The other night a huge owl flew across my windshield.
I didn’t know what it was at first, just a streak of brown, like a darting deer, swooping a few feet above the ground. A flying deer?
I usually don’t drive at night because I’m worried about deer. Most longtime Adirondack residents share this concern, and it’s one of the reasons you don’t see many cars on the road after sundown. Although my last motorized encounter with a deer was in the middle of a hot humid day, so go figure.
Anyway, the owl got me thinking about the many Owl’s Heads I have known. There’s Owl’s Head Keene, a short popular hike with views of the High Peaks. It looks like something out of Middle Earth from below.
The Owl’s Head in Elizabethtown is referred to as Owl Head Lookout. It’s in the Giant Wilderness Area, a large tract of state land that it’s best not to get lost in.
In Hamilton County there’s an Owl’s Head with a fire tower. Considered one of the “easier” peaks, it’s still not easy, and I climbed it one afternoon with people who were fit and people who were suffering.
The goddess Ishtar was worshipped at one time as an owl goddess. (Her sister Inanna probably started out as some sort of water bird, now extinct.) To me, the sign of the owl is a scintillating reminder of the presence of the Goddess.
Nammu is the Mesopotamian great goddess of water, who created heaven and earth. She is considered the mother of everything and everyone, including the gods.
She was worshiped at the temple of Eridu, attested in Mesopotamian literature as the very first temple and probably predating the arrival of the Sumerians. This temple site was later repurposed to center a god of the subterranean waters, called Enki by the Sumerians, who was considered her son. Though Nammu makes brief appearances in Sumerian mythology, she had no known cult in historical times.
I wonder if Nammu might be the Sumerian title of a mother goddess worshiped by people in southern Mesopotamia before the Sumerians gained ascendency in the region. This might explain her role as remote ancestor, her association with Eridu and its swampy surroundings, and her lack of known cult following the rise of Sumerian cities.
Nammu’s “son,” who eclipsed her worship, may or may not have originally been Sumerian, although Enki is a Sumerian deity. There is a sweet story about the transfer of religious (and possibly political and economic) primacy from Eridu to the city of Uruk called “Inanna and the God of Wisdom.” I’ll write about it in a future post.
Temples and priesthoods for millenia claimed lineage (actual or ideological) to Eridu. A pool or small replica of a pool could be found even in northern Mesopotamian temples, representing the watery area surrounding Eridu. This water was believed to be part of the fluid of creation, the Abzu, emanating from Nammu herself.
Oops! I plum forgot to schedule a post today. Busy week. But I do have something for you to read at Return to Mago. It’s about the Mesopotamian giant Huwawa as a myth about environmental destruction under patriarchy. Sounds heavy, but it’s a good read.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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