Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

In the beginning was chaos – ma (mama)

Posted by Fredsvenn on October 29, 2015

Chaos

In Greek mythology, Chaos, the primeval void, was the first thing which existed. The Greek word “chaos” (χάος), a neuter noun, means “yawning” or “gap”, but what, if anything, were located on either side of this chasm is unclear. For the Roman poet Ovid Chaos was an unformed mass, where all the elements were jumbled up together in a “shapeless heap”.

According to Hesiod, “at first Chaos came to be” (or was) “but next” (possibly out of Chaos) came Gaia (GAY-ə or GAH-yə; a poetical form of Γῆ Gē, Ge, “land” or “earth”) also spelled Gaea, the personification of the Earth, Tartarus (TAR-tər-əs), the deep abyss that is used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans, and Eros (“Desire”), the Greek god of love. Unambiguously born “from Chaos” was Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night).

For Hesiod, Chaos, like Tartarus, though personified enough to have born children, was also a place, far away, underground and “gloomy”, beyond which lived the Titans. And, like the earth, the ocean, and the upper air, it was also capable of being affected by Zeus’ thunderbolts.

In Greek mythology the primordial deities are the first entities or beings that came into existence. These deities are a group of gods from which all others descend. They most notably include Uranus (Ouranos)-Father Sky and Gaia (Gaea)-Mother Earth, who preceded the Titans, who themselves preceded the Olympians.

Although generally believed to be the first gods produced from Chaos, some sources mention a pair of deities who were the parents of the group. These deities represent various elements of nature. Chaos has at times been considered, in place of Ananke, the female consort of Chronos.

The primordial gods are depicted as places or realms. A common example is Tartarus, who is depicted as the Underworld, Hell, and a bottomless abyss. His sibling, Erebus, is also depicted as a place of pitch-black darkness or a vast emptiness of space.

Their mother, Chaos, is depicted as an empty void. Other siblings that include Gaia are depicted as Mother Nature or the Earth. Pontus or Hydros are depicted as the oceans, lakes, and rivers. Chronos is depicted as time and of eternity.

In Classical Greek mythology, the Titans and Titanesses were members of the second order of divine beings, descending from the primordial deities and preceding the Olympian deities.

Based on Mount Othrys, the Titans most famously included the first twelve children of the primordial Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky). They were giant deities of incredible strength, who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also composed the first pantheon of Greek deities.

Among the first generation of twelve Titans, the females were Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Rhea, and Themis and the males were Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius, and Iapetus.

The second generation of Titans consisted of Hyperion’s children Helios, Selene, and Eos; Coeus’ children Lelantos, Leto, and Asteria; Iapetus’ sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; Oceanus’ daughter Metis; and Crius’ sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses.

As they had overthrown the primordial deities, the Titans were overthrown by younger gods, including many of their own children – the Olympians – in the Titanomachy (or “War of the Titans”). The Greeks may have borrowed this mytheme from the Ancient Near East.

Ma

Ma is a Sumerian word meaning “land” that in Sumerian mythology was also used to regard Primordial Land. There seems to be some loss in records as to the transition, but the same name Ma appears again later, also tied to the Earth, in Ma being referred to as “Mother of the mountain” – in this case, Kur (Mountain) the first dragon god.

The underworld Kur is the void space between the primeval sea (Abzu) and the earth (Ma). Which seem a likely pairing for parentage, in a fuzzy set of records. Ma was a local goddess at Ma and a Phrygian alternative name for Cybele. “The Great Mother” was a title given to Cybele in her Roman cult, though not exclusive to her. Some Roman literary sources accord the same title to Maia and other goddesses.

Nammu

Nammu (also Namma, spelled ideographically NAMMA = ENGUR) was the Goddess Sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall. She was a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology.

Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. An indication of her continued relevance may be found in the theophoric name of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur.

According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.

The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil requested from Nammu the creation of humans. And Nammu told him that with the help of Enki (her son) she can create humans in the image of gods. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.

Tiamat

In Mesopotamian Religion Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with Abzû (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. She was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.

Abzu (or Apsû) fathered upon Tiamat the elder deities Lahmu and Lahamu (masc. the “hairy”), a title given to the gatekeepers at Enki’s Abzu/E’engurra-temple in Eridu. Lahmu and Lahamu, in turn, were the parents of the ‘ends’ of the heavens (Anshar, from an = heaven, shár = horizon, end) and the earth (Kishar); Anshar and Kishar were considered to meet at the horizon, becoming, thereby, the parents of Anu (Heaven) and Ki (Earth).

Tiamat was later known as Thalattē (as a variant of thalassa, the Greek word for “sea”) in the Hellenistic Babylonian writer Berossus’ first volume of universal history. It is thought that the name of Tiamat was dropped in secondary translations of the original religious texts (written in the East Semitic Akkadian language) because some Akkadian copyists of Enûma Elish substituted the ordinary word for “sea” for Tiamat, since the two names had become essentially the same due to association.

Thorkild Jacobsen and Walter Burkert both argue for a connection with the Akkadian word for sea, tâmtu, following an early form, ti’amtum. Burkert continues by making a linguistic connection to Tethys. He finds the later form, thalatth, to be related clearly to Greek Θάλαττα (thalatta) or Θάλασσα (thalassa), “sea”. Tiamat also has been claimed to be cognate with Northwest Semitic tehom (תהום) (the deeps, abyss), in the Book of Genesis 1:2.

Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon, however assyriologist Alexander Heidel disagreed with this identification and argued that “dragon form can’t be imputed to Tiamat with certainty”. Other scholars have disregarded Heidel’s argument. Joseph Fontenrose in particular found it “not convincing” and concluded that “there is reason to believe that Tiamat was sometimes, not necessarily always, conceived as a dragoness”.

While the Enûma Elish does not specifically state that Tiamat is a dragon, only that she gave birth to dragons and serpents among a more general list of monsters including scorpion men and merpeople, other sources containing the same myth do refer to her as a dragon. Earlier sources associated Tiamat with later mythological characters, such as Lotan.

The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish is named for its incipit: “When above” the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, “the first, the begetter”, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, “she who bore them all”; they were “mixing their waters”.

It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu, a female principle of a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki.

Harriet Crawford finds this “mixing of the waters” to be a natural feature of the middle Persian Gulf, where fresh waters from the Arabian aquifer mix and mingle with the salt waters of the sea.

This characteristic is especially true of the region of Bahrain, whose name in Arabic means “two seas”, and which is thought to be the site of Dilmun, the original site of the Sumerian creation beliefs. The difference in density of salt and fresh water drives a perceptible separation.

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 Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Apsu,(correctly) assuming they are planning to kill him and usurp his throne, later makes war upon them and is killed.

Enraged, she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, taking on the form of a massive sea dragon, she is then slain by Enki’s son, the storm-god Marduk, but not before she had brought forth the monsters of the Mesopotamian pantheon, including the first dragons, whose bodies she filled with “poison instead of blood”. Marduk then forms heavens and the earth from her divided body.

The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a culture hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon. Chaoskampf motifs in other mythologies linked directly or indirectly to the Tiamat myth include the Hittite Illuyanka myth, and in Greek tradition Apollo’s killing of the Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle.

In the myth recorded on cuneiform tablets, the deity Enki (later Ea) believed correctly that Apsu, upset with the chaos they created, was planning to murder the younger deities; and so captured him, holding him prisoner beneath his temple the E-Abzu.

This angered Kingu, their son, who reported the event to Tiamat, whereupon she fashioned eleven monsters to battle the deities in order to avenge Apsu’s death. These were her own offspring: Bašmu (“Venomous Snake”), Ušumgallu (“Great Dragon”), Mušmaḫḫū (“Exalted Serpent”), Mušḫuššu (“Furious Snake”), Laḫmu (the “Hairy One”), Ugallu (the “Big Weather-Beast”), Uridimmu (“Mad Lion”), Girtablullû (“Scorpion-Man”), Umū dabrūtu (“Violent Storms”), Kulullû (“Fish-Man”) and Kusarikku (“Bull-Man”).

Tiamat possessed the Tablets of Destiny and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.

Slicing Tiamat in half, he made from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth. Her weeping eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates, her tail became the Milky Way. With the approval of the elder deities, he took from Kingu the Tablets of Destiny, installing himself as the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Kingu was captured and later was slain: his red blood mixed with the red clay of the Earth would make the body of humankind, created to act as the servant of the younger Igigi deities.

The principal theme of the epic is the justified elevation of Marduk to command over all the deities. Robert Graves considered Tiamat’s death by Marduk as evidence of his hypothesis that a shift in power from a matriarchy controlling society to a patriarchy happened in the ancient past.

Grave’s ideas were later developed into the Great Goddess theory by Marija Gimbutas, Merlin Stone and others. The theory suggests Tiamat and other ancient monster figures were presented as former supreme deities of peaceful, woman-centered religions that were turned into monsters when violent. Their defeat at the hands of a male hero corresponded to the manner in which male-dominated religions overthrew ancient society. This theory is rejected by academia and modern authors such as Lotte Motz, Cynthia Eller and others.

Fragments of Chaldean History, Berossus: From Alexander Polyhistor: “Berossus, in the first book of his history of Babylonia, informs us that he lived in the age of Alexander the son of Philip. And he mentions that there were written accounts, preserved at Babylon with the greatest care, comprehending a period of above fifteen myriads of years: and that these writings contained histories of the heaven and of the sea; of the birth of mankind; and of the kings, and of the memorable actions which they had achieved.

He wrote of Omoroca: “There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a two-fold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body but two heads: the one that of a man, the other of a woman: and likewise in their several organs both male and female.

Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats: some had horses’ feet: while others united the hind quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippocentaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men; and dogs with fourfold bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes: horses also with the heads of dogs: men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes.

In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.

The person, who presided over them, was a woman named Omoroca; which in the Chaldæan language is Thalatth; in Greek Thalassa, the sea; but which might equally be interpreted the Moon. All things being in this situation, Belus came, and cut the woman asunder: and of one half of her he formed the earth, and of the other half the heavens; and at the same time destroyed the animals within her.”

All this (he says) was an allegorical description of nature. For, the whole universe consisting of moisture, and animals being continually generated therein, the deity above-mentioned took off his own head: upon which the other gods mixed the blood, as it gushed out, with the earth; and from thence were formed men. On this account it is that they are rational, and partake of divine knowledge.

Chaoskampf

When Babylon became the principal city of southern Mesopotamia during the reign of Hammurabi in the 18th century BC, the patron deity of Babylon was elevated to the level of supreme god.

In order to explain how Marduk seized power, Enûma Elish was written, which tells the story of Marduk’s birth, heroic deeds and becoming the ruler of the gods. This can be viewed as a form of Mesopotamian apologetics. Also included in this document are the fifty names of Marduk.

After six generations of gods, in the Babylonian “Enuma Elish”, in the seventh generation, (Akkadian “shapattu” or sabath), the younger Igigi gods, the sons and daughters of Enlil and Ninlil, go on strike and refuse their duties of keeping the creation working. Abzu God of fresh water, co-creator of the cosmos, threatens to destroy the world with his waters, and the Gods gather in terror.

Enki promises to help and puts Abzu to sleep, confining him in irrigation canals and places him in the Kur, beneath his city of Eridu. But the universe is still threatened, as Tiamat, angry at the imprisonment of Abzu and at the prompting of her son and vizier Kingu, decides to take back the creation herself.

The gods gather again in terror and turn to Enki for help, but Enki who harnessed Abzu, Tiamat’s consort, for irrigation refuses to get involved. The gods then seek help elsewhere, and the patriarchal Enlil, their father, God of Nippur, promises to solve the problem if they make him King of the Gods. In the Babylonian tale, Enlil’s role is taken by Marduk, Enki’s son, and in the Assyrian version it is Asshur.

After dispatching Tiamat with the “arrows of his winds” down her throat and constructing the heavens with the arch of her ribs, Enlil places her tail in the sky as the Milky Way, and her crying eyes become the source of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Tiamat possessed the Tablets of Destiny and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.

Slicing Tiamat in half, he made from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth. Her weeping eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates, her tail became the Milky Way. With the approval of the elder deities, he took from Kingu the Tablets of Destiny, installing himself as the head of the Babylonian pantheon.

Kingu was captured and later was slain: his red blood mixed with the red clay of the Earth would make the body of humankind, created to act as the servant of the younger Igigi deities. The principal theme of the epic is the justified elevation of Marduk to command over all the deities.

In Enûma Elish, a civil war between the gods was growing to a climactic battle. The Anunnaki gods gathered together to find one god who could defeat the gods rising against them. Marduk, a very young god, answered the call and was promised the position of head god.

To prepare for battle, he makes a bow, fletches arrows, grabs a mace, throws lightning before him, fills his body with flame, makes a net to encircle Tiamat within it, gathers the four winds so that no part of her could escape, creates seven nasty new winds such as the whirlwind and tornado, and raises up his mightiest weapon, the rain-flood. Then he sets out for battle, mounting his storm-chariot drawn by four horses with poison in their mouths. In his lips he holds a spell and in one hand he grasps a herb to counter poison.

First, he challenges the leader of the Anunnaki gods, the dragon of the primordial sea Tiamat, to single combat and defeats her by trapping her with his net, blowing her up with his winds, and piercing her belly with an arrow.

Then, he proceeds to defeat Kingu, who Tiamat put in charge of the army and wore the Tablets of Destiny on his breast, and “wrested from him the Tablets of Destiny, wrongfully his” and assumed his new position. Under his reign humans were created to bear the burdens of life so the gods could be at leisure.

The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a culture hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon. Chaoskampf motifs in other mythologies linked directly or indirectly to the Tiamat myth include the Hittite Illuyanka myth, and in Greek tradition Apollo’s killing of the Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle.

Maat

Maat or Ma’at was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Her ideological counterpart was Isfet.

The earliest surviving records indicating that Maat is the norm for nature and society, in this world and the next, were recorded during the Old Kingdom, the earliest substantial surviving examples being found in the Pyramid Texts of Unas (ca. 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE). Pharaohs are often depicted with the emblems of Maat to emphasise their role in upholding the laws of the Creator.

Later, as a goddess in other traditions of the Egyptian pantheon, where most goddesses were paired with a male aspect, her masculine counterpart was Thoth, as their attributes are similar. In other accounts, Thoth was paired off with Seshat, goddess of writing and measure, who is a lesser known deity.

After her role in creation and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in Egyptian mythology dealt with the weighing of souls (also called the weighing of the heart) that took place in the underworld, Duat. Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of afterlife successfully.

Maia

Maia, in ancient Greek religion, is one of the Pleiades and the mother of Hermes. She is the daughter of Atlas and Pleione the Oceanid, and is the eldest of the seven Pleiades. They were born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, and are sometimes called mountain nymphs. Because they were daughters of Atlas, they were also called the Atlantides.

According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Zeus in the dead of night secretly begot Hermes upon Maia, who avoided the company of the gods, in a cave of Cyllene. After giving birth to the baby, Maia wrapped him in blankets and went to sleep. The rapidly maturing infant Hermes crawled away to Thessaly, where by night-fall of his first day he stole some of his half-brother Apollo’s cattle and invented the lyre from a tortoise shell. Maia refused to believe Apollo when he claimed Hermes was the thief and Zeus then sided with Apollo. Finally, Apollo exchanged the cattle for the lyre, which became one of his identifying attributes.

Maia also raised the infant Arcas, the child of Callisto with Zeus. Wronged by the love affair, Zeus’ wife Hera in a jealous rage had transformed Callisto into a bear. Arcas is the eponym of Arcadia, where Maia was born. The story of Callisto and Arcas, like that of the Pleiades, is an aition for a stellar formation, the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great and Little Bear. Her name is related to maia, an honorific term for older women related to mētēr (“mother”). Maia also means “midwife” in Greek.

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Maia embodied the concept of growth, as her name was thought to be related to the comparative adjective maius, maior, “larger, greater.” Originally, she may have been a homonym independent of the Greek Maia, whose myths she absorbed through the Hellenization of Latin literature and culture.

In an archaic Roman prayer, Maia appears as an attribute of Vulcan, in an invocational list of male deities paired with female abstractions representing some aspect of their functionality. She was explicitly identified with Earth (Terra, the Roman counterpart of Gaia) and the Good Goddess (Bona Dea) in at least one tradition.

Her identity became theologically intertwined also with the goddesses Fauna, Magna Mater (“Great Goddess”, referring to the Roman form of Cybele but also a cult title for Maia), Ops, Juno, and Carna, as discussed at some length by the late antiquarian writer Macrobius.

This treatment was probably influenced by the 1st-century BC scholar Varro, who tended to resolve a great number of goddesses into one original “Terra.” The association with Juno, whose Etruscan counterpart was Uni, is suggested again by the inscription Uni Mae on the Piacenza Liver.

The month of May (Latin Maius) was supposedly named for Maia, though ancient etymologists also connected it to the maiores, “ancestors,” again from the adjective maius, maior, meaning those who are “greater” in terms of generational precedence.

On the first day of May, the Lares Praestites were honored as protectors of the city, and the flamen of Vulcan sacrificed a pregnant sow to Maia, a customary offering to an earth goddess that reiterates the link between Vulcan and Maia in the archaic prayer formula.

In Roman myth, Mercury (Hermes), the son of Maia, was the father of the twin Lares, a genealogy that sheds light on the collocation of ceremonies on the May Kalends.

On May 15, the Ides, Mercury was honored as a patron of merchants and increaser of profit (through an etymological connection with merx, merces, “goods, merchandise”), another possible connection with Maia his mother as a goddess who promoted growth.

Mater (“Mother”) is an honorific that respects a goddess’s maternal authority and functions, and not necessarily “motherhood” per se. Early examples include Terra Mater (Mother Earth) and the Mater Larum (Mother of the Lares). Vesta, a goddess of chastity usually conceived of as a virgin, is honored as Mater. A goddess known as Stata Mater was a compital deity credited with preventing fires in the city.

From the middle Imperial era, the reigning Empress becomes Mater castrorum et senatus et patriae, the symbolic Mother of military camps, the senate, and the fatherland. The Gallic and Germanic cavalry (auxilia) of the Roman Imperial army regularly set up altars to the “Mothers of the Field” (Campestres, from campus, “field,” with the title Matres or Matronae).

Makara

Makara is a sea-creature in Hindu mythology. It is generally depicted as half terrestrial animal in the frontal part, in animal forms of an elephant, crocodile, stag, or deer, and in the hind part as an aquatic animal, in the form of a fish or seal tail. Sometimes, even a peacock tail is depicted.

Makara is the vahana (vehicle) of the Ganga – the goddess of river Ganges (Ganga) and the sea god Varuna. It is also the insignia of the love god Kamadeva. Kamadeva is also known as Makaradhvaja (one whose flag a makara is depicted). Makara is the astrological sign of Capricorn, one of the twelve symbols of the Zodiac. It is often portrayed protecting entryways to Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Makara symbolized in ornaments are also in popular use as wedding gifts for bridal decoration. The Hindu Preserver-god Vishnu is also shown wearing makara-shaped earrings called Makarakundalas. The Sun god Surya and the Mother Goddess Chandi are also sometimes described as being adorned with Makarakundalas.

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