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Tag: Underworld

Nakamura: the āšipu was Master of the Figurines

The Buried and Enclosed

“The multiple layers of concealment in this Neo-Assyrian figurine ritual suggest a play on the hiding and receiving powers of the earth.

In Mesopotamia, burial constituted a pervasive and important ritual idiom; people buried valuables, sacrifices, foundation offerings, caches of various materials, and their dead.

Nakamura: "By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order."

Nakamura: “By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.”

Such diverse practices surely supported an equally diverse range of meanings. But in a basic sense, burial can mean to store, preserve, and put the past on hold (Harrison 2003:xi). This concept of burial holds purchase in the way in which protection relates to memory.

By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.

Burial keeps things hidden and protected such that preservation binds memory to a specific locality, from which it can be retrieved in the future as a given past. And this preservation of the future configures protection as survival.

It is interesting to mention here a temporal particularity in the Akkadian language that designates the “past” as lying before and the “future” as lying behind (Maul 1997:109), a stark reversal of our modern notions.

Mythology also seems to corroborate the notion that Mesopotamians “proceeded with their backs to the future,” as it were. Berossos’ Babyloniaka presents the primordial sage Oannes as having taught humans all the arts of domestic and cultural life.

Other myths regard this knowledge of the civilized arts as a gift from the god Enki (Ea). What is striking in both of these accounts is that the Mesopotamians believed that all cultural achievements — be they architecture, writing, healing, metalwork, carpentry, et cetera — were endowed to humans at the beginning of time, and this notion locates the ideal image of society in a primordial and mythological past rather than in a hopeful future (Maul 1997:109).

Furthermore, the figurines were not only buried, but also placed appropriately under the earth, in the space of the Netherworld and the apsû, the primordial freshwater ocean.

A depiction of the underworld.  Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

A depiction of the underworld.
Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Numerous sources locate the underworld in the ground, beneath the surface of the earth (Black and Green 1992:180; Bottéro 1992:273–275). This idea follows from a traditional Mesopotamian conception of a vertical and bipolar universe where the earth, inhabited by living humans, separated the Heavens (šamû) from the Netherworld (ersętu) (Bottéro 1992:273).

And the borders of these domains were permeable, as entry to the Netherworld could be gained by way of a stairway leading down to the gate, while spirits could access the human world through cracks and holes in earth’s surface.

But importantly, the prevailing worldview of this time held that every being occupied a proper space in the world, with the lower hemisphere, symmetrical to the upper heavens, providing a discrete space and residence for the dead and other supernatural beings.

In this context, the burial of figurines of creatures from the underworld and apsû might constitute a mimetic gesture of placing or commanding such beings to their proper place in the world. This ritual practice not only reflects but reenacts the notion of an underworld located underground.

Furthermore, the strategic placement of the figurine deposits under certain architectural and household features may act to channel and focus the protective power of the beings, since they dwell in their “proper” realm.

The fact that the figurines were encased in boxes is also evocative of the important gesture of providing a “house” for the deities, and there could be no greater service rendered to a divine being than the building of his or her house (Frankfort 1978:267).

Additionally, the “immateriality” of a buried geography as an invisible, powerful presence is itself provocative.

The figurines, so installed, become effectively removed from the sensuous sphere of human–object relations. In this register of experience, they are “completed,” no longer engaging in processes of mutual constitution and becoming.

But the materiality of the figurine deposit endures and is powerful in this capacity to survive, virtually unmolested, performing its original duty; cut off from human relations, mute, blind, and restrained, they no longer strike back at human subjects, but can only direct their force to fighting off evil spirits in the Netherworld, as instructed by the āšipu.

There is a sense here of Derrida’s (1994) autonomous automaton, the animate puppet with a will of its own that yet obeys some predetermined program. By containing, concealing, and hiding these magical figures, the priest has made his mastery of their power complete.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 36-8.

Nakamura: The Figurines as Magical Objects

The Hybrid

“The magical power of the āšipu also allows him to identify certain mythological and supernatural beings appropriate for the task of protection; these are ancient sages (apkallū), warrior deities and monsters, associated with civilized knowledge and the formidable forces of life, death, peace, and destruction of divine will and rule (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993).

These figures take on different protective attributes depending on the nature of the represented being; the apkallū act as purifiers and exorcists to expel and ward off evil forces, while monsters, gods, and dogs tend to the defense of the house from demonic intruders (Wiggermann 1992:96–97).

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation –Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to – or identical with- ‘Lahamu’ one of Tiamat’s Creatures in that epic. http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

All of these figures find some association either with the underworld or the freshwater ocean under the earth (apsû) which was the domain of Enki, the god associated with wisdom, magic, incantation, and the arts and crafts of civilization (Black and Green 1992:75), and notably, all but the lahmu portray composite human–animal physiognomies (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.  1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).  2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.
1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).
2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Such forms manifest a communion of things generally held to be opposed to each other. The blending of humans and animals in this context might capitalize on the tension between Mesopotamian conceptions of a structured, civilized human world and a chaotic, untamed natural world (Bottéro 1992).

Hybrids materialize a unity of self and other, human and animal as a strange being that is at once knowable and controllable and unknowable and incontrollable.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.  The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.
The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

As beings in-between, hybrids embody potential, transition, and similarity in difference. Such liminality is often associated with dangerous power, a power that obeys the apotropaic economy of the supplement, since it terrifies and yet provides the surest protection against that terror (Derrida 1974:154).

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

By miming such beings in clay figurines, the āšipu brings forth their active life and force in petrified form. Capitalizing on the apotropaic logic of defense, this gesture captures self-defeating force and suspends it in space, material, and time.

Many of the figurine types are depicted in movement with hands gesturing and a foot forward to suggest forward movement. Following Susan Stewart (1984:54), I submit that the force of animated life does not diminish when arrested in the fixity and exteriority of the figurine, but rather, is captured as a moment of hesitation always on the verge of forceful action.

The apotropaic figurine is a magical object — what Michael Taussig calls a “time–space compaction of the mimetic process” — doubled over since its form and matter, creation and presentation capture certain inherent energies that humans desire to control.

The magical object, which encounters the unknown by presenting its form and image “releases a force capable of vanquishing it, or even befriending it” (Deleuze 2003:52). But as ritual texts and archaeological deposits confirm, it was not just the images themselves that rendered power, but something in the process of their creation.

While such apotropaic figures appear in grand scale and idealized form on wall reliefs flanking entrances of kingly palaces purifying all who passed through the gates, the figures standing guard in floor deposits performed an additional task.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 34-6.

Mesopotamian Apotropaic Gods and Monsters

“It remains, however, that art expresses theological development less clearly than the written sources. The types of art and their contexts were fixed in the third millennium, and only minor changes are allowed through time.

Most of the supernatural beings treated in this book become defeated adversaries of gods at some point in their history, but they are never represented as such in art. Other theological changes are expressed by omitting certain features or contexts, rather than by adding new ones.

The identities and histories of Mesopotamian monsters are the subject of this book. It is an expanded version of “Studies in Babylonian Demonology II,” announced in JEOL 27 90ff., dealing with the lahmu. Here the lahmu, the “hairy one,” reappears in its proper setting between the other apotropaic gods and monsters of the rituals. The expansion is due to the recovery of new textual material.

(F.A.M. Wiggermann, The Staff of Ninšubura: Studies in Babylonian Demonology II, Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux 29, 1985-6).

PazuzuDemonAssyria1stMil_2

Pazuzu: a demon-god of the underworld, sometimes invoked for beneficial ends. The inscription covering the back of his wings states: “I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issue violently from mountains, causing much havoc.” Pazuzu was particularly associated with the west wind which brought the plague. Under certain circumstances Pazuzu was a protective spirit, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who infected men with various diseases. Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake, with two pairs of wings and talons of a bird of prey. He has a scorpion’s tail and his body is covered in scales. http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090628125910/http://www.louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723696500800&baseIndex=56&bmLocale=en Bronze statuette of Pazuzu, circa 800 BC –- circa 700 BC, Louvre Museum.

The texts treated are rituals for the defence of the house against epidemic diseases, represented as an army of demonic intruders. The gates, rooms, and corners of the house are occupied by prophylactic figures of clay or wood, that the texts describe in detail. The clay figures have been found in excavations, and the importance of these texts for iconography lies in linking descriptions with archaeological fact.

Fortunately the archaeological material corresponding to our texts has been collected and discussed in two recent monographs: Dessa Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v Chr, (1977), and Dieter Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme religiös-mythologischen Charakters in neu-assyrischen Palästen, (1981). Both authors tried to match the archeological types with the figures of the ritual texts, then still fragmentary.

The main text K 2987B+ (parts of it were edited previously by O. R. Gurney, “Babylonian Prophylactic Figures and Their Ritual,” AAA 22 (1935), 42ff.) and the better preserved extracted KAR 298 are edited and collated below as text I and II, and considerable progress could be made in their reconstruction.

A third text containing similar material is bīt mēseri which has been treated here as text III.

Differing somewhat is the “Ritual for the Substitute King.” A new manuscript has been edited here as text VI.

Lamashtu demon amulet, ca. early 1st millennium B.C., Mesopotamia or Iran, Obsidian. James N. Spear Gift, 1984 Accession Number: 1984.348 Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/326961

Lamashtu demon amulet, ca. early 1st millennium B.C., Mesopotamia or Iran,
Obsidian.
James N. Spear Gift, 1984
Accession Number: 1984.348
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/326961

Although the identities and the histories of the monsters are the main subject of the present study, the information supplied by the texts on other facets of iconography could not be totally ignored. In the commentary on text II paragraphs on gods, sages, and attributes have been inserted. Here the correspondance of the texts with the archaeological material is less straightforward, and our results remain tentative.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. xii.

Gilgamesh and the Quest for Immortality

“This sinister vision appears to have been a presage of Eabani’s death. Shortly afterwards he fell ill and died at the end of twelve days. The manner of his death is uncertain. One reading of the mutilated text represents Eabani as being wounded, perhaps in battle, and succumbing to the effects of the wound.

But another makes him say to his friend Gilgamesh,

“I have been cursed, my friend, I shall not die as one who has been slain in battle.”

The breaks in the text are responsible for the divergence. The latter reading is probably the correct one; Eabani has grievously offended Ishtar, the all-powerful, and the curse which has smitten him to the earth is probably hers. In modern folk-lore phraseology he died of ju-ju. The death of the hero brings the VlIIth tablet to a close.

In the IXth tablet we find Gilgamesh mourning the loss of his friend.

On the heart of Gilgamesh, likewise, the fear of death had taken hold, and he determined to go in search of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim, who might be able to show him a way of escape. Straightway putting his determination into effect, Gilgamesh set out for the abode of Ut-Napishtim.

On the way he had to pass through mountain gorges, made terrible by the presence of wild beasts. From the power of these he was delivered by Sin, the moon-god, who enabled him to traverse the mountain passes in safety.

At length he came to a mountain higher than the rest, the entrance to which was guarded by scorpion-men. This was Mashu, the Mountain of the Sunset, which lies on the western horizon, between the earth and the underworld.

“Then he came to the mountain of Mashu, the portals of which are guarded every day by monsters; their backs mount up to the ramparts of heaven, and their foreparts reach down beneath Aralu.

Scorpion-men guard the gate (of Mashu); they strike terror into men, and it is death to behold them. Their splendour is great, for it overwhelms the mountains; from sunrise to sunset they guard the sun.

Gilgamesh beheld them, and his face grew dark with fear and terror, and the wildness of their aspect robbed him of his senses.”

On approaching the entrance to the mountain Gilgamesh found his way barred by these scorpion-men, who, perceiving the strain of divinity in him, did not blast him with their glance, but questioned him regarding his purpose in drawing near’the mountain of Mashu.

When Gilgamesh had replied to their queries, telling them how he wished to reach the abode of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim, and there learn the secret of perpetual life and youthfulness, the scorpion-men advised him to turn back.

Before him, they said, lay the region of thick darkness; for twelve kasbu (twenty-four hours) he would have to journey through the thick darkness ere he again emerged into the light of day. And so they refused to let him pass.

But Gilgamesh implored, “with tears,” says the narrative, and at length the monsters consented to admit him. Having passed the gate of the Mountain of the Sunset (by virtue of his character as a solar deity) Gilgamesh traversed the region of thick darkness during the space of twelve kasbu.

Toward the end of that period the darkness became ever less pronounced; finally it was broad day, and Gilgamesh found himself in a beautiful garden or park studded with trees, among which was the tree of the gods, thus charmingly depicted in the text—

“Precious stones it bore as fruit, branches hung from it which were beautiful to behold. The top of the tree was lapis-lazuli, and it was laden with fruit which dazzled the eye of him that beheld.”

Having paused to admire the beauty of the scene, Gilgamesh bent his steps shoreward.

The Xth tablet describes the hero’s encounter with the sea-goddess Sabitu who, on the approach of one

“who had the appearance of a god, in whose body was grief, and who looked as though he had made a long journey,”

retired into her palace and fastened the door. But Gilgamesh, knowing that her help was necessary to bring him to the dwelling of Ut-Napishtim, told her of his quest, and in despair threatened to break down the door unless she opened to him.

At last Sabitu consented to listen to him whilst he asked the way to Ut-Napishtim. Like the scorpion-men, the sea-goddess perceived that Gilgamesh was not to be turned aside from his quest, so at last she bade him go to Adad-Ea, Ut-Napishtim’s ferryman, without whose aid, she said, it would be futile to persist further in his mission.

Adad-Ea, likewise, being consulted by Gilgamesh, advised him to desist, but the hero, pursuing his plan of intimidation, began to smash the ferryman’s boat with his axe, whereupon Adad-Ea was obliged to yield.

He sent his would-be passenger into the forest for a new rudder, and after that the two sailed away.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 171-3.

Gilgamesh and Eabani Kill the Bull of Heaven

“To resume the tale: In her wrath and humiliation Ishtar appealed to her father and mother, Anu and Anatu, and begged the former to create a mighty bull and send it against Gilgamesh.

Anu at first demurred, declaring that if he did so it would result in seven years’ sterility on the earth; but finally he consented, and a great bull, Alu, was sent to do battle with Gilgamesh.

The portion of the text which deals with the combat is much mutilated, but it appears that the conflict was hot and sustained, the celestial animal finally succumbing to a sword-thrust from Gilgamesh. Ishtar looks on in impotent anger.

“Then Ishtar went up on to the wall of strong-walled Erech; she mounted to the top and she uttered a curse, (saying),

‘Cursed be Gilgamesh, who has provoked me to anger, and has slain the bull from heaven.’”

Then Eabani incurs the anger of the deity —“

When Eabani heard these words of Ishtar, he tore out the entrails of the bull, and he cast them before her, saying,

‘As for thee, I will conquer thee, and I will do to thee even as I have done to him.’”

Ishtar was beside herself with rage. Gilgamesh and his companion dedicated the great horns of the bull to the sun-god, and having washed their hands in the river Euphrates, returned once more to Erech. As the triumphal procession passed through the city the people came out of their houses to do honour to the heroes.

The remainder of the tablet is concerned with a great banquet given by Gilgamesh to celebrate his victory over the bull Alu, and with further visions of Eabani.

The Vllth and VlIIth tablets are extremely fragmentary, and so much of the text as is preserved is open to various readings. It is possible that to the Vllth tablet belongs a description of the underworld given to Eabani in a dream by the temple-maiden Ukhut, whom he had cursed in a previous tablet, and who had since died.

The description answers to that given in another ancient text—the myth of Ishtar’s descent into Hades—and evidently embodies the popular belief concerning the underworld.

“Come, descend with me to the house of darkness, the abode of Irkalla, to the house whence the enterer goes not forth, to the path whose way has no return, to the house whose dwellers are deprived of light, where dust is their nourishment and earth their food. They are clothed, like the birds, in a garment of feathers; they see not the light, they dwell in darkness.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 168-70.

Implications of the Gilgamesh Epic

“Among the traditions concerning his birth is one related by Ælian (Historia Animalium, XII, 21) of Gilgamos (Gilgamesh), the grandson of Sokkaros. Sokkaros, who, according to Berossus, was the first king to reign in Babylonia after the deluge, was warned by means of divination that his daughter should bear a son who would deprive him of his throne.

Thinking to frustrate the designs of fate he shut her up in a tower, where she was closely watched. But in time she bore a son, and her attendants, knowing how wroth the King would be to learn of the event, flung the child from the tower.

But before he reached the ground an eagle seized him up and bore him off to a certain garden, where he was duly found and cared for by a peasant. And when he grew to manhood he became King of the Babylonians, having, presumably, usurped the throne of his grandfather.

Here we have a myth obviously of solar significance, conforming in every particular to a definite type of sun-legend. It cannot have been by chance that it became attached to the person of Gilgamesh.

Everything in the epic, too, is consonant with the belief that Gilgamesh is a sun-god—his connexion with Shamash (who may have been his father in the tradition given by Ælian, as well as the eagle which saved him from death), the fact that no mention is made of his father in the poem, though his mother is brought in more than once, and the assumption throughout the epic that he is more than human.

Given the key to his mythical character it is not hard to perceive in his adventures the daily (or annual) course of the sun, rising to its full strength at noonday (or mid-summer), and sinking at length to the western horizon, to return in due time to the abode of men.

Like all solar deities—like the sun itself—his birth and origin are wrapped in mystery. He is, indeed, one of the ‘fatal children,’ like Sargon, Perseus, or Arthur. When he first appears in the narrative he is already a full-grown hero, the ruler and (it would seem) oppressor of Erech.

His mother, Rimat-belit, is a priestess in the temple of Ishtar, and through her he is descended from Ut-Napishtim, a native of Shurippak, and the hero of the Babylonian flood-legend. Early in the narrative he is brought into contact with the wild man Eabani, originally designed for his destruction by the gods, but with whom he eventually concludes a firm friendship.

The pair proceed to do battle with the monster Khumbaba, whom they overcome, as they do also the sacred bull sent against them by Anu. Up to the end of the Vlth tablet their conquering and triumphant career is without interruption; Gilgamesh increases in strength as does the sun approaching the zenith.

At the Vllth tablet, however, his good fortune begins to wane. Eabani dies, slain doubtless by the wrath of Ishtar, whose love Gilgamesh has rejected with scorn; and the hero, mourning the death of his friend, and smitten with fear that he himself will perish in like manner, decides to go in search of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim (who, as sole survivor of the deluge, has received from the gods deification and immortality), and learn of him the secret of eternal life.

His further adventures have not the triumphal character of his earlier exploits. Sunwise he journeys to the Mountain of the Sunset, encounters the scorpion-men, and crosses the Waters of Death. Ut-Napishtim teaches him the lesson that all men must die (he himself being an exception in exceptional circumstances), and though he afterwards gives Gilgamesh an opportunity of eating the plant of life, the opportunity is lost.

However, Ut-Napishtim cures Gilgamesh of a disease which he has contracted, apparently while crossing the Waters of Death, and he is finally restored to Erech.

In these happenings we see the gradual sinking of the sun into the underworld by way of the Mountain of the Sunset. It is impossible for the sun to attain immortality, to remain for ever in the land of the living; he must traverse the Waters of Death and sojourn in the underworld.

Yet the return of Gilgamesh to Erech signifies the fresh dawning of the day. It is the eternal struggle of day and night, summer and winter; darkness may conquer light, but light will emerge again victorious. The contest is unending.

Some authorities have seen in the division of the epic into twelve tablets a connexion with the months of the year or the signs of the zodiac. Such a connexion probably exists, but when we consider that the artificial division of the epic into tablets scarcely tallies with the natural divisions of the poem, it seems likely that the astrological significance of the former was given to the epic by the scribes of Nineveh, who were evidently at some pains to compress the matter into twelve tablets.

Of the astro-theological significance of the narrative itself (one of its most important aspects), we shall perhaps be better able to judge when we have considered it in detail.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 156-9.

Interpretations of the Myth of Ishtar and Tammuz

“A truly allegorical elucidation of the myth of Ishtar’s descent into Hades would depict Ishtar, as the goddess of fertility, seeking in the underworld for her husband, the sun-god, slain by the icy breath of winter. During her sojourn in the nether regions all fertility ceases on the earth, to be resumed only when she returns as the joyful bride of the springtide sun.

The surrender of her clothing and jewels at the seven gates of Aralu represents the gradual decay of vegetation on the earth, and the resumption of her garments the growing beauty and verdure which mark her return.

Another hypothesis identifies Ishtar with Dawkina, goddess of the earth, wife of Ea and therefore mother as well as consort of Tammuz. According to this view Ishtar represents not the fertility of the earth, but the earth itself, deprived of its adornments of flowers and leafage by the approach of winter, or variously, by the burning heat of summer.

The waters of life, with which she sprinkles and restores her husband,[8] are the revivifying rains which give to the sun-god his youthful vigour and glory. Against this view it has been urged (e.g. by Sir James Frazer) that “there is nothing in the sun’s annual course within the temperate and tropical zones to suggest that he is dead for half or a third of the year, and alive for the other half or two-thirds.”

Alternatively it is suggested that Tammuz is a god of vegetation, and that Ishtar doubles the role. The slaying of Tammuz and the journey of Ishtar would thus represent two distinct myths, each typifying the decay and subsequent revival of vegetation. Other instances may be recalled in which two myths of the same class have become fused into one.

This view, then, presents some elements of probability; not only Tammuz but most of his variants appear to possess a vegetable significance, while the Ishtar type is open to interpretation on the same lines. Thus Adonis is associated with the myrrh-tree, from whose trunk he was born, and Osiris with the tamarisk, used in the ritual connected with his cult, while Attis after his death became a pine-tree.

Tammuz himself was conceived of as dwelling in the midst of a great world-tree, whose roots extended down to the underworld, while its branches reached to the heavens. This tree appears to have been the cedar, for which the ancient Babylonians had an especial reverence.

One feature which leads us to identify the deities of this class, both male and female, with gods of vegetation is their association with the moon. Osiris is regarded, and with much reason, as a moon-god; in one of her aspects Aphrodite is a lunar deity, while a like significance belongs to Proserpine and to the Phoenician Ashtoreth. Ishtar herself, it is true, was never identified with the moon, which in Babylonia was a male divinity; yet she was associated with him as his daughter.

Among primitive peoples the moon is believed to exercise a powerful influence on vegetation, and indeed on all manner of growth and productivity. The association of a god with the moon therefore argues for him also a connexion with vegetation and fertility.

It may be remarked, in passing, that a lunar significance has been attached by some authorities to the story of Ishtar’s descent into Hades, and to kindred myths. It is held that the sojourn of the goddess in Aralu typifies a lunar eclipse, or perhaps the period between the waning of the old moon and the appearance of the new.

But, as has been said, the ancient Babylonians saw in the luminary of night a male deity, so that any lunar characteristics pertaining to Ishtar must be regarded as of merely secondary importance.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 136-8.

Love, Babylonian-Style–The Tale of Ereš-ki-gal and Nerigal, Goddess and God of the Underworld

“As the prototype of Persephone, this goddess is one of much importance for comparative mythology, and there is a legend concerning her of considerable interest. The text is one of those found at Tel-el-Armana, in Egypt, and states that the gods once made a feast, and sent to Ereš-ki-gal, saying that, though they could go down to her, she could not ascend to them, and asking her to send a messenger to fetch away the food destined for her.

This she did, and all the gods stood up to receive her messenger, except one, who seems to have withheld this token of respect. The messenger, when he returned, apparently related to Ereš-ki-gal what had happened, and angered thereat, she sent him back to the presence of the gods, asking for the delinquent to be delivered to her, that she might kill him.

The gods then discussed the question of death with the messenger, and told him to take to his mistress the god who had not stood up in his presence.

When the gods were brought together, that the culprit might be recognised, one of them remained in the background, and on the messenger asking who it was who did not stand up, it was found to be Nerigal. This god was duly sent, but was not at all inclined to be submissive, for instead of killing him, as she had threatened, Ereš-ki-gal found herself seized by the hair and dragged from her throne, whilst the death-dealing god made ready to cut off her head.

“Do not kill me, my brother, let me speak to thee,” she cried, and on his loosing his hold upon her hair, she continued, “thou shalt be my husband, and I will be thy wife–I will cause you to take dominion in the wide earth. I will place the tablet of wisdom in thine hand–thou shalt be lord, I will be lady.”

Nerigal thereupon took her, kissed her, and wiped away her tears, saying, “Whatever thou hast asked me for months past now receives assent.”

Ereš-ki-gal did not treat her rival in the affections of Tammuz so gently when Ištar descended to Hades in search of the “husband of her youth.”

According to the story, not only was Ištar deprived of her garments and ornaments, but by the orders of Ereš-ki-gal, Namtar smote her with disease in all her members. It was not until the gods intervened that Ištar was set free.

The meaning of her name is “lady of the great region,” a description which is supposed to apply to Hades, and of which a variant, Ereš-ki-gal, “lady of the great house,” occurs in the Hymns to Tammuz in the Manchester Museum.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 78-9.

Cult of Ishtar

” … In all probability Ištar, the spouse of Tammuz, is best known from her descent into Hades in quest of him when with Persephone (Ereš-ki-gal) in the underworld.

In this she had to pass through seven gates, and an article of clothing was taken from her at each, until she arrived in the underworld quite naked, typifying the teaching, that man can take nothing away with him when he departs this life.

During her absence, things naturally began to go wrong upon the earth, and the gods were obliged to intervene, and demand her release, which was ultimately granted, and at each gate, as she returned, the adornments which she had left were given back to her. It is uncertain whether the husband whom she sought to release was set free, but the end of the inscription seems to imply that Ištar was successful in her mission.

In this story she typifies the faithful wife, but other legends show another side of her character, as in that of Gilgameš, ruler of her city Erech, to whom she makes love.

Gilgameš, however, knowing the character of the divine queen of his city too well, reproaches her with her treatment of her husband and her other lovers–Tammuz, to whom, from year to year, she caused bitter weeping; the bright coloured Allala bird, whom she smote and broke his wings; the lion perfect in strength, in whom she cut wounds “by sevens”; the horse glorious in war, to whom she caused hardship and distress, and to his mother Silili bitter weeping; the shepherd who provided for her things which she liked, whom she smote and changed to a jackal; Išullanu, her father’s gardener, whom she tried, apparently, to poison, but failing, she smote him, and changed him to a statue (?).

On being thus reminded of her misdeeds, Ištar was naturally angry, and, ascending to heaven, complained to her father Anu and her mother Anatu, the result being, that a divine bull was sent against Gilgameš and Enki-du, his friend and helper.

The bull, however, was killed, and a portion of the animal having been cut off, Enki-du threw it at the goddess, saying at the same time that, if he could only get hold of her, he would treat her similarly. Apparently Ištar recognised that there was nothing further to be done in the matter, so, gathering the hand-maidens, pleasure-women and whores, in their presence she wept over the portion of the divine bull which had been thrown at her.

The worship of Ištar, she being the goddess of love and war, was considerably more popular than that of her spouse, Tammuz, who, as among the western Semitic nations, was adored rather by the women than the men. Her worship was in all probability of equal antiquity, and branched out, so to say, in several directions, as may be judged by her many names, each of which had a tendency to become a distinct personality.

Thus the syllabaries give the character which represents her name as having also been pronounced /Innanna/, /Ennen/, and /Nin/, whilst a not uncommon name in other inscriptions is /Ama-Innanna/, “mother Ištar.”

The principal seat of her worship in Babylonia was at Erech, and in Assyria at Nineveh–also at Arbela, and many other places. She was also honoured (at Erech and elsewhere) under the Elamite names of Tišpak and Šušinak, “the Susian goddess.”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 72-5.

Elements of the Cult of Tammuz

” … Whilst on earth, he was the one who nourished the ewe and her lamb, the goat and her kid, and also caused them to be slain–probably in sacrifice.

“He has gone, he has gone to the bosom of the earth,” the mourners cried, “he will make plenty to overflow for the land of the dead, for its lamentations for the day of his fall, in the unpropitious month of his year.”

There was also lamentation for the cessation of the growth of vegetation, and one of these hymns, after addressing him as the shepherd and husband of Ištar, “lord of the underworld,” and “lord of the shepherd’s seat,” goes on to liken him to a germ which has not absorbed water in the furrow, whose bud has not blossomed in the meadow; to the sapling which has not been planted by the watercourse, and to the sapling whose root has been removed.

In the “Lamentations” in the Manchester Museum, Ištar, or one of her devotees, seems to call for Tammuz, saying, “Return, my husband,” as she makes her way to the region of gloom in quest of him.

Ereš-ê-gala, “the lady of the great house” (Persephone), is also referred to, and the text seems to imply that Ištar entered her domain in spite of her. In this text other names are given to him, namely, /Tumu-giba/, “son of the flute,” /Ama-elaggi/, and /Ši-umunnagi/, “life of the people.”

The reference to sheep and goats in the British Museum fragment recalls the fact that in an incantation for purification the person using it is told to get the milk of a yellow goat which has been brought forth in the sheep-fold of Tammuz, recalling the flocks of the Greek sun-god Helios.

These were the clouds illuminated by the sun, which were likened to sheep–indeed, one of the early Sumerian expressions for “fleece” was “sheep of the sky.” The name of Tammuz in Sumerian is Dumu-zi, or in its rare fullest form, Dumu-zida, meaning “true” or “faithful son.” There is probably some legend attached to this which is at present unknown.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 71-2.

The Myth of Tammuz, or Adonis

“The date of the rise of the myth of Tammuz is uncertain, but as the name of this god is found on tablets of the time of Lugal-anda and Uru-ka-gina (about 3500 B.C.), it can hardly be of later date than 4000 B.C., and may be much earlier.

As he is repeatedly called “the shepherd,” and had a domain where he pastured his flock, Professor Sayce sees in Tammuz “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” who, according to Berosus, ruled in Babylonia for 10 /sari/, or 36,000 years, and was the sixth king of the mythical period.

According to the classic story, the mother of Tammuz had unnatural intercourse with her own father, being urged thereto by Aphrodite whom she had offended, and who had decided thus to avenge herself.

Being pursued by her father, who wished to kill her for this crime, she prayed to the gods, and was turned into a tree, from whose trunk Adonis was afterwards born.

Aphrodite was so charmed with the infant that, placing him in a chest, she gave him into the care of Persephone, who, however, when she discovered what a treasure she had in her keeping, refused to part with him again.

Zeus was appealed to, and decided that for four months in the year Adonis should be left to himself, four should be spent with Aphrodite, and four with Persephone; or, as a variant account makes it, he should spend six months with Persephone, and six with Aphrodite on earth. He was afterwards slain, whilst hunting, by a wild boar.

Nothing has come down to us as yet concerning this legend except the incident of his dwelling in Hades, whither Ištar, the Babylonian Venus, went in search of him.

It is not by any means unlikely, however, that the whole story existed in Babylonia, and thence spread to Phœnicia, and afterwards to Greece. In Phœnicia it was adapted to the physical conditions of the country, and the place of Tammuz’s encounter with the boar was said to be the mountains of Lebanon, whilst the river named after him, Adonis (now the Nahr Ibrahim), which ran red with the earth washed down by the autumn rains, was said to be so coloured in consequence of being mingled with his blood.

The descent of Tammuz to the underworld, typified by the flowing down of the earth-laden waters of the rivers to the sea, was not only celebrated by the Phœnicians, but also by the Babylonians, who had at least two series of lamentations which were used on this occasion, and were probably the originals of those chanted by the Hebrew women in the time of Ezekiel (about 597 B.C.).”

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, London, 1906, pp. 69-70.

Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (British Museum, No. 90,858)

The accompanying illustration, which is reproduced from the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk (Brit. Mus., No. 90,858), supplies much information about the symbols of the gods, and of the Signs of the Zodiac in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, King of Babylon, about 1120 B.C.

British Museum number 90858 Description 3/4: Right Limestone stela in the form of a boundary-stone: consisting of a block of calcareous limestone, shaped and prepared on four sides to take sculptures and inscriptions. It is now mounted on a stone plinth.  Faces B and C each bear a single column of inscription, the lines running the full width of the stone.  The top of the stone and Face D have been left blank, except for the serpent, which has been carved to the left of the emblems on Face A.  Inscribed with a Charter from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I.

British Museum number 90858
Description 3/4: Right
Limestone stela in the form of a boundary-stone: consisting of a block of calcareous limestone, shaped and prepared on four sides to take sculptures and inscriptions. It is now mounted on a stone plinth.
Faces B and C each bear a single column of inscription, the lines running the full width of the stone.
The top of the stone and Face D have been left blank, except for the serpent, which has been carved to the left of the emblems on Face A.
Inscribed with a Charter from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I.

Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god. In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively. In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress. In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shukamuna and Shumalia. In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man. In Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.  Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.

Thus in Register 1, we have the Star of Ishtar, the crescent of the Moon-god Sin, and the disk of Shamash the Sun-god.
In Reg. 2 are three stands (?) surmounted by tiaras, which represent the gods Anu, Enlil (Bel) and Ea respectively.
In Reg. 3 are three altars (?) or shrines (?) with a monster in Nos. 1 and 2. Over the first is the lance of Marduk, over the second the mason’s square of Nabû, and over the third is the symbol of the goddess Ninkharsag, the Creatress.
In Reg. 4 are a standard with an animal’s head, a sign of Ea; a two-headed snake = the Twins; an unknown symbol with a horse’s head, and a bird, representative of Shukamuna and Shumalia.
In Reg. 5 are a seated figure of the goddess Gula and the Scorpion-man.
In Reg. 6 are forked lightning, symbol of Adad, above a bull, the Tortoise, symbol of Ea (?), the Scorpion of the goddess Ishkhara, and the Lamp of Nusku, the Fire-god.
Down the left-hand side is the serpent-god representing the constellation of the Hydra.

The mutilated text of the Fifth Tablet makes it impossible to gain further details in connection with Marduk’s work in arranging the heavens. We are, however, justified in assuming that the gaps in it contained statements about the grouping of the gods into triads.

In royal historical inscriptions the kings often invoke the gods in threes, though they never call any one three a triad or trinity. It seems as if this arrangement of gods in threes was assumed to be of divine origin.

In the Fourth Tablet of Creation, one triad “Anu-Bel-Ea” is actually mentioned, and in the Fifth Tablet, another is indicated, “Sin-Shamash-Ishtar.”

In these triads Anu represents the sky or heaven, Bel or Enlil the region under the sky and including the earth, Ea the underworld, Sin the Moon, Shamash the Sun, and Ishtar the star Venus.

When the universe was finally constituted several other great gods existed, e.g., Nusku, the Fire-god, Enurta, a solar god, Nergal, the god of war and handicrafts, Nabu, the god of learning, Marduk of Babylon, the great national god of Babylonia, and Ashur, the great national god of Assyria.

E.A. Wallis Budge, et al, & the British Museum, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation & the Fight Between Bel & the Dragon Told by Assyrian Tablets from Nineveh (BCE 668-626), 1901, pp. 11-2.

Desecration of the Dead, Depredations of the Dead

” … Sometimes the bodies of the Sumerians were placed in sarcophagi of clay. The earlier type was of “bath-tub” shape, round and flat-bottomed, with a rounded lid, while the later was the “slipper-shaped coffin,” which was ornamented with charms. There is a close resemblance between the “bath-tub” coffins of Sumeria and the Egyptian pottery coffins of oval shape found in Third and Fourth Dynasty tombs in rock chambers near Nuerat. Certain designs on wooden coffins, and tombs as early as the First Dynasty, have direct analogies in Babylonia.

No great tombs were erected in Sumeria. The coffins were usually laid in brick vaults below dwellings, or below temples, or in trenches outside the city walls. On the “stele of victory,” which belongs to the period of Eannatum, patesi of Lagash, the dead bodies on the battlefield are piled up in pairs quite naked, and earth is being heaped over them; this is a specimen of mound burial.

According to Herodotus the Babylonians “buried their dead in honey, and had funeral lamentations like the Egyptians.” The custom of preserving the body in this manner does not appear to have been an ancient one, and may have resulted from cultural contact with the Nile valley during the late Assyrian period. So long as the bones were undisturbed, the spirit was supposed to be assured of rest in the Underworld. This archaic belief was widespread …

… In Babylonia the return of the spirits of the dead was greatly dreaded. Ishtar once uttered the terrible threat: “I will cause the dead to rise; they will then eat and live. The dead will be more numerous than the living.”

When a foreign country was invaded, it was a common custom to break open the tombs and scatter the bones they contained. Probably it was believed, when such acts of vandalism were committed, that the offended spirits would plague their kinsfolk.

Ghosts always haunted the homes they once lived in, and were as malignant as demons. It is significant to find in this connection that the bodies of enemies who were slain in battle were not given decent burial, but mutilated and left for birds and beasts of prey to devour.

The demons that plagued the dead might also attack the living. A fragmentary narrative, which used to be referred to as the Cuthean Legend of Creation, and has been shown by Mr. L.W. King to have no connection with the struggle between Merodach and the dragon, deals with a war waged by an ancient king against a horde of evil spirits, led by “the lord of heights, lord of the Anunaki (earth spirits).” Some of the supernatural warriors had bodies like birds; others had “raven faces,” and all had been “suckled by Tiamat.”

For three years the king sent out great armies to attack the demons, but “none returned alive.” Then he decided to go forth himself to save his country from destruction. So he prepared for the conflict, and took the precaution of performing elaborate and therefore costly religious rites so as to secure the cooperation of the gods.

His expedition was successful, for he routed the supernatural army. On his return home, he recorded his great victory on tablets which were placed in the shrine of Nergal at Cuthah.

This myth may be an echo of Nergal’s raid against Eresh-ki-gal. Or, being associated with Cuthah, it may have been composed to encourage burial in that city’s sacred cemetery, which had been cleared by the famous old king of the evil demons which tormented the dead and made seasonal attacks against the living.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Nether Cuthah

” … In the Descent of Ishtar the Babylonian Underworld is called Cuthah.

This city had a famous cemetery, like Abydos in Egypt, where many pious and orthodox worshippers sought sepulture. The local god was Nergal, who symbolized the destructive power of the sun and the sand storm; he was a gloomy, vengeful deity, attended by the spirits of tempest, weariness, pestilence, and disease, and was propitiated because he was dreaded.

In Nether Cuthah, as Ea-bani informed Gilgamesh, the worm devoured the dead amidst the dust and thick darkness.

It is evident that this Underworld was modelled on the grave. In early times men believed that the spirits of the dead hovered in or about the place of sepulture. They were therefore provided with “houses” to protect them, in the same manner as the living were protected in their houses above the ground.

The enemies of the human ghosts were the earth spirits. Weapons were laid beside the dead in their graves so that they might wage war against demons when necessary.

The corpse was also charmed, against attack, by the magical and protecting ornaments which were worn by the living–necklaces, armlets, ear-rings, &c.

Even face paint was provided, probably as a charm against the evil eye and other subtle influences.

So long as corpses were left in their graves, the spirits of the dead were, it would appear, believed to be safe. But they required food and refreshment. Food vessels and drinking urns were therefore included in the funerary furniture, and the dead were given food offerings at regular intervals.

Once a year the living held feasts in the burial ground, and invited the ghosts to share in the repast. This custom was observed in Babylonia, and is not yet obsolete in Egypt; Moslems and Coptic Christians alike hold annual all-night feasts in their cemeteries.

[ … ]

According to Babylonian belief, the dead who were not properly buried roamed through the streets searching for food, eating refuse and drinking impure water.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

An Underworld Love Story

“The Persephone of the Babylonian Underworld was Eresh-ki-gal, who was also called Allatu. A myth, which was found among the Egyptian Tel-el-Amarna Letters, sets forth that on one occasion the Babylonian gods held a feast.

All the deities attended it, except Eresh-ki-gal. She was unable to leave her gloomy Underworld, and sent her messenger, the plague demon Namtar, to obtain her share.

The various deities honoured Namtar, except Nergal, by standing up to receive him. When Eresh-ki-gal was informed of this slight she became very angry, and demanded that Nergal should be delivered up to her so that he might be put to death.

The storm god at once hastened to the Underworld, accompanied by his own group of fierce demons, whom he placed as guardians at the various doors so as to prevent the escape of Eresh-ki-gal.

Then he went boldly towards the goddess, clutched her by the hair, and dragged her from her throne.

After a brief struggle, she found herself overpowered. Nergal made ready to cut off her head, but she cried for mercy and said: “Do not kill me, my brother! Let me speak to thee.”

This appeal indicated that she desired to ransom her life–like the hags in the European folk tales–so Nergal unloosed his hold.

Then Eresh-ki-gal continued: “Be thou my husband and I will be thy wife. On thee I confer sovereignty over the wide earth, giving thee the tablet of wisdom. Thou shalt be my lord and I will be thy lady.”

Nergal accepted these terms by kissing the goddess. Affectionately drying her tears, he spoke, saying: “Thou shalt now have from me what thou hast demanded during these past months.”

In other words, Nergal promises to honour her as she desired, after becoming her husband and equal.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Hades, Nifelhel, Put, Underworld.

“There was no Heaven for the Babylonian dead.

All mankind were doomed to enter the gloomy Hades of the Underworld, “the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is darkness,” as Job exclaimed in the hour of despair, lamenting his fate.

This gloomy habitation of the dead resembles the Greek Hades, the Teutonic Nifelhel, and the Indian Put. No detailed description of it has been found.

The references, however, in the Descent of Ishtar and the Gilgamesh epic suggest that it resembled the hidden regions of the Egyptians, in which souls were tortured by demons who stabbed them, plunged them in pools of fire, and thrust them into cold outer darkness where they gnashed their teeth, or into places of horror swarming with poisonous reptiles.

Ishtar was similarly tortured by the plague demon, Namtar, when she boldly entered the Babylonian Underworld to search for Tammuz. Other sufferings were, no doubt, in store for her, resembling those, perhaps, with which the giant maid in the Eddic poem Skirnismal was threatened when she refused to marry Frey, the god of fertility and harvest:

Trolls shall torment thee from morn till eve

In the realms of the Jotun race,

Each day to the dwellings of Frost giants must thou

Creep helpless, creep hopeless of love;

Thou shalt weeping have in the stead of joy,

And sore burden bear with tears….

May madness and shrieking, bondage and yearning

Burden thee with bondage and tears.

In like manner, too, the inhabitants of the Indian Hell suffered endless and complicated tortures.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Excerpts from the Epic of Gilgamesh

” … Pir-napishtim made answer, reminding the pilgrim that all men must die. Men built houses, sealed contracts, disputed one with another, and sowed seeds in the earth, but as long as they did so and the rivers rose in flood, so long would their fate endure. Nor could any man tell when his hour would come. The god of destiny measured out the span of life: he fixed the day of death, but never revealed his secrets.

Gilgamesh then asked Pir-napishtim how it chanced that he was still alive. “Thou hast suffered no change,” he said, “thou art even as I am. Harden not thy heart against me, but reveal how thou hast obtained divine life in the company of the gods.”

Pir-napishtim thereupon related to his descendant the story of the deluge … The gods had resolved to destroy the world, and Ea in a dream revealed unto Pir-napishtim how he could escape. He built a ship which was tossed about on the waters, and when the world had been destroyed, Bel discovered him and transported him to that island in the midst of the Sea of Death.

Gilgamesh sat in the boat listening to the words of his ancestor. When the narrative was ended, Pir-napishtim spoke sympathetically and said: “Who among the gods will restore thee to health, O Gilgamesh? Thou hast knowledge of my life, and thou shalt be given the life thou dost strive after. Take heed, therefore, to what I say unto thee. For six days and seven nights thou shalt not lie down, but remain sitting like one in the midst of grief.”

Gilgamesh sat in the ship, and sleep enveloped him like to a black storm cloud.

Pir-napishtim spoke to his wife and said: “Behold the hero who desireth to have life. Sleep envelops him like to a black storm cloud.”

To that lone man his wife made answer: “Lay thine hand upon him so that he may have perfect health and be enabled to return to his own land. Give him power to pass through the mighty door by which he entered.”

Then Pir-napishtim addressed his wife, saying: “His sufferings make me sad. Prepare thou for him the magic food, and place it near his head.”

On the day when Gilgamesh lay down, the food was prepared by seven magic processes, and the woman administered it while yet he slept. Then Pir-napishtim touched him, and he awoke full of life.

Gilgamesh spake unto Pir-napishtim and said: “I was suddenly overcome by sleep…. But thou didst awaken me by touching me, even thou…. Lo! I am bewitched. What hast thou done unto thy servant?”

Then Pir-napishtim told Gilgamesh that he had been given to eat of the magic food. Afterwards he caused Arad Ea to carry Gilgamesh to a fountain of healing, where his disease-stricken body was cleansed. The blemished skin fell from him, and he was made whole.

Thereafter Gilgamesh prepared to return to his own land. Ere he bade farewell, however, Pir-napishtim revealed unto him the secret of a magic plant which had power to renew life and give youth and strength unto those who were old.

Arad Ea conducted the hero to the island where the plant grew, and when Gilgamesh found it he rejoiced, and said that he would carry it to Erech, his own city, where he would partake of it and restore his youth.

So Gilgamesh and Arad Ea went on their way together, nor paused until they came to a well of pure water. The hero stooped down to draw water. But while he was thus engaged that demon, the Earth Lion, crept forth as a serpent, and, seizing the magic plant of life, carried it away. Stricken with terror, Gilgamesh uttered a curse. Then he sat down and wept bitterly, and the tears streamed over his face. To Arad Ea he spake, saying: “Why has my health been restored to me? Why should I rejoice because that I live? The benefit which I should have derived for myself has now fallen to the Earth Lion.”

The two travellers then resumed their journey, performing religious acts from time to time; chanting dirges and holding feasts for the dead, and at length Gilgamesh returned to Erech. He found that the city walls were crumbling, and he spake regarding the ceremonies which had been performed while yet he was in a far-distant country.

During the days which followed Gilgamesh sorrowed for his lost friend Ea-bani, whose spirit was in the Underworld, the captive of the spirits of death. “Thou canst not draw thy bow now,” he cried, “nor raise the battle shout. Thou canst not kiss the woman thou hast loved; thou canst not kiss the child thou hast loved, nor canst thou smite those whom thou hast hated.”

In vain Gilgamesh appealed to his mother goddess to restore Ea-bani to him. Then he turned to the gods, and Ea heard him. Thereafter Nergal, god of death, caused the grave to yawn, and the spirit of Ea-bani arose like a wind gust.

Gilgamesh, still dreading death, spoke to the ghost of his friend, saying: “Tell me, my friend, O tell me regarding the land in which thou dost dwell.”

Ea-bani made answer sorrowfully: “Alas! I cannot tell thee, my friend. If I were to tell thee all, thou wouldst sit down and weep.”

Said Gilgamesh: “Let me sit down and weep, but tell me regarding the land of spirits.”

The text is mutilated here, but it can be gathered that Ea-bani described the land where ill-doers were punished, where the young were like the old, where the worm devoured, and dust covered all. But the state of the warrior who had been given burial was better than that of the man who had not been buried, and had no one to lament or care for him.

“He who hath been slain in battle,” the ghost said, “reposeth on a couch drinking pure water–one slain in battle as thou hast seen and I have seen. His head is supported by his parents: beside him sits his wife. His spirit doth not haunt the earth.

But the spirit of that man whose corpse has been left unburied and uncared for, rests not, but prowls through the streets eating scraps of food, the leavings of the feast, and drinking the dregs of vessels.”

So ends the story of Gilgamesh in the form which survives to us.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Gods, Goddesses, Demons

” … In the early stages of Sumerian culture, the gods and goddesses who formed groups were indistinguishable from demons. They were vaguely defined, and had changing shapes. When attempts were made to depict them they were represented in many varying forms. Some were winged bulls or lions with human heads; others had even more remarkable composite forms. The “dragon of Babylon”, for instance, which was portrayed on walls of temples, had a serpent’s head, a body covered with scales, the fore legs of a lion, hind legs of an eagle, and a long wriggling serpentine tail. Ea had several monster forms. The following description of one of these is repulsive enough:–

The head is the head of a serpent,

From his nostrils mucus trickles,

His mouth is beslavered with water;

The ears are like those of a basilisk,

His horns are twisted into three curls,

He wears a veil in his head band,

The body is a suh-fish full of stars,

The base of his feet are claws,

The sole of his foot has no heel,

His name is Sassu-wunnu,

A sea monster, a form of Ea.

R.C. Thompson’s Translation.

Even after the gods were given beneficent attributes to reflect the growth of culture, and were humanized, they still retained many of their savage characteristics. Bel Enlil and his fierce son, Nergal, were destroyers of mankind; the storm god desolated the land; the sky god deluged it with rain; the sea raged furiously, ever hungering for human victims; the burning sun struck down its victims; and the floods played havoc with the dykes and houses of human beings.

In Egypt the sun god Ra was similarly a “producer of calamity,” the composite monster god Sokar was “the lord of fear”. Osiris in prehistoric times had been “a dangerous god,” and some of the Pharaohs sought protection against him in the charms inscribed in their tombs.

The Indian Shiva, “the Destroyer”, in the old religious poems has also primitive attributes of like character.

The Sumerian gods never lost their connection with the early spirit groups. These continued to be represented by their attendants, who executed a deity’s stern and vengeful decrees. In one of the Babylonian charms the demons are referred to as “the spleen of the gods”–the symbols of their wrathful emotions and vengeful desires.

Bel Enlil, the air and earth god, was served by the demons of disease, “the beloved sons of Bel,” which issued from the Underworld to attack mankind. Nergal, the sulky and ill-tempered lord of death and destruction, who never lost his demoniac character, swept over the land, followed by the spirits of pestilence, sunstroke, weariness, and destruction.

Anu, the sky god, had “spawned” at creation the demons of cold and rain and darkness. Even Ea and his consort, Damkina, were served by groups of devils and giants, which preyed upon mankind in bleak and desolate places when night fell. In the ocean home of Ea were bred the “seven evil spirits” of tempest–the gaping dragon, the leopard which preyed upon children, the great Beast, the terrible serpent, &c.

In Indian mythology Indra was similarly followed by the stormy Maruts, and fierce Rudra by the tempestuous Rudras.

In Teutonic mythology Odin is the “Wild Huntsman in the Raging Host.”

In Greek mythology the ocean furies attend upon fickle Poseidon.

Other examples of this kind could be multiplied.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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.

Rites of Mummification Concluded

“On the conclusion of the ceremonies which concern the head the deceased has the power to go in among the holy and perfect spirits, his name is exalted among men, the denizens of heaven receive his soul, the beings of the underworld bow down before his body, the dwellers upon earth adore him, and the inhabitants of the funeral mountain renew for him his youth.

Besides these things, Anubis and Horus make perfect his bandages, and the god Thoth protects his members by his words of magical power; and he himself has learned the magical formulæ which are necessary to make his path straight in the underworld, and also the proper way in which to utter them.

All these benefits were secured for him by the use of bandages and unguents which possess both magical names and properties, and by the words of power uttered by the priests who recited the Ritual of Embalmment, and by the ceremonies which the priest who personated Anubis performed beside the body of the deceased in imitation of those which the god Anubis performed for the dead god Osiris in remote days.

Next the left hand of the deceased was mummified and bandaged according to the instructions given in the Ritual of Embalmment. The hand was stretched out on a piece of linen, and a ring was passed over the fingers; it was then filled with thirty-six of the substances which were used in embalming, according to the number of the forms of the god Osiris.

This done, the hand was bandaged with a strip of linen in six folds, upon which were drawn figures of Isis and Hâpi. The right hand was treated in a similar way, only the figures drawn upon the bandages were those of Râ and Amsu; and when the appropriate words had been recited over both hands divine protection was assured them.

After these things the ceremonies concerning the right and left arms were performed, and these were followed by rubbing the soles of the feet and the legs and the thighs, first with black-stone oil, and secondly with holy oil.

The toes were wrapped in linen, and a piece of linen was laid on each leg; on each piece was drawn the figure of a jackal, that on the right leg representing Anubis, and that on the left Horus.

When flowers of the ânkham plant and other substances had been laid beside and on the legs, and they had been treated with ebony-gum water and holy oil, and appropriate addresses had been said, the ceremony of bandaging the body was ended.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 189-91.

The Rites

Continued:

“The unguent cometh unto thee to fashion thy members and to gladden thy heart, and thou shalt appear in the form of Râ; it shall make thee to be sound when thou settest in the sky at eventide, and it shall spread abroad the smell of thee in the nomes of Aqert. . . .”

“Thou receivest the oil of the cedar in Amentet, and the cedar which came forth from Osiris cometh unto thee; it delivereth thee from thy enemies, and it protecteth thee in the nomes.”

“Thy soul alighteth upon the venerable sycamores. Thou criest to Isis, and Osiris heareth thy voice, and Anubis cometh unto thee to invoke thee.”

“Thou receivest the oil of the country of Manu which hath come from the East, and Râ riseth upon thee at the gates of the horizon, at the holy doors of Neith.”

“Thou goest therein, thy soul is in the upper heaven, and thy body is in the lower heaven . . . O Osiris, may the Eye of Horus cause that which floweth forth from it to come to thee, and to thy heart for ever!”

These words having been said, the whole ceremony was repeated, and then the internal organs which had been removed from the body were placed in the “liquid of the children of Horus,” so that the liquid of this god might enter into them, and whilst they were being thus treated a chapter was read over them and they were put in the funeral chest.

When this was done the internal organs were placed on the body, and the body having been made to lie straight the backbone was immersed in holy oil, and the face of the deceased was turned towards the sky; the bandage of Sebek and Sedi was then laid upon the backbone.

In a long speech the deceased is addressed and told that the liquid is “secret,” and that it is an emanation of the gods Shu and Seb, and that the resin of Phoenicia and the bitumen of Byblos will make his burial perfect in the underworld, and give him his legs, and facilitate his movements, and sanctify his steps in the Hall of Seb.

Next gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, and turquoise are brought to the deceased, and crystal to lighten his face, and carnelian to strengthen his steps; these form amulets which will secure for him a free passage in the underworld.

Meanwhile the backbone is kept in oil, and the face of the deceased is turned towards the heavens; and next the gilding of the nails of the fingers and toes begins.

When this has been done, and portions of the fingers have been wrapped in linen made at Saïs, the following address is made to the deceased:—

“O Osiris, thou receivest thy nails of gold, thy fingers of gold, and thy thumb of smu (or uasm) metal; the liquid of Râ entereth into thee as well as into the divine members of Osiris, and thou journeyest on thy legs to the immortal abode.”

“Thou hast carried thy hands to the house of eternity, thou art made perfect in gold, thou dost shine brightly in smu metal, and thy fingers shine in the dwelling of Osiris, in the sanctuary of Horus himself.”

“O Osiris, the gold of the mountains cometh to thee; it is a holy talisman of the gods in their abodes, and it lighteneth thy face in the lower heaven.”

“Thou breathest in gold, thou appearest in smu metal, and the dwellers in Re-stau receive thee; those who are in the funeral chest rejoice because thou hast transformed thyself into a hawk of gold by means of thy amulets (or talismans) of the City of Gold,” etc.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 186-8.

The Names of Apep

“But among the beings whom the deceased wished to avoid in the underworld were the beings who “lay snares, and who work the nets, and who are fishers,” and who would draw him into their nets.

It seems as if it were absolutely necessary that he should fall in with these beings and their nets, for a whole chapter of the Book of the Dead was written with the view of enabling him to escape from them unharmed; the god their leader is called “the god whose face is behind him,” and “the god who hath gained the mastery over his heart.”

To escape from the net which was worked by “the fishers who lay snares with their nets and who go round about in the chambers of the waters,” the deceased had to know the names of the net, and of the ropes, and of the pole, and of the hooks, and of each and every part of it; without this knowledge nothing could save him from calamity.

We unfortunately understand very few of the allusions to mythological events which are contained in the names of the various parts of the machinery which work the net, but it is quite certain that they have reference to certain events in the lives of the gods who are mentioned, and that these were well known to the writers and readers of religious texts.

From the above descriptions of the means whereby the deceased made his way through the gates and the halls of the underworld and escaped from the fowler and his net, it will be readily understood that the knowledge of the name alone was, in some cases, sufficient to help him out of his difficulties; but in others it was necessary to have the name which was possessed of magical power inscribed upon some object, amulet or otherwise.

Moreover, some gods and devils were thought to have the power to assume different forms, and as each form carried with it its own name, to have absolute power over a god of many forms it was necessary to know all his names.

Thus in the “Book of Overthrowing Âpep” (Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu, col. xxiii. 1. 6. (Archæologia, vol. LII)) we are told not only to make a wax figure of the monster, but also to write his name upon it, so that when the figure is destroyed by being burnt in the fire his name also may be destroyed; this is a striking example of the belief that the name was an integral part of the economy of a living creature.

But Âpep possessed many forms and therefore many names, and unless he could be invoked by these names he still had the power to do evil; the above-mentioned book (ibid., col. xxxii. 1. 13 f) therefore supplies us with a list of his names, among which occur the following:—

“Tutu (i.e., “Doubly evil one”), Hau-hra (i.e., “Backward Face”), Hemhemti (i.e., “Roarer”), Qetu (i.e., “Evil-doer”), Âmam (i.e., “Devourer”), Saatet-ta (i.e., “Darkener of earth”), Iubani, Khermuti, Unti, Karauememti, Khesef-hra, Sekhem-hra, Khak-ab, Nâi, Uai, Beteshu, Kharebutu “the fourfold fiend,” etc.

All these names represent, as may be seen from the few of which translations are given, various aspects of Âpep, the devil of thunder, lightning, cloud, rain, mist, storm, and the like, and the anxiety to personify these so that the personifications might be attacked by means of magical ceremonies and words of power seems positively childish.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 170-2.

Getting to the Afterlife is No Cakewalk

“Without the knowledge of the names of the gods and devils of the underworld the dead Egyptian would have fared badly, for his personal liberty would have been fettered, the roads and paths would have been blocked to him, the gates of the mansions of the underworld would have been irrevocably shut in his face, and the hostile powers which dogged his footsteps would have made an end of him; these facts are best illustrated by the following examples:—

When the deceased comes to the Hall of Judgment, at the very beginning of his speech he says, “Homage to thee, O Great God, thou Lord of Maâti, I have come to thee, O my Lord, and I have brought myself hither that I may behold thy beauties.”

“I know thee, and I know thy name, and I know the names of the two and forty gods who exist with thee in this Hall of Maâti.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 191).

But although the gods may be favourable to him, and he be found righteous in the judgment, he cannot make his way among the other gods of the underworld without a knowledge of the names of certain parts of the Hall of Maâti.

After the judgment he acquires the mystical name of “He who is equipped with the flowers and the dweller in his olive tree,” and it is only after he has uttered this name that the gods say “Pass onwards.”

Next the gods invite him to enter the Hall of Maâti, but he is not allowed to pass in until he has, in answer to questions asked by the bolts, lintels, threshold, fastenings, socket, door-leaves, and door-posts, told their names.

The floor of the Hall will not permit him to walk upon it unless he tells not only its name, but also the mystical names of his two legs and feet wherewith he is about to tread upon it.

When all this has been done the guardian of the Hall says to him, “I will not announce thy name [to the god] unless thou tellest me my name”; and the deceased replies, “‘Discerner of hearts and searcher of the reins’ is thy name.”

In reply to this the guardian says, “If I announce thy name thou must utter the name of the god who dwelleth in his hour,” and the deceased utters the name “Mâau-Taui.”

But still the guardian is not satisfied, and he says, “If I announce thy name thou must tell me who is he whose heaven is of fire, whose walls [are surmounted by] living uraei, and the floor of whose house is a stream of water.”

Who is he, I say? (i.e., what is his name?)” But the deceased has, of course, learnt the name of the Great God, and he replies, “Osiris.”

The guardian of the Hall is now content, and he says, “Advance, verily thy name shall be mentioned to him”; and he further promises that the cakes, and ale, and sepulchral meals which the deceased shall enjoy shall come from the “Eye of Râ.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 163-5.

Hypocephalus

Now the cow is, of course, Isis-Hathor, and both the words and the picture refer to some event in the life of Râ, or Horus. It is quite evident that the words of power, or charm, uttered by Isis-Hathor delivered the god out of some trouble, and the idea is that as it delivered the god, and was of benefit to him, even so will it deliver the deceased and be of benefit to him. The words of power read:—

“O Amen, O Amen, who art in heaven, turn thy face upon the dead body of thy son, and make him sound and strong in the underworld.”

And again we are warned that the words are “a great mystery” and that “the eye of no man whatsoever must see it, for it is a thing of abomination for [every man] to know it. Hide it, therefore; the Book of the lady of the hidden temple is its name.”

An examination of mummies of the late period shews that the Egyptians did actually draw a figure of the cow upon papyrus and lay it under the head of the deceased, and that the cow is only one figure among a number of others which were drawn on the same papyrus.

With the figures magical texts were inscribed and in course of time, when the papyrus had been mounted upon linen, it superseded the gold figure of the cow which was fastened to the neck of the deceased, and became, strictly speaking an amulet, though its usual name among archaeologists is “hypocephalus.” The figure on the opposite page well illustrates the object. It will be noticed that the hypocephalus is round; this is due to the fact that it represents the pupil of the Eye of Horus, which from time immemorial in Egypt was regarded as the source of all generative power, and of reproduction and life.

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Hypocephalus

Hypocephalus or object placed under the head.

 Hypocephalus or object placed under the head 
of the deceased Shai-enen to keep warmth in the body.

The first group of gods are:—

Nehebka offering to Horus his Eye, a goddess with the Eye of Horus for a head, the cow of Isis-Hathor described above, the four children of Horus, two lions, a member of the human body, the pylon of heads of Khnemu the god of reproduction, and Horus-Râ.

In the second are the boat of the Sun being poled along by Horus, and the boat of the Moon, with Harpocrates in the bow. In the other scenes we have the god Khepera in his boat, Horus in his boat, and Horus-Sept in his boat.

The god with two faces represents the double aspect of the sun in setting and rising, and the god with the rams’ heads, who is being adored by apes, is a mystical form of Khnemu, one of the great gods of reproduction, who in still later times became the being whose name under the form of Khnumis or Khnoubis occupied such an important position among the magical names which were in use among the Gnostics.

The two following prayers from the hypocephalus will illustrate the words of power addressed to Amen, i.e., the Hidden One, quoted above:—

1. “I am the Hidden One in the hidden place. I am a perfect spirit among the companions of Râ, and I have gone in and come forth among the perfect souls. I am the mighty Soul of saffron-coloured form.

“I have come forth from the underworld at pleasure. I have come. I have come forth from the Eye of Horus. I have come forth from the underworld with Râ from the House of the Great Aged One in Heliopolis.

“I am one of the spirits who come forth from the underworld: grant thou unto me the things which my body needeth, and heaven for my soul, and a hidden place for my mummy.”

2. “May the god, who himself is hidden, and whose face is concealed, who shineth upon the world in his forms of existence, and in the underworld, grant that my soul may live for ever!

“May the great god in his disk give his rays in the underworld of Heliopolis! Grant thou unto me an entrance and an exit in the underworld without let or hindrance.”

Chapter CLXIII. of the Book of the Dead was written to prevent the body of a man mouldering away in the underworld, and to deliver him from the souls which were so unfortunate as to be shut in the various places thereof, but in order to make it thoroughly efficacious it was ordered to be recited over three pictures:

(1) a serpent with legs, having a disk and two horns upon its head;

(2) an utchat, (see above, p. 55) or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of a divine soul, and having plumes and a back like a hawk”;

(3) an utchat, or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which there shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of the goddess Neith, and having plumes and a back like a hawk.”

If these things be done for the deceased “he shall not be turned back at any gate of the underworld, he shall eat, and drink, and perform the natural functions of his body as he did when he was upon earth; and none shall rise up to cry out against him; and he shall be protected from the hands of the enemy for ever and ever.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 292).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 115-21.

Egyptian Picture Magic

“Here, then, we have an excellent example of the far-reaching effects of a picture accompanied by the proper words of power, and every picture in the Book of the Dead was equally efficacious in producing a certain result, that result being always connected with the welfare of the dead.

According to several passages and chapters the deceased was terrified lest he should lack both air and water, as well as food, in the underworld, and, to do away with all risk of such a calamity happening, pictures, in which he is represented holding a sail (the symbol of air and wind and breath) in his hands, and standing up to his ankles in water, (see the vignettes to Chapters LIV.-LX. of the Book of the Dead) were painted on his papyrus, and texts similar to the following were written below them.

“My mouth and my nostrils are opened in Tattu (Busiris), and I have my place of peace in Annu (Heliopolis) which is my house; it was built for me by the goddess Sesheta, and the god Khnemu set it upon its walls for me. . . .”

“Hail, thou god Tem, grant thou unto me the sweet breath which dwelleth in thy nostrils! I embrace the great throne which is in Khemennu (Hermopolis), and I keep watch over the Egg of the Great Cackler; I germinate as it germinateth; I live as it liveth; and my breath is its breath.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 106).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 109-10.

Egyptian Magic

A STUDY of the remains of the native religious literature of ancient Egypt which have come down to us has revealed the fact that the belief in magic, that is to say, in the power of magical names, and spells, and enchantments, and formulæ, and pictures, and figures, and amulets, and in the performance of ceremonies accompanied by the utterance of words of power, to produce supernatural results, formed a large and important part of the Egyptian religion.

[ … ]

The belief in magic, the word being used in its best sense, is older in Egypt than the belief in God, and it is certain that a very large number of the Egyptian religious ceremonies, which were performed in later times as an integral part of a highly spiritual worship, had their origin in superstitious customs which date from a period when God, under any name or in any form, was unconceived in the minds of the Egyptians.

[ … ]

From the religious books of ancient Egypt we learn that the power possessed by a priest or man who was skilled in the knowledge and working of magic was believed to be almost boundless. By pronouncing certain words or names of power in the proper manner and in the proper tone of voice he could heal the sick, and cast out the evil spirits which caused pain and suffering in those who were diseased, and restore the dead to life, and bestow upon the dead man the power to transform the corruptible into an incorruptible body, wherein the soul might live to all eternity.

His words enabled human beings to assume divers forms at will, and to project their souls into animals and other creatures; and in obedience to his commands, inanimate figures and pictures became living beings and things which hastened to perform his behests. The powers of nature acknowledged his might, and wind and rain, storm and tempest, river and sea, and disease and death worked evil and ruin upon his foes, and upon the enemies of those who were provided with the knowledge of the words which he had wrested from the gods of heaven, and earth, and the underworld.

Inanimate nature likewise obeyed such words of power, and even the world itself came into existence through the utterance of a word by Thoth; by their means the earth could be rent asunder, and the waters forsaking their nature could be piled up in a heap, and even the sun’s course in the heavens could be stayed by a word.

No god, or spirit, or devil, or fiend, could resist words of power, and the Egyptians invoked their aid in the smallest as well as in the greatest events of their lives. To him that was versed in the lore contained in the books of the “double house of life” the future was as well known as the past, and neither time nor distance could limit the operations of his power; the mysteries of life and death were laid bare before him, and he could draw aside the veil which hid the secrets of fate and destiny from the knowledge of ordinary mortals.

[ … ]

In the “white” and “black” magic of the Egyptians most of the magic known in the other countries of the world may be found; it is impossible yet to say exactly how much the beliefs and religious systems of other nations were influenced by them, but there is no doubt that certain views and religious ideas of many heathen and Christian sects may be traced directly to them.

[ … ]

But the fact remains that they did believe in One God Who was almighty, and eternal, and invisible, Who created the heavens, and the earth, and all beings and things therein; and in the resurrection of the body in a changed and glorified form, which would live to all eternity in the company of the spirits and souls of the righteous in a kingdom ruled by a being who was of divine origin, but who had lived upon the earth, and had suffered a cruel death at the hands of his enemies, and had risen from the dead, and had become the God and king of the world which is beyond the grave; and that, although they believed all these things and proclaimed their belief with almost passionate earnestness, they seem never to have freed themselves from a hankering after amulets and talismans, and magical names, and words of power, and seem to have trusted in these to save their souls and bodies, both living and dead, with something of the same confidence which they placed in the death and resurrection of Osiris.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. vii. – xiv.

Getting Laid in the Afterlife

“The texts inscribed on them contain extracts from the Heliopolitan Recension of the Book of the Dead, of which we know so much from the selections given in the Pyramids of Unas, Teta, and other kings, but side by side with these are copies of chapters belonging to Books of the Dead, which seem to have been originally composed at some anterior period, and which were intended to reflect the more popular and more materialistic religious views and beliefs.

Among such books must be mentioned the “Book of Two Ways,” or the “Two Ways of the Blessed Dead,” of which a version inscribed on a coffin in the Berlin Museum has been recently published. (Schack-Schackenburg, Das Buch von den Zwei Wegen des Seligen Toten, Leipzig, 1903).

The rubrical directions of this work show that it was compiled when implicit belief existed in the minds of the Egyptians as to the efficacy of certain “words of power” (hekau ) and of pictures of the gods, and it is clear that many portions of it are purely magical, and were intended to produce very material results. Thus concerning one passage a rubric says, “Whosoever knoweth this Chapter may have union with women by night or by day, and the heart (or, desire) of the woman shall come to him whensoever he would enjoy her.”

This rubric follows a text in which the deceased is made to pray for power of generation similar to that possessed by the god Beba, and for the will and opportunity of overcoming women, and it was to be written on a bandlet which was to be attached to the right arm. Moreover, the soul which had knowledge of certain sections of the work would “live among the living ones,” and would “see Osiris every day,” and would have “air in his nostrils, and death would never draw nigh unto him.”

The illustrations which accompany the texts on the coffins from Al-Barsha make it evident that under the XIth Dynasty the Egyptian theologian had not only divided the Under-world in his mind into sections, with doors, &c., but that he was prepared to describe that portion of it which belonged to the blessed dead, and to supply a plan of it!”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Heaven and Hell, 1905, pp. 12-4.

Merkabah Mystics

“The teachings of the Merkabah mystics became part of the “Heikhalot” school, whose name means “palace,” referring to the spiritual planes through which the mystics ascended. The description of these journeys seems to bear similarities to the journey of the soul into the Underworld depicted in the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day, with magical words or appropriate names of the gods to be spoken before each door is passed and each palace entered.”

–Frater FP, The Magician’s Kabbalah, 2003, pg. 4.

The Watcher of the Threshold

“Most traditional mythologies contain legends of living people who journeyed to the land of the dead; from the legends of Orpheus and Ishtar to Dante’s Divina Comedia, the image is a potent one, and rarely missed by the storytellers of any society.

Such tales have a tendency to follow similar lines, down to points of fine detail. These tales are closely paralleled, as well, by the experiences of shamans in their trance voyages to the Underworld–and by Cabalists venturing along the Path of Tau. Often–again, not universally, but often–there are ghosts and monstrous creatures along the way, caverns and narrow passages, the rush of underground water, the unnerving journey across a bridge as narrow as a sword’s blade; at times the traveler must give up something–anything from a small gift to the flesh on his or her bones–as the price of the descent. At the end of the journey comes the return to light and air, and very often the light is the light of stars.

One of the entities often met on this Path has a somewhat broader role: the Watcher of the Threshold, symbol of the fear that bars the way to transformation. Although the Watcher can makes its presence felt at any point, this Path is perhaps its most common lurking spot; Saturn’s involvement with time and death make the Path of Tau congenial ground.

It will sometimes happen that the Watcher will take concrete form in a working of this Path, appearing as a monster barring the way. While this can be unnerving, it usually marks a turning point in the work of the student. Once the Watcher is squarely faced on any level, its power dwindles.”

–John Michael Greer, Paths of Wisdom: The Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition, 1996, pg. 107.