There are even some important topics presented in the epic that are not normally mentioned as being related to primal religions. The differences in the story bring up a few questions like how the gods play their role, why they seem to be more archaic than primal, and what is the over-all moral? These questions and thoughts make “The Epic of Gilgamesh” stand on the line between primal and archaic religions.
Primal religion can be dated as far back as 8000BCE, and is known as the first cosmic religion. That is, the belief system is based on the sun, moon, stars, etc. These cultures held their religious beliefs very close to their everyday activities and lives. They had a close relationship with the gods, held a belief that everything had a spirit, and named their tribes after specific “beings” and used this “being” as their totem. The idea of animism can be seen in festivals and celebrations, and was shown throughout the Gligamesh story.
Primal religiosity was also dramatically different than the culture and religion in Gilgamesh. Primal religions tribes were mainly groups of people traveling around like nomads in search of food and shelter. They also based their way of life by their symbolic animal called totem. This is in deep contrast to the society in Gilgamesh were they stayed in one place, were egalitarian based, and lived in one city ruled by kings and a social hierarchy.
Also, unlike archaic cultures, the primal cultures were pre-literate, meaning they were alive before the development of reading and writing, and based all of their history in oral presentations and stories. In the story of Gilgamesh, they were literate and wrote a lot of their history and stories down so it would remain the same through out time. Another difference is the fact that primal religious cultures were “one with nature,” they lived within the beauty of Mother Nature, while the people of Gilgamesh had a separation from nature.
Along the same line, the people in primal cultures saw everything in nature as being alive, with a spirit and a purpose while the urbanized society in Gilgamesh, again, had a separation from nature. The society in Gilgamesh also had a different view on women than the primal culture did. In the society of Gilgamesh, the women had no rights at all. The women of primal societies had a purpose and a place it seemed like. These differences that appear in primal religiosity and in the society of Gilgamesh now lead us into questions of ultimate concern.
Between these two groups, there are different questions that they concern themselves with. Within the story of Gilgamesh, a couple questions are raised that are not usually associated with primal cultures. One is Gilgamesh’s search for immortality/everlasting life. The primal cultures believed that everything happened for a reason. They took on more of a “what happens, happens” approach while in the story of Gilgamesh, he would not settle for that as an answer when Enkindu dies. He wanted an answer, which leads into the second question- the meaning of life.
In primal cultures, everyone made up a group that worked together to survive. There were not really individuals and no “one” led the group officially. They believed that once outcaste or were no longer fit to work, they were left behind and became almost meaningless. Gilgamesh was on a journey to discover more about the meaning of life and how to live it. Within this story are a couple of religious figures that play important roles in Gilgamesh’s journey. One of these figures is Iskta, the goddess of love.
Her marriage proposal was denied by Gilgamesh and his act soon leads to the creation of Enkindu and to his death. Some other important roles were Ana, Shamash, Aruru, and Enlil. These figures appear to interact with, and go outside the normal boundaries of nature, to interact with Gilgamesh. This interaction makes me believe that the gods and goddesses in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” are more archaic than primal. The gods in primal religions were not very interactive and acted more like guiding figures. Although this epic tale has been passed down for centuries, it still holds the same effect today.
It can be seen as a cosmological myth for a couple of simple reasons. One reason is that there appears to be no time given, the story just happens. One characteristic of a cosmological myth is that there is no sense of history. Another characteristic of a cosmological myth is that they are not intended to give a direct fulfillment of a natural change. It also can not stand as an image to an original. It is intended to provide a supplementary understanding of the topic at hand. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” does just that.
With all of this in mind, “The Epic of Gilgamesh” provides readers and listeners from the past decades an entertaining look and perspective on life. The major differences in primal and archaic cultures can easily be noted. These differences can bee seen in the interaction with gods and spirits down to the different ways of life. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” is not really about the differences between two cultures, however. It is more like a story about brotherly love, change, hope, life, death, adventure, gods and monsters. It is a very interesting tale that really can be enjoyed by all.