Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Abgal or Apkallu

Posted by Fredsvenn on April 5, 2015

Abgal or Apkallu (Abgallu, from ab=water, gal=big, lu=man) 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.

In Sumerian mythology, a me (Sumerian, conventionally pronounced [mɛ]) or ñe [ŋɛ] or parşu (Akkadian, [parsˤu]) is one of the decrees of the gods foundational to those social institutions, religious practices, technologies, behaviors, mores, and human conditions that make civilization, as the Sumerians understood it, possible. They are fundamental to the Sumerian understanding of the relationship between humanity and the gods.

The mes were originally collected by Enlil and then handed over to the guardianship of Enki who was to broker them out to the various Sumerian centers beginning with his own city of Eridu and continuing with Ur, Meluhha, and Dilmun. This is described in the poem, “Enki and the World Order” which also details how he parcels out responsibility for various crafts and natural phenomena to the lesser gods.

The Mes were documents or tablets which were blueprints to civilization. They represented everything from abstract notions like Victory and Counsel and Truth to technologies like weaving to writing to social constructs like law, priestly offices, kingship, and even prostitution. They granted power over, or possibly existence to, all the aspects of civilization (both positive and negative).

Not all the mes are admirable or desirable traits. Alongside functions like “heroship” and “victory” we also find “the destruction of cities”, “falsehood”, and “enmity”. The Sumerians apparently considered such evils and sins an inevitable part of humanity’s lot in life, divinely and inscrutably decreed, and not to be questioned.

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.

Eridu, also transliterated as Eridug, could mean “mighty place” or “guidance place”. Babylonian texts talk of the creation of Eridu by the god Marduk as the first city, “the holy city, the dwelling of their [the other gods] delight”. In the Sumerian king list, Eridu is named as the city of the first kings. The king list continues:

In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alalngar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridu fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira.

The king list gave particularly long rules to the kings who ruled before a great flood occurred, and shows how the center of power progressively moved from the south to the north of the country.

Adapa, the first man fashioned, is depicted as an early culture hero. He was considered to have brought civilization to the city during the time of King Alulim. He acts as the advisor to the King of Eridu, when in the Sumerian Kinglist, the “Me” of “kingship descends on Eridu”.

In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was the home of the Abzu temple of the god Enki, the Sumerian counterpart of the Akkadian water-god Ea. Like all the Sumerian and Babylonian gods, Enki/Ea began as a local god, who came to share, according to the later cosmology, with Anu and Enlil, the rule of the cosmos. His kingdom was the sweet waters that lay below earth (Sumerian ab=water; zu=far).

Enki and later Ea were apparently depicted, sometimes, as a man covered with the skin of a fish, and this representation, as likewise the name of his temple E-apsu, “house of the watery deep”, points decidedly to his original character as a god of the waters. Around the excavation of the 18 shrines found on the spot, thousands of carp bones were found, consumed possibly in feasts to the god.

Of his cult at Eridu, which goes back to the oldest period of Mesopotamian history, nothing definite is known except that his temple was also associated with Ninhursag’s temple which was called Esaggila, “the lofty head house” (E, house, sag, head, ila, high; or Akkadian goddess = Ila), a name shared with Marduk’s temple in Babylon, pointing to a staged tower or ziggurat (as with the temple of Enlil at Nippur, which was known as E-kur (kur, hill)), and that incantations, involving ceremonial rites in which water as a sacred element played a prominent part, formed a feature of his worship.

This seems also implicated in the epic of the hieros gamos or sacred marriage of Enki and Ninhursag (above), which seems an etiological myth of the fertilisation of the dry ground by the coming of irrigation water (from Sumerian a, ab, water or semen).

The early inscriptions of Urukagina in fact go so far as to suggest that the divine pair, Enki and Ninki, were the progenitors of seven pairs of gods, including Enki as god of Eridu, Enlil of Nippur, and Su’en (or Sin) of Ur, and were themselves the children of An (sky, heaven) and Ki (earth).

The pool of the Abzu at the front of his temple was adopted also at the temple to Nanna (Akkadian Sin) the Moon, at Ur, and spread from there throughout the Middle East. It is believed to remain today as the sacred pool at Mosques, or as the holy water font in Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.

The stories of Inanna, goddess of Uruk, describe how she had to go to Eridu in order to receive the gifts of civilization. At first Enki, the god of Eridu attempted to retrieve these sources of his power, but later willingly accepted that Uruk now was the centre of the land. This seems to be a mythical reference to the transfer of power northward.

In the court of Assyria, special physicians trained in the ancient lore of Eridu, far to the south, foretold the course of sickness from signs and portents on the patient’s body, and offered the appropriate incantations and magical resources as cures.

A Gallus (pl. Galli) was a eunuch priest of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis, whose worship was incorporated into the state religious practices of ancient Rome.

Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”) was an originally Anatolian mother goddess; she has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük (in the Konya region) where the statue of a pregnant goddess seated on a lion throne was found in a granary.

She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BCE.

In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the Harvest-Mother goddess Demeter.

Attis was the consort of Cybele in Phrygian and Greek mythology. His priests were eunuchs, the Galli, as explained by origin myths pertaining to Attis and castration. Attis was also a Phrygian god of vegetation, and in his self-mutilation, death, and resurrection he represents the fruits of the earth, which die in winter only to rise again in the spring.

In many mythicist writings, the ancient Phrygo-Roman god Attis is depicted as having been born of a virgin mother on December 25th, being killed and resurrecting afterwards.

Adonis has had multiple roles, and there has been much scholarship over the centuries concerning his meaning and purpose in Greek religious beliefs. He is an annually-renewed, ever-youthful vegetation god, a life-death-rebirth deity whose nature is tied to the calendar. His name is often applied in modern times to handsome youths, of whom he is the archetype.

The Greek Adōnis was a borrowing from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning “lord”, which is related to Adonai, one of the names used to refer to the God of the Hebrew Bible and still used in Judaism to the present day. Syrian Adonis is Gauas or Aos, akin to Egyptian Osiris, the Semitic Tammuz and Baal Hadad, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, all of whom are deities of rebirth and vegetation (see life-death-rebirth deity). Adonis was certainly based in large part on Tammuz.

Adonis is the Hellenized form of the Phoenician word “adoni”, meaning “my lord”. It is believed that the cult of Adonis was known to the Greeks from around the sixth century BC., but it is unquestionable that they came to know it through contact with Cyprus. Around this time, the cult of Adonis is noted in the Book of Ezekiel in Jerusalem, though under the Babylonian name Tammuz.

Adonis originally was a Phoenician god of fertility representing the spirit of vegetation. It is further speculated that he was an avatar of the version of Ba’al, worshipped in Ugarit. It is likely that lack of clarity concerning whether Myrrha was called Smyrna, and who her father was, originated in Cyprus before the Greeks first encountered the myth. However, it is clear that the Greeks added much to the Adonis-Myrrha story, before it was first recorded by classical scholars.

Women in Athens would plant “gardens of Adonis” quick-growing herbs that sprang up from seed and died. The Festival of Adonis was celebrated by women at midsummer by sowing fennel and lettuce, and grains of wheat and barley. The plants sprang up soon, and withered quickly, and women mourned for the death of the vegetation god.

Adonia or Feast of Adonis was an ancient festival mourning the death of Adonis. The date is uncertain, but may have been early Spring, or summer. It was a private, rather than a state festival, and was celebrated by women exclusively.

According to Johannes Meursius, these two rituals made two distinct feasts, which were held at different times of the year, the one six months after the other; Adonis being supposed to pass half the year with Proserpine, and half with Venus.

The first Galli arrived in Rome when the Senate officially adopted Cybele as a state goddess in 204 BC. Roman citizens were prohibited from becoming Galli, which meant that they were all orientals or slaves. Under Claudius, this ban was lifted. Eventually Domitian reaffirmed that Roman citizens were forbidden to practice eviratio (castration).

The Galli castrated themselves during an ecstatic celebration called the Dies sanguinis, or “Day of Blood”, which took place on March 24. At the same time they put on women’s costume, mostly yellow in colour, and a sort of turban, together with pendants and ear-rings.

They also wore their hair long, and bleached, and wore heavy make-up. They wandered around with followers, begging for charity, in return for which they were prepared to tell fortunes. On the day of mourning for Attis they ran around wildly and disheveled. They performed dances to the music of pipes and tambourines, and, in an ecstasy, flogged themselves until they bled.

Stephanus Byzantinus said that the name came from King Gallus. Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD) says that the name is derived from the Gallus river in Phrygia. The name may be linked to the Gauls (Celtic tribes) of Galatia in Anatolia, who were known as Galli by the Romans. The word “Gallus” is also the Latin word for rooster.

While these efforts at “folk” etymologies were widespread in classical times, it has been suggested that gallu comes from the Sumerian Gal meaning “great” and Lu meaning “man”, humans or sexually ambivalent demons that freed Inanna from the underworld. They originally seem to have been consecrated to the god Enki.

Inanna (Cuneiform: (Old Babylonian) or DINGIRINANNA (Neo-Assyrian) DMUŠ; Sumerian: Inanna; Akkadian: Ištar) was the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre.

Inanna’s symbol is an eight-pointed star or a rosette. She was associated with lions – even then a symbol of power – and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. Her cuneiform ideogram was a hook-shaped twisted knot of reeds, representing the doorpost of the storehouse (and thus fertility and plenty).

Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, which at that time was regarded as two stars, the “morning star” and the “evening star.” Because the movements of Venus appear to be discontinuous (it disappears due to its proximity to the sun, for many days at a time, and then reappears on the other horizon), some cultures did not recognize Venus as single entity, but rather regarded the planet as two separate stars on each horizon as the morning and evening star.

The Mesopotamians, however, most likely understood that the planet was one entity. A cylinder seal from the Jemdet Nasr period expresses the knowledge that both morning and evening stars were the same celestial entity.

The discontinuous movements of Venus relate to both mythology as well as Inanna’s dual nature. Inanna is related like Venus to the principle of connectedness, but this has a dual nature and could seem unpredictable.

Yet as both the goddess of love and war, with both masculine and feminine qualities, Inanna is poised to respond, and occasionally to respond with outbursts of temper. Mesopotamian literature takes this one step further, explaining Inanna’s physical movements in mythology as corresponding to the astronomical movements of Venus in the sky.

Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld explains how Inanna is able to, unlike any other deity, descend into the netherworld and return to the heavens. The planet Venus appears to make a similar descent, setting in the West and then rising again in the East.

In Inanna and Shukaletuda, in search of her attacker, Inanna makes several movements throughout the myth that correspond with the movements of Venus in the sky.

An introductory hymn explains Inanna leaving the heavens and heading for Kur, what could be presumed to be, the mountains, replicating the rising and setting of Inanna to the West. Shukaletuda also is described as scanning the heavens in search of Inanna, possibly to the eastern and western horizons.

Inanna was associated with the eastern fish of the last of the zodiacal constellations, Pisces. Her consort Dumuzi was associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries.

Pisces originates from some composition of the Babylonian constellations Šinunutu4 “the great swallow” in current western Pisces, and Anunitum the Lady of the Heaven, at the place of the northern fish. In the first Millennium BC texts known as the Astronomical Diaries, part of the constellation was also called DU.NU.NU (Rikis-nu.mi, “the fish cord or ribbon”).

Modern-day Aries was known as MULLÚ.ḪUN.GÁ, “The Agrarian Worker” or “The Hired Man”. The shift in identification from the constellation as the Agrarian Worker to the Ram likely occurred in later Babylonian tradition because of its growing association with Dumuzi the Shepherd.

By the time the MUL.APIN was created—by 1000 BC—modern Aries was identified with both Dumuzi’s ram and a hired laborer. The exact timing of this shift is difficult to determine due to the lack of images of Aries or other ram figures.

In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, who was depicted as a man with a ram’s head and represented fertility and creativity. Because it was the location of the vernal equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun”.

During the times of the year when Aries was prominent, priests would process statues of Amon-Ra to temples, a practice that was modified by Persian astronomers centuries later. Aries acquired the title of “Lord of the Head” in Egypt, referring to its symbolic and mythological importance.

Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The House of Heaven (Sumerian: e-anna; Cuneiform: E.AN) temple in Uruk was the greatest of these, where sacred prostitution was a common practice.

In addition, according to Leick 1994 persons of asexual or hermaphroditic bodies and feminine men were particularly involved in the worship and ritual practices of Inanna’s temples. The deity of this fourth-millennium city was probably originally An.

After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox.

According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival.

A Sacred Marriage to Inanna may have conferred legitimacy on a number of rulers of Uruk. Gilgamesh is reputed to have refused marriage to Inanna, on the grounds of her misalliance with such kings as Lugalbanda and Damuzi.

There was a category of Mesopotamian priests called gala (Sumerian or kalu (Akkadian). These priests played the tympanum and were involved in bull sacrifice. Another category of Mesopotamian priests called assinnu, galatur, and kurgarru had a sacred function.

These transgender or eunuch priests participated in liturgical rites, during which they were costumed and masked. They played music, sang, and danced, most often in ceremonies dedicated to the goddess Inanna/Ishtar.

The gala/kalu were priests of the Sumerian goddess Inanna, significant numbers of the personnel of both temples and palaces, the central institutions of Mesopotamian city states, individuals with neither male nor female gender identities.

Originally a specialist in singing lamentations, gala appear in temple records dating back from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. According to an old Babylonian text, Enki created the gala specifically to sing “heart-soothing laments” for the goddess Inanna. Cuniform references indicate the gendered character of the role. Lamentation and wailing originally may have been female professions, so that men who entered the role adopted its forms. Their hymns were sung in a Sumerian dialect known as eme-sal, normally used to render the speech of female gods, and some gala took female names.

Homosexual proclivities are clearly implied by the Sumerian proverb that reads, “When the gala wiped off his anus [he said], ‘I must not arouse that which belongs to my mistress [i.e., Inanna]’ “. In fact, the word gala was written using the sign sequence UŠ.KU, the first sign having also the reading giš3 (“penis”), and the second one dur2 (“anus”), so perhaps there is some pun involved.

Moreover, gala is homophonous with gal4-la “vulva”. However, in spite of all their references of their effeminate character (especially in the Sumerian proverbs), many administrative texts mention gala priests who had children, wives, and large families. On the other hand, some gala priests were actually women.

Fundamental to understanding the meaning and the function of the myth and ritual related to Attis in Rome is his relationship with the Galli. The role of prototype of the mythical castration of Attis for the institution of the “priesthood” of the Galli has almost always been emphasised, even if to different degrees.

Scholars have attempted to draw a connection between the episode of the castration of Attis and the ritual mutilation of the Galli as a reflection in myth of a secondary ritual action or conversely, as the mythical foundation of a ritual action.

This kind of interpretation appears to be too simplistic as, to some extent, it fails to consider that this connection has served different purposes in different periods. The emasculation of Attis in the “Phrygian” version of the myth is the basis for an institution that is both political and religious, the institution of his priests in Pessinous, the “non-kings”, who don’t simply coincide with the Galli.

The earliest references to the Galli come from the Anthologia Palatina although they don’t explicitly mention emasculation. More interesting is the fragment attributed to Callimachus, in which the term Gallai denotes castration that has taken place.

The high priests are well-documented from archaeology. At Pessinus, the centre of the Cybele cult, there were two high priests during the Hellenistic period, one with the title of “Attis” and the other with the name of “Battakes”. Both were eunuchs.

The high priests had considerable political influence during this period, and letters exist from a high priest Attis to the kings of Pergamon, Eumenes II and Attalus II, inscribed on stone. Later, during the Flavian period, there was a college of ten priests, not castrated, and now Roman citizens, but still using the title “Attis”.

In Rome, the head of the galli was known as the archigallus, at least from the period of Claudius on. A number of archaeological finds depict the archigallus wearing luxurious and extravagant costumes. The archigallus was always a Roman citizen chosen by the quindecimviri sacris faciundis, whose term of service lasted for life.

Being a Roman citizen, as well as being employed by the Roman State, meant that the archigallus had to preserve the traditions of Cybele’s cult while not violating Roman prohibitions in religious behavior. Hence, the archigallus was never a eunuch, as all citizens of Rome were forbidden from emasculation. The signs of his office have been described as a type of crown, possibly a laurel wreath, as well as a golden bracelet known as the occabus.

Along with the institution of the archigallus came the Phrygianum sanctuary as well as the rite of the taurobolium as it pertains to the Magna Mater, two aspects of the Magna Mater’s cultus that the archigallus held dominion over.

In the Roman Empire of the 2nd to 4th centuries, taurobolium referred to practices involving the sacrifice of a bull, which after mid-2nd century became connected with the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods; though not previously limited to her cultus, after 159 CE all private taurobolia inscriptions mention Magna Mater. Originating in Asia Minor, its earliest attested performance in Italy occurred in 134 CE, at Puteoli, in honor of Venus Caelestis, documented by an inscription.

The earliest inscriptions, of the 2nd century in Asia Minor, point to a bull chase in which the animal was overcome, linked with a panegyris in honour of a deity or deities, but not an essentially religious ceremony, though a bull was sacrificed and its flesh distributed. The addition of the taurobolium and the institution of an archigallus were innovations in the cult of Magna Mater made by Antoninus Pius on the occasion of his vicennalia, or twentieth year of reign, in 158-59.

The first dated reference to Magna Mater in a taurobolium inscription dates from 160. The vires, or testicles of the bull, were removed from Rome and dedicated at a taurobolium altar at Lugdunum, 27 November 160. Jeremy Rutter makes the suggestion that the bull’s testicles substituted for the self-castration of devotees of Cybele, abhorrent to the Roman ethos.

Public taurobolia, enlisting the benevolence of Magna Mater on behalf of the emperor, became common in Italy and Gaul, Hispania and Africa. The last public taurobolium for which there is an inscription was carried out for Diocletian and Maximian at Mactar in Numidia at the close of the 3rd century.

The best-known and most vivid description, though of the quite different taurobolium as it was revived in aristocratic pagan circles, is the notorious one that has coloured early scholarship, which was provided in an anti-pagan poem by the late 4th-century Christian Prudentius in Peristephanon: the priest of the Great Mother, clad in a silk toga worn in the Gabinian cincture, with golden crown and fillets on his head, takes his place in a trench covered by a platform of planks pierced with fine holes, on which a bull, magnificent with flowers and gold, is slain.

The blood rains through the platform onto the priest below, who receives it on his face, and even on his tongue and palate, and after the baptism presents himself before his fellow-worshippers purified and regenerated, and receives their salutations and reverence. Prudentius does not explicitly mention the taurobolium, but the ceremony, in its new form, is unmistakable from other contemporaneous sources: “At Novaesium on the Rhine in Germania Inferior, a blood pit was found in what was probably a Metroon”, Jeremy Rutter observes.

Recent scholarship has called into question the reliability of Prudentius’ description. It is a late account by a Christian who was hostile to paganism, and may have distorted the rite for effect. Earlier inscriptions that mention the rite suggest a less gory and elaborate sacrificial rite. Therefore, Prudentius’ description may be based on a late evolution of the taurobolium.
Eroded inscription commemorating a taurobolium for the Magna Mater.

The taurobolium in the 2nd and 3rd centuries was usually performed as a measure for the welfare (salus) of the Emperor, Empire, or community; H. Oppermann denies early reports that its date was frequently 24 March, the Dies Sanguinis (“Day of Blood”) of the annual festival of the Great Mother Cybele and Attis; Oppermann reports that there were no taurobolia in late March.

In the late 3rd and the 4th centuries its usual motive was the purification or regeneration of an individual, who was spoken of as renatus in aeternum, “reborn for eternity”, in consequence of the ceremony. While its efficacy was not eternal, its effect was considered to endure for twenty years, as if the magic coating of the blood wore off after that time, the initiate having taken his vows for “the circle of 20 years” (bis deni orbis). It was also performed as the fulfilment of a vow (votum), or by command of the goddess herself, and the privilege was not limited by sex or class.

In its 4th-century revival in high pagan circles, Rutter has observed, “We might even justifiably say that the taurobolium, rather than a rite effectual in itself was a symbol of paganism. It was a rite apparently forbidden by the Christian emperors and thus became a hallmark of the pagan nobility in their final struggle against Christianity and the Christian emperors.”

The place of its performance at Rome was near the site of St Peter’s, in the excavations of which several altars and inscriptions commemorative of taurobolia were discovered.

A Criobolium, substituting a ram for the bull, was also practiced, sometimes together with the taurobolium; Encyclopædia Britannica 1911, under the influence of Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, suggested:

“The taurobolium was probably a sacred drama symbolizing the relations of the Mother and Attis (q.v.). The descent of the priest into the sacrificial foss symbolized the death of Attis, the withering of the vegetation of Mother Earth; his bath of blood and emergence the restoration of Attis, the rebirth of vegetation. The ceremony may be the spiritualized descent of the primitive oriental practice of drinking or being baptized in the blood of an animal, based upon a belief that the strength of brute creation could be acquired by consumption of its substance or contact with its blood. In spite of the phrase renatus in aeternum, there is no reason to suppose that the ceremony was in any way borrowed from Christianity.”

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