Assyrians celebrate Akitu
An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun, which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. They are not exactly equal, however, due to the angular size of the sun and atmospheric refraction. To avoid this ambiguity, the word equilux is sometimes used to mean a day in which the durations of light and darkness are equal.
The equinoxes are the only times when the solar terminator (the “edge” between night and day) is perpendicular to the equator. As a result, the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated. In other words, the equinoxes are the only times when the subsolar point is on the equator, meaning that the Sun is exactly overhead at a point on the equatorial line. The subsolar point crosses the equator moving northward at the March equinox and southward at the September equinox.
The equinoxes, along with solstices, are directly related to the seasons of the year. In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox (March) conventionally marks the beginning of spring in most cultures and is considered the New Year in the Persian calendar or Iranian calendars as Nouroz (means new day), while the autumnal equinox (September) marks the beginning of autumn. In the southern hemisphere, the vernal equinox occurs in September and the autumnal equinox in March.
The point where the sun crosses the celestial equator northwards is called the First Point of Aries. However, due to the precession of the equinoxes, this point is no longer in the constellation Aries, but rather in Pisces. By the year 2600 it will be in Aquarius. Some Archeoastronomers and Astrologers believe that will be the start of the approximate 2,150 years of “the Age of Aquarius”, while others think it may have already started, and varying calculations in between).
The northward equinox passed from Taurus into Aries in the year −1865, passed into Pisces in the year −67, will pass into Aquarius in the year 2597, and will pass into Capricornus in the year 4312. It passed along (but not into) a ‘corner’ of Cetus on 0°10′ distance in the year 1489.
The Babylonian calendar began with the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the day after the Sumerian goddess Inanna’s return from the underworld (later known as Ishtar), in the Akitu ceremony, with parades through the Ishtar Gate to the Eanna temple, and the ritual re-enactment of the marriage to Tammuz, or Sumerian Dummuzi.
Spring equinox and fall (or autumn) equinox are colloquial names based on the seasons. However, these can be ambiguous since the northern hemisphere’s spring is the southern hemisphere’s autumn, and vice versa. The Latinate names vernal equinox (spring) and autumnal equinox (fall) are often used to the same effect.
March equinox and September equinox are names referring to the months of the year they occur, with no ambiguity as to which hemisphere is the context. They are still not universal, however, as not all cultures use a solar-based calendar where the equinoxes occur every year in the same month (as they do not in the Islamic calendar and Hebrew calendar, for example).
Northward equinox and southward equinox are names referring to the apparent direction of motion of the Sun. The northward equinox occurs in March when the sun crosses the equator from south to north, and the southward equinox occurs in September when the sun crosses the equator from north to south. These terms can be used unambiguously for other planets.
First Point of Aries and first point of Libra are names referring to the astrological signs the sun is entering. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, however, the constellations where the equinoxes are currently located are Pisces and Virgo, respectively.
Aratta – Urartu – Armenia
Aratta, the original home of the goddess Inanna (Akkadian: Ishtar), the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, is a land that appears in Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list.
Inanna has a central role in the myth of “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta”. A major theme in the narrative is the rivalry between the rulers of Aratta and Uruk for the heart of Inanna. Ultimately, this rivalry results in natural resources coming to Uruk and the invention of writing.
Aratta is described as a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them. It is remote and difficult to reach, but is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk.
Urartu, corresponding to the biblical Kingdom of Ararat or Kingdom of Van, was an Iron Age kingdom centered on Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands. The name is the Assyrian version of the Sumerian name Aratta.
“Urartu” is cognate with the Biblical “Ararat,” Akkadian “Urashtu,” and Armenian “Ayrarat.” The name used by the local population as a toponym was Biainili (or Biaineli), which forms the root of the Armenian Վան (“Van”), hence the names “Kingdom of Van (Bianili)” or “Vannic Kingdom.”
The landscape corresponds to the mountainous plateau between Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, the Iranian Plateau, and the Caucasus mountains, later known as the Armenian Highlands. Armin is a given name or surname, and is an ancient Zoroastrian given name in Persian, meaning Guardian of the Aryan land.
Asha is the Avestan language term (corresponding to Vedic language ṛta) for a concept of cardinal importance to Zoroastrian theology and doctrine. In the moral sphere, aša/arta represents what has been called “the decisive confessional concept of Zoroastrianism.”
The significance of the term is complex, with a highly nuanced range of meaning. It is commonly summarized in accord with its contextual implications of ‘truth’ and ‘right(eousness)’, ‘order’ and ‘right working’. Its Old Persian equivalent is arta-.[c] In Middle Iranian languages the term appears as ard-.[a]
The word is also the proper name of the divinity Asha, the Amesha Spenta that is the hypostasis or “genius” of “Truth” or “Righteousness”. The opposite of Avestan aša is druj, “lie.”
Scholars such as Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves Khaldini after their god Haldi (also known as Khaldi or Hayk). His shrine was at Ardini, known as Muṣaṣir (Akkadian for “Exit of the Serpent/Snake”) in Assyrian.
Hayk (also known as Haik Nahapet (“Hayk the Tribal Chief”) is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation. Hayk and Haig are connected to hay (հայ) and hayer (հայեր, the nominative plural in Modern Armenian), the self-designation of the Armenians.
The kingdom rose to power in the mid-9th century BC, but was conquered by Media in the early 6th century BC. The heirs of Urartu are the Armenians and their successive kingdoms.
It is argued on linguistic evidence that Proto-Armenian came in contact with Urartian at an early date (3rd-2nd millennium BC), before formation of Urartian kingdom.
Shubria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) was part of the Urartu confederation. Later, there is reference to a district in the area called Arme or Urme, which some scholars have linked to the name Armenia.
In the early 6th century BC, the Urartian Kingdom was replaced by the Armenian Orontid dynasty. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 521 or 520 BC by the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Assyrian is called Arminiya in Old Persian and Harminuia in Elamite.
Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The House of Heaven (Sumerian: E-Anna) temple in Uruk was the greatest of these, where sacred prostitution was a common practice. A Sacred Marriage to Inanna may have conferred legitimacy on a number of rulers of Uruk.
The deity of this fourth-millennium city was probably originally An. After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess. In addition, according to Leick 1994 persons of asexual or hermaphroditic bodies and feminine men were particularly involved in the worship and ritual practices of Inanna’s temples.
The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox. 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.
According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival.
It has been suggested that Inanna originally may have been related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”), accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities.
Hannahannah was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat, the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living” and “Queen of the deities”. In the Hurrian language Hepa is the most likely pronunciation of the name of the goddess. In modern literature the sound /h/ in cuneiform sometimes is transliterated as kh. During Aramaean times Hebat also appears to have become identified with the goddess Hawwah, or Eve.
The Hittite sun goddess Arinniti was later assimilated with Hebat. A prayer of Queen Puduhepa makes this explicit: “To the Sun-goddess of Arinna, my lady, the mistress of the Hatti lands, the queen of Heaven and Earth. Sun-goddess of Arinna, thou art Queen of all countries! In the Hatti country thou bearest the name of the Sun-goddess of Arinna; but in the land which thou madest the cedar land thou bearest the name Hebat.”
The mother goddess is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian goddess Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”), who was an originally Anatolian mother goddess; she has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük, where the statue of a pregnant, seated goddess was found in a granary dated to the 6th millennium BCE.
Cybele was Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BCE.
In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the Harvest-Mother goddess Demeter. Uniquely in Greek religion, she had a transgender or eunuch mendicant priesthood. Many of her Greek cults included rites to a divine Phrygian castrate shepherd-consort Attis.
In Greece she was associated with mountains, town and city walls, fertile nature, and wild animals, especially lions. Some city-states, notably Athens, evoked her as a protector, but her most celebrated Greek rites and processions show her as an essentially foreign, exotic mystery-goddess who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following.
Hursag (transcribed cuneiform: ḫur.saḡ(HUR.SAG)) is a Sumerian term variously translated as meaning “mountain”, “hill”, “foothills” or “piedmont”. Thorkild Jacobsen extrapolated the translation in his later career to mean literally, “head of the valleys”.
Mountains play a certain role in Mesopotamian mythology and Assyro-Babylonian religion, associated with deities such as Anu, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag. Some scholars also identify hursag with an undefined mountain range or strip of raised land outside the plain of Mesopotamia.
In a myth variously entitled by Samuel Noah Kramer as “The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and later Ninurta Myth Lugal-e by Thorkild Jacobsen, Hursag is described as a mound of stones constructed by Ninurta after his defeat of a demon called Asag.
Ninurta’s mother Ninlil (“lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, the consort goddess of Enlil, visits the location after this great victory. In return for her love and loyalty, Ninurta gives Ninlil the hursag as a gift. Her name is consequentially changed from Ninlil to Ninhursag or the “mistress of the Hursag”.
The hursag is described here in a clear cultural myth as a high wall, levee, dam or floodbank, used to restrain the excess mountain waters and floods caused by the melting snow and spring rain. The hursag is constructed with Ninurta’s skills in irrigation engineering and employed to improve the agriculture of the surrounding lands, farms and gardens where the water had previously been wasted.
In Sumerian mythology, Ninhursag (“lady of the sacred mountain”, from Sumerian NIN “lady” and HAR.SAG “sacred mountain, foothill”), was a mother goddess of the mountains. She is principally a fertility goddess. Temple hymn sources identify her as the ‘true and great lady of heaven’ (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were ‘nourished by Ninhursag’s milk’. She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders.
As the wife and consort of Enki, Ninhursag was referred to as Damgulanna (great wife of heaven) or Damkina (faithful wife). She had many epithets includingshassuru or ‘womb goddess’, tabsut ili ‘midwife of the gods’, ‘mother of all children’ and ‘mother of the gods’. In this role she is identified with Ki in the Enuma Elish. She had shrines in both Eridu and Kish.
Her hair is sometimes depicted in an omega shape, and she at times wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders, and not infrequently carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash.
Her symbol, resembling the Greek letter omega Ω, has been depicted in art from around 3000 BC, though more generally from the early second millennium BC. It appears on some boundary stones — on the upper tier, indicating her importance.
The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor (meaning “mansion of Horus”), an Ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood, and may represent a stylized womb. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.
Hathor was worshiped by royalty and common people alike in whose tombs she is depicted as “Mistress of the West” welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles she was a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands and fertility who helped women in childbirth, as well as the patron goddess of miners. The Ancient Greeks sometimes identified Hathor with the goddess Aphrodite, while in Roman mythology she corresponds to Venus.
In a complicated relationship Hathor is at times the mother, daughter and wife of Ra and, like Isis (original Egyptian pronunciation more likely “Aset” or “Iset”), is at times described as the mother of Horus, the falcon-headed deity associated with king and kingship, and associated with Bast. The popular motif of Isis suckling her son Horus lived on in a Christianized context as the popular image of Mary suckling her infant son Jesus from the fifth century onward.
The egg-symbol was used in Isis’ name. The egg-symbol always represented motherhood, implying a maternal role of Isis. Her name could mean “mother goddess”, pointing to her later, mythological role as the mother of Horus. But this remains problematic, too: the initial mother-goddess of Horus was Hathor, not Isis.
The first secure references to Isis date back to the 5th dynasty, when her name appears in the sun temple of king Niuserre and on the statue of a priest named Pepi-Ankh, who worshipped at the very beginning of 6th dynasty and bore the title “high priest of Isis and Hathor”.
After she assimilated many of the roles of Hathor, Isis’s headdress was replaced with that of Hathor: the horns of a cow on her head, with the solar disk between them, and often with her original throne symbol atop the solar disk. Sometimes she also is represented as a cow, or with a cow’s head.
Isis was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the patroness of nature and magic. She was the friend ofslaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, but she also listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats and rulers. Isis is also known as protector of the dead and goddess of children.
The name Isis means “Throne”. Her headdress is a throne. As the personification of the throne, she was an important representation of the pharaoh’s power. The pharaoh was depicted as her child, who sat on the throne she provided.
In the typical form of her myth, Isis was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, goddess of the Sky, and she was born on the fourth intercalary day. She married her brother, Osiris, and she conceived Horus with him. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Set. Using her magical skills, she restored his body to life after having gathered the body parts that had been strewn about the earth by Set.
The cult of Osiris promised eternal life to those deemed morally worthy. Originally the justified dead, male or female, became an Osiris but by early Roman times females became identified with Hathor and men with Osiris.
Hathor is commonly depicted as a cow goddess with horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus (plural Uraei or Uraeuses; from the Greek ouraîos, “on its tail”; from Egyptian jʿr.t (iaret), “rearing cobra”), the stylized, upright form of an Egyptian cobra (asp, serpent, or snake), used as a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority in ancient Egypt.
The Uraeus is a symbol for the goddess Wadjet, who was one of the earliest Egyptian deities and who often was depicted as a cobra. The center of her cult was in Per-Wadjet, later called Buto by the Greeks. She became the patroness of the Nile Delta and the protector of all of Lower Egypt.
The pharaohs wore the Uraeus as a head ornament: either with the body of Wadjet atop the head, or as a crown encircling the head; this indicated Wadjet’s protection and reinforced the pharaoh’s claim over the land.
In whatever manner that the Uraeus was displayed upon the pharaoh’s head, it was, in effect, part of the pharaoh’s crown. The pharaoh was recognized only by wearing the Uraeus, which conveyed legitimacy to the ruler.
There is evidence for this tradition even in the Old Kingdom during the third millennium BCE. Several goddesses associated with or being considered aspects of Wadjet are depicted wearing the Uraeus also.
At the time of the unification of Egypt, the image of Nekhbet, who was represented as a white vulture and held the same position as the patron of Upper Egypt, joined the image of Wadjet on the Uraeus that would encircle the crown of the pharaohs who ruled the unified Egypt. The importance of their separate cults kept them from becoming merged as with so many Egyptian deities. Together, they were known as The Two Ladies, who became the joint protectors and patrons of the unified Egypt.
Later, the pharaohs were seen as a manifestation of the sun god Ra, and so it also was believed that the Uraeus protected them by spitting fire on their enemies from the fiery eye of the goddess.
In some mythological works, the eyes of Ra are said to be uraei. Wadjets existed long before the rise of this cult when they originated as the eye of Wadjet as cobra and are the name of the symbols also called the Eye of the Moon, Eye of Hathor, the Eye of Horus, and the Eye of Ra—depending upon the dates of the references to the symbols.
As the Uraeus was seen as a royal symbol, the deities Horus and Set were also depicted wearing the symbol on their crowns. In early ancient Egyptian mythology, Horus would have been the name given to any king as part of the many titles taken, being identified as the son of the goddess.
According to the later mythology of Re, the first Uraeus was said to have been created by the goddess Isis, who formed it from the dust of the earth and the spittle of the then-current sun deity. In this version of the mythology, the Uraeus was the instrument with which Isis gained the throne of Egypt for Osiris. Isis is associated with and may be considered an aspect of Wadjet.
In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest works of literature, the goddess Ishtar sends Gugalanna (Sumerian: gu.gal.an.na, “the Great Bull of Heaven”), better known as the Bull of Heaven (Sumerian: gu.an.na), to kill Gilgamesh for rejecting her sexual advances. He refused marriage to Inanna on the grounds of her misalliance with such kings as Lugalbanda and Damuzi.
Gugalanna, a Sumerian deity as well as the constellation known today as Taurus, one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, was slain and dismembered by Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu. Inanna looked down from the city walls and Enkidu shook the haunches of the bull at her, threatening to do the same if he ever caught her. He is later killed for this impiety.
Some locate Gilgamesh as the neighboring constellation of Orion, facing Taurus as if in combat, while others identify him with the sun whose rising on the equinox vanquishes the constellation.
In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, is an open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. The celestial entity has several meanings in different cultures and traditions.
The Pleiades were closest to the Sun at vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC. The name “seven sisters” has been used for the Pleiades in the languages of many cultures, including indigenous groups of Australia, North America and Siberia. This suggests that the name may have a common ancient origin.
In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN as GU.AN.NA, “The Bull of Heaven”. As this constellation marked the vernal equinox, it was also the first constellation in the Babylonian zodiac and they described it as “The Bull in Front”. The Akkadian name was Alu.
Tammuz (Sumerian: Dumuzid (DUMU.ZI(D), “faithful or true son”) was the name of a Sumerian god of food and vegetation, also worshiped in the later Mesopotamian states. Recent discoveries reconfirm him as an annual life-death-rebirth deity: tablets discovered in 1963 show 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 Babylonia, the month Tammuz was established in honor of the eponymous god Tammuz, who originated as a Sumerian shepherd-god, Dumuzi, the consort of Inanna and, in his Akkadian form, the parallel consort of Ishtar.
Beginning with the summer solstice came a time of mourning in the Ancient Near East, as in the Aegean: the Babylonians marked the decline in daylight hours and the onset of killing summer heat and drought with a six-day “funeral” for the god.
Today several versions of the Sumerian death of Dumuzi have been recovered, “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld”, “Dumuzi’s dream” and “Dumuzi and thegalla”, as well as a tablet separately recounting Dumuzi’s death, mourned by holy Inanna, and his noble sister Geštinanna, and even his dog and the lambs and kids in his fold; Dumuzi himself is weeping at the hard fate in store for him, after he had walked among men, and the cruel galla of the Underworld seize him.
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.
Modern scholarship often describes Adonis, a deity of rebirth and vegetation, as an annually-renewed, ever-youthful vegetation god, a life-death-rebirth deity whose nature is tied to the calendar.
The dying of Adonis was fully developed in the circle of young girls around the poet Sappho from the island of Lesbos, about 600 BC, as revealed in a fragment of Sappho’s surviving poetry.
Syrian Adonis is Gauas or Aos, akin to Egyptian Osiris, the Semitic Tammuz and Baal Hadad, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, all of whom are deities of rebirth and vegetation.
It is quite possible that among other Judeans the Tammuz cult was not regarded as inconsistent with Yahwism. The Church Father Jerome, who died in Bethlehem in 420, reported that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem 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.
Others, 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. The Christians who took over this pagan centre giving a precedent later for the many early churches in Europe and America being built on the sites of pagan temples.
Instead of originating with Jesus and Christianity, the shrine began with the cult of Adonis-Tammuz. Indeed, the actual existence of Adonis worship in Bethlehem can’t be disputed. It is just a matter of when it took place – before or after the birth of Jesus. Yet the fact that the Church of the Nativity, the oldest continuously used Christian place of worship in the world, covers the site of a former temple to Adonis, is seldom mentioned.
The church’s importance is because as well as safeguarding the alleged birthplace of Jesus it is the sole major church now in the Holy Land that survives intact from the early Christian period. This ancient basilica was built by Empress Helena, the devout mother of Emperor Constantine after she travelled from Rome and started turning this eastern corner of the Mediterranean into the Holy Land.
Taurus marked the point of vernal (spring) equinox in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, from about 4000 BC to 1700 BC, after which it moved into the neighboring constellation Aries.
Aries was originally defined in ancient texts as a specific pattern of stars, and has remained a constellation since ancient times; it now includes the ancient pattern as well as the surrounding stars. In the description of the Babylonian zodiac given in the clay tablets known as the MUL.APIN, a comprehensive table of the risings and settings of stars, which likely served as an agricultural calendar, the constellation now known as Aries was the final station along the ecliptic.
Modern-day Aries was known as LÚ.ḪUN.GÁ, “The Agrarian Worker” or “The Hired Man”. Although likely compiled in the 12th or 11th century BC, the MUL.APIN reflects a tradition which marks the Pleiades as the vernal equinox, which was the case with some precision at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age.
The earliest identifiable reference to Aries as a distinct constellation comes from the boundary stones that date from 1350 to 1000 BC. On several boundary stones, a zodiacal ram figure is distinct from the other characters present.
The shift in identification from the constellation as the Agrarian Worker to the Ram likely occurred in later Babylonian tradition because of its growing association with Dumuzi the Shepherd. By the time the MUL.APIN was created—by 1000 BC—modern Aries was identified with both Dumuzi’s ram and a hired laborer. The exact timing of this shift is difficult to determine due to the lack of images of Aries or other ram figures.
In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, who was depicted as a man with a ram’s head and represented fertility and creativity. Because it was the location of the vernal equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun”.
During the times of the year when Aries was prominent, priests would process statues of Amon-Ra to temples, a practice that was modified by Persian astronomers centuries later. Aries acquired the title of “Lord of the Head” in Egypt, referring to its symbolic and mythological importance.
Historically, Aries has been depicted as a crouched, wingless ram with its head turned towards Taurus. Ptolemy asserted in his Almagest that Hipparchus depicted Alpha Arietis as the ram’s muzzle, though Ptolemy did not include it in his constellation figure.
Instead, it was listed as an “unformed star”, and denoted as “the star over the head”. John Flamsteed, in his Atlas Coelestis, followed Ptolemy’s description by mapping it above the figure’s head. Flamsteed followed the general convention of maps by depicting Aries lying down.
Astrologically, Aries has been associated with the head and its humors. It was strongly associated with Mars, both the planet and the god. It was considered to govern Western Europe and Syria, and to indicate a strong temper in a person.
The First Point of Aries, the location of the vernal equinox, is named for the constellation. This is because the Sun crossed the celestial equator from south to north in Aries more than two millennia ago. Hipparchus defined it in 130 BC. as a point south of Gamma Arietis.
Because of the precession of the equinoxes, the First Point of Aries has since moved into Pisces and will move into Aquarius by around 2600 AD. The Sun now appears in Aries from late April through mid May, though the constellation is still associated with the beginning of spring.
Medieval Muslim astronomers depicted Aries in various ways. Astronomers like al-Sufi saw the constellation as a ram, modeled on the precedent of Ptolemy. However, some Islamic celestial globes depicted Aries as a nondescript four-legged animal with what may be antlers instead of horns. Some early Bedouin observers saw a ram elsewhere in the sky; this constellation featured the Pleiades as the ram’s tail.
The generally accepted Arabic formation of Aries consisted of thirteen stars in a figure along with five “unformed” stars, four of which were over the animal’s hindquarters and one of which was the disputed star over Aries’s head.
Telipinu (Cuneiform: dTe(-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.
Telepinu was a son of the weather god Teššub and the solar goddess Arinniti according to their mythology. His wife was the goddess Hatepuna, though he was also paired with Šepuru and Kašḫa at various cultic centres. Her Name originates in Hattic ha, “sea”, and puna, “child”. She is the daughter of the sea god and becomes the wife of Telipinu because of the rescue of Istanu. Hannahannah 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.
Istanu (Ištanu; from Hattic Estan, “Sun-god”) was the Hittite and Hattic god of the sun. In Luwian he was known as Tiwaz or Tijaz. He was a god of judgement, and was depicted bearing a winged sun on his crown or head-dress, and a crooked staff.
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 finds Telepinu, and then purifies and strengthens him by stinging his hands and feet and wiping his eyes and feet with wax. When the bee does that 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, from which nothing escapes.
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.
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. 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 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.
Tiamat 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.
Akitu – Purulli
Akitu (lit. “the barley-cutting”, akiti-šununum, lit. “barley-sowing”; Akkadian: akitu orrêš-šattim, “head of the year”) was a spring festival in ancient Mesopotamia, which has played a pivotal role in the development of theories of religion, myth and ritual.
The name is from the Sumerian for “barley”, originally marking two festivals celebrating the beginning of each of the two half-years of the Sumerian calendar, marking the sowing of barley in autumn and the cutting of barley in spring. In Babylonian religion it came to be dedicated to Marduk’s victory over Tiamat.
The corresponding festival is the Purulli festival, a Hattian spring festival held at Nerik dedicated to the earth goddess Hannahanna, who is married to a new king. The central ritual of the festival is dedicated to the destruction of the dragon Illuyanka by the storm god Teshub.
Illuyanka is probably a compound, consisting of two words for “snake”, Proto-Indo-European *hillu- and *heng(w)eh-. The same compound members, inverted, appear in Latin anguilla “eel”. The *hillu- word is cognate to English eel, the anka- word to Sanskrit ahi. Also this dragon is known as Illujanka and Illuyankas.
In the first version of the myth, the two gods fight and Illuyanka wins. Teshub then goes to the Hittite–Hurrian goddess Inara, the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe, for advice.
Inara is the daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt and Hebat, who is the mother of Sarruma and Alanzu, as well mother-in-law of the daughter of the dragon Illuyanka.
Teshub asks Inara to give a feast, most probably the Purulli festival. Inara decides to use the feast to lure and defeat Illuyanka, who was her father’s archenemy.
After Inara consulted with Hannahannah, she gave her a man and land. Inara enlists the aid of a mortal named Hupasiyas of Zigaratta by becoming his lover. Having promised her love to a mortal in return for his help, she devises a trap for the dragon. She goes to him with large quantities of food and drink, and entices him to drink his fill.
The dragon and his family gorge themselves on the fare at the feast, becoming quite drunk, which allows Hupasiyas to tie a rope around them. Inara’s father can then kill Illuyanka, thereby preserving creation.
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.
Inara then disappears. 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. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahannah with a bee.
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.
The story of Hannahanna and Inara resembles that of the harvest goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, also called Kore or Cora (“the maiden”), in Greek myth.
In the second version, after the two gods fight and Teshub loses, Illuyanka takes Teshub’s eyes and heart. To avenge himself upon the dragon he marries the goddess Hebat, daughter of a mortal named Arm. They have a son, Sarruma, who grows up and marries the daughter of the dragon Illuyanka.
Teshub tells his son to ask for the return of his eyes and heart as a wedding gift, and he does so. His eyes and heart restored, Teshub goes to face the dragon Illuyanka once more. At the point of vanquishing the dragon, Sarruma finds out about the battle and realizes that he had been used for this purpose. He demands that his father take his life along with Illuyanka’s, and so Teshub kills them both with thundery rain and lightning.
The Hittite texts were introduced in 1930 by W. Porzig, who first made the comparison of Teshub’s battle with Illuyankas with the sky-god Zeus’ battle with serpent-like Typhon, told in Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke (I.6.3).
Inara corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women.
Artemis was often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later times she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth.
Some scholars believe that the name, and indeed the goddess herself, was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: “Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals”.
Her Roman equivalent is Diana, the goddess of the hunt, the moon and childbirth, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. As with Artemis, Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos, daughter of Jupiter/Zeus and Latona/Leto.
Nowruz (literally “New Day”) is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians. Zarathushtrian celebrations are closely linked to agricultural cycles and seasonal changes.
In his timeless ecological message, Zarathushtra taught respect for Ahura Mazda’s creations (humans, animals, and plants) and elements (sun, earth, fire, and water) emphasizing the harmony between man and nature. Thousands of years later, this message is still relevant as we continue to recognize our environmental responsibility and the critical role we play as trustees of this precious earth.
In the second chapter of the Vendidad of the Avesta, the omniscient Creator Ahura Mazda asks Yima, a good shepherd, to receive his law and bring it to men. However, Yima refuses, and so Ahura Mazda charges him with a different mission: to rule over and nourish the earth, to see that the living things prosper. This Yima accepts, and Ahura Mazda presents him with a golden seal and a dagger inlaid with gold.
Over time, the Avestan hero Yima Xšaēta became the world-ruling Shāh Jamshid of Persian legend and mythology. According to the epic Persian poem, the ShahNameh, the tradition of Nowruz was created by King Jamshid. After a series of harsh and severe winters, King Jamshid, the mythological king of Persia, celebrated the arrival of spring for his subjects with great abundance and joy and thus the celebration of Nowruz became an annual event.
Jamshid ascended to the throne on this day and each year this is commemorated with festivities for two weeks. It is said that King Jamshid’s rule which lasted for several hundred years, was a glorious one of prosperity and happiness.
The name Jamshid is originally a compound of two parts, Jam and shid, corresponding to the Avestan names Yima andXšaēta, derived from the proto-Iranian *Yamah Xšaitah. Yamah and the related Sanskrit Yama are interpreted as “the twin,” perhaps reflecting an Indo-Iranian belief in a primordial Yama and Yami pair. By regular sound changes (y → j, and the loss of the final syllable) Avestan Yima became Middle Persian Jam, which was subsequently continued into New Persian.
There are also a few functional parallels between Avestan Yima and Sanskrit Yama, for instance, Yima was the son of Vivaŋhat, who in turn corresponds to the Vedic Vivasvat, “he who shines out”, a divinity of the Sun. Both Yamas in Iranian and Indian myth guard Hell with the help of two four-eyed dogs.
Xšaitah meant “bright, shining” or “radiant” and is probably cognate with the Sanskrit word “Shrestha”. By regular sound changes (initial xš → š (sh); ai → ē; t → d between vowels; and dropping of the final syllable) xšaitah became Persian shēd or shid. In the Western Iranian languages such as Persian, the vowel /ē/ is pronounced as /i/.
Consequently, Jamshēd, as is pronounced in Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan is now pronounced Jamshid in Iran. The suffix -shid is the same as that found in other names such as khorshid (“the Sun” from Avestan hvarə-xšaēta “radiant Sun”).
According to the ancient Persian mythology these festivities recall the story of creation and the ancient cosmology of Iranian and Persian people. Nowruz did not end with Jamshid’s passing, but rather was strengthened through the centuries to become the all encompassing and glorious celebration of rebirth and renewal that it is today.
Although having Persian and religious Zoroastrian origins, Nowruz has been celebrated by people from diverse ethno-linguistic communities for thousands of years. Nowruz is also a holy day for Sufi Muslims, Bektashis, Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis, Babis and adherents of the Bahá’í Faith. It has been celebrated for over 3,000 years in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Western Asia.
It marks the first day of Farvardin in the Iranian calendar. It is the name of the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by Iranian people, along with some other ethno-linguistic groups, as the beginning of the Iranian New Year.
The first day on the Iranian calendar falls on the March equinox, the first day of spring, around 20 March. At the time of the equinox, the sun is observed to be directly over the equator, and the north and south poles of the Earth lie along the solar terminator; sunlight is evenly divided between the north and south hemispheres.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union Iran was the only country that officially observed the ceremonies of Nowruz. When the Central Asian and Caucasus countries gained independence from the Soviets, they also declared Nowruz as a national holiday. The UN’s General Assembly in 2010 recognized the International Day of Nowruz, describing it as a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years.
Nowruz is partly rooted in the religious tradition of Iranian religions such as Zoroastrianism or even older in tradition of Mitraism because in Mitraism festivals had a deep linkage with the sun light. The Persian festivals of Yalda (longest night) and Mehregan (autumnal equinox) and Tiregān (longest day) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya).
The term Nowruz in writing first appeared in historical Persian records in the 2nd century CE, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c. 550–330 BCE), where kings from different nations under the Persian Empire used to bring gifts to the Emperor, also called King of Kings (Shahanshah), of Persia on Nowruz.
The significance of Nowruz in the Achaemenid Empire was such that the great Persian king Cambyses II’s appointment as the king of Babylon was legitimized only after his participation in the New Year festival (Nowruz).
Since the Achaemenid era the official year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox.
In around the 11th century CE major reforms of the Iranian calendars took place and whose principal purpose was to fix the beginning of the calendar year, i.e. Nowrūz, at the vernal equinox.
Accordingly, the definition of Nowruz given by the Iranian scientist Ṭūsī was the following: “the first day of the official new year [Nowruz] was always the day on which the sun entered Aries before noon”.
Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day, depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and persian families gather together to perform their rituals.
Although it is not clear whether proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar there are indications that both Iranians and Indians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, respectively, for the celebration of New Year.
Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been a seasonal one, and related to agriculture, it is probable, that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year.
Boyce and Grenet explain the traditions for seasonal festivals and comment: “It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Persians to develop their own spring festival into an established new year feast, with the name Navasarda ‘New Year’ (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period).
The modern English term Easter, cognate with modern German Ostern, developed from an Old English word that usually appears in the form Ēastrun, -on, or -an; but also as Ēastru, -o; and Ēastre or Ēostre.
The most widely accepted theory of the origin of the term is that it is derived from the name of a goddess mentioned by the 7th to 8th-century English monk Bede, who wrote that Ēosturmōnaþ (Old English ‘Month of Ēostre’, translated in Bede’s time as “Paschal month”) was an English month, corresponding to April, which he says “was once called after a goddess of theirs named Ēostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month”.
Ēostre or Ostara (Old English: Ēastre, Old High German: *Ôstara) is a Germanic divinity who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter.
She is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre’s honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.
By way of linguistic reconstruction, the matter of a goddess called *Austrō in the Proto-Germanic language has been examined in detail since the foundation of Germanic philology in the 19th century by scholar Jacob Grimm and others.
As the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), historical linguists have traced the name to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *Hewsṓs (→ *Ausṓs), one of the most important goddesses of reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion, from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend.
Additionally, scholars have linked the goddess’s name to a variety of Germanic personal names, a series of location names (toponyms) in England, and, discovered in 1958, over 150 2nd century BCE inscriptions referring to the matronae Austriahenae. Theories connecting Ēostre with records of Germanic Easter customs, including hares and eggs, have been proposed.
Hewsōs (PIE *hewsṓs- or *hausōs-, an s-stem) is the personification of dawn as a beautiful young woman. Derivatives of *hewsṓs in the historical mythologies of Indo-European peoples include Indian Uṣas, Greek Ēōs, Latin Aurōra, and Baltic Aušra (“dawn”, c.f. Lithuanian Aušrinė). Germanic *Austrōn- is from an extended stem *hews-tro-.
The name *h₂ewsṓs is derived from a root *hwes / *au̯es “to shine”, thus translating to “the shining one”. Both the English word east and the Latin auster “south” are from a root cognate adjective *aws-t(e)ro-. Also cognate is aurum “gold”, from *awso-.
The name for “spring season”, *wes-r- is also from the same root. The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring, involved in the mythology of the Indo-European new year, where the dawn goddess is liberated from imprisonment by a god (reflected in the Rigveda as Indra, in Greek mythology as Dionysus and Cronus).
Besides the name most amenable to reconstruction, *h₂ewsṓs, a number of epithets of the dawn goddess may be reconstructed with some certainty. Among these is *wenos- (also an s-stem), whence Sanskrit vanas “loveliness; desire”, used of Uṣas in the Rigveda, and the Latin name Venus and the Norse Vanir. The name indicates that the goddess was imagined as a beautiful nubile woman, who also had aspects of a love goddess.
The Dísablót appears to have been held during Winter Nights, or at the vernal equinox. The Dísablót was the blót (sacrificial holiday) which was held in honour of the female spirits or deities called dísir (and the Valkyries), from pre-historic times until the Christianization of Scandinavia. Its purpose was to enhance the coming harvest. The celebration still lives on in the form of an annual fair called the Disting in Uppsala, Sweden.
In one version of Hervarar saga, there is a description of how the sacrifice was performed. Alfhildr, the daughter of king Alfr of Alfheim, was kidnapped by Starkad Aludreng while she was reddening a horgr with blood. This suggests that the rite was performed by women, especially in light of what is generally believed to be their nearly exclusive role as priestesses of the pagan Germanic religion. However, according to the Ynglinga saga part of theHeimskringla, the king of Sweden performed the rites, which was in accordance with his role as high priest of theTemple at Uppsala.
In Sweden, the Dísablót was of central political and social importance. The festivities were held at the end of February or early March at Gamla Uppsala. It was held in conjunction with the great fair Disting and the great popular assembly called the Thing of all Swedes.
The Scandinavian dísablót is associated with the Anglo-Saxon modranect (“mothers’ night”), an event held at what is now Christmas Eve by the Anglo-Saxon Pagans where a sacrifice may have been made, by Gabriel Turville-Petre. The Anglo-Saxon month roughly equivalent to November was called blot-monath.
Scholars have proposed connections between the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht and events attested among other Germanic peoples (specifically those involving the dísir, collective female beings, and Yule) and the Germanic Matres and Matrones, female beings attested by way of altar and votive inscriptions, nearly always appearing in trios.
The number of references to the Disir ranging from the Merseburg Charms to many instances in Norse mythology indicate that they were considered vital deities to worship and that they were primary focus of prayers (e.g. the charms) for luck against enemies in war.
Easter and Passover
Easter, also called Pasch, or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
The week before Easter is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
In western Christianity, Eastertide, the Easter Season, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts seven weeks, ending with the coming of the fiftieth day, Pentecost Sunday. In Orthodoxy, the season of Pascha begins on Pascha and ends with the coming of the fortieth day, the Feast of the Ascension.
Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars which follow only the cycle of the sun; rather, its date is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar.
The First Council of Nicaea (325) established two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, which were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the council. No details for the computation were specified; these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies.
It has come to be the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March, the day of the official church definition for the equinox, but calculations vary in East and West. Details of this complicated computation are found below in the section Date.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches use the older Julian calendar, while the western churches use the Gregorian calendar, and the western full moons currently fall four, five or 34 days before the eastern ones. The result is that the two Easters generally fall on different days but they sometimes coincide. The earliest possible Easter date in any year is March 22 on each calendar. The latest possible Easter date in any year is April 25.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover, which usually falls on the first full moon after the northern hemisphere vernal equinox, although occasionally (currently three times every 19 years) it will occur on the second full moon, by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are identical or very similar.
Easter customs vary across the Christian world, and include sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church, and decorating Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb. The Easter lily, a symbol of the resurrection, traditionally decorates the chancel area of churches on this day and for the rest of Eastertide.
Additional customs that have become associated with Easter and are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades. There are also various traditional Easter foods that vary regionally.
In Greek and Latin, the Christian celebration was and is called Pascha, a word derived from Aramaic cognate to Hebrew Pesach. The word originally denoted the Jewish festival, known in English as Passover, commemorating the story of the Exodus, the founding, or etiological, myth of Israel; its message is that the Israelites were delivered from slavery by Yahweh and therefore belong to him through the Mosaic covenant.
Already in the 50s of the 1st century, Paul, writing from Ephesus to the Christians in Corinth, applied the term to Christ, and it is unlikely that the Ephesian and Corinthian Christians were the first to hear Exodus 12 interpreted as speaking about the death of Jesus, not just about the Jewish Passover ritual.
In most of the non-English speaking world, the feast is known by names derived from Greek and Latin Pascha. Pascha is also a name by which Jesus himself is remembered in the Orthodox Church, especially in connection with his resurrection and with the season of its celebration.