Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
What to others a trifle appears Fills me full of smiles and tears.... With my inward Eye, 't is an old Man grey, With my outward, a Thistle across my way.
Indeed, it is possible that the winged disc meant one thing to an Assyrian priest, and another thing to a man not gifted with what Blake called "double vision".
What seems certain, however, is that the archer was as truly solar as the "wings" or "rays". In Babylonia and Assyria the sun was, among other things, a destroyer from the earliest times. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Ashur, like Merodach, resembled, in one of his phases, Hercules, or rather his prototype Gilgamesh. One of Gilgamesh's mythical feats was the slaying of three demon birds. These may be identical with the birds of prey which Hercules, in performing his sixth labour, hunted out of Stymphalus. In the Greek Hipparcho-Ptolemy star list Hercules was the constellation of the "Kneeler", and in Babylonian-Assyrian astronomy he was (as Gilgamesh or Merodach) "Sarru", "the king". The astral "Arrow" (constellation of Sagitta) was pointed against the constellations of the "Eagle", "Vulture", and "Swan". In Phoenician astronomy the Vulture was "Zither" (Lyra), a weapon with which Hercules (identified with Melkarth) slew Linos, the musician. Hercules used a solar arrow, which he received from Apollo. In various mythologies the arrow is associated with the sun, the moon, and the atmospheric deities, and is a symbol of lightning, rain, and fertility, as well as of famine, disease, war, and death. The green-faced goddess Neith of Libya, compared by the Greeks to Minerva, carries in one hand two arrows and a bow. If we knew as little of Athena (Minerva), who was armed with a lance, a breastplate made of the skin of a goat, a shield, and helmet, as we do of Ashur, it might be held that she was simply a goddess of war. The archer in the sun disc of the Assyrian standard probably represented Ashur as the god of the people--a deity closely akin to Merodach, with pronounced Tammuz traits, and therefore linking with other local deities like Ninip, Nergal, and Shamash, and partaking also like these of the attributes of the elder gods Anu, Bel Enlil, and Ea.
All the other deities worshipped by the Assyrians were of Babylonian origin. Ashur appears to have differed from them just as one local Babylonian deity differed from another. He reflected Assyrian experiences and aspirations, but it is difficult to decide whether the sublime spiritual aspect of his character was due to the beliefs of alien peoples, by whom the early Assyrians were influenced, or to the teachings of advanced Babylonian thinkers, whose doctrines found readier acceptance in a "new country" than among the conservative ritualists of ancient Sumerian and Akkadian cities. New cults were formed from time to time in Babylonia, and when they achieved political power they gave a distinctive character to the religion of their city states. Others which did not find political support and remained in obscurity at home, may have yet extended their influence far and wide. Buddhism, for instance, originated in India, but now flourishes in other countries, to which it was introduced by missionaries. In the homeland it was submerged by the revival of Brahmanism, from which it sprung, and which it was intended permanently to displace. An instance of an advanced cult suddenly achieving prominence as a result of political influence is afforded by Egypt, where the fully developed Aton religion was embraced and established as a national religion by Akhenaton, the so-called "dreamer". That migrations were sometimes propelled by cults, which sought new areas in which to exercise religious freedom and propagate their beliefs, is suggested by the invasion of India at the close of the Vedic period by the "later comers", who laid the foundations of Brahmanism. They established themselves in Madhyadesa, "the Middle Country", "the land where the Brahmanas and the later Samhitas were produced". From this centre went forth missionaries, who accomplished the Brahmanization of the rest of India.