Babylonian July/August: Month of the Dead

In the Mesopotamian Wheel of the Year, from mid-June to mid-September, the confluence of An (the heavens), Ki (the earth) and Kur (the Underworld) (Note) occurs. During this time, the Dead wander freely among the living. Fires are lit to guide Them to their families, where the Dead stay for a brief time.

In Sumer, the month is called Ne-izi-gar, and in Babylon, it is Abu. These names refer to the rituals for the Dead. There are three that are done during this month – the Maqlu (the Burning), the Ne-izi-gar (The Return of the Dead), and Ab/pum (the Offering at the Mounds).

As the moon wanes until it disappears completely (The Day of the Disappearance of the Moon), malevolent spirits come out. Because this is a perilous time for the living, the Maqlu ritual is conducted. First, offerings are made to the Gods of Fire, Nusku and Girra, at night. Then at dawn, people recite the following, “Evil demon, to your steppe” or “Get out evil rabisu! Come in, good rabisu!” Afterwards, they encircle the entrance of their homes with flour paste,

The Ne-izi-gar is the Festival of Ghosts, when the Dead eat a ceremonial meal with their families. The Benevolent Dead have to follow a special passage from the dark Netherworld to the land of the living. For these Dead to find their way to their families, the people light torches.

Three days before the full moon, offerings are made for the journey of the Ancestors. When the full moon arrives, the doors of the Netherworld are at their widest. This is the time when Ancestors return through the ab/pum (the mound). (The ab/pum is a mound placed over the passage to the Netherworld.) At the Abe (Ab/pum) festival, beer, honey, oil and wine are poured into the mound. Then the person places their foot over the ab/pum and kisses the ground.

Since the Dead do not sever their ties to the living, Babylonians regard death as a transition from being human to that of a gidim (spirit). After dying, the gidim is reunited with their dead relatives, and assigned a place in the Netherworld. Funeral rites ensure the gidim’s integration into that world. Offerings of food and water are made since the Netherworld have little of either for nourishment. If they do not receive this, then the gidim will become vicious and haunt the living. In Babylonian theology, diseases are often caused by the angry Dead.

Notes: The Netherworld is known by many names – arali, irkalla, kukku, ekur, kigal, and ganzi. Kur means “the land of no return.”

Babylonian Month of June-July

The month of mid-June to mid-July is called “Dumuzi (Tammuz).” This fourth month of the Babylonian year is named for the God of Fertility and Shepherds. With the advent of the hot, dry summer, Dumuzi goes to the Netherworld to live for six months. The months between June and September are the months that the Dead can roam among the living.

On the 18th day of this month, the statue of Istar (Dumuzi’s wife) is washed, and Dumuzi’s one is anointed in oil. Starting on the 25th day, people honored his death. On the “Day of the Striking,” Dumuzi’s statue is displayed. During “The Day of the Screaming,” people wailed for Him. On“The Day He is caught,” barley is burned and his statue is thrown out the main gate. (This refers to the Galla coming from the Underworld to fetch the God.) On the “Day of the Stall (where He was captured),” Dumuzi’s statue lies in state. At this time, a priest whispers prayers into the statue’s ears.

Meanwhile, in Sumer, the month is called “Su-numum” after the Akiti Su-numum (the Ploughing Festival). Ploughing has begun and will continue for four more months. This month is also referred to the “Month of the Barely Seed,” reflecting the preparation for the planting season. Stones and stubble are removed, and the rows are ploughed. Burnt offerings of fruit and oil are made to the plough. (Traditionally, the festival is started at the full moon after the summer solstice.)

Since Su-numun is also the onset of summer, there also rituals that focused on death and mourning. The first day of the month is “The Festival of the Canebrake (Apum).” (This was traditionally held on the new moon after the summer solstice.) “Canebrake” refers to the burial practice of wrapping the corpse in a shroud and laying it in the burial marshes. “In the reeds of Enki” refers to the canebrake receiving the body. Burial marshes were common. During the festival, it is customary to read laments such as “Lament over the Destruction of Ur” and “Lament over the Destruction of Ur and Sumer.” The “Time of the Great Wailing” commemorates when Ur was destroyed by the Elam and Sua peoples in 2004 BCE.

The Multiple Souls of Polytheism

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Photo by OVAN on Pexels.com

Polytheism differs from Christianity in that instead of one soul, a person has multiple souls. The Romans have the genius, renamed by Christians as the Guardian Angel. Meanwhile, the animus, which is the dynamic force of personality, can exist outside of the body. One soul dies with the body, while another one survives to form its own body. When a person dies, one soul will merge with the ancestral soul, and another soul will go to the underworld. The physical (body) soul that lives on after death is called a revenant.

This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp. Western culture sees a person’s soul as a singularity. Moreover, the revenant is no longer believed to be real. Since the Dead have been relegated to being phantoms. Modern science has reinforced the idea that ghosts are figments of a confused mind.

The Christian Church deliberately redefined the concept of “soul,” thereby merging all the souls into one entity. Now, when the body dies, the soul merges with God. The Church dismissed the existence of revenants. Tertullian, St. Augustine, and Gregory the Great developed and promoted the concept of the soul being a singularity. Their aim was to eliminate the Pagan veneration of the Dead.

Tertullian claimed that Plato had asserted that the soul remains in the body after death. However Plato said that after death, a soul does continue to exist. Moreover, he divided the soul into three parts – logos (mind), thymos (emotion) and eros (desire).

In Polytheist theology, it is important to note multiple souls are the norm. For example, the Egyptians believed that everyone had nine souls. They are: kha: the body, ka: the living life force, ba: the personality, sekhem: the transfigured life force, khaibit: the shadow, akh: the transfigured soul, sahu: the spiritual body, ib: the heart and ren: the true name of the person.

In Norse Polytheism, the litr is the body’s vital force. The hame, the “astral body,” works with the lich, the physical body. The flygja is similar to the Roman genius. The kinfylgja is the ancestral soul.

It is important to note that the texts written by the ancients are often interpreted by people who are steeped in the monotheistic culture. Therefore, references to multiple souls may be thought of as aspects of a single soul. However, the idea of multiple souls still manifests itself in modern thought. I consider Freud’s theory of the ego, id, and super-ego to be one example.

Lost Species: Steller’s Sea Cow

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Steller’s sea cow, a cold water relative of the manatee and dugong, was unknown to modern people until 1741. At that time, the crew of Vitus Bering’s ship, the Sv. Piotr was ship-wrecked off the coast of Kamchatka, where the last remaining herds of these mammals lived. Through overhunting, Steller’s sea cow went extinct thirty years later.

However, this sea cow (Sirenian) has remained in the memory of many people. Over a century later, Rudyard Kipling in his short story “The White Seal” had Steller’s sea cow guiding seals to a place of refuge from hunters. A century later, people still report encounters with this marine mammal. In the mists and fogs of our imaginations, Steller’s sea cow still swims.

What was this Sirenian relative of the manatee and dugong like? Georg Wilhelm Steller, Bering’s naturalist, observed and described this animal. The largest of the sea cows, Steller’s sea cow fed on algae, kelp, and sea grass growing near river mouths. Like the dugong, He had a large, flat, lobed tail. He also had a huge midsection and a small head with a flexible neck. Lacking flippers, Steller’s sea cow had short limbs shaped like hooks. Instead of teeth, He used his keratinous plates to grind his food.

Scientists believe that the Steller’s sea cows that the Russian sailors found were an evolutionary relic (a small population restricted to a small area). According to the fossil record, Steller’s sea cows once lived from California to Japan. Some scientists think that early hunters eradicated sea cows from these areas. However, others think that the evolutionary pressures from global climate change forced the eventual extinction of these mammals.

One of the megafauna of the Pleistocene, Steller’s sea cow was one of the last of these animals to go extinct. As large as today’s whales, Steller’s sea cow could have been the largest mammal ever in the world. His extinction brought home to the Europeans, the reality that nothing was inexhaustible. Extinction was very real and very grave. His extinction gave birth to the study of how ecosystems work and can be disrupted.

Lessons that Steller’s sea cow teaches are varied. Because extinction is a part of living, life now becomes more precious. Sadness fills us when we hear about the cause of his demise. So much so that we neglect his life and fail to wonder who He was. Did Steller’s sea cow follow his dreams to the colder waters? Or were the manatee and dugong wise for staying in warmer waters? The answers lie beyond the mists of time and space. Steller’s sea cow beckons us to explore his world through memories and dreams.

Steller’s sea cow holds a place in our memories. He asks us to remember Him as He was, adventurous and fearless. We may feel sorrow and grief for his passing but we can hold Steller’s sea cow in our hearts. The hole that comes from his extinction still resonates with the manatee and dugong, who miss their brother terribly. The lesson that He teaches us is “that which is remembered still lives.” With that in mind, let us work to keep his siblings alive. Also let us venture into the mists to learn more from Steller’s sea cow.

Anubis (Anpu) of Egypt

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Artist: Kris Waldherr for the Anubis Oracle

I met Anubis about the same time that Hecate introduced Herself to me. In the Roman mind, Anubis of Egypt and Hecate of Greece are both Gods of the Underworld and the Keepers of Curses. They are often grouped together for Romans. Anubis is the Keeper of the Keys to the Underworld, while Hecate guards the Dead. To summon Anubis, a person would draw the image of the God in blood from a black dog. To summon Hecate, a person sacrificed a black dog at the crossroads. Both Gods act as intermediaries between the Dead and the living.

Anubis of the Dead is an ancient God of Egypt. During the Early Dynasty Period and the Old Kingdom, Anubis was the Lord of the Dead for the Egyptians. He later became the God of Mummification and Funerals.

During the Middle Kingdom, Osiris became the Ruler of the Underworld. Anubis then became the Guardian of the Scales. He supervises the Weighing of the Hearts of the newly Dead. Anubis also guards the mummified corpse of Osiris, after this God is murdered by Seth, his brother.

In my relations with Anubis, I am to convince some of the newly Dead to crossover. To me, He is the Keeper of the Keys, who leads some of the Dead on their way. Hecate receives them at the end of their journey.

Anubis’ Titles:
He Who Is Upon His Mountain
Lord of the Sacred Land
Foremost of the Westerners
He Who Is In the Place of Embalming
Conductor of Souls
Jackal Ruler of the Nine Bows
Protector of Tombs
Guardian of the Scales