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Tag: Galli

Semiramis, Queen of Assyria

“But Istar was not merely the goddess of love. By the side of the amorous goddess there was also a warlike one. The Syrian goddess who migrated westward was a warrior as well as a bride. Among the Hittites and their disciples in Asia Minor, she was served not only by Galli, but by Amazons–warrior priestesses–as well.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.

The Artemis of Ephesos, her lineal descendant, was separated by a wide gulf from the Aphroditê of Cyprus. Both Artemis and Aphroditê were alike the offspring of the same Babylonian deity, but in making their way to Greece they had become separated and diverse. The goddess of the Hittites and of Asia Minor preserved mainly her fiercer side; the goddess of Phoenician Cyprus her gentler side. Both sides, however, had once been united in the Istar of Chaldea.

The Greek myths which recounted the story of Semiramis recorded the fact. For Semiramis is but Istar in another guise. As Istar was called “queen” by the Assyrians, so is Semiramis the queen of Assyria; as Semiramis deserts Menôn for Ninos or Nineveh, so did Istar desert her old haunts for her later temple at Nineveh.

The dove into which Semiramis was changed was the bird sacred to Istar. Her passion for her son Ninyas, “the Ninevite,” whom another version of the myth names Zames or Samas, is an echo of the passion of Istar, the Dav-kina of Eridu, for Tammuz the Sun-god. The warrior-queen of Assyria, in fact, was the great Babylonian goddess in her martial character.

Tammuz and Ishtar.

Tammuz and Ishtar.

While the gentler-mannered Babylonians preferred to dwell upon the softer side of Istar, the Assyrians, as was natural in the case of a military nation, saw in her mainly the goddess of war and battle. Like Babylonia, with its two centres of her worship at Erech and Accad, Assyria also had its two great sanctuaries of Istar at Nineveh and Arbela.

That she should have had no famous temple in Assur, the old capital of the kingdom, shows clearly the comparatively late development of her cult. Doubtless the earliest inhabitants of the Assyrian cities had brought with them the name and worship of Istar, but it could only have been long afterwards that it attained its final celebrity. Indeed, we can trace its progress through the historical inscriptions until it culminates in the reign of Assur-bani-pal.

There was a particular cause for this gradual development which was connected with the warlike attributes of the Assyrian Istar. The Assyrians were an essentially Semitic people. Their supreme goddess accordingly was that vague and colourless Bilit ili, “the mistress of the gods,” who sat as a queenly shadow by the side of Bel.

They had none of those associations with the older Accadian goddesses, with their specific names and functions, which the natives of the Babylonian cities possessed; apart from Istar, the evening star, there was no goddess among them who could claim a more independent position than that of a Bilit ili. Assur himself had no special consort, like Zarpanit at Babylon or even  at Accad.

Except Istar, therefore, the Assyrian pantheon was destitute of a goddess who could assert her equality with the gods.”

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. 270-2.

The Rites of Ishtar

“Her worship was a reflexion of that worship of nature which underlay the Semitic conception of Baalism. The fierce passions excited by an Eastern sun found their expression in it.

Prostitution became a religious duty, whose wages were consecrated to the goddess of love. She was served by eunuchs and by trains of men and boys who dressed like women and gave themselves up to women’s pursuits.

Ishtar in terracotta relief, early 2nd millennium BC., Eshnunna. Currently in the Louvre. Department of Near Eastern antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 3, case 6 Accession numberAO 12456 Purchased 1930 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ishtar_Eshnunna_Louvre_AO12456.jpg

Ishtar in terracotta relief, early 2nd millennium BC., Eshnunna.
Currently in the Louvre.
Department of Near Eastern antiquities, Richelieu, ground floor, room 3, case 6
Accession number AO 12456
Purchased 1930
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ishtar_Eshnunna_Louvre_AO12456.jpg

Istar, in fact, had ceased to be the “pure” goddess of the evening star. The other elements in her hybrid character had come to the front, aided by the Semitic conception of the female side of the divinity. She was now the fruitful goddess of the earth, teeming with fertility, the feminine development of the life-giving Sun-god, the patroness of love.

The worshipper who would serve her truly had to share with her her pains and pleasures. Only thus could he live the divine life, and be, as it were, united with the deity. It was on this account that the women wept with Istar each year over the fatal wound of Tammuz; it was on this account that her temples were filled with the victims of sexual passion and religious frenzy, and that her festivals were scenes of consecrated orgies.

The 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. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

The 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.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

As the worship of the goddess spread westward, the revolting features connected with it spread at the same time. The prophets of Israel denounce the abominations committed in honour of Ashtoreth and Baal within the sacred walls of Jerusalem itself; the Greek writers stand aghast at the violations of social decency enjoined as religious duties on the adorers of the oriental Aphroditê; and Lucian himself–if Lucian indeed be the author of the treatise–is shocked at the self-mutilation practised before the altar of the Syrian goddess of Hieropolis.

From Syria, the cult, with all its rites, made its way, like that of Attys-Adonis, to the populations beyond the Taurus. At Komana in Kappadokia, the goddess Ma was ministered to by 6000 eunuch-priests, and the Galli of Phrygia rivalled the priests of Baal and Ashtoreth in cutting their arms with knives, in scourging their backs, and in piercing their flesh with darts.

The worship of the fierce powers of nature, at once life-giving and death-dealing, which required from the believer a sympathetic participation in the sufferings and pleasures of his deities, produced alternate outbursts of frenzied self-torture and frenzied lust.

There was, however, a gentler side to the worship of Istar. The cult of a goddess who watched over the family bond and whose help was ever assured to the faithful in his trouble, could not but exercise a humanising influence, however much that influence may have been sullied by the excesses of the popular religion.

But there were many whose higher and finer natures were affected only by the humanising influence and not by the popular faith. Babylonia does not seem to have produced any class of men like the Israelitish prophets; but it produced cultivated scribes and thinkers, who sought and found beneath the superstitions of their countrymen a purer religion and a more abiding form of faith.

Istar was to them a divine “mother,” the goddess who had begotten mankind, and who cared for their welfare with a mother’s love.”

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. 266-7.

The Lamentations for Tammuz

“On the one hand, we now know who was that Tammuz in whose honour Ezekiel saw the women of Jerusalem weeping at the gate of “the Lord’s house.”

On the other hand, it is clear that the Tammuz and Istar of the Babylonian legend are the Adonis and Aphrodite of Greek mythology. Like Tammuz, Adonis, the beloved one of Aphrodite, is slain by the boar’s tusk of winter, but eventually ransomed from Hades by the prayers of the goddess.

It has long been recognised that Aphrodite, the Kyprian goddess of love and war, came to Hellas from Phoenicia, whether or not we agree with Dr. Hommel in seeing in her name a mere etymological perversion of the Phoenician Ashtoreth.

Adonis is the Phoenician Adoni, “my lord,” the cry with which the worshippers of the stricken Sun-god mourned his untimely descent into the lower world.

The cry was familiar throughout the land of Palestine. In the valley of Megiddo, by the plain of Jezreel, each year witnessed “the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon” (Zechariah xii. ll),while hard by Amos heard the men of Israel mourning for “the only son” (Amos viii. lo), and the prophet of Judah gives the very words of the refrain: “Ah me, my brother, and ah me, my sister! Ah me, Adonis, and ah me, his lady!” (Jeremiah xxii. 18).

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican. Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis#/media/File:0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican.
Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis#/media/File:0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

 The words were carried across the western sea to men of an alien race and language. “Cry ailinon, ailinon! woe!” says the Greek poet of Athens, and already in Homeric days the dirge was attributed to a mythic Linos whose magic fate was commemorated in its opening words: “0 Linos, Linos!”

Linos, however, had no existence except in a popular etymology; the Greek ailinos is in reality the Phoenician ai-lénu, “alas for us!” with which the lamentations for the death of the divine Adonis were wont to begin.

Like the refrain quoted by Jeremiah, the words eventually go back to Babylonia, and find their counterpart in the closing lines of the old Babylonian poem I have translated above. When Tillili commences her wail over the dead Tammuz, she cries, like the women of Judah and Phoenicia, “0 my brother, the only one!”

It was, above all, in the Phoenician town of Gebal or Byblos that the death of Adonis was commemorated. Here, eight miles to the north of Beyrût, the ancient military road led from eastern Asia to the shores of the Mediterranean, and brought from early days the invading armies of Babylonia and Assyria to the coasts and cities of Canaan.

Hard by was the river of Adonis, the Nahr Ibrahim of to-day, which rolled through a rocky gorge into the sea. Each year, when the rains and melting snow of spring stained its waters with the red marl of the mountains, the people of Gebal beheld in it the blood of the slaughtered Sun-god.

It was then, in the month of Tammuz or June, that the funeral-festival of the god was held. For seven days it lasted. “Gardens of Adonis,” as they were called, were planted, pots filled with earth and cut herbs, which soon withered away in the fierce heat of the summer sun–fitting emblems of the lost Adonis himself.

Meanwhile, the streets and gates of the temples were filled with throngs of wailing women. They tore their hair, they disfigured the face, they cut the breast with sharp knives, in token of the agony of their grief.

Their cry of lamentation went up to Heaven mingled with that of the Galli, the emasculated priests of Ashtoreth, who shared with them their festival of woe over her murdered bridegroom.

Adonis, the young, the beautiful, the beloved of Ashtoreth, was dead; the bright sun of the springtide, like the verdure of nature which he had called into life, was slain and withered by the hot blasts of the summer.”

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. 227-9.

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.

The Castration of the Galli, Priests of the Goddess

” … On certain days a multitude flocks into the temple, and the Galli in great numbers, sacred as they are, perform the ceremonies of the men and gash their arms and turn their backs to be lashed. 61 Many bystanders play on the pipes the while many beat drums; others sing divine and sacred songs. All this performance takes place outside the temple, and those engaged in the ceremony enter not into the temple.

During these days they are made Galli. As the Galli sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on many of them and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act. I will narrate what they do.

Any young man who has resolved on this action, strips off his clothes, and with a loud shout bursts into the midst of the crowd, and picks up a sword from a number of swords which I suppose have been kept ready for many years for this purpose. He takes it and castrates himself 62 and then runs wild through the city, bearing in his hands what he has cut off. He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women’s raiment and ornaments. 63 Thus they act during their ceremonies of castration.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 84-5.

Sacred Castration

” … And even to the present day this brazen statue is seen standing in the temple, the work of Hermocles of Rhodes. Its form is that of a woman, but the garments are those of a man. 36 It is said, too, that his most intimate friends, as a proof of their sympathy, castrated themselves like him, and chose the same manner of life. Others there are who bring gods into the story and affirm that Combabus was beloved by Hera; and that it was she who inspired many with the idea of castrating themselves, so that her lover should not be the only one to lament the loss of his virility.

Meantime the custom once adopted remains even to-day, and many persons every year castrate themselves and lose their virile powers: whether it be out of sympathy with Combabus, or to find favour with Hera. They certainly castrate themselves, and then cease to wear man’s garb; they don women’s raiment and perform women’s tasks. 37

I have heard the origin of this ascribed to Combabus as well, for the following event occurred to him. A certain foreign woman who had joined a sacred assembly, beholding a human form of extreme beauty and dressed in man’s attire, became violently enamoured of him: after discovering that he was unsexed, she took away her life.

Combabus accordingly in despair at his incapacity for love, donned woman’s attire, that no woman in future might be deceived in the same way. This is the reason of the female attire of the Galli.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 65-6.

Phallic Features of the Dionysus Cult

” … There is, however, another sacred story which I had from the lips of a wise man—that the goddess was Rhea, and the shrine the work of Attes. Now this Attes was by nation a Lydian, and he first taught the sacred mysteries of Rhea. 30 The ritual of the Phrygians and the Lydians and the Samothracians was entirely learnt from Attes.

For when Rhea deprived him of his powers, he put off his manly garb and assumed the appearance of a woman and her dress, 31 and roaming over the whole earth he performed his mysterious rites, narrating his sufferings and chanting the praises of Rhea.

In the course of his wanderings he passed also into Syria. Now, when the men from beyond Euphrates would neither receive him nor his mysteries, 32 he reared a temple to himself on this very spot. The tokens of this fact are as follows: She is drawn by lions, she holds a drum in her hand and carries a tower on her head, just as the Lydians make Rhea to do. 33 He also affirmed that the Galli who are in the temple in no case castrate themselves in honour of Juno, but of Rhea, and this in imitation of Attes. All this seems to me more specious than true, for I have heard a different and more credible reason given for their castration.

I approve of the remarks about the temple made by those who in the main accept the theories of the Greeks: according to these the goddess is Hera, but the work was carried out by Dionysus, 34 the son of Semele: Dionysus visited Syria on his journey to Aethiopia.

There are in the temple many tokens that Dionysus was its actual founder: for instance, barbaric raiment, Indian precious stones, and elephants’ tusks brought by Dionysus from the Aethiopians. Further, a pair of phalli of great size are seen standing in the vestibule, bearing the inscription, “I, Dionysus, dedicated these phalli to Hera my stepmother.” This proof satisfies me.

And I will describe another curiosity to be found in this temple, a sacred symbol of Dionysus. The Greeks erect phalli in honour of Dionysus, and on these they carry, singular to say, mannikins made of wood, with enormous pudenda; they call these puppets. There is this further curiosity in the temple: as you enter, on the right hand, a small brazen statue meets your eye of a man in a sitting posture, with parts of monstrous size.

These are the legends concerning the founders of the temple.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 55-8.

Persistence of the Cult of the Great Mother

“But the Great Mother lived on, being the goddess of the land. Her cult, modified, in some cases profoundly, by time and changed political circumstances, was found surviving at the dawn of Greek history in several places in the interior. Prominent among these sites is Pessinus in Phrygia, a sacred city, with which the legend of Kybele and Attis is chiefly associated.

Other districts developed remarkable and even abnormal tendencies in myth and worship. At Comana, in the Taurus, where the Assyrian armies were resisted to the last, and the ancient martial spirit still survives, she became, like Isthar, a goddess of war, identified by the Romans with Bellona: 50 In Syria, again, a different temper and climate emphasized the sensuous tendency of human passions.

In all these cases, however, there survived some uniformity of ceremonial and custom. At each shrine numerous priests, called Galli, numbering at Comana as many as 5,000, took part in the worship. Women dedicated their persons as an honourable custom, which in some cases was not even optional, to the service of the goddess. The great festivals were celebrated at regular seasons with revelry, music, and dancing, as they had been of old, coupled with customs which tended to become, in the course of time, more and more orgiastic.

These are, however, matters of common knowledge and may be studied in the classical writings. Lucian himself adds considerably to our understanding of these institutions; indeed his tract has been long one of the standard sources of information, supplying details which have been applied, perhaps too freely, to the character of the general cult.

Religion in the East is a real part of life, not tending so much as in the West to become stereotyped or conventionalized, but changing with changes of conditions, adapted to the circumstances and needs of the community. 51 So, wherever the goddess was worshipped there would be variety of detail. It is, however, remarkable in this case, that throughout the Hittite period, though wedded and in a sense subordinate to a dominant male deity, and subsequently down to the age at which Lucian wrote, she maintained, none the less, her individuality and comprehensive character.

Thus, while Lucian is concerned in his treatise with the cult of an apparently local goddess of northern Syria, we recognize her as a localised aspect of the Mother-goddess, whose worship in remoter times had already been spread wide, and so explain at once the points of clear resemblance in character and in worship to other nature-goddesses of Syria and Asia Minor.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 17-20.

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