Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The life-death-rebirth deity

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 5, 2015

Archaeological excavation of the sites of the ancient cities in the Tigris-Euphrates valley has shown that this region, known as Sumer and Akkad, was inhabited as early as 4000 BV by a people known as the Sumerians . . . They appear to have come into the delta from the mountainous region to the northeast of Mesopotamia, and their myths show that they came from a very different kind of country from that which they found in their new ho9me. The form of writing called cuneiform was their invention, and it was they who built the strange temple-towers, known as ‘ziggurats’ . . ..

This is the first of the three basic myths referred to above in its Sumerian form. It is possible that the Sumerians brought the myth with them when they settled in the delta, and that this is its earliest form. A possible reason for the change in the original form of the myth may be found in the facts that the Sumerians, in coming into the delta, were passing from a pastoral economy to an agricultural mode of life.

In the liturgies Tammuz and Ishtar are frequently represented under the figure of the male and female fir-tree, and the fir-tree is not found in the Tigris-Euphrates delta, but belongs to the mountainous region from which the Sumerians came. Moreover, the fact that the towering ‘ziggurats’ were a feature of Sumerian temple architecture has been held to point in the same direction. Hence the original form of the myth may have arisen under conditions of life which were very different from the agricultural mode of life which the Sumerians were obliged to adopt when they settled in the delta.

There is evidence to show that Semites and Sumerians were both occupying the delta for a considerable time before the Amorite invasions and the final conquest and absorption of the Sumerians by the Semites. We know that the Semites took over from the Sumerians and their cuneiform script and much of their religion and mythology, and this may well be accepted as a further explanation of the changed character of the Tammuz-Ishtar myth as we find it in the Assyro-Babylonian period.

Ground Myths

The Story of Telepinus

The Hittites

Telepinus – Tellus

(Alu-Alalu-Alalus)

Inanna and Tammuz

One of the myths concerning Ereshkigal is Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld and her reception by her sister who presides over it; Ereshkigal traps her sister in her kingdom and Inanna is only able to leave it by sacrificing her husband Dumuzi (Sumerian: Dumuzid (DUMU.ZI(D), “faithful or true son”), an annual life-death-rebirth deity, a Sumerian god of food and vegetation, in exchange for herself.

The Levantine Adonis (“lord”), who was drawn into the Greek pantheon, was considered by Joseph Campbell among others to be another counterpart of Tammuz, son and consort.

According to the myth of Inanna’s descent to the underworld, represented in parallel Sumerian and Akkadian tablets, Gugalanna was sent by the gods to take retribution upon Gilgamesh for rejecting the sexual advances of the goddess Inanna. Gugalanna, whose feet made the earth shake, was slain and dismembered by Gilgamesh and his partner Enkidu.

Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the Realm of the Dead, a gloomy place devoid of light, is in mourning at the death of her consort, Gugalanna (The Wild Bull of Heaven Sumerian Gu = Bull, Gal = Great, An = Heaven).

It was to share the sorrow with her sister that Inanna later descends to the Underworld. Inanna (Ishtar in the Akkadian texts) set off for the netherworld, or Kur. She passed through seven gates and at each one was required to leave a garment or an ornament so that when she had passed through the seventh gate she was a simple woman, entirely naked.

Despite warnings about her presumption, she did not turn back but dared to sit herself down on Ereshkigal’s throne. Immediately the Anunnaki of the underworld judged her, gazed at her with the eyes of death, and she became a corpse, hung up on a meathook.

Based on the incomplete texts as first found, it was assumed that Ishtar/Inanna’s descent into Kur occurred after the death of Tammuz/Dumuzid rather than before and that her purpose was to rescue Tammuz/Dumuzid, but recent discoveries shws that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld himself, in order to secure Inanna’s release, though the recovered final line reveals that he is to revive for six months of each year. In cult practice, the dead Tammuz was widely mourned in the Ancient Near East.

Finally, Inanna relents and changes her decree thereby restoring her husband Dumuzi to life; an arrangement is made by which Geshtinana will take Dumuzid’s place in Kur for six months of the year: “You (Dumuzi), half the year. Your sister (Geštinanna), half the year!”

This newly recovered final line upset Samuel Noah Kramer’s former interpretation, as he allowed: “my conclusion that Dumuzi dies and “stays dead” forever (cf e.g. Mythologies of the Ancient World p. 10) was quite erroneous: Dumuzi according to the Sumerian mythographers rises from the dead annually and, after staying on earth for half the year, descends to the Nether World for the other half”.

Today several versions of the Sumerian death of Dumuzi have been recovered, “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld”, “Dumuzi’s dream” and “Dumuzi and the galla”, as well as a tablet separately recounting Dumuzi’s death, mourned by holy Inanna, and his noble sister Geštinanna. It is theorized that the story of Inanna’s descent is told to illustrate the possibility of an escape from the netherworld.

According to some scholars, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over a cave that was originally a shrine to Adonis-Tammuz. The Church Father Jerome, who died in Bethlehem in 420, reports in addition that the holy cave was at one point consecrated by the heathen to the worship of Adonis, and a pleasant sacred grove planted before it, to wipe out the memory of Jesus.

Some modern mythologists, however, reverse the supposition, insisting that the cult of Adonis-Tammuz originated the shrine and that it was the Christians who took it over, substituting the worship of their own God.

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.

Baldr and Nanna

Baldr (also Balder, Baldur) is a god of light and purity in Norse mythology, and a son of the god Odin and the goddess Frigg. He has numerous brothers, such as Thor and Váli. According to Gylfaginning, a book of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Baldr’s wife is Nanna and their son is Forseti. In Gylfaginning, Snorri relates that Baldr had the greatest ship ever built, named Hringhorni, and that there is no place more beautiful than his hall, Breidablik.

In Norse mythology, Nanna Nepsdóttir or simply Nanna is a goddess associated with the god Baldr. Accounts of Nanna vary greatly by source. In the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, Nanna is the wife of Baldr and the couple produced a son, the god Forseti.

According to the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, the goddess Frigg, Baldr’s mother, made everything in existence swear never to harm Baldr, except for the mistletoe, which she found too unimportant to ask (alternatively, which she found too young to demand an oath from). The gods amused themselves by trying weapons on Baldr and seeing them fail to do any harm.

Loki, the mischief-maker, upon finding out about Baldr’s one weakness, made a spear from mistletoe, and helped Höðr (often anglicized as Hod, Hoder, or Hodur), a blind god and the brother of Baldr in Norse mythology, shoot it at Baldr. In reaction to this, Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to Váli, who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr.

After Baldr’s death, Nanna dies of grief. Nanna is placed on Baldr’s ship with his corpse and the two are set aflame and pushed out to sea. In Hel, Baldr and Nanna are united again. In an attempt to bring back Baldr from the dead, the god Hermóðr rides to Hel and, upon receiving the hope of resurrection from the being Hel, Nanna gives Hermóðr gifts to give to the goddess Frigg (a robe of linen), the goddess Fulla (a finger-ring), and others (unspecified).

Upon Frigg’s entreaties, delivered through the messenger Hermod, Hel promised to release Baldr from the underworld if all objects alive and dead would weep for him. All did, except a giantess, Þökk often presumed to be the god Loki in disguise, who refused to mourn the slain god. Thus Baldr had to remain in the underworld, not to emerge until after Ragnarök, when he and his brother Höðr would be reconciled and rule the new earth together with Thor’s sons.

Baldr was ceremonially burnt upon his ship, Hringhorni, the largest of all ships. Nanna, Baldr’s wife, also threw herself on the funeral fire to await Ragnarök when she would be reunited with her husband (alternatively, she died of grief).

The etymology of the name of the goddess Nanna is debated. Some scholars have proposed that the name may derive from a babble word, nanna, meaning “mother”. Scholar Jan de Vries connects the name Nanna to the root *nanþ-, leading to “the daring one”. Scholar John Lindow theorizes that a common noun may have existed in Old Norse, nanna, that roughly meant “woman”. Scholar John McKinnell notes that the “mother” and *nanþ- derivations may not be distinct, commenting that nanna may have once meant “she who empowers”.

In the Poetic Edda poem Hyndluljóð, a figure by the name of Nanna is listed as the daughter of Nökkvi and as a relative of Óttar, a protégé of the goddess Freyja. This figure may or may not be the same Nanna as Baldr’s wife. Viktor Rydberg theorized that Óttar is another spelling of the name Óðr, sometimes angliziced as Odr or Od, is a figure associated with the major goddess Freyja. A number of theories have been proposed about Óðr, generally that he is somehow a hypostasis of the deity Odin due to their similarities.

In Norse mythology, Freyja (Old Norse for “(the) Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. She is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot pulled by two cats, keeps the boar Hildisvíni by her side, possesses a cloak of falcon feathers, and, by her husband Óðr, is the mother of two daughters, Hnoss (Old Norse “treasure”) and Gersemi (Old Norse “treasure”), “who gave their names to our most precious possessions.”

In Germanic mythology, Frigg (Old Norse), Frija (Old High German), Frea (Langobardic), and Frige (Old English) is the Goddess of the Atmosphere,or the clouds. In nearly all sources she is described as the wife of the god Odin. In Old High German and Old Norse sources, she is also connected with the goddess Fulla. The English weekday name Friday (etymologically Old English “Frīge’s day”) bears her name.

Some scholars have attempted to link Old Norse Nanna with the Sumerian goddess Inanna, the goddess Nannar/Babylonian Ishtar, or the Phrygian, Greek, and Roman goddess Nana, the mother of the god Attis.

Nana and Attis

In Greek mythology, Nana was a daughter of the Phrygian river-god Sangarius, identified with the river Sakarya located in present-day Turkey. She became pregnant when an almond from an almond tree fell on her lap. Nana abandoned the baby boy, who was tended by a he-goat. The baby, Attis, 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, grew up to become Cybele’s consort and lover.

The almond tree had sprung from the spot where the hermaphroditic Agdistis, a deity possessing both male and female sexual organs was castrated, becoming Cybele, the Mother of the Gods.

In the late 4th century BC, a cult of Attis became a feature of the Greek world. The story of his origins at Agdistis, recorded by the traveler Pausanias, has some distinctly non-Greek elements: Pausanias was told that the daemon Agdistis initially bore both male and female attributes. But the Olympian gods, fearing Agdistis, cut off the male organ and cast it away.

There grew up from it an almond-tree, and when its fruit was ripe, Nana, who was a daughter of the river-god Sangarius, picked an almond and laid it in her bosom. The almond disappeared, and she became pregnant. Nana abandoned the baby (Attis).

The infant was tended by a he-goat. As Attis grew, his long-haired beauty was godlike, and Agdistis as Cybele then fell in love with him. But the foster parents of Attis sent him to Pessinos, where he was to wed the king’s daughter.

According to some versions the King of Pessinos was Midas. Just as the marriage-song was being sung, Agdistis/Cybele appeared in her transcendent power, and Attis went mad and cut off his genitals. Attis’ father-in-law-to-be, the king who was giving his daughter in marriage, followed suit, prefiguring the self-castrating corybantes who devoted themselves to Cybele. But Agdistis repented and saw to it that the body of Attis should neither rot at all nor decay.

At Pessinos in Phrygia, the mother goddess—identified by the Greeks as Cybele—took the form of an unshaped stone of black meteoric iron, and may have been associated with or identical to Agdistis, Pessinos’ mountain deity.

Telepinu and Inara

Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna. Hannahannah was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. Christopher Siren reports that Hannahannah is associated with the Gulses.

Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hebat and her brother is Sarruma.

Telipinu (Cuneiform: Te(-e)-li-pí-nu(-ú), Hattic: Talipinu or Talapinu, “Exalted Son”) was a Hittite god who most likely served as a patron of farming, though he has also been suggested to have been a storm god or an embodiment of crops.

He was a son of the weather god Teššub and the solar goddess Arinniti (Hebat/Hannahannah) according to their mythology. His wife was the goddess Hatepuna, also known as Hatepinu, though he was also paired with Šepuru and Kašḫa at various cultic centres.

The name of Hatepuna originates in Hattic ha, “sea”, and puna, “child”. She is the daughter of the sea god Aruna, a son of the healing and magic goddess Kamrusepa, and becomes the wife of Telipinu because of the rescue of Istanu. Aruna is also the Hittite word for “sea”, and like Kamrusepa may also refer to the god of the sea.

According to Hittite Mythology, Kamrusepa enlisted the help of a human to perform a ritual to remove the anger of an angry god, Telepinu. Upon completion of the ritual she sacrificed 12 rams of the sun gods and directed Telepinu’s anger into the Underworld.

The Telipinu Myth is an ancient Hittite myth about Telipinu, whose disappearance causes all fertility to fail, both plant and animal. In order to stop the havoc and devastation, the gods seek Telipinu but fail to find him. His father, the Storm-god Tarhunt (also called Teshub), complains to Hannahannah.

She then sends him out to search for his son, and when he gives up, she dispatches a bee, charging it to find Telepinu. The bee does that, and then purifies and strengthens him by stinging his hands and feet and wiping his eyes and feet with wax.

Stinging Telipinu and smearing wax on him, the god grew angry and began to wreak destruction on the world. Finally, Kamrušepa, goddess of magic, calmed Telipinu by giving his anger to the Doorkeeper of the Underworld.

In other references it is a mortal priest who prays for all of Telipinu’s anger to be sent to bronze containers in the underworld, from which nothing escapes. In either case, it is difficult to determine anything about the nature of Telipinu from this myth, as myths along the same pattern have also been found featuring the unrelated gods Anzili and Zukki.

She also recommends to the Storm-god that he should pay the Sea-god the bride-price for the Sea-god’s daughter, so she can wed Telipinu. Tarhun and the sea god agree under the meditation of Hannahannah to a bride price. Hatepuna’s temple was in Maliluha.

After Inara consulted with Hannahannah, she give her a man and land. Soon after, Inara is missing and when Hannahannah is informed thereof by the Storm-god’s bee, she apparently begins a search with the help of her female attendant.

The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth. Apparently like Demeter, Hannahanna disappears for a while in a fit of anger and while she is gone, cattle and sheep are stifled and mothers, both human and animal take no account of their children.

After her anger is banished to the Dark Earth, she returns rejoicing, and mothers care once again for their kin. Another means of banishing her anger was through burning brushwood and allowing the vapor to enter her body. Either in this or another text she appears to consult with the Sun god and the War god, but much of the text is missing.

In another myth Inara built a house on a cliff and gave it to Hupasiyas. She left one day with instructions that he was not to look out the window, as he might see his family. But he looked, and the sight of his family made him beg to be allowed to return home.

It is not known what happened next, but there is speculation that Inara killed Hupasiyas for disobeying her, or for hubris, or that he was allowed to return to his family.

Telipinu was honored every nine years with an extravagant festival in the autumn at Ḫanḫana and Kašḫa, wherein 1000 sheep and 50 oxen were sacrificed and the symbol of the god, an oak tree, was replanted.

It has been suggested that Telipinu endured in later mythology as the Greek Telephus and the Caucasian Telepia, but this identification is uncertain. In addition, his name was adopted by several kings, such as the Hittite monarch Telipinu.

His prosperity and fertility is symbolized by a pole suspending the fleece of a sheep. In other versions of this myth, the Storm-god or the Sun-god and several other gods are missing instead. He is asked by his father to recover the Sun-god from the Sea-god, and so intimidates the Sea-god that he is given his daughter as a bride.

Isis and Osiris

The cult of Osiris (who was a god chiefly of regeneration and rebirth) had a particularly strong interest in the concept of immortality. Plutarch recounts one version of the myth in which Set (Osiris’ brother), along with the Queen of Ethiopia, conspired with 72 accomplices to plot the assassination of Osiris.

Set fooled Osiris into getting into a box, which Set then shut, sealed with lead, and threw into the Nile. Osiris’ wife, Isis, searched for his remains until she finally found him embedded in a tamarind tree trunk, which was holding up the roof of a palace in Byblos on the Phoenician coast. She managed to remove the coffin and open it, but Osiris was already dead.

In one version of the myth, she used a spell learned from her father and brought him back to life so he could impregnate her. Afterwards he died again and she hid his body in the desert. Months later, she gave birth to Horus. While she raised Horus, Set was hunting one night and came across the body of Osiris.

Enraged, he tore the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout the land. Isis gathered up all the parts of the body, except the penis (which had been eaten by a fish, the medjed) and bandaged them together for a proper burial.

The gods were impressed by the devotion of Isis and resurrected Osiris as the god of the underworld. Because of his death and resurrection, Osiris was associated with the flooding and retreating of the Nile and thus with the crops along the Nile valley.

Diodorus Siculus gives another version of the myth in which Osiris was described as an ancient king who taught the Egyptians the arts of civilization, including agriculture, then travelled the world with his sister Isis, the satyrs, and the nine muses, before finally returning to Egypt.

Osiris was then murdered by his evil brother Typhon, who was identified with Set. Typhon divided the body into twenty-six pieces, which he distributed amongst his fellow conspirators in order to implicate them in the murder.

Isis and Hercules (Horus) avenged the death of Osiris and slew Typhon. Isis recovered all the parts of Osiris’ body, except the phallus, and secretly buried them. She made replicas of them and distributed them to several locations, which then became centres of Osiris worship.

Plutarch and others have noted that the sacrifices to Osiris were “gloomy, solemn, and mournful…” and that the great mystery festival, celebrated in two phases, began at Abydos commemorating the death of the god, on the same day that grain was planted in the ground.

The death of the grain and the death of the god were one and the same: the cereal was identified with the god who came from heaven; he was the bread by which man lives. The resurrection of the god symbolized the rebirth of the grain.

The annual festival involved the construction of “Osiris Beds” formed in shape of Osiris, filled with soil and sown with seed. The germinating seed symbolized Osiris rising from the dead. An almost pristine example was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter.

The first phase of the festival was a public drama depicting the murder and dismemberment of Osiris, the search of his body by Isis, his triumphal return as the resurrected god, and the battle in which Horus defeated Set. This was all presented by skilled actors as a literary history, and was the main method of recruiting cult membership.

According to Julius Firmicus Maternus of the fourth century, this play was re-enacted each year by worshippers who “beat their breasts and gashed their shoulders…. When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined…they turn from mourning to rejoicing.” (De Errore Profanorum). The passion of Osiris was reflected in his name ‘Wenennefer” (“the one who continues to be perfect”), which also alludes to his post mortem power.

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