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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 160

The god of Mars was Nergal, the patron deity of Cuthah,[320] who descended into the Underworld and forced into submission Eresh-ki-gal (Persephone), with whom he was afterwards associated. His "name", says Professor Pinches, "is supposed to mean 'lord of the great habitation', which would be a parallel to that of his spouse, Eresh-ki-gal".[321] At Erech he symbolized the destroying influence of the sun, and was accompanied by the demons of pestilence. Mars was a planet of evil, plague, and death; its animal form was the wolf. In Egypt it was called Herdesher, "the Red Horus", and in Greece it was associated with Ares (the Roman Mars), the war god, who assumed his boar form to slay Adonis (Tammuz).

Nergal was also a fire god like the Aryo-Indian Agni, who, as has been shown, links with Tammuz as a demon slayer and a god of fertility. It may be that Nergal was a specialized form of Tammuz, who, in a version of the myth, was reputed to have entered the Underworld as a conqueror when claimed by Eresh-ki-gal, and to have become, like Osiris, the lord of the dead. If so, Nergal was at once the slayer and the slain.

The various Babylonian deities who were identified with the planets had their characters sharply defined as members of an organized pantheon. But before this development took place certain of the prominent heavenly bodies, perhaps all the planets, were evidently regarded as manifestations of one deity, the primeval Tammuz, who was a form of Ea, or of the twin deities Ea and Anu. Tammuz may have been the "sevenfold one" of the hymns. At a still earlier period the stars were manifestations of the Power whom the jungle dwellers of Chota Nagpur attempt to propitiate--the "world soul" of the cultured Brahmans of the post-Vedic Indian Age. As much is suggested by the resemblances which the conventionalized planetary deities bear to Tammuz, whose attributes they symbolized, and by the Egyptian conception that the sun, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars were manifestations of Horus. Tammuz and Horus may have been personifications of the Power or World Soul vaguely recognized in the stage of Naturalism.

The influence of animistic modes of thought may be traced in the idea that the planets and stars were the ghosts of gods who were superseded by their sons. These sons were identical with their fathers; they became, as in Egypt, "husbands of their mothers". This idea was perpetuated in the Aryo-Indian Laws of Manu, in which it is set forth that "the husband, after conception by his wife, becomes an embryo and is born again of her[322]". The deities died every year, but death was simply change. Yet they remained in the separate forms they assumed in their progress round "the wide circle of necessity". Horus was remembered as various planets--as the falcon, as the elder sun god, and as the son of Osiris; and Tammuz was the spring sun, the child, youth, warrior, the deity of fertility, and the lord of death (Orion-Nergal), and, as has been suggested, all the planets.

The stars were also the ghosts of deities who died daily. When the sun perished as an old man at evening, it rose in the heavens as Orion, or went out and in among the stars as the shepherd of the flock, Jupiter, the planet of Merodach in Babylonia, and Attis in Asia Minor. The flock was the group of heavenly spirits invisible by day, the "host of heaven"--manifestations or ghosts of the emissaries of the controlling power or powers.


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