The tree of life, omphalos and Nimrud
Posted by Fredsvenn on June 2, 2015
The world tree
The concept of a tree of life has been used in biology, religion, philosophy, and mythology. A tree of life is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies. It alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet and serves as a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense. The term tree of life may also be used as a synonym for sacred tree.
The tree of knowledge, connecting to heaven and the underworld, and the tree of life, connecting all forms of creation, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, and are portrayed in various religions and philosophies as the same tree.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is one of two trees in the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3, along with the tree of life. A cylinder seal, known as the temptation seal, from post-Akkadian periods in Mesopotamia (c. 23rd-22nd century BCE), has been linked to the Adam and Eve story.
Assyriologist George Smith (1840-1876) describes the seal as having two facing figures (male and female) seated on each side of a tree, holding out their hands to the fruit, while between their backs is a serpent, giving evidence that the fall of man account was known in early times of Babylonia.
The world tree is a motif present in several religions and mythologies, particularly Indo-European religions, Siberian religions, and Native American religions. The world tree is represented as a colossal tree which supports the heavens, thereby connecting the heavens, the terrestrial world, and, through its roots, the underworld. It may also be strongly connected to the motif of the tree of life.
Specific world trees include világfa in Hungarian mythology, Ağaç Ana in Turkic mythology, Modun in Mongolian mythology, Yggdrasil (or Irminsul) in Germanic (including Norse) mythology, the Oak in Slavic and Finnish mythology, and in Hindu mythology the Ashvattha (a Sacred Fig).
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the world tree. Yggdrasil is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In both sources, Yggdrasil is an immense ash tree that is central and considered very holy.
The Æsir go to Yggdrasil daily to hold their courts. The branches of Yggdrasil extend far into the heavens, and the tree is supported by three roots that extend far away into other locations; one to the well Urðarbrunnr in the heavens, one to the spring Hvergelmir, and another to the well Mímisbrunnr.
Creatures live within Yggdrasil, including the harts Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór, the giant in eagle-shape Hraesvelgr, the squirrel Ratatoskr and the wyrm Níðhöggr. Scholarly theories have been proposed about the etymology of the name Yggdrasil, the potential relation to the trees Mímameiðr and Læraðr, and the sacred tree at Uppsala.
Ancient Slavs viewed their world as a huge tree, with the treetop and branches representing the heavenly abode of gods and the world of mortals, while the roots represented the underworld. And while Perun, seen as a hawk or eagle sitting on a tallest branch of tree, was believed to be ruler of heaven and living world, Veles, seen as a huge serpent coiling around the roots, was ruling the world of dead.
This was actually quite a lovely place, described in folk tales as a green and wet world of grassy plains and eternal spring, where various fantastic creatures dwell and the spirits of deceased watch over Veles’ herds of cattle. In more geographical terms, the world of Veles was located, the Slavs believed, “across the sea”, and it was there the migrating birds would fly to every winter. In folk tales this land is called Virey or Iriy. Each year, the god of fertility and vegetation, Jarilo, who also dwelt there during winter, would return from across the sea and bring spring into the world of the living.
Jove’s Oak (interpretatio romana for Donar’s Oak and therefore sometimes referred to as Thor’s Oak) was a sacred tree of the Germanic pagans located in an unclear location around what is now the region of Hesse, Germany. According to the 8th century Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, the Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface and his retinue cut down the tree earlier the same century. Wood from the oak was then reportedly used to build a church at the site dedicated to Saint Peter. Sacred trees and sacred groves were widely venerated by the Germanic peoples and scholars have linked this oak and others to the world tree in Norse mythology, Yggdrasil.
Veneration of sacred groves and sacred trees is found throughout the history of the Germanic peoples and were targeted for destruction by Christian missionaries during the Christianization of the Germanic peoples. Ken Dowden notes that behind this great oak dedicated to Donar, the Irminsul (also felled by Christian missionaries in the 8th century), and the Sacred tree at Uppsala (described by Adam of Bremen in the 11th century), stands a mythic prototype of an immense world tree, described in Norse mythology as Yggdrasil.
Samuel Noah Kramer (1932, published 1938) translated ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith in “Tablet XII” of the Epic of Gilgamesh dated c.600 BC. “Tablet XII” is not part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but is a later Assyrian Akkadian translation of the latter part of the Sumerian poem of Bilgames and the Netherworld. The ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is associated with a serpent and a zu bird. Identification ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith is stated in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1999).
In Bilgames and the Netherworld, a huluppu tree (willow) grows in Inanna’s garden in Uruk, whose wood she plans to use to build a new throne. After ten years of growth, she comes to harvest it and finds a serpent living at its base, a Zu bird raising young in its crown, and that a ki-sikil-lil-la-ke made a house in its trunk. Bilgames/Gilgamesh is said to have smitten the snake, and then the zu bird flew away to the mountains with its young, while the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke fearfully destroys its house and runs for the forest.
According to a new source from Late Antiquity the Lilith(s) appear(s) in a Mandaic magic story where she (they) is (are) considered to represent the branch(es) of a tree with other demonic figures that form other parts of the tree.
Suggested translations for the Tablet XII spirit in the tree include ki-sikil as “sacred place”, lil as “spirit”, and lil-la-ke as “water spirit”, but also simply “owl”, given that the lil is building a home in the trunk of the tree.
Suggested translations for the Tablet XII spirit in the tree include ki-sikil as “sacred place”, lil as “spirit”, and lil-la-ke as “water spirit”. but also simply “owl”, given that the lil is building a home in the trunk of the tree.
Lilith is a Hebrew name for a figure in Jewish mythology, developed earliest in the Babylonian Talmud, who is generally thought to be in part derived from a historically far earlier class of female demons Līlīṯu in Mesopotamian Religion, found in Cuneiform texts of Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.
In Jewish folklore, from Alphabet of Ben Sira onwards, Lilith becomes Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time (Rosh Hashanah) and from the same earth as Adam. This contrasts with Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs.
The legend was greatly developed during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism. For example, in the 13th century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she coupled with the archangel Samael. The resulting Lilith legend is still commonly used as source material in modern Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror.
In Sumerian religion, Ninlil (NIN.LÍL”lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. She lived in Dilmun with her family. Raped and ravaged by her husband Enlil, who impregnated her with water, she conceived a boy, Nanna/Suen, the future moon god. As punishment Enlil was dispatched to the underworld kingdom of Ereshkigal, where Ninlil joined him.
After her death, she became the goddess of the wind, like Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms. As “Lady Wind” she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon “Lil-itu”, thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.
Enki had eaten forbidden flowers and was then cursed by Ninhursaga, who was later persuaded by the other gods to heal him. Ninhursag relents and takes Enki’s Ab (water, or semen) into her body, and gives birth to gods of healing of each part of the body: Abu for the Jaw, Nintul for the Hip, Ninsutu for the tooth, Ninkasi for the mouth, Dazimua for the side, Enshagag for the Limbs.
The last one, Ninti (Lady Rib), the eight goddesses of healing who was created by Ninhursag to heal Enki’s body, is also a pun on “Lady Life”, a title of Ninhursag herself. Ninti is the Sumerian goddess of life. Her specific healing area was the rib.
The story thus symbolically reflects the way in which life is brought forth through the addition of water to the land, and once it grows, water is required to bring plants to fruit. It also counsels balance and responsibility, nothing to excess. Some scholars suggest that this served as the basis for the story of Eve created from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis.
Ninti, the title of Ninhursag, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title given to the later Hurrian goddess Kheba. This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah, who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam — not Enki — walks in the Garden of Paradise.
When ancient Armenians built Portasar about 12,000 years ago there was already some kind of level of sophisticated organization which was surely required to accomplish such a massive undertaken for its time period. Portasar is the old name of what is now called Gobekle Tepe which is a direct translation of Armenian “Portasar” which means Mountain Navel.
The pantheon of the Armenian gods
The mausoleum of Antiochus I (69–34 B.C.), who reigned over Commagene, a kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the breakup of Alexander’s empire, is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. The syncretism of its pantheon, and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom’s culture.
Antiochus I was the son and probably the only child of King Mithridates I Callinicus and Queen Laodice VII Thea of Commagene. Antiochus was half Armenian, a distant member of the Orontid Dynasty and half Greek.
Antiochus’ father Mithridates was the son of King of Commagene Sames II Theosebes Dikaios and an unidentified woman. Mithridates in descent was related to the kings of Parthia and, according to archaeological research at Mount Nemrut, was also a descendant from the family of King Darius I of Persia.
Antiochus’ mother, Laodice VII Thea, was a Greek Princess of the Seleucid Empire. Laodice’s father was the Seleucid King Antiochus VIII Grypus while her mother was Ptolemaic Princess and later Seleucid Queen Tryphaena.
Thus, Antiochus was a direct descendant of Seleucus I Nicator of the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt, Antigonus I Monophthalmus of Macedonia and Asia, Lysimachus of Thrace and the Macedonian regent, Antipater. The five men had served as generals under Greek Macedonian King, Alexander the Great.
Antiochus’ parents had married as part of a peace alliance between their kingdoms, while his father had embraced Greek culture. Little is known of his early life. When his father died in 70 BC, Antiochus succeeded his father as king.
Antiochus married Princess Isias, surnamed Philostorgos or Philostorgus (meaning Isias the loving one), of Cappadocia, daughter of King Ariobarzanes I of Cappadocia and his wife Queen Athenais Philostorgos I.
The omphalos in museum of Delphi
Navel of the world at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece
The famous Omphalos considered to be the center of the Universe for ancient Greeks, Delphi, Greece
An omphalos is a religious stone artifact, or baetylus. In Greek, the word omphalos means “navel”. In the ancient world of the Mediterranean, it was a powerful religious symbol. Omphalos Syndrome refers to the misguided belief that a place of geopolitical power and currency is the most important place in the world. Omphalos stones marking the centre were erected in several places about the Mediterranean Sea; the most famous of those was at Delphi.
Kumarbi is the chief god of the Hurrians. He is the son of Anu (the sky), and father of the storm-god Teshub (also written Teshup or Tešup; cuneiform IM). He was identified by the Hurrians with Sumerian Enlil, and by the Ugaritians with El.
Teshub was the Hurrian god of sky and storm. Taru is the Hattian form derived from Teshub. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun (with variant stem forms Tarhunt, Tarhuwant, Tarhunta), although this name is from the Hittite root *tarh- “to defeat, conquer”.
Teshub is depicted holding a triple thunderbolt and a weapon, usually an axe (often double-headed) or mace. The sacred bull common throughout Anatolia was his signature animal, represented by his horned crown or by his steeds Seri and Hurri, who drew his chariot or carried him on their backs.
The Song of Kumarbi or Kingship in Heaven is the title given to a Hittite version of the Hurrian Kumarbi myth, dating to the 14th or 13th century BC. The song relates that Alalu was overthrown by Anu who was in turn overthrown by Kumarbi. When Anu tried to escape, Kumarbi bit off his genitals and spat out three new gods.
In the text Anu tells his son that he is now pregnant with the Teshub, Tigris, and Tašmišu. Upon hearing this Kumarbi spit the semen upon the ground and it became impregnated with two children. Kumarbi is cut open to deliver Tešub. Together, Anu and Teshub depose Kumarbi.
In another version of the Kingship in Heaven, the three gods, Alalu, Anu, and Kumarbi, rule heaven, each serving the one who precedes him in the nine-year reign. It is Kumarbi’s son Tešub, the Weather-God, who begins to conspire to overthrow his father.
From the first publication of the Kingship in Heaven tablets scholars have pointed out the similarities between the Hurrian creation myth and the story from Greek mythology of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus, which is recounted in Hesiod’s Theogony.
In ancient myth recorded by Hesiod’s Theogony, Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus. Uranus drew the enmity of Cronus’ mother, Gaia, when he hid the gigantic youngest children of Gaia, the hundred-handed Hecatonchires and one-eyed Cyclopes, in the Tartarus, so that they would not see the light. Gaia created a great stone sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus.
Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle, castrating him and casting his testicles into the sea. From the blood that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. The testicles produced white foam from which the goddess Aphrodite emerged.
For this, Uranus threatened vengeance and called his sons Titenes (according to Hesiod meaning “straining ones,” the source of the word “titan”, but this etymology is disputed) for overstepping their boundaries and daring to commit such an act. (In an alternate version of this myth, a more benevolent Cronus overthrew the wicked serpentine Titan Ophion. In doing so, he released the world from bondage and for a time ruled it justly.)
After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. The period in which Cronus ruled was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.
Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy.
When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. (Another child Cronus is reputed to have fathered is Chiron, by Philyra.)
Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly swallowed, thinking that it was his son.
Rhea kept Zeus hidden in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete. According to some versions of the story, he was then raised by a goat named Amalthea, while a company of Kouretes, armored male dancers, shouted and clapped their hands to make enough noise to mask the baby’s cries from Cronus.
Other versions of the myth have Zeus raised by the nymph Adamanthea, who hid Zeus by dangling him by a rope from a tree so that he was suspended between the earth, the sea, and the sky, all of which were ruled by his father, Cronus. Still other versions of the tale say that Zeus was raised by his grandmother, Gaia.
Once he had grown up, Zeus used an emetic given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order: first the stone, which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Mount Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, and then his two brothers and three sisters.
In other versions of the tale, Metis gave Cronus an emetic to force him to disgorge the children, or Zeus cut Cronus’ stomach open. After freeing his siblings, Zeus released the Hecatonchires, and the Cyclopes who forged for him his thunderbolts, Poseidon’s trident and Hades’ helmet of darkness.
In a vast war called the Titanomachy, Zeus and his brothers and sisters, with the help of the Hecatonchires, and Cyclopes, overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. Afterwards, many of the Titans were confined in Tartarus, however, Atlas, Epimetheus, Menoetius, Oceanus and Prometheus were not imprisoned following the Titanomachy. Gaia bore the monster Typhon to claim revenge for the imprisoned Titans.
Accounts of the fate of Cronus after the Titanomachy differ. In Homeric and other texts he is imprisoned with the other Titans in Tartarus. In Orphic poems, he is imprisoned for eternity in the cave of Nyx. Pindar describes his release from Tartarus, where he is made King of Elysium by Zeus. In another version, the Titans released the Cyclopes from Tartarus, and Cronus was awarded the kingship among them, beginning a Golden Age. In Virgil’s Aeneid, it is Latium to which Saturn (Cronus) escapes and ascends as king and lawgiver, following his defeat by his son Jupiter (Zeus).
One other account referred by Robert Graves (who claims to be following the account of the Byzantine mythographer Tzetzes) it is said that Cronus was castrated by his son Zeus just like he had done with his father Uranus before. However the subject of a son castrating his own father, or simply castration in general, was so repudiated by the Greek mythographers of that time that they suppressed it from their accounts until the Christian era (when Tzetzes wrote).
The omphalos was not only an object of Hellenic religious symbolism and world centrality; it was also considered an object of power. Its symbolic references included the uterus, the phallus, and a cup of red wine representing royal blood lines. It may also have connections to the Holy Grail and the Arthurian Sword in the Stone.
Most accounts locate the Delphi omphalos in the adyton (sacred part of the temple) near the Pythia (oracle). The stone sculpture itself (which may be a copy), has a carving of a knotted net covering its surface, and a hollow center, widening towards the base.
The omphalos represents the stone which Rhea wrapped in swaddling clothes, pretending it was Zeus, in order to deceive Cronus, the father who swallowed his children so as to prevent them from usurping him as he had deposed his own father, Uranus. Omphalos stones were believed to allow direct communication with the gods. Holland (1933) suggested that the stone was hollow to allow intoxicating vapours breathed by the Oracle to channel through it.
In another Greek myth, Zeus is said to have released two eagles at opposite ends of the world, and commanded them to fly across the earth to meet at its centre, the “navel” of the world. It was at Delphi that the two eagles finally met, and Zeus placed the stone under the glens of Mount Parnassus as a sign to humanity. As this stone is placed at the centre of the earth, it was called the omphalos stone, the meaning of omphalos being ‘navel’.
A later legend states that the god Apollo slayed the great serpent Python so that he could establish his oracular temple at Delphi, and that the omphalos marked the exact spot where he slayed Python. This myth may sometimes be found on ancient coins which depict an omphalos stone with a serpent wound around it.
Erwin Rohde wrote that the Python at Delphi was an earth spirit, who was conquered by Apollo and buried under the Omphalos. However, understanding of the use of the omphalos is uncertain due to destruction of the site by Theodosius I and Arcadius in the 4th century CE.
Although the omphalos stone at Delphi is the most famous of its kind, it is by far not the only one. Omphalos stones have been found in various sites such as Thebes and Karnak in Egypt and in buildings of the Vinca culture in Southeastern Europe. Yet, these stones probably functioned differently from the Delphic omphalos stone. For instance, many buildings of the Vinca culture contained an omphalos stone, indicating that they may have held some ritual significance to the people of that ancient culture.
The omphalos at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, represents, in Christian mediaeval tradition, the navel of the world (the spiritual and cosmological centre of the world).
Jewish tradition held that God revealed himself to His people through the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple in Jerusalem, which rested on the Foundation stone marking the centre of the world. This tradition may have stemmed from the similar one at Delphi.
Another type of omphalos stone is the baetyl, which were sacred stones found in various places in the ancient Levant. Rather than marking the centre of the earth, baetyls were more closely associated with the divine. It is unclear, however, whether the baetyls were themselves objects of worship or aniconic symbols of divine presence. The word baetyl may have originated in the Punic ‘betel’ or Semitic ‘bethel’, both meaning ‘house of god’. According to some ancient authors, these baetyls were believed to be meteorites.
One of the most well-known baetyls in the ancient world was the baetyl of Emesa. During the reign of the notorious Elagabalus, the baetyl of Emesa, which was a black stone sacred to the god Elah-Gabal, was brought to Rome and installed as the head of the Roman pantheon.
Prior to becoming emperor, Elagabalus was a priest of Elah-Gabal, hence his decision to elevate the status of the god he served. On coins, the stone is shown to be smooth, and an eagle is sometimes shown in front of or on top of the stone. Coins from Ealagabalus’ reign also show the baetyl in ceremonial procession, perhaps depicting the sacred stone’s entry into Rome.
Although not marked by an omphalos stone, there are several other places on earth that are claimed to be the centre of the world. These include the Incan capital of Cuzco in modern day Peru, the Sumerian city of Eridu in modern day Iraq, and Allahabad in India (believed to be the creation point of the universe).
By inhabiting the central area of the world, a people may obtain a heightened sense of importance. If so, then it is no wonder that so many places in the ancient world have been claimed to be the centre of the world. This desire to be at the centre of the world is perhaps still with us today, though the earth’s centre is seen not so much in physical terms, but in political, economic and cultural terms.
The centre of Islam. The location of the Kabba, and the ‘black stone’ which, according to Islamic tradition, fell from heaven during the time of Adam and Eve. It is said that Abraham found the black rock and when he rebuilt the Kaaba, Archangel Gabriel brought the Stone out of hiding and gave it to him.