The World Tree of Eridu

by Esteban

“But the primitive home of Tammuz had been in that “garden” of Edin, or Eden, which Babylonian tradition placed in the immediate vicinity of Eridu. The fragment of an old bilingual hymn has been preserved, which begins in the following way :

1. “(In) Eridu a stalk grew over-shadowing; in a holy place did it become green;

2. its root ([sur]sum) was of white crystal which stretched towards the deep;

3. (before) Ea was its course in Eridu, teeming with fertility;

4. its seat was the (central) place of the earth;

5. its foliage was the couch of Zikum (the primeval) mother.

6. Into the heart of its holy house which spread its shade like a forest hath no man entered.

7. (There is the home) of the mighty mother who passes across the sky.

8. (In) the midst of it was Tammuz.

10. (There is the shrine) of the two (gods).”

The description reminds us of the famous Ygg-drasil of Norse mythology, the world-tree whose roots descend into the world of death, while its branches rise into Asgard, the heaven of the gods.

The Babylonian poet evidently imagined his tree also to be a world-tree, whose roots stretched downwards into the abysmal deep, where Ea presided, nourishing the earth with the springs and streams that forced their way upwards from it to the surface of the ground.

Its seat was the earth itself, which stood midway between the deep below and Zikum, the primordial heavens, above, who rested as it were upon the overshadowing branches of the mighty “stem.” Within it, it would seem, was the holy house of Dav-kina, “the great mother,” and of Tammuz her son, a temple too sacred and far hidden in the recesses of the earth for mortal man to enter.

It is perhaps a reminiscence of this mystic temple that we find in the curious work on Nabathean Agriculture, composed in the fourth or fifth century by a Mandaite of Chaldea, where we are told of the temple of the sun in Babylon, in which the images of the gods from all the countries of the world gathered themselves together to weep for Tammuz.

What the tree or “stalk” was which sprang up like the bean-stalk of our old nursery tale, is indicated in the magical text to which the fragment about it has been appended. In this, Ea describes to Merodach the means whereby he is to cure a man who is possessed of the seven evil spirits.

He is first to go to “the cedar-tree, the tree that shatters the power of the incubus, upon whose core the name of Ea is recorded,” and then, with the help of “a good masal” or phylactery which is placed on the sick man’s head as he lies in bed at night, to invoke the aid of the Fire-god to expel the demons.

It is the cedar, therefore, which played the same part in Babylonian magic as the rowan ash of northern Europe, and which was believed to be under the special protection of Ea; and the parallel, therefore, between the ash Ygg-drasil of Norse mythology and the world-tree of the poet of Eridu becomes even closer than before.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 237-40.