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Category: Fire God

The World Tree of Eridu

“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.

Hymns On the Seven Matu Gods

An Accadian hymn about the Seven Harmful Spirits:

  1. “They are the destructive reptiles, even the winds that create evil!
  2. as an evil reptile, as an evil wind, do they appear!
  3. as an evil reptile, as an evil wind, who marches in front are they !
  4. Children monstrous (gitmalutu), monstrous sons are they!
  5. Messengers of the pest-demon are they!
  6. Throne-bearers of the goddess of Hades are they!
  7. The whirlwind (mátu) which is poured upon the land are they!
  8. The seven are gods of the wide-spread heaven.
  9. The seven are gods of the wide-spread earth.
  10. The seven are gods of the (four) zones.
  11. The seven are gods seven in number.
  12. Seven evil gods are they!
  13. Seven evil demons are they!
  14. Seven evil consuming spirits are they!
  15. In heaven are they seven, in earth are they seven!”
Four faced wind demon. Old Babylonian Period, 18th-17th century B.C. Purchased in Baghdad, 1930 Oriental Institute Museum A7119 University of Chicago https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Four faced wind demon. Old Babylonian Period, 18th-17th century B.C.
Purchased in Baghdad, 1930
Oriental Institute Museum A7119
University of Chicago
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

From H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iv. 1. ii. 65–iii. 26; 2. v. 30-59:

  1. “Seven are they, seven are they!
  2. In the hollow of the deep, seven are they!
  3. (In) the glory of heaven, seven are they!
  4. In the hollow of the deep in a palace grew they up! (In the original, “from the hollow …. came they forth”).
  5. Male they are not, female they are not!
  6. They are the dust-storm, the travelled ones are they!
  7. Wife they possess not, child is unborn to them.
  8. Order and kindliness know they not.
  9. They hearken not to prayer and supplication.
  10. From the horse of the mountain came they forth.
  11. Of Ea are they the foes.
  12. The throne-bearers of the gods are they.
  13. To trouble the canal in the street are they set.
  14. Evil are they, evil are they!
  15. Seven are they, seven are they, seven doubly said are they!”
Four faced statuette, representing the god of the four winds. The god wears a low cap with a pair of horns meeting above each face. He carries a scimitar in his right hand and places his left foot upon the back of a crouching ram.  https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Four faced statuette, representing the god of the four winds. The god wears a low cap with a pair of horns meeting above each face. He carries a scimitar in his right hand and places his left foot upon the back of a crouching ram.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Another poet of Eridu, in a hymn to the Fire-god, speaks of the seven spirits in similar language:

  1. “O god of Fire,” he asks, “how were those seven begotten, how grew they up?
  2. Those seven in the mountain of the sunset were born;
  3. those seven in the mountain of the sunrise grew up.”

Throughout they are regarded as elemental powers, and their true character as destructive winds and tempests is but thinly veiled by a cloak of poetic imagery. But it will be noticed that they already belong to the harmful side of nature; and though the word which I have rendered “evil,” after the example of the Semitic translators, means rather “injurious” than “evil” in our sense of the word, they are already the products of night and darkness; their birth-place is the mountain behind which the sun sinks into the gloomy lower world.

 In the 22nd book of the great work on Astronomy, compiled for Sargon of Accad, they are termed “the seven great spirits” or galli, and it is therefore possible that they had already been identified with the “seven gods of destiny,” the Anúna-ge or “spirits of the lower world,” of the cult of Nipur.

In their gradual development into the Semite Rimmon, the spirits of the air underwent a change of parentage.

Mâtu, as we have seen, was, like his kindred wind-gods of Eridu, the offspring of Ea. But the home of the wind is rather the sky than the deep, and Meri, “the shining firmament,” was naturally associated with the sky.

When Ana, “the sky,” therefore, became the Semitic Anu, Rimmon, who united in himself Mâtu and Meri and other local gods of wind and weather as well, was made his son.”

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. 207-8.

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