Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 153From the earliest times of which we have knowledge, the religious beliefs of the Sumerians had vague stellar associations. But it does not follow that their myths were star myths to begin with. A people who called constellations "the ram", "the bull", "the lion", or "the scorpion", did not do so because astral groups suggested the forms of animals, but rather because the animals had an earlier connection with their religious life.
At the same time it should be recognized that the mystery of the stars must ever have haunted the minds of primitive men. Night with all its terrors appealed more strongly to their imaginations than refulgent day when they felt more secure; they were concerned most regarding what they feared most. Brooding in darkness regarding their fate, they evidently associated the stars with the forces which influenced their lives--the ghosts of ancestors, of totems, the spirits that brought food or famine and controlled the seasons. As children see images in a fire, so they saw human life reflected in the starry sky. To the simple minds of early folks the great moon seemed to be the parent of the numerous twinkling and moving orbs. In Babylon, indeed, the moon was regarded as the father not only of the stars but of the sun also; there, as elsewhere, lunar worship was older than solar worship.
Primitive beliefs regarding the stars were of similar character in various parts of the world. But the importance which they assumed in local mythologies depended in the first place on local phenomena. On the northern Eur-Asian steppes, for instance, where stars vanished during summer's blue nights, and were often obscured by clouds in winter, they did not impress men's minds so persistently and deeply as in Babylonia, where for the greater part of the year they gleamed in darkness through a dry transparent atmosphere with awesome intensity. The development of an elaborate system of astral myths, besides, was only possible in a country where the people had attained to a high degree of civilization, and men enjoyed leisure and security to make observations and compile records. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Babylonia was the cradle of astronomy. But before this science had destroyed the theory which it was fostered to prove, it lay smothered for long ages in the debris of immemorial beliefs. It is necessary, therefore, in dealing with Babylonian astral myths to endeavour to approach within reasonable distance of the point of view, or points of view, of the people who framed them.
Babylonian religious thought was of highly complex character. Its progress was ever hampered by blended traditions. The earliest settlers in the Tigro-Euphrates valley no doubt imported many crude beliefs which they had inherited from their Palaeolithic ancestors--the modes of thought which were the moulds of new theories arising from new experiences. When consideration is given to the existing religious beliefs of various peoples throughout the world, in low stages of culture, it is found that the highly developed creeds of Babylonia, Egypt and other countries where civilization flourished were never divested wholly of their primitive traits.