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Tag: 2006

On the Ineffable

yama_tibet

This 18th century depiction of Yamantaka, a violent expression of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, defeats Yama, god of death, and demolishes the cycle of samsara on the path to enlightenment. This painting, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was purchased in 1969 courtesy of a bequest by Florence Waterbury. Its Accession Number is 69.71. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional public domain work of art. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years.

This is my review of Nick Stockton’s “Time Might Only Exist in Your Head. And Everyone Else’s.” From Wired, 26 September, 2016. Published at 0600 hrs. I later modified this piece on 17 October, 2016. It keeps bothering me like a splinter in my mind. In its current revision, it comprises 2,537 words.

“Some physicists blame gravity for time. Others blame observers. Time, the arrow of time, the linearity of time flowing from the infinite past through the present into the indefinite future, cannot exist unless an intelligence, something sentient, exists to observe it, they say.

The moment when particle physics and classical mechanics merge is called “decoherence,” and it also happens to be the moment when time’s direction becomes mathematically important.

Mr. Stockton’s article points out that superposition in quantum mechanics means that an electron can exist in either of two places, a property called probability, but it is impossible to say where an electron is until that electron is actually observed.

Some physicists also say that what matters is not whether time exists, but what direction that time flows. (Claus Kiefer, “Can the Arrow of Time Be Understood From Quantum Cosmology?” in L. Mersini-Houghton and R. Vaas, The Arrow of Time, Springer, Berlin, 2010.)

I marvel that anything can move at all, as any distance can incorporate an infinitude simply by holding your fingers a centimeter apart.

Your fingertips are not necessary, of course. You can imagine an infinite digression between any two points. You can even imagine the digression without the points, which is where things get interesting for me.

Not surprisingly, this reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), in the academic tradition of droll footnotes, citing “the last magician,” Isaac Newton, saying that “Each particle of space is eternal, each indivisible moment of duration is everywhere.” Principia, III, 42. (Isaac Newton, Newton’s Principia, New York: Daniel Adee, 1846. Borges wrote his 1946 revision of “A New Refutation of Time” in Sur, 1944. Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions, Penguin, 1999.)

How anything can leap across the infinitudes separating all things from everything else mystifies me, and how we can imagine infinity without beginning or without end leaves me without words.

Miraculously, everything in this multiverse can leap infinities, and so we have progression, which is synonymous with time. Even using a term like “infinity” forces a compromise upon us, it is a convention, and these are the paradoxes that compel some physicists to suspect that time emerges from decoherence.

Mr. Stockton’s article explains that the most prominent theory addressing decoherence is the 1960’s-era Wheeler-DeWitt equation, by Dr. Bryce DeWitt and Dr. John Archibald Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler claimed that this equation “erases the seams between quantum and classical mechanics.”

Then Mr. Stockton acknowledges the weirdness underlying decoherence and “so-called quantum gravity.” I love the fact that physicists use a term like “weird” and nobody thinks that it is strange. Because these matters are supremely weird.

The second law of thermodynamics ordains that the amount of disorder, or entropy, in our multiverse will always increase. In 1865 Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) infamously observed: “The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” This is the source of the directionality of time: disorder always increases, so time can only move in one direction.

The Wheeler-DeWitt equation notoriously does not include a variable for time. Time, it says, is something that cannot be measured in terms of itself: in physics it is measured as correlations between an object’s location.

In this article, however, the writers (Dr. Robert Lanza and Dr. Yasunori Nomura) insist that gravity is too slow to account for a universal arrow of time.

Worse, because the Wheeler-DeWitt equations do not explain why time moves from the past through the present to the future–in other words, the directionality of time is not explained by the Wheeler-DeWitt equations–all that remains to be examined is us, meaning we, the observers.

One of the writers, Dr. Robert Lanza, founded biocentrism, a theory that space and time are constructs of biological sensory limitations.

Dr. Lanza speculates that time moves as it does because humans, and other sentient beings, for that matter, are biologically, neurologically and philosophically hardwired to experience time in that way.

In fact, Dr. Lanza says, “In his papers on relativity, Einstein showed that time was relative to the observer.”

I do not see how it could be otherwise. While you can claim that mathematics exists independently of human perception, because equations do not depend upon witnesses to observe them, we obviously only know about mathematics because we perceive such equations.

I will go one step further and say that equations, all the equations in an infinitude of mathematics, already exist, and merely await a conjunction of time and sentience to be discovered. But they are already there. We are just not yet smart enough to discern them.

Tibetan Buddhism, in fact, features a category of knowledge of this kind, calling it terma. It refers to objects or ideas which are surfaced to human knowledge when we as a species are ready for them. Some believe that we knew this information in earlier incarnations, and we forgot it, as we submerged into ignorance and amnesia. Now we are gradually, slowly, reawakening.

Dr. Lanza, this article says, goes even further, saying that we the observers create time and its directionality. This is actually a very old idea, and I discuss it in an article that I published on this site almost a year ago, Smoke Signals: Borges, Tzahi Weiss, Kabbalah.

Is it possible to say that there is an independent time, a time that exists without anyone or anything to perceive it? I suppose so. Is there also a time that exists because we perceive it? I think that this is inescapable.

Borges says:

” … Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations.

Our destiny (as contrasted with the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and ironclad.

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

(Jorge Luis BorgesSelected Non-Fictions, 1999, p. 290.)

The time that you experience is not the same time that I experience. Neither of us experiences time as Borges did. Can “the concept of time be defined mathematically without including observers in the system?”

One stance says no, as there is no way to subtract observers from the equations, as equations by default, almost by definition, you could say, are performed by sentient intelligences.

Dr. Yasunori Nomura states that these equations also fail to consider that the entire multiverse as we perceive it exists in a medium that we call spacetime.

By definition, when you talk about spacetime, he says, “you are already talking about a decohered system.”

This article concludes, like most interpretations of spacetime, that everything is relative, everything is subjective.

We are in self-defined prisons of perception, but we imagine paradises where we share the same perceptions, the same spacetime, and we perceive the same physics. The sad thing is, this is maya, or illusion. Some of us know better, and we have been told.

We do not need these physics, not for awakening from the stupor of the mind to anatta, the emptiness of the self, the realization of the non-duality of the absolute and the relative.

Think on this for a moment. The absolute and the relative form a duality that is artificial, this is a construct that we create to help us understand what we perceive. It is, in a sense, a filter. We need no such filters.

Borges, in the quote above, in a denial of denial, refused to renounce temporal succession, rejected the renunciation of the self, repudiated the rejection of the astronomical universe, and dismissed the effort as an “apparent desperation,” slyly condemning it as a “secret consolation.”

It was long a secret, as Tibet was closed to mankind for centuries, but Borges understood what he was rejecting. Borges referred to “the hell of Tibetan mythology” for precisely this reason, and that is why I illustrated this article with a painting depicting Yamantaka, just one aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, vanquishing Yama, the god of death. Borges was telling those of us with eyes to see that he was an idealist, not a nihilist. Borges concluded that we manifest everything.

It is useful, I think, to consider Borges’ reference to fire by juxtapositioning it to this excerpt from the Buddha’s Fire Sermon:

Bikkhus, form is burning, feeling is burning, perception is burning, volitional formations are burning, consciousness is burning. Seeing this, bikkhus, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards form … feeling … perception …. volitional formations … consciousness …Through dispassion [this mind] is liberated…”

Adittapariyaya Sutta, or the Aditta Sutta, aka The Fire Sermon

In Theravada Buddhism, anatta is considered the no-self or no-soul doctrine. In Mahayana Buddhism, true knowledge is comprehending emptiness.

It is not understood by laymen, much less by our physicists in this article, but Buddhism is inimical to the concept of a soul. Nirvana is the state attained when the practitioner realizes that he has no self, and he has no soul. Self-negation attains its ultimate realization as it vanishes.

In Sanskrit and Pali, nirvana means “blown out,” in the same sense that a candle flame is snuffed. I am certain that Borges knew. Borges knew everything, he read all books, and he made few mistakes.

These ideas contradict the Western philosophical tradition, our mathematics, our physics, our spacetime, even though Hinduism insists that there is an eternal atman, and an ultimate metaphysical reality. Contradictions and confusions abound.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1, the atman is expressed as “I am” at an eternal moment when nothing existed at the beginning of the multiverse. Because we built the Hubble telescope, we estimate that this eternal moment transformed into the Big Bang and this multiverse approximately 13.7 billion years ago.

Using Hubble, we can measure the speed and distances of galaxies, and hence how fast our multiverse is expanding. Comparing these measurements to the age of the oldest globular star clusters gives us a figure of 13 billion years, which compares favorably to the 14 billion years of our observable multiverse.

Due to the speed of light, Hubble cannot see further than 14 billion years away. When the James W. Webb telescope comes online, we expect to confirm that our observable multiverse represents a tenth of the theoretical galaxies on the near side of our cosmological horizon.

But when you consider that the Big Bang might have been just the latest in an infinite series of singularities, interspersed by an unknowable number of periods of quantum potential, the possibility that the multiverse is infinite, literally without end, looms.

So is consciousness 14 billion years old? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is one of the oldest, dated to approximately 700 BCE, but this is a compromise, as scholarly estimates range between 900 BCE to 600 BCE, preceding Buddhism.

Human consciousness is very young, even assuming that the priests of Neith who admonished Solon in the Timaeus were correct, the Timaeus is dated to 360 BCE, and I am mindful that when the Temple of Neith in Sais was excavated no records of ancient conflagrations or deluges were recovered. But how old is cosmic consciousness? It is absurd that we even imagine the question.

When the atman awakes, the Hindu say, it is synonymous with Brahman, the basis of everything, indistinguishable in my mind from God, and this is the path to liberation, or so they say.

It is helpful to cite this Upanishad’s verse 1.4.1 in its entirety, as it redolently presages Genesis.

“In the beginning, this (universe) was but the self (Virāj) of a human form. He reflected and found nothing else but himself. He first uttered, ‘I am he.’ Therefore he was called Aham (I). Hence, to this day, when a person is addressed, he first says, ‘It is I,’ and then says the other name that he may have. Because he was first and before this whole (band of aspirants) burnt all evils, therefore he is called Puruṣa. He who knows thus indeed burns one who wants to be (Virāj) before him.”

(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1.)

As perplexed as I am by yet another reference to fire, the Buddhist Suttas, or Sutras, as I prefer, insist that everything, especially nirvana, is non-self, total non-attachment. The Suttas in Pali refer exclusively to the scriptures of the early Pali Canon, the canonical works of Theravada Buddhism, which are said to be the oral teachings of the Buddha.

The Buddha himself admonished the Sangha not to deify his person, so I prefer the Sutras, the less exclusive, more encompassing genre of ancient Indian texts, which include the foundational works of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The Buddha started the Wheel of Karma turning as he preached his first sermon at  the Deer Park in Sarnath near Benares, early in the 5th century BCE. It was in his second sermon that he expounded on the no-soul thesis, anatta-vada, which some Western academics criticize as “an extreme empiricist doctrine.” (Brian Morris, Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction (London: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 51.)

Anatta is one of the three characteristics of existence in Buddhism, with anicca, or impermanence, and dukkha, or suffering. The three comprise the samsara cycle of existence, addressed in canonical Buddhist texts like the Dhammapada.

The Four Noble Truths insist that there is a way out of samsara. I interpret spacetime as samsara, yet another filter created by subjective consciousness, to help us make sense of our multiverse.

In anatta, the mind returns to its original prelinguistic emptiness of non-attachment, non-discrimination, and non-duality, and the awakening, as it is described, entails the absorption of cessation: it is tantamount to the dissolution of the self.

This “pure consciousness event” is wakeful, without content, and completely non-intentional. It goes without saying that our spacetime and our cosmological horizon are irrelevant to it: It is ineffable. (Yaroslav Komarkovski, Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Experience, (London: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 28.)

As Borges said, we are indistinguishable from spacetime. We do not need eyes to see, so death, transformation, is dissolution into nothingness, which many religious traditions summarize as the godhead.

Ironically, it was William James who said:

“The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words.”

(William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 1982.)”

Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez, “On the Ineffable”

Bangkok, 17 October, 2016

Eco: Bruno: Ars Combinatoria and Infinite Worlds

1280px-Relief_Bruno_Campo_dei_Fiori_n1

Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), The Trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition, bronze relief, Campo de’Fiori, Rome. This bas relief graces the pedestal of the statue of Bruno at Campo de’Fiori in Rome. The collected works of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) are in the Bibliotheca Bruniana Electronica at the Warburg Institute, with others at the Esoteric Archives. This photo dated 2006 by Jastrow is in the public domain. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.    

Giordano Bruno’s cosmological vision presented a world without ends, whose circumference, as Nicholas of Cusa had already argued, was nowhere to be found, and whose center was everywhere, at whatever point the observer chose to contemplate the universe in its infinity and substantial unity.

The panpsychism of Bruno had a Neoplatonic foundation: there was but a single divine breath, one principle of motion pervading the whole of the infinite universe, determining it in its infinite variety of forms.

The master idea of an infinite number of worlds was compounded with the notion that every earthly object can also serve as the Platonic shade of other ideal aspects of the universe. Thus every object exists not only in itself, but as a possible sign, deferral, image, emblem, hieroglyph of something else.

This worked also by contrast: an image can lead us back to the unity of the infinite even through its opposite. As Bruno wrote in his Eroici furori, “To contemplate divine things we need to open our eyes by using figures, similitudes, or any of the other images that the Peripatetics knew under the name of phantasms” (Dialoghi italiani, Florence: Sansei, 1958: 1158).

Where they did not emerge directly from his own inflamed imagination, Bruno chose images found in the Hermetic repertoire. These served as storehouses of revelations because of a naturally symbolic relationship that held between them and reality.

Their function was no longer, as in previous arts of memory, that of merely helping to order information for ease of recall, or this was, at least, by now a minor aspect: their function was rather that of helping to understand. Bruno’s images permitted the mind to discover the essence of things and their relations to each other.

The power of revelation stored inside these images was founded on their origin in far-off Egypt. Our distant progenitors worshipped cats and crocodiles because “a simple divinity found in all things, a fecund nature, a mother watching over the universe, expressed in many different ways and forms, shines through different subjects and takes different names” (Lo spaccio della bestia trionfante, Dialoghi italiani, 780-2).

But these images possess more than the simple capacity to reawaken our dormant imagination: they possess an authentic power to effect magical operations on their own, and functioned, in other words, in exactly the same way as the talismans of Ficino.

It is possible, of course, to take many of Bruno’s magical claims in a metaphorical sense, as if he was merely describing, according to the sensibility of his age, intellectual operations. It is also possible to infer that these images had the power to pull Bruno, after prolonged concentration, into a state of mystic ecstasy (cf. Yates 1964: 296).

Still, it is difficult to ignore the fact that some of Bruno’s strongest claims about the theurgic potential of seals appeared in a text that bore the significant title of De Magia:

“nor even are all writings of the same utility as these characters which, by their very configuration, seem to indicated things themselves. For example, there are signs that are mutually inclined to one another, that regard each other and embrace one another; these constrain us to love.

Then there are the opposite signs, signs which repel each other so violently that we are induced to hatred and to separation, becoming so hardened, incomplete, and broken as to produce in us ruin. There are knots which bind, and there are separated characters which release. [ . . . ]

These signs do not have a fixed and determined form. Anyone who, obeying his own furor, or the dictates of his soul, naturally creates his own images, be these of things desired or things to hold in contempt, cannot help but represent these images to himself and to his spirit as if the imagined things were really present.

Thus he experiences his own images with a power that he would not feel were he to represent these things to himself in the form of words, either in elegant oration, or in writing.

Such were the well-defined letters of the ancient Egyptians, which they called hieroglyphs or sacred characters. [ . . . ] by which they were able to enter into colloquies with the gods and to accomplish remarkable feats with them. [ . . . ]

And so, just as, where there lacks a common tongue, men of one race are unable to have colloquies with those of another, but must resort instead to gestures, so relations of any sort between ourselves and certain powers would be impossible were we to lack the medium of definite signs, seals, figures, characters, gestures, and other ceremonies.”

(Opera latine conscripta, Naples-Florence, 1879-1891, vol. III: 39-45).

Concerning the specific iconological material that Bruno employs, we find figures deriving directly from the Hermetic tradition, such as the Thirty-six Decans of the Zodiac, others drawn from mythology, necromantic diagrams that recall Agrippa or John Dee, Lullian suggestions, animals, plants and allegorical figures deriving from the repertoire of emblems and devices.

This is a repertoire with an extraordinary importance in the history of iconology, where the ways in which a certain seal, for example, refers back to a specific idea are largely governed by rhetorical criteria: phonetic similarities (a horse, equus, can correspond to an honest, aequus, man); the concrete for the abstract (a Roman soldier for Rome); antecedent for the consequent; accident for subject (or vice versa); and so on.

Sometimes the analogy  is based upon the similarity of the initial syllable (asinus for asyllum); and certainly Bruno did not know that this procedure, as we shall see in chapter 7, was followed by the Egyptians themselves when using their hieroglyphs.

At other times the relations might be based on kabbalistic techniques such as anagrams or paronomasias (like palatio standing for Latio: cf. Vasoli 1958: 285-6).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 132-5.

Gane: Applying Black’s Theory of Metaphor

“Composite creatures are found on various cosmic levels. For that reason, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, by Wayne Horowitz (1998; rev. 2011), has informed the present study, especially with regard to the “Babylonian Map of the World” and Enuma Elish texts, which mention a significant number of mixed beings found in the Neo-Babylonian iconographic repertoire.

This cuneiform inscription and map of the Mesopotamian world depicts Babylon in the center, ringed by a global ocean termed the “salt sea.” The map portrays eight regions, though portions are missing, while the text describes the regions, and the mythological creatures and legendary heroes that live in them. Sippar, Babylonia, 700 - 500 BCE. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. Licensed under the Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareaAlike license.  http://www.ancient.eu/image/2287/

This cuneiform inscription and map of the Mesopotamian world depicts Babylon in the center, ringed by a global ocean termed the “salt sea.” The map portrays eight regions, though portions are missing, while the text describes the regions, and the mythological creatures and legendary heroes that live in them. Sippar, Babylonia, 700 – 500 BCE.
Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. Licensed under the Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareaAlike license.
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2287/

(Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Mesopotamian Civilizations 8; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1998).

Regarding Sumero-Babylonian religion in ancient Mesopotamia, two foundational studies are Wilfred Lambert’s essay on “The Historical Development of the Mesopotamian Pantheon: A Study in Sophisticated Polytheism” (1975) and Thorkild Jacobsen’s trail-blazing book titled The Treasures of Darkness (1976).

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.  This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840's at the ruins of Nineveh.  Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings on excavations in Nineveh. http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

Enuma Elish means “when above”, the two first words of the epic.
This Babylonian creation story was discovered among the 26,000 clay tablets found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840’s at the ruins of Nineveh.
Enuma Elish was made known to the public in 1875 by the Assyriologist George Adam Smith (1840-76) of the British Museum, who was also the discoverer of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. He made several of his findings from excavations in Nineveh.
http://www.creationmyths.org/enumaelish-babylonian-creation/enumaelish-babylonian-creation-3.htm

(Wilfred G. Lambert, “The Historical Development of the Mesopotamian Pantheon: A Study in Sophisticated Polytheism,” in Unity in Diversity: Essays in the History, Literature, and Religion of the Ancient Near East (ed. Hans Goedicke and J. J. M. Roberts; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), pp. 191-200.)

(Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).

Since these publications appeared, still others have contributed to a greater understanding of the complexities of Mesopotamian religion, with its thousands of named gods and demons, but a comprehensive, systematic understanding still eludes modern scholarship.

Of particular importance to the methodological framework of the present research are the works of two scholars, Chikako E. Watanabe and Mehmet-Ali Ataç.

Watanabe’s Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia: A Contextual Approach (2002), drawing upon her doctoral dissertation (University of Cambridge, 1998), aims “to examine how animals are used as ‘symbols’ in Mesopotamian culture and to focus on what is intended by referring to animals in context.”

(Watanabe, Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia, Institut für Orientalistik d. Univ., 2002, p. 1.

Zu or Anzu (from An 'heaven' and Zu 'to know' in Sumerian language), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.  Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.  Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu.  H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)  http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

Zu or Anzu (from An ‘heaven’ and Zu ‘to know’ in Sumerian language), as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550–2500 BCE, Louvre.
Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, representing the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud) as a lion-headed eagle.
Alabaster, Early Dynastic III (2550–2500 BCE). Found in Telloh, ancient city of Girsu.
H. 21.6 cm (8 ½ in.), W. 15.1 cm (5 ¾ in.), D. 3.5 cm (1 ¼ in.)
http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2013/07/legend-of-anzu-which-stole-tablets-of.html

The scope of her investigation is limited to the symbolic aspects of two natural animals, the lion and bull, and two composite creatures, the Anzu bird and the horned lion-griffin. Watanabe’s narrow but deep analysis provides an excellent paradigm for study of Mesopotamian iconographic creatures in general.

Watanabe maintains that “the best way to interpret meanings belonging to the past is to pay close attention to the particular contexts in which symbolic agents occur.”

She does this through application of an approach known as the interaction view of metaphor, also called the theory of metaphor, developed by Max Black.

According to Watanabe, this approach aims to interpret the meanings of objects, whether occurring in figurative statements or iconographic representations, from within the contexts of their original functions, “by examining their internal relationships with other ideas or concepts expressed within the same contextual framework.”

As she points out, “the treatment of symbolic phenomena on a superficial level” does “not explain the function of symbolism.”

Watanabe observes that the names of animals mentioned in ancient texts generally carry meaning beyond references to the natural creatures themselves.

When a creature is repeatedly found in a specific context, this context provides a link or clue to the meaning attached to it.

Watanabe’s treatment of composite creatures, the Imdugud/Anzu and the horned lion-griffin, in Chapter 5 of her work provides a case study for analysis of similar mixed beings.

Each composite creature is derived from two or more species, with each animal part embodying a concept associated with the given animal’s natural behavior.

This illustration of a god walking his human-headed lion lacks the wings on the lion mentioned in Watanabe's example. A detail from a cylinder seal of the Akkadian period, this exemplar is from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 39.

This illustration of a god walking his human-headed lion lacks the wings on the lion mentioned in Watanabe’s example. A detail from a cylinder seal of the Akkadian period, this exemplar is from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 39.

Thus, for instance, a winged, human-headed lion possesses attributes that include human intelligence, leonine power and ferocity, and eagle wings to provide swiftness and access to the realm of the sky.

Watanabe finds that “the study of these animals provides a model for the way in which the characteristics of two or more animals are integrated into one animal body, as a result of which multiple divine aspects, perceived in one deity, are effectively conveyed by a single symbolic animal.”

Wings are a frequent physical component of Mesopotamian composite creatures. Watanabe maintains that when animals that are ordinarily wingless are portrayed with wings, the intent in some cases may be to represent the constellation that is symbolized by that creature.

Constellations of stars were understood by the Babylonians as images of “earthly objects projected onto the evening sky.”

(Cf. Hope B. Werness, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art (New York: Continuum, 2006), p. 433.)

Additionally, wings could personify the abstract concepts of wind or the flying of time. While wings often belong to the realm of the gods, they can also be associated with night, death, and evil.”

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, pp. 5-6.

The Power and Magic of Names

“The voices heard by the Babylonian in nature, however, were not a whit more sacred to him than the inarticulate voice which found expression in the name. Like all primitive peoples, the Chaldeans confounded the person and the name by which he was known.

The name, in fact, was the personality, and whatever happened to the name would happen equally to the personality. Injury could be done to a person by using his name in a spell; and, similarly, to pronounce the name of a deity compelled him to attend to the wishes of the priest or exorcist.

As among the ancient Egyptians, the secret names of the gods–many of them heirlooms from a primeval age, whose actual meaning was forgotten–were not only especially holy, but also especially efficacious.

Names, consequently, like the persons or things they represented, were in themselves of good and evil omen; and the Babylonian would have sympathised with the feeling which made the Roman change Maleventum into Beneventum, or has caused the Cape of Storms to become the Cape of Good Hope.

Whether this superstition about names was of purely Semitic origin, or whether it was shared in by the Accadians, we have no means of determining at present; the analogy of other races, however, in a corresponding stage of social development would lead us to infer that the superstition was the independent possession of Accadians and Semites alike.

At all events, it was deeply imprinted upon the Semitic mind. The sacredness attached to the name of the God of Israel among the later Jews, and the frequent employment of the name for the person of the Lord, bear witness to the fact.

When Moses was ordained to his mission of leading his people out of Egypt and forming them into a nation, it was prefaced by what was henceforth to be the sacred and national name of their God.

There were names of good fortune and names of evil fortune, and special significance was attached to a change of name.

Three successive usurpers of the throne of Assyria–Pul, Ululâ or Ilulaios, and the father of Sennacherib–all discarded their old names on the successful accomplishment of their usurpation.

Sargon II and dignitary, said to be his marshal Tartan. Low-relief from the L wall of the palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), c. 716–713 BC. Fouilles de Paul-Émile Botta en 1843–1844. DimensionsH. 3.30 m (10 ft. 9 ¾ in.), W. 2.30 m (7 ft. 6 ½ in.), D. 33 cm (12 ¾ in.) Current location	 (Inventory) Louvre Museum  Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu wing, ground floor, room 4 Accession number	AO 19873 & AO 19874 Credit line	Excavations of Paul-Émile Botta, 1843–1844 Source/Photographer	Jastrow (2006) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargon_II_and_dignitary.jpg

Sargon II and dignitary, said to be his marshal Tartan. Low-relief from the L wall of the palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), c. 716–713 BC.
Fouilles de Paul-Émile Botta en 1843–1844.
Dimensions H. 3.30 m (10 ft. 9 ¾ in.), W. 2.30 m (7 ft. 6 ½ in.), D. 33 cm (12 ¾ in.)
Current location
(Inventory) Louvre Museum
Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu wing, ground floor, room 4
Accession number AO 19873 & AO 19874
Credit line Excavations of Paul-Émile Botta, 1843–1844
Source/Photographer Jastrow (2006)
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargon_II_and_dignitary.jpg

Pul and Ululâ adopted those of the two famous monarchs of the older Assyrian dynasty, Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, retaining their original designations only in Babylonia, where the names they had adopted were associated with ideas of hostility and invasion; while Sargon, who claimed to be lord of Babylonia as well as of Assyria, identified himself with the past glories of the ancient kingdom by taking the name of Sargon of Accad.

In 1847 archaeologists discovered a prism of Sargon dated to the early 8th century BC reading: "At the beginning of my royal rule, I…the town of the Samarians I besieged, conquered (2 Lines destroyed) [for the god…] who let me achieve this my triumph… I led away as prisoners [27,290 inhabitants of it (and) equipped from among them (soldiers to man)] 50 chariots for my royal corps…. The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I had conquered. I placed an officer of mine as governor over them and imposed upon them tribute as is customary for Assyrian citizens." (Nimrud Prism IV 25-41) https://theosophical.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/sargon-nimrud-cylinder1.jpg

In 1847 archaeologists discovered a prism of Sargon dated to the early 8th century BC reading:
“At the beginning of my royal rule, I…the town of the Samarians I besieged, conquered (2 Lines destroyed) [for the god…] who let me achieve this my triumph… I led away as prisoners [27,290 inhabitants of it (and) equipped from among them (soldiers to man)] 50 chariots for my royal corps…. The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I had conquered. I placed an officer of mine as governor over them and imposed upon them tribute as is customary for Assyrian citizens.” (Nimrud Prism IV 25-41)
https://theosophical.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/sargon-nimrud-cylinder1.jpg

The adoption of these time-honoured names of itself conferred legitimacy upon the new claimants of the throne; along with the name they inherited the title and the claim to veneration of those who had borne them.

It must have been for a similar reason that Esar-haddon’s name, according to Sennacherib, was changed to that of Assur-etil-yukin-abla, “Assur the hero has established the son,” “for affection’s sake,” though the prince preferred to retain his earlier appellation of Esar-haddon or Assur-akh-iddina, “Assur has given the brother,” after his accession to the throne.

We are reminded of the records of the Jews, from which we learn that Jedidiah became the Solomon of later history, and the Pharaoh of Egypt “turned the name” of Eliakim into Jehoiakim.”

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. 302-4.