Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Mercury – the god of transformation, communication and bounderies

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 29, 2014




Mercury, named after the Roman deity Mercury, the messenger to the gods, is the smallest and closest to the Sun of the eight planets in the Solar System, with an orbital period of about 88 Earth days. Seen from Earth, it appears to move around its orbit in about 116 days, which is much faster than any other planet. It has no known natural satellites.

Its orbit, like that of Venus, is inside the earth’s own orbit, so it is never further than 28 degrees away from the sun as viewed from earth (elongation). Consequently Mercury is always in the same sign as the sun or in an adjacent sign.

Like Venus, Mercury can be both an evening star or a morning star. It is an evening star and located before the sun in the zodiac when it descends after the sun on the western horizon and a morning star when it rises before the sun on the eastern horizon.

The earliest known recorded observations of Mercury are from the Mul.Apin tablets. These observations were most likely made by an Assyrian astronomer around the 14th century BC.

The cuneiform name used to designate Mercury on the Mul.Apin tablets is transcribed as Udu.Idim.Gu\u.Ud (“the jumping planet”). Babylonian records of Mercury date back to the 1st millennium BC. The Babylonians called the planet Nabu after the messenger to the gods in their mythology.

The ancient Greeks of Hesiod’s time knew the planet as Stilbon, meaning “the gleaming”, and Hermaon. Later Greeks called the planet Apollo when it was visible in the morning sky, and Hermes when visible in the evening.

Around the 4th century BC, Greek astronomers came to understand that the two names referred to the same body, Hermes, a planetary name that is retained in modern Ermis.

The Romans named the planet after the swift-footed Roman messenger god, Mercury (Latin Mercurius), which they equated with the Greek Hermes, because it moves across the sky faster than any other planet. The astronomical symbol for Mercury is a stylized version of Hermes’ caduceus.


Enki (Sumerian: EN.KI(G)), a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology, was associated with the planet Mercury in the Sumerian astrological system. He was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians.

Enki was the deity of crafts (gašam); mischief; water, seawater, lakewater (a, aba, ab), intelligence (gestú, literally “ear”) and creation (Nudimmud: nu, likeness, dim mud, make beer). Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth.

Enki was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization. His image is a double-helix snake, or the Caduceus, sometimes confused with the Rod of Asclepius used to symbolize medicine. He is often shown with the horned crown of divinity dressed in the skin of a carp.

His symbols included a goat and a fish, which later combined into a single beast, the goat Capricorn, recognised as the Zodiacal constellation Capricornus. He was accompanied by an attendant Isimud (also Isinu; Usmû; Usumu (Akkadian)), a minor god, the messenger of the god Enki in Sumerian mythology. Isimud is readily identifiable by the fact that he possesses two faces looking in opposite directions.

Enki was associated with the southern band of constellations called stars of Ea, but also with the constellation AŠ-IKU, the Field (Square of Pegasus). Beginning around the second millennium BCE, he was sometimes referred to in writing by the numeric ideogram for “40,” occasionally referred to as his “sacred number.”

A large number of myths about Enki have been collected from many sites, stretching from Southern Iraq to the Levantine coast. He figures in the earliest extant cuneiform inscriptions throughout the region and was prominent from the third millennium down to Hellenistic times.

The exact meaning of his name is uncertain: the common translation is “Lord of the Earth”: the Sumerian en is translated as a title equivalent to “lord”; it was originally a title given to the High Priest; ki means “earth”; but there are theories that ki in this name has another origin, possibly kig of unknown meaning, or kur meaning “mound”.

The name Ea is allegedly Hurrian in origin while others claim that his name ‘Ea’ is possibly of Semitic origin and may be a derivation from the West-Semitic root *hyy meaning “life” in this case used for “spring”, “running water.” In Sumerian E-A means “the house of water”, and it has been suggested that this was originally the name for the shrine to the god at Eridu.


The Sumerian goddess Nanibgal, also Nisaba or Nidaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing, astronomy, accounting, learning, grain and the harvest, was often praised by Sumerian scribes. In the Babylonian period, she was replaced by the god Nabu, who took over her functions at the office of patron of the scribes. In some instances, Nisaba was his instructor or wife before he replaced her.

Many clay-tablets end with the phrase, (DINGIR.NAGA.ZAG.SAL; nisaba za-mi), “Nisaba be praised” to honor the goddess. She is considered the teacher of both mortal scribes and other divine deities. Her sanctuaries were E-zagin at Eresh (Uruk) and at Umma.

The god of wisdom, Enki, organized the world after creation and gave each deity a role in the world order. Nisaba was named the scribe of the gods, and Enki then built her a school of learning so that she could better serve those in need. She keeps records, chronicles events, and performs various other bookwork related duties for the gods. She is also in charge of marking regional borders.

As the goddess of knowledge, she is related to many other facets of intellectual study and other gods may turn to her for advice or aid. Some of these traits are shared with her sister Ninsina. She is also associates with grain, reflecting her association with an earth goddess mother.

On a depiction found in Lagash, Nisaba appears with flowing hair, crowned with horned tiara bearing supporting ears of grain and a crescent moon. Her dense hair is evoked in comparison in the description of similarly hairy Enkidu in the Gilgamesh epic.

As with many Sumerian deities, Nisaba’s exact place in the pantheon and her heritage appears somewhat ambiguous. Nisaba is the daughter of An and Urash, a goddess of earth and the mother of the goddess Ninsun, the mother of Gilgamesh, and a grandmother of the hero Gilgamesh. However, Urash may only have been another name for Antum, Anu’s wife. The name Urash even became applied to Anu himself, and acquired the meaning “heaven”. Ninurta also was apparently called Urash in later times.

From Sumerian texts, the language used to describe Urash is very similar to the language used to describe Ninhursag (earth and mother goddess). Therefore, the two goddesses may be one and the same. Nisaba is the sister of Ninsun. If Urash and Ninhursag are the same goddess, then Nisaba is also the half sister of Ninhursag, Nanshe and in some versions Ninurta (Nin Ur: God of War), the god of Lagash, identified with Ningirsu with whom he may always have been identified.


Nabu, the Assyrian and Babylonian god of wisdom and writing, worshipped by Babylonians as the son of Marduk and his consort, Sarpanitum (alternately Sarpanitu, Zarpanit, Zarpandit, Zerpanitum, Zerbanitu, or Zirbanit), and as the grandson of Ea/Enki, was associated with Mercury.

Originally, Nabu was a West Semitic deity introduced by the Amorites into Mesopotamia, probably at the same time as Marduk shortly after 2000 BC. While Marduk became Babylon’s main deity, Nabu resided in nearby Borsippa in his temple E-zida.

Nabu was first called the “scribe and minister of Marduk”. During the Babylonian New Year Festival, the cult statue of Nabu was transported from Borsippa to Babylon in order to commune with his father Marduk.

Nabu later became one of the principal gods in Assyria and Assyrians addressed many prayers and inscriptions to Nabu and named children after him. Nabu was the god of writing and scribes and was the keeper of the Tablets of Destiny, in which the fates of humankind was recorded. He was also sometimes worshiped as a fertility god and as a god of water.

His symbols are the clay writing tablet with the writing stylus. He wears a horned cap, and stands with hands clasped, in the ancient gesture of priesthood. He rides on a winged dragon (mušhuššu, also known as Sirrush), initially Marduk’s.

His power over human existence is immense because Nabu engraves the destiny of each person, as the gods have decided, on the tablets of sacred record. Thus, He has the power to increase or diminish, at will, the length of human life. As the god of wisdom and writing, he was equated by the Greeks to either Apollo or Hermes, the latter identified by the Romans with their own god Mercury.


The etymology of Nabu is disputed. It could be derived from the root nb´ for “to call or announce”, meaning something like “He who has called”. Nabu’s consort was Tashmetum (Tashmetu). She is called upon to listen to prayers and to grant requests.

Tashmetum and Nabu both shared a temple in the city of Borsippa, in which they were patron deities. Tashmetum’s name, which means “the lady who listens,”. She is also known as Tashmit and Tashmetu, and she was known by the epithets Lady of Hearing and Lady of Favor.


Ninshubur, the sukkal or second-in-command of the goddess Inanna in Sumerian mythology. Ninshubur, with a sanctuary, the E-akkil (House of lamentation) temple i Akkil, was a goddess in her own right. Her name can be translated as ‘Queen of the East’, and she was said to be a messenger and traveller for the other gods. As Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, Ninshubur was said to be associated with Mercury, as Venus and Mercury appear together in the sky.

Ninshubur accompanied Inanna as a vassal and friend throughout Inanna’s many exploits. She helped Inanna fight Enki’s demons after Inanna’s theft of the sacred me. Later, when Inanna became trapped in the Underworld, it was Ninshubur who pleaded with Enki for her mistress’s release.

Though described as an unmarried virgin, in a few accounts Ninshubur is said to be one of Inanna’s lovers. In later Akkadian mythology, Ninshubur was male. In “A hymn to Nergal” Ninshubur appeared as the minister of the underworld.


Papsukkal, identified in late Akkadian texts and is known chiefly from the Hellenistic period, is the messenger god in the Akkadian pantheon. He becomes syncretised from Ninshubur. His consort is Amasagnul, an Akkadian fertility goddess mentioned in documents from the Hellenistic period at Uruk, and he acts as both messenger and gatekeeper for the rest of the pantheon. He is the regent of the 10th month in the Babylonian calendar.


The Sumerian figure of Endursaga, meaning lofty mace, is the herald god in the Sumerian mythology, who leads the pantheon, particularly in times of conflict. He develop into Ishum, a minor god in Akkadian mythology, in Akkadian times. Ishum, who may have been a god of fire and, according to texts, led the gods in war as a herald, but was nonetheless generally regarded as benevolent.

Ishum, known particularly from the Babylonian legend of Erra and Ishum, is the attendant of Erra, the Akkadian god of mayhem and pestilence, who is responsible for periods of political confusion, known from an ‘epos’ of the eighth century BCE.

The Epic of the plague-god Erra, a politico-religious composition from the time of Nabu-apla-iddina, ca. 887-855, which endeavors to provide a theological explanation for the resurgence of Babylonia following years of paralysis, begins its tale of distress with the reign of Adad-apla-iddina. Erra, whose name means “scorched (earth),” is accompanied by Išum, “fire,” and disease-causing demons called Sibitti.

In the epic that is given the modern title Erra, the writer Kabti-ilani-Marduk, a descendant, he says, of Dabibi, presents himself in a colophon following the text as simply the transcriber of a visionary dream in which Erra himself revealed the text.

The poem opens with an invocation. The god Erra is sleeping fitfully with his consort, but is roused by his advisor Išum and the Seven (Sibitti or Sebetti), who are the sons of heaven and earth – “champions without peer” is the repeated formula – and are each assigned a destructive destiny by Anu.

The Seven are known from a range of Akkadian incantation texts: their demonic names vary, but their number, seven, is invariable. Machinist and Sasson (1983) call them “personified weapons”. Walter Burkert noted the consonance of the purely mythic seven led by Erra with the Seven Against Thebes, widely assumed by Hellenists to have had a historical basis.

The Sibitti call on Erra to lead the destruction of mankind. Išum tries to mollify Erra’s wakened violence, to no avail. Foreign peoples invade Babylonia, but are struck down by plague. Even Marduk, the patron of Babylon, relinquishes his throne to Erra for a time.

Tablets II and III are occupied with a debate between Erra and Išum. Erra goes to battle in Babylon, Sippar, Uruk, Dūr-Kurigalzu and Dēr. The world is turned upside down: righteous and unrighteous are killed alike. Erra orders Išum to complete the work by defeating Babylon’s enemies. Then the god withdraws to his own seat in Emeslam with the terrifying Seven, and mankind is saved. A propitiatory prayer ends the work.

The Erra text soon assumed magical functions. Parts of the text were inscribed on amulets employed for exorcism and as a prophylactic against the plague. The poem must have been central to Babylonian culture: at least thirty-six copies have been recovered from five first-millennium sites – Assur, Babylon, Nineveh, Sultantepe and Ur -more, even, as L. Cagni points out, than have been recovered of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The five tablets containing the Erra epos were first published in 1956, with an improved text, based on additional finds, appearing in 1969. Perhaps 70% of the poem has been recovered. The text appears to some readers to be a mythologisation of historic turmoil in Mesopotamia, though scholars disagree as to the historic events that inspired the poem: the poet exclaims (tablet IV:3) “You changed out of your divinity and made yourself like a man.”

The Sun and the Moon

Ishum is the brother of Shamash (Syriac šemša or šimšu, Hebrew šemeš and Arabic šams), meaning “Sun”, a native Mesopotamian deity and the Sun god in the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian pantheons, corresponding to Sumerian Utu. Shamash was the god of justice in Babylonia and Assyria.

Both in early and in late inscriptions Shamash is designated as the “offspring of Nannar”; i.e. of the Moon-god, and since, in an enumeration of the pantheon, Sin (Akkadian: Su’en, Sîn) generally takes precedence of Shamash, it is in relationship, presumably, to the Moon-god that the Sun-god appears as the dependent power.

Such a supposition would accord with the prominence acquired by the Moon in the calendar and in astrological calculations, as well as with the fact that the Moon-cult belongs to the nomadic and therefore earlier stage of civilization, whereas the Sun-god rises to full importance only after the agricultural stage has been reached.

The two chief centres of Sun-worship in Babylonia were Sippar, represented by the mounds at Abu Habba, and Larsa, represented by the modern Senkerah. At both places the chief sanctuary bore the name E-barra (or E-babbara) “the shining house”—a direct allusion to the brilliancy of the Sun-god.

Nanna (Sumerian: DŠEŠ.KI, NANNA), commonly designated as En-zu, which means “lord of wisdom”, was the god of the moon in the Sumerian mythology, while Sin was the god of the moon of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.

The Semitic moon god Su’en/Sin is in origin a separate deity from Sumerian Nanna, but from the Akkadian Empire period the two undergo syncretization and are identified. The occasional Assyrian spelling of NANNA-ar Su’en-e is due to association with Akkadian na-an-na-ru “illuminator, lamp”, an epitheton of the moon god. The name of the Assyrian moon god Su’en/Sîn is usually spelled as EN.ZU, or simply with the numeral 30.

Nanna is the son of Enlil and Ninlil, and became identified with Semitic Sin. The two chief seats of Nanna’s/Sin’s worship were Ur, named E-gish-shir-gal (“house of the great light”), in the south of Mesopotamia and Harran, named E-khul-khul (“house of joys”), in the north.

It was at Ur that the role of the En Priestess developed. This was an extremely powerful role held by a princess, most notably Enheduanna, daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, and was the primary cult role associated with the cult of Nanna/Sin.

The cult of the moon-god spread to other centers, so that temples to him are found in all the large cities of Babylonia and Assyria. A sanctuary for Sin with Syriac inscriptions invoking his name dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE was found at Sumatar Harabesi in the Tektek mountains, not far from Harran and Edessa.

During the period (c.2600-2400 BC) that Ur exercised a large measure of supremacy over the Euphrates valley, Nanna/Sin was naturally regarded as the head of the pantheon. It is to this period that we must trace such designations of Nanna/Sin as “father of the gods”, “chief of the gods”, “creator of all things”, and the like.

The “wisdom” personified by the moon-god is likewise an expression of the science of astronomy or the practice of astrology, in which the observation of the moon’s phases is an important factor.

Sin had a beard made of lapis lazuli and rode on a winged bull. The bull was one of his symbols, through his father, Enlil, “Bull of Heaven”, along with the crescent and the tripod (which may be a lamp-stand).

On cylinder seals, he is represented as an old man with a flowing beard and the crescent symbol. In the astral-theological system he is represented by the number 30 and the moon. This number probably refers to the average number of days (correctly around 29.53) in a lunar month, as measured between successive new moons.

An important Sumerian text, “Enlil and Ninlil”, tells of the descent of Enlil and Ninlil, pregnant with Nanna/Sin, into the underworld. There, three “substitutions” are given to allow the ascent of Nanna/Sin. The story shows some similarities to the text known as “The Descent of Inanna”.

His wife was Ningal (“Great Lady/Queen”), a goddess of reeds in the Sumerian mythology. Ningal was daughter of Enki and Ningikurga (“Lady of the Pure Reed”), a goddess of reeds and marshes. She is chiefly recognised at Ur, and was probably first worshipped by cow-herders in the marsh lands of southern Mesopotamia.

Together with Ningal he got Utu/Shamash (“Sun”), Inanna/Ishtar (the goddess of the planet Venus), and in some texts, the Sumerian storm-god Ishkur, called Adad in Akkadian and Hadad in Aramaic. All three are usually written by the logogram IM. In Akkadian, Adad is also known as Ramman (“Thunderer”) cognate with Aramaic Rimmon, which was a byname of the Aramaic Hadad. The tendency to centralize the powers of the universe leads to the establishment of the doctrine of a triad consisting of Sin/Nanna and his children.

Lamassu and Shedu

The Akkadians associated the god Papsukkal, the messenger god in the Akkadian pantheon, with lamassu (Cuneiform: AN.KAL; Sumerian: lamma; Akkadian: lamassu) and the god Išum with shedu (Cuneiform: AN.KAL×BAD; Sumerian: alad; Akkadian, šēdu). The lamassu and shedu were household protective spirits of the common Babylonian people, becoming associated later as royal protectors, were placed as sentinels at the entrances.

In art, lamassu were often depicted as hybrids with a bull or lion’s body, eagle’s wings, and human’s head. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East, first recorded in Ebla around 3000 BCE. These monumental statues were called aladlammû or lamassu which meant “protective spirit”.

The first distinct lamassu motif appeared in Assyria during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser. In this case, the lamassu was used as a symbol of power: The Assyrians typically placed lamassu is at the openings of cities and palaces, so that everyone who entered would see it. From the front it appears to be standing and from the side walking. This was intentionally done to make it seem powerful.

The lamassu in real life is very tall, and there are still surviving figures of lamassu in bas-relief and some statues in museums, most notably in the British Museum in London, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and the Oriental Institute, Chicago.

The motif of the Assyrian-winged-man-bull called Aladlammu and Lamassu interchangeably is not the lamassu or alad of Sumerian origin which were depicted with different iconography.

Although “lamassu” had a different iconography and portrayal in Sumerian culture, the terms lamassu, alad, and shedu were used to denote the Assyrian-winged-man-bull symbol and statues during the Neo-Assyrian empire. Female lamassus were called “apsasû”.

In Hittite the Sumerian form LAMMA is used both a name for the so-called “Tutelary deity” identified in certain later texts with Inara and a title given to various other tutelary or similar protective gods.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “In Chaldean mythology the seven evil deities were known as shedu, storm-demons, represented in ox-like form.” They were represented as winged bulls, derived from the colossal bulls used as protective jinn of royal palaces. From Chaldea, the term shedu traveled to the Israelites. The writers of the Tanach applied the word as a dialogism to Canaanite deities.

Demons in the Hebrew Bible are of two classes: the se’irim (“hairy beings”) and the shedim. The se’irim, to which some Israelites offered sacrifices in the open fields, were satyr-like creatures, described as dancing in the wilderness (Isaiah 13:21, 34:14). “The Israelites also offered sacrifices to the shedim (Deut. xxxii. 17; Ps. cvi. 37)”.

In Western occultism and Renaissance magic, which grew out of an amalgamation of Greco-Roman magic, Jewish demonology and Christian tradition, a demon is a spiritual entity that may be conjured and controlled.


The Greeks also saw parallels between Hermes and the Egyptian scribe god Thoth, one of the deities of the Egyptian pantheon,  who was, however, associated with the moon. The Greeks related Thoth to their god Hermes due to his similar attributes and functions. In addition, Thoth was also known by specific aspects of himself, for instance the moon god Iah-Djehuty, representing the Moon for the entire month.

One of Thoth’s titles, “Three times great”, was translated to the Greek Trismegistos making Hermes Trismegistus, or in combination with the Egyptian god of the dead Anubis, as Hermanubis. In this latter form, the Egyptianized Hermes/Hellenized Anubis served primarily as the conductor of the dead, psychopomp (from the Greek word psuchopompos, literally meaning the “guide of souls”), on their journey through the afterlife.

Thoth (also Thot or Thout), from Greek thṓth, is the Greek version derived from the Egyptian letters ḏḥwty. Not counting differences in spelling. The Egyptian of ḏḥwty is not fully known, but may be reconstructed as *ḏiḥautī, based on the Ancient Greek borrowing Thōth or Theut and the fact that it evolved into Sahidic Coptic variously as Thoout, Thōth, Thoot, Thaut as well as Bohairic Coptic Thōout.

The final -y may even have been pronounced as a consonant, not a vowel. However, many write “Djehuty”, inserting the letter ‘e’ automatically between consonants in Egyptian words, and writing ‘w’ as ‘u’, as a convention of convenience for English speakers, not the transliteration employed by Egyptologists. Djehuty is sometimes alternatively rendered as Jehuti, Tahuti, Tehuti, Zehuti, Techu, or Tetu.

According to Theodor Hopfner, Thoth’s Egyptian name written as ḏḥwty originated from ḏḥw, claimed to be the oldest known name for the Ibis although normally written as hbj. The addition of -ty denotes that he possessed the attributes of the Ibis. Hence his name means “He who is like the Ibis”. In art, he was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon, animals sacred to him.

Thoth’s chief temple was located in the city of Khmun, later called Hermopolis Magna during the Greco-Roman era (in reference to him through the Greeks’ interpretation that he was the same as their god Hermes) and shmounein in the Coptic rendering. In the Hellenized culture of Roman Egypt, Hermes was associated with esoteric lore on magic, medicine, theology, and astrology.

In that city, he led the Ogdoad pantheon of eight principal deities. He also had numerous shrines within the cities of Abydos, Hesert, Urit, Per-Ab, Rekhui, Ta-ur, Sep, Hat, Pselket, Talmsis, Antcha-Mutet, Bah, Amen-heri-ab, and Ta-kens.

Thoth played many vital and prominent roles in Egyptian mythology, such as maintaining the universe, and being one of the two deities (the other being Ma’at, his wife) who stood on either side of Ra’s boat.

Thoth’s roles in Egyptian mythology were many. He served as a mediating power, especially between good and evil, making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other. He also served as scribe of the gods, credited with the invention of writing and alphabets (i.e. hieroglyphs) themselves.

In the underworld, Duat, he appeared as an ape, A’an, the god of equilibrium, who reported when the scales weighing the deceased’s heart against the feather, representing the principle of Ma’at, was exactly even.

The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. He was the master of both physical and moral (i.e. Divine) law, making proper use of Ma’at. He is credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything in them.

Compare this to how his feminine counterpart, Ma’at was the force which maintained the Universe. He is said to direct the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, the gods would not exist. His power was unlimited in the Underworld and rivaled that of Ra and Osiris.

The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared him the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.

In the later history of ancient Egypt, Thoth became heavily associated with the arbitration of godly disputes, the arts of magic, the system of writing, the development of science, and the judgment of the dead.

Thoth had many names and titles, like other goddesses and gods. (Similarly, each Pharaoh, considered a god himself, had five different names used in public). Among the names used are A, Sheps, Lord of Khemennu, Asten, Khenti, Mehi, Hab, and A’an.

Thoth has been depicted in many ways depending on the era and on the aspect the artist wished to convey. Usually, he is depicted in his human form with the head of an ibis. In this form, he can be represented as the reckoner of times and seasons by a headdress of the lunar disk sitting on top of a crescent moon resting on his head.

When depicted as a form of Shu or Ankher, he was depicted to be wearing the respective god’s headdress. Sometimes he was also seen in art to be wearing the Atef crown or the United Crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. When not depicted in this common form, he sometimes takes the form of the ibis directly.

He also appears as a dog faced baboon or a man with the head of a baboon when he is A’an, the god of equilibrium. In the form of A’ah-Djehuty he took a more human-looking form. These forms are all symbolic and are metaphors for Thoth’s attributes. The Egyptians did not believe these gods actually looked like humans with animal heads. For example, Ma’at is often depicted with an ostrich feather, “the feather of truth,” on her head, or with a feather for a head.


The feminine counterpart of Toth was Seshat (also spelled Safkhet, Sesat, Seshet, Sesheta, and Seshata), the Ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing. She was seen as a scribe and record keeper, and her name means she who scrivens (i.e. she who is the scribe), and is credited with inventing writing. She also became identified as the goddess of architecture, astronomy, astrology, building, mathematics, and surveying. These are all professions that relied upon expertise in her skills. She is identified as Safekh-Aubi in some late texts.

Mistress of the House of Books is another title for Seshat, being the deity whose priests oversaw the library in which scrolls of the most important knowledge were assembled and spells were preserved.

One prince of the fourth dynasty, Wep-em-nefret, is noted as the Overseer of the Royal Scribes, Priest of Seshat on a slab stela. Heliopolis was the location of her principal sanctuary. She is described as the goddess of history.

In art, she was depicted as a woman with a seven-pointed emblem above her head. It is unclear what this emblem represents. Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BCE) called her Sefket-Abwy (She of seven points). Spell 10 of the Coffin Texts states “Seshat opens the door of heaven for you.”

Usually, she is shown holding a palm stem, bearing notches to denote the recording of the passage of time, especially for keeping track of the allotment of time for the life of the pharaoh. She was also depicted holding other tools and, often, holding the knotted cords that were stretched to survey land and structures.

She is frequently shown dressed in a cheetah or leopard hide, a symbol of funerary priests. If not shown with the hide over a dress, the pattern of the dress is that of the spotted feline. The pattern on the natural hide was thought to represent the stars, being a symbol of eternity, and to be associated with the night sky.

As the divine measurer and scribe, Seshat was believed to appear to assist the pharaoh in both of these practices. It was she who recorded, by notching her palm, the time allotted to the pharaoh for his stay on earth.

Seshat assisted the pharaoh in the “stretching the cord” ritual, a ritual related to laying out the foundations of temples and other important structures in order to determine and assure the sacred alignments and the precision of the dimensions.

Her skills were necessary for surveying the land after the annual floods to reestablish boundary lines. The priestess who officiated at these functions in her name also oversaw the staff of others who performed similar duties and were trained in mathematics and the related store of knowledge.

Much of this knowledge was considered quite sacred and not shared beyond the ranks of the highest professionals such as architects and certain scribes. She also was responsible for recording the speeches the pharaoh made during the crowning ceremony and approving the inventory of foreign captives and goods gained in military campaigns. During the New Kingdom, she was involved in the Sed festival held by the pharaohs who could celebrate thirty years of reign.

Later, when the cult of the moon deity, Thoth, became prominent and he became identified as a god of wisdom, the role of Seshat changed in the Egyptian pantheon when counterparts were created for most older deities. The lower ranks of her priestesses were displaced by the priests of Thoth. First, she was identified as his daughter, and later as his wife.

After the pairing with Thoth the emblem of Seshat was shown surmounted by a crescent moon, which, over time, degenerated into being shown as two horns arranged to form a crescent shape, but pointing downward (in an atypical fashion for Egyptian art). When the crescent moon symbol had degenerated into the horns, she sometimes was known as Safekh-Aubi, meaning she who wears the two horns. In a few images the horns resemble two cobras, as depicted in hieroglyphs, but facing each other with heads touching.


The mythology of Hermes, an Olympian god in Greek religion and mythology, son of Zeus and Maia, eldest of the seven Pleiades, suggests a Mesopotamian origin in his parallels with the Babylonian scribe god. Due to similarities between the two, some believe the later Hermes to have been based in part on Ninshubur.

Hermes, the second youngest of the Olympian gods, is a god of transitions and boundaries. He is quick and cunning, and moved freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine, as emissary and messenger of the gods, intercessor between mortals and the divine, and conductor of souls into the afterlife.

He is protector and patron of travelers, herdsmen, thieves, orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, invention and trade. In some myths he is a trickster, and outwits other gods for his own satisfaction or the sake of humankind.

His attributes and symbols include the herma, the rooster and the tortoise, purse or pouch, winged sandals, winged cap, and his main symbol is the herald’s staff, the Greek kerykeion or Latin caduceus which consisted of two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.

The earliest form of the name Hermes is the Mycenaean Greek, *e-ma-a2 (e-ma-ha /Ermāhās/), written in the Linear B syllabic script. Most scholars derive “Hermes” from Greek herma, “prop, heap of stones, boundary marker”, from which the word hermai (“boundary markers dedicated to Hermes as a god of travelers”) also derives.

The etymology itself is unknown (probably not an Indo-European word). R. S. P. Beekes rejects the connection with herma and suggests a Pre-Greek origin. “Hermes” may be related to Greek hermeneus (“interpreter”), reflecting Hermes’s function as divine messenger. The word “hermeneutics”, the study and theory of interpretation, is derived from hermeneus.

Plato offers a Socratic folk-etymology for Hermes’s name, deriving it from the divine messenger’s reliance on eirein (the power of speech). Scholarly speculation that “Hermes” derives from a more primitive form meaning “one cairn” is disputed. In Greek a lucky find is a hermaion.


It is suggested that Hermes is cognate of the Vedic Sarama, a mythological being referred to as the bitch of the gods, or Deva-shuni (devashunī).

She first appears in one of Hinduism’s earliest texts, the Rig Veda, in which she helps the god-king Indra to recover divine cows stolen by the Panis, a class of demons. This legend is alluded to in many later texts, and Sarama is often associated with Indra. The epic Mahabharata, and some Puranas, also make brief reference to Sarama.

Early Rig-Vedic works do not depict Sarama as canine, but later Vedic mythologies and interpretations usually show her as a bitch. She is described as the mother of all dogs, in particular of the two four-eyed brindle dogs of the god Yama, and dogs are given the matronymic Sarameya (“offspring of Sarama”). One scripture further describes Sarama as the mother of all wild animals.

Orientalist Max Müller suggests that the word Sarama may mean “the runner”, with the stem originating from the Sanskrit root sar (“to go”), but he is unable to account for the second part of the name, ama.

Professor Monier-Williams translates Sarama as “the fleet one”. The etymological treatise Nirukta by Yaska mentions that Sarama derives her name from her quick movement. Mahidhara, a commentator of the Vajasaneyi Samhita, states that Sarama is “she who entertains (remante) the gods”. More broadly, Sarama has also come to mean any female dog or bitch.

There are two epithets for Sarama in the original Rig Veda. Firstly, she is described as supadi, which means “having good feet”, “fair-footed” or “quick”, an epithet only used for Sarama in the text. Her other epithet is subhaga – “the fortunate one”, or “the beloved one” – a common epithet of the Ushas, the Dawn. Sarama’s other name Deva-shuni means “divine bitch” or “bitch of the gods”.


In the Roman adaptation of the Greek pantheon, Hermes is identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, though inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics, such as being the patron of commerce.

Mercury is a major Roman god, being one of the Dii Consentes, known also as Di or Dei Consentes (once Dii Complices), a list of twelve major deities, six gods and six goddesses, in the pantheon of Ancient Rome. Their gilt statues stood in the Forum, later apparently in the Porticus Deorum Consentium.

Mercury, considered the son of Maia and Jupiter in Roman mythology, is the patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence (and thus poetry), messages/communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he is also the guide of souls to the underworld.

His name is possibly related to the Latin word merx (“merchandise”; compare merchant, commerce, etc.), mercari (to trade), and merces (wages); another possible connection is the Proto-Indo-European root merĝ- for “boundary, border” (cf. Old English “mearc”, Old Norse “mark”, Latin “margō”, and Welsh Cymro) and Greek (by analogy of Arctūrus), as the “keeper of boundaries,” referring to his role as bridge between the upper and lower worlds.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, Mercury reminds Aeneas of his mission to found the city of Rome. In Ovid’s Fasti, Mercury is assigned to escort the nymph Larunda to the underworld. Mercury, however, fell in love with Larunda and made love to her on the way. Larunda thereby became mother to two children, referred to as the Lares, invisible household gods.

Mercury has influenced the name of many things in a variety of scientific fields, such as the planet Mercury, and the element mercury. The word mercurial is commonly used to refer to something or someone erratic, volatile or unstable, derived from Mercury’s swift flights from place to place. He is often depicted holding the caduceus in his left hand.

Because Mercury was not one of the early deities surviving from the Roman Kingdom, he was not assigned a flamen (“priest”), but he did have his own major festival, on May 15, the Mercuralia. During the Mercuralia, merchants sprinkled water from his sacred well near the Porta Capena on their heads.


In his earliest forms, he appears to have been related to the Etruscan deity Turms, the god of trade and merchandise, and messenger of the gods, both of which share characteristics with the Greek god Hermes. One form of him, Turns Aitas, was the leader of the dead, often painted with winged shoes and a herald’s hat, very similar to Hermes and Mercury.


When the Romans described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana. Mercury in particular was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered.

Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico identified six gods worshipped in Gaul, by the usual conventions of interpretatio romana giving the names of their nearest Roman equivalents rather than their Gaulish names. He states that for the Gauls the worship of Mercury was the most important or perhaps most widespread out of all the gods.

According to him “Mercury” was the god most revered in Britain and Gaul, describing him as patron of trade and commerce, protector of travellers, and regarded as the inventor of all the arts. This is probably because in the Roman syncretism, Mercury was equated with the Celtic god Lugus, and in this aspect was commonly accompanied by the Celtic goddess Rosmerta, in Gallo-Roman religion a goddess of fertility and abundance.

A relief from Autun (ancient Augustodunum, the civitas capital of the Celtic Aedui), shows Rosmerta and Mercury seated together as a divine couple. She holds a cornucopia (from Latin cornu copiae) or horn of plenty, a symbol of abundance and nourishment, commonly a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers or nuts, with Mercury holding a patera at her left side.

A bas-relief from Eisenberg shows the couple in the same relative positions, with Rosmerta securely identified by the inscription. Rosmerta holds a purse in her right hand and a patera in her left.

However, most of our sources concerning Celtic Lugus are Insular Celtic, while sources discussing Gaulish Lugus are rare, although his importance is manifest from the numerous toponyms containing the name (Lugdunum etc.).

Lucanus mentions three Celtic gods: Teutates, identified with Mars or Mercury, Esus, identified with Mercury but also with Mars, and Taranis, identified with Jupiter, as a warlord and a sky god.

Teutates receives as human sacrifices drowned captives and fallen warriors. Esus also accepts as human sacrifices prisoners who are hanged on trees and then dismembered. Human sacrifices to Taranis are made by burning prisoners in wooden casks.

Lugus is not mentioned by Lucanus at all. The suggestion of Rübekeil (2003:38), in view of his hypothesis of a Celtic origin of the Germanic god discussed above, is that Lugus refers to the trinity Teutates-Esus-Taranis considered as a single god.

An etymological reflex of Celtic Lugus is possibly found in Loki, a Germanic god described as a “hypostasis of Odin”. A likely context of the diffusion of elements of Celtic ritual into Germanic culture, are tribes such as the Chatti, traditionally considered a Germanic tribe, but many of their leaders and their settlements had Celtic names, who lived at the Celtic-Germanic boundary in Hesse during the final centuries BC.

Although Lugus may originally have been a deity of light or the sun (though this is disputed), similar to the Roman Apollo, his importance as a god of trade made him more comparable to Mercury, and Apollo was instead equated with the Celtic deity Belenus.

Lugus was a deity of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from place names and ethnonyms, and his nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed to have been identified with Lugus, and from the quasi-mythological narratives involving his later cognates, Irish Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm) and Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand).

It is possible that Lugus was a triune god, comprising Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, the three chief deities mentioned by Lucan. The “threefold death” in Celtic human sacrifice may reflect the triplicity of this god.

The exact etymology of Lugus is unknown and contested. The Proto-Celtic root of the name, *lug-, is generally believed to have been derived from one of several different Proto-Indo-European roots, such as *leug- “black”, *leuǵ- “to break”, and *leugʰ- “to swear an oath”, It was once thought that the root may be derived from Proto-Indo-European *leuk- “to shine”, but there are difficulties with this etymology and few modern scholars accept it as being possible (notably because Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produced Proto-Celtic *-g-).

In Celtic areas, Mercury was sometimes portrayed with three heads or faces, and at Tongeren, Belgium, a statuette of Mercury with three phalli was found, with the extra two protruding from his head and replacing his nose; this was probably because the number was considered magical, making such statues good luck and fertility charms. The Romans also made widespread use of small statues of Mercury, probably drawing from the ancient Greek tradition of hermae markers.


Wōđanaz or Wōđinaz is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of a god of Germanic paganism, known as Odin in Norse mythology, Woden in Old English, Wodan or Wotan in Old High German and Godan in Lombardic.

Wōdanaz is associated with poetic or mantic qualities, his name being connected with the concept of *wōþuz, “furor poeticus” (poetic fury), and is thus the god of poets and seers. He is a shapechanger and healer, and thus a god of magicians and leeches. He is associated with the Wild Hunt of dead, and thus a death deity. He is also a god of war and bringer of victory.

Less is known about the role of Wodan as receiver of the dead among the more southern Germanic tribes. The Roman historian Tacitus probably refers to Odin when he talks of Mercury. The reason is that, like Mercury, Odin was regarded as Psychopompos, “the leader of souls”.

Wace also identifies Wotan with Mercury. Viktor Rydberg, in his work on Teutonic Mythology, draws a number of other parallels between Odin and Mercury, such as the fact that they were both responsible for bringing poetry to mortals.

Similarly, Ammianus Marcellinus most likely references Odin and Thor in his history of the later Roman Empire as Mercury and Mars, respectively, though a direct association is not made.

This, however, underlines a particular problem concerning ancient Greek and Roman sources. Historians from both cultures, during all periods, believed the deities of foreign cultures to merely be their own gods under different names.

Such an example may be found in Herodotus’ association of an Egyptian Ram-headed god (most probably Amun) with Zeus. Later Medieval historians followed the older tradition and likewise made such associations. Scholars continue to debate the historical evidence with some suggesting there are valid connections that should be taken as historical fact.

Parallels between Odin and the Celtic god Lugus have often been pointed out: both are intellectual gods, commanding magic and poetry and both have ravens and a spear as their attributes. Romans associated Mercury with the Germanic god Wotan, by interpretatio Romana; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.

Paulus Diaconus (or Paul the Deacon), writing in the late 8th century, tells that Odin (Guodan) was the chief god of the Lombards and, like earlier southern sources, he identifies Odin with Mercury in his History of the Lombards.

Because of this identification, Paulus adds that the god Guodan, “although held to exist [by Germanic peoples], it was not around this time, but long ago, and not in Germania, but in Greece” where the god originated.

As the chief god of the Germanic pantheon, Odin received particular attention from the early missionaries. For example, his day is the only day to have been renamed in the German language from “Woden’s day”, still extant in English Wednesday (compare Norwegian, Danish and Swedish onsdag, Dutch woensdag) to the neutral Mittwoch (“mid-week”), while other gods were not deemed important enough for propaganda (Tuesday “Tiw’s day” and Friday “Frige’s day” remained intact in all Germanic languages, except Icelandic). “Woden’s day” translates the Latin Dies Mercurii, “day of Mercury”. This interpretatio romana of the god is due to his role as the psychopomp.

For many Germans, St. Michael replaced Wotan, and many mountain chapels dedicated to St. Michael can be found, but Wotan also remained present as a sort of demon leading the Wild hunt of the host of the dead, e.g. in Swiss folklore as Wuotis Heer. However, in some regions even this mythology was transformed so that Charlemagne led the hunt, not Odin.

In Anglo-Saxon England, Woden was more often euhemerised than demonised. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, Woden appears as a perfectly earthly king, only four generations removed from Hengest and Horsa, though up to the Norman conquest and after there remained an awareness that he had once been “mistaken” for a god.

Snorri Sturluson’s record of the Edda is striking evidence of the climate of religious tolerance in medieval Iceland, but even he feels compelled to give a rational account of the Aesir in his preface. In this scenario, Snorri speculates that Odin and his peers were originally refugees from Troy, etymologizing Aesir as derived from Asia.

Some scholars believe that Snorri’s version of Norse mythology is an attempt to mould a more shamanistic tradition into a Greek mythological cast. In any case, Snorri’s writing, particularly in Heimskringla, tries to maintain an essentially scholastic neutrality. That Snorri was correct was one of the last of Thor Heyerdahl’s archeo-anthropological theories. Details of the Migration period of Germanic religion are sketchy, reconstructed from artifacts, sparse contemporary sources, and the later testimonies of medieval legends and placenames.

The Anglo-Saxon tribes brought their pagan faith to England around the 5th and 6th centuries and continued in that form of worship until nearly all were converted to Christianity by the 8th century. The Anglo-Saxon kings claimed descent from Woden. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Britonum, Woden had the sons Wecta, Baeldaeg, Casere and Wihtlaeg, who in turn were ancestors of the royal houses of the Heptarchy.

Other manifestations of Woden in England are confined to a scattering of place-names and an even smaller number of literary mentions in the Old English poems Maxims I (line 132) and in the so-called Nine Herbs Charm (line 32).

Lombardic Godan appears in the 7th century Origo Gentis Langobardorum. According to the legend presented there, Godan’s wife, Frea favoured the Lombards, at the time still called Winnili, and tricked Godan into helping them by having the women of the Winnili tie their hair in front of their faces. Godan thought that they were warriors with impressive beards and named them Langobardi (“longbeards”).

Depictions of warriors in the 6th to 7th century, performing a ritual dance show one dancer in a wolf-costume and another wearing a helmet with two birds’ heads (in Anglo-Saxon iconography, two dancers with such helmets are attested on the Sutton Hoo helmet, but not the warrior in wolf-costume).

Both figures are armed with spears and swords. The scene is mostly associated with the cult of Wodan/Wodin. The horned helmet has precedents in similar ritual dances in depictions dating to the Nordic Bronze Age, but the re-interpretation of the “horns” as birds of prey appears to be a development original to the 6th century. The twin dancers may correspond to the twin sons of the sky-god, known to Tacitus as Alcis.

With the rise of the cult Wodan/Wodin in place of Teiwaz in the course of the Migration period, Tyr ultimately became a son of Odin in Eddaic mythology (and both Tyr and Odin remain associated with wolves). The two birds’ heads on the dancers’ helmets have a parallel in the two ravens of Eddaic Odin, Hugin and Munin.

Another recurring scene shows a warrior fighting two wild beasts (wolves or bears, compared to the Eddaic Geri and Freki). Thus, Spiedel (2004) connects Geri and Freki with archaeological finds depicting figures wearing wolf-pelts and frequently found wolf-related names among the Germanic peoples, including Wulfhroc (“Wolf-Frock”), Wolfhetan (“Wolf-Hide”), Isangrim (“Grey-Mask”), Scrutolf (“Garb-Wolf”) and Wolfgang (“Wolf-Gait”), Wolfdregil (“Wolf-Runner”), and Vulfolaic (“Wolf-Dancer”) and myths regarding wolf warriors from Norse mythology (such as the Úlfhéðnar).

Parallels in the 6th- to 7th-century iconography of Vendel period Sweden (Öland; Ekhammar), in Alemannia (Gutenstein; Obrigheim) as well as in England (Sutton Hoo; Finglesham, Kent) suggest a persisting “pan-Germanic” unity of a wolf-warrior band cult centered around Wodan/Wodin in Scandinavia, in Anglo-Saxon England and on the Continent right until the eve of Christianization of England and Alemannia in the 7th century.

Scandinavian Odin emerged from Proto-Norse *Wōdin during the Migration period, Vendel artwork (bracteates, image stones) depicting the earliest scenes that can be aligned with the High Medieval Norse mythological texts. The context of the new elites emerging in this period aligns with Snorri’s tale of the indigenous Vanir who were eventually replaced by Aesir intruders from the Continent.

According to the Prose Edda, Odin was a son of Bestla and Borr and brother of Vé and Vili and together with these brothers he cast down the frost giant Ymir and created the world from Ymir’s body.

Attributes of Odin are Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse, and the severed head of Mímir, which foretold the future. He employed Valkyrjur to gather the souls of warriors fallen in battle (the Einherjar), as these would be needed to fight for him in the battle of Ragnarök.

They took the souls of the warriors to Valhalla (the hall of the fallen), Odin’s residence in Ásgarðr. One of the Valkyries, Brynhildr, was expelled from his service but, out of compassion, Odin placed her in a hall surrounded by a ring of fire to ensure that only the bravest man could seek her hand in marriage.

She was rescued by Sigurd. Höðr, a blind god who had accidentally killed his brother, Baldr, was then killed by another of Odin’s children, Váli, whose mother was Rindr, a giantess who bore him fully grown and vowing not to even bathe before he had exacted vengeance on Höðr.

According to the Hávamál Edda, Odin was also the creator of the Runic alphabet. It is possible that the legends and genealogies mentioning Odin originated in a real, prehistoric Germanic chieftain who was subsequently deified, but this is impossible to prove or disprove.

It was common, particularly among the Cimbri, to sacrifice a prisoner to Odin before or after a battle. Steve Pollington suggests that worship of Wōdanaz became popular as the leaders of Germanic warbands (who would naturally favour a god that might bring victory) gained prominence over the traditional kings in a period of increased militarisation in response to Roman expansionism.

Pollington also notes another theory, that Wōdanaz is a mythological representation of the actual elder leaders of groups of youth who practiced a particularly wild style of fighting, a practice which later evolved into that of the berserkers.

Wuodan was the chief god of the Alamanni, his name appears in the runic inscription on the Nordendorf fibula. Pagan worship disappeared with Christianization, between the 6th and 8th centuries in England and Germany, lingering until the 11th or 12th century in Iceland and Scandinavia. Remnants of worship were continued into modern times as folklore.

It has been argued that killing a combatant in battle was to give a sacrificial offering to Odin. The fickleness of Odin in battle was well-documented, and in Lokasenna, Loki taunts Odin for his inconsistency.

Adam of Bremen in the 12th century relates that every ninth year, people assembled from all over Sweden to sacrifice at the Temple at Uppsala. Male slaves and males of each species were sacrificed and hanged from the branches of the trees.

As the Swedes had the right not only to elect a king but also to depose a king, the sagas relate that king Domalde and king Olof Trätälja were sacrificed to Odin after years of famine.

Sometimes sacrifices were made to Odin to bring about changes in circumstance. A notable example is the sacrifice of King Víkar that is detailed in Gautrek’s Saga and in Saxo Grammaticus’s account of the same event. Sailors in a fleet being blown off course drew lots to sacrifice to Odin that he might abate the winds. The king drew the lot and was hanged.

Sacrifices were probably also made to Odin at the beginning of summer, since Ynglinga saga states one of the great festivals of the calendar is at sumri, þat var sigrblót “in summer, that is the sacrifice for victory”.

The goddess Freyja is described as an adept of the mysteries of seid (shamanism), a völva, and it is said that it was she who initiated Odin into its mysteries. In Lokasenna, Loki verbally abuses Odin for practising seid, condemning it as an unmanly art.

A justification for this may be found in the Ynglinga saga where Snorri opines that in following the practice of seid, the practitioner was rendered unmanly. Another explanation is that its manipulative aspects ran counter to the male ideal of forthright, open behaviour.

Odin was a compulsive seeker of wisdom, consumed by his passion for knowledge, to the extent that he sacrificed one of his eyes to Mímir, in exchange for a drink from the waters of wisdom in Mímir’s well.

Further, the creation of the runes is attributed to Odin and is described in the Rúnatal, a section of the Hávamál. He hanged himself from the tree called Yggdrasill whilst pierced by his own spear in order to acquire knowledge.

He remained thus for nine days and nights, a significant number in Norse magical practice (there were, for example, nine realms of existence), thereby learning nine (later eighteen) magical songs and eighteen magical runes.

The purpose of this strange ritual, a god sacrificing himself to himself because there was nothing higher to sacrifice to, was ostensibly to obtain mystical insight through mortification of the flesh.

Some scholars see this scene as influenced by the story of Christ’s crucifixion; and others note the similarity to the story of Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment. Kimberley Christine Patton discusses the issue but concludes that “the specificity of its cultic features do not require the influence of Christianity”

It is in any case also influenced by shamanism, where the symbolic climbing of a “world tree” by the shaman in search of mystic knowledge is a common religious pattern. We know that sacrifices, human or otherwise, to the gods were commonly hung in or from trees, often transfixed by spears.

Additionally, one of Odin’s names is Ygg, and the Norse name for the World Ash —Yggdrasill—therefore means “Ygg’s (Odin’s) horse”. Another of Odin’s names is Hangatýr, the god of the hanged. Odin’s desire for wisdom can also be seen in his work as a farmhand for a summer, for Baugi, in order to obtain the mead of poetry.


The attested forms of the theonym are traditionally derived from Proto-Germanic *Wōđanaz (in Old Norse word-initial *w- was dropped before rounded vowels and so the name became Óðinn).

Old Norse had two different words spelled óðr, one an adjective and the other a noun. The adjective means “mad, frantic, furious, violent”, and is cognate with Old English wōd. The noun means “mind, wit, soul, sense” and “song, poetry”, and is cognate with Old English wōþ. In compounds, óð- means “fiercely energetic” (e.g. óð-málugr “speaking violently, excited”).

Both Old Norse words are from Proto-Germanic *wōþuz, continuing Pre-Germanic *wātus. Two extra-Germanic cognates are the Proto-Celtic *wātus “mantic poetry” (continued in Irish fáith “poet” and Welsh gwawd “praise-poetry”) and the Latin vātes “prophet, seer” (a possible loan from Proto-Celtic *wātis). A possible, but uncertain, cognate is Sanskrit api-vat- “to excite, awaken” (RV 1.128.2). The Proto-Indo-European meaning of the root is therefore reconstructed as relating to spiritual excitation.

Meid suggested Proto-Germanic *-na- as a suffix expressing lordship (“Herrschersuffix”), in view of words such as Odin’s name Herjann “lord of armies”, drótinn “lord of men”, and þjóðann “lord of the nation”, which would result in a direct translation of “lord of spiritual energy”, “lord of poetry” or similar. It is sufficient, however, and more common, to assume a more general meaning of pertinence or possession for the suffix, inherited from PIE *-no-, to arrive at roughly the same meaning.

If it originally started out in a laryngeal consonant, the suffix could be the thematic variant of the famous “Hoffmannsches Possessivsuffix” or more succinctly “Hoffmann-Suffix”, named after its discoverer Karl Hoffmann, and nowadays commonly reconstructed as *-h₃on- ~ *-h₃n-, i. e., *-h₃n-o-, also found in Latin Neptūnus and Portūnus, theonyms likely derived from *neptu- “moist substance” and portus “port” respectively.

Rübekeil (2003:29) draws attention to the suffix variants *-ina- (in Óðinn) vs. *-ana- (in Woden, Wotan). This variation, if considered at all, was dismissed as “suffix ablaut” by earlier scholars.

There are, however, indications from outside Old Norse of a suffix *-ina-: English Wednesday (rather than *Wodnesday) via umlaut goes back to *wōđina-. Rübekeil concludes that the original Proto-Germanic form of the name was *Wōđinaz, yielding Old Norse Óðinn and unattested Anglo-Saxon *Wēden, and that the attested West Germanic forms are early medieval “clerical” folk etymologies, formed under the impression of synchronic association with terms for “fury”.

The pre-Proto-Germanic form of the name would then be *Wātinos. Rübekeil suggests that this is a loan from Proto-Celtic into pre-Proto-Germanic, referring to the god of the *wātis, the Celtic priests of mantic prophecy, so that the original meaning of the name would be “he [the god/lord] of the Vates”, which he tentatively identifies with Lugus.

Schaffner, however, has drawn attention to a third suffix variant *-una- in Old Danish *Óðon (< *Óðunn), attested in Old English as Ōdon. He argues that this is the original form of the name: *Wōđunaz, derived from the above-mentioned noun *wōþuz with the above-mentioned (“lordship”?) suffix *-na-. The other suffix variants *Wōđinaz and *Wōđanaz would then both be secondary reformations.

The lack of the expected umlaut in Old Norse Óðinn does suggest that this form arose due to secondary replacement of the suffix, and thus, contra Rübekeil, cannot be original, regardless of whether the original suffix had a or u. The pre-Proto-Germanic form would then be *Wātunos or perhaps *Wātūnos < *Wātuh₃nos, should the Hoffmann suffix be involved. (In any case, the original accent could not have been on the first syllable, as the *þ appears voiced to *ð due to Verner’s law).

Adam von Bremen etymologizes the god worshipped by the 11th-century Scandinavian pagans as “Wodan id est furor” (“Wodan, which means ‘fury’”). An obsolete alternative etymology, which has been adhered to by many early writers including Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, is to give it the same root as the word god itself, from its Proto-Germanic form *ǥuđ-. This is not tenable today according to most modern academics, except for the Lombardic name Godan, which may go back to *ǥuđanaz.


In Norse mythology, Óðr (Old Norse for the “Divine Madness, frantic, furious, vehement, eager”, as a noun “mind, feeling” and also “song, poetry”; Orchard (1997) gives “the frenzied one”) or Óð, sometimes angliziced as Odr or Od, is a figure associated with the major goddess Freyja.

The Prose Edda and Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, both describe Óðr as Freyja’s husband and father of her daughter Hnoss. Heimskringla adds that the couple produced another daughter, Gersemi.

A number of theories have been proposed about Óðr, generally that he is somehow a hypostasis of the deity Odin due to their similarities. The Old Norse noun óðr may be the origin of the theonym Óðinn (Anglicized as Odin), and it means “mind”, “soul” or “spirit” (so used in stanza 18.1 of the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá).

In addition, óðr can also mean “song”, “poetry” and “inspiration”, and it has connotations of “possession”. It is derived from a Proto-Germanic *wōð- or *wōþ- and it is related to Gothic wôds (“raging”, “possessed”), Old High German wuot (“fury” “rage, to be insane”) and the Anglo-Saxon words wód (“fury”, “rabies”) and wóð (“song”, “cry”, “voice”, “poetry”, “eloquence”). Old Norse derivations include œði “strong excitation, possession”.

Ultimately these Germanic words are derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *wāt-, which meant “to blow (on), to fan (flames)”, fig. “to inspire”. The same root also appears in Latin vātēs (“seer”, “singer”), which is considered to be a Celtic loanword, compare to Irish fāith (“poet”, but originally “excited”, “inspired”). The root has also been said to appear in Sanskrit vāt- “to fan”.

Tiwaz/Tyr (Nordic)

Tiwaz is named for the Norse god Tiw, after whom Tuesday is named. Tiw is the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. He was the god of war and justice, fair law and regulation, and success through sacrifice. He was courageous, fearless, the master tactician and a consummate diplomat. He allowed a wolf to bite off his right hand in order to bind the wolf’s chaotic force and thus protects warriors (both physical & spiritual), the disabled and the left-handed. Tiwaz also represents determination and male sexuality. It symbolizes new challenges and initiations into new understandings.

In the sphere of organized warfare, Tyr/Tiw had become relatively unimportant compared to Odin/Woden in both North and West Germanic by the close of the Migration Age. Traces of the god remain, however, in Tuesday (Old English tíwesdæg “Tiw’s day”; Old Frisian tîesdei, Old High German zîestag, Alemannic and Swabian dialect in south west Germany (today) Zieschdig/Zeischdig, Old Norse týsdagr), named after Tyr in both the North and the West Germanic languages (corresponding to Martis dies, dedicated to the Roman god of war and the father-god of Rome, Mars).

Tyr/Tiw is also to be found in the names of some plants: Old Norse Týsfiola (after the Latin Viola Martis), Týrhialm (Aconitum, one of the most poisonous plants in Europe whose helmet-like shape might suggest a warlike connection) and Týviðr, “Tý’s wood”, Tiveden may also be named after Tyr, or reflecting Tyr as a generic word for “god” (i.e., the forest of the gods).

In Norway the parish and municipality of Tysnes are named after the god. German Dienstag and Dutch dinsdag (Tuesday) might be derived from Mars Thingsus.

By way of historical linguistics some scholars have linked Tuisto to the Proto-Germanic theonym *Tiwaz, while other scholars have argued that the name refers to a “two-fold” or hermaphroditic being (compare Old Swedish tvistra, meaning “separate”). The latter etymology has led scholars to a connection to Ymir on both linguistic and mythical grounds.

Týr is a god associated with law and heroic glory in Norse mythology, portrayed as one-handed. Corresponding names in other Germanic languages are Gothic Teiws, Old English Tīw and Old High German Ziu and Cyo, all from Proto-Germanic *Tīwaz. The Latinised name is Tius or Tio.

In the late Icelandic Eddas, Tyr is portrayed, alternately, as the son of Odin (Prose Edda) or of Ymir (Poetic Edda), while the origins of his name and his possible relationship to Tuisto, suggest he was once considered the father of the gods and head of the pantheon, since his name is ultimately cognate to that of *Dyeus (cf. Dyaus), the reconstructed chief deity in Indo-European religion.

Tiw was equated with Mars in the interpretatio germanica. Tuesday is in fact “Tīw’s Day” (also in Alemannic Zischtig from zîes tag), translating dies Martis. It is assumed that Tîwaz was overtaken in popularity and in authority by both Odin and Thor at some point during the Migration Age, as Odin shares his role as God of war.

Old Norse Týr, literally “god”, plural tívar “gods”, comes from Proto-Germanic *Tīwaz (cf. Old English Tīw, Old High German Zīo), which continues Proto-Indo-European *deiwós “celestial being, god” (cf. Welsh duw, Latin deus, Lithuanian diẽvas, Sanskrit dēvá, Avestan daēvō “demon”). And *deiwós is based in *dei-, *deyā-, *dīdyā-, meaning ‘to shine’.

The earliest attestation for Týr’s continental counterpart occurs in Gothic tyz “the t-rune” in the 9th-century Codex Vindobonensis 795. The name is later attested in Old High German as Cyo in the A Wessobrunn prayer ms. of 814. The Negau helmet inscription (2nd century b.c.) may actually record the earliest form, teiva, but this interpretation is tentative.

Týr in origin was a generic noun meaning “god”, e.g. Hangatyr, literally, the “god of the hanged”, as one of Odin’s names, which was probably inherited from Tyr in his role as god of justice. The name continues on as Norwegian Ty, Swedish Tyr, Danish Tyr, while it remains Týr in Modern Icelandic and Faroese.

A gloss to the Wessobrunn prayer names the Alamanni Cyowari (worshipers of Cyo) and their capital Augsburg Ciesburc. The Excerptum ex Gallica Historia of Ursberg (ca. 1135) records a dea Ciza as the patron goddess of Augsburg. According to this account, Cisaria was founded by Swabian tribes as a defence against Roman incursions. This Zisa would be the female consort of Ziu, as Dione was of Zeus.

The name of Mars Thingsus (Thincsus) is found in an inscription on an 3rd-century altar from the Roman fort and settlement of Vercovicium at Housesteads in Northumberland, thought to have been erected by Frisian mercenaries stationed at Hadrian’s Wall. It is interpreted as “Mars of the Thing”.

Tacitus stated in his work Germania that when it comes to the capital punishment amongst the Germanic folk none could be flogged, imprisoned or executed, not even on order of the warlord, without the consent of the priest; who was himself required to render his judgement in accordance with the will of the god they believe inspires them to the field of battle.

Tacitus also named the German “Mars” as the primary deity, along with the German “Mercury” (believed to be Odin), Hercules (believed to be Thor) and “Isis”. In the text however, Hercules is the one to be mentioned the most often.

Depending on translation, “Mercury” is stated to be the chiefly worshipped god, but other translation does not provide any sort of hierchy among the gods. Tacitus states that “Mars” and “Hercules” receive animal sacrifices while “Mercury” receives human sacrifices.

In the Old English Rune Poem, the rune that is otherwise named for Tiw in the other rune poems (Abecedarium Nordmanicum, Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme, Old Icelandic Rune Poem), is called tir, meaning “glory”. This rune was inscribed on more Anglo-Saxon cremation urns than any other symbol.

There is sketchy evidence of a consort, in German named Zisa: Tacitus mentions one Germanic tribe who worshipped “Isis”, and Jacob Grimm pointed to Cisa/Zisa, the patroness of Augsburg, in this connection. The name Zisa could be derived from Ziu etymologically.

An early depiction of Tyr is found on the IK 190 bracteate found near Trollhättan, Sweden. The figure is shown with long hair, holding a sceptre in his left hand, and with a wolf biting his right.

According to the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, at one stage the gods decided to shackle the Fenris wolf (Fenrir), but the beast broke every chain they put upon him. Eventually they had the dwarves make them a magical ribbon called Gleipnir.

It appeared to be only a silken ribbon but was made of six wondrous ingredients: the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, bear’s sinews (meaning nerves, sensibility), fish’s breath and bird’s spittle.

The creation of Gleipnir is said to be the reason why none of the above exist. Fenrir sensed the gods’ deceit and refused to be bound with it unless one of them put his hand in the wolf’s mouth.

Tyr, known for his great wisdom and courage, agreed, and the other gods bound the wolf. After Fenrir had been bound by the gods, he struggled to try to break the rope. Fenrir could not break the ribbon and enraged, bit Tyr’s right hand off. When the gods saw that Fenrir was bound they all rejoiced, except Tyr. Fenrir will remain bound until the day of Ragnarök. As a result of this deed, Tyr is called the “Leavings of the Wolf”; which is to be understood as a poetic kenning for glory. During the battle at Ragnarök, Fenrir swallows Odin whole.

Tyr appears in the Eddic Poem Hymiskviða. According to the Prose version of Ragnarök, Tyr is destined to kill and be killed by Garm, the guard dog of Hel. However, in the two poetic versions of Ragnarök, he goes unmentioned; unless one believes that he is the “Mighty One”. In Lokasenna, Tyr is taunted with cuckoldry by Loki, maybe another hint that he had a consort or wife at one time.

In the Hymskvidha, Tyr’s father is named as the etin Hymir – the term “Hymir’s kin” was used a kenning for etinkind – while his mother goes unnamed, but is otherwise described in terms that befit a goddess. This myth also pairs Tyr with Thor, and draws a comparison between their strength via the lifting of Hymir’s cauldron. Thor proves the stronger, but other than Thor’s own son, Magni, Tyr is the only deity whose strength is ever questioned in comparison to the Thunderer’s.

The *Tiwaz rune is associated with Tyr. The t-rune ᛏ is named after Tyr, and was identified with this god; the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name is *Tîwaz. The rune is sometimes also referred to as *Teiwaz, or spelling variants.

Tiv or Tivr, the Etruscan moon god might be equal to Tyr.

Tir (Iran)

Tiri, Tir (Tishtrya), is assimilation from Babylonian Nabu, lord of scribe and of the planet Mercury into Avestan mythology. It means the swift one (Tond va chabok) and protects rain. In Persian-Islamic mythology Tir (Attarod in Arabic) is still the lord of scribe (Setareh Dabir).

Tishtrya (Tištrya, Tir in Middle- and Modern Persian) is the Avestan language name of an Zoroastrian benevolent divinity associated with life-bringing rainfall and fertility. As has been judged from the archaic context in which Tishtrya appears in the texts of the Avesta, the divinity/concept is almost certainly of Indo-Iranian origin.

In a hymn of the Avesta (incorporated by Ferdowsi, with due acknowledgement, in the Shahnameh), Tishtrya is involved in a cosmic struggle against the drought-bringing demon Apaosha (Apaoša, Apauša), the Avestan language name of Zoroastrianism’s demon of drought. He is the epitomized antithesis of Tishtrya, divinity of the star Sirius and guardian of rainfall.

For many decades, the Avestan common noun apaosha- “drought” was thought to derive from either *apa-uša- “burning away” or *apa-vṛt(a)- “stemming the waters.” In the late 1960s, it was proposed that apaoša- was the antonym of an unattested derivative of *pauša- “thriving.” This explanation, which is also supported by Old Indic póṣa with the same meaning, is today well accepted. Avestan apaoša- thus originally meant “not thriving.”

In the mythology of Yasht 8.21-29, Tishtrya, as a mighty white horse with golden ears and golden tail, rushes towards the cosmic sea Vourukhasha. On his way, he is confronted by Apaosha as a horrible black horse with black ears and black tail. They battle for three days and nights until Apaosha drives Tishtrya, who was weakened from the lack of sufficient prayers and sacrifices from humankind, away.

Tishtrya then complains to Ahura Mazda that he was weakened because humankind did not give him his due of proper prayers and sacrifices. Ahura Mazda then himself offers sacrifice to Tishtrya, who now strengthened reengages Apaosha in battle at noon and conquers the demon of drought. Tishtrya then causes the rains to fall freely upon the earth and all is well again. The story serves to underscore the importance of votive offerings and sacrifice in religious tradition.

This legend has been interpreted to be a mythological conflation of a seasonal and astronomical event: The heliacal rising of Sirius (with which Tishtrya is associated) occurred in July, just before the hottest and driest time of the year. For the next few days, Sirius is visible at dawn as a flimmering star (doing battle with Apaosha).

In the torrid summer months, as Sirius becomes more directly visible, the light of the star appears to grow stronger (Tishtrya gathering strength) until it is steadily visible in the firmament (Apaosha vanquished). With the defeat of Apaosha, the rainy season begins (in late autumn).

A mythological explanation of the heliacal setting of Sirius is only alluded to in the Avesta: In Yasht 18.5-6, Apaosha is contrasted with the bringers of prosperity, that is, Tishtrya and his assistants Vata and Khwarrah. In these verses, the demon of drought is described as the “numbing frost.”

The description of the battle between Apaosha and Tishtrya is reproduced in the 9th-12th century texts of Zoroastrian tradition, where Apaosha now appears as Middle Persian Aposh (apōš), and Tishtrya is now Tishtar.

In the Bundahishn, a cosmological fable completed in the 12th century, the opposition is established during the creation: the second phase of the war between creation (with its guardians) and Angra Mainyu (MP→ Ahriman) is over control of the waters and of the rains.

In this war (Bundahishn 7.8-10, and Zadspram 6.9-11), Apaosha is assisted by Spenjagr, who is however defeated by a bolt of lightning. On the opposing front, Tishtrya is supported by Verethragna (→ Vahman), Haoma (→ Hom), Apam Napat (→ Burz), the hordes of the fravashis and by the Vayu (→ Weh).

During the Achaemenid period, Tishtrya was conflated with Semitic Nabu-*Tiri, and thus came to be associated with the Dog Star, Sirius. In the Bundahishn, Apaosha is identified with the planet Mercury, the astrological opposition to Sirius, being a product of the contact with Chaldea, and which may be a lingering trace of the Zurvanite doctrine that places stars in opposition to planets.

Dadistan-i Denig 93 reiterates Apaosha’s attempt to prevent rain. Upon being defeated by Tishtrya, Apaosha then attempts to make the rain cause damage (93.12). Dadistan i denig 93 provides a folk etymology of Aposh as Middle Persian ab osh “(having) the destruction of water.”

In the Zoroastrian religious calendar, the 13th day of the month and the 4th month of the year are dedicated to Tishtrya/Tir, and hence named after the entity. In the Iranian civil calendar, which inherits its month names from the Zoroastrian calendar, the 4th month is likewise named Tir.

During the Hellenic period, Tishtrya came to be associated with Pythian Apollo, patron of Delphi, and thus a divinity of oracles. Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion and Greek and Roman mythology.

The Tiregan festival

The Tiregan festival, also known as Jashn-e Tiregân (The feast of Tiregan), which is still celebrated among Iranian Zoroastrians, Parsis of India and some Iranian Muslims in various parts of Iran, including Mazandaran and Arak provinces, is an ancient Iranian festival coinciding with the mid summer festivals previously associated with *Tiri (a reconstructed name), but was likewise transferred to Tishtrya.

The celebration is widely attested by historians such as Abu Saʿīd Gardēzī, Biruni and Al-Masudi, as well as European travellers to Iran during the Safavid era. This event is celebrated on the 13th day of the month of Tir, (the 4th month of the Persian calendar) which equates to the 2nd or 3 July in the Gregorian Calendar and refers to the archangel Tir (arrow) or Tishtar (lightning bolt) who appeared in the sky to generate thunder and lightning for much needed rain.

Legend says that Arash Kamangir Amoli (Arash the Archer‎), a heroic archer-figure of Iranian oral tradition and folklore, was a man chosen to settle a land dispute between the leaders of two lands, Iran and Turan, and the name Arash remains one of the most popular names among Iranians.

Arash was to loose his arrow on the 13th day of Tir and where the arrow landed, would lie the border between the two kingdoms. Turan – which had suffered from the lack of rain – and Iran rejoiced at the settlement of the borders, then rain poured onto the two countries and there was peace between them.

In Mazandaran, where Arash is supposed to have come from, and in Farahan people go to a river, play traditional music and splash water on each other. Amongst Zoroastrians, it is a celebration of both religious value as well as a joyous occasion. Another Iranian Muslim historian, Abu Sa’id Gardizi has given a similar description to Biruni. He notes however that the arrow of Arash fell in the area of Farghana and Tokharistan.

The basic story of the bowman runs as follows: In a war between the Iranians and Turanians over the “royal glory” (khwarrah), the General Afrasiab has surrounded the forces of the righteous Manuchehr, and the two sides agree to make peace. Both reach an agreement that whatever land falls within the range of a bow-shot shall be returned to the Manuchehr and the Iranians, and the rest should then fall to Afraisab and the Aniranians.

An angel (in al-Biruni it is ‘Esfandaramad’, i.e. the Amesha Spenta Spenta Armaiti, MP Spendarmad) instructs Manuchehr to construct a special bow and arrow, and Arash is asked to be the archer. Arash then fires the specially-prepared arrow at dawn, which then traveled a great distance (see below) before finally landing and so marking the future border between the Iranians and the Aniranians.

In Talebi and Balami, Arash is destroyed by the shot and disappears. In al-Tabari, he is exalted by the people, is appointed commander of the archers and lives out his life in great honor. The distance the arrow travels varies: in one it is thousand leagues (farsakhs), in another forty days walk.

In several, the arrow traveled from dawn to noon, in others from dawn until sunset. A few sources specify a particular date for the event. The Middle Persian Mah i Frawardin notes the 6th day of the 1st month (i.e. Khordad of Frawardin); later sources associate the event with the name-day festivities of Tiregan (13th of Tir) “presumably” provoked by the homonymity with the Yazata Tir or tir “arrow.”

The location from which Arash fired his arrow varies as well. In the Avesta (which does not mention places in Western Iran), it is ‘Airyo.khshaotha’, a not-further identified location in the Middle Clime. Islamic-era sources typically place the location of the shot somewhere just south of the Caspian Sea, variously in Tabaristan (Tabari, Talebi, Maqdesi, ibn al-Atir, Marashi); a mountain-top in Ruyan (al-Biruni, Gardizi), Amul fortress (Mojmal), Mount Damavand (Balami) or Sari (Gorgani).

The place the arrow landed is variously identified as ‘Mount Khvanvant’ in the Avesta (likewise an unknown location); a river in Balkh (Tabari, al-Atir); east of Balkh (Talebi); Bactria/Tokharistan (Maqdesi, Gardizi); the banks of the Oxus River (Balami) or Merv (Mojmal). According to al-Biruni, it hit a nut tree between “Fargana” and Tabaristan “in the furthest reaches of [Greater] Khorasan.”

Although several sources (e.g. al-Biruni) appear to have considered ‘Arash’ to be the origin of the name ‘Arshak’ (i.e. Arsaces), the name of the Parthian dynasty derives from a Parthian- or Eastern Iranian equivalent of ‘Ardashir’, i.e. ‘Artaxerxes’, specifically Artaxerxes II, who the Arsacids claimed to descend from. (Within the scheme of the mythologically-conflated genealogies of Iranian dynasts, the Arsacids also claimed to descend—via the other Arash—from Kai Kobad).

As is typical for names from oral tradition there are numerous variations of ‘Arash’. In the Avesta the name appears as ‘Erekhsha’ (Ǝrəxša) “of the swift arrow, having the swiftest arrow among the Iranians” (Yasht 8.6). This Avestan language form continues in Zoroastrian Middle Persian as ‘Erash’ (Bundahishn, Shahrastanha-i Eran, Zand-i Vahuman Yasht, Mah i Frawardin), from which the anglicized ‘Eruch’ derives.

New Persian and Arabic forms include ‘Erash’ and ‘Irash’ in al-Tabari and ibn al-Atir; Aarashshebatir in al-Tabari; ‘Arash’ in al-Talebi; ‘Aarash’ in Maqdesi, Balami, Mojmal, Marasi, al-Biruni, and in the Vis o Ramin of Gorgani. Names with a stock epithet representing the Avestan “swift arrow” include al-Tabari’s ‘Aarashshebatir’ and Mojmal’s ‘Arash-e Shewatir’. A surname form includes ‘Arash/Aarash kaman-gir’ “Arash, bow-expert.”

Siavash Kasraie, contemporary Iranian poet, wrote the long poem of Arash the Archer in 1959 .This epic narrative, based on ancient Persian myth, depicts Arash’s heroic sacrifice to liberate his country from foreign domination.

In 1977 Bahram Bayzai published Āraš. Neither a short story nor a play and in part a response to the formers’s Āraš-e kamāngīr, Beyzai’s Āraš was staged a number of times around the world, most notably in Annenberg Auditorium, Stanford University California in July 2013.

The celebration is experiencing resurgence amongst Iranians. Today, some Iranians celebrate this occasion with dancing, singing, reciting poetry and serving spinach soup and sholeh zard. It has also been observed that during this celebration children and adults rejoice by swimming in streams and splashing water on each other. The custom of tying rainbow-colored bands on their wrists, which are worn for ten days and then thrown into a stream, is also a way to rejoice for children.

Tiur (Armenia)

In Armenia it was the god Tir (Apollo), the god of literature, science and art, also an interpreter of dreams. Armenians are great believers in divination and fate. “Djagadakir”, “Writ on the forehead” is their explanation for almost any and all happening.

This is a remnant from ancient times when the god Tiur reigned supreme over the world of dreams. His temple was called “Yerezamuynk”, meaning “House of Dreams”, or “Abode, place of Dreams”. Each temple of his was a sprawling university where not only the interpretations of dreams were taught, but also the Arts, Music and the Sciences.

Tiur, being also the messenger god, was charged with carrying out the decrees of Armenia’s chief pagan deity, Aramazd, and indeed all the other gods, as he was the writer, and the decrees were written on the foreheads of each human.

The fate of each human was decreed at birth and written on the foreheads, hence the epitaph, “writ on the forehead” or “Djagadakir”. Of course only the gods could see and decipher the writing. Nevertheless, this implies the existence of an alphabet and the knowledge of writing. If people had no knowledge of writing, then they would not ascribe them to their gods in their myths.

It is conceivable, that the court scribes received their training and education at Tiur’s temples. Even during Christianity, Armenians credit the discovery of their modern alphabet by Saint Mesrop Mashtots to Devine intervention.

The Saintly priest, after some tribulation and despair, had a vision of the alphabet in his dream. No doubt dream he did of the various ancient symbols of cave art, which dotted the Armenian Highlands, to which many of the letters resemble. So why did he have that particular dream at that particular time?

The ancient Armenians also believed that each person was assigned a star at birth. That star could be lucky or unlucky, and so good fortune or ill would follow that individual throughout his or her lifetime. Perhaps that is where we get the phrase “thank your lucky stars” from.

Outside of Artaxata, the ancient capital of Armenia (on the Araxes), and close upon the road to Valarshapat (the winter capital), was the best known temple of Tiur. The place was called Erazamuyn (Greek oueironsos), which probably means “interpreter of dreams”. Tiur had also another temple in the sacred city of Armavir.

He was no less a personage than the scribe of Aramazd, which may mean that in the lofty abode of the gods, he kept record of the good and evil deeds of men for a future day of reckoning, or what is more probable on comparative grounds, he had charge of writing down the decrees ( hraman, Pers. firman) that were issued by Aramazd concerning the events of each human life.

These decrees were no doubt recorded not only on heavenly tablets but also on the forehead of every child of man that was born. The latter were commonly called the “writ on the forehead” which, according to present folklore, human eyes can descry but no one is able to decipher.

Besides these general and pre-natal decrees, the Armenians seem to have believed in an annual rendering of decrees, resembling the assembly of the Babylonian gods on the world-mountain during the Zagmuk (New Year) festival. They located this event on a spring night. As a witness of this we have only a universally observed practice.

In Christian Armenia that night came to be associated with Ascension Day. The people are surely reiterating an ancient tradition when they tell us that at an unknown and mystic hour of the night which precedes Ascension silence envelops all nature. Heaven comes nearer. All the springs and streams cease to flow. Then the flowers and shrubs, the hills and stones, begin to salute and address one another, and each one declares its specific virtue.

The King Serpent who lives in his own tail learns that night the language of the flowers. If anyone is aware of that hour, he can change everything into gold by dipping it into water and expressing his wish in the name of God. Some report also that the springs and rivers flow with gold, which can be secured only at the right moment.

On Ascension Day the people try to find out what kind of luck is awaiting them during the year, by means of books that tell fortune, or objects deposited on the previous day in a basin of water along with herbs and flowers. A veil covers these things which have been exposed to the gaze of the stars during the mystic night, and a young virgin draws them out one by one while verses divining the future are being recited.

Whether Tiur originally concerned himself with all these things or not he was the scribe of Aramazd. Being learned and skilful, he patronized and imparted both learning and skill. His temple, called the archive of the scribe of Aramazd, was also a temple of learning and skill, i.e. not only a special sanctuary where one might pray for these things and make vows, but also a school where they were to be taught.

Whatever else this vaunted learning and skill included, it must have had a special reference to the art of divination. It was a kind of Delphic oracle. This is indirectly attested by the fact that Tiur, who had nothing to do with light, was identified with Apollo in Hellenic times, as well as by the great fame for interpretation of dreams which Tiur’s temple enjoyed.

Here it was that the people and the grandees of the nation came to seek guidance in their undertakings and to submit their dreams for interpretation. The interpretation of dreams had long become a systematic science, which was handed down by a clan of priests or soothsayers to their pupils.

Tiur must have also been the patron of such arts as writing and eloquence, for on the margin of some old Armenian MSS. of the book of Acts (chap. xiv, v. 12), the name of Hermes, for whom Paul was once mistaken because of his eloquence, was explained as “the god Tiur”.

Besides all these it is more than probable that Tiur was the god who conducted the souls of the dead into the nether world. The very common Armenian imprecation, “May the writer carry him!” or “The writer for him!” as well as Tiur’s close resemblance to the Babylonian Nabu in many other respects, goes far to confirm this view.

Origin of Tir

In spite of his being identified with Apollo and Hermes, Tiur stands closer to the Babylonian Nabu than to either of these Greek deities. In fact, Hermes himself must have developed on the pattern of Nabu. The latter was a god of learning and of wisdom, and taught the art of writing. He knew–and so he could impart–the meaning of oracles and incantations. He inspired, and probably interpreted, dreams. In Babylonia Nabu was identified with the planet Mercury.

But the name of Tiur is a proof that the he did not come directly from the South. In spite of the puzzling silence of the Avesta on this point, Iran knew a god by the name of Tir. One of the Persian months, as the old Cappadocian and Armenian calendars attest, was consecrated to this deity (perhaps also the thirteenth day of each month).

We find among the Iranians as well as among the Armenians, a host of theophorous names composed with “Tir” such as Tiribazes, Tiridates, Tiran, Tirikes, Tirotz, Tirith, etc., bearing unimpeachable witness to the god’s popularity. Tiro-naKathwa is found even in the Avesta as the name of a holy man. It is from Iran that Tir migrated in the wake of the Persian armies and civilization to Armenia, Cappadocia, and Scythia, where we find also Tir’s name as Teiro on Indo-Scythian coins of the first century of our era.

We have very good reasons to maintain that the description of the Armenian Tiur fits also the Iranian Tir, and that they both were identical with Nabu. As Nabu in Babylonia, so also Tir in Iran was the genius presiding over the planet Mercury and bore the title of Dabir, meaning “writer”.

But a more direct testimony can be cited bearing on the original identity of the Persian Tir with Nabu. The Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was greatly devoted to Nabu, his patron god. He built at the mouth of the Euphrates a city which he dedicated to him and called by a name containing the deity’s name, as a component part. This name was rendered in Greek by Berossus (or Abydenus?) as Teredon and Diridotis, “given to Mercury.”

The latter form, says Rawlinson, occurs as early as the time of Alexander. The arrow-like writing-wedge was the commonest symbol of Nabu, and could easily give rise to the Persian designation. That the arrow seems to have been the underlying idea of the Persian conception of Nabu is better attested by the fact that both Herodotus and Armenian history know the older form of Tiran, Tigranes, as a common name. Tigranes is, no doubt, derived from Tigris, Old Persian for “arrow.”


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