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:
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


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