Why Different Gods were Supreme at Different Centres--Theories
regarding Origin of Life--Vital Principle in Water--Creative Tears of Weeping
Deities--Significance of widespread Spitting Customs--Divine Water in Blood
and Divine Blood in Water--Liver as the Seat of Life--Inspiration derived by
Drinking Mead, Blood, &c.--Life Principle in Breath--Babylonian Ghosts as "Evil
Wind Gusts"--Fire Deities--Fire and Water in Magical Ceremonies--Moon Gods of
Ur and Harran--Moon Goddess and Babylonian "Jack and Jill"--Antiquity of Sun
Worship--Tammuz and Ishtar--Solar Gods of War, Pestilence, and Death--Shamash
as the "Great Judge"--His Mitra Name--Aryan Mitra or Mithra and linking Babylonian
Deities--Varuna and Shamash Hymns compared--The Female Origin of Life--Goddesses
of Maternity--The Babylonian Thor--Deities of Good and Evil.
IN dealing with the city cults of Sumer and Akkad, consideration must be
given to the problems involved by the rival mythological systems. Pantheons
not only varied in detail, but were presided over by different supreme gods.
One city's chief deity might be regarded as a secondary deity at another centre.
Although Ea, for instance, was given first place at Eridu, and was so pronouncedly
Sumerian in character, the moon god Nannar remained supreme at Ur, while the
sun god, whose Semitic name was Shamash, presided at Larsa and Sippar. Other
deities were similarly exalted in other states.
As has been indicated, a mythological system must have been strongly influenced
by city politics. To hold a community in sway, it was necessary to recognize
officially the various gods worshipped by different sections, so as to secure
the constant allegiance of all classes to their rulers. Alien deities were therefore
associated with local and tribal deities, those of the nomads with those of
the agriculturists, those of the unlettered folks with those of the learned
people. Reference has been made to the introduction of strange deities by conquerors.
But these were not always imposed upon a community by violent means. Indications
are not awanting that the worshippers of alien gods were sometimes welcomed
and encouraged to settle in certain states. When they came as military allies
to assist a city folk against a fierce enemy, they were naturally much admired
and praised, honoured by the women and the bards, and rewarded by the rulers.
In the epic of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Hercules, we meet with Ea-bani,
a Goliath of the wilds, who is entreated to come to the aid of the besieged
city of Erech when it seemed that its deities were unable to help the people
against their enemies.
The gods of walled-round Erech
To flies had turned and buzzed in the streets;
The winged bulls of walled-round Erech
Were turned to mice and departed through the holes.
Ea-bani was attracted to Erech by the gift of a fair woman for wife. The
poet who lauded him no doubt mirrored public opinion. We can see the slim, shaven
Sumerians gazing with wonder and admiration on their rough heroic ally.
All his body was covered with hair,
His locks were like a woman's,
Thick as corn grew his abundant hair.
He was a stranger to the people and in that land.
Clad in a garment like Gira, the god,
He had eaten grass with the gazelles,
He had drunk water with savage beasts.
His delight was to be among water dwellers.
Like the giant Alban, the eponymous ancestor of a people who invaded prehistoric
Britain, Ea-bani appears to have represented in Babylonian folk legends a certain
type of foreign settlers in the land. No doubt the city dwellers, who were impressed
by the prowess of the hairy and powerful warriors, were also ready to acknowledge
the greatness of their war gods, and to admit them into the pantheon. The fusion
of beliefs which followed must have stimulated thought and been productive of
speculative ideas. "Nowhere", remarks Professor Jastrow, "does a high form of
culture arise without the commingling of diverse ethnic elements."
We must also take into account the influence exercised by leaders of thought
like En-we-dur-an-ki, the famous high priest of Sippar, whose piety did much
to increase the reputation of the cult of Shamesh, the sun god. The teachings
and example of Buddha, for instance, revolutionized Brahmanic religion in India.
A mythology was an attempt to solve the riddle of the Universe, and to adjust
the relations of mankind with the various forces represented by the deities.
The priests systematized existing folk beliefs and established an official religion.
To secure the prosperity of the State, it was considered necessary to render
homage unto whom homage was due at various seasons and under various circumstances.
The religious attitude of a particular community, therefore, must have been
largely dependent on its needs and experiences. The food supply was a first
At Eridu, as we have seen, it was assured by devotion to Ea and obedience
to his commands as an instructor. Elsewhere it might happen, however, that Ea's
gifts were restricted or withheld by an obstructing force--the raging storm
god, or the parching, pestilence-bringing deity of the sun. It was necessary,
therefore, for the people to win the favour of the god or goddess who seemed
most powerful, and was accordingly considered to be the greatest in a. particular
district. A rain god presided over the destinies of one community, and a god
of disease and death over another; a third exalted the war god, no doubt because
raids were frequent and the city owed its strength and prosperity to its battles
and conquests. The reputation won by a particular god throughout Babylonia would
depend greatly on the achievements of his worshippers and the progress of the
city civilization over which he presided. Bel-Enlil's fame as a war deity was
probably due to the political supremacy of his city of Nippur; and there was
probably good reason for attributing to the sun god a pronounced administrative
and legal character; he may have controlled the destinies of exceedingly well
organized communities in which law and order and authority were held in high
In accounting for the rise of distinctive and rival city deities, we should
also consider the influence of divergent conceptions regarding the origin of
life in mingled communities. Each foreign element in a community had its own
intellectual life and immemorial tribal traditions, which reflected ancient
habits of life and perpetuated the doctrines of eponymous ancestors. Among the
agricultural classes, the folk religion which entered so intimately into their
customs and labours must have remained essentially Babylonish in character.
In cities, however, where official religions were formulated, foreign ideas
were more apt to be imposed, especially when embraced by influential teachers.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that in Babylonia, as in Egypt, there
were differences of opinion regarding the origin of life and the particular
natural element which represented the vital principle.
One section of the people, who were represented by the worshippers of Ea,
appear to have believed that the essence of life was contained in water. The
god of Eridu was the source of the "water of life". He fertilized parched and
sunburnt wastes through rivers and irrigating canals, and conferred upon man
the sustaining "food of life". When life came to an end--
Food of death will be offered thee . . .
Water of death will be offered thee . . .
Offerings of water and food were made to the dead so that the ghosts might
be nourished and prevented from troubling the living. Even the gods required
water and food; they were immortal because they had drunk ambrosia and eaten
from the plant of life. When the goddess Ishtar was in the Underworld, the land
of the dead, the servant of Ea exclaimed
"Hail! lady, may the well give me of its waters, so that
I may drink."
The goddess of the dead commanded her servant to "sprinkle the lady Ishtar
with the water of life and bid her depart". The sacred water might also be found
at a confluence of rivers. Ea bade his son, Merodach, to "draw water from the
mouth of two streams", and "on this water to put his pure spell".
The worship of rivers and wells which prevailed in many countries was connected
with the belief that the principle of life was in moisture. In India, water
was vitalized by the intoxicating juice of the Soma plant, which inspired priests
to utter prophecies and filled their hearts with religious fervour. Drinking
customs had originally a religious significance. It was believed in India that
the sap of plants was influenced by the moon, the source of vitalizing moisture
and the hiding-place of the mead of the gods. The Teutonic gods also drank this
mead, and poets were inspired by it. Similar beliefs obtained among various
peoples. Moon and water worship were therefore closely associated; the blood
of animals and the sap of plants were vitalized by the water of life and under
control of the moon.
The body moisture of gods and demons had vitalizing properties. When the
Indian creator, Prajati, wept at the beginning, "that (the tears) which fell
into the water became the air. That which he wiped away, upwards, became the
sky." 1 The ancient Egyptians
believed that all men were born from the eyes of Horus except negroes, who came
from other parts of his body. 2 The creative tears of Ra, the sun god, fell as shining rays upon the earth.
When this god grew old saliva dripped from his mouth, and Isis mixed the vitalizing
moisture with dust, and thus made the serpent which bit and paralysed the great
solar deity. 3
Other Egyptian deities, including Osiris and Isis, wept creative tears. Those
which fell from the eyes of the evil gods produced poisonous plants and various
baneful animals. Orion, the Greek giant, sprang from the body moisture of deities.
The weeping ceremonies in connection with agricultural rites were no doubt believed
to be of magical potency; they encouraged the god to weep creative tears.
Ea, the god of the deep, was also "lord of life" (Enti), "king of the river"
(Lugal-ida), and god of creation (Nudimmud). His aid was invoked by means or
magical formul As the "great magician of the gods" he uttered charms himself,
and was the patron of all magicians. One spell runs as follows:
I am the sorcerer priest of Ea . . .
To revive the . . . sick man
The great lord Ea hath sent me;
He hath added his pure spell to mine,
He hath added his pure voice to mine,
He hath added his pure spittle to mine.
R. C. Thompson's Translation.
Saliva, like tears, had creative and therefore curative qualities; it also
expelled and injured demons and brought good luck. Spitting ceremonies are referred
to in the religious literature of Ancient Egypt. When the Eye of Ra was blinded
by Set, Thoth spat in it to restore vision. The sun god Turn, who was linked
with Ra as Ra-Tum, spat on the ground, and his saliva became the gods Shu and
Tefnut. In the Underworld the devil serpent Apep was spat upon to curse it,
as was also its waxen image which the priests fashioned. 1
Several African tribes spit to make compacts, declare friendship, and to
Park, the explorer, refers in his Travelsto his carriers spitting
on a flat stone to ensure a good journey. Arabian holy men and descendants of
Mohammed spit to cure diseases. Mohammed spat in the mouth of his grandson Hasen
soon after birth. Theocritus, Sophocles, and Plutarch testify to the ancient
Grecian customs of spitting to cure and to curse, and also to bless when children
were named. Pliny has expressed belief in the efficacy of the fasting spittle
for curing disease, and referred to the custom of spitting to avert witchcraft.
In England, Scotland, and Ireland spitting customs are not yet obsolete. North
of England boys used to talk of "spitting their sauls" (souls). When the Newcastle
colliers held their earliest strikes they made compacts by spitting on a stone.
There are still "spitting stones" in the north of Scotland. When bargains are
made in rural districts, hands are spat upon before they are shaken. The first
money taken each day by fishwives and other dealers is spat upon to ensure increased
drawings. Brand, who refers to various spitting customs, quotes Scot's Discovery
of Witchcraftregarding the saliva cure for king's evil, which is still,
by the way, practised in the Hebrides. Like Pliny, Scot recommended ceremonial
spitting as a charm against witchcraft. 1 In China spitting to expel demons is a common
practice. We still call a hasty person a "spitfire", and a calumniator a "spit-poison".
The life principle in trees, &c., as we have seen, was believed to have been
derived from the tears of deities. In India sap was called the "blood of trees",
and references to "bleeding trees" are still widespread and common. "Among the
ancients", wrote Professor Robertson Smith, "blood is generally conceived as
the principle or vehicle of life, and so the account often given of sacred waters
is that the blood of the deity flows in them. Thus as Milton writes:
Smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded.--Paradise Lost, i, 450.
The ruddy colour which the swollen river derived from the soil at a certain
season was ascribed to the blood of the god, who received his death wound in
Lebanon at that time of the year, and lay buried beside the sacred source."
In Babylonia the river was regarded as the source of the life blood and the
seat of the soul. No doubt this theory was based on the fact that the human
liver contains about a sixth of the blood in the body, the largest proportion
required by any single organ. Jeremiah makes "Mother Jerusalem" exclaim: "My
liver is poured upon the earth for the destruction of the daughter of my people",
meaning that her life is spent with grief.
Inspiration was derived by drinking blood as well as by drinking intoxicating
liquors--the mead of the gods. Indian magicians who drink the blood of the goat
sacrificed to the goddess Kali, are believed to be temporarily possessed by
her spirit, and thus enabled to prophesy. 2 Malayan exorcists still expel demons while they
suck the blood from a decapitated fowl. 3
Similar customs were prevalent in Ancient Greece. A woman who drank the blood
of a sacrificed lamb or bull uttered prophetic sayings. 4
But while most Babylonians appear to have believed that the life principle
was in blood, some were apparently of opinion that it was in breath--the air
of life. A man died when he ceased to breathe; his spirit, therefore, it was
argued, was identical with the atmosphere--the moving wind--and was accordingly
derived from the atmospheric or wind god. When, in the Gilgamesh epic, the hero
invokes the dead Ea-bani, the ghost rises up like a "breath of wind". A Babylonian
The gods which seize on men
Came forth from the grave;
The evil wind gusts
Have come forth from the grave,
To demand payment of rites and the pouring out of libations
They have come forth from the grave;
All that is evil in their hosts, like a whirlwind,
Hath come forth from the grave.1
The Hebrew "nephesh ruach" and "neshamah" (in Arabic "ruh" and "nefs") pass
from meaning "breath" to "spirit" 2 In Egypt the god Khnumu was "Kneph" in his character as an atmospheric deity.
The ascendancy of storm and wind gods in some Babylonian cities may have been
due to the belief that they were the source of the "air of life". It is possible
that this conception was popularized by the Semites. Inspiration was perhaps
derived from these deities by burning incense, which, if we follow evidence
obtained elsewhere, induced a prophetic trance. The gods were also invoked by
incense. In the Flood legend the Babylonian Noah burned incense. "The gods smelled
a sweet savour and gathered like flies over the sacrificer." In Egypt devotees
who inhaled the breath of the Apis bull were enabled to prophesy.
In addition to water and atmospheric deities Babylonia had also its fire
gods, Girru, Gish Bar, Gibil, and Nusku. Their origin is obscure. It is doubtful
if their worshippers, like those of the Indian Agni, believed that fire, the
"vital spark", was the principle of life which was manifested by bodily heat.
The Aryan fire worshippers cremated their dead so that the spirits might be
transferred by fire to Paradise. This practice, however, did not obtain among
the fire worshippers of Persia, nor, as was once believed, in Sumer or Akkad
either. Fire was, however, used in Babylonia for magical purposes. It destroyed
demons, and put to flight the spirits of disease. Possibly the fire-purification
ceremonies resembled those which were practised by the Canaanites, and are referred
to in the Bible. Ahaz "made his son to pass through the fire, according to the
abominations of the heathen". 1 Ezekiel declared that "when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass
through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols".
2 In Leviticusit is
laid down: "Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch".
3 It may be that in Babylonia
the fire-cleansing ceremony resembled that which obtained at Beltane (May Day)
in Scotland, Germany, and other countries. Human sacrifices might also have
been offered up as burnt offerings. Abraham, who came from the Sumerian city
of Ur, was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, Sarah's first-born. The fire gods of
Babylonia never achieved the ascendancy of the Indian Agni; they appear to have
resembled him mainly in so far as he was connected with the sun. Nusku, like
Agni, was also the "messenger of the gods". When Merodach or Babylon was exalted
as chief god of the pantheon his messages were carried to Ea by Nusku. He may
have therefore symbolized the sun rays, for Merodach had solar attributes. It
is possible that the belief obtained among even the water worshippers of Eridu
that the sun and moon, which rose from the primordial deep, had their origin
in the everlasting fire in Ea's domain at the bottom of the sea. In the Indian
god Varuna's ocean home an "Asura fire" (demon fire) burned constantly; it was
"bound and confined", but could not be extinguished. Fed by water, this fire,
it was believed, would burst forth at the last day and consume the universe.
1 A similar belief can be traced
in Teutonic mythology. The Babylonian incantation cult appealed to many gods,
but "the most important share in the rites", says Jastrow, "are taken by fire
and water--suggesting, therefore, that the god of water--more particularly Ea--and
the god of fire . . . are the chief deities on which the ritual itself hinges".
In some temples there was a bit rimki, a "house of washing", and a bit nuri, a "house of light". 2
Click to enlarge
WORSHIP OF THE MOON GOD.
Cylinder-Seal of Khashkhamer, Patesi of Ishkun-Sin (in North Babylonia), and
vassal of Ur-Engur, King of Ur. (c. 2400 B.C.)
It is possible, of course, that fire was regarded as the vital principle
by some city cults, which were influenced by imported ideas. If so, the belief
never became prevalent. The most enduring influence in Babylonian religion was
the early Sumerian; and as Sumerian modes of thought were the outcome of habits
of life necessitated by the character of the country, they were bound, sooner
or later, to leave a deep impress on the minds of foreign peoples who settled
in the Garden of Western Asia. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that
imported deities assumed Babylonian characteristics, and were identified or
associated with Babylonian gods in the later imperial pantheon.
Moon worship appears to have been as ancient as water worship, with which,
as we have seen, it was closely associated. It was widely prevalent throughout
Babylonia. The chief seat of the lunar deity, Nannar or Sin, was the ancient
city of Ur, from which Abraham migrated to Harran, where the "Baal" (the lord)
was also a moon god. Ur was situated in Sumer, in the south, between the west
bank of the Euphrates and the low hills bordering the Arabian desert, and not
far distant from sea.. washed Eridu. No doubt, like that city, it had its origin
at an exceedingly remote period. At any rate, the excavations conducted there
have afforded proof that it flourished in the prehistoric period.
As in Arabia, Egypt, and throughout ancient Europe and elsewhere, the moon
god of Sumeria was regarded as the "friend of man". He controlled nature as
a fertilizing agency; he caused grass, trees, and crops to grow; he increased
flocks and herds, and gave human offspring. At Ur he was exalted above Ea as
"the lord and prince of the gods, supreme in heaven, the Father of all"; he
was also called "great Anu", an indication that Anu, the sky god, had at one
time a lunar character. The moon god was believed to be the father of the sun
god: he was the "great steer with mighty horns and perfect limbs".
His name Sin is believed to be a corruption of "Zu-ena", which signifies
"knowledge lord". 1 Like the
lunar Osiris of Egypt, he was apparently an instructor of mankind; the moon
measured time and controlled the seasons; seeds were sown at a certain phase
of the moon, and crops were ripened by the harvest moon. The mountains of Sinai
and the desert of Sin are called after this deity.
As Nannar, which Jastrow considers to be a variation of "Nannar", the "light
producer", the moon god scattered darkness and reduced the terrors of night.
His spirit inhabited the lunar stone, so that moon and stone worship were closely
associated; it also entered trees and crops, so that moon worship linked with
earth worship, as both linked with water worship.
The consort of Nannar was Nin-Uruwa, "the lady of Ur", who was also called
Nin-gala. She links with Ishtar as Nin, as Isis of Egypt linked with other mother
deities. The twin children of the moon were Mashu and Mashtu, a brother and
sister, like the lunar girl and boy of Teutonic mythology immortalized in nursery
rhymes as Jack and Jill.
Sun worship was of great antiquity in Babylonia, but appears to have been
seasonal in its earliest phases. No doubt the sky god Anu had his solar as well
as his lunar attributes, which he shared with Ea. The spring sun was personified
as Tammuz, the youthful shepherd, who was loved by the earth goddess Ishtar
and her rival Eresh-ki-gal, goddess of death, the Babylonian Persephone. During
the winter Tammuz dwelt in Hades, and at the beginning of spring Ishtar descended
to search for him among the shades. 1 But the burning summer sun was symbolized as a destroyer, a slayer of men, and
therefore a war god. As Ninip or Nirig, the son of Enlil, who was made in the
likeness of Anu, he waged war against the earth spirits, and was furiously hostile
towards the deities of alien peoples, as befitted a god of battle. Even his
father feared him, and when he was advancing towards Nippur, sent out Nusku,
messenger of the gods, to soothe the raging deity with soft words. Ninip was
symbolized as a wild bull, was connected with stone worship, like the Indian
destroying god Shiva, and was similarly a deity of Fate. He had much in common
with Nin-Girsu, a god of Lagash, who was in turn regarded as a form of Tammuz.
Nergal, another solar deity, brought disease and pestilence, and, according
to Jensen, all misfortunes due to excessive heat. He was the king of death,
husband of Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades. As a war god he thirsted for human
blood, and was depicted as a mighty lion, He was the chief deity of the city
of Cuthah, which, Jastrow suggests, was situated beside a burial place of great
repute, like the Egyptian Abydos.
The two great cities of the sun in ancient Babylonia were the Akkadian Sippar
and the Sumerian Larsa. In these the sun god, Shamash or Babbar, was the patron
deity. He was a god of Destiny, the lord of the living and the dead, and was
exalted as the great Judge, the lawgiver, who upheld justice; he was the enemy
of wrong, he loved righteousness and hated sin, he inspired his worshippers
with rectitude and punished evildoers. The sun god also illumined the world,
and his rays penetrated every quarter: he saw all things, and read the thoughts
of men; nothing could be concealed from Shamash. One of his names was Mitra,
like the god who was linked with Varuna in the Indian Rigveda. These
twin deities, Mitra and Varuna, measured out the span of human life. They were
the source of all heavenly gifts: they regulated sun and moon, the winds and
waters, and the seasons. 1
These did the gods establish in royal power over themselves,
because they were wise and the children of wisdom, and because they excelled
in power.--Prof. Arnold's trans. of Rigvedic Hymn.
Mitra and Varuna were protectors of hearth and home, and they chastised sinners.
"In a striking passage of the Mahhata," says Professor Moulton, "one
in which Indian thought comes nearest to the conception of conscience, a kingly
wrongdoer is reminded that the sun sees secret sin." 2
In Persian mythology Mitra, as Mithra, is the patron of Truth, and "the Mediator"
between heaven and earth. 1 This god was also worshipped by the military aristocracy of Mitanni, which held
sway for a period over Assyria. In Roman times the worship of Mithra spread
into Europe from Persia. Mithraic sculptures depict the deity as a corn god
slaying the harvest bull; on one of the monuments "cornstalks instead of blood
are seen issuing from the wound inflicted with the knife". 2 The Assyrian word "metru" signifies rain.
1 As a sky god Mitra may have
been associated, like Varuna, with the waters above the firmament. Rain would
therefore be gifted by him as a fertilizing deity. In the Babylonian Flood legend
it is the sun god Shamash who "appointed the time" when the heavens were to
"rain destruction" in the night, and commanded Pir-napishtim, "Enter into the
midst of thy ship and shut thy door". The solar deity thus appears as a form
of Anu, god of the sky and upper atmosphere, who controls the seasons and the
various forces of nature. Other rival chiefs of city pantheons, whether lunar,
atmospheric, earth, or water deities, were similarly regarded as the supreme
deities who ruled the Universe, and decreed when man should receive benefits
or suffer from their acts of vengeance.
It is possible that the close resemblances between Mithra and Mitra of the
Aryan-speaking peoples of India and the Iranian plateau, and the sun god of
the Babylonians--the Semitic Shamash, the Sumerian Utu--were due to early contact
and cultural influence through the medium of Elam. As a solar and corn god,
the Persian Mithra links with Tammuz, as a sky and atmospheric deity with Anu,
and as a god of truth, righteousness, and law with Shamash. We seem to trace
in the sublime Vedic hymns addressed by the Indian Aryans to Mitra and Varuna
the impress of Babylonian religious thought:
Whate'er exists within this earth, and all within the
Yea, all that is beyond, King Varuna perceives. . . .
Rigveda, iv, 16. 1 O Varuna, whatever the offence may be
That we as men commit against the heavenly folk,
When through our want of thought we violate thy laws,
Chastise us not, O god, for that iniquity.
Rigveda, vii, 89. 2
Shamash was similarly exalted in Babylonian hymns:
The progeny of those who deal unjustly will not prosper.
What their mouth utters in thy presence
Thou wilt destroy, what issues from their mouth thou wilt dissipate.
Thou knowest their transgressions, the plan of the wicked thou rejectest.
All, whoever they be, are in thy care. . . .
He who takes no bribe, who cares for the oppressed,
Is favoured by Shamash,--his life shall be prolonged. 3
The worshippers of Varuna and Mitra in the Punjab did not cremate their dead
like those who exalted the rival fire god Agni. The grave was the "house of
clay", as in Babylonia. Mitra, who was identical with Yama, ruled over departed
souls in the "Land of the Pitris" (Fathers), which was reached by crossing the
mountains and the rushing stream of death. 4 As we have seen, the Babylonian solar god Nergal
was also the lord of the dead.
As Ma-banda-anna, "the boat of the sky", Shamash links with the Egyptian
sun god Ra, whose barque sailed over the heavens by day and through the underworld
of darkness and death during the night. The consort of Shamash was Aa, and his
attendants were Kittu and Mesharu, "Truth" and "Righteousness".
Like the Hittites, the Babylonians had also a sun goddess: her name was Nin-sun,
which Jastrow renders "the annihilating lady". At Erech she had a shrine in
the temple of the sky god Anu.
We can trace in Babylonia, as in Egypt, the early belief that life in the
Universe had a female origin. Nin-sun links with Ishtar, whose Sumerian name
is Nana. Ishtar appears to be identical with the Egyptian Hathor, who, as Sekhet,
slaughtered the enemies of the sun god Ra. She was similarly the goddess of
maternity, and is depicted in this character, like Isis and other goddesses
of similar character, suckling a babe. Another Babylonian lady of the gods was
Ama, Mama, or Mami, "the creatress of the seed of mankind", and was "probably
so called as the 'mother' of all things". 1
A characteristic atmospheric deity was Ramman, the Rimmon of the Bible, the
Semitic Addu, Adad, Hadad, or Dadu. He was not a presiding deity in any pantheon,
but was identified with Enlil at Nippur. As a hammer god, he was imported by
the Semites from the hills. He was a wind and thunder deity, a rain bringer,
a corn god, and a god of battle like Thor, Jupiter, Tarku, Indra, and others,
who were all sons of the sky.
In this brief review of the representative deities of early Babylonia, it
will be seen that most gods link with Anu, Ea, and Enlil, whose attributes they
symbolized in various forms. The prominence accorded to an individual deity
depended on local conditions, experiences, and influences. Ceremonial practices
no doubt varied here and there, but although one section might exalt Ea and
another Shamash, the religious faith of the people as a whole did not differ
to any marked extent; they served the gods according to their lights, so that
life might be prolonged and made prosperous, for the land of death and "no return"
was regarded as a place of gloom and misery.
When the Babylonians appear before us in the early stages of the historical
period they had reached that stage of development set forth so vividly in the
Orations of Isocrates: "Those of the gods who are the source to us of good things
have the title of Olympians; those whose department is that of calamities and
punishments have harsher titles: to the first class both private persons and
states erect altars and temples; the second is not worshipped either with prayers
or burnt sacrifices, but in their case we perform ceremonies of riddance".
The Sumerians, like the Ancient Egyptians, developed their deities, who reflected
the growth of culture, from vague spirit groups, which, like ghosts, were hostile
to mankind. Those spirits who could be propitiated were exalted as benevolent
deities; those who could not be bargained with were regarded as evil gods and
goddesses. A better understanding of the character of Babylonian deities will
therefore be obtained by passing the demons and evil spirits under review.
45:1 Indian Myth and
Legend, p. 100.45:2 Maspero's Dawn
of Civilization, p. 156 et seq.45:3 Egyptian Myth and
Legend, p. 1 et seq. The saliva of the frail and elderly was injurious.46:1 Osiris and the
Egyptian Resurrection, E. Wallis Budge, vol. ii, p. 203 et seq.47:1 Brana's Popular
Antiquities, vol. iii, pp. 259-263 (1889 ed.).48:1 The Religion of
the Semites, pp. 158, 159.48:2 Castes and Tribes
of Southern India, E. Thurston, iv, 187.48:3 Omens and Superstitions
of Southern India, E. Thurston (1912), pp. 245, 246.48:4 Pausanias, 24, 1.49:1 Devils and Evil
Spirits of Babylonia, R. C. Thompson, vol. ii, tablet Y.49:2 Animism, E.
Clodd, p. 37.50:1 2 Kings, xvi,
3.50:2 Ezekiel, xx,
xviii, 21.51:1 Indian Myth and
Legend, p. 65.51:2 Religious Belief
in Babylonia and Assyria, M. .Jastrow, pp. 312, 313.52:1 The Religion of
Babylonia and Assyria, T. G. Pinches, p. 81.53:1 In early times two
goddesses searched for Tammuz at different periods.54:1 Indian Myth and
Legend, p. 30.54:2 Early Religious
Poetry of Persia, p. 35.55:1 Early Religious
Poetry of Persia, p. 37.55:2 The Golden Bough(Spirits of the Corn and Wild, vol. ii, p. 10), 3rd edition.56:1 Indian Wisdom,
Sir Monier Monier-Williams.56:2 A History of Sanskrit
Literature, Professor Macdonell.56:3 Religious Belief
and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria, M. Jastrow, pp. 112.56:4 Indian Myth and
Legend, pp. xxxii, and 38 et seq.57:1 The Religion of
Babylonia and Assyria, T. G. Pinches, p. 94.58:1 The Religion of
Ancient Greece, J. E. Harrison, p. 46, and Isoc. Orat., v, 117.Next: Chapter IV. Demons, Fairies, and Ghosts
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