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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 181

It would appear that the wheel (or hoop, a variant rendering) was a symbol of life, and that the Assyrian feather-robed figure which it enclosed was a god, not of war only, but also of fertility. His trident-headed arrow resembles, as has been suggested, a lightning symbol. Ezekiel's references are suggestive in this connection. When the cherubs "ran and returned" they had "the appearance of a flash of lightning", and "the noise of their wings" resembled "the noise of great waters". Their bodies were "like burning coals of fire". Fertility gods were associated with fire, lightning, and water. Agni of India, Sandan of Asia Minor, and Melkarth of Phoenicia were highly developed fire gods of fertility. The fire cult was also represented in Sumeria (pp. 49-51).

In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the revolving ring or wheel protects the Soma[391] (ambrosia) of the gods, on which their existence depends. The eagle giant Garuda sets forth to steal it. The gods, fully armed, gather round to protect the life-giving drink. Garuda approaches "darkening the worlds by the dust raised by the hurricane of his wings". The celestials, "overwhelmed by that dust", swoon away. Garuda afterwards assumes a fiery shape, then looks "like masses of black clouds", and in the end its body becomes golden and bright "as the rays of the sun". The Soma is protected by fire, which the bird quenches after "drinking in many rivers" with the numerous mouths it has assumed. Then Garuda finds that right above the Soma is "a wheel of steel, keen edged, and sharp as a razor, revolving incessantly. That fierce instrument, of the lustre of the blazing sun and of terrible form, was devised by the gods for cutting to pieces all robbers of the Soma." Garuda passes "through the spokes of the wheel", and has then to contend against "two great snakes of the lustre of blazing fire, of tongues bright as the lightning flash, of great energy, of mouth emitting fire, of blazing eyes". He slays the snakes.... The gods afterwards recover the stolen Soma.

Garuda becomes the vehicle of the god Vishnu, who carries the discus, another fiery wheel which revolves and returns to the thrower like lightning. "And he (Vishnu) made the bird sit on the flagstaff of his car, saying: 'Even thus thou shalt stay above me'."[392]

The Persian god Ahura Mazda hovers above the king in sculptured representations of that high dignitary, enclosed in a winged wheel, or disk, like Ashur, grasping a ring in one hand, the other being lifted up as if blessing those who adore him.

Shamash, the Babylonian sun god; Ishtar, the goddess of heaven; and other Babylonian deities carried rings as the Egyptian gods carried the ankh, the symbol of life. Shamash was also depicted sitting on his throne in a pillar-supported pavilion, in front of which is a sun wheel. The spokes of the wheel are formed by a star symbol and threefold rippling "water rays".

In Hittite inscriptions there are interesting winged emblems; "the central portion" of one "seems to be composed of two crescents underneath a disk (which is also divided like a crescent). Above the emblem there appear the symbol of sanctity (the divided oval) and the hieroglyph which Professor Sayce interprets as the name of the god Sandes." In another instance "the centre of the winged emblem may be seen to be a rosette, with a curious spreading object below. Above, two dots follow the name of Sandes, and a human arm bent 'in adoration' is by the side...." Professor Garstang is here dealing with sacred places "on rocky points or hilltops, bearing out the suggestion of the sculptures near Boghaz-Keui[393], in which there may be reasonably suspected the surviving traces of mountain cults, or cults of mountain deities, underlying the newer religious symbolism". Who the deity is it is impossible to say, but "he was identified at some time or other with Sandes".[394] It would appear, too, that the god may have been "called by a name which was that used also by the priest". Perhaps the priest king was believed to be an incarnation of the deity.


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