Julius Caesar, speaking after winning an important battle in Asia Minor, is quoted as saying ‘I came, I saw, I conquered…’
The same cannot be said for Gilgamesh the King – one of Julius Caesar’s mighty empire-building forebears, who ruled the land of Sumer from the city of Uruk in the southernmost region of Mesopotamia. The story of King Gilgamesh may or may not be based upon fact. Its importance to our lives – and probably survival – is due to it being an unusual kind of story: one that contains the power to initiate inner change in the human mind and heart.
The epic of Gilgamesh was written down in fragments, beginning 2,500 years ago. It is a mysterious tale, and was seen as ideal for adaptation to the Silent Eye’s purposes by the writing team of Stuart France and Sue Vincent (France and Vincent).
Planes, trains and automobiles. Friday, April 26th finally arrives and an excited group assembles at the Nightingale Centre in the tiny village of Great Hucklow – a gem within the Derbyshire hills. Stuart had chosen the epic of Gilgamesh two years prior as the basis for the 2019 Silent Eye workshop. A great deal of work had been put in by he and Sue to bring it to life. Now, we were costumed, breathing deeply, silent and lined up for entry into what would become our emotional and spiritual home for the next two and a half days…. The word ‘intense’ is appropriate, but not sufficient.
Where Caesar enjoyed conquest, the Silent Eye’s retelling of the story of Gilgamesh begins with failure – the failure of the King to persuade his former lover to sleep with him. She is Shamhat – the magical and sexually skilled high-priestess of Uruk; Uruk the city of gold and tall walls, rebuilt by the purposeful hands of the King, himself – rebuilt so that what is within can be safe… The children sleep safely in their beds, but…
Within a mystical play of this nature, the key words always have meanings beyond their obvious ones…. both must fit the story and, ultimately, carry us through into a new perspective. When that transformation is done within a group understanding, the voyage across the emotional ocean is to a new reality.
One reading of the original texts of the legend of Gilgamesh will show that the modern world did not invent graphic sex. The potency of sexual force was known and deeply explored by that ancient society – as it was across so much of the ancient world in a time before the censoring authority of Christianity began to bend the original meaning of the word ‘evil’. The cost of this crushing of the predominantly feminine power was that we lost the living presence of the divine feminine and our priestesses – and the world was a poorer and less compassionate place.
Shamhat was the priestess of that ancient place – and, allegorically, would call upon her sexual force within the play to great effect. But, she begins our story by denying it to Gilgamesh, an act that demonstrates to those present that there is something very wrong with their iconic relationship…
Gilgamesh has laboured hard to make Uruk safe.
But, in Stuart’s words laid before us in the script, the children of Uruk are not entirely safe… They ‘cry themselves to sleep at night’. Their vulnerability is not sexual, though; it is of the soul.
Their mighty king has conquered all, beginning with restoring his own place to the throne, lost after the premature death of his great father – a man he barely knew.
Gilgamesh can and does have everything he needs, including his pick of the first night of lovemaking with every bride on her wedding night. In our own, Norman-derived history we know it as the ‘droit de seigneur’; and it was an enduring statement of the abuse of feudal male power for thousands of years after Gilgamesh strode the walls of Uruk in his lonely anguish.
This man, this king, has nothing to fear. The whole world bows before him… except Shamhat, who thus becomes the ‘thing’ he wants the most.
This was the backdrop for Silent Eye’s annual workshop: Lord of the Deep. Possibly the most intense three days I have ever lived through – and not by choice. Despite many attempts on my part (and Stuart’s, once he realised I was serious) to find another to take it on, I ended up playing the role of this doomed king. Gilgamesh is descending in the title of this series of blogs – borrowed from its use in astrology – because his life is about to descend into a private hell on earth.
Those familiar with the spiritual and psychological work done in a ‘temple of the mysteries’ will know the intensity that builds, as each stage of the working is brought from idea to breath to reality.
Gilgamesh, mighty and all-powerful ruler of the fabled city of Uruk was angry. The children were not sleeping peacefully in their beds, and the forces of chaos were about to (metaphorically) clash with the quiet peace of that Derbyshire village. To enter into these workings is to be changed… there is no escaping that result.
It had begun… and none of us really knew where it was going to end. A script is only a part of what actually happens on these occasions. It was not a question of being surrounded by ill-wishers – quite the opposite. It was a matter of knowing what lay ahead as the emotional journey began. I would need those friends around me, even though Gilgamesh the character appeared to have few of them.
When you undertake such a role, you have to give yourself over to it; letting its nature emerge and giving it a real home. Effectively, each player becomes a vessel for the inner story. Once that inner story is begun there is no let up – not if you want to do justice to the transformative nature of the weekend.
So, now – reliving that Friday – we shift to the living present… and pick up the bound scripts or digital tablets within which the two-hundred pages of our immediate future are inscribed. There begins music that pulls at the heart, then the courtiers pass the palace Guardian and file into the temple room behind their revered King Gilgamesh. A breath; a final glance at the opening words. Gilgamesh is angry… I breathe even more deeply; I have no idea why this emotion is so intense. But his existential lava flows into my own soul the minute I begin speaking… and my voice changes, all by itself.
Run, children, run.
Header image by Sue Vincent, copyright the Silent Eye.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.