Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 156Ancestor worship, the worship of ghosts, had origin in the stage of Animism. But ancestor worship was not developed in Babylonia as in China, for instance, although traces of it survived in the worship of stars as ghosts, in the deification of kings, and the worship of patriarchs, who might be exalted as gods or identified with a supreme god. The Egyptian Pharaoh Unas became the sun god and the constellation of Orion by devouring his predecessors. He ate his god as a tribe ate its animal totem; he became the "bull of heaven".
There were star totems as well as mountain totems. A St. Andrew's cross sign, on one of the Egyptian ship standards referred to, may represent a star. The Babylonian goddess Ishtar was symbolized as a star, and she was the "world mother". Many primitive currents of thought shaped the fretted rocks of ancient mythologies.
In various countries all round the globe the belief prevailed that the stars were ghosts of the mighty dead--of giants, kings, or princes, or princesses, or of pious people whom the gods loved, or of animals which were worshipped. A few instances may be selected at random. When the Teutonic gods slew the giant Thjasse, he appeared in the heavens as Sirius. In India the ghosts of the "seven Rishis", who were semi-divine Patriarchs, formed the constellation of the Great Bear, which in Vedic times was called the "seven bears". The wives of the seven Rishis were the stars of the Pleiades. In Greece the Pleiades were the ghosts of the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, and in Australia they were and are a queen and six handmaidens. In these countries, as elsewhere, stories were told to account for the "lost Pleiad", a fact which suggests that primitive men were more constant observers of the heavenly bodies than might otherwise be supposed. The Arcadians believed that they were descended, as Hesiod recorded, from a princess who was transformed by Zeus into a bear; in this form Artemis slew her and she became the "Great Bear" of the sky. The Egyptian Isis was the star Sirius, whose rising coincided with the beginning of the Nile inundation. Her first tear for the dead Osiris fell into the river on "the night of the drop". The flood which ensued brought the food supply. Thus the star was not only the Great Mother of all, but the sustainer of all.
The brightest stars were regarded as being the greatest and most influential. In Babylonia all the planets were identified with great deities. Jupiter, for instance, was Merodach, and one of the astral forms of Ishtar was Venus. Merodach was also connected with "the fish of Ea" (Pisces), so that it is not improbable that Ea worship had stellar associations. Constellations were given recognition before the planets were identified.
A strange blending of primitive beliefs occurred when the deities were given astral forms. As has been shown (Chapter III) gods were supposed to die annually. The Egyptian priests pointed out to Herodotus the grave of Osiris and also his star. There are "giants' graves" also in those countries in which the gods were simply ferocious giants. A god might assume various forms; he might take the form of an insect, like Indra, and hide in a plant, or become a mouse, or a serpent, like the gods of Erech in the Gilgamesh epic. The further theory that a god could exist in various forms at one and the same time suggests that it had its origin among a people who accepted the idea of a personal god while yet in the stage of Naturalism. In Egypt Osiris, for instance, was the moon, which came as a beautiful child each month and was devoured as the wasting "old moon" by the demon Set; he was the young god who was slain in his prime each year; he was at once the father, husband, and son of Isis; he was the Patriarch who reigned over men and became the Judge of the Dead; he was the earth spirit, he was the bisexual Nile spirit, he was the spring sun; he was the Apis bull of Memphis, and the ram of Mendes; he was the reigning Pharaoh. In his fusion with Ra, who was threefold--Khepera, Ra, and Tum--he died each day as an old man; he appeared in heaven at night as the constellation Orion, which was his ghost, or was, perhaps, rather the Sumerian Zi, the spiritual essence of life. Osiris, who resembled Tammuz, a god of many forms also, was addressed as follows in one of the Isis chants: