The Layered Cosmos
Introduction: From gazing at the stars in night sky, the movements of the sun and moon, the rare blankets of clouds bringing rain, and even indeed, the observation of sources or water springing from the ground (the watery realm beneath); the Sumerians and later Babylonians evolved a layered view of the cosmos. The Babylonian ziggurats (stepped pyramids) were an earthly reflection of this order and the Kassite (ruled Babylon circa 15~12th century BC) boundary stone (Kudurru) we will consider on the right reflects the resident powers of these layers. The inscriptions of the Kassite Kings were written mainly in Sumerian, and their letters and contracts in Babylonian reflecting their continuation, with the addition of their own gods, of the old Sumero-Babylonian order. We will mostly use the Babylonian names.
Joseph Campbell in his book The Way of the Seeded Earth p38-9 gives tells us how Inanna (Ishtar) as the planet Venus, as evening star, follows the sun at night into the netherworld and, as morning star, heralds the sun's reemergence.
In one myth,where Inanna's amorous advances are rebuffed by Gilgamesh (associated with the sun) who cites the subsequent fates of her previous lovers as just cause, Inanna enraged succeeds in her petition of highest heaven (Anu) that the divine Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, (associated with the constellation of Taurus) is sent against him. Gilgamesh defeats and dismembers the bull to the horror of its consort, Inanna's dread sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Netherworld. Eventually, Inanna descends to the netherworld to make atonement to her sister , the eventual upshot of which is that she is only let return to the day world if her own beloved consort, Dumuzi, the Shepherd, spends half the year in her realm.
The constellation Taurus appears above the horizon at the spring equinox from circa 3200 BC onward and the important barley harvesting ceremony, akitu, used occur at this time. After the summer solstice begins a period of mourning signifying that Dumuzi must die and enter the underworld.
Anu, Lord of the Great Above, Enlil, Lord of the Air and Ea (Enki) of the House of Water
( powers/deities associated with Sumer and Akkad)
Hugh Thurston in his Early Astronomy p66 indicates that in the Mul-Apin Tablets, the sun is described as being in the realm of Ea in the cold period of winter; of being in the realm of Anu for the Spring and Autumn; and of being in Enlil in the hot harvest period of Summer. So as well as their anthropomorphic roles in Mesopotamian mythology, with their associated powers and qualities, these deities also represent three distinct regions of the firmament.
Marduk, Nabu and Ninhursag Ninlil
(powers/deities associated with Babylonian Civilisation)
In comparison to the separation of heaven and earth, Anu from Ki (the earth) by their son Enlil, the fashioning by Marduk of the cosmos from the parts of the carcass of Tiamat, goddess of the abysmal waters,is a much more violent affair. Thorkild Jakobsen in his A History of Mesopotamian Religion associates this with the rise of importance of kingship and its secular role in contrast with the more passive religious roles of the priest-kings of Sumer. The Amorites were a nomadic people who infiltrated Mesopotamia from Syria and whose patriarchal society is reflected in significant rehashing of Sumerian and Akkadian myths. Their kingdom of Babylon becAme preeminent under the rule of Hammurabi.
Guardians of the Four World Quarters
The peculiar hawk's head on the left is Zamama of Kish. The double lion head is Ninib of Nippur. The two figures on the right have not, as far as we know, being identified but appear to be war gods. The original great Sumerian city of Uruk established a wide network of colonies dominating the north south river trade routes and also the overland east-west trade routes. Within a few centuries many of these colonies were overrun and the maintenance of trade routes became one of the main preoccupations of the Sumer-Akkad city states and indeed civilisation in general. By the time of the Babylonian, Assyrian and Persian Empires annual military campaigns to pacify or expand territories were the norm.
Below Ground: Gula &the Scorpion Guardians
The Cosmic Serpent rises from behind Gula (patroness of herbs, healing and fertility) and her dog, defender of homes, sits at her feet. A Scorpion Archer stands guard at the uttermost bounds of the earth, protecting the rising and setting suns from daemonic forces.
Four Elements in the Abysmal Sea
Everything came into being from the abysmal sea. On the right is the lamp of Nusku representing fire; Ramman-Adad (fourth paragraph) representing wind; the scorpion the death dealing representative of earth is associated with Gula above and finally the tortoise, associated with Ea (Enki), representing the watery element.
A History of Mesopotamian Religion - (The Treasures of Darkness) - Thorkild Jacobsen - Yale University Press - 0-300-02291-3
Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East - Michael Roaf - Checkmark Books - 0-8160-2218-6
Early Astronomy - Hugh Thurston - Springer-Verlag - 0-387-94107-X
The Mythic Image - Joseph Campbell - Princeton-Bollingen - 0-691-01839-1