Lugulbanda and the Mountain Cave

While working with the Epic of Gilgamesh, I have found a ‘prequel’ or story which was not in the Sandars book. This is covered by my post on Inanna and the Huluppa Tree, which sees a ‘young’ Gilgamesh doing Inanna’s bidding. Gilgamesh really depicts humankind in an era of ancient history. In the Epic itself, Gilgamesh has an interesting dream about his father Lugulbanda, who represents an era long before that of Gilgamesh, going back to the earliest of times, the stone age. It is important to understand the nature of Lugulbanda, who he was and what he achieved, in order to understand Gilgamesh, who had been so influenced by his ‘Father’. Our knowledge of Lugulbanda, the father of Gilgamesh is very sparse. In this we learn that he was a leader in the army of his father King Enmerkar (son of Utu / Shamash) on an expedition against Aratta, the mountain of ‘holy divine power’.

Aratta was a source of valuable gems, in particular Lapis Lazuli, as well as minerals, including gold. The smiths and stonemasons of the city worked with the stones and gems. It was an early sacred site for the goddess Inanna who resided there. As Queen of Heaven, she particularly loved the blue flecked with gold, of Lapis Lazuli, which symbolised the Heavens. Aratta is now thought to have been the world’s most ancient (known) civilisation. Some believe that it developed long before the Sumerian civilisation originated, and from there its culture and influence spread into India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Western China and across Europe.

It is thought that Aratta was situated in the Zagos mountains in North Eastern Iran and could have been part of the early gem trade route of the “Great Khorasan Road” from the Himalayan Mountains. It was a great civilisation where the Goddess Inanna originally was worshipped, until Uruk replaced it in her favour and her great Temple and precinct were built there. There was great rivalry between the two cities – Uruk needed stone and Aratta needed barley. The Kings of both these cities were at one time also in competition for the favours of Inanna.

The expedition with Lugulbanda against Aratta included seven young heroes, overseers and captains of 25,200 men. This number, using the Sumerian base of 6 is made up of 6 X 60 X 70. Looking at the symbolism of these numbers six is the number of the world having been made in 6 days. Sixty symbolises periods of time, i.e. 60 minutes makes the hour and 60 seconds make the minute; it is a round number as three score and is often used in sagas. Seventy is the allotted span of human life. In effect this number represents a very large number of men.

But Lugulbanda was the eighth son. This has been interpreted as being the youngest son of many, but the number eight spiritually symbolises the goal of the initiate, who has passed through the seven stages or realms of spiritual evolution. It is thus the number of paradise regained or of resurrection. We see from this that Lugulbanda was clearly a sage and a mystic.

Interestingly, eight is the magic number of Nebo who was a major god in the Sumerian pantheon and was the patron of writing – his symbols being the clay tablet and the stylus. Mount Nebo is an elevated ridge in Jordan, where Moses was granted a view of the promised land, although God said that he could not enter. He is said to be buried on this mountain.[1] The story of Moses is interlinked with that of Gilgamesh and the coming prominence of the God Shamash, to whom he was devoted, and the God of the old testament.

Lugulbanda and his brothers and companions, on their way to Aratta, had climbed high up on the sacred holy mountain. It was said that here Lugulbanda was bathed in water, probably as part of an initiation rite; then
‘in awed silence, he went forward’. What an awesome image! As Lugulbanda was a spiritually evolved being, this was to bestow kingship from heaven on him as the next God King of Uruk. After this Lugulbanda is always referred to as holy Lugulbanda.

They then continued on their journey but
‘When they had covered half the way, a sickness befell him – a ‘head’ sickness. He jerked like a snake dragged by its head; his mouth bit the dust. He could no longer return a hand grip, nor could he lift his feet high. His teeth chattered.’[2]

This ‘head’ sickness was probably a kind of seizure. The Babylonians emphasized the supernatural nature of epilepsy, with each seizure type associated with the name of a spirit or god. Treatment was therefore a spiritual matter. Epilepsy was considered a sacred disease. The word epilepsy means ‘to take hold of’ or ‘to seize’ by a god.

His brothers and companions could not help Lugulbanda, so they brought him to a warm place. They made him an arbour like a bird’s nest, and they left him food: dates, figs and sweetmeats suitable for the sick to eat. They also laid out food as if for a funerary offering; water, incense resin, beer and many provisions. They wrapped up his dagger by his chest and placed an axe by his head. They could detect no breath, so his brothers and friends abandoned holy Lugulbanda in the mountain cave, with tears, moaning, grief and lamentations, thinking that he was dead. They set off again into the mountains and continued on their way to Aratta.

The cave which Lugulbanda stayed in was possibly the Yafteh Cave, a famous and well known cave dating back to the Palaeolithic period and located between Susa and Godin Tepe (possibly Aratta).

For two days and then a half day Lugulbanda lay ill, but his consciousness slowly returned. For the Sumerians, numbers were used as symbols, but two and a half days was at first puzzling, until we realised that this makes sixty hours. Sixty was the base of Sumerian mathematics and their trigonometry and measurements of time. It was from them that we have sixty seconds making up a minute and sixty minutes in an hour. Sixty hours was thus a sacred unit of time.

As he came to himself, a tearful Lugulbanda prayed to Utu, who was later worshipped as Shamash god of the sun, justice, morality and truth, and was the primary protector of both Lugulbanda and of Gilgamesh. His main characteristics were kindness and generosity. Utu accepted Lugulbanda’s tears and bestow upon him sustenance and fortitude. Tears would have shown his sincerity and deep feeling.

His prayer to Inanna refers to:
‘the little stones of it, the shining stones in their glory, sajkal stones above, —below.  —– may my limbs not perish in the mountains of the cypresses’.[3] Note that the —- represents missing words or parts of the tablet which are undeciphered.
Inanna loves the shining gemstones as mentioned earlier, the brilliance of Lapis Lazuli, but also it seems the ‘sajkal stone above’ (the earth) was important. Perhaps it was granite? The stones below could have been the shiny gemstones from under the earth.  Lugulbanda prays that he doesn’t perish in the mountains.

To understand the role of stone in this society, there is an ancient story of King Ninurta (son of Enlil, god of earth, wind and spirit) who classified all stones – he stood before them and decreed their uses or otherwise. The sajkal stone was among the first mentioned; as he stood before it he said:
Sajkal stone, since you flew up against me ……’ ‘The sajkal stone will smash you‘[4].
Perhaps the hard stone was used as a weapon. For ancient peoples like the Australian Aboriginal, every rock is animate and sentient, known and understood. Stone arrangements mark the movement of the sun throughout the year, they make the moon rise and the alignment of the planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars – along the same path on an Equinox.[5] Across the world there are stone monuments like this e.g. Newgrange in Ireland, and Stonehenge in England. There are stories about the stones, who are equated with people, with attributes such as certain powers, strengths and weaknesses; indeed in Aboriginal stories people were sometimes turned into stones and recognised, just as in the story of Ninurta mentioned above.

Lugulbanda prayed to the goddess Inanna in tears. She was the twin sister of Utu or Shamash. Inanna accepts Lugulbanda’s tears and with her lifegiving power, she lets him sleep and envelopes him in the warmth of her heart’s joy.

The glorious moon shone its light on Lugulbanda in his cave. Lugulbanda raised his eyes to heaven, to Suen the moon, the Sumerian Nanna, who was the father of Utu and Inanna.  Lugulbanda entreated him tearfully, as if he was praying to his father and Suen accepted his tears giving him life. The god who had smitten him then left him.[6]

Lugulbanda came out of the cave and found lifesaving plants and water nearby. He then hurriedly left this place and came down from the mountain. That night he set off again hurrying through the mountains, which looked like a wasteland in the moonlight. He was alone and  there was not a single person to be seen. ‘With the provisions stocked in leather pails, put in leather bags, his brothers and his friends had been able to bake bread on the ground, with some cold water. Holy Lugulbanda had carried the things from the mountain cave.’[7]

So we could say that Lugulbanda represents humankind in a previous era (before Gilgamesh). He discovered fire by repeatedly striking flintstones together. Not knowing how to bake bread, and having no knowledge of an oven, he baked the dough on the hot coals and garnished the bread with date syrup, and so he kept himself alive in that strange and remote place. It has been suggested that mountain acorns were roasted and ground to make the first flour, long before ‘wild grasses’ or grains were used.[8]

Lugulbanda sees a fine wild bull who is very hungry. It was chewing aromatic cimgig (cedar resin) as if it was barley; it was grinding up cypress wood and eating shrubs as if they were grasses. Lugulbanda catches this bull and tethers it to a tree. Then he sees a brown goat and a nanny goat; ‘flea-bitten goats, lousy goats, goats covered in sores’. They were also eating the resin, wood and shrubs instead of grasses. This signifies that it was mid-winter, when there was no available grass. It would also have been very cold. The hungry goats symbolise Capricornus (the constellation of the goatfish). In the early bronze age, the winter solstice occurred in this constellation. Lugulbanda also catches these goats and tethers them to a tree.

Lugulbanda now prepared himself to dream by performing a sacred ritual; and lay down on a bed of aromatic herbs, spread out a garment and a linen sheet. He then drank strong beer and settled down, not to sleep, but to dream.

The god of dreams asks:
‘Who will slaughter a brown wild bull for me? Who will make its fat melt for me? He shall take my axe whose metal is tin, he shall wield my dagger which is of iron. Like an athlete I shall let him bring away the brown wild bull, the wild bull of the mountains, I shall let him like a wrestler make it submit. Its strength will leave it. When he offers it before the rising sun, let him heap up like barleycorns the heads of the brown goat and the nanny goat, both the goats; when he has poured out their blood in the pit — let their smell waft out in the desert so that the alert snakes of the mountains will sniff it.’[9]

This is quite extraordinary. First he is asked to wrestle the bull and to overpower and kill it with his own strength. Then he should roast it and offer it to the rising sun (the god Shamash).

With his tin axe (this is prior to the bronze age) and his dagger he must kill the goats, heap their heads into a pit and pour out their blood into it; to offer them to the alert snake of the mountains. This describes a powerful ritual sacrifice; the head of the sacrificed animals contained their life force and fertility. The Sumerian god El was depicted with two heads, symbolising the beginning and the end, past and future, solar and lunar and most importantly the descending and ascending power of the sun. Blood was regarded as the life principle and rejuvenating force hence the blood sacrifice. There is also a relationship between blood and fertility.

The snake here probably represents the early Sumerians of the Eridu period, who worshipped the serpent goddess Tiamat.[10] She was the goddess of the salt sea, who mated with the god of fresh water to produce the younger gods. She was also the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation and the first creator goddess. Lugulbanda needed to appease these people on whose land he was living. But the sacrifice was also about gratitude for the sparing of his Life.

At sunrise, Lugulbanda invokes the name of Enlil the god of earth, wind, and spirit in his prayers. By invoking Enlil he enforces or compels the other gods, that is An (father of the gods), Enki (god of water and knowledge) and Ninhursaja (fertility goddess of the sacred mountains), to sit down to a banquet at a pit in the mountains where he had made his preparations. Note that it was Ninhursaja goddess of the holy mountain, who is present, rather than Inanna, as this is Ninhursaja’s domain. The banquet was set, and the libations were poured — dark beer, alcoholic drink, light beer, wine for drinking which is pleasant to the taste. The best of drink.  Over the plain he poured cool water as a libation. He put the knife to the flesh of the brown goats, and he roasted their dark livers. He let their smoke rise like incense put on the fire. So, An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursaja consumed the best part of the food prepared by Lugulbanda.
The liver is a powerful symbol – it was believed to be the centre of the whole human being, the origin of life and the seat of the soul. It was thought to be the principle instrument of blood production.[11] So this blood sacrifice was a powerful sacrament to the gods, for Life, Power, and Success.

Now Lugulbanda prepares two great holy altars, one for Suen / Nana god of the moon; a shining place of pure strength, and one for Shamash the sun god. He decorated the two altars with the lapis lazuli of Inanna and he bathed the a-an-kar, a weapon of strength for Inanna. When he had done this, ‘he set out all the cakes properly’.[12]

This last sacrifice is in preparation for war. Inanna is the fierce and powerful goddess of war and her great weapon, a-an-kar, is purified in preparation. However it seems that the mountain tribes show her no respect. So in her fury she prepares arrows in her quiver, slingshots with rope, polishes her lance, prepares throwstick and shield. She wears cornelian rosettes around her throat and lapis lazuli straps on her feet.[13] She also uses fire and flood as weapons against her enemies.

These are powerful descriptions of sacred rituals and sacrifices to the gods. They were meticulously prepared and executed. The outcomes were vitally important to Lugulbanda and his people.

The following fragments are broken, and they are difficult, if not impossible, to decipher. There seem to have been terrible demons, perhaps using guerrilla tactics, to wreak havoc amongst the townspeople of the mountains.  A battle against evil.

The following is an example:

‘They lie up during all the long day, and during the short night they enter …… houses (?); during the long day, during the short night they lie in beds ……, they give ……. At dead of night they sing out ……, in the breeze …… swallows of Utu; they enter into house after house, they peer into street after street, they are talkers, they are repliers to talkers, seeking words with a mother, replying to a great lady; they nestle at the bedside, they smite ……, when the black …… are stolen, they leave …… the doors and tables of humans, they change ……, they tie the door-pivots together. The hero who ……, Utu who ……, the heroic youth Utu of the good word’[14]

This is where this story ends.

[1] Nebo

[2] 71 – 140

[3] 183-196

[4] l

[5] Tyson Yunkaporta. Sand talk. Text Publishing. Melbourne. Australia 2019

[6] 141 – 239

[7] Ibid 276


[9] Ibid 351-360



[12] 371-393


[14] 394-432

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