Friday, November 17, 2006

Ninurta As the God Of Wisdom

The god Ninurta has been described in the handbooks of mythology as the warrior god and the god of hunting, and sometimes his role as the patron of agriculture has been emphasised in the scholarly literature. These are important aspects of Ninurta and the definitions are correct. The god Ninurta is a very complex figure and in the present paper I will deal with his aspect as scribe and the god of wisdom, a role which has not been much discussed so far. Ninurta is the city-god of Nippur, the city of letters, where more than 80% of all known Sumerian literary compositions have been found (Gibson 1993). It seems inevitable that scribal activity in the city must have been patronized by some god of the city. Ninurta is a suitable candidate for this role. There is some evidence which confirms that Ninurta is a god patronizing scribal activities. In later Babylonia, the god of scribal arts was Marduk's son Nabu. In my paper I will claim that the relationship between Marduk and Nabu was modelled on the relationship between Enlil and Ninurta and Nabu's role as the scribe among the gods was the inheritance of Ninurta.

A Sumerian myth Ninurta's journey to Eridu describes Ninurta's acquisition of powers in Abzu and he determines the fates together with An in assembly (see Reisman 1971). This myth is an etiological myth. Eridu housed the god of wisdom Ea and his abode Abzu was mythical source of the divine wisdom. According to my view this Ninurta's journey to Eridu was an etiology how Ninurta obtained his wisdom among the other powers for the benefit of the land. In Babylonia, Ninurta's successor Nabû lived in Borsippa, where his temple Ezida had a by-name bīt ţuppi "the tablet house". Ninurta's connection with the Tablet of Destinies is attested in the poorly preserved Sumerian myth "Ninurta and the Turtle".

Ninurta's wisdom and his passion for the scribal arts are attested in his epithets. In Lugale he is called "the very wise" (gal-zu, ln. 152) and "gifted with broad wisdom" (gíštu-dagal, ln. 153). When Ninurta blocked the powerful waters threatening the land by means of stones in the epic, he is described to have applied his great wisdom and cleverness on the situation (347ff.). The Standard Babylonian epic of Anzu describes how Ninurta took hold of the Tablet of Destinies in the battle against Anzu who had stolen it. The possession of the Tablet of Destinies was also an important characteristic of Babylonian Nabu in his capacity as the god of scribal arts. We know that the Anzu epic existed already in an Old Babylonian version which told the same story. So I feel confident to claim that as the holder of the Tablet of Destinies, Ninurta precedes Nabu.

In the Standard Babylonian version, after Ninurta's triumph over Anzu the great gods entrust to Ninurta a divine secret. By seeing the sign of Ninurta's victory, Dagan rejoices, summons all the gods and says to them: "The mighty one has outroared Anzu in his mountain ... Let him stand with the gods his brethren, that he may hear the secret lore, [let him hear] the secret lore of the gods" (III 26.30-31). The knowledge of the secret lore (pirištu) is an award which was not promised to Ninurta by the mother goddess before he went to the battle, but attested in the other sources. Ninurta was called šēmi pirišti "who has heard the secret" (Lugale 153, še-uraš), or bēl pirišti "the master of the secret lore" (see van Dijk 1983: 6). Among the mystical names which are given to Ninurta in the epilogue of the Anzu epic is E-Ibbi-Anu (III, 133) which is explained as 'Master of the Secret Lore' (bēl pirišti - en ad.hal).

There exists a remarkable inconsistency in the Anzu epic in regard to who is Ninurta's father: throughout in the epic it is Enlil who is called the father of Ninurta (I 208, II 19.22) until in II 101 it is surprisingly Ea (cf. SAA Anzu III 159)! Marduk or Enlil and Ea/ Enki also alternate as fathers of Nabû, the Babylonian god of scribal arts (Pomponio 1978: 161-68). Thus the Epic of Anzu offers enough evidence that Ninurta was a wise god who controls the tablet of destinies and this must be related to his role as the god of the scribal arts. The Babylonian god Nabû has taken over these roles to which Sumerian Ninurta of Nippur was the ancestor.

Ninurta's wisdom is probably connected with his swiftness. Ninurta's victory over his enemies was celebrated in the first millennium rituals by a cultic footrace. Swiftness celebrated in these rituals originates with the swiftness of attack by which Ninurta defeated the enemies, but it is also swiftness in understanding. Ninurta is like a victorious king on the military operation who realizes quickly the intentions of enemy and how to vanquish them. The swifter computer the better it is as we all know.

During the second millennium the role of scribe was taken over by Nabu from Ninurta in Babylonia. Ninurta's importance was revived in Assyria by the kings Tukulti-Ninurta the first and Assurnasirpal the second, but from the middle of the eight century Ninurta's role seems to have given to Nabu in Assyria. There are some epithets which attest Ninurta as the god of scribal arts. Like Nabu, Ninurta is sometimes called "sage of the gods" (apkal ilāni), for example in the royal inscription of Assurnasirpal II (Grayson 1991: 194, ln. 5 & parallel 229, ln. 9). In the hymn to Ninurta as the helper in misery, edited by Werner Mayer (1992), the god is in one section described in terms of a scribe: ummânu mudû ša kīma šāri ana mihilti iziqqa u kullat ţupšarrūtu kīma gurunne ina karšišu kamsu "the wise scholar, who like a wind blows (= yearns for?) towards cuneiform signs and (who) has all the craft of the scribe packed into his mind (= stomach) like beer" (section xix). Ninurta is further called the "scribe of Ešarra" (šāţir Ešarra) in a Babylonian ritual text edited by B. Pongratz-Leisten, ina šulmi īrub, text no. 17, ln.9.

Certain kinds of practical documents were associated with the god Ninurta. Piotr Steinkeller in Sale Documents of the Ur III Period published five Nippur sale documents (nos. 22, 27, 29, 59, 60) which use an oath invoking the god Ninurta and the king (mu dnin-urta mu lugal-bi ... pàd). A similar oath occurs already in a Sargonic tablet from Nippur" (ibid.: 73). Some formal similarities between these documents suggest that these may have been products of the same group of scribes, who resided in the same quarter of Nippur. A plausible explanation of this kind of unusual invocation is that at Nippur judicial matters were Ninurta's domain (Steinkeller 1989: 73, n. 209).

Thus Ninurta had a legal authority in the Ur III period. The "gate of Ninurta" (and of Enlil) in Nippur are the centres of legal activity concerning property sales. A similar situation appears in Old Babylonian Kisurra. The Manual of Sumerian Legal Forms indicates that trials in Nippur were held in the courtyard of Enlil's temple Ekur and in one document Ninurta's gate appears as a site for oaths. At least once, a man took an oath there because he couldn't provide witnesses or show a tablet (see Lieberman 1992). The seal of Ninurta with the inscription "Ninurta, great ensi (ensigal) of Enlil" is impressed on one sale document (Seinkeller 1989: 238, doc. 62; see Artzi 1999: 363).

Ninurta is called "Enlil's sealkeeper" (kišib-gál or kišib-lá), the "sealkeeper of father Enlil, he who makes the great me's perfect" in the Sumerian collection of temple hymns. In Angimdimma line 93., Ninurta is called the "seal-bearer of Enlil" - kišib-lá den-líl-lá, (see Cooper 1978: 72 and comm.) and Lugale 235-36 states: Storm of the rebel lands, who grinds the Mountains like flour, Ninurta, Enlil's seal-bearer, go to it!

Sumerian legal taboos are often those of Ninurta, as William Hallo (1985: 24) has pointed out. For example (YBC 7351): "A judge who perverts justice, a curse which falls on the righteous party, a (first-born) heir who drives the younger (son) out of the patrimony - these are abominations of Ninurta" (di-ku5 níg-gi-na hul-a/ áš á-zi-da bal-a/ dumu-nitah-tur-ra é-ad-da-na-ka/íb-ta-an-sar-re/ níg-gig dNin-urta-ke4). A variant of this taboo attests Utu instead of Ninurta (UET 6/2 259, see ibid) and the Proverb Collection 14 attests a further variant: "To seize someone with unauthorized force, to prounounce an unauthorized verdict, to have the younger (son) driven out of the patrimony by the (first-born) heir - these are abominations of Ninurta" (Hallo 1985: 24).

Ninurta is a protector of justice. From a legal document from Samsuiluna's 23rd year (BE 6/2, 58: 1), it emerges that Ninurta's weapon urudušíta situated at the gate of his temple in Nippur, before which one could take witness. In another document from Samsuiluna's first year (BE 6/2 62), a culprit has to stand "on the gate of the heroes' garden, before Ninurta" for taking witness. Another Ninurta's weapon, Udbanuilla was installed for trials before the gate ká du6 ur-sag-e-ne "gate of the heroes' mound" in Ninurta's temple, before which oaths could be sworn. Later in the first millennium Babylon according to topographical texts, Marduk's divine weapon Muštēšir-hablim "who does right to the wronged" stood in the part of Esagil which was called é.di.ku5.mah, "the House of the Exalted Judge". This tradition certainly derives from traditions of Ninurta and Nippur, because the Marduk's weapon Muštēšir-hablim is equated in an explanatory list together with dgiš.tukul.dšà.zu with weapons of Ninurta, dšár.ur4 and dšár.gaz (George 1992: 293). We can see how Ninurta's weapons were used as means to provide justice and to positively affect legal affairs.

Ninurta makes a strange reappearance in judicial matters after a very long time span in the urban complex of Emar (13th century), as pointed out by Pinhas Artzi at Rencontre in 1994, 7 years ago in Berlin. In Emar it appears that the city god whose name is written sumerographically Ninurta and his seal have very important status. Ninurta is the divine owner of the land under whose sealed jurisdiction the actions of state authority are legalized. In conjunction with the King and the Elders or "the Great Ones" the sales of land or other property and gifts or confiscations are carried out. Artzi remarks: "This entire legal complex around Ninurta constitutes the fundamental Babylonian contribution to the statehood of Emar." (1999: 362.) Ninurta of Emar is genealogically the "son of Dagan" based on the Old Babylonian equivalence of Dagan and Enlil. Ninurta in Emar protects even the actual wording of the tablet in legal transaction. One document, published by A. Tsukimoto states that "whoever changes the words of this tablet, let Ninurta make his name and seed disappear".

Enlil's scribe and seal-keeper in Nippur was Ninurta, and it is plausible to assume that this relationship had a legacy on the later periods. Also Ninurta must have had in Nippur the functions of a scribe who occasionally noted the legal affairs. Still another office of Ninurta in Nippur was pertinent to his role as the god of wisdom. Ninurta as scribe belonged to the assembly of gods who determined destinies in heaven and earth and the destiny of the mortal kingship. Ninurta bequeathed his role to his Babylonian successor Nabû. In the canonical lamentation "He who Makes Decisions in the Council", the princely son Nabû decrees a good destiny for the cities including Babylon and Nippur and in the most important temples of the land and calls them by a good name.

Ninurta's role as the sealkeeper of Enlil had a clear legacy in Assyria. The administrative centre of Assyrian Empire, bīt āli "City Hall" in Assur had a ceremonial name in Assyrian Temple List "where the Tablet of Destinies is sealed as a secret" (George 1986: 140). In Neo-Assyrian times the ceremonial name of the same building is attested as "House, edifice where the Tablet of Destinies is Sealed" (ibid. 141). Thus in the Assyrian tradition the seals of the god Assur were kept in the City Hall and not in his main temple Ešarra. The City Hall in Assur was intimately connected to Nabû's temple according to the topographical texts. In the same way as Ninurta in Nippur was the seal-keeper of Enlil, are the seals of the "Assyrian Enlil", Assur, kept in the temple of Nabû.

For example, the copies of Esarhaddon's succession treaty were found in the Throne Room of the Nabû temple in Calah (Pongratz-Leisten 1994: 97). The temples of Nabû at Calah and Assur were built after a common model. According to discussion of Andrew George, it may be that the extensive annexes on both temples' north front should be considered to have been given over to the writing, sealing and storing of state documents (George 1986: 141). The business of storing important state documents at the temple of Nabû is fitting for the god who as the successor of Ninurta is the divine patron of scribal arts and is often invoked as the "bearer of the Tablet of Destinies of the Gods".

Such important state documents can be seen as the earthly counterparts of the Tablet of Destinies. Under Nabû's aegis important documents of state were drawn up and then ratified with Assur's seals which were kept in the temple of his sealkeeper (George 1986: 142). The destinies fixed annually in divine assembly was the divine counterpart of the practice and by sealing the Vassal Treaties Assur determined his vassals' destinies.

The Seal of Destinies is impressed on the Esarhaddons's succession treaty. The inscription of this seal according to A. George "reveals the function of the Seal of Destinies to have been the sealing by Aššur of both human and divine destinies, as irrevocably decreed by him in his position as king of the gods. There can be little doubt that the document ratified by Aššur's sealing is, on the mythological plane, the Tablet of Destinies" (1986: 141). The second seal on Esarhaddons's succession treaty is the Old Assyrian seal of Assur of the City Hall according to its inscription. Thus in the City Hall of Assur (bīt āli), which was a part of Nabû temple and where Assur's seals were kept, the treaties and state documents were impressed with the seal of Assur of the City Hall and the Seal of Destinies. B. Pongratz-Leisten argues that the temples of Nabû ša harê were the actual place where adê oaths of the Assyrian crown princes took place and where the king received his sceptre from Nabu (Pongratz-Leisten 1994: 97). These Assyrian practices were modelled on Babylonian ones and probably derived from Sumerian practicies in Nippur. We can remind that an oath invoking Ninurta and the king was used on some Nippur sale documents and there is also a comparable evidence from the Ur III period that various foreigners and functionaries took an oath of allegiance at the accession of the new king in the temple of Ninurta at Nippur, as pointed out by Piotr Steinkeller (1989: 74 n. 209).

Esarhaddon's succession treaty has still a third seal impression which shows the king kneeling between two gods. The seal impression has been recently treated by Ursula Moortgat-Correns (1995). According to her interpretation the gods are Adad and Ninurta depicted as the helpers of the king who stand on their symbolic animals. The sealing has been re-dated by her. It is not Middle Assyrian as Wiseman thought but it stems from Tiglathpilesar III. According to U. Moortgat-Correns' interpretation Adad and Ninurta on this seal are protectors of the king and his power. It is also possible to interpret that Ninurta on this sealing is protecting the succession treaty of Esarhaddon similarly as Ninurta's weapons protected the legal cases and oaths.

Probably I was able in this short paper to demonstrate a continuity of concepts in the Mesopotamian traditions from the Ur III period until the Neo-Assyrian times. This continuity has already an amazing time-span and further studies can disclose additional aspects of this continuity. In my introduction to SAACT Vol. 3, I have discussed other aspects of Ninurta mythology.


Annus, Amar 2001 "The Standard Babylonian Epic of Anzu" SAACT 3, Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.

Artzi, Pinhas 1999 "Ninurta in the Mid-Second Millennium "West""; in: V. Haas, H. Kühne, H. J. Nissen, J. Renger (Hrsg.) Landwirtschaft im alten Orient, ausgewählte Vorträge der XLI RAI, Berlin 4.07-8.07.1994; Berliner Beiträge zum vorderen Orient 18, Berlin: D. Reimer.

Cohen, Mark E. 1988 The Canonical Lamentations of Ancient Mesopotamia, Vol. I-II, Bethesda: CDL Press.

Cooper, Jerrold S. 1978 "An-gim dím-ma: The Return of Ninurta to Nippur," AnOr 52, Rome.

Dijk, Jan van 1983 Lugal ud me-lám-bi nir-gál; La récit épique et didactique des Travaux de Ninurta du Déluge et de la nouvelle Création. Texte, traduction et introduction. 2.vols. Leiden: Brill.

George, Andrew R. 1986 "Sennacherib and the Tablets of Destinies", Iraq 48, 133-46.

idem, 1992 Babylonian Topographical Texts, OLA 40, Leuven.

Gibson, McGuire 1993 "Nippur - Sacred City of Enlil, Supreme God of Sumer and Akkad", Al-Rafidan, Vol. XIV, 1-18.

Grayson, A. Kirk 1991 Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC; Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Assyrian Periods Volume 2, Toronto: University Press.

Hallo, William W. 1985 "Biblical Abominations and Sumerian Taboos", JQR 76, 21-40.

Lambert, W. G. 1971 "The Converse Tablet: A Litany with Musical Instructions", in: H. Goedicke (ed.), Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, Baltimore-London.

Lieberman, Stephen J. 1992 "Nippur: City of Decisions", in: Nippur at the Centennial, Papers Read at the 35e RAI, Philadelphia 1988, 127-36.

Livingstone, Alasdair 1986 Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works of Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, Oxford: Clarendon.

Mayer, Werner R. 1992 "Ein Hymnus auf Ninurta als Helfer in der Not", OrNS 61, 17-57.

Moortgat-Correns, Ursula 1995 "Zur Abrollung C auf den Vasallenverträgen Asarhaddons aus dem Jahre 672 zu Nimrud", SMEA 35:151-71.

Pomponio, Francesco 1978 Nabû. Il culto e la figura di un dio del Pantheon babilonese ed assiro, Studi Semitici 51, Roma: Istituto di studi del vicino Oriente.

Pongratz-Leisten, Beate 1994 Ina Šulmi īrub Die kulttopographische und ideologische Programmatik der akītu-Prozessionen in Babylonien und Assyrien im I. Jahrtausend v. Chr., BaF 16, Mainz: Ph. von Zabern.

Reisman, Daniel 1971 Ninurta's Journey to Eridu, JCS 24: 3-8.

Richter, Thomas 1999 Untersuchungen zu den lokalen Panthea Süd- und Mittelbabyloniens in altbabylonischer Zeit, AOAT 257, Münster: Ugarit.

Sjöberg, Åke & Bergmann, A, 1969 The Collection of Sumerian Temple Hymns, TCS 3, Locust Valley New-York.

Steinkeller, Piotr 1989 Sale Documents of the Ur III Period, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

By Annus, Amar 2001, paper presented in the 47e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, July 2nd-6th 2001, Helsinki, Finaland.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Mesopotamian Pantheon

The Nations and Peoples of Mesopotamia

The sheer weight of years that have accumulated since mankinds earliest occupation of this region is numbing and, unsurprisingly, there have been a vast concourse of differing peoples who have dwelt beside the Two Rivers. Modern understanding of this area is hampered, however, by the fact that there has been no widespread migration of peoples into or out of Mesopotamia for a very long while now, and hence the names and characteristics of earlier inhabitants have become blurred and obscure. Here then is a brief catalogue of major groups who have occupied or been influential in this region during the times when these divinities were current. The reference is arranged in roughly chronological order of appearance; peoples and cities actually referred to above are in black type, while people and places not specifically mentioned, but important enough anyway, are in grey type.

SUMERIANS (<>A people of unknown ethnic affiliation, not the aboriginal folk of the region (the Ubaid culture is evidently that folk), but migrating into the region from the east at an early date. Their language is the oldest written speech in existence. Important Sumerian city-states were:

  • Akshak
  • Eshnunna
  • Kish
  • Lagash
  • Umma
  • Ur
  • Uruk The city of Gilgamesh.
ELAMITES (2500-640 BCE) A matrilineal people of unknown ethnic affiliation, they lived in southwestern Iran, along the coast and some ways into the interior.

AKKADIANS (2400-2000 BCE) A Semitic people living in what is now northern Iraq. Also included here are other proto-Semitic peoples dwelling alongside the Fertile Crescent, or within Arabia itself.

  • Akkad Or, Agade. The capitol of the Akkadian state, located in the north.
  • Dilmun The island of Bahrain, and the adjacent coast.
GUTIANS (2300-2100 BCE) A people of unknown ethnic affiliation whose homeland was the Zagros Mountains of western Iran.

ASSYRIANS ( <>A Semitic (Amorite) people whose homeland was in northern Iraq and southeastern Anatolia. Originally a tent-dwelling nomadic folk, they succeeded in establishing an extensive empire. As a recognizable ethnic group, they endured the loss of the Empire, and in fact exist today around the world in respectable numbers.

HURRIANS (2100-1250 BCE) A people of unknown ethnic affiliation, whose only known relatives (based on linguistic studies) were the later Urartians of eastern Anatolia. The most significant Hurrian states were:

  • Mitanni (1600-1270 BCE)
  • Urartu (900-600 BCE) In eastern Anatolia, and called Van by it's inhabitants, "Urartu" was the Assyrian name for them. The Hebrew transliteration of the name was Ararat.
BABYLONIANS (1900-539 BCE) A Semitic (Amorite) people who achieved a long-standing pre-emminence in Mesopotamia.

HITTITES (1850-1200 BCE) An Aryan people dwelling in central Anatolia. They established the first Aryan civilization, and were among the first folk to extensively work iron. They never held Mesopotamian territory to any significant degree, but were a major power in the region in their era.

KASSITES (1700-1200 BCE) A people of unknown ethnic affiliation, originating in the highlands of western Iran but extending themselves throughout the region thereafter.

PERSIANS (539 BCE-636 CE) An Aryan (Irani) people whose descendents still live adjacent to Mesopotamia.

KURDS (c.500 BCE-present) An Aryan folk related to the Persians, occupying northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. They comprise the largest (approx. 17 to 25 million) ethnic group in the world without a state.

HELLENES (400 BCE-636 CE) An Aryan people, under whose aegis several empires were established:

  • Macedonian (331-312 BCE)
  • Seleucid (312-141 BCE)
  • Byzantine (395-636 CE) The Byzantines never ruled in Mesopotamia proper, aside from ephemeral military expeditions, but their influence was significant.
ROMANS (100 BCE-242 CE) The Romans themselves were an Aryan (Italic) people, though their influence in the region came largely through Hellenized Semitic subjects.

ARABS (380 CE-present) A Semitic people originating within the Arabian Peninsula, and migrating out of the south in successive waves for ages. They have been predominant in Mesopotamia since 636, and have held recognizable states in this particular area for some centuries previous.

A Mesopotamian Pantheon

The people of the two rivers are responsible for the worlds oldest civilization, if writing is taken as the measure of culture: that art first appears here around 3200 BCE or a little earlier. Mesopotamia has been the homeland for a bewildering variety of peoples and nations, and the following archive reflects that. It should be kept in mind that the various divinities mentioned below came not only from different City-States, but even different ethnic groups.

Adad (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later, Babylonian version of the Sumerian Iskur.

Abzu (Sumerian) The Sumerians believed that the oceans on the surface of the world were paralled by hidden, cthonic seas located in vast chambers deep within the earth. Abzu is the primordial Lord of these Inner Waters. His name is the root behind the modern word "abyss". See also, Nammu. See Apsu for the continuation of this tale...

Amurru (Akkadian) The later version of the Sumerian Martu.

An (Sumerian) A primordial sky-god, regarded as the creator of the world and progenitor or ancestor of all the Gods who followed Him. His attributes are obscure and his rulership of the heavens is vague and ill-defined; He seems to have been a distant figure without much immediate impact on the human world.

Ansar (Sumerian) A primordial being, child of Lahmu, and father of An.

Antu (Babylonian) In Babylonian versions of the mythos, the wife of Anu.

Anu (Babylonian) The Babylonian version of An.

Apsu (Akkadian/Babylonian)The later, Babylonian version of the Sumerian Abzu. According to the Babylonians, Apsu, a primordial dragon, was slain by Ea, who subsequently set up His home within Apsu's carcase.

Asarlubi (Sumerian) Son of Enki (I), and a master of magick and sorcery.

Assur (Assyrian) Tutelary God of the Assyrian people; Lord of the Assyrian pantheon, guide and defender of the Assyrian nation.During the era of Assyrian ascendency, He replaced Marduk as premier divinity.

Buriash (Kassite) Apparently a God of storm and weather, and as such equated by Mesopotamian people with Iskur. Cf. the Hellenic Boreas.

Dagan (Akkadian/Babylonian) An agrarian deity, responsible for the invention of the plow, and Lord of the grain harvest. His worship was extensive in the Levant; within Mesopotamia he was relatively minor.

Dazibogu (Sumerian) A solar deity - not much is remembered of Him. But note a strong connective parallel to the much later Slavic Dazhdebog.

Dumuzi (Sumerian) Child of Duttur, Lord of shepherds and the flocks, and eternal adversary to Enkimdu. He is regarded as both divinity and royal ancestor in several Mesopotamian city-states, most notably Uruk, where he is listed as an earlier predescessor to the hero Gilgamesh. He has strong Underworld associations as well; the beloved of Inanna, He is taken by minions of Nergal to the depths when She visits the Final Land and then seeks to leave. Eventually, he returns to the upper land for 6 months of the year, while His place is taken then by His sister Gestinanna. Students of the Old Testament will recognize the Hebrew form of His name: Tammuz, which has become the 10th month of the Jewish calendar; and Tammuz, in a rare survival into modern times, is still used as the Iraqi name for the month of July.

Duttur (Sumerian) The sheep Goddess, and Patroness of the flocks. She is the mother of both DumuziGestinanna. and

Ea (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later version of Enki (I). His functions and attributes closely parallel the earlier divinity, although the tale of His battle against Apsu and subsequent claim upon the Inner Seas is expanded.

Enbilulu (Sumerian) The River God, divine master of the Tigris-Euphrates watershed system.

Enki (I) (Sumerian) Lord of the underworld seas which parallel the surface oceans, and hence master of artisanship, secret craft, magick, and inner wisdom. He seems to have been involved in ordering and regulating all the myriad functionings of the human (ie. civilized) world. Central to the mythos in general, He is a son of An (twin of Iskur) and father to Marduk, Asarlubi, Enbilulu, and Nanse, among others.

Enki (II) and Ninki (Sumerian) A separate figure from Enki of the underworld seas, this male and female pair were "Lord and Lady Earth", Patrons of the Upper world and, in at least one tradition, the parents of Enlil.

Enkimdu (Sumerian) Patron and Lord of dikes, canals, and furrows; in effect, irrigation and sedentary farming in general. He is the eternal adversary to Dumuzi.

Enlil (Sumerian) A central figure in the mythos, child by one tradition of An, by another of Enki (II)Iskur, Inanna, Nergal, and Utu among others. His vitality and majesty is of such strength that it is unedurable to all, and He is above all a figure of majesty, regal authority, and masculine energy. and father to many divinities, including

Ereskigal (Sumerian) Queen of the Underworld, a cthonic Goddess whose realm was the uttermost depths, below the Inner Sea of Abzu. She was recognized as Guardian and Patroness of the Dark City.

Gestinanna (Sumerian) An oracular Goddess, one who is associated with the interpretation of dreams, and also has widespread shepherding connections. She is the loyal sister of Dumuzi, and hides him by various strategems when he is sought by demons of the underworld. When He is eventually seized anyway, it is arranged that She take His place for half the year, and He Hers. While in the Underworld, She functions as Ereskigal's scribe.

Gibil (Sumerian) Divine Lord of fire, and personification of fire in all it's aspects, both harmful and beneficial.

Gula (Sumerian) A healer and patroness of medicine; She is also something of a tutelary Goddess of the city-state of Isin. Unsurprisingly for her vocation, She is almost always accompanied by a dog.

Harbe (Kassite) A primary God of the Kassite people, equated with Anu or Enlil.

Humban (Elamite) A sky God, one who dwells in the heavens, and (probably) personifies masculine energy. He very likely is connected in some way to Humbaba, the giant guarding the cedars of Lebanon from Gilgamesh.

Inanna (Sumerian) "Lady of the Thousand Offices", She is the primary female Deity of Her people, and in some ways the focus of the entire pantheon. Her epithet refers to the fact that She is Patroness and divine Guide to a myriad different functions and powers. One tradition has Her the daughter of An, but a more persistant one makes Her the child of Nanna-Suen. All agree that She is the younger sister to Ereskigal. She has many lovers and consorts, but her strongest attachment seems to be with Dumuzi. She rules the natural world, and the vitalizing effect of the rain, but beyond that Her functions seem to revolve around pairs of contending ideas. Thus, She is both the morning and the evening star. She represents motherhood and the family, but She is also the harlot and temple prostitute. She governs lightning, but also the dousing of fire. Her spirit is one of praise and gladness, and also dismay and sorrow. Her imagery usually portrays Her as a winged female bearing weapons and some armour, wearing an open robe, nude underneath.

Inzak (Dilmun) Regarded by non-Dilmunites as the supreme deity of Dilmun, but on the island itself He seems to have been accounted as Lord and Patron of the desert tribes dwelling nearby.

Ishhara (I) (Akkadian/Babylonian) A Goddess of love, and consort of Dagan in at least one tradition

Ishhara (II) (Hurrian) A Goddess of the underworld, not much else remains to Her memory.

Iskur (Sumerian) The chief weather deity, Lord of storms and tempests; He-Who-Wields-The-Lightning. He also has a benificent aspect as the bringer of cleansing and fructifying rain. He was patron of flowing water generally, and that could imply either living streams and rivers which irrigate the land, or floods which destroy.

Ishtar (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later equivalent to Inanna, and like Her earlier manifestation one of the most important figures in the pantheon. Like Inanna, She is Lady of many offices and functions, especially love, sexuality, fertility, and healing. Nevertheless, Ishtar has more associations with war and weaponry. Like Inanna, She is regarded in separate traditions as Daughter of Anu or Sin.

Isum (Sumerian) Guardian and protector from night-time terrors, divine messenger, and benign influence within the underworld, He was a God of enduring popularity.

Ki (Sumerian) A primordial being representing Earth in some traditions, wife of An in one version of the tales surrounding the beginnings; thus, the beginning times symbolized by the marriage of Heaven and Earth.

Kisar (Sumerian) A primordial being, child of Lahmu, and mother of An.

Lahamu (Sumerian) A primordial being, possibly a child of Abzu and Tiamat, and mother of Ansar.

Lahmu (Sumerian) A primordial being, child of Abzu and Tiamat, and father of Ansar.

Lilu, Lilitu, and Ardat-Lili (Sumerian) Not divinities as such, this trio of closely related demons inhabited the desert wastes, and functioned largely in terms of sexual and fertility aberation. Lilu and Lilitu were male and female equivalents of each other, and were regarded as dangerous to pregnancies and newborns, while Ardat-Lili ("Maiden Lilitu") may have been their offspring, and was seen as a spirit of sexual disfunction and frustration, malevolent wives, and degeneracy in general. The general idea was imported into Hebrew mythology as Lilith, Demoness of desolation, obsession, and madness.

Mamu (Sumerian) An oracular divinity of dreams and visions, child of Utu, and of ambiguous or shifting gender.

Martu (Sumerian) Child of An by Ninhursaga, He was spoken of as the leveler of cities and destroyer of peoples. He was the personification of the nomad barbarians who swarmed into Mesopotamia from very early times. His name was the same as the epithet used to describe such people, and is reflected in the Old Testament description of Assyrians as "Amorites".

Marduk (Babylonian) Originally the Patron and tutelary deity of the city of Babylon, Marduk's power and influence grew until He was regarded as supreme among all the Gods and Goddesses. His personal attributes were as Lord of magick, wisdom, and regal authority. His influence began to wane somewhat in Assyrian times, as many of His functions were assumed by Assur.

Meskilak (Dilmun) Seemingly the patroness of the city of Dilmun proper, and probably the mother of Inzak.She seems to have been a local variant on the mainland Ninhursaga.

Mullisu (Assyrian) The Assyrian version of Ninlil, in which mythos She is the wife of Assur, not Enlil

Nabu (Babylonian) Divine Patron of scribes, and holding authority over writing and knowledge. He forms with Ea and Marduk a triplicity of Wisdom deities, and His worship persisted among Mesopotamian communities for a very long time. His cult is still recognizable as late as the 2nd century CE, and He was conflated by Hellenic writers with Apollo.

Nahhunte (Elamite) A solar deity, one concerned with justice and the law as well.

Nammu (Sumerian) A primordial being. In some traditions, the mother of An and Ki (Heaven and Earth), and a personification or Aspect of Abzu.

Nanna-Suen (Sumerian) The moon-God, child of Enlil and Ninlil, husband of Ningal, and in at least one tradition the father of Utu and Inanna.

Nanse (Sumerian) Tutelary Goddess of the city-state of Lagash, Shewas an oracular divinity with the power to interpret dreams and omens. She also held a position as protectress of the common-folk, related to which She was invoked as an overseer of fair and accurate weights and measures.

Nergal (Sumerian) Lord of the Underworld, usually regarded as a child of Enlil and Ninlil, and consort to Ereskigal. Master of the Dark City, He has warlike associations, and is also connected to fevers and sudden diseases, especially the plague. His cult continued in one form or another for a long time, and after Alexandrian times came to be seen as an Aspect of Herakles.

Ningal (Sumerian) Wife of Nanna-Suen, and mother of Utu.

Ninhursaga (Sumerian) A Mother-Goddess, one of several in Sumerian mythology. She is regarded as the mother of many divinities by Enlil, who further extends His line by incestuous unions with their daughters. Her name means "Lady of the Mountains.

Ninlil (Sumerian) Wife of Enlil, and mother to many of His children.

Ninurta (Sumerian) A warrior deity, involved with armies, weaponry, and the suppression of revolt. He has another nature as well, though, that of an agrarian deity devoted to tillage of the soil and teaching the arts of the farm.

Pazuzu (Babylonian) A demon of somewhat ambiguous malevolence: He was feared for his greed and strength, but was also recognized as a legitimate protection against pestilence. He has re-emerged in the modern world as the central evil force in the novel and movie "The Exorcist".

Pienenkir (Elamite) A Goddess of fertility, nurturance, and motherhood.

Qingu (Babylonian) A created entity, formed by Tiamat to be the general of Her divine forces in the war between Her and Marduk. Qingu was given the Tablet of Destinies as His primary weapon, but He and His forces were routed by Marduk. Executed by Marduk afterward, His blood was utilised in the creation of mankind.

Samas (Akkadian) A later version of Utu, the sun God. In this version, He is the child of Anu.

Sin (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later-era version of Nanna-Suen, the moon God.

Suriash (Kassite) Possible a solar divinity, similar in many respects to Utu.

Tesup (Hurrian) The equivalent, in this people's mythology, to the weather Gods Iskur and Buriash.

Tiamat (Sumerian) A primordial entity. At the beginning of creation there were but two entities, AbzuAn and Ki (Heaven and Earth). When Abzu was slain, Tiamat released monstrous creatures in vengeance, and was in turn slain by, as later version have it, Marduk. He used her corpse to form the world (her back the sky, her belly the earth, her breasts the mountains, etc. There are faint echoes in this of other mythoi, see Ymir for a particularly striking resonance and Tiamat, representing respectively the freshwater underworld sea and the saltwater surface ocean. Between them, many of the earliest entities were created, including

Uttu (Sumerian) Divine Patroness of the weaving arts and, completely unsurprisingly, closely associated with spiders.

Utu (Sumerian) The sun-God, son of Nanna-Suen, and twin brother of Inanna. He represents all the primary solar virtues, light, warmth, and the blessed energy of growth in crops.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Archaeologists unveil calendar of pre-Colombia cultures

London, Nov 11: The oldest and largest known Mexican moon calendar was shown to the public by archaeologists and authorities on Monday (November 6) at the ruins of Tamtoc in San Luis Potosi near the Gulf of Mexico.

The massive 27-tonnes stone calendar is a product of the Huasteca culture, dating back to 600 B.C. Mexican archaeologist Guillermo Ahuja came across the artefact in February 2005 and he spent 19 months cleaning and restoring it with a crews before showing it to a general audience.

The seven-metre long, 4.2 metre tall find is adorned with pre-Colombian figures representing fertility, water, life, nature and death. Feminine figures with water flowing from their heads represent the beliefs of a culture that considered water the essence of life.

The importance of the discovery lies in its age because it means that the Huastecas may have been a contemporary of the Olmecs, considered until now the oldest group in the region and the predecessor of all the important Mesoamerican cultures such as Mayas or the Aztecs.

It is now thought that this culture that lived near the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico had a close relationship with the Olmecas, who lived 600 miles to the south. An intense flow of migration is thought to have linked the cultures.

Further studies in the northern Atlantic Coast and southern Texas are expected to reveal more about the development of the Huasteca culture, their influence on subsequent cultures and on the whole cultural construction of Mesoamerica.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Pagan remnants of ancient tribe guard Russia's Caucasus

VLADIKAVKAZ: Few other parts of Russia are as closely guarded as the passes into the Caucasus, but when Ruslan Yenaldiyev looks up to the knife-like mountain range, his faith is not in tanks and satellites, but a bearded man on a white stallion. "I met a lad here not long ago who told me he'd seen the horse in the sky himself," businessman Yenaldiyev, 28, said after praying to the mysterious horseman, named Wasterzhi, at a sacred forest outside the city of Vladikavkaz. "It must be true." Yenaldiyev is one of the approximately half million Ossetians, an ethnic group whose ancestral lands rise from the plains to control two vital and heavily militarised mountain passes into Russia's US-backed southern neighbour Georgia. But holding the strategic key to the turbulent Caucasus-the name of North Ossetia's capital Vladikavkaz means "Ruler of the Caucasus"-is not all that makes the Ossetians unique.
Believed by scholars to descend from the ancient Scythians, an Iranian-speaking nomad tribe, the Ossetians still practice a pagan religion that has roots thousands of years old, but which has disappeared everywhere else. At the same time, Ossetians are nominally Christian. That means they stand out from the other native peoples of the multi-ethnic North Caucasus who are Muslim, a factor turning Ossetians into natural allies of the Russians during centuries of brutal tsarist conquest. "The Ossetians have a special role because of religion. They are also the only North Caucasus people who voluntarily joined the Russians," said Ruslan Bzarov, a historian at Vladikavkaz State University. "There is a sensation of being unique." But although Russians consider the Ossetians partners in a hostile region, few know about that bearded man on the horse, or much else about how different-and totally un-Russian-the Ossetians really are.
Yenaldiyev is Christian, like a majority of Ossetians, but at the same time believes firmly in a god named Khutsau, dated by scholars to an ancient religion practised by the Ossetians' Iranian ancestors, who later developed Zoroastrianism. So after he miraculously survived a recent car accident, Yenaldiyev went with friends last week to Wasterzhi's grove, a spellbound place where the tall beeches and other trees are considered sacred and not even a leaf or twig is allowed to be removed. As one of Khutsau's chief saints and protector of all Ossetians, Wasterzhi is popularly portrayed as an armoured knight riding through the sky on a white horse with prominent testicles. Legends of him appearing over mountains and villages are legion. "I came to give a great thank you," Yenaldiyev said after the ceremony, which revolved around mumbled prayers, drinking toasts, and eating three specially made cheese pies cut eight ways-a combination that Bzarov, the professor, said signifies "cosmic harmony."
The traditions of Khutsau and his saints-particularly Wasterzhi-have rebounded since the Soviet collapse, "as a symbol of freedom and unity of the Ossetian people," Bzarov said. On Wasterzhi's feast day thousands of people flock to the wood to slaughter bulls and rams and hold ritual celebrations at long tables under the trees. But being such a distinct group in the North Caucasus brings its own dangers to the Ossetians. The neighbouring Ingush, who are Muslim, bitterly complain that Moscow backed the Ossetians during a brief 1992 territorial conflict in which tens of thousands of Ingush were forced from their burning homes.
Then in 2004 North Ossetians became the victims when Chechen-led militants took hostage an entire school in the town of Beslan, resulting in the deaths of 332 people. Today, North Ossetia finds itself at the eye of a storm between Russia and Georgia as the separatist province of South Ossetia on the Georgian side of the Caucasus mountains tries to break away and unite with the north. The North Ossetian authorities threaten to intervene across the border if Georgia uses military force in South Ossetia. "Georgians were never warriors, so we're not afraid of them," said Alla Akhpolova, a spokeswoman for the North Ossetian interior ministry. However, the North Ossetians' status does not spare them the racist treatment frequently meted out by Russians to people from the Caucasus. "I was on a train once when a bunch of drunk Russians got on and attacked me," said Soslan Belikov, 30, also visiting the holy forest of Wasterzhi. "You can see the scar on my head. They said I was a Chechen. They make no difference. To them, we're all what they call 'black arses.'