“The primitive inhabitant of Babylonia paid a special worship to the winds. He beheld in them spirits of good and evil. He prayed for (‘the good wind” which cooled the heats of summer and brought moisture to the parched earth, and he saw in the storm and tempest, in the freezing blasts of winter and the hot wind that blew from the burning desert, “the seven evil spirits.”
They were the demons ‘who had been created in the lower part of heaven,” and who warred against the Moon-god when he suffered eclipse. They were likened to all that was most noxious to man.
The first, we are told, was “the sword (or lightning) of rain;” the second, “a vampire;” the third, “a leopard;” the fourth, “a serpent;” the fifth, “a watch-dog” (?); the sixth, “a violent tempest which (blows) against god and king;” and the seventh, “a baleful wind.” But their power caused them to be dreaded, and they were venerated accordingly.
It was remembered that they were not essentially evil. They, too, had been the creation of Anu, for they came forth from the sky, and all seven were “the messengers of Anu their king.” In the war of the gods against the dragon of chaos, they had been the allies of Merodach. We read of them that ere the great combat began, the god “created the evil wind, the hostile wind, the tempest, the storm, the four winds, the seven winds, the whirlwind, the unceasing wind.”
When Merodach had slung forth his boomerang and hit the dragon, “the evil wind that seizes behind showed its face. And Tiamat (the dragon of the sea) opened her mouth to swallow it, but (the god) made the evil wind descend so that she could not close her lips; with the force of the winds he filled her stomach, and her heart was sickened and her mouth distorted.”
Down to the closing days of the Assyrian empire, the four winds, ”the gods of Nipur,” were still worshipped in Assyria (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iii. 66, Rev. 26), and Saru, the Wind-god, is mentioned as a separate divinity in the story of the Deluge.
Among the winds there was one whose name awakened feelings of dread in the mind of every Babylonian. This was the tempest, called mâtu in Accadian, and abub in Semitic. It was the tempest which had been once sent by Bel to drown guilty mankind in the waters of a deluge, and whose return as the minister of divine vengeance was therefore ever feared.
As each year brought with it the month of Sebat or January, with its “curse of rain,” the memory of that terrible event rose again in the Babyonian mind. Mâtu was a god whose favour had to be conciliated, and whose name accordingly appears on numbers of early cylinders.
But though Mâtu was thus specially identified with the great tempest which formed an era in Babylonian history, it was not forgotten that he was but one of several storm-gods, who were therefore spoken of as “the gods Mâtu.“
Like the clouds, they were children of the sea, and were thus included in the family of Ea. It is possible that this genealogy was due to the systematising labours of a later day; but it is also possible that the gods Mâtu were primarily adored in Eridu, and that Eridu, and not Surippak, was the original city of the Chaldean Noah.
It is at least noticeable that the immortal home of the translated Xisuthros was beyond the mouth of the Euphrates, near which Eridu was built.
If Eridu were the birth-place of Mâtu, it would explain why the god of the tempest was also the god of the western wind. Elsewhere in Babylonia, the western wind blew from across the desert and brought heat with it rather than rain.
But in those remote days, when the northern portion of the Persian Gulf had not as yet been filled up with miles of alluvial deposit, a westerly breeze could still come to Eridu across the water.
In a penitential psalm, Mâtu, the lord of the mountain” (mulu mursamma-lil), whose wife, “the lady of the mountain,” is mentioned on the monuments of Tel-loh, is invoked along with his consort Gubarra, Ea, “the sovereign of heaven and earth and sovereign of Eridu,” Dav-kina, Merodach, Zarpanit, Nebo and Nana--in short, along with the gods of Eridu and the kindred deities of Babylon.”
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. 199-202.