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Tag: Water God

The Oracles of Ea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 142-4.

Myths of Tammuz and Ishtar

“The myth of Tammuz is one of high antiquity, dating possibly from 4000 b.c. or even earlier.

Both Tammuz and Ishtar were originally non-Semitic, the name of the former deity being derived from the Akkadian Dumu-zi, ‘son of life,’ or ‘the only son,’ perhaps a contraction of Dumu-zi-apsu, ‘offspring of the spirit of the deep,’ as Professor Sayce indicates. The ‘spirit of the deep’ is, of course, the water-god Ea, and Tammuz apparently typifies the sun, though he is not, as will presently be seen, a simple solar deity, but a god who unites in himself the attributes of various departmental divinities.

An ancient Akkadian hymn addresses Tammuz as “Shepherd and lord, husband of Ishtar the lady of heaven, lord of the under-world, lord of the shepherd’s seat;” as grain which lies unwatered in the meadow, which beareth no green blade; as a sapling planted in a waterless place; as a sapling torn out by the root.

Professor Sayce identifies him with that Daonus, or Daos, whom Berossus states to have been the sixth king of Babylonia during the mythical period. Tammuz is the shepherd of the sky, and his flocks and herds, like those of St. Ilya in Slavonic folk-lore, are the cloud-cattle and the fleecy vapours of the heavens.

Ishtar has from an early period been associated with Tammuz as his consort, as she has, indeed, with Merodach and Assur and other deities. Yet she is by no means a mere reflection of the male divinity, but has a distinct individuality of her own, differing in this from all other Babylonian goddesses and betraying her non-Semitic origin.

The widespread character of the worship of Ishtar is remarkable. None of the Babylonian or Assyrian deities were adopted into the pantheons of so many alien races. From the Persian Gulf to the pillars of Hercules she was adored as the great mother of all living. She has been identified with Dawkina, wife of Ea, and is therefore mother of Tammuz as well as his consort.

This dual relationship may account for that which appears in later myths among the Greeks, where Smyrna, mother of Adonis, is also his sister. Ishtar was regarded sometimes as the daughter of the sky-god Anu, and sometimes as the child of Sin, the lunar deity.

Her worship in Babylonia was universal, and in time displaced that of Tammuz himself. The love of Ishtar for Tammuz represents the wooing of the sun-god of spring-time by the goddess of fertility; the god is slain by the relentless heat of summer, and there is little doubt that Ishtar enters Aralu in search of her youthful husband.

The poem we are about to consider briefly deals with a part only of the myth— the story of Ishtar’s descent into Aralu. It opens thus :

“To the land of No-return, the region of darkness, Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her ear, even Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her ear, to the abode of darkness, the dwelling of Irkalla, to the house whose enterer goes not forth, to the road whence the wayfarer never returns, to the house whose inhabitants see no light, to the region where dust is their bread and their food mud; they see no light, they dwell in darkness, they are clothed, like the birds, in a garment of feathers. On the door and the bolt hath the dust fallen.”

The moral contained in this passage is a gloomy one for mortal man; he who enters the dread precincts of Aralu goes not forth, he is doomed to remain for ever in the enveloping darkness, his sustenance mud and dust. The mention of the dust which lies “on door and bolt” strikes a peculiarly bleak and dreary note; like other primitive races the ancient Babylonians painted the other world not definitely as a place of reward or punishment, but rather as a weak reflection of the earth-world, a region of darkness and passive misery which must have offered a singularly uninviting prospect to a vigorous human being.

The garment of feathers is somewhat puzzling. Why should the dead wear a garment of feathers? Unless it be that the sun-god, identified in some of his aspects with the eagle, descends into the underworld in a dress of feathers, and that therefore mortals who follow him must appear in the nether regions in similar guise.

The description above quoted of the Babylonian Hades tallies with that given in dream to Eabani by the temple-maiden Ukhut (Gilgamesh epic, tablet VII).”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 126-9.

The Ea-Rite of Exorcism by Water

“We have already had occasion in discussing the views held of Ea, the water-god, [3] and of Nusku (with various other designations), [4] the fire-god, to point out that water and fire constitute the two chief elements in the symbolical rites for exorcising the demons. The Ea-ritual involved washing or sprinkling the body of the victim with water that is to be taken from the Euphrates or Tigris as the sacred streams, or from some bubbling source coming directly out of the earth.

So we read: [5]

“With pure, clear water,
With bright, shining water,
Seven times and again seven times,
Sprinkle, purify, cleanse !
May the evil Rabisyu depart !
May he step to one side !
May the good Shedu, the good Lamassu, remain in my body!
By heaven, be ye forsworn,
By earth, be ye forsworn.”

An image is frequently made of the demon or of the sorcerer or sorceress, placed on a little boat and sent over the waters to the accompaniment of formulas, voicing the hope that as the image passes along the evil spirit may depart. The little boat is made to capsize and the image is drowned, or it is directly thrown into the water and thus again the hoped for release is dramatically reproduced.

The variations in the rites are naturally endless. It is merely a further modification of the Ea ritual if we find elsewhere directions to surround the bed on which the sick man lies with some kind of porridge made of water and barley, to symbolize the isolation of the individual, and with this isolation to secure his release from the torturing demons.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.

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