The war god
Posted by Fredsvenn on October 29, 2015
Ninurta was a Sumerian and the Akkadian god of hunting and war. He was worshipped in Babylonia and Assyria and in Lagash he was identified with the city god Ningirsu, “the lord of Girsu”, Girsu being the name of a city where he was considered the patron deity.
In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity. In Nippur, Ninurta was worshiped as part of a triad of deities including his father, Enlil and his mother, Ninlil. In variant mythology, his mother is said to be the harvest goddess Ninhursag. The consort of Ninurta was Ugallu in Nippur and Bau when he was called Ningirsu.
In one myth, Enlil gives advice to his son, the god Ninurta, a Sumerian and the Akkadian god of hunting and war, advising him on a strategy to slay the demon Asag. This advice is relayed to Ninurta by way of Sharur, his enchanted talking mace, which had been sent by Ninurta to the realm of the gods to seek counsel from Enlil directly.
Ninurta slays each of the monsters later known as the “Slain Heroes” (the Warrior Dragon, the Palm Tree King, Lord Saman-ana, the Bison-beast, the Mermaid, the Seven-headed Snake, the Six-headed Wild Ram), and despoils them of valuable items such as Gypsum, Strong Copper, and the Magilum boat. Eventually, Anzû is killed by Ninurta who delivers the Tablet of Destiny to his father, Enlil.
Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus (Roman equivalent Jupiter) and the mortal Alcmene. In classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures. One cycle of these adventures became canonical as the “Twelve Labours,” but the list has variations.
In the Roman era Hercules’ Club amulets appear from the 2nd to 3rd century, distributed over the empire (including Roman Britain, c.f. Cool 1986), mostly made of gold, shaped like wooden clubs. A specimen found in Köln-Nippes bears the inscription “DEO HER[culi]”, confirming the association with Hercules.
The earliest records of the Germanic peoples were recorded by the Romans, and in these works Thor is frequently referred to—via a process known as interpretatio romana (where characteristics perceived to be similar by Romans result in identification of a non-Roman god as a Roman deity)—as either the Roman god Jupiter (also known as Jove) or the Greco-Roman god Hercules.
In the 5th to 7th centuries, during the Migration Period, the amulet is theorized to have rapidly spread from the Elbe Germanic area across Europe. These Germanic “Donar’s Clubs” were made from deer antler, bone or wood, more rarely also from bronze or precious metals.They are found exclusively in female graves, apparently worn either as a belt pendant, or as an ear pendant. The amulet type is replaced by the Viking Age Thor’s hammer pendants in the course of the Christianization of Scandinavia from the 8th to 9th century.
The first clear example of this occurs in the Roman historian Tacitus’s late first-century work Germania, where, writing about the religion of the Suebi (a confederation of Germanic peoples), he comments that “among the gods Mercury is the one they principally worship.
They regard it as a religious duty to offer to him, on fixed days, human as well as other sacrificial victims. Hercules and Mars they appease by animal offerings of the permitted kind” and adds that a portion of the Suebi also venerate “Isis”. In this instance, Tacitus refers to the god Odin as “Mercury”, Thor as “Hercules”, and the god Týr as “Mars”, and the identity of the Isis of the Suebi has been debated.
In another legend, Ninurta battles a birdlike monster called Imdugud (Akkadian: Anzû); a Babylonian version relates how the monster Anzû steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil. The Tablets of Destiny were believed to contain the details of fate and the future. There are a lot of parallels with both and the story of Marduk (son of Enki) who slew Abzu (or Apsu), and delivered the Tablets of Destiny from Kingu to his father, Enki.
Anzû is a deity associated with cosmogeny. It is a lesser divinity or monster in several Mesopotamian religions. He was conceived by the pure waters of the Apsu and the wide Earth, or as son of Siris. Anzû was seen as a massive bird who can breathe fire and water, although Anzû is alternately seen as a lion-headed eagle (like a reverse griffin).
Anzû is represented as stripping the father of the gods of umsimi (which is usually translated “crown” but in this case, as it was on the seat of Bel, it refers to the “ideal creative organ”). Regarding this, Charles Penglase writes that “Ham is the Chaldean Anzû, and both are cursed for the same allegorically described crime,” which parallels the mutilation of Uranus by Cronus and of Set by Horus.
Ninurta appears in a double capacity in the epithets bestowed on him, and in the hymns and incantations addressed to him. On the one hand he is a farmer and a healing god who releases humans from sickness and the power of demons; on the other he is the god of the South Wind as the son of Enlil, displacing his mother Ninlil who was earlier held to be the goddess of the South Wind. Enlil’s brother, Enki, was portrayed as Ninurta’s mentor from whom Ninurta was entrusted several powerful Mes, including the Deluge.
In the late neo-Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused Ninurta’s character with that of Nergal. The two gods were often invoked together, and spoken of as if they were one divinity.
Nergal seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only a representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle. He has also been called “the king of sunset”.
Nergal evolved from a war god to a god of the underworld. In the mythology, this occurred when Enlil and Ninlil gave him the underworld. Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”. As God of the plague, he was invoked during the “plague years” during the reign of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma, when this disease spread from Egypt.
Being a deity of the desert, god of fire, which is one of negative aspects of the sun, god of the underworld, and also being a god of one of the religions which rivaled Christianity and Judaism, Nergal was sometimes called a demon and even identified with Satan. According to Collin de Plancy and Johann Weyer, Nergal was depicted as the chief of Hell’s “secret police”, and worked as “an honorary spy in the service of Beelzebub”.
In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars)—hence the current name of the planet. In Assyro-Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.
A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninurta (slayer of Asag and wielder of Sharur, an enchanted mace) and Nergal. Nergal has epithets such as the “raging king,” the “furious one,” and the like. A play upon his name—separated into three elements as Ne-uru-gal (lord of the great dwelling)—expresses his position at the head of the nether-world pantheon.
Nergal was also the deity who presides over the netherworld, and who stands at the head of the special pantheon assigned to the government of the dead (supposed to be gathered in a large subterranean cave known as Aralu or Irkalla). In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person.
In the astral-theological system Ninurta was associated with the planet Saturn, or perhaps as offspring or an aspect of Saturn. In his capacity as a farmer-god, there are similarities between Ninurta and the Greek Titan Kronos, whom the Romans in turn identified with their Titan Saturn.
Ares (literally meaning “battle”) is the Greek god of war. He is one of the Twelve Olympians, and the son of Zeus and Hera. In Greek literature, he often represents the physical or violent and untamed aspect of war, in contrast to his sister the armored Athena, whose functions as a goddess of intelligence include military strategy and generalship.
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Mars (Latin: Mārs was the god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter and he was the most prominent of the military gods in the religion of the Roman army. Most of his festivals were held in March, the month named for him (Latin Martius), and in October, which began the season for military campaigning and ended the season for farming.
Under the influence of Greek culture, Mars was identified with the Greek god Ares, whose myths were reinterpreted in Roman literature and art under the name of Mars. But the character and dignity of Mars differed in fundamental ways from that of his Greek counterpart, who is often treated with contempt and revulsion in Greek literature.
Although Ares was viewed primarily as a destructive and destabilizing force, Mars represented military power as a way to secure peace, and was a father (pater) of the Roman people. In the mythic genealogy and founding myths of Rome, Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus with Rhea Silvia.
His love affair with Venus symbolically reconciled the two different traditions of Rome’s founding; Venus was the divine mother of the hero Aeneas, celebrated as the Trojan refugee who “founded” Rome several generations before Romulus laid out the city walls.
The spear is the instrument of Mars in the same way that Jupiter wields the lightning bolt, Neptune the trident, and Saturn the scythe or sickle. A relic or fetish called the spear of Mars was kept in a sacrarium at the Regia, the former residence of the Kings of Rome.
The spear was said to move, tremble or vibrate at impending war or other danger to the state, as was reported to occur before the assassination of Julius Caesar. When Mars is pictured as a peace-bringer, his spear is wreathed with laurel or other vegetation, as on the Ara Pacis or a coin of Aemilianus.
Verethragna is an Avestan language neuter noun literally meaning “smiting of resistance”. Representing this concept is the divinity Verethragna, who is the hypostasis of “victory”, and “as a giver of victory Verethragna plainly enjoyed the greatest popularity of old”.
The neuter noun verethragna is related to Avestan verethra, ‘obstacle’ and verethragnan, ‘victorious’. In Zoroastrian Middle Persian, Verethragna became Warahran, from which Vahram, Vehram, Bahram, Behram and other variants derive. The once-followed theory that Verethragna had Indo-Iranian origins is no longer followed today.
The name and, to some extent, the deity has correspondences in Armenian Vahagn and Vram, Buddhist Sogdian Wshn, Manichaen Parthian Wryhrm, Kushan Bactrian Orlagno. While the figure of Verethragna is highly complex, parallels have also been drawn between it and (variously) Vedic Indra, Puranic Vishnu, Manichaean Adamas, Chaldean/Babylonian Nergal, Egyptian Horus, Hellenic Ares and Heracles.
Indra, also called Śakra (“the mighty-one”) frequently in the Vedas and in Buddhism (Pali: Sakka), is the leader of the Devas and the lord of Svargaloka or heaven in Hinduism. With Varuna and Mitra he is one of the Ādityas, the chief gods of the Rigveda (besides Agni and others such as the Ashvins). He appears as the name of a daeva in Zoroastrianism (though ‘Indra’ can be used in a general sense for a leader, either of devatas or asuras), while his epithet Verethragna appears as a god of victory.
Indra is the most important deity worshiped by the Rigvedic tribes and is the son of Dyaus Pita (“Sky Father”), the ancient sky god of Vedic pantheon, consort of Prithvi Mata “Earth Mother” and father of the chief deities of the Rigveda, Agni (Fire), Indra, and Ushas (Dawn), or of Aditi (“limitless”), who in the Vedas is mother of the gods (devamatar) and all twelve zodiacal spirits from whose cosmic matrix the heavenly bodies were born.
As celestial mother of every existing form and being, the synthesis of all things, she is associated with space (akasa) and with mystic speech (Vāc). She may be seen as a feminized form of Brahma and associated with the primal substance (mulaprakriti) in Vedanta.
She is mentioned nearly 80 times in the Rigveda: the verse “Daksha sprang from Aditi and Aditi from Daksha” is seen by Theosophists as a reference to “the eternal cyclic re-birth of the same divine Essence” and divine wisdom. In contrast, the Puranas, such as the Shiva Purana and the Bhagavata Purana, suggest that Aditi is wife of sage Kashyap and gave birth to the Adityas such as Indra, Surya, and also Vamana.
Aditi challenges the modern idea that the Vedic peoples were patriarchal. Aditi was regarded as both the sky goddess, and earth goddess, which is very rare for a prehistoric civilization. Most prehistoric civilizations venerated a dual principle, Sky Father and Earth Mother, which appears to be borrowed from the concept of Prithivi and Dyaus Pita. Aditi was attributed the status of first deity by the Vedic culture, although she is not the only one attributed this status in the Vedas. She is addressed, in the Rigveda as “Mighty”.
His home is situated on Mount Meru in the heaven. He has many epithets, notably vṛṣan the mighty, and vṛtrahan, slayer of Vṛtra, Meghavahana “the one who rides the clouds” and Devapati or “Devaraj” “the lord of devas”.
He is the deva of rain and thunderstorms. He wields a lightning thunderbolt known as vajra and rides on a white elephant known as Airavata. He is celebrated as a demiurge who pushes up the sky, releases Ushas (dawn) from the Vala cave, and slays Vṛtra; both latter actions are central to the Soma sacrifice. He is associated with Vajrapani – the Chief Dharmapala or Defender and Protector of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha who embodies the power of the Five Dhyani Buddhas.
He delights in drinking soma and his central feat is his heroic defeat of Vṛtrá, liberating the rivers, or alternatively, his smashing of the Vala cave, a stone enclosure where the Panis had imprisoned the cows that are habitually identified with Ushas, the dawn(s). He is the god of war, smashing the stone fortresses of the Dasyu, but he is also is invoked by combatants on both sides in the Battle of the Ten Kings.
On the other hand, he also commits many kinds of mischief (kilbiṣa) for which he is sometimes punished. In the Puranas, Indra is bestowed with a heroic and almost brash and amorous character at times, even as his reputation and role diminished in later Hinduism with the rise of the Trimurti.
Aspects of Indra as a deity are cognate to other Indo-European gods; they are either thunder gods such as Thor, Perun, and Zeus, or gods of intoxicating drinks such as Dionysus. The name of Indra (Indara) is also mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni, a Hurrian-speaking people who ruled northern Syria from ca.1500BC-1300BC.
Janda suggests that the Proto-Indo-European (or Graeco-Aryan) predecessor of Indra had the epithet *trigw-welumos or rather *trigw-t-welumos; “smasher of the enclosure” of Vritra, Vala) and diye-snūtyos “impeller of streams” (the liberated rivers, corresponding to Vedic apam ajas “agitator of the waters”), which resulted in the Greek gods Triptolemus and Dionysus.
Vedic Indra corresponds to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian Avesta as the noun verethragna- corresponds to Vedic vrtrahan-, which is predominantly an epithet of Indra. According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.
It was “a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements”, which borrowed “distinctive religious beliefs and practices” from the Bactria–Margiana Culture. At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma. According to Anthony,
Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with Soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from Ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.
The word vrtra-/verethra- means “obstacle”. Thus, vrtrahan-/verethragna- is the “smiter of resistance”. Vritra as such does not appear in either the Avesta or books of Zoroastrian tradition. Since the name ‘Indra’ appears in Zoroastrian texts as that of a demon opposing Truth. Zoroastrian tradition has separated both aspects of Indra.