There’s a detail in an ancient story I find intriguing. The story, the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’, is fascinating in and of itself. It is, after all, the first and oldest story ever written down, penned (or is that ‘stylused’? ) in ancient Sumerian nearly 5 thousand years ago.
The Epic predates much of the Old Testament by several millenia. It is also the only written record from a time where goddess worship would not get you hung drawn and quatered. But most of all, this first story is one about the first man, the first king, who got it into his head to build a massive wall around where he lived and give it a name, Uruk.
The story of Gilgamesh is a salutory tale about what happens when you wall yourself off from Nature.
The king builds his wall, feels chuffed with himself, feels safe from the things-out-there that never seemed to bother him before…. now his wall is built the sounds of the creatures are all…alien, and worse, there is a wild man out there terrorising the land.
Of course, the wild man is his own split off natural self, Enkidu, whom he defeats and charges with the task of joining him on the quest to defeat the ‘Humbaba’, a monster, and destroy the sacred grove of Cedars she lives in. Trawl the archives and you find that Humbaba, is also Kumbaba, AKA Cybele, Mother Goddess of the Ancient world.
She is defeated. Her sacred grove, the symbolic tree of life is cut down. Gilgamesh commands Enkidu to help him carve the wood into a set of great gates which they then float down the Euphrates back to Uruk.
What an odd tale! If you watch the u tube videos about Gilgamesh there is much chuckling up the sleeve at those citizens of Uruk at this stage of the story who were clearly just cobbling stuff together as a way of making sense of the world.
The fact that senior scribes and priests dedicated their all to a cryptic tale containing, like the shard of the hologram, their entire cultural experience, seems lost on the commentators satisfied in their superiority……and narcissistic presumption.
5,000 years ago, on the fertile plains of Mesopotamia, ego consciousness was manifested by the creation of a walled city. The difference between me and not me emphasised by the novelty of the sudden schism between the world in here and the world out there.
Gilgamesh, previously an entity complete but without self awareness, becomes self conscious but only at the price of an inner split between an idealised self and a dark, shadowy, horned self represented by Enkidu. These ‘brothers’, can only hold together so long as the idealised self defeats the shadow self, setting it the task of raiding the sacred grove and killing off the principle of Relatedness. In so far as the trees represent the earthly manifestation of the Goddess, the gates are made from the defeated and dismembered body of the Great Mother.
Gilgamesh is compelled to split himself in two and shore up the defences of his fragile ego with the bones of the Great Mother. Divided from her he can no longer ‘cathect’ what he needs. So he can’t really grow up. He can only reinforce his defences against the aliveness of the feminine principle with her own dead body which will soon lead to the death/loss of Enkidu, only to be ameliorated by growing awareness of his own mortality.
When we split ourselves off from our own dark nature in the absence of a containing mother whose divine counterpart is degraded and cut down leading to hubris and loss of relatedness, then narcissism ensues.
Does this mean that narcissism is endemic in our culture from the beginning? Does it mean that the primary causes have to do with splitting off the shadow and devaluing the feminine? Is the way through by virtue of grief and sorrow?
What will the first story tell us about what can be done? Will Gilgamesh find a way out of his situation?
What needs to be done in our own time with the groves being destroyed at record speed and the dark brother being slaughtered beyond every city wall?