Gods and Their Cycles

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As with everything in the universe, the Gods have also their cycles. When They move about our world, we sense Them deeply, When the Gods leave, They become remote to us. For example, Nanna-Suen, the God of the Moon of the Babylonians, follows the phases of the moon. He disappears at the dark and new moons. In the winter, when Odin rides with his Wild Hunt, a person can expect to encounter Him.

Modern people are baffled by cyclical time. Since the industrial age, societies have adapted to machines, which have no slack periods. People, on the other hand, have circadian rhythms that do not conform to unchanging machine time. Therefore, modern people become flummoxed with the disruption that the flu season brings. Even a snowfall will gum up the “well-oiled machine” of work, school, and commerce. Used to the inflexible rhythms of the industrial age, people have lost the ability to deal the ebb and flow of their lives.

Therefore, many people become alarmed when they no longer can sense a particular God. They forget that Gods are not on “machine time.” What we need to do is to understand the cycles of the Gods we revere. If we follow their rhythms, we will be in sync with the Cosmos.

For me, the Babylonian Gods are at their strongest during the equinoxes. The Babylonians have divided their calendar to start and end at the equinoxes. The summer, when the heat ruled the land, is the time for the Dead and Ancestors.

With the Gods of Canaan, summer is when Mot, the God of Death, stalks the land. Then, ‘Anat, a warrior Goddess, battles Mot and kills Him. With the coming rains of autumn, Ba‘al Haddad returns from the Underworld.

To know the Gods, the first thing is to step out of machine time. Remember that the Gods are not robots, but a part of the Cosmos. As we experience our ebbs and flows, so we can Theirs.

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The Enuma Elish: History as Mythology

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During the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, empires rose and fell. In the Enuma Elish, the creation story of the Babylonians, this is told in mythic terms. One part of the Enuma Elish tells of the rise of the Sumerians. Their generation of Gods were Anu (An), Enlil (Ellil), and Enki (Ea), who focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine law. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. These Gods had overthrown Tiamat of the Saltwater and Apsu of Sweet Water, the original Gods of the Ubaid people of the late Stone Age.

The Sumerians drained the swamps, dug out the canals, and began irrigation. They tamed the “sweetwater” thereby killing Apsu as a God. Moreover, they transformed the salt marshes into farmland. Then in 2330 BCE, Sargon of the Akkadians established the first empire. He began the first dynasty by deciding that his son should rule next. This was the beginning of having males be the heads of families as father figures (paterfamilias).

Then came the dark times, starting in 2218-2047 BCE, when the Gutians invaded from Iran. The wars between the Sumerians, Akkadians, Elamites and Assyrians became endless. The Enuma Elish describes this time as Tiamat raising an army, and defeating Enlil and the other Gods. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Mesopotamians infertile. Faced with dwindling resources including water, the various cities fought each other to gain these precious resources for their peoples. During this awful time, the suffering people wrote lamentations describing their misery — bodies melting in the sun and cities shrouded in smoke.

Into this war-torn landscape came the Amorites, who adopted the Sumerian culture and established their main city of Babylon. Under their king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians cemented their empire and imposed law and order in Mesopotamia. The Babylonians described their victory in the Enuma Elish. The Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk, their principal God. Then He defeats Tiamat, and remakes the Cosmos with her body.

Like Marduk, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), who expanded the Babylonian Empire, established order. He wrote down and organized existing laws of various cities into the Code of Hammurabi. These statutes consisted of 282 laws, which ranged from setting wages to punishments for stealing to arranging for divorce. His reign was one of peace and prosperity.

Works Used:
Baigent, Michael, “Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Bear & Company: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Black, Jeremy and Green, Anthony, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary.” University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press, New Haven, 1976.
Mark, Joshua, “Sumer.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 28, April 2011. Web. https://www.ancient.eu/sumer/. <accessed 12 October 2018.>
Siren, Christopher, “Assyro-Babylonian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web.
https://stason.org/TULARC/education-books/assyro-babylonian-mythology/index.html. <accessed 12 October 2018.>
–, “Sumerian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web. http://humanpast.net/files/sumerianmyths.htm. <accessed 12 October 2018.>

Beginnings of Writing: Cuneiform

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Alphabets and hence writing is magic incarnate. This is why there are Gods of Writing and Scribes to ensure that the words are right. The following is an essay on cuneiform which became the basis for the Roman alphabet used today.

In Mesopotamia, during the Uruk Period (3500 – 3100 BCE), many villages became cities. As they expanded, each new city had to reorganize to better govern and support their burgeoning populations. Out of this development came agriculture, trade, and writing.

In Sumer (3100- 2800 BCE), cities were organized around temples. The “en” (the economic official of the temple) kept track of the offerings and wealth. To keep inventory, an en had his “sangu” (accountants) survey everything. Since Sumer is located in an area of “clay muck”, the Sumerian accountants made clay figures for tallying. But, when the volume of goods became great, these figures became cumbersome to use. Then, the accountants started marking items on clay tablets. Because they were using wet clay, various scribes used a stylus which made wedge-shaped markings (cuneiform) in the clay.

Because Sumer had little in natural resources, many citizens focused on manufacturing finished goods. Their merchants developed trading organizations (“Karums”) to govern trade in raw and finished materials. Because of the Karums, Sumerian trade expanded from Mesopotamia to Egypt and Syria.

Adopting the inventory methods of the temples, merchants started using various tally symbols for items. Since, they needed to convey the concepts of orders, sales, and general merchandising issues, many scribes started using pictograms. These pictograms could then be combined to convey meaning. Merchants were able to convey crude messages over time and distance.

The first known writer by name was the priestess Enheduanna (daughter of Sargon of Akkad). After she wrote her hymns to Inanna, The Morning Star, she signed the tablet with her name and seal. The use of writing was both religious in nature as well as practical. Nisaba the Goddess of Writing was also the Goddess of Accountants.

Because Sumerian was a monosyllabic language, their scribes could convey any meaning by using pictograms as ideograms. Since Sumerian was rich in homonyms and homophones, they could have a pictogram represent a sound (phonogram), an object, or an idea. By using sounds as puns, Sumerian scribes expanded their writing vocabulary. They grouped symbols together to convey various concepts.

Later, Sumerian writing was adopted by the Akkadians and Elamites. Since their languages were radically different from Sumerian, these peoples needed to differentiate the meanings of each of the Sumerian symbols. Determinations (additions and modifications) were added to indicate parts of speech. Cuneiform was developed into a working alphabet.

The Phoenicians owe their phonetic writing system to the Sumerians. The Phoenicians did not invent their alphabet as much as exported their adapted version of the Sumerian one throughout the Mediterranean. The Greeks adopted their alphabet from the Phoenicians, calling it “Alpha, Beta” from the Semitic “Aleph, Beth.”

Notes:

1. Homophones: Words with the same sounds but different meanings and spellings.
Example: Pear and pair. A pair of pears is two pieces of fruit.

2. Homonym: Words with the same sound and spellings but different meanings.
Example: Fair and fair. Because the weather is fair, we are going to the county fair.

3. Please note that regional accents will change what are homonyms and homophones. In New England, aunt and ant are pronounced differently, while route and root are said in the same way.

Babylonian Gods of the Month: March

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The beginning of the Babylonian year starts at the Spring Equinox. During Nisannu, the new moon after the equinox, the Akitu, the New Year Festival is held for twelve days. It starts with purifications and then the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian Creation Epic) is read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Enlil, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Anu, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On the condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

During the Akitu, Marduk disappears. While his and Nabu’s temples are being cleansed, the people search for Him. At this time, they carry the statues of the other Gods to Mardulk’s temple. Meanwhile, Nabu, the Scribe of the Gods and Marduk’s Minister, searches for and then frees Marduk from the Underworld. Then in his temple, the priests re-enthroned Marduk as the Ruler of the Gods. Afterwards, they do divination for the coming year. The festival ends with celebrations and the return of the Gods to their shrines.

Meanwhile to begin the growing season, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating is to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites ensure that the King is accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blesses the crops.

For Further Reading:


God of the Month: Inanna (Ishtar)

God of the Month: Nabu, Babylonian Patron of Writing

God of the Month: Tiamat of Babylon

God of the Month: Marduk of Babylon

Marduk and Tiamat (Enuma Elish: The Epic of Creation)

Babylonian New Year’s Festival

 

God of the Month: Ereshkigal of Sumer

The Queen of the Great Below, Ereshkigal rules the Underworld (Irkalla). This is the final destination from which there is no return – either for Gods or mortals. Ereshkigal keeps the Dead where They need to be, so the Dead do not wander off and plague the living.

For the Sumerians, the Dead went to the world beneath the Earth’s surface. Called the Lower World, a stairway, from a cave in the earth, went down to the First Gate. As the newly deceased moved downward, They would give gifts to the various Galla who guarded the Gates. After going through the Seven Gates, the Dead would arrive before Ereshkigal. She would pronounce the sentence of death on Them as her scribe, Geshtinana recorded their names.

Ereshkigal never leaves Irkalla, nor do the Great Gods visit Her except for Nergal, Her Fourth Consort. Nergal (The Unsparing) has his escorts keep the Gates open when He returns every six months to sit by her side. During that time, Nergal rules with Her. The other six months, He wages war and sends the newly killed to Her.

Her Son Ninazu, God of Healing, and his son Ningishzida (God of the Dawn) would conduct business for Her in the Upper World. Namtar (Fate-Cutter), also Her Son, would go to the Upper World to spread the plague and pestilence. Her daughter, Nungal is considered the Goddess of Prisons and Punishment.

The Descent of Inanna

In The Descent of Inanna (c 1900-1600 BCE), Inanna journeys to the Underworld to visit her recently widowed Sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below. As Inanna descends, She is forced to give up her royal power and is stripped naked. Leaving the Seven Gates behind, She enters the throne room. There, She finds Ereshkigal in labor with her late husband’s child. The Annuna, who are the Judges of the Underworld, surround Inanna and pass their judgement of death on Her. Ereshkigal then kills her Sister and hangs the corpse on a hook.

Meanwhile, Ninshubur, who is Inanna’s chief minister, seeks help from the Great Gods. Enki, Inanna’s Father, sends two Galla help rescue Inanna. They help Ereshkigal give birth, who then allows then to Inanna’s Corpse. Once Inanna is restored to life, She must find someone to take cher place. Eventually, She chooses her consort Dumuzi, who did not mourn Her. However, Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna volunteers to take his place for six months each year.

Modern readings of the Descent of Inanna have Inanna shedding her old self, confronting her shadow, and emerging again whole. Read in conjunction with the Epic of Gilgamesh (c 2150-1400 BCE), the Descent of Inanna presents a different meaning. Inanna is instrumental in having Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven murdered. He is Ereshkigal’s husband and father of her unborn child. She wanted justice for the death of her husband, and leaving her unborn child fatherless.

However, Inanna avoided the consequences of her actions. She was able to convince Enki to return Her to life. Dumuzi and Geshtinanna paid for her decision to attain more mes (power) by going to Gugalanna’s funeral in the Underworld. The Descent of Inanna then becomes a story of one God seeking justice and being thwarted, since Inanna escapes punishment for her deed.

In The Descent of Inanna (c 1900-1600 BCE), Inanna journeys to the Underworld to visit her recently widowed Sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below. As Inanna descends, She is forced to give up her royal power and is stripped naked. Leaving the Seven Gates behind, She enters the throne room. There, She finds Ereshkigal in labor with her late husband’s child. The Annuna, who are the Judges of the Underworld, surround Inanna and pass their judgement of death on Her. Ereshkigal then kills her Sister and hangs the corpse on a hook.

Meanwhile, Ninshubur, who is Inanna’s chief minister, seeks help from the Great Gods. Enki, Inanna’s Father, sends two Galla help rescue Inanna. They help Ereshkigal give birth, who then allows then to Inanna’s Corpse. Once Inanna is restored to life, She must find someone to take cher place. Eventually, She chooses her consort Dumuzi, who did not mourn Her. However, Dumuzi’s sister, Geshtinanna volunteers to take his place for six months each year.

Modern readings of the Descent of Inanna have Inanna shedding her old self, confronting her shadow, and emerging again whole. Read in conjunction with the Epic of Gilgamesh (c 2150-1400 BCE), the Descent of Inanna presents a different meaning. Inanna is instrumental in having Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven murdered. He is Ereshkigal’s husband and father of her unborn child. She wanted justice for the death of her husband, and leaving her unborn child fatherless.

However, Inanna avoided the consequences of her actions. She was able to convince Enki to return Her to life. Dumuzi and Geshtinanna paid for her decision to attain more mes (power) by going to Gugalanna’s funeral in the Underworld. The Descent of Inanna then becomes a story of one God seeking justice and being thwarted, since Inanna escapes punishment for her deed.

God of the Month: Inanna (Ishtar)

ndIshtar-star-symbol-encircled.svgInanna, who is known by many names – Inana, Ishtar – is a complex Goddess. Thought to be a mixture of Sumerian and Semitic Gods, She is both the Goddess of Love and the Goddess of War. Her origin is thought to stem from the Semitic God Attar becoming Ashtar, then the female Ishtar. This Goddess merged with the Sumerian Inana of Uruk to become Inanna. She now possesses male and female qualities. In modern times, Inanna has become a part of the Goddess Religions as a Goddess of Self-Actualization and Avenger of Women who have been wronged. She can be considered a fluid Goddess, who changes through the ages for the people who revere Her.

Traditionally, Inanna has three aspects. As the Goddess of Love, She has no permanent consort but a series of lovers. Inanna governs Sex and Sexual Pleasure, and is the Patron Goddess of Prostitutes. In some Babylonian songs, She will refer to Herself as a prostitute. Some vases have been found that show Inanna receiving offerings from naked men.

Her second aspect is the Goddess of War. Inanna lusts for blood and power, and glories in battle. Sargon of Akkad had Her as his Patron riding beside him as he formed his empire. Later, his grandson, Naram-Sin often invoked Inanna for his royal power and military might in putting down rebellions.

Meanwhile, King Solomon of Israel sang:
“Who is this arising like dawn
Fair as the Moon,
Resplendent as the Sun
Terrible as an army with banners?” (Song of Songs 6:10)

Venus, the morning and evening star, is Inanna’s thirst aspect. “I am Inanna of the Sunrise,” She declares. After the sun and the moon, Venus was important in divination for the Babylonians. Depending on where Venus was, the harvest could be successful, war would break out, or famine would come. Also, Venus determined the fate of kings.

My sense of Inanna is that She is fluid. She is independent and beholden only to Herself. Passionate, Inanna freely acts on her emotions. She is worshipped for Who She is.

From the hymns, some of her titles are:
The Great-hearted Mistress
The Impetuous Lady
Proudest Among the Great Gods
Great Bull Trusting in Its Strength
Turner of Midday to Darkness, and Darkness to Light
The Lady of Heaven and Earth
Great Lady of Fearsome Powers