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

2 thoughts on “Part 6: Gilgamesh in the land of Utnapishtim.

  1. Nawab

    Dear Nuria, thank you, it is good to see your work going forward! 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.’
    And 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.
    Again, thank you. Waiting for the next instalment!

    1. admin Post author

      Dear Nawab, Thank you for your fabulous insights. You always pick up on the parts which puzzle me.
      I have taken myself off the medication which has been affecting my memory among other things, and so I am able to get back to this story.
      I feel more myself when I am working on this – as if I too am on this path. Which of course I am.
      Thank you!!!


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