Gems in the Epic of Gilgamesh: The Afterlife Journey of the Human Spirit

By: Ranilo Abando (Manila, December 21, 2020) ****

The thousands-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia contains precious hidden knowledge that can be decoded in order to shed more light on the mystery of human nature, origin and destiny. This monumental literary work also has the potential to enlighten us on the long journey of the human seat of consciousness across various realities.

1. Fight of Gilgamesh and Enkidu Against Humbaba in the Cedar Forest

Enkidu’s civilization or domestication results in Gilgamesh’s moral education and taming. The two become close friends and companions.  Then Gilgamesh hears about the fearsome monster Humbaba, who is the guardian of the distant Cedar Forest, a place forbidden to mortals. He is determined to fight him and dismisses Enkidu’s warning that the demon monster is invincible.  After a long journey, the two heroes stand in awe before the vast forest’s gates, marveling at the cedar trees’ height.  An enormous mountain looms in the distance, the place where Ishtar and the other gods are enthroned. Humbaba has seven garments, each of which spreads terror. If he dons all seven, Gilgamesh will be unable to defeat him. Gilgamesh and Enkidu take their axes and chop down some trees. Then they hear Humbaba, the guardian of the forest, roaring. A terrible confusion follows. The noise of clashing swords, daggers, and axes surrounds them, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu cry out in terror.  In the heat of the battle, Gilgamesh overtakes Humbaba but the latter pleads for mercy.  Enkidu urges Gilgamesh to make a quick end of the monster.  So Humbaba is killed.


Gilgamesh represents the sojourner human spirit while Enkidu represents the thinking aspect of the human mind.  The reason why Gilgamesh and Enkidu are depicted as close friends and companions is because the thinking aspect of the mind is a powerful, handy, and constant tool of the human spirit in navigating the intricacies of this virtual physical reality, especially after this aspect of the mind was awakened by the introduction of knowledge that were brought down from high up the mind column.

On the other hand, Humbaba represents the “beast” aspect of the human lower mind that hosts the programs that produce such dark passions and unbridled lower desires as greed, lust, gluttony, vanity, pride, fear, sorrow, hate, jealousy, anger, arrogance, etc.  The human spirit (Gilgamesh) needs to use his thinking aspect of the mind (Enkidu) to constantly fight those passions so that they can be tamed and controlled, thereby allowing the spirit to manage very well his destiny.  The seven garments of Humbaba is a version of the multiple heads of the Hydra in Greek mythology or of the sea beast in other ancient writings, but they mean the same thing – the multiple passions in the dark side of human nature.  The cedar forest represents the dark and complicated nature of the lower mind that is bewildering to an ignorant human. This metaphorical Black Forest is also mentioned in the ancient story of Snow White.  The killing of Humbaba represents the triumph of the human spirit and his thinking mind against his own dark side.

2. Battle of Gilgamesh and Enkidu Against the Bull of Heaven

Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, pleads with Gilgamesh to be her husband. She promises him riches, power, and a life together in a house made of cedar.  But Gilgamesh refuses to be her plaything.  So she goes to her father, Anu, the god of the firmament, and demands that they let her turn loose the Bull of Heaven so she can watch it gore Gilgamesh to death.  Anu warns her that the bull will cause seven years of famine, but nevertheless relents to her wish. 

Ishtar unleashes the bull. The city of Uruk trembles as, bellowing and snorting, the bull comes down from the sky. Cracks open up in the earth and hundreds of men fall into them and die.  Enkidu attacks the bull. The bull spits on him and fouls him with its excrement, but Enkidu grabs it by its horns and wrestles with it. He calls out to Gilgamesh, who joins him, and they fight the bull together. At last Enkidu holds the monster still so that Gilgamesh is able to thrust his sword between its shoulders and kills it.  Gilgamesh gathers his craftsmen together and shows them how beautifully the gods had made the creature, and how thickly its horns were coated with lapis lazuli.


The metaphor of the Bull of Heaven represents misguided idealism.  Many educated humans develop high and lofty goals, like love for their country, the poor masses, religious sect, their race, members of their particular organization, etc.  But due to the lack of spiritual guiding light from high up the mind column, these humans implement their visions with great zeal in the wrong way and direction.  That is why the incomplete knowledge or wisdom possessed by these persons or groups of persons often result in tragic consequences.  They often end up causing the suffering, starvation, and killing of a large number of people.  Examples of such misguided ideologies abound:  Nazism, imperialism, fascism, Stalinism, religious extremism, aggressive nationalism, doomsday cults, racial supremacy, etc.

Dark passions and unbridled lower desires are often symbolized by the bull.  But because this bull comes from heaven, it is indicated that it is motivated by a high or lofty goal.  So it is a hybrid – a lofty goal with dark means, which is a dangerous combination.  The horns of the Bull of Heaven that are beautifully decorated with precious stones symbolize high knowledge that are often in the possession of the leaders of these ideologues.  Humans with enlightened minds will ultimately defeat this misguided idealism, in the same way that Gilgamesh, with the help of Enkidu, defeated the Bull of Heaven.

3. Enkidu’s Death and Gilgamesh’s Journey to the Unknown

Because of their actions, the gods were angry with Enkidu and Gilgamesh and the gods met to decide their fate.  Enlil, Humbaba’s master and the god of earth, wind, and air, said that Enkidu should be the one to die.  Enkidu falls ill.  Lying in his sickbed, Enkidu tells Gilgamesh about a terrible dream. In the dream, he was all alone on a dark plain, and a man with a lion’s head and an eagle’s talons seized him. They fought furiously, but the man overpowered him and changed him into a birdlike creature. Then he dragged him down to the underworld. There he saw kings, gods, and priests, all of them dressed in feathers. He saw King Etana, whom Ishtar had once chosen to be King of Kish, and Samuqan, the god of cattle. All of them were living in darkness. Dirt was their food and drink. Queen Ereshkigal, the ruler of the underworld, sat on her throne, and Belit-Seri, the scribe of the gods, whose tablet tells everyone’s fate, knelt before her.

Enkidu suffers for several days then dies.  His death shatters Gilgamesh.  He casts aside his royal garments, tears his hair and and dons unscraped, hair-covered animal skins. He circles Enkidu’s body like an eagle. He paces restlessly like a lioness whose cubs have been killed.  Then Gilgamesh sets off into the wilderness and wanders alone to find out how he might escape death.


The “builder” aspect of the lower mind shuts down after death of the physical body with the consequent disappearance of the rules-based virtual physical world that it generates.  Without inputs from a rules-based virtual reality world, the “thinker” aspect of the mind cannot operate, as its information processing function depends on such rules-based reality.  So it has to shut down.  Therefore, the metaphorical death of Enkidu represents the temporary shutdown of the “thinker” aspect of the lower mind after the death of the virtual physical body.

In the terrible dream of Enkidu, the “man with a lion’s head and an eagle’s talons” who seized Enkidu represents the lower mind itself which extinguishes the thinking part of the mind of a person after his death.  This creature is commonly depicted as a chaos monster, such as Anzu, to represent the lower mind in ancient Mesopotamian literature.  Anzu is a hybrid of the eagle (spirit) and the dark version of the lion (agent of chaos).  The persons dressed in feathers that Enkidu found in the underworld represent spirits who are temporarily stuck in the intermediate zone of the lower mind after their physical death because their strong dark passions and unbridled lower desires had hijacked their minds’ “dreamweaver” aspects to generate nightmarish dream realities.  The “scribe of the gods” represents the memories or all the stored information related to a departed person’s just-concluded life on earth.

4.  Gilgamesh’s Search for Immortality

In Tablet 9, Enkidu’s death compels Gilgamesh to seek the secrets of immortality by looking for Utnapishtim, who survived the flood that had almost ended life on Earth and subsequently became the only mortal granted everlasting life by the gods.

After a long journey, he arrives at Mashu, the twin-headed mountain. One peak looks west, toward the setting of the sun, and the other looks east toward its rising. The summits of Mashu brush against heaven itself, and its udders reach down into the underworld. Two monsters, a Scorpion-man and his wife, guard its gates. The male monster tells his wife that the person who dares to come here must be a god. The wife says that two-thirds of him is god, but the rest of him is human.  The male monster asks Gilgamesh who he is and why he’s journeyed through fearful wilderness and braved terrible dangers to come to the mountain that no mortal has ever before visited.

When Gilgamesh tells the monsters about his quest, the Scorpion-man informs him that Utnapishtim lives on the other side of the mountain. To get there, Gilgamesh can use a tunnel that runs through the mountain. Shamash uses it every night when he travels back to the place where he rises in the morning. It would take Gilgamesh twelve double hours to journey through the passage, and the way is completely dark.  No mortal could survive such darkness, and the monsters cannot permit him to try.  After they listen to Gilgamesh’s pleas, they relent and tell him to be careful.

Gilgamesh walks through the mountain. He can’t see in front of him or behind him in the total darkness. He walks the first, second, and third double hour in total blackness and struggles for breath in the hot darkness. He walks four, five, and six double hours with the north wind blowing in his face. As the eleventh double hour approaches, the darkness begins to fade. At the end of the twelfth double hour, Gilgamesh emerges from the tunnel into the sweet morning air and the sunlight. He steps into a beautiful garden filled with fruit and foliage the colors of carnelian, rubies, and other jewels. Beyond the garden glitters the sea.


The journey of Gilgamesh after the death of Enkindu represents the upward journey of a human spirit inside his mind column after the shutdown of his thinking aspect of the lower mind as a result of the death of his virtual physical body.

The twin-headed mountain, Mount Mashu, represents the mind column that contains two zones: the higher mind that hosts the heavenly realities and the lower mind that hosts this virtual physical world and the nightmarish “underworld” realities.  The metaphorical peak of the mountain facing the west where the sun sets represents the lower mind — because from the perspective of a human spirit (sun), being born in a reality built by the lower mind represents the onset of spiritual darkness and ignorance.  Likewise, the metaphorical peak of the mountain facing the east where the sun rises represents the higher mind — because from the perspective of the human spirit (sun), re-entering a heavenly reality in the higher mind represents the beginning of spiritual light and bliss, away from the darkness of the lower mind.

Before Gilgamesh entered Mount Mashu, he encountered the Scorpion-man, symbolizing our impulsive passions and its wife, which symbolizes the attribute of duality in a lower mind reality that is conducive to the expression of passions.  Therefore, the Scorpion-man represents the “beast” aspect of the lower mind, which the departed spirit has to keep in a pacified condition so it can safely cross the intermediate zone of the lower mind before reaching the lower boundary of the higher mind.  Without the aid of a slumbering “dreamweaver” aspect of the lower mind, the dormant “beast” aspect remains largely harmless to the departed human spirit who had lived a fairly righteous life while on earth.  Furthermore, the journeying human spirit is also being empowered by a constant stream of nurturing influences coming from high up the mind column through that thin lifeline connecting it to its higher self.

The phrase “to go to the other side of the mountain, Gilgamesh has to pass through a tunnel that runs through it” means that a departed human spirit needs to cross the boundary between the lower mind and the higher mind through the passageway that runs inside his mind column (“mountain”).  The human spirit (“Shamash”) uses this passageway during the afterlife journey (“night”) to return to the higher mind (sunrise) to start spiritual rest in his own dreamland paradise built by the “dreamweaver” aspect of his higher mind.  The “twelve double hours” needed to journey through the passage means that it would take some time for the spirit to journey through it.  It is important to remember that time inside this passage is not equivalent to physical time. In fact, it is not physical time at all.  It is lower-mind time. The phrase “double hours” probably indicates generally that time passes in a much slower pace in that portion of the lower mind than if you are in the virtual physical world.  The description of the passage as “completely dark” indicates the dearth of information that the spirit receives from the lower mind during this stage of the journey.

During his journey through the tunnel, Gilgamesh could feel the “north wind blowing in his face”.  This wind is a metaphor for the turbulent attribute of the lower mind.  This attribute is also mentioned as the metaphorical stormy sea in the creation story of the epic poem Kalevala of Finland and the metaphorical Evil Wind that passed through the mouth of Tiamat in the Enuma Elish of ancient Mesopotamia. The phrase “Gilgamesh emerges from the tunnel into the sweet morning air and the sunlight” indicates what greets a departed human spirit after he crossed the boundary and entered his higher mind – a pleasant and blissful feeling, with the “dreamweaver” aspect of his higher mind starting to weave a paradise of his own making, using his own memories.  This dreamland paradise is the metaphorical “beautiful garden filled with fruit and foliage the colors of carnelian, rubies, and other jewels” mentioned above.  The statement “beyond the garden glitters the sea” is a very important message.  The “sea” is the chaos-matter-rich lower mind that now lies beyond the reality where the human spirit now temporarily dwells in the higher mind.  The pain, suffering, and anguish associated with that dark zone of the mind cannot reach now the journeying spirit… well, at least for the time being.

(Thanks to for the photos above, except the ones with attribution at their lower portion which are from Creative Commons. Thanks also to for the extracts from the Epic of Gilgamesh that are presented above)

Published by rabando

I am a Filipino and a geologist by profession but I have also been an ardent searcher for answers to the fundamental questions of human existence ever since 42 years ago. It has been a long, lonely and difficult journey. Why are we here? Where did we come from? What on earth is this world where I found my self in? Surprisingly, I found out that the answers are right there under our noses. There just need to be some adjustments in the way people think.

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