Batting around the Rings of Saturn

August 20, 2021

Last week I indulged in one of my favorite activities: going to the cemetery at night to watch bats. I’m happy to report that the Little Brown Bat population in my corner of the world appears to be healthy.

Isn’t he adorable? Photo: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

I caught the end of the Perseid shower and saw a stunning meteor with a long tail just after dusk. A man named Kevin was there with his telescope and I saw the rings of Saturn and four moons of Jupiter. On this evening, Jupiter appeared brighter in the sky than Venus. It has to do with Jupiter being opposite the Sun right now.

I just finished a piece for Return to Mago for next month that will begin looking at defensive magic. In this context, I am interested in the Mesopotamian giant Huwawa and the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed him. The three appeared to me in a recent meditative journey. Huwawa looked like he does in the frescoes. Enkidu was thin and gray, in his death form.

Huwawa from second millennium, B.C.E. Photo: Rama

Gilgamesh surprised me. There is a popular theory right now that the Sumerians were a black-skinned people, based on the name for themselves ,”the black-headed people.” Since the Sumerians also say that they came by boat from a land to the south, this is plausible. However, Gilgamesh looked as if he could be a typical man from present-day Iraq, only hairier and more buff. He had dark hair mixed with gray and a very long full beard. Only a little of his face showed in all that black-gray beard, and it was a good-natured face.

Gilgamesh killing the Bull of Heaven, another really bad thing he did. Second millennium, B.C.E.

Mesopotamian culture was multi-ethnic, before and after the arrival of the Sumerians, so this appearance of Gilgamesh doesn’t really contradict the theory that the Sumerians came from an island off the coast of India. And Gilgamesh may have appeared to me in a later, Akkadian guise. I don’t think this was the first time I’d seen Gilgamesh either; only the first time that I recognized him.

I’m not sure how to feel about Gilgamesh. He does some bad things, some cowardly things, and some bone-headed things in his “epic,” and the narrative doesn’t attempt to put a positive spin on his actions. I think about him a lot, however, and I’m looking forward to writing about him and his adventures.

The Gods of Bling

April 12, 2018

In Mesopotamia, spotting a raven was once considered good luck. It was a sign of rain or a sign of a financial boon or a sign that luck had changed for the better. After the Great Flood, the hero Utnapishtum released three birds from the ark to see if it was safe to come out. It was the disappearance of bird number three, the raven, that signaled that the rains had ceased.

It’s easy to understand how the association of ravens with treasure arose: they are curious creatures who like to collect things. They are especially drawn to objects that shine, so ravens have probably collected quite a few coins. They are not hoarders, however, and quickly lose interest in their bangles. They will readily relinquish treasure. Seek out the raven for valuable windfall.

Learn more about ravens and signs from Divining with Animal Guides.

Queen of Heaven and Earth

March 24, 2017

Ishtar with her animals. Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Ishtar amongst the gods, extraordinary is her station.
Respected is her word, it is supreme.
Strong, exalted and splendid are her decrees.
The gods continually cause her commands to be executed:
All of them bow down before her.

March 22nd marks the 27th anniversary of my ordination as priestess of Ishtar.

Hail to the Queen of Women, Mistress of Animals, Embodiment of Righteousness, the Beautiful Light of Heaven.

Great Gray Owl

March 10, 2017

My photo of the owl. I was close, but I don’t have a very good camera.

The big excitement this week has been the appearance of a Great Gray Owl, a boreal owl rarely seen in the United States. As the name implies, this is a very large owl, bigger even than the Great Horned. The wingspan is huge, but a blur in my camera even flying slowly.

No one knows if this is a female or male, though one birder thought this owl is female based on the size (female owls tend to be slightly larger, but the difference is not great enough for identification). The owl was unconcerned about the group of people nearby and concentrated on hunting rodents. As word has spread, people have been flocking here from out-of-state.

What does it all mean? On one level, that food for this bird in the far north has been scarce this winter. Possibly we have had a greater mouse or vole irruption, though I haven’t noticed it. Gray Owls have also been spotted in the past few weeks in Maine and New Hampshire.

This relief, often identified as Lillith or Ereshkigal, is probably Ishtar. Photo: BabelStone.

This was not a personal sign since I was told where the bird was feeding in the late afternoon and went looking for it, but it is a sign for the nearby community as whole, which has talked of little else this week. I ordinarily don’t place credence on superstitions about seeing owls in daylight and don’t know anyone who does, partly because we see so many owls during the day around here.

The owl is the sacred bird of Ishtar, probably because the owl protects the grain by hunting rodents. The owl was also a women’s symbol in Mesopotamia. Women wore owl amulets during childbirth and the prostitutes’ union used the owl as their totem. I interpret this owl as an intervention from outside to rid the community of the vermin of noxious ideas.

In the next day or two as weather becomes warmer, the owl is expected to move north.

Great Gray Owl photographed in Ontario by Jok2000. Wikimedia Commons.

Deer Reader

July 1, 2016

Photo: Capillon.
Photo: Capillon.

 

I’m studying deer this summer and will be sharing tidbits now and then about this magical animal. This is a Sumerian copper plaque dating to about 2500 B.C.E. from the temple of the goddess Ninhursaga. It shows Imdugud, also known as the Anzu Bird, protected by two stags. Imdugud has a lion head and the body of an unknown bird. Imdugud is identified in Mesopotamian literature as male, though this particular image looks like a lioness to me. Imdugud is the bird who steals the Tablet of Destinies from the god Enki. Eventually Enki recovers the Tablet with the help of his turtle familiar. Enki is called the “Stag of the Abzu.” The Abzu refers to the underworld freshwater kingdom that fed the marshland of southern Sumer and the stag is probably the Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, but the title is still cryptic to me.

Source:
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.

The Scorpion Twins

November 13, 2015

8th century BCE Assyrian seal. Source: Walters Art Museum/Wikimedia Commons
8th century BCE Assyrian seal. Source: Walters Art Museum/Wikimedia Commons

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero encounters scorpion people on his quest for eternal life. Scorpion men, called Girtablullu, are depicted in Akkadian and Assyrian drawings as composite human/scorpion/bird figures, reflecting a complex understanding of animal deities.

Gilgamesh encounters a male/female pair of scorpion deities at the “Twin Mountains,” probably in the Zagros range to the east of his Mesopotamian city of Uruk. The pair are guarding the tunnel through the underworld, which the sun travels at night. As Gilgamesh approaches, the Girtablullu remarks:

“This one who has come to us, his body is flesh of a god!”
The wife of the scorpion monster answered him:”Two-thirds of him is divine, one-third is human.”

The scorpion pair are usually depicted as husband and wife in English translations, but the text literally defines them as “scorpion-man” and “scorpion-woman.” Logic would categorize the two as brother and sister, not husband and wife, since the opening they guard is between mountains characterized as “twins.”

Why is this important? In pre-patriarchal societies sibling bonds are paramount and marital bonds are relatively unimportant, since the organizing principle of society is the mother-child relationship rather than that of husband-wife. The Akkadian culture where this myth was first recorded in written form was unquestionably patriarchal, yet vestiges of a pre-patriarchal culture can be gleaned within this story that unquestionably arose at an earlier time. Modern scholars impose a more rigid patriarchal framework when translating these myths, however, rendering the pre-patriarchal vestiges invisible to the reader.

So if Girtablullu is the Akkadian word for scorpion-man, what is the equivalent for scorpion-woman? I had to search for a transliteration of the Akkadian text for this one. I think it is Girtablullu-sinnistu.

Sources

Foster, Benjamin R., ed. The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001.

Gardner, John and John Maier, eds. Gilgamesh.New York: Vantage Books, 1985.

Mitchell, Stephen. Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press, 2004.

The Mathematical Priestess, part II

May 29, 2015

Uruk Temple. Drawing Lamassu Design.
Uruk Temple. Drawing Lamassu Design.

In Mesopotamia the first accounting systems arose out of the need to record and disperse temple commodities. Many of these early accounting scribes were women. As societies became more complex, arithmetical systems developed to accommodate trade, architecture, irrigation, and land division. Math and record-keeping were also necessary for the development of Mesopotamian astrology, which was the genesis for the Greek astrological system we use today. We’re not talking about grade school arithmetic at this point either: Mesopotamians had a base 60 counting system (it eased division), utilized square and cube root tables, calculated compound interest, and (by the later period) could calculate the time of an eclipse to within a few minutes. Both Mesopotamians and Egyptians understood triangular relationships long before Pythagoras, although the Greeks did provide the theorems.