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The Immemorial Practices of Folk Religion

“Reference has been made to the introduction of Tammuz worship into Jerusalem. Ishtar, as Queen of Heaven, was also adored by the backsliding Israelites as a deity of battle and harvest. When Jeremiah censured the people for burning incense and serving gods “whom they knew not,” he said, “neither they, ye, nor your fathers,” they made answer: “Since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and the famine.”

The women took a leading part in these practices, but refused to accept all the blame, saying, “When we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make our cakes and pour out drink offerings unto her without our men?” That the husbands, and the children even, assisted at the ceremony is made evident in another reference to goddess worship: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven.”

Jastrow suggests that the women of Israel wept for Tammuz, offered cakes to the mother goddess, &c., because “in all religious bodies … women represent the conservative element; among them religious customs continue in practice after they have been abandoned by men.”

The evidence of Jeremiah, however, shows that the men certainly co-operated at the archaic ceremonials. In lighting the fires with the “vital spark,” they apparently acted in imitation of the god of fertility. The women, on the other hand, represented the reproductive harvest goddess in providing the food supply. In recognition of her gift, they rewarded the goddess by offering her the cakes prepared from the newly ground wheat and barley–the “first fruits of the harvest.”

As the corn god came as a child, the children began the ceremony by gathering the wood for the sacred fire. When the women mourned for Tammuz, they did so evidently because the death of the god was lamented by the goddess Ishtar. It would appear, therefore, that the suggestion regarding the “conservative element” should really apply to the immemorial practices of folk religion.

These differed from the refined ceremonies of the official cult in Babylonia, where there were suitable temples and organized bands of priests and priestesses. But the official cult received no recognition in Palestine; the cakes intended for a goddess were not offered up in the temple of Abraham’s God, but “in the streets of Jerusalem” and those of other cities.

The obvious deduction seems to be that in ancient times women everywhere played a prominent part in the ceremonial folk worship of the Great Mother goddess, while the men took the lesser part of the god whom she had brought into being and afterwards received as “husband of his mother.”

This may account for the high social status of women among goddess worshippers, like the representatives of the Mediterranean race, whose early religion was not confined to temples, but closely associated with the acts of everyday life.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Human Sacrifice

“The goddesses of classic mythology had similar reputations. Aphrodite (Venus) had many divine and mortal lovers. She links closely with Astarte and Ashtoreth (Ishtar), and reference has already been made to her relations with Adonis (Tammuz). These love deities were all as cruel as they were wayward. When Ishtar wooed the Babylonian hero, Gilgamesh, he spurned her advances, as has been indicated, saying:

On Tammuz, the spouse of thy youth,

Thou didst lay affliction every year.

Thou didst love the brilliant Allalu bird

But thou didst smite him and break his wing;

He stands in the woods and cries “O my wing.”

He likewise charged her with deceiving the lion and the horse, making reference to obscure myths:

Thou didst also love a shepherd of the flock,

Who continually poured out for thee the libation,

And daily slaughtered kids for thee;

But thou didst smite him and didst change him into a leopard,

So that his own sheep boy hunted him,

And his own hounds tore him to pieces.

These goddesses were ever prone to afflict human beings who might offend them or of whom they wearied. Demeter (Ceres) changed Ascalaphus into an owl and Stellio into a lizard. Rhea (Ops) resembled

The tow’red Cybele,

Mother of a hundred gods,

the wanton who loved Attis (Adonis). Artemis (Diana) slew her lover Orion, changed Actaeon into a stag, which was torn to pieces by his own dogs, and caused numerous deaths by sending a boar to ravage the fields of Oeneus, king of Calydon.

Human sacrifices were frequently offered to the bloodthirsty “mothers.” The most famous victim of Artemis was the daughter of Agamemnon, “divinely tall and most divinely fair.” Agamemnon had slain a sacred stag, and the goddess punished him by sending a calm when the war fleet was about to sail for Troy, with the result that his daughter had to be sacrificed.

Artemis thus sold breezes like the northern wind hags and witches.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Revolting Unmoral Rites

“There is another phase, however, to the character of the mother goddess which explains the references to the desertion and slaying of Tammuz by Ishtar. “She is,” says Jastrow, “the goddess of the human instinct, or passion which accompanies human love. Gilgamesh … reproaches her with abandoning the objects of her passion after a brief period of union.” At Ishtar’s temple “public maidens accepted temporary partners, assigned to them by Ishtar.”

The worship of all mother goddesses in ancient times was accompanied by revolting unmoral rites which are referred to in condemnatory terms in various passages in the Old Testament, especially in connection with the worship of Ashtoreth, who was identical with Ishtar and the Egyptian Hathor.

Ishtar in the process of time overshadowed all the other female deities of Babylonia, as did Isis in Egypt. Her name, indeed, which is Semitic, became in the plural, Ishtar·te, a designation for goddesses in general. But although she was referred to as the daughter of the sky, Anu, or the daughter of the moon, Sin or Nannar, she still retained traces of her ancient character.

Originally she was a great mother goddess, who was worshipped by those who believed that life and the universe had a female origin in contrast to those who believed in the theory of male origin. Ishtar is identical with Nina, the fish goddess, a creature who gave her name to the Sumerian city of Nina and the Assyrian city of Nineveh.

Other forms of the Creatrix included Mama, or Mami, or Ama, “mother,” Aruru, Bau, Gula, and Zerpanitum. These were all “Preservers” and healers. At the same time they were “Destroyers,” like Nin-sun and the Queen of Hades, Eresh-ki-gal or Allatu.

They were accompanied by shadowy male forms ere they became wives of strongly individualized gods, or by child gods, their sons, who might be regarded as “brothers” or “husbands of their mothers,” to use the paradoxical Egyptian term.

Similarly Great Father deities had vaguely defined wives. The “Semitic” Baal, “the lord,” was accompanied by a female reflection of himself–Beltu, “the lady.” Shamash, the sun god, had for wife the shadowy Aa.

As has been shown, Ishtar is referred to in a Tammuz hymn as the mother of the child god of fertility. In an Egyptian hymn the sky goddess Nut, “the mother” of Osiris, is stated to have “built up life from her own body.” Sri or Lakshmi, the Indian goddess, who became the wife of Vishnu, as the mother goddess Saraswati, a tribal deity, became the wife of Brahma, was, according to a Purana commentator, “the mother of the world … eternal and undecaying.”

The gods, on the other hand, might die annually: the goddesses alone were immortal. Indra was supposed to perish of old age, but his wife, Indrani, remained ever young. There were fourteen Indras in every “day of Brahma”, a reference apparently to the ancient conception of Indra among the Great Mother-worshipping sections of the Aryo-Indians.

In the Mahabharata the god Shiva, as Mahadeva, commands Indra on “one of the peaks of Himavat,” where they met, to lift up a stone and join the Indras who had been before him. “And Indra on removing that stone beheld a cave on the breast of that king of mountains in which were four others resembling himself.”

Indra exclaimed in his grief, “Shall I be even like these?” These five Indras, like the “Seven Sleepers,” awaited the time when they would be called forth. They were ultimately reborn as the five Pandava warriors.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Amorous Queen of Heaven Sat as One in Darkness

“It is evident that there were various versions of the Tammuz myth in Ancient Babylonia. In one the goddess Ishtar visited Hades to search for the lover of her youth. A part of this form of the legend survives in the famous Assyrian hymn known as The Descent of Ishtar. It was first translated by the late Mr. George Smith, of the British Museum.

A box containing inscribed tablets had been sent from Assyria to London, and Mr. Smith, with characteristic patience and skill, arranged and deciphered them, giving to the world a fragment of ancient literature infused with much sublimity and imaginative power.

Ishtar is depicted descending to dismal Hades, where the souls of the dead exist in bird forms:

I spread like a bird my hands.

I descend, I descend to the house of darkness, the dwelling of the god Irkalla:

To the house out of which there is no exit,

To the road from which there is no return:

To the house from whose entrance the light is taken,

The place where dust is their nourishment and their food mud.

Its chiefs also are like birds covered with feathers;

The light is never seen, in darkness they dwell….

Over the door and bolts is scattered dust.

When the goddess reaches the gate of Hades she cries to the porter:

Keeper of the waters, open thy gate,

Open thy gate that I may enter.

If thou openest not the gate that I may enter

I will strike the door, the bolts I will shatter,

I will strike the threshold and will pass through the doors;

I will raise up the dead to devour the living,

Above the living the dead shall exceed in numbers.

The porter answers that he must first consult the Queen of Hades, here called Allatu, to whom he accordingly announces the arrival of the Queen of Heaven. Allatu’s heart is filled with anger, and makes reference to those whom Ishtar caused to perish:

Let me weep over the strong who have left their wives,

Let me weep over the handmaidens who have lost the embraces of their husbands,

Over the only son let me mourn, who ere his days are come is taken away.

Then she issues abruptly the stern decree:

Go, keeper, open the gate to her,

Bewitch her according to the ancient rules;

that is, “Deal with her as you deal with others who come here.”

As Ishtar enters through the various gates she is stripped of her ornaments and clothing. At the first gate her crown was taken off, at the second her ear-rings, at the third her necklace of precious stones, at the fourth the ornaments of her breast, at the fifth her gemmed waist-girdle, at the sixth the bracelets of her hands and feet, and at the seventh the covering robe of her body.

Ishtar asks at each gate why she is thus dealt with, and the porter answers, “Such is the command of Allatu.”

After descending for a prolonged period the Queen of Heaven at length stands naked before the Queen of Hades. Ishtar is proud and arrogant, and Allatu, desiring to punish her rival whom she cannot humble commands the plague demon, Namtar, to strike her with disease in all parts of her body. The effect of Ishtar’s fate was disastrous upon earth: growth and fertility came to an end.

Meanwhile Pap-sukal, messenger of the gods, hastened to Shamash, the sun deity, to relate what had occurred. The sun god immediately consulted his lunar father, Sin, and Ea, god of the deep. Ea then created a man lion, named Nadushu-namir, to rescue Ishtar, giving him power to pass through the seven gates of Hades. When this being delivered his message …

Allatu … struck her breast; she bit her thumb,

She turned again: a request she asked not.

In her anger she cursed the rescuer of the Queen of Heaven.

May I imprison thee in the great prison,

May the garbage of the foundations of the city be thy food,

May the drains of the city be thy drink,

May the darkness of the dungeon be thy dwelling,

May the stake be thy seat,

May hunger and thirst strike thy offspring.

She was compelled, however, to obey the high gods, and addressed Namtar, saying:

Unto Ishtar give the waters of life and bring her before me.

Thereafter the Queen of Heaven was conducted through the various gates, and at each she received her robe and the ornaments which were taken from her on entering. Namtar says:

Since thou hast not paid a ransom for thy deliverance to her (Allatu), so to her again turn back,

For Tammuz the husband of thy youth.

The glistening waters (of life) pour over him…

In splendid clothing dress him, with a ring of crystal adorn him.

Ishtar mourns for “the wound of Tammuz,” smiting her breast, and she did not ask for “the precious eye-stones, her amulets,” which were apparently to ransom Tammuz. The poem concludes with Ishtar’s wail:

O my only brother (Tammuz) thou dost not lament for me.

In the day that Tammuz adorned me, with a ring of crystal,

With a bracelet of emeralds, together with himself, he adorned me,

With himself he adorned me; may men mourners and women mourners

On a bier place him, and assemble the wake.

A Sumerian hymn to Tammuz throws light on this narrative. It sets forth that Ishtar descended to Hades to entreat him to be glad and to resume care of his flocks, but Tammuz refused or was unable to return.

His spouse unto her abode he sent back.

She then instituted the wailing ceremony:

The amorous Queen of Heaven sits as one in darkness.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Legend of the Usurper King Sargon of Akkad

“That there existed in Babylonia at an extremely remote period an agricultural myth regarding a Patriarch of divine origin who was rescued from a boat in his childhood, is suggested by the legend which was attached to the memory of the usurper King Sargon of Akkad. It runs as follows:

“I am Sargon, the mighty King of Akkad. My mother was a vestal (priestess), my father an alien, whose brother inhabited the mountain…. When my mother had conceived me, she bare me in a hidden place. She laid me in a vessel of rushes, stopped the door thereof with pitch, and cast me adrift on the river…. The river floated me to Akki, the water drawer, who, in drawing water, drew me forth. Akki, the water drawer, educated me as his son, and made me his gardener. As a gardener, I was beloved by the goddess Ishtar.”

It is unlikely that this story was invented by Sargon. Like the many variants of it found in other countries, it was probably founded on a form of the Tammuz-Adonis myth. Indeed, a new myth would not have suited Sargon’s purpose so well as the adaptation of an old one, which was more likely to make popular appeal when connected with his name.

The references to the goddess Ishtar, and Sargon’s early life as a gardener, suggest that the king desired to be remembered as an agricultural Patriarch, if not of divine, at any rate of semi-divine origin.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Attis Cult and the Baptism of Blood

“Tammuz died with the dying vegetation, and Diarmid expired when the hills apparently were assuming their purple tints. The month of Tammuz wailings was from 20th June till 20th July, when the heat and dryness brought forth the demons of pestilence. The mourners chanted:

He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,

And the dead are numerous in the land….

Men are filled with sorrow: they stagger by day in gloom …

In the month of thy year which brings not peace hast thou gone.

Thou hast gone on a journey that makes an end of thy people.

The following extract contains a reference to the slaying of the god:

The holy one of Ishtar, in the middle of the year the fields languish…

The shepherd, the wise one, the man of sorrows, why have they slain?…

In his temple, in his inhabited domain,

The child, lord of knowledge, abides no more…

In the meadows, verily, verily, the soul of life perishes.

There is wailing for Tammuz “at the sacred cedar, where the mother bore thee,” a reference which connects the god, like Adonis and Osiris, with tree worship:

The wailing is for the herbs: the first lament is, “they are not produced.”

The wailing is for the grain, ears are not produced.

The wailing is for the habitations, for the flocks which bring forth no more.

The wailing is for the perishing wedded ones; for the perishing children; the dark-headed people create no more.

The wailing is also for the shrunken river, the parched meadows, the fish pools, the cane brakes, the forests, the plains, the gardens, and the palace, which all suffer because the god of fertility has departed. The mourner cries:

How long shall the springing of verdure be restrained?

How long shall the putting forth of leaves be held back?

Whither went Tammuz? His destination has already been referred to as “the bosom of the earth,” and in the Assyrian version of the “Descent of Ishtar” he dwells in “the house of darkness” among the dead, “where dust is their nourishment and their food mud,” and “the light is never seen”–the gloomy Babylonian Hades.

In one of the Sumerian hymns, however, it is stated that Tammuz “upon the flood was cast out.” The reference may be to the submarine “house of Ea,” or the Blessed Island to which the Babylonian Noah was carried. In this Hades bloomed the nether “garden of Adonis.”

The following extract refers to the garden of Damu (Tammuz):–

Damu his youth therein slumbers …

Among the garden flowers he slumbers; among the garden flowers he is cast away …

Among the tamarisks he slumbers, with woe he causes us to be satiated.

Although Tammuz of the hymns was slain, he returned again from Hades. Apparently he came back as a child. He is wailed for as “child, Lord Gishzida,” as well as “my hero Damu.”

In his lunar character the Egyptian Osiris appeared each month as “the child surpassingly beautiful;” the Osiris bull was also a child of the moon; “it was begotten”, says Plutarch, “by a ray of generative light falling from the moon.”

When the bull of Attis was sacrificed his worshippers were drenched with its blood, and were afterwards ceremonially fed with milk, as they were supposed to have “renewed their youth” and become children.

The ancient Greek god Eros (Cupid) was represented as a wanton boy or handsome youth. Another god of fertility, the Irish Angus, who resembles Eros, is called “the ever young;” he slumbers like Tammuz and awakes in the Spring.

Apparently it was believed that the child god, Tammuz, returned from the earlier Sumerian Paradise of the Deep, and grew into full manhood in a comparatively brief period, like Vyasa and other super-men of Indian mythology. A couplet from a Tammuz hymn says tersely:

In his infancy in a sunken boat he lay.

In his manhood in the submerged grain he lay.

The “boat” may be the “chest” in which Adonis was concealed by Aphrodite when she confided him to the care of Persephone, queen of Hades, who desired to retain the young god, but was compelled by Zeus to send him back to the goddess of love and vegetation.

The fact that Ishtar descended to Hades in quest of Tammuz may perhaps explain the symbolic references in hymns to mother goddesses being in sunken boats also when their powers were in abeyance, as were those of the god for part of each year.

It is possible, too, that the boat had a lunar and a solar significance. Khonsu, the Egyptian moon god, for instance, was associated with the Spring sun, being a deity of fertility and therefore a corn spirit; he was a form of Osiris, the Patriarch, who sojourned on earth to teach mankind how to grow corn and cultivate fruit trees.

In the Egyptian legend Osiris received the corn seeds from Isis, which suggests that among Great-Mother-worshipping peoples, it was believed that agricultural civilization had a female origin.

The same myths may have been attached to corn gods and corn goddesses, associated with water, sun, moon, and stars.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, Adonis, Diarmid Derive from a More Ancient God of Fertility

“The Babylonian myth of Tammuz, the dying god, bears a close resemblance to the Greek myth of Adonis. It also links with the myth of Osiris. According to Professor Sayce, Tammuz is identical with “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” referred to by Berosus as the ruler of one of the mythical ages of Babylonia. We have therefore to deal with Tammuz in his twofold character as a patriarch and a god of fertility.

The Adonis version of the myth may be summarized briefly. Ere the god was born, his mother, who was pursued by her angry sire, as the river goddesses of the folk tales are pursued by the well demons, transformed herself into a tree.

Adonis sprang from the trunk of this tree, and Aphrodite, having placed the child in a chest, committed him to the care of Persephone, queen of Hades, who resembles the Babylonian Eresh-ki-gal. Persephone desired to retain the young god, and Aphrodite (Ishtar) appealed to Zeus (Anu), who decreed that Adonis should spend part of the year with one goddess and part of the year with the other.

It is suggested that the myth of Adonis was derived in post-Homeric times by the Greeks indirectly from Babylonia through the Western Semites, the Semitic title “Adon,” meaning “lord,” having been mistaken for a proper name. This theory, however, cannot be accepted without qualifications.

It does not explain the existence of either the Phrygian myth of Attis, which was developed differently from the Tammuz myth, or the Celtic story of “Diarmid and the boar,” which belongs to the archaeological “Hunting Period.”

There are traces in Greek mythology of pre-Hellenic myths about dying harvest deities, like Hyakinthos and Erigone, for instance, who appear to have been mourned for. There is every possibility, therefore, that the Tammuz ritual may have been attached to a harvest god of the pre-Hellenic Greeks, who received at the same time the new name of Adonis.

Osiris of Egypt resembles Tammuz, but his Mesopotamian origin has not been proved. It would appear probable that Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, and the deities represented by Adonis and Diarmid were all developed from an archaic god of fertility and vegetation, the central figure of a myth which was not only as ancient as the knowledge and practice of agriculture, but had existence even in the “Hunting Period.”

Traces of the Tammuz-Osiris story in various forms are found all over the area occupied by the Mediterranean or Brown race from Sumeria to the British Isles. Apparently the original myth was connected with tree and water worship and the worship of animals.

Adonis sprang from a tree; the body of Osiris was concealed in a tree which grew round the sea-drifted chest in which he was concealed. Diarmid concealed himself in a tree when pursued by Finn.

The blood of Tammuz, Osiris, and Adonis reddened the swollen rivers which fertilized the soil. Various animals were associated with the harvest god, who appears to have been manifested from time to time in different forms, for his spirit pervaded all nature. In Egypt the soul of Osiris entered the Apis bull or the ram of Mendes.

Tammuz in the hymns is called “the pre-eminent steer of heaven,” and a popular sacrifice was “a white kid of the god Tammuz,” which, however, might be substituted by a sucking pig. Osiris had also associations with swine, and the Egyptians, according to Herodotus, sacrificed a pig to him annually.

When Set at full moon hunted the boar in the Delta marshes, he probably hunted the boar form of Osiris, whose human body had been recovered from the sacred tree by Isis.

As the soul of Bata, the hero of the Egyptian folk tale, migrated from the blossom to the bull, and the bull to the tree, so apparently did the soul of Osiris pass from incarnation to incarnation. Set, the demon slayer of the harvest god, had also a boar form; he was the black pig who devoured the waning moon and blinded the Eye of Ra.

In his character as a long-lived patriarch, Tammuz, the King Daonus or Daos of Berosus, reigned in Babylonia for 36,000 years. When he died, he departed to Hades or the Abyss. Osiris, after reigning over the Egyptians, became Judge of the Dead.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Tammuz

“Among the gods of Babylonia none achieved wider and more enduring fame than Tammuz, who was loved by Ishtar, the amorous Queen of Heaven–the beautiful youth who died and was mourned for and came to life again. He does not figure by his popular name in any of the city pantheons, but from the earliest times of which we have knowledge until the passing of Babylonian civilization, he played a prominent part in the religious life of the people.

Tammuz, like Osiris of Egypt, was an agricultural deity, and as the Babylonian harvest was the gift of the rivers, it is probable that one of his several forms was Dumu-zi-abzu, “Tammuz of the Abyss.” He was also “the child,” “the heroic lord,” “the sentinel,” “the healer,” and the patriarch who reigned over the early Babylonians for a considerable period.

“Tammuz of the Abyss” was one of the members of the family of Ea, god of the Deep, whose other sons, in addition to Merodach, were Nira, an obscure deity; Ki-gulla, “world destroyer,” Burnunta-sa, “broad ear,” and Bara and Baragulla, probably “revealers” or “oracles.” In addition there was a daughter, Khi-dimme-azaga, “child of the renowned spirit”. She may have been identical with Belit-sheri, who is referred to in the Sumerian hymns as the sister of Tammuz.

This family group was probably formed by symbolizing the attributes of Ea and his spouse Damkina. Tammuz, in his character as a patriarch, may have been regarded as a hostage from the gods: the human form of Ea, who instructed mankind, like King Osiris, how to grow corn and cultivate fruit trees. As the youth who perished annually, he was the corn spirit. He is referred to in the Bible by his Babylonian name.

When Ezekiel detailed the various idolatrous practices of the Israelites, which included the worship of the sun and “every form of creeping things and abominable beasts”–a suggestion of the composite monsters of Babylonia–he was brought “to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house, which was towards the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”

The weeping ceremony was connected with agricultural rites. Corn deities were weeping deities, they shed fertilizing tears; and the sowers simulated the sorrow of divine mourners when they cast seed in the soil “to die,” so that it might spring up as corn. This ancient custom, like many others, contributed to the poetic imagery of the Bible. “They that sow in tears,” David sang, “shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

In Egypt the priestesses who acted the parts of Isis and Nepthys, mourned for the slain corn god Osiris.

Gods and men before the face of the gods are weeping for

thee at the same time, when they behold me!…

All thy sister goddesses are at thy side and behind thy couch,

Calling upon thee with weeping–yet thou are prostrate upon thy bed!…

Live before us, desiring to behold thee.

It was believed to be essential that human beings should share the universal sorrow caused by the death of a god. If they remained unsympathetic, the deities would punish them as enemies. Worshippers of nature gods, therefore, based their ceremonial practices on natural phenomena.

“The dread of the worshippers that the neglect of the usual ritual would be followed by disaster, is particularly intelligible,” writes Professor Robertson Smith, “if they regarded the necessary operations of agriculture as involving the violent extinction of a particle of divine life.”

By observing their ritual, the worshippers won the sympathy and co-operation of deities, or exercised a magical control over nature.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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