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Tag: Cosmology

The Oracles of Ea

“How a water-god became the demiurge seems at first sight obscure. But it ceases to be so when we remember the local character of Babylonian religion.

Ea was as much the local god of Eridu as Merodach was of Babylon, or Assur of Assyria. His connection with the water was due to the position of Eridu at the mouth of the Euphrates and on the shore of the sea, as well as to the maritime habits of its population.

In other respects he occupied the same place as the patron-deities of the other great cities. And these patron-deities were regarded as creators, as those by whose agency the present world had come into existence, and by whose hands the ancestors of their worshippers had been made.

This conception of a creating deity is one of the distinguishing features of early Babylonian religion. Mankind are not descended from a particular divinity, as they are in other theologies; they are created by him.

The hymn to Ea tells us that the god of Eridu was the creator of the black-headed race-that is to say, the old non-Semitic population whose primary centre and starting-point was in Eridu itself. It was as creators that the Accadian gods were distinguished from the host of spirits of whom I shall have to speak in another Lecture.

The Accadian word for “god” was dimer, which appears as dingir, from an older dingira, in the southern dialect of Sumer. Now dimer or dingir is merely “the creator,” formed by the suffix r or ra, from the verb dingi or dime, “to create.”

A simpler form of dimer is dime, a general name for the divine hierarchy. By the side of dime, dim, stood gime, gim, with the same meaning; and from this verb came the Sumerian name of Istar, Gingira. Istar is said to have been the mother of mankind in the story of the Deluge, and as Gula, “the great” goddess, she is addressed in a prayer as “the mother who has borne the men with the black heads.”

It was in consequence of the fact that he was a creator that Ea was, according to Accado-Sumerian ideas, a dingir or “god.”

In the cosmology of Eridu, therefore, the origin of the universe was the watery abyss. The earth lay upon this like a wife in the arms of her husband, and Dav-kina accordingly was adored as the wife of Ea.

It was through her that the oracles of Ea, heard in the voice of the waves, were communicated to man. Dav-kina is entitled “the mistress of the oracular voice of the deep,” and also “the lady who creates the oracular voice of heaven.”‘

The oracles delivered by the thunder, the voice of heaven, thus became the reflex of the oracles delivered through the roaring of the sea.”

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. 142-4.

Elder and Younger Bel

The Bel of this legend, who has settled the places of the Sun and the Moon in the sky, is not the Babylonian Bel, but the older Bel of Nipur, from whom Merodach, the Bel of Babylon, had afterwards to be distinguished.

The Accadian original of the poem belongs to a very early epoch, before the rise of Babylon, when the supreme Bel of the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia was still the god whom the Accadians called Mul-lilla, “the lord of the lower world.”

This Bel or Mul-lilla fades into the background as the Semitic element in Babylonian religion became stronger and the influence of Babylon greater, though the part that he played in astronomical and cosmological lore, as well as his local cult at Nipur, kept his memory alive; while the dreaded visitants of night, the demoniac lilu and lilat or lilith, from the lower world, preserved a faint memory of the spirits of which he had once been the chief.

Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal.

Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal.

 One by one, however, the attributes that had formerly attached to the older Bel were absorbed by the younger Bel of Babylon.

It was almost as it was in Greece, where the older gods were dethroned by their own offspring; in the Babylonia of Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidos, it was the younger gods–Merodach, Sin and Samas–to whom vows were the most often made and prayer the most often ascended.

Such was the latest result of the local character of Babylonian worship: the younger gods were the gods of the younger Babylonian cities, and the god of Babylon, though he might be termed “the first-born of the gods,” was in one sense the youngest of them all.

The title, however, “first-born of the gods” was of the same nature as the other title, “prince of the world,” bestowed upon him by his grateful worshippers. It meant little else than that Babylon stood at the head of the world, and that its god must therefore be the first-born, not of one primeval deity, but of all the primeval deities acknowledged in Chaldea.

According to the earlier faith, he was the first-born of Ea only. Ea was god of the deep, both of the atmospheric deep upon which the world floats, and of that watery deep, the Okeanos of Homer, which surrounds the earth like a coiled serpent.

All streams and rivers were subject to his sway, for they flowed into that Persian Gulf which the ignorance of the primitive Chaldean imagined to be the ocean-stream itself. It was from the Persian Gulf that tradition conceived the culture and civilisation of Babylonia to have come, and Ea was therefore lord of wisdom as well as lord of the deep.

His son Merodach was the minister of his counsels, by whom the commands of wisdom were carried into practice. Merodach was thus the active side of his father Ea; to use the language of Gnosticism, he was the practical activity that emanates from wisdom.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, p. 103-4.

Eschatological Elevation of the Soul After Death

“The Bahir’s idea of the sefiroth appears in Isaac’s writings in a fully crystallized form. In his commentary on the Yesirah 4:3, the verse 1 Chronicles 29:11 is used for the first time as a biblical reference for the names and the sequence of the seven lower sefiroth, especially the first five among them: “Yours, Lord, are the greatness (gedullah), might (geburah), splendor (tif’ereth), triumph (nesah), and majesty (hod)—yes all (kol) that is in heaven and on earth; to You, Lord, belong kingship (mamlakhah) and preeminence above all.”

From here come the designations not yet used in the Bahir, of gedullah for hesed, tif’ereth for ‘emeth, and hod. Isaac himself for the most part uses the names hesed and pahad (as in the Bahir) instead of gedullah and geburah. The name tif’ereth, however, is already familiar to him.

Whereas the word kol, occurring in the aforementioned verse, already served in the Bahir as an epithet designating the “Righteous,” Isaac uses for this sefirah the noun “Righteous” and the epithet “Foundation of the world.” For the last sefirah, on the other hand, he employs almost exclusively an epithet still not familiar to the Bahir, although it is undoubtedly alluded to there.

This epithet is ‘atarah, a synonym for kether, which designates the lowest of the ten “crowns.” Like the Bahir, he names the first three sefiroth kether or mahshabah, hokhmah and binah.

In his commentary on Yesirah, Isaac mentions many of these sefiroth in the framework of fixed schemata, but this does not always enable us to comprehend the sequence of the sefiroth within them. What is strange is that in point of fact the structure of the sefiroth beyond the supreme three only interests him in detail when it is a question of prayer mysticism, or the interpretation of certain ritual commandments. They have their importance as stages of the contemplative ascent or of the eschatological elevation of the soul, after death, to even higher spheres.

But never are any coherent thoughts presented concerning their function and structure. This is particularly the case for the potencies of tif’ereth, yesod and ‘atarah, which play an especially important role in the evolution of the doctrine of the sefiroth. In contrast to this lack of interest in detail, one discerns in Isaac a more pronounced interest in the totality of the spiritual potencies expressed in language and, in a more general manner, in spiritual entities.

Having said that, the terminological differences between concepts like sefiroth, middoth, letters (of the alphabet) and hawwayoth (literally: essences) are by no means always clear, and their interpretation is often fraught with difficulties.

However, these difficulties are closely related to what is truly new in Isaac’s Kabbalah. Indeed, from the historical point of view their interest lies in the combination of the world of ideas of the Bahir and the entirely new elements that erupt, inspired by gnostic ideas, into the oldest form of the Kabbalah as represented by the Bahir.

This combination reflects speculative interests whose origin is no longer essentially determined by Gnosticism but rather by Neoplatonism and a language mysticism generated by the latter. Isaac is visibly struggling with new thoughts for which he is as yet unable to find clear and definitive expression. The awkwardness of his new terminology militates against the supposition that this lack of clarity, which often makes it so difficult to penetrate his meaning, is intentional.

His new terminology seems to be derived from philosophy, although we cannot identify its philosophical sources in the Hebrew tradition. The special importance of Isaac’s commentary on the Yesirah lies in the attempt to read into the old texts the new, speculative thoughts of a contemplative mystic. But we are no less surprised by the boldness with which he presents far-reaching ideas in his other cosmological fragments and in his remarks concerning the mystical theory of sacrifice. The particular manner in which Isaac applies his ideas to the task of man, to the connection between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds, and to eschatological matters merits closer consideration.

The path of the mystic, described by Isaac at the beginning of his commentary on the Yesirah, is (as Isaac of Acre already recognized in his paraphrase of several of these passages in his own commentary) that of systematically uncovering the divine—by means of reflective contemplation and within the innermost depths of such contemplation. Isaac postulates three stages in the mystery of the deity and its unfolding in creation and revelation.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 263-5.

Kabbalah as Metasystem

“The prime source for the precursors of the occult revival were without question Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), a German Jesuit whose Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652) detailed Kabbalah amongst its study of Egyptian mysteries and hieroglyphics, and Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia (1533).

Other works, such as those from alchemists including Khunrath, Fludd and Vaughan indicated that the Kabbalah had become the convenient metamap for early hermetic thinkers. Christian mystics began to utilise its structure for an explanation of their revelations, the most notable being Jacob Boeheme (1575-1624). However, the most notable event in terms of our line of examination is undoubtedly the publication of Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s (1636-89) Kabbalah Denudata in Latin in 1677 and 1684, which provided translations from the Zohar and extracts from the works of Isaac Luria.”

“Another stream stemming from Rosenroth’s work came through Eliphas Levi (1810-75), who … ascribed to the Tarot an ancient Egyptian origin. From de Gebelin and Rosenroth, Levi synthesized a scheme of attribution of the Tarot cards to the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life, a significant development in that it provided a synthetic model of processes to be later modified and used by the Golden Dawn as mapping the initiation system of psychological, occult, and spiritual development. Levi wrote, “Qabalah … might be called the mathematics of human thought.”

“It is said by traditional Kabbalists and Kabbalistic scholars that the occultist has an imperfect knowledge of the Tree, and hence the work of such is corrupt. It appears to me that the Kabbalah is a basic device whose keys are infinite, and that any serious approach to its basic metasystem will reveal some relevance if tested in the world about us, no matter how it may be phrased.

The first Kabbalists cannot be said to have had an imperfect knowledge because they did not understand or utilise information systems theory or understand modern cosmology. Indeed, their examination of themselves and the Universe revealed such knowledge many hundreds of years before science formalised it, in the same way that current occult thinking may be rediscovered in some new science a hundred or thousand years hence.”

–Frater FP, The Magician’s Kabbalah, pp.  5-7.

The Divine Transmission of the World’s Pattern Through Angelic Minds.

“Indeed there are many features of neo-Platonic cosmology which would have appeared transparent in the structure of the Ars notoria ritual to its late medieval operators.

In a most basic way, the idea of an intrinsic congruence and similitude between the human mind and divine archetype of the world is a recurrent feature of twelfth-century neo-Platonic thought. Thus, Thierry of Chartres notes that »the soul is proportioned to the nature of the universe«; and in a similar vein, Hugh of St Victor, another prominent twelfth-century writer in the same neo-Platonic tradition, says at the beginning of his Didascalicon that »similars are comprehended by similars; […] in a word, the rational soul could by no means comprehend all things unless it were also composed of all of them[…] the soul grasps the similitude in and of itself, out of a certain native capacity and proper power of its own«.

But this is a similitude which traverses the spiritual cosmos as well as the human mind. Hugh explains in an appendix to the Didascalicon that knowledge emanates from God in such a way that ideas subsist in themselves only after they are created in the minds of the angels:

“What exists in actuality is an image of what exists in the mind of man, and what exists in the mind of man is an image of what exists in the divine Mind […] For the angelic nature first existed in the divine Idea as a plan, and then afterwards it began to subsist in itself through creation. The other creatures however, first existed in the Idea of God; next they were made in the knowledge of the angels; and finally they began to subsist in themselves.”

“In other words, all created things necessarily proceed, from highest to lowest, through the subsistence of creatures who have the capacity for ideas. The divine transmission of the world’s pattern through angelic minds of which Hugh speaks here is rendered visible in the presence of angels mingled with the liberal arts on the Chartres archivolt and rendered functional in the association of the angelic orders and liberal arts in the Ars notoria prayers.”

–Claire Fanger, “Sacred and Secular Knowledge Systems in the Ars Notoria and the Flowers of Heavenly Teaching of John of Morigny.” Pg. 165.

Quoted by Peter Dronke: >>Thierry of Chartres«, in: A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy, ed. by Peter Dronke, Cambridge 1988, p. 372.

Hugh of St Victor: The Didascalicon of Hugh of St Victor, translated with an introduction and notes by Jerome Taylor, New York 1961, l.i, pp. 46-47.

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