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Category: Irkalla

Moon Gods

Adar bears the same relation to Mul-lil that Merodach bears to Ea. Each alike is the son and messenger of the older god.

But whereas the errands upon which Merodach is sent are errands of mercy and benevolence, the errands of Adar are those that befit an implacable warrior. He contends not against the powers of darkness, like Merodach, for the father whose orders he obeys is himself the ruler of the powers of darkness; it is against mankind, as in the story of the Deluge, that his arms are directed. He is a solar hero who belongs to the darkness and not to the light.

It is thus that one of his brothers is “the first-born” of Mul-lil, Mul-nugi, “the lord from whom there is no return.” Mul-nugi is the lord of Hades, the god who is called Irkalla in the legend of the Descent of Istar, and out of whose hands there is no escape.

It may be that he is but another form of the Moon-god, since the Moon-god, we are told, was also the eldest son of Mul-lil. But the name by which the Moon-god went at Nipur was one that signified “the god of glowing fire.”

It is curious to find the mythologists identifying this “god of glowing fire” with Adar; but the error was natural; both alike were sons of Mul-lil, and both alike represented the great orbs of heaven.

The chief seat, however, of the worship of the Moon-god was not Nipur but Ur (the modern Mugheir). Here stood the great temple the ruins of which were partially explored by Loftus.

Already in the oldest documents that have come from thence, the god to whom the temple was consecrated is identified with the Moon-god of Nipur. Already he is termed “the first-born of Mul-lil.” The spread of the cult of Mul-lil, therefore, and of the magic which it implied, must have made its way as far south as Ur in a very remote age.

But we have no reason for believing that the Moon-god of Ur and the Moon-god of Nipur were originally one and the same. Each Babylonian town, large and small, had its own local Moon-god, whose several names are recorded on a broken tablet.

The forms under which the Moon-god was worshipped in Babylonia were as numerous as the forms of the Sun- god himself.

What seems yet more singular to the comparative mythologist is that, according to the official religion of Chaldea, the Sun-god was the offspring of the Moon-god.

Such a belief could have arisen only where the Moon-god was the supreme object of worship. It is a reversal of the usual mythological conception which makes the moon the companion or pale reflection of the sun. It runs directly counter to the Semitic Baal-worship.

To the Semite the Sun-god was the lord and father of the gods; the moon was either his female consort, or, where Semitic theology had been influenced by that of Chaldea, an inferior god.”

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. 153-5.

Gilgamesh and Eabani Kill the Bull of Heaven

“To resume the tale: In her wrath and humiliation Ishtar appealed to her father and mother, Anu and Anatu, and begged the former to create a mighty bull and send it against Gilgamesh.

Anu at first demurred, declaring that if he did so it would result in seven years’ sterility on the earth; but finally he consented, and a great bull, Alu, was sent to do battle with Gilgamesh.

The portion of the text which deals with the combat is much mutilated, but it appears that the conflict was hot and sustained, the celestial animal finally succumbing to a sword-thrust from Gilgamesh. Ishtar looks on in impotent anger.

“Then Ishtar went up on to the wall of strong-walled Erech; she mounted to the top and she uttered a curse, (saying),

‘Cursed be Gilgamesh, who has provoked me to anger, and has slain the bull from heaven.’”

Then Eabani incurs the anger of the deity —“

When Eabani heard these words of Ishtar, he tore out the entrails of the bull, and he cast them before her, saying,

‘As for thee, I will conquer thee, and I will do to thee even as I have done to him.’”

Ishtar was beside herself with rage. Gilgamesh and his companion dedicated the great horns of the bull to the sun-god, and having washed their hands in the river Euphrates, returned once more to Erech. As the triumphal procession passed through the city the people came out of their houses to do honour to the heroes.

The remainder of the tablet is concerned with a great banquet given by Gilgamesh to celebrate his victory over the bull Alu, and with further visions of Eabani.

The Vllth and VlIIth tablets are extremely fragmentary, and so much of the text as is preserved is open to various readings. It is possible that to the Vllth tablet belongs a description of the underworld given to Eabani in a dream by the temple-maiden Ukhut, whom he had cursed in a previous tablet, and who had since died.

The description answers to that given in another ancient text—the myth of Ishtar’s descent into Hades—and evidently embodies the popular belief concerning the underworld.

“Come, descend with me to the house of darkness, the abode of Irkalla, to the house whence the enterer goes not forth, to the path whose way has no return, to the house whose dwellers are deprived of light, where dust is their nourishment and earth their food. They are clothed, like the birds, in a garment of feathers; they see not the light, they dwell in darkness.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 168-70.

Myths of Tammuz and Ishtar

“The myth of Tammuz is one of high antiquity, dating possibly from 4000 b.c. or even earlier.

Both Tammuz and Ishtar were originally non-Semitic, the name of the former deity being derived from the Akkadian Dumu-zi, ‘son of life,’ or ‘the only son,’ perhaps a contraction of Dumu-zi-apsu, ‘offspring of the spirit of the deep,’ as Professor Sayce indicates. The ‘spirit of the deep’ is, of course, the water-god Ea, and Tammuz apparently typifies the sun, though he is not, as will presently be seen, a simple solar deity, but a god who unites in himself the attributes of various departmental divinities.

An ancient Akkadian hymn addresses Tammuz as “Shepherd and lord, husband of Ishtar the lady of heaven, lord of the under-world, lord of the shepherd’s seat;” as grain which lies unwatered in the meadow, which beareth no green blade; as a sapling planted in a waterless place; as a sapling torn out by the root.

Professor Sayce identifies him with that Daonus, or Daos, whom Berossus states to have been the sixth king of Babylonia during the mythical period. Tammuz is the shepherd of the sky, and his flocks and herds, like those of St. Ilya in Slavonic folk-lore, are the cloud-cattle and the fleecy vapours of the heavens.

Ishtar has from an early period been associated with Tammuz as his consort, as she has, indeed, with Merodach and Assur and other deities. Yet she is by no means a mere reflection of the male divinity, but has a distinct individuality of her own, differing in this from all other Babylonian goddesses and betraying her non-Semitic origin.

The widespread character of the worship of Ishtar is remarkable. None of the Babylonian or Assyrian deities were adopted into the pantheons of so many alien races. From the Persian Gulf to the pillars of Hercules she was adored as the great mother of all living. She has been identified with Dawkina, wife of Ea, and is therefore mother of Tammuz as well as his consort.

This dual relationship may account for that which appears in later myths among the Greeks, where Smyrna, mother of Adonis, is also his sister. Ishtar was regarded sometimes as the daughter of the sky-god Anu, and sometimes as the child of Sin, the lunar deity.

Her worship in Babylonia was universal, and in time displaced that of Tammuz himself. The love of Ishtar for Tammuz represents the wooing of the sun-god of spring-time by the goddess of fertility; the god is slain by the relentless heat of summer, and there is little doubt that Ishtar enters Aralu in search of her youthful husband.

The poem we are about to consider briefly deals with a part only of the myth— the story of Ishtar’s descent into Aralu. It opens thus :

“To the land of No-return, the region of darkness, Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her ear, even Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her ear, to the abode of darkness, the dwelling of Irkalla, to the house whose enterer goes not forth, to the road whence the wayfarer never returns, to the house whose inhabitants see no light, to the region where dust is their bread and their food mud; they see no light, they dwell in darkness, they are clothed, like the birds, in a garment of feathers. On the door and the bolt hath the dust fallen.”

The moral contained in this passage is a gloomy one for mortal man; he who enters the dread precincts of Aralu goes not forth, he is doomed to remain for ever in the enveloping darkness, his sustenance mud and dust. The mention of the dust which lies “on door and bolt” strikes a peculiarly bleak and dreary note; like other primitive races the ancient Babylonians painted the other world not definitely as a place of reward or punishment, but rather as a weak reflection of the earth-world, a region of darkness and passive misery which must have offered a singularly uninviting prospect to a vigorous human being.

The garment of feathers is somewhat puzzling. Why should the dead wear a garment of feathers? Unless it be that the sun-god, identified in some of his aspects with the eagle, descends into the underworld in a dress of feathers, and that therefore mortals who follow him must appear in the nether regions in similar guise.

The description above quoted of the Babylonian Hades tallies with that given in dream to Eabani by the temple-maiden Ukhut (Gilgamesh epic, tablet VII).”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 126-9.

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.

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