Mesopotamia

(Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian)

ANU The god of the sky, from whence the sun shines and the rain falls. Lord of all, the fountainhead of order in both the natural and supernatural worlds. The stars are his warriors, the Milky Way his personal highway. Anu dwells exclusively in the celestial heaven. Unapproachable, remote and other-wordly, he cares little about men and seldom intervenes in their affairs.

APSU The Abyss. The waters upon which the earth floats. When the gods were first created, their noise disturbed Apsu, who complained to his mother, the great dragon Tiamat. Tiamat made war on the gods and was slain by Marduk.

ANSHAR Father of Anu and all the other gods. His consort is his sister, Kishu. Anshar is the male principle, Kishu the female principle. Anshar is the sky, Kishu the earth. Anshar led the gods in the war against Tiamat.

EA Also ENKI “Lord of the Sacred Eye.” God of water, supreme god of magic and wisdom, patron of the arts. An oracle. Ea is the god of fresh waters. Ea is portrayed as a goat with a fish’s tail or a human with water flowing from his shoulders. Mating with Ninhursag (“Lady Mountain”) he created the plants and gave men agriculture.

ENLIL The god of earth and wind. The master of men’s fates. The god who dries up the flood waters after the Tigris and Euphrates have overflowed their banks; who brings rain; who fills the sails of ships and boats; who fetrilises the palm blossoms. The god who struggles against the suffering of the world. Enlil’s power moves all; he is the active principle which drives the earth. Enlil sent the flood which destroyed all mankind except Utnapishtim and his family. Enlil can be found in the howling storm and the ruins and ashes of war.

ERESHKIGAL Goddess of the underworld, consort of Nergal. Some consider her a dark side or aspect of Ishtar. When Ishtar descended into the underworld to save Tammuz, Ereshkigal tricked her into leaving some part of her clothing or insignias at each of the underworld’s seven gates as she passed through them. Standing naked at the seventh gate, Ishtar threw herself on Ereshkigal; but like Samson shorn of his hair she was powerless. Ereshkigal confined Ishtar in the underworld until the wily Ea contrived her release with a trick.

GILGAMESH Like Hercules, a hero-god, two parts divine and one part human. The story of his adventures survives in an epic poem on twelve tablets dating back to Akkadia in the middle of the second millennium B.C. Gilgamesh fought and tamed the wild man Enkiddu. Despite the warnings of the priests and ill omens from the sun god, Gilgamesh and Enkiddu set out upon a quest. Enkiddu’s death incited Gilgamesh to seek immortality, and after many adventures he found at last Utnapishtim who survived the Great Flood and with his wife was granted eternal life by the gods. Utnapishtim convinced Gilgamesh of the futility of immortality.

ISHTAR; to the Sumerians INANNA; to the Egyptians, ASTARTE The greatest of all the mother goddesses of the Mesopotamians. Goddess of fertility, goddess of sex, goddess of the moon, goddess of war. Lady of heaven, lady of sorrow and battles. The great lover, the great mother. The hero-god Gilgamesh spurned her, ensuring his death. Venus is her star, and the lion is her cult animal. Ishtar’s love is all consuming and even deadly. An Egyptian sculpture portrays her nude, standing on a lion, and holding a lotus blossom (the symbol of life) in her right hand. Ishtar’s worship involved phallic symbols, sacred whores and painted priests in women’s clothing. At her shrine at Uruk the priestesses performed a sexual rite in her honour. A priestess played the goddess; the priest who played the god was slain. The Christians turned her into a demon, and she is mentioned as such in Milton’s PARADISE LOST.

KINGU Tiamat’s general in the war against the gods. Keeper of the tablets of destiny, which hold the divine plan for all the cosmos. Ninhursag used Kingu’s blood to make the first man, and from this comes the demonic, rebellious aspect of human nature.

MARDUK The great god of Babylon, King of Kings, Guardian of the Law, the Great Sorcerer, the Great Healer, slayer of Tiamat. Marduk is Order fighting against Chaos, the conflict from which all Creation emerges. Defeating Tiamat, Marduk brought order and life to the world. When the tablets of destiny were seized from Kingu, Marduk fastened to his own breast, and so brought control of the earth under the divine authority of the gods. The stele of Hammurabi shows Marduk on his throne with a horned headdress, giving Hammurabi his ring and sceptre. The Amorites saw Marduk as a god of spring and sunlight, of herbs and trees.

NEBO Also NABU God of writing and speech, speaker for the gods. Nebo maintains records of men’s deeds and produces them for judgment after death. His symbol is the stylus. NERGAL God of the underworld, mass destruction and plague, consort of Ereshkigal. Thrown out of heaven, he stormed the underworld with fourteen demons until Ereshkigal consented to marry him.

NINHURSAG Also MAAT “Lady Mountain.” An earth mother. She mold the first man out of clay and brought him to life with the blood of Kingu.

SHAMASH Also BABBAR, UTU The sun. Son of the moon god Sin, brother and husband to Ishtar. The great god of justice. In Summer, a god of divination. The enemy of darkness and all the evil darkness brings. Every morning, scorpion-men throw open the gates of his great palace, and Shamash mounts his chariot. He then crosses the sky from one horizon to the other, casting his rays upon the earth like a net, seeing all the evils and wrongs of the world. Entering the earth on the eastern horizon, Shamash travels through the underworld back to his palace. Shamash requires justice of earthly kings and champions their subjects, especially the poor. SIN The moon god. Wise and secretive, the enemy of all evil spirits. An old man with a long beard who flies through the sky in his sailboat every night.

TAMMUZ Also DUMUZI God of the harvest. The god who dies and rises again. The love of Ishtar killed him, and Ishtar fought Ereshkigal in the underworld to bring him back.

TIAMAT; to the agnostics, LEVIATHAN Goddess of the primeval depths, the chaos from which Marduk formed the world. She took the form of a dragon and swam in the primal waters. Tiamat warred on the gods, spawning a brood of dragons, sphinxes, scorpion-men and other demons and monsters for her army. Marduk slew her, defeating her with magic and powerful winds. Splitting her in two, Marduk cast one half of Tiamat into the sky to form the heavens and the other he cast down to form the earth. (Canannite) ANAT Goddess of love and war. Female counterpart of Baal-Haddad. Anat often aids Baal-Haddad in his battles and takes his part in defeat. ATHIRAT In the Bible, ASHERAH Mother of the gods, female counterpart of El. Athirat persuaded El to give his blessing to a temple for Baal-Haddad after his great victory over Sea, the god of chaos. Corresponds to Ishtar.

BAAL-HADDAD “The Mighty,” “He who mounts the clouds.” Son of Dagon, the corn god. The executive of the divine assembly. Baal-Haddad dies and rises again so that the world may live. Baal-Haddad is the champion of divine Order against Chaos. Lightning is his weapon, and he can be found in storms and thunder. Defying Mot, the god of death, Baal-Haddad was swallowed up by the god of death and taken to the underworld which Baal Haddad laid waste after a terrible struggle. In the beginning of all things, Baal-Haddad warred with and conquered Yamm the Sea, and so brought the unruly waters of Chaos under divine authority and control. The term “Baal” (alternate spellings: Beel, Bel) is not a proper name but a title. It means simply, “Lord.” To know the proper name of a god was t possess great power, and so the proper name was often kept secret from anyone who was not a member of the priesthood. Many local and regional gods were therefore referred to simply as “Lord” — Baal. The Baal of the Bible is most often Baal Shamim, “Lord of the Skies.” In Carthage, a colony of the Phoenicians, the people worshipped Baal Hammon or Ammon, a sky and fertility god whose symbol was the ram. The god of the Semitic nomad tribe of Zebulon was the “Fly,” or Beel-Zebul, Lord of Zebulon, often mistakenly called Beelzebub.

EL “The Bull,” the Father of Men, the Kindly One, the Compassionate. Creator of all things, greatest of all the gods, father of the divine family, head of the divine assembly.

KATHIRAT “The Skilful Ones.” Minor goddesses who preside over childbirth.

MOT The god of death who rules the underworld amid wreckage and blackness.

SKILLFUL AND PERCIPIENT ONE, THE The divine artificer, patron of craftsmanship and magic. The Skilful One made Baal-Haddad’s weapons for the struggle against Yamm and built the temple in which Anat and Baal-Haddad dwell.

YAMM THE SEA Also PRINCE SEA, OCEAN-CURRENT THE RULER God of primordial chaos, much like Tiamat and Coatlicue. Baal-Haddad’s enemy. Before the great combat with Baal-Haddad, Yamm terrified the divine assembly of gods and sent emissaries to demand tribute from them. Part of the tribute he demanded was Baal-Haddad as a slave. Infuriated, Baal-Haddad drove the emissaries from the assembly hall, lashing their buttocks and depriving them of all dignity. So the war began.