Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Taurus and the Pleiades

Posted by Fredsvenn on September 20, 2014



Pleiades in folklore and literature


Pleiades (Greek mythology)

Taurus (constellation)

Taurus (astrology)

Bull (mythology)


Taurus is one of the constellations of the zodiac, which means it is crossed by the plane of the ecliptic. Its name is a Latin word meaning “bull”, and its astrological symbol is a stylized bull’s head: (Unicode ♉).

Taurus is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere’s winter sky. It is one of the oldest constellations, dating back to at least the Early Bronze Age when it marked the location of the Sun during the spring equinox. Taurus came to symbolize the bull in the mythologies of Ancient Babylon, Egypt and Greece.

There are a number of features of interest to astronomers. Taurus hosts two of the nearest open clusters to Earth, the Pleiades and the Hyades, both of which are visible to the naked eye.

At first magnitude, the red giant Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation. In the northwest part of Taurus is the supernova remnant Messier 1, more commonly known as the Crab Nebula.

One of the closest regions of active star formation, the Taurus-Auriga complex, crosses into the northern part of the constellation. The variable star T Tauri is the prototype of a class of pre-main-sequence stars.

Taurus (♉) is the second astrological sign in the Zodiac. It spans the 30-60th degree of the zodiac, between 27.25 and 54.75 degree of celestial longitude. Under the tropic zodiac, the Sun transits this area on average between April 20 and May 20 each year.

Under the sidereal zodiac, the sun currently transits the constellation of Taurus from May 16 to June 15 (approximately). Individuals born during these dates, depending on which system of astrology they subscribe to, may be called Taureans.

Taurus the bull

The identification of the constellation of Taurus with a bull is very old, certainly dating to the Chalcolithic, and perhaps even to the Upper Paleolithic.

Michael Rappenglück of the University of Munich believes that Taurus is represented in a cave painting at the Hall of the Bulls in the caves at Lascaux (dated to roughly 15,000 BC), which he believes is accompanied by a depiction of the Pleiades.

The name “seven sisters” has been used for the Pleiades in the languages of many cultures, including indigenous groups of Australia, North America and Siberia. This suggests that the name may have a common ancient origin.

Taurus marked the point of vernal (spring) equinox in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, from about 4000 BC to 1700 BC, after which it moved into the neighboring constellation Aries. The Pleiades were closest to the Sun at vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC.

In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN as GU4.AN.NA, “The Heavenly Bull”. As this constellation marked the vernal equinox, it was also the first constellation in the Babylonian zodiac and they described it as “The Bull in Front”. The Akkadian name was Alu.

In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest works of literature, the goddess Ishtar sends Taurus, the Bull of Heaven, to kill Gilgamesh for spurning her advances.

Gilgamesh is depicted as the neighboring constellation of Orion, and in the sky they face each other as if engaged in combat. In early Mesopotamian art, the Bull of Heaven was closely associated with Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare.

One of the oldest depictions shows the bull standing before the goddess’ standard; since it has 3 stars depicted on its back (the cuneiform sign for “star-constellation”), there is good reason to regard this as the constellation later known as Taurus.

The same iconic representation of the Heavenly Bull was depicted in the Dendera zodiac, an Egyptian bas-relief carving in a ceiling that depicted the celestial hemisphere using a planisphere.

In these ancient cultures, the orientation of the horns was portrayed as upward or backward. This differed from the later Greek depiction where the horns pointed forward.

To the Egyptians, the constellation Taurus was a sacred bull that was associated with the renewal of life in spring. When the spring equinox entered Taurus, the constellation would become covered by the Sun in the western sky as spring began. This “sacrifice” led to the renewal of the land.

To the early Hebrews, Taurus was the first constellation in their zodiac and consequently it was represented by the first letter in their alphabet, Aleph.

In Greek mythology, Taurus was identified with Zeus, who assumed the form of a magnificent white bull to abduct Europa, a legendary Phoenician princess. In illustrations of Greek mythology, only the front portion of this constellation are depicted; this was sometimes explained as Taurus being partly submerged as he carried Europa out to sea.

A second Greek myth portrays Taurus as Io, a mistress of Zeus. To hide his lover from his wife Hera, Zeus changed Io into the form of a heifer. Greek mythographer Acusilaus marks the bull Taurus as the same that formed the myth of the Cretan Bull, one of The Twelve Labors of Heracles.

Taurus became an important object of worship among the Druids. Their Tauric religious festival was held while the Sun passed through the constellation. In Buddhism, legends hold that Gautama Buddha was born when the Full Moon was in Vaisakha, or Taurus. Buddha’s birthday is celebrated with the Wesak Festival, or Vesākha, which occurs on the first or second Full Moon when the Sun is in Taurus.

The Pleiades

In the northeastern quadrant of the Taurus constellation lies the Pleiades (M45), one of the best known open star clusters containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. The seven most prominent stars in this cluster are at least visual magnitude six, and so the cluster is also named the “Seven Sisters”.

The cluster is dominated by hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. Dust that forms a faint reflection nebulosity around the brightest stars was thought at first to be left over from the formation of the cluster (hence the alternate name Maia Nebula after the star Maia), but is now known to be an unrelated dust cloud in the interstellar medium, through which the stars are currently passing.

Computer simulations have shown that the Pleiades were probably formed from a compact configuration that resembled the Orion Nebula. Astronomers estimate that the cluster will survive for about another 250 million years, after which it will disperse due to gravitational interactions with its galactic neighborhood.

The high visibility of the star cluster Pleiades in the night sky has guaranteed it a special place in many cultures, both ancient and modern. The heliacal rising of Pleiades often marks important calendar points for ancient peoples. The celestial entity has several meanings in different cultures and traditions.

The Pleiades, companions of Artemis, were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas, the primordial Titan who held up the celestial spheres, and the titan of astronomy and navigation, and the sea-nymph Pleione, an Oceanid nymph born on Mount Cyllene, who was the protectress of sailing. Pleione married the Titan Atlas and gave birth to the Hyades, Hyas and the Pleiades.

The Pleiades are the sisters of Calypso, Hyas, the Hyades, and the Hesperides. The Pleiades were nymphs in the train of Artemis, and together with the seven Hyades were called the Atlantides, Dodonides, or Nysiades, nursemaids and teachers to the infant Bacchus.

There is some debate as to the origin of the name Pleiades. Previously, it was accepted that the name is derived from the name of their mother, Pleione. However, the name Pleiades may derive from (to sail) because of their importance in delimiting the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea.

Several of the most prominent male Olympian gods (including Zeus, Poseidon, and Ares) engaged in affairs with the seven heavenly sisters. These relationships resulted in the birth of their children.

After Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders, Orion began to pursue all of the Pleiades, and Zeus transformed them first into doves, and then into stars to comfort their father. The constellation of Orion is said to still pursue them across the night sky.

One of the most memorable myths involving the Pleiades is the story of how these sisters literally became stars, their catasterism. According to some versions of the tale, all seven sisters committed suicide because they were so saddened by either the fate of their father, Atlas, or the loss of their siblings, the Hyades. In turn Zeus, the ruler of the Greek gods, immortalized the sisters by placing them in the sky. There these seven stars formed the star cluster known thereafter as the Pleiades.

The Greek poet Hesiod mentions the Pleiades several times in his Works and Days. As the Pleiades are primarily winter stars, they feature prominently in the ancient agricultural calendar.

The Pleiades would “flee mighty Orion and plunge into the misty deep” as they set in the West, which they would begin to do just before dawn during October–November, a good time of the year to lay up your ship after the fine summer weather and “remember to work the land”; in Mediterranean agriculture autumn is the time to plough and sow.

The loss of one of the sisters, Merope, in some myths may reflect an astronomical event wherein one of the stars in the Pleiades star cluster disappeared from view by the naked eye.

Peleiades (Greek: “doves”) were the sacred women of Zeus and the Mother Goddess, Dione, at the Oracle at Dodona in Epirus in northwestern Greece. It was an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione, who was joined and partly supplanted in historical times by the Greek god Zeus.

The shrine of Dodona was regarded as the oldest Hellenic oracle, possibly dating to the second millennium BCE according to Herodotus. Situated in a remote region away from the main Greek poleis, it was considered second only to the oracle of Delphi in prestige. Priestesses and priests in the sacred grove interpreted the rustling of the oak (or beech) leaves to determine the correct actions to be taken.

According to a new interpretation, the oracular sound originated from bronze objects hanging from oak branches and sounded with the wind blowing, similar to a wind chime. Aristotle considered the region around Dodona to have been part of Hellas and the region where the Hellenes originated.

The oracle was first under the control of the Thesprotians before it passed into the hands of the Molossians. It remained an important religious sanctuary until the rise of Christianity during the Late Roman era.

Pindar made a reference to the Pleiades as the “peleiades” a flock of doves, but the connection seems witty and poetical, rather than mythic. The chariot of Aphrodite was drawn by a flock of doves, however.

A mythic element of a black dove that initiated the oracle at Dodona, which Herodotus was told in the 5th century BC may be an attempt to account for a folk etymology applied to the archaic name of the sacred women that no longer made sense (an aitiological myth).

Perhaps the pel- element in their name was originally connected with “black” or “muddy” root elements in names like Peleus or Pelops and peliganes (Epirotian, Macedonian senators), Attic polios, Doric peleios grey, old, PIE *pel-, “gray”. Peleiades are often confused with the nymphs Pleiades.

Parvin or Parveen or Parween is a unisex given name in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Azerbaijan and beyond. Parvin means star in the Persian and Urdu languages but in reality refers to the star cluster Pleiades. It is also used as a unisex last name.

Although most accounts are uniform as to the number, names, and main myths concerning the Pleiades, the mythological information recorded by a scholiast on Theocritus’ Idylls with reference to Callimachus has nothing in common with the traditional version.

According to it, the Pleiades were daughters of an Amazonian queen; their names were Maia, Coccymo, Glaucia, Protis, Parthenia, Stonychia, and Lampado. They were credited with inventing ritual dances and nighttime festivals.


The Kotharat, or Kotharot, or Kathirat (various suggested pronunciations of Ugaritic ktrt), ‘the skilful ones’ were a group of northwest Semitic goddesses appearing in the Ugartic texts as divine midwives. They are the only Canaanite deities that only appear in a group, and are associated with the swallow.

In the story of Aqhat the chieftain Daniel, in order to obtain a child, for seven days feasts the Kotharat who have entered his house. In Nikkal and the Kotharat the Kotharat are first summoned to oversee the birth of a son to Yarikh the moon-god and the goddess Nikkal and then summoned a second time to bless the human girl Prbkht for her forthcoming marriage.

Sanchuniathon refers to a group of seven daughters of El by ‘Ashtart whose Phoenician name is not given but who are called the Titanides or Artemides in Greek. That the Greek goddess Artemis was often worshipped as a birth goddess suggests these seven Artemides are so called because they were also birth goddesses. If so, they are probably identical to the Ugaritic Kotharat.


Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana (lt. “heavenly” or “divine”), the goddess of the hunt, the moon and birthing, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos, daughter of Jupiter and Latona.

Some scholars believe that the name, and indeed the goddess herself, was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: “Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals”. The Arcadians believed she was the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth.

In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth.

Artemis got her hunting dogs from Pan, the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs, in the forest of Arcadia. Pan gave Artemis two black-and-white dogs, three reddish ones, and one spotted one – these dogs were able to hunt even lions. Pan also gave Artemis seven bitches of the finest Arcadian race. However, Artemis only ever brought seven dogs hunting with her at any one time.


In the description of the Phoenician pantheon ascribed to Sanchuniathon, Astarte appears as a daughter of Epigeius (Greek: Uranus) and Ge (Earth), and sister of the god Elus (El), a Northwest Semitic word meaning “deity”.

After Elus overthrows and banishes his father Epigeius, as some kind of trick Epigeius sends Elus his “virgin daughter” Astarte along with her sisters Asherah and the goddess who will later be called Ba`alat Gebal, “the Lady of Byblos”.

Ba‘alat Gebal, the goddess of the city of Byblos, Phoenicia, in ancient times, and sometimes known to the Greeks as Baaltis or Atargatis, was generally identified with the pan-Semitic goddess ‘Ashtart (Astarte) and, like ‘Ashtart, equated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

However, Sanchuniathon presents Ba‘alat Gebal as a sister of ‘Ashtart and Asherah, and calls Ba‘alat Gebal by the name Dione, meaning that he identified her either with Asherah or with the mother of Greek Aphrodite, the Titan goddess Dione.

According to Sanchuniathon Baaltis/Dione, like Asherah and ‘Ashtart, was a sister and wife of ‘El. He states that she bore daughters to El and that it was El who gave the city of Byblos to her. Ba‘alat Gebal was distinguished in iconography from Ashtart or other aspects of Ashtart or similar goddesses by two, tall, upright feathers in her headdress.

The temple of Ba‘alat Gebal in Byblos was built around 2700 BC. Dedications from Egyptians begin appearing from the second to the 6th Egyptian dynasties. Two of these inscriptions equate Ba‘alat Gebal with the Egyptian goddess Hathor. Frank Moore Cross writes that at Sinai Ba‘alat seems to have referred to Hathor and possibly to Qudšu, who is Asherah.

It seems that this trick does not work, as all three become wives of their brother Elus. Astarte bears Elus children who appear under Greek names as seven daughters called the Titanides, a primeval race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Heaven), that ruled during the legendary Golden Age, or Artemides and two sons named Pothos “Longing” and Eros “Desire”.

Later with Elus’ consent, Astarte and Hadad reign over the land together. Astarte puts the head of a bull on her own head to symbolize Her sovereignty. Wandering through the world, Astarte takes up a star that has fallen from the sky (a meteorite) and consecrates it at Tyre.

Ashteroth Karnaim (Astarte was called Ashteroth in the Hebrew Bible) was a city in the land of Bashan east of the Jordan River, mentioned in Genesis 14:5 and Joshua 12:4 (where it is rendered solely as Ashteroth).

The name translates literally to ‘Ashteroth of the Horns’, with ‘Ashteroth’ being a Canaanite fertitility goddess and ‘horns’ being symbolic of mountain peaks. Figurines of Astarte have been found at various archaeological sites in Israel, showing the goddess with two horns.

Astarte’s most common symbol was the crescent moon (or horns), according to religious studies scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell, in his book The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity.

The Krittika

The star cluster Kṛttikā (popularly transliterated “Krittika”) sometimes known as Kārtikā, corresponds to the open star cluster called Pleiades in western astronomy. In Indian astronomy and Jyotiṣa (Hindu astrology) the name literally translates to “the cutters”. In Hindu astrology, Kṛttikā is the third of the 27 nakṣatras, and is ruled by Kartikeya.

Jyotisha (or Jyotish from Sanskrit jyotiṣa, from jyótis- “light, heavenly body”) is the traditional Hindu system of astronomy and astrology. It is also known as Hindu astrology, Indian astrology, and more recently Vedic astrology.

The term Hindu astrology has been in use as the English equivalent of Jyotiṣa since the early 19th century, whereas Vedic astrology is a relatively recent term, entering common usage in the 1980s with self-help publications on Āyurveda or Yoga.

Vedanga Jyotisha is one of the earliest texts about astronomy within the Vedas. However, historical documentation shows that horoscopic astrology in the Indian subcontinent came from Hellenistic influences, post-dating the Vedic period.

In Hindu mythology, the god Skanda was raised by the six sisters known as the Kṛttikā and thus came to be known as Kartikeya (literally “Him of the Kṛttikā”).

According to the Mahābhārata, Kartikeya was born to Agni, the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices, and one of the most important of the Vedic gods, and Svāhā, an interjection, approximately “hail!” in mantras indicating the end of the mantra, after the latter impersonated six of the seven wives of the Saptarṣi and made love to him.

The Saptarshi, (from saptarṣi, a Sanskrit dvigu meaning “seven sages”), the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature, hearing of this incident and doubting their wives’ chastity, divorced them. These wives then became the Kṛttikā.

In the Tibetan language, “svaha” is translated as “so be it” and is often pronounced and orthographically represented as “soha”. Whenever fire sacrifices are made, svāhā is chanted. Etymologically, the term is probably from su “well” and the root ah “to call”.

As a feminine noun, svāhā in the Rigveda may also mean “oblation” (to Agni or Indra), and as oblation personified, Svāhā is a minor goddess, and the wife of Agni. She was originally a nymph but became immortal after marrying Agni.

In some versions, she is one of the many divine mothers of Kartikeya, also known as Skanda, Murugan and Subramaniyan, the Hindu god of war. He is the commander-in-chief of the army of the devas (gods) and the son of Shiva and Parvati.

Svāhā is also the mother of Aagneya (Aagneya) – the daughter of Agni. She is considered to be a daughter of Daksha, one of the sons of Lord Brahma, who, after creating the ten Manas Putras, created Daksha, Dharma, Kamadeva and Agni from his right thumb, chest, heart and eyebrows respectively. She is thought to preside over burnt offerings. Her body is said to consist of the four Vedas and her six limbs are the six Angas of the Vedas.

It is said that the gods to whom offerings are being made through yagna (yajña, also transliterated yagya, yaga or yadnya) or yagam, is a ritual of offerings accompanied by chanting of Vedic mantras (also “worship, prayer, praise, offering and oblation, sacrifice” according to Monier-Williams) derived from the practice in Vedic times, refuse the offerings unless the word ‘svaha’ is uttered during the sacrifice.

Yajna is an ancient ritual of offering and sublimating the havana sámagri (herbal preparations) in the fire. The sublime meaning of the word yajna is derived from the Sanskrit verb yaj, which has a three-fold meaning of worship of deities (devapujana), unity (sangatikarana) and charity (dána).

An essential element is the ritual fire – the divine Agni – into which oblations are poured, as everything that is offered into the fire is believed to reach God. The Sanskrit word yajna is linguistically (but not functionally) related to Zoroastrianism’s (Avestan language) Yasna.

Unlike Vedic yajna, Zoroastrian Yasna is the name of a specific religious service, not a class of rituals, and (also unlike Vedic yajna) that service has “to do with water rather than fire”.(Drower, 1944:78; Boyce, 1975:147-191)

Rituals associated with temple worship in Hinduism are called agamic, while those involving communication with divinity through Agni are considered to be Vedic. Temple rites in modern-day Hinduism are a combination of both Vedic and agamic rituals. The ritualistic portion of the Hindu scriptures is called Karma-Kanda. Parts of Vedas which describe or discuss Yajnas fall into this portion.

The Saptarshi and the Apkallu

– Matsya and Adapa

The Vedic Samhitas never enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the Vedic religion.

The earliest list of the Seven Rishis is given by Jaiminiya Brahmana 2.218-221: Vashista, Bharadvaja, Jamadagni, Gautama, Atri, Visvamitra, and Agastya, followed by Brihadaranyaka. Upanisad 2.2.6 has a slightly different list: Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vashiṣṭha and Kaśyapa, and Atri, Brighu. The late Gopatha Brāhmana 1.2.8 has: Vashiṣṭa, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Gautama, Bharadvāja, Gungu, Agastya, Vrighu and Kaśyapa.

In post-Vedic texts, different lists appear; some of these rishis were recognized as the ‘mind born sons’ (Sanskrit: manasa putra) of Brahma, the representation of the Supreme Being as Creator. Other representations are Mahesha or Shiva as the Destroyer and Vishnu as the Preserver. Since these seven rishis were also among the primary eight rishis, who were considered to be the ancestors of the Gotras of Brahmins, the birth of these rishis was mythicized.

In some parts of India, people believe these are seven stars of the Big Dipper named “Vashista”, “Marichi”, “Pulastya”, “Pulaha”, “Atri”, “Angiras” and “Kratu”. There is another star slightly visible within it, known as “Arundhati”. Arundhati is the wife of vasistha.

Matsya (literally “Fish”) is the avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu in the form of a fish, preceding Kurma. Often listed as the first avatar in the lists of the ten primary avatars of Vishnu, Matsya is described to have rescued the first man, Manu, from a great deluge. Matsya may be depicted as a giant fish, or anthropomorphically with a human torso connected to the rear half of a fish.

The earliest accounts of the legend associate Matsya with the creator god Prajapati (identified with Brahma). However, Puranic scriptures incorporate Matsya as an avatar of Vishnu. Matsya forewarns Manu about an impending catastrophic flood and orders him to collect all the grains of the world in a boat; in some forms of the story, all living creatures are also to be preserved in the boat.

When the flood destroys the world, Manu – in some versions accompanied by the seven great sages – survives by boarding the ark, which Matsya pulls to safety. In later versions of this story, the sacred texts Vedas are hidden by a demon, whom Matsya slays: Manu is rescued and the scriptures are recovered. The tale is in the tradition of the family of flood myths, common across cultures.

The story of a great Deluge is found in many civilizations across the earth. It is often related to the Genesis narrative of the flood and Noah’s Ark. The fish motif and saving of the scriptures from a demon is in the Hindu tale. Similar flood myths also exist in tales from ancient Sumer and Babylonia, Greece, the Maya of Americas and the Yoruba of Africa.

Matsya is believed to symbolise the first stage of evolution, as aquatic life was the first beings on earth. The tale of Matsya may be interpreted as a creation myth where Manu creates beings of the world and men after they destroyed in the flood, though the creation is never the focus of the legend.

Some authors consider the tale not a flood myth, but symbolic in nature. Manu’s boat is representative of moksha (salvation), which helps one to cross over. Himalayas is treated as a boundary between the earthly existence and land of salvation beyond. God as the fish guides one to salvation. The horn of the fish is symbolic of “sacrificial values”. The presence of fish seems to be an allusion to the Indian “law of the fishes”, an equivalent to the “law of the jungle”, when the fish seeks protection from being eaten by a larger fish.

Treated as a parable, the tale advises a good king should protect the weak from the mighty, reversing the “law of fishes” and uphold dharma, like Manu, the progenitor of mankind and in particular two royal dynasties, thus an ideal king. In the tales where the demon hides the Vedas, dharma is threatened and Vishnu as the divine Saviour, rescues dharma, aided by his earthly counterpart, Manu – the king.

The Apkallu (Akkadian) or Abgal, (Sumerian) are seven Sumerian sages, demigods who are said to have been created by the god Enki (Akkadian: Ea) to establish culture and give civilization to mankind.

They served as priests of Enki and as advisors or sages to the earliest kings of Sumer before the flood. They are credited with giving mankind the Me (moral code), the crafts, and the arts. They were seen as fish-like men who emerged from the sweet water Abzu. They are commonly represented as having the lower torso of a fish, or dressed as a fish.

The word Abgallu, sage (Ab = water, Gal = great, Lu = man, Sumerian) survived into Nabatean times, around the 1st century, as apkallum, used to describe the profession of a certain kind of priest.

According to the myth, human beings were initially unaware of the benefits of culture and civilization. The god Enki sent from Dilmun, amphibious half-fish, half-human creatures, who emerged from the oceans to live with the early human beings and teach them the arts and other aspects of civilization such as writing, law, temple and city building and agriculture.

These creatures are known as the Apkallu. The Apkallu remained with human beings after teaching them the ways of civilization, and served as advisors to the kings.

These seven were each advisers for seven different kings and therefore result in two different lists, one of kings and one of Apkallu. Neither the sages nor the kings in these lists were genealogically related however.

Mesopotamian myth tells of seven antediluvian sages, who were sent by Ea, the wise god of Eridu, to bring the arts of civilisation to humankind. The first of these, Adapa, also known as Uan, the name given as Oannes by Berossus, introduced the practice of the correct rites of religious observance as priest of the E’Apsu temple, at Eridu.

The sages are described in Mesopotamian literature as ‘pure parādu-fish, probably carp, whose bones are found associated with the earliest shrine, and still kept as a holy duty in the precincts of Near Eastern mosques and monasteries. Adapa as a fisherman was iconographically portrayed as a fish-man composite.

Apkallu reliefs also appear in Assyrian palaces as guardians against evil spirits. They are one of the more prominent supernatural creatures that appear in the art of Ashurnasirpal II of the 9th century BC. They appear in one of three forms, bird-headed, human-headed or dressed in fish-skin cloaks.

Apkallu and human beings were presumably capable of conjugal relationships since after the flood, the myth states that four Apkallu appeared. These were part human and part Apkallu, and included Nungalpirriggaldim, Pirriggalnungal, Pirriggalabsu, and Lu-nana who was only two-thirds Apkallu.

These Apkallus are said to have committed various transgressions which angered the gods. These seeming negative deeds of the later Apkallu and their roles as wise councillors have led some scholars to equate them with the nephilim of Genesis 6:4.

After these four post-diluvian Apkallus came the first completely human advisers, who were called ummanu. Gilgamesh, the mythical king of Uruk, is said to be the first king to have had an entirely human adviser. In recent times, scholars have also suggested the Apkallu are the model for Enoch, the ancestor of Noah.

Abgal (cognate with the Sumerian, related to the Akkadian apkallu, “ferryman”) is a pre-Islamic north Arabian god, known from the Palmyrian desert regions as a god of Bedouins and camel drivers.

Adapa, the first of the Mesopotamian seven sages, was a mythical figure who unknowingly refused the gift of immortality. The story is first attested in the Kassite period (14th century BCE), in fragmentary tablets from Tell el-Amarna, and from Assur, of the late second millennium BCE.

Adapa is often identified as advisor to the mythical first (antediluvian) king of Eridu, Alulim. In addition to his advisory duties, he served as a priest and exorcist, and upon his death took his place among the Seven Sages or Apkallū, a reference to Adapa, the first sage’s association with water.

Adapa was a mortal man from a godly lineage, a son of Ea (Enki in Sumerian), the god of wisdom and of the ancient city of Eridu, who brought the arts of civilization to that city (from Dilmun, according to some versions).

He broke the wings of Ninlil the South Wind, who had overturned his fishing boat, and was called to account before Anu. Ea, his patron god, warned him to apologize humbly for his actions, but not to partake of food or drink while he was in heaven, as it would be the food of death. Anu, impressed by Adapa’s sincerity, offered instead the food of immortality, but Adapa heeded Ea’s advice, refused, and thus missed the chance for immortality that would have been his.

Vague parallels can be drawn to the story of Genesis, where Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden by Yahweh, after they ate from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thus gaining death.

Parallels are also apparent (to an even greater degree) with the story of Persephone visiting Hades, who was warned to take nothing from that kingdom. Stephanie Galley writes “From Erra and Ishum we know that all the sages were banished … because they angered the gods, and went back to the Apsu, where Ea lived, and … the story … ended with Adapa’s banishment” p. 182.

Oannes was the name given by the Babylonian writer Berossus in the 3rd century BCE to a mythical being who taught mankind wisdom. Berossus describes Oannes as having the body of a fish but underneath the figure of a man. He is described as dwelling in the Persian Gulf, and rising out of the waters in the daytime and furnishing mankind instruction in writing, the arts and the various sciences. Oannes and the Semitic god Dagon were considered identical.

The name “Oannes” was once conjectured to be derived from that of the ancient Babylonian god Ea, but it is now known that the name is the Greek form of the Babylonian Uanna (or Uan) a name used for Adapa in texts from the Library of Ashurbanipal. The Assyrian texts attempt to connect the word to the Akkadian for a craftsman ummanu but this is merely a pun.

The Sebitti

The Sebitti are a group of seven minor war gods in Babylonian and Akkadian tradition. They are the children of the god Anu and follow the god Erra, an Akkadian plague god known from an ‘epos’ of the eighth century BCE., into battle. They are, in differing traditions, of good and evil influence.

Erra is the god of mayhem and pestilence who is responsible for periods of political confusion. 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 (not thought to be the mother goddess Mami) 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.

Machinist and Sasson (1983) call them “personified weapons”. 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 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 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 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 Seven are known from a range of Akkadian incantation texts: their demonic names vary, but their number, seven, is invariable.

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.


In Akkadian mythology, Antu or Antum (add the name in cuneiform please an= shar=?) is a Babylonian goddess. She was the first consort of Anu, and the pair was the parents of the Anunnaki and the Utukki, a type of spirit or demon that could be either benevolent or evil.

In Akkadian mythology, the Utukku were seven evil demons who were the offspring of Anu and Antu. The evil utukku were called Edimmu or Ekimmu; the good utukku were called shedu. Two of the best known of the evil Utukku were Asag (slain by Ninurta) and Alû.

Anat boasts that she has put an end to Yam the darling of El, to the seven-headed serpent, to Arsh the darling of the gods, to Atik Quarrelsome the calf of El, to Ishat Fire the bitch of the gods, and to Zabib ‘flame?’ the daughter of El.

Ninurta and Nergal

Ninurta (Nin Ur: God of War) in Sumerian and the Akkadian mythology of Assyria and Babylonia, was the god of Lagash, identified with Ningirsu with whom he may always have been identified.

In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity. A number of scholars have suggested that either the god Ninurta or the Assyrian king bearing his name (Tukulti-Ninurta I) was the inspiration for the Biblical character Nimrod.

Ninurta slays each of the monsters later known as the “Slain Heroes” (the Warrior Dragon, the Palm Tree King, Lord Saman-ana, the Bison-beast, the Mermaid, the Seven-headed Snake, the Six-headed Wild Ram), and despoils them of valuable items such as Gypsum, Strong Copper, and the Magilum boat). Eventually, Anzû is killed by Ninurta who delivers the Tablet of Destiny to his father, Enlil.

A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Nergal, a deity worshipped throughout throughout Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia) with the main seat of his worship at Cuthah represented by the mound of Tell-Ibrahim, and Ninurta, the slayer of Asag and wielder of Sharur, an enchanted mace.

Nergal’s fiery aspect appears in names or epithets such as Lugalgira, Lugal-banda (Nergal as the fighting-cock), Sharrapu (“the burner,” a reference to his manner of dealing with outdated teachings), Erra, Gibil (though this name more properly belongs to Nusku), and Sibitti or Seven.

Nergal actually seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only a representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.

Nergal was also the deity who presides over the netherworld, and who stands at the head of the special pantheon assigned to the government of the dead (supposed to be gathered in a large subterranean cave known as Aralu or Irkalla).

In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person. In some texts the god Ninazu is the son of Nergal and Allatu/Ereshkigal.

Nergal has epithets such as the “raging king,” the “furious one,” and the like. A play upon his name—separated into three elements as Ne-uru-gal (lord of the great dwelling) — expresses his position at the head of the nether-world pantheon.

In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks either to the combative demigod Heracles (Latin Hercules) or to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars) – hence the current name of the planet.

The worship of Nergal does not appear to have spread as widely as that of Ninurta, but in the late Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused the two divinities, which were invoked together as if they were identical. Hymns and votive and other inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers frequently invoke him, but we do not learn of many temples to him outside of Cuthah.

Being a deity of the desert, god of fire, which is one of negative aspects of the sun, god of the underworld, and also being a god of one of the religions which rivaled Christianity and Judaism, Nergal was sometimes called a demon and even identified with Satan.

According to Collin de Plancy and Johann Weyer, Nergal was depicted as the chief of Hell’s “secret police”, and worked as an “an honorary spy in the service of Beelzebub”.


Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu (Apollo), a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”, a title that was given to the god Nergal, who was linked to Shamash, Babylonian god of the sun. As God of the plague, he was invoked during the “plague years” during the reign of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma, when this disease spread from Egypt.

Aplu may be related with Apaliunas, a theonym, attested in a Hittite language treaty as a tutelary of Wilusa, who is considered to be the Hittite reflex of *Apeljōn, an early form of the name Apollo. A Luwian etymology suggested for Apaliunas makes Apollo “The One of Entrapment”, perhaps in the sense of “Hunter”.

Apaliunas is among the gods who guarantee a treaty drawn up about 1280 BCE between Alaksandu of Wilusa, interpreted as “Alexander of Ilios” and the great Hittite king, Muwatalli II. He is one of the three deities named on the side of the city. In Homer, Apollo is the builder of the walls of Ilium, a god on the Trojan side.

Further east of the Luwian language area, a Hurrian god Aplu was a deity of the plague – bringing it, or, if propitiated, protecting from it – and resembles Apollo Smintheus, “mouse-Apollo” worshiped at Troy and Tenedos, who brought plague upon the Achaeans in answer to a Trojan prayer at the opening of Iliad.

Apollo is known in Greek-influenced Etruscan mythology as Apulu. He is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion and Greek and Roman mythology.

The ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth), Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, poetry, and more. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the chaste huntress Artemis.

In Hellenistic times, especially during the 3rd century BCE, as Apollo Helios he became identified among Greeks with Helios, Titan god of the sun, and his sister Artemis similarly equated with Selene, Titan goddess of the moon.

In Latin texts, on the other hand, Joseph Fontenrose declared himself unable to find any conflation of Apollo with Sol among the Augustan poets of the 1st century, not even in the conjurations of Aeneas and Latinus in Aeneid XII (161–215). Apollo and Helios/Sol remained separate beings in literary and mythological texts until the 3rd century CE.


Ishara (išḫara) was associated with the underworld, and is also personified as a goddess of the oath. Her astrological embodiment is the constellation Scorpio and she is called the mother of the Sebitti. Her name is the Hittite word for “treaty, binding promise”.

The word is attested as a loanword in the Assyrian Kültepe texts from the 19th century BC, and is as such the earliest attestation of a word of any Indo-European language. The name is from a PIE root *sh2ei “to bind (also magically)”, also in Greek himas “strap” and Old Norse / Old High German seil “rope”.

Ishar (or eshar), oblique ishan-, the Hittite for “blood”, is probably derived from the same root, maybe from a notion of “bond” between blood-relations (c.f. Sanskrit bandhu). The verb ishiya “to bind, fetter”, “to oblige” is directly cognate to Sanskrit syati or Russian shyot with similar meanings.

Possibly also cognate is soul, and Welsh Gwen-hwyfar (Irish Find-abair, from Proto-Celtic *windo-seibaro- “white ghost”, from a meaning “enchanted” of the extended root *sh2ei-bh-).

As a goddess, Ishara could inflict severe bodily penalties to oathbreakers, in particular ascites. In this context, she came to be seen as a “goddess of medicine” whose pity was invoked in case of illness. There was even a verb, isharis- “to be afflicted by the illness of Ishara”.

The Indo-European etymology of the theonym has been called into question, since the goddess appears from as early as the mid 3rd millennium as one of the chief goddesses of Ebla, and her name appears as an element in theophoric names in Mesopotamia in the later 3rd millennium (Akkad period), and into the first (Assyria), as in Tukulti-apil-esharra (i.e., Tiglath-Pileser).

In Hurrian and Semitic traditions, Išḫara is a love goddess, often identified with Ishtar. She is identified as Ishwara in Sanskrit. Her cult was of considerable importance in Ebla from the mid 3rd millennium, and by the end of the 3rd millennium, she had temples in Nippur, Sippar, Kish, Harbidum, Larsa, and Urum.

Variants of the name appear as Ašḫara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Hita of Elam) and Ušḫara (in Ugarite texts). In Ebla, there were various logographic spellings involving the sign AMA “mother”. In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram IŠTAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as IŠTAR-ra.

Ishara was well known in Syria from the third millennium B.C. She became a great goddess of the Hurrian population. She was worshipped with Teshub and Simegi at Alakh, and also at Ugarit, Emar and Chagar Bazar. While she was considered to belong to the entourage of Ishtar, she was invoked to heal the sick (Lebrun).

The Hurrian cult of Ishara as a love goddess also spread to Syria. “Ishara first appears in the pre-Sargonic texts from Ebla and then as a goddess of love in Old Akkadian potency-incantations (Biggs). During the Ur III period she had a temple in Drehem and from the Old Babylonian time onwards, there were sanctuaries in Sippar, Larsa, and Harbidum.

In Mari she seems to have been very popular and many women were called after her, but she is well attested in personal names in Babylonia generally up to the late Kassite period. Her main epithet was belet rame, lady of love, which was also applied to Ishtar. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet II, col. v.28) it says: ‘For Ishara the bed is made’ and in Atra-hasis (I 301-304) she is called upon to bless the couple on the honeymoon.”

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