Samizdat

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Tag: Priesthood

Babylonian Astrology

“With the Semitic domination of Sargon of Accad, however, Babylonian astronomy entered upon a new phase. To him, tradition ascribed the compilation of the standard work on Babylonian astronomy and astrology called the Observations of Bel, and afterwards translated into Greek by Berossos (Editorial note: a book by Johannes Haubold, et al, The World of Berossos, 2013, which presents material presented at an academic conference in 2010, can be downloaded in its entirety. Our gratitude is owed to Harrassowitz Verlag of Wiesbaden. A faster and shorter resource is Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, 1975, which is synopsized in the ensuing three posts).

But the edition of the work which we possess presupposes a much later date. Aries, and not Taurus, marks the beginning of the year, and the text contains references to political and geographical facts, some of which are probably not much older than the age of Assur-bani-pal. This is explained by the nature of the work. It was not so much a treatise on astronomy, as on the pseudo-science that had been evolved out of the observations of astronomy.

The Chaldean priests had grasped but imperfectly the idea of causation; their fundamental assumption was “post hoc, ergo propter hoc;” when two events had been noticed to happen one after the other, the first was the cause of the second. Hence their anxiety to record the phenomena of the heavens and the occurrences that took place after each; if a war with Elam had followed an eclipse of the sun on a particular day, it was assumed that a recurrence of the eclipse on the same day would be followed by a recurrence of a war with Elam.

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.  The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.  Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London. http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.
The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.
Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

In this way a science of astrology was created whose students could foretell the future by observing the signs of the sky.

It is obvious that a work whose object was to connect astronomical observations with current events must have been constantly undergoing alteration and growth. New observations would from time to time be introduced into it, sometimes causing confusion or even omissions in the text. There are instances in which we can detect the presence of observations placed side by side, though belonging to very different periods, or of older records which have been supplemented by the calculations of a later age.

In their present form, therefore, the Observations of Bel have to be used with caution if we would argue from them to the beliefs and practices of early Babylonia.

But the astrological science, or pseudo-science, which underlies the whole work, shows that even in its earliest form it was a product of the Semitic epoch. Between the attitude of mind presupposed by this pseudo-science, and the attitude of mind presupposed by the magical texts and Shamanistic cult of Sumerian Chaldea, there lies an impassable gulf.

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.  http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.  Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including: http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm
A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.
Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including:
http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

According to the latter, events are brought about by the agency of the innumerable spirits of earth and air, and can be controlled by the spells and exorcisms of the sorcerer; according to the astrologer of Sargon’s court, they are natural occurrences, caused and determined by other natural occurrences which can be discovered and noted by the observer. Out of the astrologer the astronomer could be born; between science and sorcery there can be only an eternal feud.

It does not follow, however, that the pre-Semitic population of Chaldea took no notice of the phenomena of the sky. Unusual phenomena, such as an eclipse, must necessarily excite the attention of superstitious and half-civilized tribes; and the formation of a calendar, the invention of the Zodiac, and the naming of the principal constellations, show that a rudimentary astronomy was already in existence.

Indeed, the Observations of Bel not only contain technical terms of Accadian origin, but embody notices of phenomena like eclipses which presuppose a long period of earlier observations.

Unless such observations had existed, even the first compilation of the work would have been impossible. It was astrology, not the rudiments of astronomy, for which the Semites of Babylonia can claim the entire credit.”

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. 398-400.

An Excerpt from Lenormant’s Chaldean Magic, Contrasted with Egyptian Magic

“After having put the reader in the way of comparing for himself the Egyptian and Chaldean magical formula, there is no need for me to pursue further the marked difference between the two systems, for this is evident to all students. The fundamental beliefs and ideas of magic superstition in Egypt and Chaldea were as different in their character as were the forms of their incantations.

In the Egyptian documents we perceive no trace of those elementary spirits, some good and some bad, endowed with a distinct personality, which Chaldeans believed to have been spread all over the world, the objects either of propitiatory incantations or the most terrible exorcisms.

On the other hand, the Chaldeans in no way entertained the idea of being able to elevate a man into a kind of demigod by means of their formulae, and of identifying him with the greatest personages of the celestial hierarchy.

Neither did they pretend that those formulae had any power to command the gods or to compel them to obey. Their magic belonged to the intermediate spiritual state, and there its powers were displayed.

If they required the help of the supreme gods, that was to be obtained by means of prayers and supplications; and not by compulsion; indeed, and we shall refer to this idea again, even their prayers were not all powerful to accomplish the desires of the suppliant unless they were presented to the gods by a mediator.

True indeed there was a supreme name which possessed the power of commanding the gods, and exacting from them a perfect obedience, but that name remained the inviolable secret of Hea.

The initiated need never hope to attain to such an awful height of knowledge as he might in the Egyptian system. In exceptionally grave cases he besought Hea, through the mediator Silik-mulu-khi, to pronounce the solemn word in order to reestablish order in the world and restrain the powers of the abyss.

But the enchanter did not know that name, and could not in consequence introduce it into his formulae, even although they were tested to remain for ever concealed in mystery.

He could not obtain or make use of it, he only requested the god who knew it to employ it, without endeavoring to penetrate the terrible secret himself.

The primitive simplicity of the incantations of Chaldean magic strikes us forcibly when we compare them with those of the Egyptian magic, and this fact gives to them a stamp of greater antiquity.

Every thing is expressed very clearly and simply without any attempt at obscurity, or premeditated complications. The belief in spirits is seen there in its most ancient and perfect form, without any philosophical refinement as to the divine substance, without a single trace of mysticism, and above all without any allusions to the vast number of mythological legends which fill the Egyptian formulae, and render them perfectly unintelligible without a voluminous commentary.

It is easy on the contrary to understand the magical formulae in the Accadian language, which were preserved in Chaldea until the breaking up of the sacerdotal schools on the borders of the Euphrates, and which Ashurbanipal had copied for the royal library in Nineveh about the VIIth century, BCE.

They contain no mysteries, and the sacerdotal secret, if there were one, consisted in the precise knowledge of the exact terms of the incantations, sacred from their antiquity, and no doubt also from the idea that they were of divine origin.

The formulae were the work of a people who possessed as yet no esoteric doctrines and no mystical initiations; amongst whom the science of magic consisted simply in a practical acquaintance by the priests with certain rites and words, by means of which they fancied themselves able to establish a communication with the world of spirits, whilst at the same time their conception of those spirits difference from the popular superstitions only by a little more systematic regularity in their position, hierarchy and privileges.

It is for this reason that the Accadian magic preserved, even during the centuries of the greatest splendor of Babylon and Assyria, the appearance of extreme antiquity and the spirit of the earliest ages, by the side of the learned religion which sprang up later in the same places, and which accepted the existence of this magic by placing in the canon of its sacred books the old Accadian incantations, and giving a place, though indeed an insubordinate one, in its theological system to the genii who were invoked in these incantations.

At the bottom, as we shall see, magic was not separated in Chaldea from the religion of the historical centuries; it was a new twig from an entirely different plant which was grafted for good or for evil upon the trunk from the time that its existence was recognized, and tolerated instead of being annihilated.

But facts oblige us to see in it also the remains of an earlier religious system, of a still rudimentary and coarse naturalism, which arose from the ideas of a primitive population belonging to a race entirely different from that among which the Chaldaic-Assyrian religion existed.

In the civilization which gradually spread over the borders of the Tigris and Euphrates from the fusion of the Sumerians, and the Accadians, the Semit-Kushites and the Turanians, religion and magic were peaceably united, although they originated in the two opposing elements of the people.

This I think will be made evident by placing the doctrines of the magic books which were originally written in the Accadian language, and the discovery of which we owe to Sir Henry Rawlinson, in comparison with those of the later official religion and of the public worship, as they appear in many documents.”

François Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, “Contrasts between the Accadian and Egyptian magic,” Chapter VIII, 1878, pp. 107-110. Originally published as La Magie Chez Les Chaldeens, 1847.

The Names of the Great Mother

“THE dawn of history in all parts of Western Asia discloses the established worship of a nature-goddess in whom the productive powers of the earth were personified. 1 She is our Mother Earth, known otherwise as the Mother Goddess or Great Mother. Among the Babylonians 2 and northern Semites she was called Ishtar: she is the Ashtoreth of the Bible, and the Astarte of Phœnicia. In Syria her name was ‘Athar, and in Cilicia it had the form of ‘Ate (‘Atheh). At Hierapolis, with which we are primarily concerned, it appears in later Aramaic as Atargatis, a compound of the Syrian and Cilician forms.

In Asia Minor, where the influence of the Semitic language did not prevail, her various names have not survived, though it is recorded by a later Greek writer as “Ma” at one of her mountain shrines, and as Agdistis amongst one tribe of the Phrygians and probably at Pessinus. These differences, however, are partly questions of local tongue; for in one way and another there was still a prevailing similarity between the essential attributes and worship of the nature-goddess throughout Western Asia.

The “origins” of this worship and its ultimate development are not directly relevant to our present enquiry; but we must make passing allusion to a point of special interest and wide significance. As regards Asia Minor, at least, a theory that explains certain abnormal tendencies in worship and in legend would attribute to the goddess, in the primitive conception of her, the power of self-reproduction, complete in herself, a hypothesis justified by the analogy of beliefs current among certain states of primitive society.

However that may be, a male companion is none the less generally associated with her in mythology, even from the earliest historical vision of Ishtar in Babylonia, where he was known as Tammuz. While evidence is wanting to define clearly the original position of this deity in relation to the goddess, the general tendency of myth and legend in the lands of Syria and Asia Minor, with which we are specially concerned, reveals him as her offspring, the fruits of the earth.

The basis of the myth was human experience of nature, particularly the death of plant life with the approach of winter and its revival with the spring. In one version accordingly “Adonis” descends for the six winter months to the underworld, until brought back to life through the divine influence of the goddess. The idea that the youth was the favoured lover of the goddess belongs to a different strain of thought, if indeed it was current in these lands at all in early times. In Asia Minor at any rate the sanctity of the goddess’s traditional powers was safeguarded in popular legend by the emasculation of “Attis,” and in worship by the actual emasculation of her priesthood, perhaps the most striking feature of her cult.

The abnormal and impassioned tendencies of her developed worship would be derived, according to this theory, from the efforts of her worshippers to assist her to bring forth notwithstanding her singleness. However that may be, the mourning for the death of the youthful god, and rejoicing at his return, were invariable features of this worship of nature. It is reasonable to believe that long before the curtain of history was raised over Asia Minor the worship of this goddess and her son had become deep-rooted.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, Lucian’s the Syrian Goddess, A Translation of De Dea Syria  with a Life of Lucian, 1913, pp. 1-4.

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