Prehistoric religion (new facts)
In 1999 a survey of new discoveries in the search for early farmers was published: Neolithic in Turkey, The cradle of Civilization, New Discoveries, ed. by Mehmet Özdogan & N. Basgelen. It begins with a short report on the diggings in Hallan Cemi and Cayönü and The Urfa Region (Nevali Cori & Göbekli Tepe). In Hallan Cemi by the Batman-river a small village with a "public building" with an auroch's skull has been dug out, fig 10. Also a row of 3 sheep's crania in what is seen as the central activity area in the village is found, fig.16. An animal with a long raised tail is found incised on a stone bowl, fig.3. The way the tail of the animal is raised has a close parallel to the way the tail of the leopard is raised in Catal Hüyük. As proved by me in the chapter on Catal Hüyük the leopard is a symbol of ecstasy, of man being changed to an animal of prey, a ferocious killer. Like the snake raised along the spine the raised tail is a symbol of kundalini-power, and in Hallan Cemi the tail is decorated with a raised zigzag-line. A snake moving along in a zigzag-line is also found carved in bone, fig. 11. In Catal Hüyük the famous goddess enthroned with a leopard to her right and to her left also has the tails of the leopards raising along her back and coiling round her shoulders. Certainly the raised tail is an important symbol of a power personified by the goddess. In Hacilar two goddesses enthroned on leopards have been dug out by Mellaart (Anatolian Studies XI, 1961, p.60, by radiocarbon dated to 5500-5400 B.C.) One of the goddesses has the tails of the two animals curving up her back. The goddess from Catal Hüyük sitting on a throne with leopards seems to rest her right foot on a human skull, cf. the typical Kali-icon: The goddess trampling on a man or dwarf.
At Nevali Cori a cult building very similar to the encircled enclosures dug out by the German team at Göbekli Tepe contains two central T-formed pillars surrounded by four benches, fig. 9. On the benches are standing similar stone pillars. They are all obviously marked out as stone-people with arms sculptured on the surface of the pillars. In my opinion they are an early example of the later so important notion of the numinous centre, the mountain of the assembly of the gods, an assembly mostly consisting of 12 gods, exactly the number of pillars standing on the benches surrounding the two central pillars in cult building III.
This centre is also the symbol of life and primordial unity, the primordial mountain of gold or splendour, more or less identified with the nightly starry sky with its top in the Polar star. Its importance as a religious symbol, as the link between heaven and earth, is obvious from its being remodelled in the pyramids and the Mesopotamian temple tower. Sitting on the benches in the deep and solid cult building creates direct contact with this primordial massive and its primordial spirits, especially the two primordial twins representing the first splitting up of primordial mystic unity into duality, the god riding the bull and the god riding the leopard. There are no bulls or aurochs horns found in Nevali Cori, but a leopard's skin fastened to the waist is seen on a small male clay figurine, fig.21. And a snarling feline head with all its teeth showing is among the findings, fig.20, (very similar to the snarling lion with a raised tail on pillar one in Göbekli Tepe, fig.24). In Nevali Cori a limestone head has a snake coiling up its neck resting its head almost on the top of the skull, fig 10. This is the typical notion of an ecstatic kundalini-power rising along the spine coming to its goal at the top of the human brain.
The networks of people experiencing more or less successful kundalini-raising can be studied on the Internet. It is obviously not always a totally harmless thing to judge from the many suffering from both physical and psychological injuries caused by such an experience. In Denmark a rising of the kundalinipower is described by the late professor in literature Aage Henriksen (Copenhagen University).
At Tepe Giyan in Iran there are found several prehistoric seals showing an animal of prey with a snake coiling up its spine (This Fertile Land. Signs + Symbols in the Early Arts of Iran and Iraq, ed. Margaret Cool Root, 2005, p.164, fig.89). A similar snake is raising along the spine of a man having sexual intercourse, p.167, fig.98 & p.89, fig.8.2f. Root has also drawn attention to a rather common motif on the seals: "The displayed female". A schematic human with widely spread legs and arms and a very bulky stomach: The displayed female presents her body and especially the centre of her fertility, the womb, fig.90.91.93 & 95a & 101,Bb. A "displayed female" is found on a limestone bowl from Nevali Cori, fig.16, together with a similar "displayed" animal (and carved on a stone slab in Göbekli Tepe here obviously in the act of sexual intercourse, fig.35). The provoking frontal display of female nakedness and female attributes is in India a symbol of the female kundalinipower. Another clay figurine shows a seated goddess with full forms and stark naked but with the holy cross-formed flower painted on both legs and both breasts. A slate plaque with four figures shows two scenes: a man and a woman embracing each other in a sitting posture typical of the tantric way of making love. The man has one eye closed and one eye wide open staring into the wide-open eye of the woman. Back to back with the woman another woman (or the same?) lifts up a child (Anatolian Studies XIII,pp.91f).
In historical periods of Iran, divinities are pictured sitting upon snake thrones grasping the writhing snake that rears its head out of the coiled mass of the throne, perhaps a continuity of prehistoric motifs (This Fertile Land.p.69, P.O.Harper, J.Aruz & F.Tallons, eds. The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre, 1992.p.80), and perfectly understandable in light of the tantric Indian (and prehistoric) notion of the "serpent power".
The stone pillars from Nevali Cori seem to carry a stole hanging down in front, dividing the narrow frontal side of the "stone-man" into 3 narrow bands. In Göbekli Tepe the two bands of the stole begin to fall down just under the chin of the stone-man. In Nevali Cori they are united with a v-formed band just under the chin, Klaus Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel,2006, p.118. At a yet archeologically unexplored site at Karahan, a T-formed stone pillar has a snake coming up its frontal side with its head just under the stone-man's chin, Abb.94, p. 202. In Göbekli Tepe snakes are rising, but mostly descending in the furrow between the two bands from the stole, and in a single case even descending along the bands of the stole. On one pillar a lot of snakes are stretching their heads towards the frontal furrow. This furrow obviously has a special meaning for the snakes. On one of the stone pillars there are no snakes, but a device consisting of a circle resting in a crescent, Abb. 80,p.172. As shown in my book The Origin this sign has an almost universal meaning in the Near Eastern iconography: it is the sign of mystical light, the unity of all light shown as the unity of the light of the moon and light of the sun. Over it is an H-formed symbol, two pillars held together by what seems to be two arms: the two primordial pillars united. It is a double symbol of mystical primordial unity. The snake-power moving up and down the furrow is the kundalini-power, either raised to mystical unity, mystical vision or moving down to ejaculation, cf. the snakes coming out from where the fox should have had its sex, p. 184. The stole is perhaps not so much a stole as a symbol of duality, and the furrow a symbol of unity. On some of the figurines from Sha'ar Hagolan is seen a so called "scarf": a horizontal clay ribbon circling the base of the head, i.e. the area of the throat. It begins as a line extending from the figure's lower back and left side, ascends to the neck, passes round the neck and throat, and descends on the back to the lower parts of the back parallel to the first part of the ribbon, and comes out on the right side, Yosef Garfinkel and Michele A.Miller, Sha'ar Hagolan 1, 2002, p.195, & fig 13,10f . I see this scarf as a symbol of left and right ascending into some kind of mystical unity just below the head. The head itself with its strange shape is a symbol of duality and unity: The long hanging nose in front matches the thick hairdo hanging down the neck, the two closed eyes, the two big ears are the symbols of duality being raised to unity in the prolonged back head.
The German folklorist Otto Höfler (Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen,I,1934; Verwandlungskulte, Volkssagen und Mythen, 1973) has tried to prove the existence of old prehistoric ecstatic ideology, a secret man-being-changed-to-animal-of-prey cult. In Saxo's description of the band of chaotic warriors sizing power at the court of Frotho they are described as howling like wolves: In Northern myth and saga it is mostly a man-into-wolf ideology (or man-into-bear = "going berserk"). But also the boar has great symbolic value because of the rage with which it was known to attack its enemy, and therefore it gives its name to the special formation of the troops ("svinefylking") which Odin himself had taught the Danish king. In Greece it is woman changed into leopard.
It is difficult to prove, but this ecstatic ideology was originally carried and cultivated by bands of young warriors serving the primordial twins, Romolus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf, Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Geo Widengren has tried to show that the special hairdo worn by Gilgamesh, his "heroic" nakedness, and the thick belt he wears, is an indication of old Indo-Germanic warrior ideology, and the same goes for the tragic-heroic character of the epos, Ryttarfolket från öster, 1960,p.68f.,94f., pictures opp.to p.96. The existence of such bands of young warriors in the prehistoric Indo-Iranian culture has been shown by Stig Wikander (Der arische Männerbund, 1938). (Cf. the description of the Maruts in the Vedas serving the war god Indra or the fear inspiring Rudra.) Their ecstatic cult seems to have had a strong chthonic and sexual character.
The primordial twins or brothers seems to be a very old motif: In Iran, Ohrmazd and Ahriman are twins, and it is described how the one is killing the other, Ohrmazd being represented both by the perfect divine Gayomart and by the primordial bull. In Egypt, Osiris, the god of life, the bull, is killed by Seth, the god of chaos, with the Seth-animal, the dog or fox as his emblem. Much later in Hellenistic Cilicia the divine bull is hunted down and killed by Mithras who is followed by the divine twins and by lion, dog, snake and raven. The divine twins are often seen as the two personified world-pillars, the sun-gate, the world mountain divided into two (on the placates belonging to the Juppiter Dolichenus-cult). At the Roman feast Lupercalia the rituals seem centred around two young men, and there is a men- changed-into-wolf symbolism:
"A quite savage brotherhood this, downright rustic and uncouth, consisting of those genuine wolf-men whose famous woodland pack was founded long before civilisation and law!" Cicero,Cael.26. agrestis – "uncouth" corresponds to the Greek word agrios. This and similar words are used by Philo of Byblos in his description of the culture inventing pairs of twins, the first to invent bricks and walls and pens and finally building the first city. Also Cain was the first to build a city, giving it the name of his son Hanok i.e. "the initiated one", cf. Romulus founding the city of Rome after killing his brother. The primordial twins are bringers of culture and religious initiations. Many Greek cities are founded by a pair of twins or brothers, often of quite opposite nature. Ex.: Ajax and Teucer, the big strong Ajax commits suicide, and from his blood a flower sprouts; he is the strong god of vegetation. Teucer, the small bowman/hunter becomes founder of the city of Salamis. They are a Greek version of the Cilician gods Tarku and Ja – w. suffix -ax). Gilgamesh is the master builder of the city wall in Uruk. Enkidu is the god-man living in unity with nature.
But certainly there are also strong ties to a yearly cult of the dead. Lupercalia was celebrated on the15th of February, during the nine days of parentatio for the dead (13-21 February). The 21st of February was the festival Feralia in honour of Tacita, "the silent goddess". She was originally a nymph called Lara/Lala, "the chatterbox", who warned her sister to flee the amorous Jupiter. For this her tongue was torn out, and she was banished to the underworld. But Mercury/Hermes, who had to escort her to the underworld, took advantage of her and she conceived and bore twins, the so called Lares. Also Philo of Byblos tells that at the time of the brothers Usoos and Hypsuranios, the women mated freely. All this points to an old tradition of a festival for the dead spirits with a certain licentious behaviour caused by the presence of the dead spirits and gods. Most probably to promote fertility. At the Lupercalia the young men ran naked through the town slapping all the women they met with straps of goatskin. Actually they were not totally naked because they had a small loincloth made of the flayed-off skin of the sacrificed goats, cf. the pack of hunters with leopard's skin attached to their loins at Catal Hüyük. Lupercalia was an old ritual thought to prevent stillbirths and miscarriages, both animal and human.
What Höfler quotes from Olaus Magnus, archbishop in Sweden, and Philipp Melanchthon about men acting like wolves during Christmas time in Latvia and Lithuania and East Prussia gives a good impression of the last remnants of the old man-into-wolf religion (Verwandlungskulte..s.145-8).
Gilgamesh does not receive eternal life, but his consolation is that after death he will become judge and ruler in the underworld. There he will be counted among the Anunnaki (old gods of the underworld) and meet all his friends. The hottest month (July-August) will be the month of Gilgamesh, under the sign of Sirius. In this month there will be wrestling in his honour and a feast for the dead spirits. When fertility is threatened, in Mesopotamia by the summer heat, in Rome by the sterility of the winter months there is a feast where the dead spirits come to join the living. Man's hope is not for heaven but more to seek comfort, advice (?), fertility and magic strength from this being together with the spirits of his forefathers. Cf the remodelling of sculls in some of the earliest Neolithic cultures. But the Lord of the spirits is not a kind god. His symbol is a mad boar with frightening big teeth, and a snarling lion with an extremely raised tail. Even the fox shows its jaws and its teeth. It is tempting to see the lion or leopard as the symbol of a god and the fox as the symbol of minor daemons (the lion is pictured on the head of the pillar, the fox is more humble, situated on the shaft).
The Roman cult of the dead, the Lares, carries an Etruscan name, and so does a famous Roman way of parading the cavalry, the lusus Troiae ("the Trojan game"). The Etruscan people came from the West coast of Asia Minor, and Aeneas, the Trojan hero, was honoured as the founder of several Etruscan cities. Their king, Tarquinius, carries the name of the Anatolian god Tarku-. Not far from Caere was found a clay pitcher dated to the end of the 7th cent B.C.: It shows a labyrinth with the inscription truia, the Etruscan word for Trojan, and in front of the labyrinth two armed horsemen, and behind the first of them a small animal crouching on the horseback with its hand/paw touching the back of the horseman. A. Alföldi (Das frühe Rom und die Latiner,1977,s.252 w. pictures of the pitcher, Taf XIX-XXII) thinks it is a monkey and brings a whole collection of riders with this small extra passenger sitting behind them: a wall painting from tomba Campana in Veii and 4 small fibulas. But it is only on the wall painting that it is possible to see what kind of animal is crouching behind the rider, and there it is obviously a leopard. And another leopard is seen running on the ground beside the horse. In my opinion the monkey and leopard symbolize a demon seizing the ecstatic warrior giving him fearless frenzy and supernatural strength. Along the handle of the pitcher, over the scene of the riders, a big snake is rising.
The boar is an Indogermanic symbol of the warrior obsessed with ecstacy: Indra, Rudra and Verethragna are described as boars. Even in Norse saga the hero can be described as a mad boar. An important scene on the pitcher is a row of warriors, all with a boar painted on their shields.
Snakes ascending to the head
The head found in Nevali Cori with a snake creeping up the neck, putting its head on the back of the scull has its nearest parallel in a much later time in the pictures of the god Saturn/Aion in the mysteries of Mithras. Wilhelm Bousset1 has shown that this god is probably a Syrian god. The Semitic name for Saturn is Kwn, “standing upright”, “standing firm", a name characterizing the world pillar separating heaven and earth. The word is taken over by the Greeks as kión = “a pillar”, in pl. the pillars guarded by Atlas, which keep heaven and earth asunder. The statues of the god Aiôn show him as a pillar-like standing male with a lion’s head and a snake ascending to his head by winding round his body and putting its head on the god’s forehead. In The Origin we have tried to interpret the snake as kundalini-power and trace this notion of power and ecstasy back to prehistoric times. The most famous example of a snake ascending to the head is the uræus snake raising its head on Pharaoh's crown. The eldest pictures of the red crown show not a snake, but a spiral coming out of the crown. The spiral is a symbol of ecstasy. A very old picture of the blinding of Polyphemus, the Cyclops, shows a big spotted snake touching his forehead.2
The Cyclops had only one eye acc. to Homer, but later pictures show him with two eyes and a third eye over the eyebrows where the so -called “third eye’, the eye opened in the mystic vision acc. to old Indian psychology, is thought to be situated.3 The snake coming out on Pharaoh’s forehead is a symbol of magic power, ecstatic power coming out of the "third eye”. The killing of Polyphemus is the killing/splitting up of primordial totality, the unity of mystic vision, similar to the killing of the enormous bull in Catal Hüyuk, similar to the killing of the bull as the great act of cosmogony in the mysteries of Mithras. A similar killing is the culmination of Theseus’ descent into the centre of the labyrinth, the killing of the bull-man Minotauros. When Theseus landed on Delos he and his companions danced the Crane-dance, which consists of labyrinthine evolutions after the maze pattern of the labyrinth. This dance obviously leads the dancers to an ecstatic centre seen as the confrontation with and killing of a primordial numen. Cf. the bird dance seen on the stones from Göbekli Tepe resulting in an ecstasy pictured as a lot of snakes stretching towards the furrow of the world pillar, the channel where there is ascent and descent of the snake power.
Perhaps the stole on the front of the pillars is not a stole but together with the furrow a symbol of the 3-parted world pillar. On p.40 in The Origin I have a famous drawing from Leon Heuzey, Catalogue des Antiquités chaldéenes,1902, no.125,p.2814 of two snakes ascending along the central world pillar flanked by the divided world pillar: a 3-parted column with snakes ascending. The divided world-pillar is held up by two composite animals (mostly leopards with very raised tails).
Perhaps the T-form of the stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe indicates that they are thought to carry an invisible heavy burden (the sky?)
That twin world-pillars or sky-pillars play an important role in prehistoric religion is seen from the man standing between two pillars with massive heads on a seal from Susa (4th mill. B.C.)5
A tablet from Tello with a very archaic cuneiform writing shows a man standing with two pillars with big round heads and behind these twin pillars a third pillar is seen (but a bit damaged: it cannot be seen if it has a head also, Heuzey, ibd. no 1, p77.)
In the early agricultural societies developing on the hilly slopes in Northern Iraq the bull and the lion or leopard seem to be of central importance. On a cup from Tello (no.221- later, but still belonging the archaic period) the lion is seen killing the bull, a scene that, for some reason, becomes a classic icon and is repeated again and again.
It is the central myth and the central ritual act just as much later Mithras' killing of the divine bull is the central icon in the mysteries of Mithras. The bull has a seven pointed star filling out the curve of its horn. It is in itself a very important symbol: The unity of heavenly light, the seven-fold mystical light resting in the crescent moon. As in the mysteries of Mithras, the bull symbolizes primordial totality, and the killing of the bull is the great cosmogonic act. Behind the back of the lion a hand is seen holding an archaic weapon, the throwing stick, already in Catal Hüyük used in hunting the divine bull. It is the same myth and the same ritual in Catal Hüyük and in Tello, the killing of a high god, the giver of life and light, the lord of nature and all the life-giving fluids, and as the killer a demon-god, the great hunter (but in some versions the mad boar, as a symbol of dark ecstatic madness – Osiris and Adonis are killed by a boar)
The eagle with a lion's head is a very common motif in early Mesopotamian iconography. It is often pictured with its wings, legs and tail spread out and with a strange but very distinct omphalos on top of its stomach. (Birds being hatched from eggs are certainly without such a thing) The only explanation for marking out such a centre of the stretched out body parts of the bird is that it is meant to indicate the mystical centre and unity of up and down, right and left wing and feet: the bird is a symbol of the ecstasy cultivated by the worshippers of the lion-demon. It is also seen in the act of biting the divine bull at the root of its tail (Heuzey, no.233,no.234, p.401). A beautiful silver vase from Tello shows the lion-headed eagle (with spread-out wings and a big round navel) holding two lions by the root of their tails, then a new lion-headed eagle holding two stags in the same way, then two more lions being held, and finally two bucks, both the bucks and the stags being also bitten by the lion (no.218, p373-5). The bull, the stag and the buck (sometimes feeding on the tree of life) are the symbols of the god of life here in the act of being controlled and submitted by the demon god's animals especially attacking the root of the kundalini-power situated at the lowest part of the spine.
One of the most important findings dug out from Tello was the vulture stele, six fragments of a stele made in commemoration of a victory won by king Eannatum, (about 2740 B.C.). It shows a lot of dead enemies being trampled over by the king's army and the king himself armed with the throwing stick (boomerang) walking and driving in front of the phalanx, big heaps of dead bodies and vultures feeding on them, and finally the bodies being heaped up symmetrically in a tumulus and workers carrying earth climbing the tumulus to cover the mass grave. But on the other side of the stele a mythological interpretation is added to the historical scene (Heuzey, p.112ff, no.10, p.103-7). A great Herculean character armed with a club stands in front of a big hunting net filled with naked enemies, and over the net he holds this obviously very important symbol consisting of the two lions clutched by the spread-out eagle. In my opinion he is the great hunter, the ecstatic warrior giving supernatural force to the attackers, perhaps even changing them to animals of prey, and certainly changing the battle to the great hunt of the bull: an enormous bull is seen lying tied to the ground in front of the tumulus and at the feet of the king.
When the lion-eagle is seen clutching the two lions, the intention is certainly not to eat the lions, but to control them or rather take control over the ecstatic kundalini-power they contain. The lion or bull or bull-man supplemented back to back with its reflected image is a very common symbol symbolizing duality coming together into mystic unity. Already in Nevali Cori a piece of a so-called totem (height: 1 metre) is found. Just below the bird symbolizing ecstatic take off, two women are seen back to back. On one of them an eye is still seen looking upwards.
The Bible and even the prehistoric world of icons use a set of pictures mediating an impression of the highest reality and the highest beauty:
The life-giving water and all the sprouting and blossoming, it creates.
The garden with its aromatic scents and the flowers of the almond tree and anemones in early spring.
The starry vault.
The sun rising on the Eastern horizon.
The primordial mountain pictured in the shining pyramid.
The mountain of God rising in the middle of nowhere, like a tower reaching heaven.
The great stag or bull in the thickets of the forest.
All these pictures are more than pictures they are epiphanies of God just as the merciless killing in battle, and the lion slowly killing the desperate and helpless bull by sinking its teeth in his throat is an epiphany of a chaotic demon-god. Dionysos is the life-giving god from the paradise-mountain of Nysa in the East, India or Arabia (Dio-nysos) closely connected to the life-giving fluids in all the sprouts of spring, the sea and the juice filling the grapes. But he is also the chaotic god. His mating with the lawful wife of the basileus in Athens is not a hieros gamos, but more a chaotic take-over by a king of the carnival. With his close connection to panthers and the women he is also a descendant of the killing god of Catal Hüyük where the goddess and the young god are seen riding the leopard. The highest god is the god riding the bull. He is "victorious" life conquering even death. Perhaps the leopard god is a god mostly for hunting and chaotic and "mad" behaviour. Ian Hodder has stressed the total absence of leopard bones and sculls in Catal Hüyük. The reason could be that it is a taboo-animal more feared than treasured.
The notion of God is a very early and strong notion releasing enormous energy, giving inspiration to the most astounding achievements in early history, the temple towers of Mesopotamia and the pyramids and being the inspiration also for early art and tragedy. This notion of God cannot be understood by rational thinking, sociology or psychology, but perhaps only by a widening of one's consciousness?
It would be interesting to test the findings at Göbekli Tepe with the mythological idea of the psychocosmic mountain in the navel of the earth: The nightly starry heaven is seen as a massive mountain (in Ugarit Mt Lel cf. Hebrew: Lajla =“night”), primordial totality, primordial rock, the residence of El and ilim (the dead spirits in a state of eternity and apotheosis), “the mountain where the gods assemble”.
The standing stone-pillar is a symbol of this eternal house for a deceased spirit, a symbol of Bet-el (“House of God”), but also a symbol of the central pillar in the centre of the universe connecting heaven and earth. The Egyptian pyramid is the most well known symbol of this mountain, connecting heaven and earth.
The North Syrian god is always followed by his two dioscuric servants (Sandas as worldpillar flanked by the two dioskuric twins on the coins from Tarsus. Jupiter Dolichenus and the two personified worldpillars, Baal and his two servants, Mithras and his two look-a-likes Cautes and Cautopates), cf. the triple bull in Catal Hüyük. They are the symbol of the primordial mountain and the primordial mountain split into duality: The world-pillar and the split world pillar.
When the sun rises on the eastern horizon, it is seen as the splitting of the primordial pillar in two, creating the gate for light and the sun.
In West Semitic myth the central pillar is Kewan/ Saturn (“the grounded one”). It is also seen as the sun of night. After setting in the West, the sun becomes pale and slow, almost fixed to the firmament, the primordial mountain, until it is revitalized in east in the garden of Life eternally renewed.
Acc to the Babylonian worldview Saturn is the sun during the night.
The “standing”, the “grounded” Kvn-Saturn is the endpoint also of the deceased soul following the route of the sun to eternity. The goal of after-life is to be standing eternally on the mountain of the gods, to become a pillar.
The symbolism surrounding the Saturn-pillar and the two pillars of Heracles is already explained in the old book by F. Movers, Die Phoenizier, I,1841.
I think the journey towards a cosmic centre, a holy mountain, and the feeling of being in the centre of the earth has a strong religious appeal to the human mind.
I should like to quote from The Melammu-project a note written by the Finnish scholar Amar Annus:
Isaiah 14:12-15 uses a mythical material in the taunt-song, where the king of Babylon is addressed as Helel ben-Shahar, who ‘ascended the heavens above the stars of El’ and to ‘sit on the Mount of Assembly, on the slopes of Saphon’. This reflects the Syro-Mesopotamian mythological conceptions of the cosmic mountain as the place of the divine assembly. This cosmic mountain as the place of assembly probably derives from the Enlil’s main temple in Nippur, which was called é-kur ‘house of the mountain’ and was considered the navel of the earth. The idea of the cosmic mountain is represented in Mesopotamia, on a land in the plain, by the temple tower or ziggurat and in the Enlil’s epithet as “the big mountain” (Sumerian kur-gal). ‘Tower’ is also a name of Christ in both Aphrahat and Ephrem. Christ has given us in the Church a Tower which really leads up to heaven, in other places he himself is the Tower.
Not only in Egypt but also in front of the big temple in Mabbug in North Syria there were two standing pillars acc to tradition put up by Dionysos (Baal) in his journey to Ethiopia (i.e. the land of the sun-rise)
At Hazor there were in an open air temple from 1300 B.C. (dug out by Yadin) a row of standing stones which the Swedish scholar G.W. Ahlström has interpreted as picturing the assembly of the gods.6
The ring of pillars is picturing the council of the forefathers the deceased in some state of eternity or apotheosis, resting on or in the omfalos-mountain who is the symbol of mystic unity, primordial totality also marked out by its latent duality (the two central pillars). Unity in the Middle East is the symbol of mystical eternity, duality is the symbol of creation, separating heaven and earth creating space for the sun to shine and run its course and the rain to fall.
Note on the council/assembly of the gods: F.M.Cross: “The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah”, JNBS 12,1953 s.274-78. R.N.Whybray, The Heavenly Counsellor in Is 40,13-14, 1971 R.B. Brown: “The Pre-Christian Semitic Concept of Mystery”, CBQ 20, 1958 ss.417-20. H.W.Robinson: ”The Council of Yahweh” JTS 45,1944, ss.151-7. “The prophets had access to this higher sphere as a source of information, the false prophets had not stood in Yahveh’s counsil” (Jer 23,18+22). John J. Collins: “Apocalyptic Eschatology as the transcendence of Death”, CBQ 36,1974, ss.21-43.
Bull-man and lion-man
The divine bull with a human face is an important motif in Mesopotamian iconography. Heuzey brings two very beautiful examples (no.120 & 126). Exactly the same hairdo and crown of horns are found on the divine bull and the bull-man (no.183). The bull-man and “Gilgamesj” are often found together as a pair of divine brothers or contrasting twins. It is tempting to see the six great hair-curls of “Gilgamesj” (no.183 & 232) as a lions mane making him the lion-man.
The rising sun between two columns
The rising sun between two columns is a very important symbol of victory and healing. The two columns are the symbol of duality, the symbol of the primordial world massive split into two to allow the light to shine, the winds to blow and the sun to run its course:
Sharruma's protection of the king. From Yazilikaya
The cultic cry, Jeïe Paián, is a calling on the healing dawn, it is used in war as a calling on the light to prevail over darkness as well as in praying for healing of an sick person.
The god of the world column(s) is Apollo or Heracles. Santas-Heracles from Tarsus is seen on coins from this city with a polos on his head indicating that he is the world-pillar.
A lot of figurines from Syria show Baal as the world-pillar (notice that the high conical hat flattens out on the top in a small platform thereby being able to carry the heavy burden of the sky).
The next picture from a seal shows the world pillar flanked by the spilt world-mountain. The split mountain indicated duality, the undivides pillar indicates mystic primordial reality. Therefore it is much higher than the split mountain, and because it is the symbol of unity, the way to mystic vision, it is seen carrying the sun, the moon, and the morning and evening stars. It is the unity of all heavenly lights. The sun is even inscribed with a cross, symbol of the mystic unity of up and down, left and right.
Mittanian seal of king Ithia
A very common motif on coins from Tarsus is the lion killing the divine bull: Sandan-Heracles killing the highgod Baal Tarz = Sandan-Zeus killing Typhon/Tsaphon, the primordial mountain, also seen as an amorphous snake-monster called Jao.
First the snake tries to reduce Zeus to the same primordial amorphous inertia by cutting out all his sinews, but Zeus is restored and kills the snake7.
Mitannian seals drawn by D.Stein.
On the lowest seal c: two guardians of the column that leads to mystic vision and a lion killing the divine bull enjoying mystic vision.
b: The bird of ecstasy unites duality by holding together two bucks contemplating the mystic light, the sun resting in the crescent moon.
a: A lion attacking a composite animal-group consisting mostly of cattle, but also a bird's and a horse's heads are seen looking towards the mystic light.
The lion killing the bull is a symbol of cosmogony, of the high god, the paradise mountain, primordial reality and unity, being cut up.
Rock carving from Kargamis
There is a clear un-Greek (Estruscan) element in the adventures of Heracles in Italy. The Estruscan Hercle has given name to the Roman Hercules. The forefather of the Estruscans, Tyrrhenus, was a son of Heracles and Omphale. Now Heracles was serving queen Omphale dressed as a woman, that is carrying the red dress called sandyx. He is obviously the Lydian Santas with his androgynous behavior. Geryon is the old shepherd- or bull-god. As the bull-god in Catal Hüyük, and much later Mithras, he has the characteristic trinitarian nature: 3 heads or even 3 bodies united to one. It is tempting to see the name Geryon (and his dog Orthos) as a variation of Orion, the big hunter. In the myth about the great hunter there is a tendency to fuse the two gods, the killer and his victim into one single figure (Dionysos is both the “cow-born”, coming on bull-feet to Elis, and the killer, the big hunter Zas-agreus = Zagreus. In the Ugarit poem “Baal’s hunt”, Baal ends up as the victim.
The killing of the divine bull is certainly also a ritual act repeated in the sacrificial cult. It’s the dying of a god of vegetation loudly lamented by the cult congregation. The Greek word "tragedy" is the songs of lament sung over the sacrificial goat which is a symbol of the dying Dionysos, the god of life and spring and sprouting ivy. The old name of the god of vegetation is Ja, Jeïe, Aiaia (the sun-island of Circe "where is the dwelling place of early dawn": Ja with a simple reduplicative), Jao, Ajax, Hya-kinthos (with k-suffix and the ending -inthos), cf. the cultic calls eleleu ju ju and Jambe (Ja- with suffix cf Tri-ambe, witness to the god Tarku-) Jakchos (Ja with k-suffix, cf. Jo-bakchos). He is the source of light and life.
The Cilician Ja must be identical with the Mesopotamian god of life and water Ea. Perhaps also with the Roman/Etruscan god Janus with Diana as his female, cf. Dio/Dione at Dodona and the moon goddess Jo (without a male namesake)
The highgod is one with the primordial reality the primordial world mountain seen as the central world pillar. The bullmen are his sons and followers, the splitting up of primordial reality into the two world pillars:
The divine twins
A certain cluster of ideas seems to be omnipresent in the old religions: Two primeval brothers, one of which is good the other evil, or one is a man of nature, a shepherd, the other the founder of the first city or society. In Athens Theseus is the founder of society (united the cities in Attica to one nation) his "brother of arms" Peithoos, the lapith, is the man of nature. Like Enkidu Perithoos has to go down to the realm of death and like Gilgamesh Theseus tries to bring him up again. Ahriman kills Ohrmazd and becomes king over the present age. In Sparta Castor was the mortal one, his brother immortal but his brother chooses to follow him to the underworld in exchange for Castor being with him in heaven every second day.
Tyro has the children Pelias and Neleus begotten with Poseidon. They are sat out in the wilderness laid in a through and placed on the river and suckled by a bitch and a mare. Neleus founded the city of Pylos. Another pair of Poseidon-sons is Aiolos and Boiotos who was suckled by a cow much to the amazement of the shepherds who saw this wonder. They both become founders of cities. Thebes is founded by Zethos and Amfion. They are put out in the wilderness to escape king Lykos ("the wolf", the master of initiation).
J. Friedrich, Churritische Märchen und Sagen, ZA NF 15,p.213 mentions a pair of twins called "Bad" and "Good". In Tyre a yearly festival was dedicated to the two brothers Hypsuranios and Usoos (founder of East-Tyre called Usu or Palaityros – West-Tyre with the temple for Melqart was situated on a small island). Hypsuranius seems to be naked and living in a hut of reeds. He was fighting his brother Usoos who was the inventor of clothes made from animal hides. He survives a flooding sailing on a tree trunk.
In modern thinking one is the smallest number of all, but in primitive thinking one is the greatest number, the unity of all, and two means dividing this unity into heaven and earth, night and day, life and death, good and evil: The primordial twins are the symbols of good and evil, dawn and dusk. In Greece they came out of the cosmic egg, and one is immortal, the other mortal. The bull is the symbol of primordial unity, the killing of the bull is creation, and the killer, the leopard, is the symbol of duality, and - to use the vocabulary of Genesis 1 - of setting a borderline between light and darkness, the waters below and above, between sea and dry land. Therefore the leopard is most often shown as a set of two leopards, arranged with the second being a mere mirror-reflection of the first one. Ecstasy is to go beyond the primordial cutting into two, crossing the entrance to the holy temple flanked by the two pillars. In Indian tantra it is climbing beyond the 6th cakra, the Anja cakra situated on the forehead, a white flower consisting of only two petals and reaching the lotus with thousand petals, Sahasrara. In Iraq many dug-out temples show traces of these two pillars, and in Sumerian mythology two trees, the tree of Life, gisj-ti, and the tree of truth, gisj-ka-an-na, stand at the entrance to the heaven of Anu, the highest god. The tree of life, the cedar, is closely linked to Dumuzi, the tree of truth to Ningizzida. Dumuzi is the dying god of the vegetation, Ningizzida is shown with two snakes coiling around his body rising their heads over each of his shoulders. Dumuzi and Ningizzida are talime = “twins”, two contrasting spirits together forming divine totality (Douglas van Buren, The sacred Marriage, Orientalia 13,1944, p.1-72, and ibd, The gis-ti and the gis-ka-an-na, Orientalia 13, 1945, p.281-87.)
Another symbol of primordial unity and duality is the world mountain and the world mountain split into two. Julius Schwabe gives as an example the holy mountain of Delphi Parnassos: its highest peak was dedicated to Apollo, the lower one to his contrasting half brother Dionysos (Die kosmogonische Zwillinge und das Säulenpaar im Tempel. Symbolon 6,1968, p.25-55)
Dionysos, the hunter and his panthers
In the classical book by Walter F. Otto on Dionysos, 1933 it is shown beyond any doubt that Dionysos is not only a god of life and joy, but also a sinister god of death and madness. The spring festival of Athens, the Anthesteria, is also a feast for the dead spirits of the Keres, a feast where the dead come to visit the living. Zagreus, the orphic name for D., has to be understood as "Zas, the hunter". Dionysos is called anthrõporraístæs, "one who tears up humans", and his followers act like panthers and tear up humans and even bulls. Porphyr de abstin 2,55 tells us that the women of Chios, when they were taken by the god's frenzy, would tear a human into pieces as a tribute to Dionysos Omadios, the god who, like a beast of prey, would eat the flesh raw. The god is a hunter hunting for the blood of young bucks (Bacc. 138f), and his maenads are compared to the hunting dogs lusting for fresh meat. He is an "eater of raw" (õmæstæs) as a beast of prey. He is followed by panthers or lions or even lynx. Also the Agrionia in Argos was a feast for the dead (nekýsia: Hesych.). The presence of the god was often symbolized by his mask. Vase-pictures of feasts for Dionysos often show the big mask of the god hanging on a tree or a pillar and a long robe hanging down underneath the mask to make the impression of an idol complete. The empty mask is the epiphany of the god. Masks are even today at Halloween used to symbolize ghosts and evil spirits coming up from the realm of darkness (Otto, p.83.). Like Baal in Ugarit coming to the threshing ground as leader of the dead spirits, the repha'im, D. is coming as the leader of the satyrs, who are half men, half horses, the horse character stressing their strong ties to the realm of death. Heraclit even stresses: Dionysos is Hades.
But D. is also the god of life, bougenæs, the divine bull or calf, the young victim of the ferocious tearing up of the titans. The titans are smeared with chalk, they are ghost-like spirits from the underworld. In the cult of Dionysos the hunter and his victim are fused into one.
A similar god to the Roman Janus Bifrons is also seen on seals from Asia Minor. He is probably taken over from the Estruscan god Ani. He is a god of gates and doorways and as the god of gates he is called Janus Geminus ("twin").8
Janus is referred to as the porter of heaven. His temple at Forum had to doors, one towards the rising sun and the other towards the setting sun. He is the god setting up the gate or the pillars of the sun, thereby creating room for the light to shine and overcoming darkness and the primordial massive chaos. Therefore he is invoked at the beginning of each new day. This makes him also a god introducing laws and culture and even agriculture. And it makes him the god who secures the progression of time from past to future. He is often pictured with two faces, one with a beard and one unshaven. He is the old high god of life and beginning, the first day in each month is dedicated to him. He causes a hot spring to erupt, causing the Sabine attackers to flee, and he is the father of Fontus ("well"). He was honoured at the beginning of the planting season and again at harvest. At the same time he is his son, the young god setting up the gate of the sun. (Enki and Enkidu)
He creates room in primordial darkness: the roman legionaries marched off to battle through the gates of his temple at Forum.
"When the wave of Sea Peoples and Dorian migrations destroyed Mycenaean culture, only the mountainous region of Arcadia was able as a retreat to assert its pre-Dorian individuality" (W.Burkert, Homo Necans, trans. by P.Bing, 1983,p.84). Here we find the strange and archaic looking cult of Zeus Lykaios with a man-to-wolf symbolism tied to the eating of the sacrificial meat. It was told that once the gods came to visit the ancestral king of the Arcadians, king Lykaon. But the king had slaughtered a boy upon the altar at the summit of Mt Lykaion and mixed his entrails with the sacrificial meat and brought it to the table. Zeus overturned the table and turned Lykaon into a wolf and sent a flood to cleanse the human race. Close to Mt. Lykaion is the village of Lykosura ("wolf-tail"), acc. to Pausanias 38,1:"Of all the cities that earth has ever shown, ..the oldest, and the first that the sun beheld".
Scattered around in the oldest layers of Greek mythology we find traces of a tradition much similar to the tradition told in Genesis 1-11 combined with the archaic man-into-wolf ideology.
This tradition seems to have the following elements
A universal flooding – punishing a sinful generation.
The two primordial brothers, one killing the other, the man of nature, the shepherd, being killed by the city founder/the culture bringer (agriculture), the founder of mysteries.
The well of life and the tree of life and the snake coiling up its trunk, both the rising snake and the tree being a symbol of mystic vision, universal knowledge ("of both good and evil", i.e. everything).
The gods falling in love with mortal women.
The outcome of this love surviving in an arc.
At Delphi we find the sacred laurel and the Kastalia spring and the young boy fleeing after killing the Python = Typhon-Jao = Tsafon, the personified paradise mountain, the highgod being killed by the boy who is the cultic representation of Apollo, the god of wolves and panthers. Typhon tries to gather strength from eating a fruit "the ephemerical fruit", that should give him eternal life but has the opposite effect. The flight of the boy to Tempe is an "erratic wandering", just like the flight of Cain, Gen 4,14.
To Delphi is also tied the tradition of Deukalion's arc and the repopulation of the earth.
After Zeus killing of his brother for mating with a goddess, Dardanos survives the flood by floating on some device to the region of Troy, where he builds a city and gives it his own name.
At Athens, at the spring festival for Dionysos a special day is reserved for heavy drinking in silence, each man sitting with his own table with his own wine-jar. All that in memory of Orestes, who came to Athens after killing his mother and her lover and followed by the avenging spirits. The king granted him hospitality, but no one spoke to him or wanted any kind of friendly sharing with him. Later in the ritual there is the swinging of young girls in a swing. This costume is said to please a poor girl, Aletes ("wandering"), who came to Athens and killed herself. There seems to be a rather gloomy presence of dead spirits, some claim that the feast is celebrated in memory of Erigone and Ikaros. Ikaros was the first to make wine, but when he took his product to Athens and people tasted it, they got drunk and dizzy and believed that they were poisoned, and killed the poor wine-farmer. His daughter went searching for him, and when she found his dead body in a well, she hanged herself. At the festival, the Keres, the spirits of the forefathers, a primordial population thought to originate in Caria in SW Asia Minor, came with Dionysos to drink the new wine from all the newly opened wine jars. It was a bunch of not only thirsty, but also bloodthirsty and sex craving entities. There was also served a special food, all kinds of seeds mixed together in a jar with honey and cooked until the grains got softened, a dish even today in Greece served in memory of the dead. Together with the Roman rituals of February and the Mesopotamian rituals over which Gilgamesh presides, this spring festival is a witness of a very old prehistoric pattern: The dead come to visit the living in an atmosphere of intoxication. They come from the realm of death and have a craving for both killing and sexual licence. On a certain evening during the festival the matrons were allowed to make love with young strangers going from door to door (as especially pointed out by K.Kerenyi in his book).
The softened grain was eaten in memory of the few people that survived the flood. This was the only food they were able to find. Again we have the notion of contact with the evil spirits of an early population living before the great flood.
Temples dug out at Beycesultan in Asia Minor has a very peculiar altar, the example shown is from level XV, "Shrine A", (Anatolian Stud.XIX, 1969, p.149) 2500 B.C. The two central elevations seem to be developed out of a round centre. They are the symbol of unity splitting up into contrast. The whole device is oriented towards NNE. North is the symbol of the massive world mountain and East the symbol of the raising of the sun through the primordial gate, which is the world mountain split open and divided into two. One of the big storing jars hiding behind the split elevation is halfway sunk into the earth. It is meant to receive the offerings for the killed twin brother.
In Iliad 2,781-3 Typhon is said to lay slain among the Arimoi (the Aramaeans) J.Fontenrose has dealt with the myth (Python, 1959, repr. as paperback 1980 p.70-93) He has shown the amazing parallels with the Delphian myth of the slaying of the dragon Python. Typhon’s lair was the Corycian cave in Cilicia but there is also a Corycian cave on the slopes of Parnassos. And there is also a Cappadokian city called Parnassos. The Delphian myth seems to originate in Anatolia, and the name Typhon must have some connection to Tsaphon and Mt. Kassios in Northern Syria.
Typhon is primordial totality seen as a snake coiling around itself. Fontenrose quotes a Scholiast who tells a strange story about Hera wanting to take revenge on Zeus and for that purpose got two eggs from Kronos smeared with his semen. From them would spring a monster to usurp Zeus’ throne (p.72, Schol. B on Il. 2,783). Snakes are hatched from eggs and Typhon has two snakes as his legs. On the picture one of the snakes (his right leg) wears long stripes whereas the other (left leg) is covered with a slalom-running pattern (Fontenrose, fig.13). He is also pictured as a man with a bird’s wings and snakes as feet, cf. the Jao gem showing a man with a bird’s head and snakes as legs. He is the symbol of all duality melting into primordial amorpheous unity. The version found in Apollodoros 1,6,3 is the most ancient and original version as shown by Fontonrose: It tells that when Zeus attacked him he coiled round Zeus and took Zeus’ weapon the sickle, and cut out all the sinews of poor Zeus. Thereby also reducing the god to primordial amorpheous inertia. The two snakes, male and female coiling round each other is a very old symbole of primordial totality and duality uniting into one and mystic tantric vision. As a matter of fact it is often stressed that Typhon had a mate, a female snake called Echidne. He is the personified totality, he is said to have numerous heads: From his 100 heads came the voices and cries of all kind of animals says Hesiod. A Scholiast says that he represented every kind of wild beast (Schol. Rec. on Aesch. Pr.351)
To my mind he is the distorted and faint image of the old bull god killed by Sandan/Baal. On a frieze from the altar of Pergamon he is seen with a bull’s horns and ears (Fontenrose,fig.15,p.81). And his Delphian twin is said to have a son, Aix („goat“), Plutarch Mor. 293C,417f-418b. At the Corycian cave there is an underground stream called Aoos which was also one of the names of Adonis, EM 117, (see epigram, Hicks: “Inscriptions from Western Cilicia”, JHS 1891 p.240, no.2). His original name must have been Jao/Jaw.
1 Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, 1907, p.351-5.
2 Jane Ellen Harrison: ‘The Myth of the Cyclops’, in ibd. Myths of the Odyssey in Art and Literature, pl.4. The snake is moving vertically, not horizontally, towards the forehead of the giant, obviously because of the narrow space bounded by the small circle of this early cylix found at Nola.
3 ibd, pl.13 & 15 & 16.
4 Vase sculpté de Goudéa
5 M.Riemschneider, Augengott und heilige Hochzeit, 1953, Abb 1,p.1 cf the 3-parted pillar device Abb.16, p.15,Heinrich, Kleinfunde aus Uruk T 25b.
6 “Heaven on earth – at Hazor and Arad”, in Birger A. Pearson ed. Religious syncretism in antiquity. Essays in conversation with Geo Widengren, 1975, pp.67-83. Cf Tryggve N.D. Mettinger, No Graven Image?, 1995 p.85, 96, 180, s.185, w. pictures of Semitic stelae.
7 Remnants from the Inner Anatolian culture of Catal Hüyük must be sought in Cilicia. James Mellaart (A.S. XIII, 1963,pp.210-36) has shown that the Early Bronze Age culture of Cilicia was derived from that of the Konya plain. In the Konya plain E.B.A.2 comes to an end with the "Luvian" invasion from the Pontic steppe c.2300 B.C.
8 In Mesopotamian folk-religion figurines of twins are set up as guardians of the doorframe one to the left and one to the right, or twins "fighting each other" in the doorway, W.Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution, 1992, pp.110f..