make a mark on the wall to number the days that he has slept.’[i][1]
This is what she did as he slept; ‘there came a day when the first loaf was hard, the second loaf like leather, the third soggy, the crust of the fourth had mould, the fifth was mildewed, the sixth was fresh, and the seventh was still on the embers.’[2]

Bread symbolises life and is feminine in nature; it was thought to be food for the souls of the dead by the Sumerians. The bread and water of immortal life was kept in heaven by Anu, the supreme God.

Utnapishtim then touched Gilgamesh to waken him. Gilgamesh did not believe that he had been asleep for so long – it felt like he had not slept at all. But Utnapishtim showed him the loaves indicating the passage of time that Gilgamesh had slept. Gilgamesh, on realising that he was not able to have the everlasting life that he sought, and feeling that death was ‘in his room’, asked Utnapishtim what he should do. Everywhere he looked he found ‘death’. Finally, Gilgamesh accepts that he as a mortal human being, cannot have eternal life, and he asks for help. This is important – it is only when we ask for help that we receive it.

The response to this request is interesting: Utnapishtim first turns on Urshanabi and banishes him from that place as he had become hateful to him for bringing Gilgamesh there, ‘covered with foulness, the grace of his limbs spoiled by wild skins’. Urshanabi will now serve Gilgamesh as his Teacher and guide.

Utnapishtim tells Urshanabi to take Gilgamesh to a washing place, where he must wash his long hair clean as snow, in the water, he threw off his skins and let the water carry them away, so that the beauty of his body be shown, the fillet or band used to encircle the hair of the head, on his forehead to be renewed. He was to be given clothes to wear to cover his nakedness, clothes which would show no sign of age, till his journey to his own city be accomplished. This Urshanabi did. Hair on the head represents life-force, the higher powers and inspiration. By washing his long hair clean as snow, means that Gilgamesh is spiritually cleansing the life-substance of his higher powers. Even the band holding his hair back, like a halo, is renewed.

Gilgamesh wore the skins of lions which he had defeated and killed. By wearing these skins, he took on the power or mana of the lion – the king of beasts, but by casting them off, he puts off the ‘old’ animal side of himself and takes on the new, as in a spiritual re-birth. The beauty of his body was shown, washed clean of his animal nature. The skins that he wore showed his nature before this great initiation ceremony. Then he was given new clothes to wear; clothes which would show no signs of age. Wearing these ritual new clothes symbolises transformation. They show the new re-born and transformed Gilgamesh.

So we see that the response to Gilgamesh’s request as to what he should do, Utnapishtim asked Urshanabi, who was the guide and teacher of Gilgamesh, to prepare an initiation ritual for Gilgamesh: a ritual by which he left his human animal side behind to be reborn pure in spirit. Thus, he was able to return to his city and ‘rule’ as a spiritual leader. His own teacher was to go with him, never to return to the sacred garden. His journey was accomplished.

The next and final episodes will follow.

[1] Sanders N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books, London 1977 P114

[2] Ibid p114

The Inner Journey – Carl G. Jung’s Near-Death-Experience

I would like to share with you another more modern account of an Inner Journey, in what is now described as the Near-Death Experience of Carl Jung.

In a hospital in Switzerland in 1944, the world-renowned psychiatrist Carl G. Jung, had a heart attack and then a near-death experience. His vivid encounter with the light, plus the intensely meaningful insights led Jung to conclude that his experience came from something real and eternal. Jung’s experience is unique in that he saw the Earth from a vantage point of about a thousand miles above it. His incredibly accurate view of the Earth from outer space was described about two decades before astronauts in space first described it. Subsequently, as he reflected on life after death, Jung recalled the meditating Hindu from his near-death experience and read it as a parable of the archetypal Higher Self, the God-image within.[1]

The following account is from Jung’s book’ Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in a chapter titled Visions.[2]

‘The beginning of 1944 I broke my foot, and this misadventure was followed by a heart attack. In a state of unconsciousness, I experienced deliriums and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death and was being given oxygen and camphor injections. The images were so tremendous that I myself concluded that I was close to death. My nurse afterward told me:

“It was as if you were surrounded by a bright glow,”

That was a phenomenon she had sometimes observed in the dying, she added. I had reached the outermost limit, and do not know whether I was in a dream or an ecstasy. At any rate, extremely strange things began to happen to me. 

It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the Earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents.  Far below my feet lay Ceylon, and in the distance ahead of me the subcontinent of India. My field of vision did not include the whole Earth, but its global shape was plainly distinguishable, and its outlines shone with a silvery gleam through that wonderful blue light. In many places the globe seemed coloured or spotted dark green like oxidized silver. Far away to the left lay a broad expanse – the reddish-yellow desert of Arabia; it was as though the silver of the Earth had there assumed a reddish-gold hue. Then came the Red Sea, and far, far back – as if in the upper left of a map – I could just make out a bit of the Mediterranean. My gaze was directed chiefly toward that. Everything else appeared indistinct. I could also see the snow-covered Himalayas, but in that direction, it was foggy or cloudy. I did not look to the right at all. I knew that I was on the point of departing from the Earth. 

Later I discovered how high in space one would have to be to have so extensive a view – approximately a thousand miles!  The sight of the Earth from this height was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. 

In this extraordinary inner journey, Jung found himself in the farthest place from his normal existence in the world. He was at the farthest edge, in boundless consciousness. It was experienced by Jung, as being high above the earth, floating in space. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim was also described as being ‘Faraway’ or in the Land between the Rivers, Dilmun, or Paradise. In the story of Muhamad, he too found himself in ‘the farthest Masjid’. This place which Sufis describe as the Alam-al-Mithal is the Centre of All, a realm where we are united with the Divine, where all potentialities are possible and where we are not in our usual bodily ‘place’. It is at the extreme edge of consciousness and understanding.  The farthest Place.

The experience of flying, or travelling through the realms, is a common feature in Fairy Tales, myths and legends: like the Flying Horse or psychopomp as discussed previously. A few months ago, I experienced something similar in a dream. I found myself flying through ‘space’ and feeling totally free and ecstatic. I knew / remembered how to fly, even though I was a bit rusty at first, and realised that I hadn’t done it for a long, long  time. There was nothing around me and I was simply soaring higher and higher. It was wonderful to be free of the world, there were no attachments or even desires. This was so like Jung’s experience. I have realised that the ‘element’ that I was flying through was what Sufis would describe as ether – no colour or all colours, but experienced by me as a brightness. It is the highest and finest element. In our practice we move from the densest element earth which is yellow, through water which is green, then fire (red) and air (blue) until we soar off into the ether towards the stars.

To continue with Jung’s experience:

After contemplating it for a while, I turned around. I had been standing with my back to the Indian Ocean, as it were, and my face to the north. Then it seemed to me that I made a turn to the south. Something new entered my field of vision. A short distance away I saw in space a tremendous dark block of stone, like a meteorite. It was about the size of my house, or even bigger. It was floating in space, and I myself was floating in space. 

I had seen similar stones on the coast of the Gulf of Bengal. They were blocks of tawny granite, and some of them had been hollowed out into temples. My stone was one such gigantic dark block. An entrance led into a small antechamber. To the right of the entrance, a black Hindu sat silently in lotus posture upon a stone bench. He wore a white gown, and I knew that he expected me. Two steps led up to this antechamber, and inside, on the left, was the gate to the temple. Innumerable tiny niches, each with a saucer-like concavity filled with coconut oil and small burning wicks, surrounded the door with a wreath of bright flames. I had once actually seen this when I visited the Temple of the Holy Tooth at Kandy in Ceylon; the gate had been framed by several rows of burning oil lamps of this sort. [3]

Jung’s experience of the ‘tremendous dark block of stone, like a meteorite’, which was larger than his house, floating in space near him, is so mysterious. What could this mean? I am immediately reminded of the Kaaba which is described as follows: –

‘A mysterious dark rock rests in a corner of the Kaaba, a square black building found at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Each year devout Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca, circling the Kaaba and giving a nod or a kiss to the meteorite that is said to rest inside. — The worship of the Black Stone goes back to pre-Islamic shrines, when Semitic cultures used unusual stones to signify sites of reverence. According to Muslim belief, the stone originates from the time of Adam and the Islamic prophet Muhammad set the Black Stone in place after it fell from the skies.’[4] Jung continues:

As I approached the steps leading up to the entrance into the rock, a strange thing happened: I had the feeling that everything was being sloughed away; everything I aimed at or wished for or thought, the whole phantasmagoria of earthly existence, fell away or was stripped from me – an extremely painful process. Nevertheless, something remained; it was as if I now carried along with me everything I had ever experienced or done, everything that had happened around me. I might also say: it was with me, and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own history and I felt with great certainty: this is what I am. I am this bundle of what has been and what has been accomplished. 

This experience gave me a feeling of extreme poverty, but at the same time of great fullness. There was no longer anything I wanted or desired. I existed in an objective form; I was what I had been and lived. At first the sense of annihilation predominated, of having been stripped or pillaged; but suddenly that became of no consequence. 

Everything seemed to be past; what remained was a “fait accompli,” without any reference back to what had been. There was no longer any regret that something had dropped away or been taken away. On the contrary: I had everything that I was, and that was everything. 

Something else engaged my attention: as I approached the temple I had the certainty that I was about to enter an illuminated room and would meet there all those people to whom I belong in reality. There I would at last understand – this too was a certainty – what historical nexus I or my life fitted into. I would know what had been before me, why I had come into being, and where my life was flowing. My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that has no beginning and end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt for which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. My life seemed to have been snipped out of a long chain of events, and many questions had remained unanswered. Why had it taken this course? Why had I brought these particular assumptions with me? What had I made of them? What will follow? I felt sure that I would receive an answer to all the questions as soon as I entered the rock temple. There I would meet the people who knew the answer to my question about what had been before and what would come after.’[5] 

This is clearly a symbol of the most sacred, holy place that Jung could conceive of. He reveals his experience of this Divine Symbol, by comparing it with the massive stones of granite which had been hollowed out into a temple, that he had seen in Bengal. On the right of the anti-chamber sat a dark holy man wearing a white robe in a deep meditation, Jung knew that he was expected.  On his left was the gate to the temple, the holy of holies. As he entered he experienced a complete ‘sloughing off’ of everything related to his outer physical life. Everything was stripped away and he was left with a feeling of completeness. The annihilation did not matter at all. In his own words, he had everything that he was, and that was everything. He had an experience of Unity with the Divine, where everything is One, and One is everything. That the Hindu holy man was seated on the right of the anti-chamber symbolises the outer experience of the sacred in the first stage of transformation. He was described  as black which symbolises the ‘prima matria’ of alchemy – the first stage of turning base metal (lead) into gold. The Holy man was wearing a white robe, representing the undifferentiated, transcendent perfection – the final stage of alchemy bringing Light, Sun, and illumination. So the black holy man in his white robe represents the whole process of transformation from the base ‘element’ transformed and illuminated.

Jung felt that he was expected which is such a wonderful feeling. Knowing that he was on the right path and that everything was exactly as it should be. He was expected. What a wonderful and particular feeling it is to be expected.

We are told that we have to be able to journey through the realms while in this life, so that we know and understand the journey when our body dies, and we pass over.

There were two steps which led up into the anti-chamber. Two symbolises duality – All that is manifest in duality is in pairs of opposites. Everything is contained in its own opposite. So, it is through this duality that we enter the Temple. Inside and on the left was the gate of the temple. Left represents the inner world. The Temple is the Centre of All, it is the holy of holies – the place of Unity with the divine. We come from Unity into manifestation (duality) and return to Unity in the most numinous of experiences.  In this experience there is indeed a sloughing off of everything that is related to the outer life, into a feeling of completeness which is Unity. It is Fana fi Allah – an annihilation into Allah. It is interesting that Jung retained a sense of himself and his identity and history, while being detached from it.

Just as in the Prophet Muhammad’s inner journey, where The Prophet was raised with the Angel Gabriel beyond time and space, he spoke with the earlier prophets – Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Aaron, John the Baptist, and Jesus. It is said that his vision of the heavens and of the beauty of those horizons permeated his being. Jung had the certainty that as he was about to enter the illuminated room, that he would meet, those beings that he ‘belonged’ to. In other words, beings like himself – fellow mystics perhaps. There he would discover his own meaning and purpose and how this was to fit with the Whole. He would know and understand his life from the perspective of the past, present and future, which in fact do not exist in that space. There is only the eternal now.

 ‘For it seemed to me as if behind the horizon of the cosmos a three-dimensional world had been artificially built up, in which each person sat by himself in a little box. And now I should have to convince myself all over again that this was important! Life and the whole world struck me as a prison, and it bothered me beyond measure that I should again be finding all that quite in order. I had been so glad to shed it all, and now it had come about that I –  along with everyone else – would again be hung up in a box by a thread.’ 

‘While I floated in space, I had been weightless, and there had been nothing tugging at me. And now all that was to be a thing of the past!’[6] 

Jung did not want to return to this world, of being separate and disconnected. Of being in a little box. But he knew that he had to return to fulfil his destiny and show his world and us, what the reality of inner life is about. He was a great mystic – and mysticism is at the core of all religions and belief systems.

Jung goes on to say:

‘I would never have imagined that any such experience was possible. It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had a quality of absolute objectivity’.

‘We shy away from the word “eternal,” but I can describe the experience only as the ecstasy of a non-temporal state in which present, past, and future are one. Everything that happens in time had been brought together into a concrete whole. Nothing was distributed over time, nothing could be measured by temporal concepts. The experience might best be defined as a state of feeling, but one which cannot be produced by imagination. How can I imagine that I exist simultaneously the day before yesterday, today, and the day after tomorrow? There would be things which would not yet have begun, other things which would be indubitably present, and others again which would already be finished and yet all this would be one. The only thing that feeling could grasp would be a sum, an iridescent whole, containing all at once expectation of a beginning, surprise at what is now happening, and satisfaction or disappointment with the result of what has happened. One is interwoven into an indescribable whole and yet observes it with complete objectivity.’[7]

I really think that Jung says it all here. What an amazing experience for us to contemplate.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.near-death.com/experiences/notable/carl-jung.html

[2] Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe. Collins and Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1963 p 270

[3] ibid

[4] http://www.ancient-origins.net/unexplained-phenomena/falling-stars-and-black-stone-humanity-s-worship-meteorites-001901

[5] Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe. Collins and Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1963

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

The Inner Journey – The Night Journey and Miraj of the Prophet

The great journey of Utnapishtim, as told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, has a parallel in the story told about the Prophet Muhammed.  This is the story of the Prophet’s night journey, and subsequent Miraj (which is an Arabic word which means ladder), where he rose to ‘heaven’ and experienced the Divine – he was in discourse with God!

We are told that the Prophet liked to go to the Kaaba enclosure at night. He would stand absorbed in prayer for many long hours. One evening he suddenly felt tired and in great need of sleep. He therefore lay down near the Kaaba and fell asleep. The angel Gabriel than came to him and shook him twice to awaken him, but Muhammad remained asleep: the third time the angel shook him, Muhammad awoke, and Gabriel took him to the doors of the mosque, where a white animal (looking like a cross between a mule and a donkey, but with wings) was waiting for him. He mounted the animal which was called Buraq and started to journey to ‘the farthest Masjid’, which was thought to have been in Jerusalem.[1]

This mysterious ‘sleep’ which overcomes the Prophet – a sleep, from which he cannot be woken until the third attempt, sounds like an experience of deep meditation, or Samadhi, where even the angel Gabriel could not waken him. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, during his forest journey, Gilgamesh was also overcome by a strange ‘sleep’, after felling the giant cedar of the forest. His beloved friend and companion Enkidu, too, could not awaken Gilgamesh from this mysterious sleep until the third time of trying.  It is only after coming out of this long and deep meditation, that Gilgamesh confronted the ‘monster’ Humbaba. We are not sure, who or what, Humbaba was. He seems to be some form of nature spirit and guardian of the cedar forest. But Humbaba is also referred to as ‘evil’, so this forest journey is an allegory for the inner journey, where Gilgamesh, is similar to the knight who slays the dragon. The forest itself represents the country of the living and appears to be like Dante’s deep dark forest.  This mysterious sleep can be understood as being the experience of Samadhi or deep meditation, from where the inner sacred journey begins. In both cases, it is a beloved guide or companion who guides our hero on his path. In the case of Muhammed, the steed is Buraq and the guide is Gabriel.

It is interesting that the psychopomp in the form of Buraq, the flying ‘horse’, is present in this story, just as it is in the fairy tales of The Fairy of the Dawn, The Little Hump-backed Horse, and Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, which are mentioned in my book, The Witch as teacher in Fairy Tales.[2] The psychopomp is a steed and guide of souls, carrying them  from one realm to the other; they serve as guides through the various transitions of life. In the fairy tales, the little horse, for instance, is both the steed and guide for the hero, whereas in the story of the Prophet’s journey, Buraq is the steed, while Gabriel is the guide. I find it fascinating that that the little humpbacked horse, in the story of the same name, had long floppy ears like a donkey, and Buraq was said to be part donkey and part mule. The donkey is a symbol of humility and patience, and of course there is a strong connection with Jesus: Christ’s nativity and His entry into Jerusalem.

The ‘farthest Masjid’ is thought to be a location, rather than a physical structure. A place of prostration; a place where Muhammad prostrated before God and worshipped Him, in the Blessed Region. I find it interesting that it is described as the ‘farthest place’, while Utnapishtim is taken by the gods to live forever at the ‘mouth of the rivers’ and given the epithet ‘Faraway’ – a paradise like the garden of Eden called Dilmun.

Muhammad stated that “The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying.”

Many believe that this place of prostration was in Jerusalem, where the al-Aqsa Mosque now stands. But spiritually it is the farthest inner place that one can be in. It is at the very Centre of our universe, where the Divine One  or God, is to be encountered.

After alighting from Buraq, the prophet performed prayer, and was tested by Gabriel on God’s command. Muhammad said: “Gabriel brought me a vessel of wine, a vessel of water and a vessel of milk, and I chose the milk”. Gabriel said: “You have chosen the Fitrah (natural instinct).”[3] This is a really beautiful symbol! Milk is divine nourishment and is used in initiation ceremonies as a symbol of rebirth. Milk is of the spirit, where water is of matter. Muhammad chose well and properly, so that the second part of the journey could then be undertaken.

At the same time also, we are told that Muhammad’s chest was opened and water from the well of Zamzam was poured on his heart giving him wisdom, belief, and other characteristics to help him on his ascent. This purification is also seen in the trial of the drinks.[4] It was the angel Gabriel who, in the time of Abraham, when Hagar was thirsting in the desert with her baby son Ishmael, that Gabriel brought forth water by hitting the ground with his wing. Fresh pure water emerged, and they were saved. This is sacred water of Life which comes from the Well of Zamzam and was used to purify him spiritually before his ascent.

The Prophet was raised with the Angel Gabriel beyond time and space. Indeed, Samadhi takes us to an inner realm which is outside of time and space.  Here Muhammad toured the ‘seven stages of heaven’ and spoke with the earlier prophets – Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Aaron, John the Baptist, and Jesus. One could say that he became one with the Spirit of Guidance. It is said that his vision of the heavens and of the beauty of those horizons permeated his being. Some accounts say that Muhammad meets four angels, as he travels through the heavens and that he is shown death and what hell looks like. The meeting with four angels is very significant. Four is the Divine Quaternity and for Jung was more powerful as a symbol than the number three. There are four cardinal points, seasons, winds, sides of a square, arms of the cross, rivers of Paradise, and many more. There are four streams of immortality.

Muhammad meets angels called cherubim who instil fear in him, but he later sees them as God’s creation, and therefore not harmful.[5] I find this interesting as it carries the same feeling with it, as Petru’s encounter with the Fairy of the Dawn, in the story of the same name. In that story Petru travels through the various realms, overcoming ‘monsters’ and gaining helpful guides, deeper and deeper towards the Centre, where, as he progresses, he must overcome The Fairy which could be likened to a powerful angel, in her terrible and powerful aspect. The hero was told not to look at her, and indeed he almost loses himself, when he does look at her. It was only when he played his little flute that she went back to sleep again, thus allowing him to continue his quest[6]

Muhammad was then taken to a holy tree in the seventh heaven that Gabriel was not allowed to pass.[7] In the story of the Fairy of the Dawn, the hero Petru, also must leave his horse and guide at the point in the road where the final realm begins. When we enter the Divine space, we must go alone, without anything at all from any other realm, even the angelic.  This a strange and frightening realm.

It is here that Muhammad meets with God, who tells him that his people must pray fifty times a day. I was fascinated with this part of the story: – to pray fifty times a day would mean to be in continual prayer – in other words, wherever we are on this earth is a place of prayer and of unity with the Divine. But the number fifty represents a Jubilee, after the completion of the 7×7 cycle. It is in the forty ninth room that Petru finds the Fairy of the Dawn, and the Water of Life. Fifty represents a return to the beginning and the primordial start. There is a strong relationship between the quaternity (four), and the number fifty, as there are fifty lunar months in four years. Fifty is a divine number. Five is the number of man – forming the pentagon. It also represents the marriage between heaven and earth. and so it is that five daily prayers which are decided on. By praying five times a day, God will reward humankind tenfold, by raising humankind to heaven. This experience shows us the deep significance of prayer, which through the Eternal Word, enables us to liberate our consciousness from the contingencies of space and time, and fully comprehend the meaning of life and of Life.[8] Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam.

There is a so called ‘primitive version’ of the Miraj, by Ibn ‘Abbas, where Muhammed meets four angels as he travels through the heaven showing him fire, ice, hell, and the process of death. But Ibn Abbas describes Muhammad’s encounter with God as a human who touches and speaks to Muhammad as a human would. I find this very touching and illuminating from a spiritual perspective. As we have seen in the story of Golden Chisel, we create for ourselves an Ideal of God – an Ideal which, when complete, speaks to us and relates to us in a very human and personal way. When the Divine becomes a personality for us, we have achieved the final stage of integration into the One, of Fana fi Allah. At this level we are able to talk with Allah and feel this great Love and Guidance in our lives. It is said that God made man in His own Image, and we make our own Ideal of God in our own image according to our understanding and beliefs.  This is ever changing as we evolve. We are part of the One, and the One is part of us. As we say in our Zikar: La El La Ha, El Allah Hu which means, none exits save God, God alone is.

In the story of Gilgamesh, just after he meets Utnapishtim the Faraway, Gilgamesh says ‘I look at you now, Utnapishtim, and your appearance is no different from mine; there is nothing strange in your features. I thought I should find you like a hero prepared for battle, but you lie here taking your ease on your back.—‘.[9] Gilgamesh experiences Utnapishtim, who was raised to Godhead, as a human being just like himself, and who relates to him as such. This is a very profound understanding of our relationship with the Divine and helps us to understand this relationship. We expect our encounter with the God to be extraordinary, and so when we actually experience it, we can miss this true experience by not recognising it. We are expecting something else. We expect enlightenment to be mind-blowing but it not.  It is something pure and simple – something which can bring us to tears, in the knowing of Love and how we too have been guided. Enlightenment can creep up to us without our being aware.

It is said that Muhammad was then returned to Jerusalem by the angel Gabriel and Buraq, and from there to Mecca. On the return journey, he came upon some caravans that were also travelling to Mecca. It was still night when they reached the Kaaba enclosure. The angel and Buraq left, and Muhammad proceeded to the home of Um Hani, one of his most trusted Companions, and with whom he had been staying.  He gave her an account of what had happened to him, and she advised him not to tell anybody about it, but which Muhammad refused to do, so when Muhammad reported his experience at the Kaaba, he was met with disbelief. They thought that he was mad. But his most faithful followers simply said that if the prophet said that this is what happened, then it must be true.

A few weeks later, facts confirmed some elements of his account; the arrival of the caravans whose coming he had announced, having seen them on his way back, and of which he had given a precise description.

This demonstrates that the prophet’s night journey and Miraj or ascent, are both a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. There is a state of rising to an inner realm where there is a counterpart of the physical body. This state is called the Alam-e-mithal by Sufis.[10] This can be achieved by intense meditative practice under guidance by a Teacher.

This story of the Prophet’s Night Journey and Miraj are the most profound and revealing insight into the inner journey – into the realm of Alam-al-mithal. Accounts of this journey are to be found in so called Fairy Tales, and ancient stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In my next blog, we will delve into the near-death experience of C. G. Jung, which can be understood as such a journey.

[1] http://www.islamicity.org/5841/the-night-journey/

[2] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press 2017

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isra_and_Mi%27raj

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] Daly, Nuria The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press. 2017

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isra_and_Mi%27raj

[8] http://www.islamicity.org/5841/the-night-journey/

 

[9] Sandars, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books 1972

[10] Hazrat Inayat Khan. The Mystical Meaning of the Resurrection

The Quest for Immortality: Part 5. Utnapishtim – before the Flood

At the end of the last chapter, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he will reveal to him a mystery; a great secret of the Gods. Gilgamesh already knows the story of the flood, as it follows the creation story in the Sumerian belief system, and Gilgamesh is on this quest for immortality precisely because Utnapishtim was the one, who, on saving humankind from the deluge, was raised to immortality by the gods.

Who is Utnapishtim?  His father Ubara-Tutu was a king of Shurrupak and the only king named in the prediluvian King-List apart from Utnapishtim himself, who was known as a wise king and priest. The king- priests were in direct contact with their gods by scared ritual, where they would use trance to communicate with their god. It is probable that this was how he was ‘given’ this immense project of saving humanity.

Before the flood:
We are given the scenario of where and why the deluge came upon the earth; – It was at the city of Shurrupak, on the banks of the Euphrates, just north of Uruk. Gilgamesh is told that the city had grown old and the gods in it had also grown old. Perhaps we can understand this to mean that there was a social, economic and spiritual decline at this time.

Utnapishtim explains the relationship between the specific gods who sat in judgement over humankind. First and most supreme, was Anu, the lord of the firmament and ‘father’ of all the Gods. My feeling is that this god is like our own concept of the Divine One or Unity – everything is part of the One, and nothing exists which is not part of this One, yet this Divine Being is more than the sum of His parts.

There then was Enlil, described as the counsellor of the gods, but known as the god of earth, wind, and air, ultimately spirit, and subservient to Anu. Also mentioned are Ninurta, the helper, who was the god of wells and irrigation, and Ennugi watcher over canals. These gods of earth, air, and the water ways, are the gods who sat in council and who were very  displeased with humanity.

‘In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull.’[1]
Clearly there was a problem of overpopulation with the earth being unable to sustain so many people, as well as the population’s total disregard for the earth, air or environment. The cities had become very populous; in those days, Uruk had a population of 50,000 to 80,000 residents living in 6 square kilometres – the largest city in the world at that time. Both the cities of Shurrupak and Uruk were situated on marshlands, so it would have been difficult to sustain so many people in this environment.

The gods mentioned; Ninurta and Ennugi, were of wells, irrigation and canals, so their displeasure would be related to the cleaning and irrigation of small rivers and water ways. The first trials wrought on humankind, were drought and pestilence, but these failed to exterminate the humans, so Enlil then prevailed with his weapon of storm, to finish the job. This could be seen as the result of climate change, in how the people basically raped the land. This could have been the mythological rape that is talked about n ancient stories. It is also clear that humankind was responsible and blamed by the gods, for the destruction of the balance of the earth and the pollution of the water ways. In an earlier poem the flood follows pestilence, famine, and drought, each designed to exterminate humankind.

But Ea, the child of Anu the supreme One, was the god of sweet waters and of wisdom – the creator of humankind; he warned Utnapishtim of the coming deluge in a dream.
‘Reed house, reed house! Wall O wall, harken reed house, wall reflect; — tear down your house and build a boat, abandon your possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods, and save your soul alive.’
This tells us that these people lived in reed houses, in the marshes on the banks of the Euphrates river, as well as houses in the walled city. But the message here is a spiritual one – to abandon their possessions and save their souls.

Utnapishtim was given the exact measurements of the boat that he was directed to build and how to build her. It was a massive undertaking. The boat’s beam was to be equal to her length, and her deck roofed like the vault that covers ‘the abyss’. He was told to take into the boat the seed of all living creatures.

The ground space was to be one acre, with each side of the deck measuring one hundred and twenty cubits, making a square.
The square signifies the earth, as opposed to the circle of the heavens, with God manifest in creation. The square also represents the perfect type of enclosure – in sacred architecture it symbolises transcendent knowledge. It signifies the mystical union of the four elements and the attainment of unity. A square is made up of two equilateral triangles, which is also symbolic – three within four. Thus the significance of the square is a powerful and sacred symbol – sacred geometry.

In our Sufi spiritual practice there is a pattern of breathing, known as the ‘square breath’ which has its own purpose and meaning. Sufis also have a breathing practice known as the element breath, which is done to acknowledge and balance the elements within us.

That each side of the square measures one hundred and twenty cubits is also significant.
Twelve indicates a complete cycle, or cosmic order. Three times four represents both spiritual and temporal order: One hundred and twenty is thus a complete cycle times ten. Ten is the number of the cosmos and the paradigm of creation. The decad contains all numbers and therefore all things and possibilities. It is the perfect number and return to unity.

The detail of the structure of the boat reflects the structure of a belief system, of an understanding of the inner realm. Without this structure, the inner journey cannot be made. The boat is both an inner and an outer structure and demonstrates a profound understanding of the Sacred and the inner realms and of the journey through them.

There were to be six decks below the water line, one deck above, so seven decks in all. After seven days the boat was complete. The magical number seven, the number of the universe is symbolic of completeness – a totality. With the number three of the heavens and the soul, and number four of the earth and the body, seven is the first number which contains both the spiritual and temporal. The structure of the boat reflects the structure of the inner world, with the part or level above the ocean, reflecting consciousness, and the six levels below taking us deeper into the structure of the depths or layers of the unconscious towards the centre which is unity with the Divine. It is very much like the description of the realms in the story of The Fairy of the Dawn[2].

The seven levels of decking on the boat could depict the seven grades of initiation into the mysteries and I think that this is a reflection of the levels of initiation taken when journeying into and through those inner realms towards the depths in the ocean of the unconscious. Sufis believe that Ocean represents the Unconscious. Note that the time it took to complete the boat was seven days, so even the time frame reflects the meaning of the number seven – totality and completeness, as well as reflecting a very long period of time.

Utnapishtim divided the decks into nine sections with bulkheads between. As we commented on before in an earlier blog, the Sumerians counted in threes and sixes – they did not have a binary system of counting as we do. Therefore, the six lower decks were symbolically important, as are the nine sections of the bulkhead. Nine, of course is comprised of the powerful 3 x 3 and indicates completion, fulfilment, and attainment. It is a celestial and angelic number which points to the Earthly Paradise, which for these people was Dilmun.

Most importantly, nine is the number of the circumference, hence its division into 90 degrees and into 360 degrees for the entire circumference. It is symbolised by the figure of two triangles, which in turn is a symbol of male and female, fire and water, mountain, and cave principles. So we are given an image of a circle within a square. The ‘squaring of the circle’ is an archetypal motif which could be called the archetype of wholeness. Jung, in working with mandalas, realised that his own life had been a series of meandering paths that bent back upon each other and yet always leading back to the centre. The mandala symbolically represents the path to the centre, to wholeness. Jung says that unless the Symbol is ‘ungraspable’, it is ineffective. If it is ‘understood’ it dies. The core of the individual is a mystery of life, which dies when it is ‘grasped’. That is also why Symbols want to keep their secrets. They are mysterious, not only because we are unable to clearly see what is at their bottom. It is like an archetypal dream – if we interpret it, we destroy it. When the symbol is a mystery it cannot be destroyed by the ego.[3]

We also realise that the boat is in fact a cube – a very powerful image and symbol to contemplate for the seeker. Within the cube we have the tetrahedron, and a circle. To visualise and feel into these forms and facets, take us deep into a part of ourselves, deep into the inner realm, on the journey to wholeness – to our Centre and unity with the Divine.

For a very interesting Jungian analysis of the triangle, tetrahedron and cube see:  http://www.cgjungpage.org/learn/articles/analytical-psychology/589-tetrahedral-geometry-and-the-psyche
Try to visualise into the sacred form of the tetrahedron! It is a multidimensional image of the Trinity.

We are given great detail as to how this project was managed, how the boat was built, the supplies, the pouring of the pitch, the slaughtering of the bullocks and sheep to feed the builders, and wine for them to drink. Nothing was spared as he knew there would be nothing left after the flood. The launching was difficult because of the shifting ballast above and below. He loaded everything he had into boat – gold, living things, his family and his kin, beasts of the field both wild and tame and all the craftsmen. This was a whole community of beings who would survive the flood.

Finally, the time came when Shamash the sun gave him the sign that the mighty deluge was about to begin. After battening and caulking, Utnapishtim handed the tiller to Puzur-Amurri, the steersman, with the navigation and care of the whole boat. So the tiller is set for Syria (Puzur-Amurri represents Syria).  This new colony was heading to Syria – an inner and an outer place.

The structure of the boat and how it was built, its meaning and purpose, as a spiritual structure and belief system, is in fact the great secret and mystery, which Utnapishtim teaches Gilgamesh. This is the main point of the story. At the end of the last episode, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he will tell him a great secret and mystery. Here it is hidden within the story of the flood. The boat is the means by which the seeker can make that inner journey to the centre of all and thus find ‘immortality’, just as we have seen in the tales explored in The Witch as teacher in Fairy Tales.

Many years ago, while taking part in a workshop, I had a dream, which I took to the Jungian analyst who was leading the workshop. In this dream I was on a great ocean liner, with the date of the 1950’s written on the funnel. In the hold of that ship were many, many dead babies. I was told that this was an initiation dream, and that I should go into a Jungian analysis, and bring all those dead babies back to life again. This led to an almost seven year Jungian analysis, in which I had many dreams of boats or liners, and of babies. Often the babies were twins or two sets of twins, which takes us to the sacred quaternity that Jung speaks of. Sometimes the babies were born fully able to communicate, and full of wisdom. The Divine children.

To me the boat or liner, meant the collective means of crossing the great ocean of the unconscious, in other words the ‘religion’ or belief system of the ‘people’ I had been brought up with.  Clearly this structure or belief system, did not serve me well. All the potentialities in my life at that time, were dead. In the 1950s I would have been between seven and seventeen years old. A time when I was indeed exploring life and what it meant. I I did not get the answers to so many of the questions which I pondered at the time. I could not find anything that satisfied me on a deep level. Now all those years later, I feel that I have resurrected many, if not all of those babies in the hold of the liner, and that everything that I have experienced in my life has led to these resurrections. The boat which Utnapishtim made to save his people from the deluge, is such a boat.

There follows a detailed description of the mighty storm and the rising of the flood waters., the releasing of the birds, first the short flight of the dove, then the longer flight bird, the swallow, and finally the raven, who saw that the waters had retreated, ate, cawed, and never came back. Utnapishtim made sacrifice to the gods in gratitude for their survival, but on seeing this sacrifice, Enlil realised that Utnapishtim and his companions had survived and  was angry when he saw the boat. No-one was meant to have survived. But Ninurta, the god of wells and canals said that it is only Ea the supreme god of all, who knows all things and that nothing can be devised without him. So Ea reproaches Enlil for so senselessly bringing down the flood and further states that it was not he, who revealed the secret of the gods, but that the wise man learned it in a dream. Yet Ea as god of wisdom could well have given Utnapishtim the knowledge he needed in a dream. So, we learn that Utnapishtim knew from his understanding of the world and the environment, what was about to happen and devised the plan from his own intuition and wisdom. One could say that he was perhaps a great sage.

In those days the temples were served by a perpetual priesthood, in whose hands was almost the whole wealth of the state and amongst whom were archivists and teachers, scholars and mathematicians. In the early times the whole temporal power was theirs, as servants of the god whose estates they managed.[4] Utnapishtim could have been one of these priests or mathematicians, whose vision saved humankind. I do think that he was a great Teacher, prophet and leader. Mathematics has always played a fundamental part in the human psyche. Jung talks about primary mathematical intuitions in geometry.

Mathematics are no longer the beginnings of philosophy, or the science of Being in its true appearance, but is instead the science of the structure of the human mind.”[5] The mathematician priests of old would have known this.

The gods again take council and Enlil comes to the boat and takes Utnapishtim and his wife by the hand, entering the boat between them, bids them kneel either side of him, and blesses them, saying “In times past Utnapishtim was a mortal man; henceforth he and his wife shall live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers.”[6] This feels like the final ‘raising up’ of a mortal man, to the highest realms of Being, into Enlightenment.

Thus, it was that this colony of humans could establish themselves far away, in a paradise on earth, at the mouth of rivers. Where this place on earth is, we do not know. I think that the raven probably found land on the Taurus mountains which are now in southern Turkey, but my feeling that this place at the mouth of the rivers is indeed far away – perhaps on the shores of the Mediterranean, even Sardinia, Malta, or Southern Spain.

In the next episode we explore the inner journey or near death experience of C G Jung and the black cube, and of the Miraj of the Prophet, or night journey of the Prophet Mahomed.

 

Sacred Geometry
“Fundamentally, sacred geometry is simply the ratios of numbers to one another: 1:2, 2:3, 4:5. When such numerical ratios are incorporated into three-dimensional form we have the most graceful and alluring architecture in the world. When those very same ratios are expressed in the domain of sounds they yield the transcendental and transformative music of Indian ragas, Tibetan overtone chanting, Gregorian chanting, African drumming, and the masterworks of Bach, Mozart and other European classical composers. Goethe once said, “Architecture is frozen music.” By this statement Goethe was describing the relationship between musical ratios and their application to form and structure.

While not all the forms found in geometry and nature are harmonic in nature, those that we find most beautiful to the eye do indeed adhere to harmonic series. In particular, forms that express ratios based upon the octave (2:1), fourths (4:3), fifths (3:2), and thirds (5:4) create forms that are visually harmonious. The knowledge of how to use these harmonic ratios to create architecture was basic to the ancient mystery schools of Egypt and Greece. Pythagoras, who got his knowledge of these matters from thirty-three years of wandering and studying in Mesopotamia and Egypt, was especially influential in introducing this sacred geometry to the Greeks, and thereby to Western civilization.

One sacred geometrical proportion, known as the Golden Mean or the Golden Section, was immensely important to ancient architects. The Golden Section is a geometric proportion in which the ratio of the whole to the larger part is the same as the ratio of the larger part to the smaller. Thus a:b = b:(a-b). The Golden Section often involves proportions that relate to the ratios found in the major sixth (3:5) and the minor sixth (5:8). Atomic physicists, chemists, crystallographers, biologists, botanists and astronomers have found these same ratios to be the underlying mathematical framework of the universe. The ratios are also present in the human body and mind, perhaps accounting for the profound and transformative effects of sacred architecture and sacred music upon the human organism. An ancient Hindu architectural sutra says “The universe is present in the temple in the form of proportion.” Therefore, when you are within a structure fashioned with sacred geometry, you are within a model of the universe. The vibrational quality of sacred space thus brings your body and mind into harmony with the universe.”[7]

 

 

 

[1] Sandars, N. K. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books 1977 P 108

[2] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as teacher in Fairy tales, Balboa Press 2017

[3] C G Jung letter to Hans Schmid 1915

[4] Sandars N K, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics, 1977, p 15

[5] Quoted by Shane Eynon in the Jungian Book Club. FB

[6] Ibid p 113

[7] https://sacredsites.com/sacred_places/sacred_geometry.html

Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality. part 4. Utnapishtim

I would like to include a comment which Nawab has made on my last post, as it is very insightful and important:-

‘Very dear Nuria,
Many heartfelt thanks for the very interesting exploration of the saga of Gilgamesh. It is very insightful. Some thoughts that came up while reading this portion: Gilgamesh smashing the ‘stone things’ and the snakes brings to mind the Buddhist mantram, Gate gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi svaha! Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond beyond, hail the Goer! The path of Gilgamesh to find immortality does not allow him to be beholden to any ‘method’ – perhaps that is why in his crossing, he himself becomes the mast, and he takes the skin off his body for a sail (though admittedly a skin borrowed from another creature). And reflecting on the Urnu-snakes and the stone things, of course snakes can also make us think of the power spiralling up the spinal axis, which yogis call kundalini. In that light, maybe the ‘stone things’ represent the radiant psychic centres, which in some conditions shine like jewels. So why does Gilgamesh smash this ‘system’? Perhaps because every form must some day be scattered, and the ultimate crossing means to leave them all behind. Experience of the various centres can take us to the margin of the ocean, but to cross the ocean we leave them on the shore.’
I love the idea that the ‘stone things’ represent the radiant psychic centres, which shine like jewels, especially as everything in the garden of Dilmun – the flowers and the thorns, described as being made of precious stones or crystals. It is a powerful image and concept to ponder.

For Gilgamesh the night sea journey is almost complete. He himself has become the mast and his skins, the sails, which power the boat towards that sacred place at the mouth of the rivers. The garden of Dilmun, the Sumerian paradise – the place where the sun rises and the Land of the Living.

‘Now Utnapishtim, where he lay at ease, looked into the distance and he said in his heart, musing to himself, ‘Why does the boat sail here without tackle and mast; why are the sacred stones destroyed, and why does the master not sail the boat? That man who comes is none of mine; where I look I see a man whose body is covered with skins of beasts. Who is this who walks up the shore behind Urshanabi, for surely he is no man of mine? ‘[1] He asks himself all the questions that Gilgamesh has had to answer before when faced with Siduri and then Urshanabi.

Gilgamesh replies ‘Gilgamesh is my name. I am from Uruk, from the house of Anu.’ This is a very short and focussed reply! His name, his city and his spiritual lineage. Anu is the Sumerian father of the gods – the god of the firmament – ‘the great above’. In a sense, one could say that it is like our idea of ‘the One’ or God – who is everything. Nothing exists save Allah, Allah alone exists. In the Sumerian cosmology there was first, the primeval sea, from which was born the cosmic mountain consisting of heaven (An), and earth (Ki). Anu had an important temple in Uruk: He was a supreme and remote deity.

Note. In Sumerian theogony, An (heaven) was the first-born of the primeval sea. He was the upper heavens, the firmament, not the air that blows over the earth. He was united to earth (Sumerian Ki) and begot Enlil, the god of the air. At this time the world was still in darkness and Enlil the air, was imprisoned between the dark ceiling of heaven, a night sky without stars, and the earth’s surface. So Enlil begot the moon Nana (Semitic Sin), who travelled in a boat bringing light  to the lapis lazuli heavens; and Nana in turn begot the sun Utu (Semitic Shamash), and Inanna (Semitic Ishtar) goddess of love and war.[2]

Utnapishtim is portrayed as lying at ease and seems very human in his attributes. He was last on the king list before the flood, where Gilgamesh was said to be fifth on the king list after the flood. Therefore, Utnapishtim could be seen as a forefather of Gilgamesh. He does not recognise Gilgamesh, so Gilgamesh again tells Utnapishtim at great length, about his terrible journey, his grief for Enkidu, his fear that the same fate awaits him, and of his desperation to avoid it if possible. The old man asks Gilgamesh why he grieves about mortality when nothing lives forever? The old man says the gods established that men would suffer death, and that when the gods give life, they also decide the day of death. He says that death is our certain destiny, even if we don’t know when it will happen.

Gilgamesh then says ‘I look at you now, Utnapishtim, and your appearance is no different from mine; there is nothing strange in your features. I thought I should find you like a hero prepared for battle, but you lie here taking your ease on your back. Tell me truly, how was it that you came to enter the company of the Gods and to possess everlasting life?’

Utnapishtim tells him that he will reveal the secret of the gods and this ends the tablet or section, which tells of Gilgamesh’s search for everlasting life.

The story of the flood has been inserted at this point in the Epic of Gilgamesh, but I do not believe that it belongs here. Some think that it does not belong in the Epic of Gilgamesh at all. We are not told what the secret of the gods in. However, there is a comment by Enlil, god of the air, which I find revealing. ‘It was not I that revealed the secret of the gods; the wise man learned it in a dream. This wise man was Utnapishtim, who was the only one with his wife, to survive the flood, and he was warned by a dream.

So in my understanding, Utnapishtim as a great Teacher and enlightened being, spends time teaching Gilgamesh. He passes on his secret knowledge of the mysteries of Life and of Light.

In the next episode we learn more of the tests which  Gilgamesh endures, while with Utnapishtim, and of his transformation.

.

 

 

[1] Sandars, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics 1977 P105

[2] Ibid P 24

Gilgamesh’s quest for Immortality: Part 3 Urshanabi

It is from his Teacher, Siduri, that Gilgamesh received instruction on how to cross the waters of death, across the ‘river of Ocean’ on his quest for immortality.  But Gilgamesh is alone and has no boat; he must find a ferryman and in truth, the directions he has been given are vague and this makes him angry. It was from Siduri, that Gilgamesh received instruction on how to cross the waters of death, much like Odysseus who had directions from Circe for the way to Hades across the ‘river of Ocean’. But Gilgamesh, unlike Odysseus is alone and has no boat; he must find the ferryman[1]. What is interesting and unusual here, is that this is not an underworld journey, nor is the boatman Urshanabi a ferryman of the dead. Ocean is the last boundary of the known or knowable earth to all the ancients. It was an impassable barrier because it communicated with the waters of death. Even the Romans were afraid of the Atlantic; Caesar’s crossing to Britain was considered a feat of superhuman daring. [2] We are told that when Gilgamesh heard that he might not be able to cross the waters, that he was seized with anger, and taking the axe in his hand and the dagger from his belt, he fell upon the boat with its serpent prow and the holy ‘things’ of stone. He smashes them up and shatters the tackle of the boat. I think that Gilgamesh had a very good reason to do this, even though it looks as if this was a rash and foolish act.

In the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, the hero Golden Chisel, finds a bright stone buried in the dry village pond. He chisels this into the form of a stone ram; his Ideal of the Divine. It is long and arduous task which in fact we all undertake on our spiritual journey. We constantly create this divine image of God, as a structure and support for our inner life. This or our ‘stone ram’ carries us through the realms and across Ocean, to find the water of life.

When Gilgamesh saw the boat and the holy ‘stone things’, they were alien to him. In a sense they were from a ‘technology’ that was totally alien – one that he did not understand. How could he make this journey using a belief system or inner structure which he did not know or understand? Remember that Gilgamesh has travelled a very long way and is in a ‘country’ totally foreign to him.  The holy ‘stone things’ were the means which Urshanabi, the ferryman, had fashioned for himself, on his own personal inner journey. We know from other stories, that we cannot take another person with us on our journey. We each must travel our own path in our own way.[3]  So when Gilgamesh has destroyed Urshanabi’s Urnu-snakes and tackle, he goes into the forest and sits down, waiting of Urshanabi. The forest represents that deep realm within us where we live our spiritual life. It is the dark forest of Dante and of the witch Baba Yaga.

Urshanabi was in the forest gathering mint, and possibly other herbs, when he heard Gilgamesh smashing the tackle on his boat. That Urshanabi was gathering mint is interesting, as mint has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000BC. This makes a clear connection to the journey that they are about to make, a journey into other realms – a night sea journey. Urshanabi is clearly preparing for his next journey across Ocean. In another translation Urshanabi is picking Urnu-snakes, which were said to be the protectors of the holy ‘stone things’ and necessary to carry him across the sea, so that the waters of death would not touch or harm him.

The story then tells us that Urshanabi ’bent his head’, when he heard Gilgamesh smashing the precious ‘stone things’ which would propel his boat!  He was clearly upset and saddened that Gilgamesh had done this. It would have meant that he could no longer make this journey in his own right.  But the ferryman Urshanabi is, in effect, a Teacher and Guide of souls, ferrying them through the realms. He and his boat could be seen as  psychopomp, just like the horse in the story of ‘The Fairy of the Dawn’, and the’ Little Humpbacked horse’.   I would say that this is also very similar to the Stone Ram, in the story of ‘Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram.’ Golden Chisel chiselled his stone ram out of a very hard stone, creating a vehicle and guide, so as to ‘fetch’ the sweet spring water for his village. Could the holy ‘stone things’ have had a similar purpose?

Note that David Suzuki in his recent documentary on the pyramids, tells that a boat was found, disassembled, at the base of the great pyramid. This was to have been re-assembled

By the pharaoh for use in his afterlife journey: It was held together by rope. In the documentary, the team re-constructs the boat exactly as found, using new rope and demonstrated how it was used to ferry stone from the quarry to build the pyramid. It is interesting to note that they used punting poles to ferry the boat when rowing with the current but used sail when returning against the current.

 

Urshanabi and Gilgamesh meet – Gilgamesh introduces himself to Urshanabi, who studies Gilgamesh’s face and asks him why he looks like a tramp. He observes that Gilgamesh’s face is worn and weathered and that sorrow rests in his belly. Gilgamesh tells him about Enkidu, of his grief, of his fear, and his implacable determination to visit Utnapishtim and discover how to find the secret of immortality.

Gilgamesh wants Urshanabi to ferry him to the ‘place of transit at the mouth of the rivers’, to Dilmun, (which is very like our idea of the Garden of Eden), to meet Utnapishtim ‘the Faraway’, who lives beyond the Ocean. Utnapishtim means ‘He Who saw Life’; it was he, who with the help of the god Ea, survived the flood, with his family and with ‘the seed of all living creatures’; afterwards he was taken by the gods, to live for ever at ‘the mouth of the rivers’ and given the epithet ‘Faraway’, or according to the Sumerians, he lives in paradise, where the sun rises.

It is clear that Gilgamesh’s spirit has fallen into a depression, and his heart is covered by fear, confusion, and agitation. His inner journey is to find stillness, inner peace, so that the mirror-like quality of consciousness can reflect what previously was always there. Perhaps to find the Divine in himself. He was a great hero and King – a leader of his people. Now he wears animal skins, eats the flesh of animals, and looks like a tramp or a criminal. Each of his teachers tells him to be happy, to be with friends and to feel compassion for those in distress. Wise words, but Gilgamesh will not be put off his search for everlasting life.

Urshanabi says he will take Gilgamesh to Utnapishtim, but that Gilgamesh has made the journey immeasurably more difficult because he smashed the ‘stone things’ and the Urnu-snakes, which propelled and protected his boat. When Gilgamesh attacks the Urnu-snakes, who seemed to have been the protectors of the stone things, the story relates that he attacked the snake’s head and pinned back its wing. The snake is of course the symbol of transformation. It is associated with the concepts of both life and death, living underground, it is in touch with the underworld and has access to the powers and magic possessed by the dead. As serpent it manifests the aggressive powers of the gods of the underworld and darkness. The positive and negative, light and darkness are in conflict, as with Osiris and Set, the eagle and the serpent. Cosmologically the serpent is the primordial ocean from which all emerges and to which all returns. Serpents are the guardians of the threshold, the in-between places, esoteric knowledge, and controllers of the power of the waters, both water-confining and water-bringing.

Urshanabi is a patient and good teacher; he sadly realises, that Gilgamesh cannot tolerate, or make use of the ‘stone things’ on his journey. They are possibly too strange, or too threatening to him.  So Urshanabi, comes to know and understand Gilgamesh, just a as Teacher would. I would say that there followed a long process of teaching and discussion. Urshanabi learns of Gilgamesh’s past feat of conquering the evil of the  mountain and forest, to fell the great cedar, and so orders Gilgamesh to return to the forest and cut sixty poles, and then a further; sixty poles; In some versions of the story, Gilgamesh must cut as many as 300 poles. Each pole must be exactly sixty cubits in length (approximately ninety feet).

Urshanabi instructs him to fit the poles with rings and cover them with pitch, and only then will they attempt the voyage. The Sumerians counted in threes, and sixes so for instance, Gilgamesh was two thirds God and one third mortal. Thus, multiples of three, six and nine, with zeros on the end, symbolise huge but very exact measurements. These poles used to propel the boat must have been immense. The punting poles were to be used instead of the ‘stone things’ to propel the boat. I find it illuminating that in the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, Golden Chisel, the hero, is a creative and artistic man. He could chisel animals, birds and plants in stone and make them appear lifelike. In our story, Gilgamesh was a great king who led a successful expedition to bring back timber from the forests of the north and who was certainly a great builder. So each of us have to use our talents and achievements to create our Ideal and means (the psychopomp) which carries and guides us to the inner realms.

Gilgamesh cuts the poles, as instructed and they sail off together across the perilous sea. In three days they sail as far as an ordinary boat would have sailed in two months. When they arrive at the Waters of Death, the boatman tells Gilgamesh to use the punting poles but to be sure his hands don’t touch the water. Gilgamesh poles the boat through the Waters of Death. His great strength causes him to break all of the poles. When the last pole is destroyed, he takes off the skin he is wearing and holds it up to use as a sail. This is remarkable – Gilgamesh himself acts as a mast or central pillar using the skins of the great beast – the lions, to be the sail and means of propulsion. This symbology goes back to some of the fairy tales in the Witch as teacher in Fairy Tales[4], where the pillar or Qutub is the pillar of wisdom, or central place around which the universe turns. It is the place of Divine presence which comes alive when the teachings are understood and integrated. Gilgamesh becomes that central pillar! The skins of the fearsome beasts which he has overcome and killed, are the traits in himself that he has mastered; they now cover him, and propel the boat using Wind representing the spirit or breath of the Universe, or the breath of God, to sail the boat. The power of the wind or spirit sustains life and holds it together. The winds are also the messengers of the Gods and indicate the presence of divinity. It is Gilgamesh himself who finally propels the boat through the perilous ocean to get to his destination. It is a powerful and amazing image! There is another version which says that Gilgamesh makes Urshanabi stand with wings spread. Wind is sometimes symbolised by wings, which brings in the idea of the Urnu-snakes with wings – like the sail of the boat. Again we have the allusion to winged snakes.  Some say that the winged beings or stone things could have been figurines or sacred symbols. Which takes me back to the ‘stone ram’. Was the stone ram too, such a holy and powerful ‘thing’ which could carry the hero to the fresh sweet spring waters for his village.

In the distance, they can see the shore. An old man stands on the shore, watching the boat approach. The old man wonders why the boat sails without tackle and mast; why were the sacred ‘stone things’ destroyed? and why was the Master not sailing the boat? Who is the stranger standing next to Urshanabi?

To be continued in the next blog where our hero meets Utnapishtim.

[1] Sandars, N. K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Books. London 1977 P38

[2] Ibid p38

[3] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as teacher in fairy tales, Balboa Press 2017

[4] ibid

The Quest for Immortality in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Part 2 Siduri

Gilgamesh and the two lions

The ancient method of teaching the mystery of life was to give it in the form of a legend. So the Epic of Gilgamesh is in fact a great teaching tale.

We have seen that, since his beloved friend and ‘brother’ Enkidu died, Gilgamesh has been on his great quest to find immortality. He had become aware that all humans are mortal and destined to die, all are subject to death and destruction, when he understood that, for all his love for Enkidu, and his wish to hold and possess him, his friend was subject to destruction and death. Therefore, when Gilgamesh left his city of Uruk, the physical plane, it was to journey towards the goal of  immortality.  He wandered over wilderness and grasslands, as hunter, living off wild grains and animals, even wearing their skins. He had left civilization and the physical plane behind completely. This is an inner journey, the ancients would say, it was a journey through the underworld. Just like Petru in the story of The fairy of the Dawn[1], Gilgamesh experienced great heat and great cold, on this part of his journey.

This great quest then took him to the mountains, which represent ‘heaven’; Gilgamesh first came to a mountain pass where, in a dreamlike state he overcame and destroyed the lions which he had ‘seen’ playing in the moonlight. There is a direct relationship with the lions and the lunar aspects of the Great Mother. Inanna, as great mother is said to be accompanied by two lions, and indeed, Gilgamesh is often depicted holding a lion in each hand – lions which he has conquered. Gilgamesh has now entered the inner, deep realm of the feminine.

He then came to the scorpion-men, guardians of the gateway of the Sun. Once again, Gilgamesh is warned by Scorpion-man, that no mortal man has ever crossed the realm of darkness before, but Gilgamesh is still determined to proceed, so the gates of the mountain are opened to him. Gilgamesh had no doubt whatsoever, as to his destination, in spite of being repeatedly told that no mortal man has ever made this journey before, and that he would not succeed in finding the Life that he was looking for. The Scorpion-man represents doubt and death, which pulls him backwards, while faith leads him forward to his destination.  Gilgamesh now journeys into the mountain for twelve long leagues in utter darkness, until he finally comes out into the garden of the sun, where he meets Shamash, which means Sun or God. It is interesting that the name of Rumi’s teacher Shams comes from this same word for the Sun.

Shamash was distressed at how Gilgamesh appeared – in animal skins and having eaten the flesh of animals – as a mortal man of the earth. Even Shamash, tells Gilgamesh that he will never find what he is searching for, but Gilgamesh tells him that having come so far and endured so much, he will not accept death and darkness, but has faith that he will find Eternal Light – enlightenment.

Almost immediately having overcome doubt yet again, Gilgamesh comes to Siduri, where she lives in a garden by the sea – an in-between and sacred place. Siduri is described as the woman of the vine, the maker of wine.

Wine is considered sacred, not only in the Christian faith, but in many other religions also. In the ancient religion of the Zoroastrians Jam-i Jamshed, the bowl of wine from which Jamshed drank deep, is a historical fact. Among the Hindus, Shiva considered wine sacred, and in Islam, though wine is forbidden on earth, yet in heaven it is allowed. Hauz-i Kauthar, the sacred fountain of heaven, about which there is so much spoken in Islam, is a fountain of wine.

Wine is symbolic of the soul’s evolution. Wine comes from the annihilation of grapes; immortality comes from the annihilation of self. The bowl of poison, which is known in many mystic cults also, suggests the idea of wine; not a sweet wine, but a bitter wine. When the self turns into something different from what it was before, it is like the soul being born again. This is seen in the grape turning into wine. The grape, by turning into wine, lives; as a grape it would have vanished in time. But, by turning into wine it only loses its individuality, and not its life. The self-same grape lives as wine; and the longer it lives, the better the wine becomes. For a Sufi, therefore, the true sacrament is the turning of one’s grape-like personality, which has a limited time to live, into wine, in order that nothing of one’s self may be lost, but that on the contrary, it may be amplified and even perfected. This is the essence of all philosophy and the secret of mysticism.[2]

Siduri sits in the garden with her golden bowl and the golden vats that the gods gave her. Here she is with the tools and paraphernalia of her sacred practice. The vine symbolises the tree of life or the tree of knowledge. Siduri is covered with a veil; just as the shrine of Neti, the gate-keeper in the underworld was veiled during the time of the descent of the Dying God into the underworld. So we understand that Gilgamesh is truly on a journey through the ‘underworld’, through other realms.

From where she sits, Siduri sees Gilgamesh coming towards her. She sees the flesh of the gods in his body, meaning that she can see the divine in him, but she also sees ‘despair in his heart, and his face like the face of one who has made a long journey.’[3] He is very much in his animal nature, wearing animal skins and having hunted for his food, and enduring great heat and cold. Siduri thinks Gilgamesh is dangerous and bars the gate against him. But hearing the sound of the bolt, Gilgamesh puts his foot in the gate and calls out to her asking what she has seen in him, that made her bar the gate against him. Note that it was the sound of the bolt being drawn, which warned Gilgamesh that the way was barred to him. It is often sound which speaks to us and warns us of what is ahead on the inner journey.

Gilgamesh now tells Siduri what he has achieved in his life. He has killed the bull of heaven, he has killed the watchman of the cedar forest, he overthrew Humbaba who lived in the forest, and he killed the lions in the passes of the mountains. These feats have been described in the earlier parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The ‘bull of heaven’ is a monster that personifies the seven years’ drought which was sent by the angry goddess in punishment of her rejection by Gilgamesh. Sumeria was often devastated by drought, famine, and flood; it was not an easy land to live in.

Sandars says that where Egyptians gave us a vision of heaven, the Babylonians gave us a vision of hell. The dying Egyptian had a reasonable hope of paradise to comfort and guide him at the end, but for the Sumerians, the underworld was a place of wailing.

The episode in the cedar forest is both historical and allegorical. The forest is the realm of the psyche and is a threshold symbol – the soul entering the realms of the unknown, of death and the secrets of nature. Gilgamesh would have had to face all of these, as well as earthquake and volcano. Humbaba was ‘evil’ but the name when said aloud rumbles like a volcano or earthquake. These would have been still active in the third millennium in Anatolia, and there is an accurate description of a volcanic eruption in one of the dreams which comes to Gilgamesh on the cedar mountain. Gilgamesh is like the knight who kills the dragon, and so enters into the next level or realm.

Siduri says that if Gilgamesh is really ‘that’ Gilgamesh, how is it that he is so gaunt, with despair in his heart, and his face burned from the heat and cold, and in search of the wind? To be in search of the wind has several implications – the wind is something one cannot see, touch, or catch hold of. But the wind symbolises the Spirit, the vital breath of the universe. Wings sometimes represent wind, so there is a connection with this and the flying serpent which we will encounter later. It is also interesting that when Gilgamesh was making his way through the mountain in utter darkness, we read that ‘after nine leagues he felt the north wind on his face, but the darkness was thick, and he could see nothing ahead or behind him’. Nine is the triple triad – three times three, which indicates completion, attainment, and Earthly Paradise. There is a connection between this number and the eight directions, with the ninth being the centre, and this is significant as it is the north wind which is mentioned. North (in the northern hemisphere) can indicate darkness and death, but for the ancient Egyptians it indicated Light and day, as well as masculine power. It could mean that Gilgamesh was coming through darkness, towards the Light and his own power. ‘After ten leagues the end was near, after eleven leagues the dawn light appeared. At the end of twelve leagues the sun streamed out.’[4] Ten is the number of the cosmos, it is the perfect number and indicates a return to Unity, while twelve is a complete cycle – for the Egyptians there were twelve gates of hell, in which the Sun God Ra spends the hours of the night.

In his reply, Gilgamesh tells Siduri, at length, the story of his life and what has led him to this place, at this time. It is an outpouring of his heart and soul. ‘But now, young woman, maker of wine, since I have seen your face, do not let me see the face of death which I dread so much.’[5] Siduri is the great teacher, she is the one who guides Gilgamesh on his magnum opus; she is his Teacher. He has seen her face, which was said to be veiled. But Siduri asks ‘Where are you hurrying to? You will never find the life that you are looking for. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.’[6] In other words, he will never find eternal life as a mortal human being.

‘’As for you Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.’[7] She puts a positive and beautiful spin on being happy and fulfilled as a mortal human and we should also take this advice; to see the love, beauty and harmony of the world. But on the inner spiritual quest these must be ignored – we must be detached from the things of the world. Just as in the story of The Fairy of the Dawn, the hero Petru must not be distracted by the beauty of the ‘flowers’ on his path, the cool shade in the terrible heat, and the warmth in the freezing cold, while on the path through those realms.[8]

Gilgamesh, too, ignores Siduri’s advice; Enkidu, his Beloved Friend is dead, and understanding that he too will die, he seeks the life beyond. He knows that Siduri lives by the sea shore, that in-between sacred place, so he asks her directly, to show him the way to Utnapishtim, his ancestor, whose name means ‘He Who Saw Life’.  It was he who survived the flood, with his family and with the ‘seed of all living creatures’. Afterwards he was taken by the gods to live for ever at ‘the mouth of the rivers’. According to the Sumerians he lives in Dilmun the garden paradise where the sun rises. Gilgamesh begs Siduri for directions, so that he too can cross the Ocean. If not, he will continue to wander in the wilderness.

Siduri ‘The wine-maker said to him, “Gilgamesh, there is no crossing the Ocean; whoever has come, since the days of old, has not been able to pass that sea”.’[9]

In the times before the deluge, it seems that there were those who could make that crossing, but since then, it has been impossible. ‘Only the sun in all his glory, crosses the Ocean. The place and the passage are difficult, and the waters of death are deep which flow between’. Siduri tells Gilgamesh that he cannot cross Ocean – he would not know how to make this crossing. But, she says, “Down in the woods you will find Urshanabi, the ferryman of Utnapishtim. With him are the holy things, the things of stone. He is fashioning the serpent prow of the boat. Look at him well, and if it is possible, perhaps you will cross the waters with him; but if it is not possible, then you must go back.,”[10]

To be continued.

 

 

[1] Daly, Nuria, The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press P150-155

[2] Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals, The Symbology of Religious Ideas, Wine.

[3] Sandars, N.K. Introduction of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1977. P100

[4] Ibid P 99.

[5] Ibid P 100/101

[6] Ibid P102

[7] Ibid P102

[8] Daly, Nuria, The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press P150-155

[9] Sandars, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Classics, 1977 P 102

[10] Ibid P103

The Quest for immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh and the two lions

 

The Epic of Gilgamesh[1] comes from an age so ancient that it has almost been forgotten. It antedates Homeric epic by at least one and a half thousand years, which makes it over five thousand years old.  Gilgamesh is one of the first human heroes, a historical figure, about which we know, and yet he is so sympathetic and understandable to humanity. Gilgamesh was the King of Uruk, who lived and reigned during the first half of the third millennium. He was fifth in line from the founding of the first dynasty of Uruk (after the flood).  Here is not only a first heroic tale, but evidence of the first spiritual, inner journey ever written.

It is this spiritual aspect which fascinates and which I will be dealing with.

After the death of his beloved friend, Enkidu, who was a ‘natural and wild’ man, Gilgamesh weeps and grieves for him. He realises that he too will die, and this frightens him. In his grief and despair, Gilgamesh resolves to find his forefather, Utnapishtim, whom the gods took after the deluge and gave everlasting life, so that he too can find eternal life.

After long wanderings through the wilderness, living like a poor hunter and wearing the skins of animals, Gilgamesh came to a mountain pass and remembered a time long ago, where he saw lions there. He was afraid and prayed to the moon god, to protect him. When he had prayed he lay down to sleep and dreamed, and waking from his dream, saw lions round him glorying in life. He kills these lions, and scatters them. I feel that this is a vision that Gilgamesh had, on coming out of his dream. There is a hint of some special connection between the lions and the Moon, so that we can perhaps understand that Gilgamesh undergoes a level of initiation: he overcomes that which makes him afraid, in other words, he conquers his fear..  Two lions perhaps represent both the feminine and the masculine aspects of Light and the sun. Lions are often symbolic as guardians of the door, of treasure, or of the Tree of Life. It is a gateway through which Gilgamesh has crossed over into another realm, on his great quest for immortality.

From here, Gilgamesh comes to Mashu, the great twin peaks into which Shamash the sun, was said to descend at nightfall and from which it returns at dawn. The Sumerians thought of the sun as asleep through the night, but the Semites held that he continued his journey in a boat, passing under the earth and over the waters of the underworld, till he came to the eastern mountain, to rise up in the morning with his bride, the Dawn. At the gate of the twin peaks, Scorpion-men stand guard. These scorpions were half man and half dragon, ‘their glory terrifying and their stare striking death into men’. But Gilgamesh shielded his eyes for a moment only, and then took courage and approached. By doing this the ‘scorpion-men’ knew that he was two-thirds god and one third human. I think that this could mean that Gilgamesh was seen by them as a spiritually evolved and wise man. They ask him why he is undertaking his journey and he gives his usual answer, which I will quote here, as it beautifully shows his state of mind, his depression, and his suffering.

“For Enkidu; I loved him dearly, together we endured all kinds of hardships; on his account I have come, for the common lot of man has taken him. I have wept for him day and night, I would not give up his body for burial, I thought my friend would come back because of my weeping. Since he went, my life is nothing; that is why I have travelled here in search of Utnapishtim my father; for men say he has entered the assembly of the god, and has found everlasting life. I have a desire to question him concerning the living and the dead,”[2]

So we see that the situation which has led to Gilgamesh’s quest, is the very human and heart-breaking one of grief and despair, at the death of a loved one. As Sufis we are often told that the heart must break open before we can experience Love and Life, so for Gilgamesh, this is an inner journey of individuation. The man-scorpion told Gilgamesh that no human being had ever made this journey before; that it would be twelve leagues in complete darkness. Twelve leagues is a very, very long time – a whole cycle of time, but Gilgamesh answered that although he goes in sorrow and pain, still he must go on. So the gate of the mountain was opened for him.

Gilgamesh then retraces the sun’s journey through the mountain on foot, and in utter darkness, one league at a time, to come out in the sun’s garden by the shores of Ocean at dawn. This garden was an earthly paradise, like the garden of Eden. Here the sun walks in the early morning and sees Gilgamesh – unkempt and desperate. This was a dark night of the soul for him.

Gilgamesh had deteriorated to the point where he was unrecognisable, wearing animal skins and eating their flesh. He was no longer the great hero and king of his people, but a suffering human being.  He had followed the sun’s road to his rising, through the terrible darkness of the mountain.

He arrives at the garden of the gods; all around him stood bushes bearing gems – lapis lazuli, and carnelian. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate and pearls from out of the sea. As Gilgamesh walked in this garden by the edge of the sea Shamash saw him and saw that Gilgamesh was dressed in skins of animals and ate their flesh. Shamash was the Sun, the god of wisdom, and the husband and brother of Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. Shamash was distressed to see Gilgamesh like this; no mortal man has ever come this way before, nor will again. He tells Gilgamesh that he will never find the life for which he is searching. Gilgamesh replies to glorious Shamash, ‘Now that I have toiled and strayed so far over the wilderness, am I to sleep, and let the earth cover my head for ever? Let my eyes see the sun until they are dazzled with looking. Although I am no better than a dead man, still let me see the light of the sun.’[3]

Gilgamesh having journeyed through the utter darkness of his long night journey, finally sees the sun in all his glory and longs for this light forever – eternal Light. For him the darkness he had travelled through, represented death and he did not want to go there again.

‘In the ancient mystery schools, the mysteries were held to remove the fear of death and to give assurance of the survival of the departed. Those who had been initiated were believed to be happy after death, while others led a dismal life hereafter, clinging to their graves.

The preparatory training for the greater mysteries was very severe. Fasting was undergone, abstinence of all sorts, extremes of heat and cold had to be endured, and the candidates swam through water for days and had to walk through fire. The training often lasted many years. After initiation, in the beginning all was darkness, dread and dismay; then a marvellous Light was seen and shining forms came to meet the initiate. The initiate experienced while on earth the state of the soul dissociated from the body. A Greek writer says, ‘Here all instruction ceases, one beholds the nature of things.’ Apuleius, who had received all the initiations of the mysteries, says, ‘I went to the boundary between life and death, I passed through the four elements, I stood on the threshold of Proserpina, at the time of deepest midnight I saw the sun shine in brightest splendour, I saw the greater and the lesser gods and revered them near at hand. The initiate was said to be received, while living on earth, among the immortal gods, and made as one of them.

Every soul that treads the path of initiation takes his first steps through the darkness; as Ghazali says, ‘The spiritual pursuit is like shooting an arrow through the darkness.’ No doubt as one approaches the goal the light comes; as the Quran says, ‘God is the light of the heavens and of the earth.’ Then, once the sight has become keen, there is no further instruction needed. One gets insight into the hidden laws of nature, all things seem to speak to the seer of their character, nature, and secret. This realization removes the boundary between life and death. One rises above the elements which have formed this mortal abode – the body and mind – for the soul’s experience, when one touches one’s true being, the soul. It is the soul-realized man who stands above all matter, and in this way the spirit gets victory over matter’.[4]

So it is clear that Gilgamesh’s journey has been a great initiation into other realms.  When Gilgamesh comes through the darkness, he finds himself in the Light – in the garden of the gods. It is interesting that Shamash tells Gilgamesh that he is the first to make this great journey, and the story has become known so that others could and have made this journey after Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh could well be the first mystic, that we have a record of. Gilgamesh at this point, has seen the Divine Light – the sun in its brightest splendour.

The garden of the gods is so beautiful and has a similar feeling to it as the white palace or castle in the stories of The Fairy of the Dawn and the Frog Princess. This is a ‘real’ place, known to mystics and sages. I also wonder could the bright stone which Golden Chisel found and chiselled into a stone ram, be one of the precious stones from the garden of the gods?

There is also a lesson here for those of us who have experienced heartbreak and loss. Do we have to go through the twelve leagues of darkness before we come out into the garden of the Sun. Jung has said that we have to go through a depression – not out of it. This is very true.

This journey is to be continued in the next blogs.

 

[1] Sanders, N.K. Introduction of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1977

[2] Ibid p98

[3] Ibid P100

[4] Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Gathas, Gatha 2, The Greek Mysteries