Hittite Mythology: The Top Deities
Posted by Fredsvenn on May 31, 2016
The Hittite Empire spread throughout Anatolia, covering a large part of what is now Turkey and Syria as well as some parts far eastward and southward of there (accounts vary). The scarce remains of the texts regarding the deities worshipped by the Hittites are tantalizingly fragmentary but reflect and/or influenced myths from Mesopotamia across the west to ancient Greece and south to Canaanite territory.
ARANZAH – The god of the body of water that bore his name – the Aranzah River. The Aranzah is better known as the Tigris, which begins its journey southward from the Taurus Mountains in what is now eastern Turkey. This deity was a brother of the storm god Tarhun (Teshub to the Hurrians) and like him was born in the belly of the god Kumarbi.
ISTUSTAYA and PAPAYA – The Hittite goddesses of destiny. The two deities sat by the shores of the Black Sea where they would spin the threads that are each mortal’s destiny, taking special care with the fates of kings. The two left their seaside location only for special occassions like conferences of all the gods. Collectively the two were called the Gulses by the Hittites and the Hutena by the Hurrians. The ancient Greeks added a third to their number and called them the Morae (Fates).
JARRI – The god of disease and infestations of insects and rodents. Jarri was armed with a bow that shot arrows which each contained a specific disease.
SHARRUMA – The god who rules over the mountain which bears his name. He was the son of the storm god Tarhun (called Teshub by the Hurrians)
HAHHIMA – The evil god of winter and cold weather. His weapons were frost, snow, sleet and hail. When the other gods are searching for Istanu the missing sun god Hahhima impedes their efforts to the best of his ability.
SANDAN – The Hittite lion god. He gained his lordship over lions by defeating so many of them in combat and wore the fur of his first leonine victim ( a horned lion) as a cloak. Originally a demigod Sandan became a full deity after he died and was burned on a pyre. Representations of Sandan were often used to decorate funeral pyres, especially for those deemed to have died heroically. Ceremonial depictions of the deity presented him at the center of small pyres which were then set on fire. Elements of the Greek Herakles seem based on Sandan, especially his slaying of the Nemean lion, cloak of lion fur and ascension to full godhood after being burned on a pyre.
ISHARA – The goddess of contracts, treaties, vows and oaths. Etymologically her name came from words referring to binding. Ishara’s children were the Sebitti, the seven stars known to us as the Pleiades. The Sebitti were battle-deities to the Hittites and accompanied their father Zababa the god of war into combat.
A’AS – The Hittite equivalent of the earlier Akkadian deity Ea (called Enki by the Sumerians). A’as was the god of wisdom and is an important figure in the cycle of myths involving the succession to the kingship of the gods in Hittite mythology. A’as often advises the deities who seek to overthrow the reigning king of the heavens and assume the throne themselves. Deities who took the crown but then disrespected A’as would be brought down themselves by the wise god’s schemes. A’as was also the deity who calculated how the storm god Tarhun could defeat the stone giant Ullikummi.
HAPANTALI – The shepherd goddess. Hapantali looked after the sheep of the sun god Istanu. In another famous myth she aided the fallen moon god Kaskuh when he toppled from the sky.
UBELLURIS – Often called “the Hittite Atlas”. The Hurrians called him Upelluri. Ubelluris carried the Earth and the sky above it on one shoulder while contemplating the universe and dreaming. The primordial gods built the Netherworld, the Earth and the sky on his muscular shoulders, trusting to his massive strength and his sedate, meditative nature to make for a steady foundation.
Ubelluris was also regarded as the god of dreams and ancient artwork depicting him with one hand on his chin while supporting the Earth on his shoulder are sometimes said to have inspired Rodin’s The Thinker. This line of argument goes that Rodin wanted it to represent the pagan god Ubelluris in Dante’s version of Hell. On the deity’s other shoulder the subterranean gods loyal to the fallen Kumarbi hid Kumarbi’s son Ullikummi, furtively raising him until the day he was an adult and could challenge Tarhun for the throne of the gods.
HASAMELI – The Hittite god of forges and metal-working. He once advised King Mursili II to use smoke generated by a forge or smithery as camouflage in an attack by his army on the forces of King Uhhaziti of Arzawa.
KHIPA – Possibly a forerunner of the goddess Cybele. Khipa – also known as Khebe – was the tutelary goddess referred to so enigmatically in the surviving fragments of the Hittite myths. Her association with lions has fueled speculation that she was the mate of the lion god Sandan and may have foreshadowed Hebe in Greek myths.
HATEPUNA – This daughter of the sea god was also the patron goddess of the Hittite city of Maliluha. Hatepuna was believed to be the goddess of one of the lakes in Anatolia but accounts vary as to which one and the records are too fragmentary to be conclusive. She married the vegetation and agriculture god Telipinu, son of the storm god Tarhun (Teshub to the Hurrians).
ARUNA – The Hittite god of the sea. Elements of his myths may have been influenced (or vice versa) by the Hindu god of the waters named Varuna. Aruna was the son of Kamrusepa, the goddess of medicine and magic. His daughter married the vegetation god Telipinu.
HANWASUIT – The goddess of the throne and other implements of Hittite kingship. Mortal kings derived their divine right to rule specifically from this goddess.
LELWANI – The goddess who ruled over the subterranean land of the dead and was thus answerable to Kumarbi, the deity who ruled over all of the undergound realms. Charnel houses and mausoleums were sacred to her. Like the death goddess Milu in Hawaiian mythology Lelwani was originally considered a god but over time became referred to as a goddess. The Hurrian name for Lelwani was Allani. A fragment of one tablet recounts a myth about Lelwani hosting a lavish banquet in the Netherworld for the visiting storm god Tarhun. Not enough of the story survives to see if it paralleled the myth of the Canaanite storm god Baal’s journey to and subsequent captivity after eating a meal in the Netherworld.
ALALU – The oldest- mentioned king of the gods in Hittite myths. He was the father of the god Kumarbi. After nine years of ruling the deities Alalu was overthrown by the god Anu, derived from the Sumerian deity of the same name. Anu was a sky god who also influenced the name and mythology surrounding the god Uranus (ur- anu – s), father of the Titans in Greek myths. After his defeat Alalu retreated to the land beneaath the Earth. Anu was castrated and overthrown by Kumarbi, the son of Alalu.
HANNAHANNAH – The wise mother goddess of Hittite mythology, related to Anat from Canaanite myths. She frequently comforts and/or advises the other gods on what course of action they should pursue. Hannahannah is especially significant in the multiple Hittite myths involving searches for various deities when they go missing for a time. She also negotiated a bride price between the fathers when the son of the storm god married the daughter of the sea god.
TAWARA – The group name for the Hittite goddesses who are the patron deities of midwives. These goddesses helped create the initial king of the heavens Alalu. Called the Hutellura by the Hurrians the Tawara are similar to the Twelve Heavenly Midwives from Vietnamese myths and other such figures from pantheons around the world. In some versions the Tawara hid Ullikummi on the shoulder of Ubelluri for safekeeping after delivering him.
ARINNITI – The Hittite goddess of the hearth fires and temple flames, often called “the sun of the nation”. Arinna was the city that was the center of her worship and was located near the Hittite capital of Hattusa. Arinniti was the wife of the storm god Tarhun (Teshub to the Hurrians). In the distant matriarchal past Arinniti may well have been the supreme deity herself with Tarhun as her prince consort. Arinniti’s association with fires led to her later identification with the fires inside the Earth and she gained chthonic aspects as well.
HATTU – The god of the precious metal silver. Hattu was the son of Kumarbi, the king of the underworld gods. Like Kumarbi’s other sons Hattu attempted to avenge his father’s defeat at the hands of the storm god Tarhun, who dragged Kumarbi from the throne of the heavenly gods, causing his exile in the Netherworld.
PERUWA – The horse goddess who famously coupled with the god Kumarbi. Her name is a frequent source of disagreement and is tied to ancient words meaning “cliff” as well as “horse”. The resolution to the puzzle has not survived in the fragmentary remains of Hittite myths. Attempts at reconciling the odd differences have produced theories ranging from a cliffside temple dedicated to the horse-goddess to a mountain formation that may have resembled a horse.
ISTANU – The Hittite sun god who rode the sun across the heavens. Technically Istanu was considered the god who ruled “the sun of the sky” with the death goddess Lelwani being considered “the sun of the Earth”, since her domain included the fires burning inside the Earth. This deity had a huge flock of sheep and rams. Istanu was also the patron deity of judges and wore a winged sun on his head-dress. He also wielded a crooked staff. (No, not like Obama’s crooked staff, this refers to a long rod)
A surviving myth about Istanu involves him granting an old but childless couple a pair of sons, one of whom turns out to be “good” and one of whom turns out to be “evil”. There is also a surviving myth in which Istanu gets the hots for a particular cow and even has a child with it. The sun god was an ally of the storm god Tarhun and warned him about the stone giant Ullikummi.
KAMRUSEPA – The goddess of medicine and magic. She was the mother of the sea god Aruna. Kamrusepa used an elaborate ritual to cleanse the vegetation god Telipinu of all his anger and other negative emotions. She then encased those negative emotions in vats hidden in the Netherworld.
SHAUSHKA – The Hittite equivalent of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Shaushka was a goddess of beauty, love and fertility but could be quick to anger and was dangerous when thus enraged. She had wings and traditionally rode a large lion. Shaushka successfully seduced Hedammu to defeat him through treachery but the stone giant Ullikummi proved immune to her charms.
KURUNTA – Also called Runda. Kurunta was the god of hunting and of good luck. In some versions he has deer antlers on his head. Kurunta rode a giant, double-headed eagle which was often depicted with rabbits or deer or some other prey in each claw. Kurunta was known for temporarily dethroning the supreme deity Tarhun but was eventually defeated and Tarhun the storm god was returned to the throne. Unusual for such myths Kurunta was forgiven and was permitted to vow renewed allegience to Tarhun’s rule.
ZABABA – The Hittite god of war, called Astabis by the Hurrians. He carried an eagle-headed staff and had many of the same attributes as the Akkadian god Ninurta. Zababa was a staunch ally of the storm god Tarhun and aided him in his battle with the basalt giant Ullikummi.
TELIPINU – The god of vegetation and agriculture who was a son of the storm god. Like many other deities in the Hittite pantheon he goes missing for an extended period, prompting a search by the other gods. Since so many deities temporarily vanish in Hittite myths it is difficult to tell if Telipinu’s myth is related to the familar pattern of “dead and resurrected” seasonal gods and goddesses from European and Middle Eastern belief systems.
INARA – The goddess of the wild animals of the steppes. Inara helped her father the storm god Tarhun defeat the giant serpent Illuyankas by inviting Illuyankas to a feast and getting the creature (and its family in some versions) drunk. Tarhun was finally able to slay the creature while it was intoxicated, having lost battles to Illuyankas when it was sober. This slightly parallels the Shinto myth of the storm god Susanowo getting the eight-tailed dragon drunk on saki in order to slay it.
The feast at which Inara fooled Illuyankas was her wedding feast when she married the mortal Hupasiyas, with whom she later had a falling out. His ultimate fate has not survived in the fragments.
ULLIKUMMI – The stone giant made of basalt. Ullikummi was the son of the fallen god Kumarbi and a female rock that Kumarbi mated with. (You know mythology!) The infant Ullikummi was delivered by the midwife goddesses called the Tawara (Hutellura to the Hurrians) while the goddesses of destiny called the Gulses sat in attendance, weaving the young godling’s fate. As always the Gulses were sworn to never reveal the details of any god or mortal’s destiny so they kept their own counsel. After he was born Ullikummi was ritually handed to his father Kumarbi to be held on his knee while a name was given to him.
Kumarbi intended for Ullikummi to dethrone the storm god Tarhun the way that god had dethroned him, so the rapidly- growing child had to be hidden from the sight of Tarhun and all the gods faithful to him. Ullikummi was placed on the free shoulder of Ubelluri, the dreaming god whose right shoulder supported the Netherworld, the Earth and the sky. Thus hidden Ullikummi continued to grow at the rate of a cubit per day.
Eventually, after growing up from Ubelluri’s shoulder and through the Netherworld Ullikummi grew so large that he finally burst up through the ground under the sea and then even outgrew the sea. Soon he grew so tall that the sun god Istanu caught sight of him and flew to the heavenly home of Tarhun to give warning. At length Ullikummi grew large enough to threaten the heavens themselves and so Tarhun aided by the war god Zababa and others attacked the basalt stone giant. After an epic battle Ullikummi forced Tarhun and his allies to retreat.
Tarhun’s wife Shaushka perfumed, primped and preened herself and went forth hoping to seduce Ullikummi and subdue him through treachery since force had failed. Unfortunately Ullikummi was as personally hard as the stone he was the god of and proved immune to the goddess’ impressive charms.
The heavenly deities sought out the advice the A’as, the god of wisdom, who told Tarhun and Zababa that Ullikummi was invincible as long as he maintained contact with the nurturing shoulder of Ubelluri. To prevent the stone giant from growing any larger and to provide a chance of defeating him Tarhun and Zababa needed to find the giant copper knife used in the distant past to separate the Earth and the sky. Locating the copper knife the storm god and the god of war cut off Ullikummi’s legs at the ankles, severing his connection with Ubelluri’s shoulder and stopping his growth. Tarhun and his allies then succeeded in destroying Ullikummi in a battle that is not recorded among the surviving tablets.
KUMARBI – The god who rules over the deities of the Netherworld. As part of that role he is the god of mining and of all the precious metals and minerals found underground. (Similar to Kubera from Hindu myths) Kumarbi’s father Alalu was the first king of the heavenly gods but was dethroned after a nine year reign by the sky god Anu. Alalu fled to the Netherworld but his son Kumarbi overthrew Anu after Anu had ruled for nine years. To try to prevent a son of Anu from overthrowing him in turn Kumarbi bit off and swallowed the testicles of Anu who, thus castrated, nevermore had sexual relations with his wife the Earth goddess Daganzipa and retreated into inactivity for the rest of the Hittite myths.
Meanwhile, while Kumarbi ruled the heavens for nine years the godly children of Anu formed within his belly because of the testicles and semen he had swallowed. (All of this is, of course, reasonably similar to the Greek myths of Kronos the Titan castrating his father – the sky god Uranus – then swallowing his own children by the Titaness Rhea to try to prevent one of his own sons from overthrowing him as he had overthrown Uranus) Among those children were Tarhun the storm god, Aranzah the god of the Tigris River, Tasmisu the god who was the vizier for Tarhun plus many others.
At the end of that nine years A’as advised the ailing Kumarbi that his stomach was aching from the deities forming inside him. He advised Kumarbi to spit them out, which freed Tarhun and his siblings. Tarhun overthrew Kumarbi, who then settled for ruling the chthonic (underworld) gods and goddesses while plotting for a son of his to one day overthrow Tarhun. An entire cycle of Hittite myths involve this war between the Netherworld deities and the heavenly deities. That cycle influenced and is reflected to this day in various Middle Eastern religions like Christianity and Islam which picture heavenly forces forever battling against infernal forces from within the Earth.
Kumarbi’s sons Illukummi, Hattu (silver), Lamma and Hedammu each tried to replace Tarhun the storm god as king of the heavenly deities but were either defeated while rebelling or were dethroned after briefly overthrowing the rule of Tarhun.
TARHUN – The Hittite storm god and the king of the heavenly deities. The Hurrians knew him as Teshub. Tarhun led his siblings in a revolt against the rule of Kumarbi and overthrew him as king of the heavens. Over and over again Tarhun had to withstand attempts by Kumarbi’s offspring to take back the heavenly throne and this battle between Tarhun and his heavenly hosts against Kumarbi and the legions of the Netherworld takes up a large amount of Hittite mythology.
Tarhun often wielded a three- pronged thunderbolt in one hand and a battle-axe in the other. He also wore a sword in a scabbard. Tarhun’s chariot was pulled by his bulls (Named Seri and Hurri) and his wives included Shaushka, Arinniti and Hatepuna. Various versions of the storm god’s battle with the serpent deity Illuyanka conflict with each other regarding the means by which Tarhun ultimately proved triumphant after an initial loss to the creature. Both versions are tied in with the Purulli festival.