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Category: Zikum

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.

Unu-ki = Unuk = Uruk = Erech

“It was not of Semitic foundation, however. Its earliest name was the Accadian Unu-ki or Unuk, “the place of the settlement,” of which the collateral form Uruk does not seem to have come into vogue before the Semitic period.

If I am right in identifying Unuk with the Enoch of Genesis, the city built by Kain in commemoration of his first-born son, Unuk must be regarded as having received its earliest culture from Eridu, since Enoch was the son of Jared, according to Genesis iv, and Jared or Irad (Genesis iv.) is the same word as Eridu.

The local god of Erech, however, was not Ea, the god of the river and sea, but Ana, the sky. Thus whereas at Eridu the present creation was believed to have originated out of water, the sky being the primeval goddess Zikum or Zigara, mother alike of Ea and the other gods, at Erech the sky was itself the god and the creator of the visible universe.

The two cosmologies are antagonistic to one another, and produced manifold inconsistencies in the later syncretic age of Babylonian religion.

But it was not in Erech alone that the sky was considered divine. Throughout Chaldea, Ana, “the sky,” received worship, and the oldest magical texts invoke “the spirit of the sky” by the side of that of the earth. What distinguished the worship of Ana at Erech was that here alone he was the chief deity of the local cult, that here alone he had ceased to be a subordinate spirit, and had become a dingir or “creator.”

Of this pre-Semitic period in the worship of Ana we know but little. It is only when he has become the Anu of the Semites and has undergone considerable changes in his character and worship, that we make our first true acquaintance with him.

We come to know him as the Semitic Baal-samaim, or “lord of heaven,” the supreme Baal, viewed no longer as the Sun-god, but as the whole expanse of heaven which is illuminated by the sun.

How early this must have been is shown by the extension of his name as far west as Palestine. In the records of the Egyptian conqueror Thothmes III., in the 16th century before our era, mention is made of the Palestinian town of Beth-bath, “the temple of Anat,” the female double of Anu.

Another Beth-Anath was included within the borders of the tribe of Naphtali (Joshua xix.38); and Anathoth, whose name shows us that, besides the Ashtaroth or “Astartes,” the Canaanites venerated their local goddesses under the title of “Anats,” was a city of the priests.

Anah or Anat was the daughter of the Hivite Zibeon and mother-in-law of Esau (Genesis xxxvi. 1,14), and by her side we hear of Anah or Anu, the son of the Horite Zibeon, who “found the mules (or hot-springs) in the wilderness as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.” But Anu did not make his way westward alone.”

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. 185-8.

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