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

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