Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The birth of the holy ground

Posted by Fredsvenn on October 2, 2015

Göbekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe “Potbelly Hill”) is an archaeological site at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, approximately 12 km (7 mi) northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa. The tell has a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is about 300 m (984 ft) in diameter. It is approximately 760 m (2,493 ft) above sea level. It was excavated by a German archaeological team under the direction of Klaus Schmidt from 1996 until his death in 2014.

The tell includes two phases of ritual use dating back to the 10th-8th millennium BCE. During the first phase, pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected. More than 200 pillars in about 20 circles are currently known through geophysical surveys. Each pillar has a height of up to 6 m (20 ft) and a weight of up to 20 tons. They are fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the bedrock.

In the second phase, pre-pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), the erected pillars are smaller and stood in rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime. Topographic scans have revealed that other structures next to the hill, awaiting excavation, probably date to 14-15 thousand years ago, the dates of which potentially extend backwards in time to the concluding millennia of the Pleistocene. The site was abandoned after the PPNB-period. Younger structures date to classical times.

In Gobekli Tepe four such circular structures have been unearthed so far. Geophysical surveys indicate that there are 16 more, enclosing up to eight pillars each, amounting to nearly 200 pillars in all. The slabs were transported from bedrock pits located approximately 100 metres (330 ft) from the hilltop, with workers using flint points to cut through the limestone bedrock.

Two taller pillars stand facing one another at the centre of each circle. Whether the circles were provided with a roof is uncertain. Stone benches designed for sitting are found in the interior. Many of the pillars are decorated with abstract, enigmatic pictograms and carved animal reliefs. The pictograms may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintings elsewhere.

The reliefs depict mammals such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles and donkeys; snakes and other reptiles, arthropods such as insects and arachnids; and birds, particularly vultures. At the time the edifice was constructed, the surrounding country was likely to have been forested and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of settlement and cultivation led to the near–Dust Bowl conditions prevalent today.

At this early stage of the site’s history, circular compounds or temene, first appear. They range from 10 to 30 metres in diameter. Their most notable feature is the presence of T-shaped limestone pillars evenly set within thick interior walls composed of unworked stone.

Temenos

Temenos (Greek plural: temene) is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, a sanctuary, holy grove or holy precinct. The word derives from the Greek verb temnō, “to cut”.

Temen has been occasionally compared to Greek temenos “holy precinct”, but since the latter has a well established Indo-European etymology, the comparison is either mistaken, or at best describes a case of popular etymology or convergence.

Temenos is a separated out sacred space or precinct. A Greek temenos was a sanctuary with an altar and possibly temples, treasuries and houses for the priests. Walls could mark out the area. By the temenos, there might be roofed colonnades for visitors to walk under. The treasuries at the temene would fund the cults.

The sacred valley of the Nile is “the rich temenos of Cronides by the Nile”, the Acropolis of Athens is the “the holy temenos”; of Pallas, one of the Titans. The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek te-me-no, written in Linear B syllabic script.

The concept of temenos arose in classical Mediterranean cultures as an area reserved for worship of the gods. Some authors have used the term to apply to a sacred grove of trees, isolated from everyday living spaces, while other usage points to areas within ancient urban development that are parts of sanctuaries. In religious discourse in English, temenos has also come to refer to a territory, plane, receptacle or field of deity or divinity.

A large example of a Bronze Age Minoan temenos is at the Juktas Sanctuary of the palace of Knossos on ancient Crete in present-day Greece, the temple having a massive northern temenos. Another example is at Olympia, the temenos of Zeus. There were many temene of Apollo, as he was the patron god of settlers.

Pindar calls the race course for the Pythian games a temenos and Syracuse is called the temenos of Ares. During the Pythian Games (also Delphic Games), one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, a forerunner of the modern Olympic Games, held every four years at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, a four-horse chariot race was held in a hippodrome, an ancient Grecian stadium for horse racing and chariot racing, in the plain, not far from the sea, in the place where the original stadium was sited. The Pythian race-course is called a temenos.

I. G. Jung relates the temenos to the spellbinding or magic circle, which acts as a square space or safe spot where mental work can take place. This temenos resembles among others a symmetrical rose garden with a fountain in the middle (the squared circle) in which an encounter with the unconscious can be had and where these unconscious contents can safely be brought into the light of consciousness.

In this manner one can meet one’s own Shadow, Animus/Anima, Wise Old Wo/Man (Senex) and finally the Self, names that Jung gave to archetypal personifications of (unpersonal) unconscious contents which seem to span all cultures.

É Temple

É is the Sumerian word or symbol for house or temple. The Sumerian term É.GAL (“palace”, literally “big house”) denoted a city’s main building. É.LUGAL (“king’s house”) was used synonymously.

Enlil (EN = Lord + LÍL = Wind, “Lord (of the) Storm”), the god of breath, wind, loft and breadth (height and distance), is associated with the ancient city of Nippur, sometimes referred to as the cult city of Enlil. His temple was named Ekur, “House of the Mountain.” Such was the sanctity acquired by this edifice that Babylonian and Assyrian rulers, down to the latest days, vied with one another to embellish and restore Enlil’s seat of worship. Eventually, the name Ekur became the designation of a temple in general.

Grouped around the main sanctuary, there arose temples and chapels to the gods and goddesses who formed his court, so that Ekur became the name for an entire sacred precinct in the city of Nippur. The name “mountain house” suggests a lofty structure and was perhaps the designation originally of the staged tower at Nippur, built in imitation of a mountain, with the sacred shrine of the god on the top.

Enlil was also known as the god of weather. According to the Sumerians, Enlil requested the creation of a slave race, but then got tired of their noise and tried to kill them by sending a flood. A mortal known as Utnapishtim survived the flood through the help of another god, Ea, and he was made immortal by Enlil after Enlil’s initial fury had subsided.

As Enlil was the only god who could reach An, the god of heaven, he held sway over the other gods who were assigned tasks by his agent and would travel to Nippur to draw in his power. He is thus seen as the model for kingship. Enlil was assimilated to the north “Pole of the Ecliptic”. His sacred number name was 50.

At a very early period prior to 3000 BC, Nippur had become the centre of a political district of considerable extent. Inscriptions found at Nippur, where extensive excavations were carried on during 1888–1900 by John P. Peters and John Henry Haynes, under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, shows that Enlil was the head of an extensive pantheon. Among the titles accorded to him are “king of lands”, “king of heaven and earth”, and “father of the gods”.

In the texts of Lagash, the É.GAL is the center of the ensi’s administration of the city, and the site of the city archives. Sumerian É.GAL “palace” is the probable etymology of Semitic words for “palace, temple”, such as Hebrew היכל heikhal, and Arabic هيكل haykal. It has thus been speculated that the word É originated from something akin to *hai or *ˀai, especially since the cuneiform sign È is used for /a/ in Eblaite.

The term temen appearing frequently after É in names of ziggurats is translated as “foundation pegs”, apparently the first step in the construction process of a house; compare, for example, verses 551–561 of the account of the construction of E-ninnu:

He stretched out lines in the most perfect way; he set up (?) a sanctuary in the holy uzga. In the house, Enki drove in the foundation pegs, while Nanshe, the daughter of Eridu, took care of the oracular messages. The mother of Lagash, holy Gatumdug, gave birth to its bricks amid cries (?), and Bau, the lady, first-born daughter of An, sprinkled them with oil and cedar essence. En and lagar priests were detailed to the house to provide maintenance for it. The Anuna gods stood there full of admiration.

In E-temen-an-ki, “the temple of the foundation (pegs) of heaven and earth”, temen has been taken to refer to an axis mundi connecting earth to heaven (thus re-enforcing the Tower of Babel connection), but the term re-appears in several other temple names, referring to their physical stability rather than, or as well as, to a mythological world axis; compare the Egyptian notion of Djed, one of the more ancient and commonly found symbols in Egyptian mythology.

Djed

The djed is a pillar-like symbol in hieroglyphics representing stability. It is associated with the Creator god Ptah and Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead. It is commonly understood to represent his spine.

In the myth of Osiris and Isis, Osiris was killed by Set by being tricked into a coffin made to fit Osiris. Set then had the coffin with the now deceased Osiris flung into the Nile. The coffin was carried by the Nile to the ocean and on to the city of Byblos in Syria.

It ran aground and a sacred tree took root and rapidly grew around the coffin, enclosing the coffin within its trunk. The king of the land, intrigued by the tree’s quick growth, ordered the tree cut down and installed as a pillar in his palace, unaware that the tree contained Osiris’s body.

Meanwhile, Isis searched for Osiris aided by Anubis, and came to know of Osiris’s location in Byblos. Isis maneuvered herself into the favor of the king and queen and was granted a boon. She asked for the pillar in the palace hall, and upon being granted it, extracted the coffin from the pillar. She then consecrated the pillar, anointing it with myrrh and wrapping it in linen. This pillar came to be known as the pillar of djed.

The djed may originally have been a fertility cult related pillar made from reeds or sheaves or a totem from which sheaves of grain were suspended or grain was piled around. Erich Neumann remarks that the djed pillar is a tree fetish, which is significant considering that Egypt was primarily treeless. He indicates that the myth may represent the importance of the import of trees by Egypt from Syria.

The djed came to be associated with Seker, the falcon god of the Memphite necropolis, then with Ptah, the Memphite patron god of craftsmen. Ptah was often referred to as “the noble djed”, and carried a scepter that was a combination of the djed symbol and the ankh, the symbol of life. Ptah gradually came to be assimilated into Osiris. By the time of the New Kingdom, the djed was firmly associated with Osiris.

The djed hieroglyph was a pillar-like symbol that represented stability. It was also sometimes used to represent Osiris himself, often combined “with a pair of eyes between the crossbars and holding the crook and flail.”

The djed hieroglyph is often found together with the tyet (also known as Isis knot) hieroglyph, which is translated as life or welfare. The djed and the tiet used together may depict the duality of life. The tyet hieroglyph may have become associated with Isis because of its frequent pairing with the djed.

Parallels have also been drawn between the djed pillar and various items in other cultures. Sidney Smith in 1922, first suggested a parallel with the Assyrian “sacred tree” when he drew attention to the presence of the upper four bands of the djed pillar and the bands that are present in the center of the vertical portion of the tree. He also proposed a common origin between Osiris and the Assyrian god Assur with whom he said the sacred tree might be associated.

Cohen and Kangas suggest that the tree is probably associated with the Sumerian god of male fertility, Enki and that for both Osiris and Enki, an erect pole or polelike symbol stands beneath a celestial symbol. They also point out that the Assyrian king is depicted in proximity to the sacred tree, which is similar to the depiction of the pharaoh in the raising of the djed ceremony.

Additionally, the sacred tree and the Assyrian winged disk, which are generally depicted separately, are combined in certain designs, similar to the djed pillar which is sometimes surmounted with a solar disk. Katherine Harper and Robert Brown also discuss a possible strong link between the djed column and the concept of kundalini in yoga.

Holy trees

Trees are significant in many of the world’s mythologies and religions, and have been given deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages. Human beings, observing the growth and death of trees, and the annual death and revival of their foliage, have often seen them as powerful symbols of growth, death and rebirth.

Evergreen trees, which largely stay green throughout these cycles, are sometimes considered symbols of the eternal, immortality or fertility. The image of the Tree of life or world tree occurs in many mythologies.

Sacred or symbolic trees include the Banyan and the Peepal (Ficus religiosa) trees in Hinduism, the Yule Tree in Germanic mythology, the Tree of Knowledge of Judaism and Christianity, the Bodhi tree in Buddhism and Saglagar tree in Mongolian Tengriism.

Trees were often regarded as sacred in the ancient world, throughout Europe and Asia. Christianity and Islam treated the worship of trees as idolatry and this led to their destruction in Europe and most of West Asia.

In folk religion and folklore, trees are often said to be the homes of tree spirits. Germanic paganism as well as Celtic polytheism both appears to have involved cultic practice in sacred groves, especially grove of oak. The term druid itself possibly derives from the Celtic word for oak.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions sycamores as part of the scenery where the soul of the deceased finds blissful repose. Trees are an attribute of the archetypical locus amoenus (Latin for “pleasant place”), a literary term which generally refers to an idealized place of safety or comfort.

The World Tree, with its branches reaching up into the sky, and roots deep into the earth, can be seen to dwell in three worlds – a link between heaven, the earth, and the underworld, uniting above and below.

This great tree acts as an Axis mundi, supporting or holding up the cosmos, and providing a link between the heavens, earth and underworld. In European mythology the best known example is the tree Yggdrasil from Norse mythology.

Donar’s Oak

Donar’s Oak (sometimes referred to as Thor’s Oak; Jove’s Oak (interpretatio romana)) 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.

Maypole

A maypole is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place.

The festivals may occur on May Day or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer. In some cases the maypole is a permanent feature that is only utilised during the festival, although in other cases it is erected specifically for the purpose before being taken down again.

Primarily found within the nations of Germanic Europe and the neighbouring areas which they have influenced, its origins remain unknown, although it has been speculated that it originally had some importance in the Germanic paganism of Iron Age and early Medieval cultures, and that the tradition survived Christianisation, albeit losing any original meaning that it had.

It has been a recorded practice in many parts of Europe throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods, although became less popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the tradition is still observed in some parts of Europe and among European communities in North America.

Some scholars classify maypoles as symbols of the world axis (axis mundi). The fact that they were found primarily in areas of Germanic Europe, where, prior to Christianisation, Germanic paganism was followed in various forms, has led to speculation that the maypoles were in some way a continuation of a Germanic pagan tradition.

One theory holds that they were a remnant of the Germanic reverence for sacred trees, as there is evidence for various sacred trees and wooden pillars that were venerated by the pagans across much of Germanic Europe, including Thor’s Oak and the Irminsul.

Irminsul

An Irminsul (Old Saxon, probably “great/mighty pillar” or “arising pillar”) was a kind of pillar which is attested as playing an important role in the Germanic paganism of the Saxon people.

The oldest chronicle describing an Irminsul refers to it as a tree trunk erected in the open air. The purpose of the Irminsuls and the implications thereof has been the subject of considerable scholarly discourse and speculation for hundreds of years.

A Germanic god Irmin, inferred from the name Irminsul and the tribal name Irminones, is sometimes presumed to have been the national god or demi-god of the Saxons. It has been suggested that Irmin was more probably an aspect or epithet of some other deity – most likely Wodan (Odin).

Irmin might also have been an epithet of the god Ziu (Tyr) in early Germanic times, only later transferred to Odin, as certain scholars subscribe to the idea that Odin replaced Tyr as the chief Germanic deity at the onset of the Migration Period. This was the favored view of early 20th century Nordicist writers, but it is not generally considered likely in modern times.

The Old Norse form of Irmin is Jörmunr, which just like Yggr was one of the names of Odin. Yggdrasil (“Yggr’s horse”) was the yew or ash tree from which Odin sacrificed himself, and which connected the nine worlds. Jakob Grimm connects the name Irmin with Old Norse terms like iörmungrund (“great ground”, i.e. the Earth) or iörmungandr (“great snake”, i.e. the Midgard serpent).

It is also known that, in Norse paganism, cosmological views held that the universe was a world tree, known as Yggdrasil. There is therefore speculation that the maypole was in some way a continuance of this tradition.

Asherah pole

An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother-goddess Asherah, consort of El. The relation of the literary references to an asherah and archaeological finds of Judaean pillar-figurines has engendered a literature of debate.

The asherim were also cult objects related to the worship of the fertility goddess Asherah, the consort of either Ba’al or, as inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom attest, Yahweh, and thus objects of contention among competing cults.

Sacred grove

A sacred grove or sacred woods are any grove of trees of special religious importance to a particular culture. Sacred groves feature in various cultures throughout the world. They were important features of the mythological landscape and cult practice of Celtic, Baltic, Germanic, ancient Greek, Near Eastern, Roman, and Slavic polytheism, and were also used in India, Japan, and West Africa.

Examples of sacred groves include the Greco-Roman temenos, the Norse hörgr (Old Norse, plural hörgar) or hearg (Old English), a type altar or cult site, possibly consisting of a heap of stones, used in Norse paganism, as opposed to a roofed hall used as a temple (hof), and the Celtic nemeton, which was largely but not exclusively associated with Druidic practice. During the Northern Crusades, there was a common practice of building churches on the sites of sacred groves.

Old Norse hǫrgr (“altar, sanctuary”), Old English hearg (“holy grove, temple, idol”), and Old High German harug continue a Proto-Germanic *harugaz, possibly cognate with Insular Celtic carrac (“cliff”). A crag (sometimes spelled cragg, or in Scotland craig) is a rocky hill or mountain, generally isolated from other high ground.

A nemeton was a sacred space of ancient Celtic religion. Nemeta appear to have been primarily situated in natural areas, and, as they often utilized trees, they are often interpreted as sacred groves. However, other evidence suggests that the word implied a wider variety of ritual spaces, such as shrines and temples.

Kundalini

Kundalini (“coiled one”) in yogic practice is an energy or shakti starting out coiled at the base of the spine. Kundalini is a tool used for the purpose of reaching spiritual enlightenment. The Kundalini is described as being “coiled” at the base of the spine, represented as either a goddess or sleeping serpent waiting to be awakened. In modern commentaries, Kundalini has been called an unconscious, instinctive or libidinal force, or “mother energy or intelligence of complete maturation”.

The use of kuṇḍalī as a name of Durga or of a Shakti appears as a technical term in Tantrism and Shaktism as early as c. the 11th century, in the Śaradatilaka. It is adopted as kuṇḍalniī as a technical term into Hatha yoga in the 15th century and becomes widely used in the Yoga Upanishads by the 16th century.

Kundalini is described as a sleeping, dormant potential force in the human organism. It is one of the components of an esoteric description of the “subtle body”, which consists of nadis (energy channels), chakras (psychic centres), prana (subtle energy), and bindu (drops of essence).

Kundalini is described as being coiled up at the base of the spine. The description of the location can vary slightly, from the rectum to the navel. Kundalini is said to reside in the triangular shaped sacrum bone in three and a half coils. It has also been described as “a residual power of pure desire” by Nirmala Srivastava and “a huge volume of energy” that is latent within a person by Jaggi Vasudev.

Hieros gamos

The cosmogenic myth common in Sumer was that of the hieros gamos, a sacred marriage where divine principles in the form of dualistic opposites came together as male and female to give birth to the cosmos.

In Mesopotamian Religion (Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Babylonian), Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with Abzû (literally, ab=”ocean” zu=”deep”), the god of fresh water, to produce younger gods. She is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation, depicted as a woman she represents the beauty of the feminine, depicted as the glistening one. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a “Sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.

In the city of Eridu, Enki’s temple was known as E-abzu (house of the cosmic waters) and was located at the edge of a swamp, an abzu. Certain tanks of holy water in Babylonian and Assyrian temple courtyards were also called abzu (apsû). Typical in religious washing, these tanks were similar to Judaism’s mikvot, the washing pools of Islamic mosques, or the baptismal font in Christian churches.

Abzu (apsû) is depicted as a deity only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enûma Elish, taken from the library of Assurbanipal (c 630 BCE) but which is about 500 years older. In this story, he was a primal being made of fresh water and a lover to another primal deity, Tiamat, who was a creature of salt water.

Omphalo

An omphalos is a religious stone artifact, or baetylus. In Greek, the word omphalos means “navel”. In Greek lore, Zeus sent two eagles across the world to meet at its center, the “navel” of the world. Omphalos stones marking the centre were erected in several places about the Mediterranean Sea; the most famous of those was at Delphi.

Omphalos is also the name of the stone given to Cronus. 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.

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.

Lingam

The lingam (also linga, ling, Shiva linga, Shiv ling, Sanskrit: लिङ्गं,liṅgaṃ, meaning “mark”, “sign”, or “inference”) is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples. In traditional Indian society, the linga is rather seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of God, Shiva himself.

The lingam is often represented alongside the yoni (Sanskrit word, literally “origin” or “source” or “womb), a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy. The union of lingam and yoni represents the “indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female, the passive space and active time from which all life originates”.

The Sanskrit term, liṅgaṃ, has a number of definitions ranging from symbol to phallus, and more specifically, the “genital organ of Śiva worshipped in the form of a Phallus”. In Shaivite Hindu temples, the lingam is a smooth cylindrical mass symbolising Shiva and is worshipped as a symbol of generative power. It is found at the centre of the temple often resting in the middle of a rimmed, disc-shaped yoni, a representation of Shakti.

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