Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

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In accounting for the rise of distinctive and rival city deities, we should also consider the influence of divergent conceptions regarding the origin of life in mingled communities. Each foreign element in a community had its own intellectual life and immemorial tribal traditions, which reflected ancient habits of life and perpetuated the doctrines of eponymous ancestors. Among the agricultural classes, the folk religion which entered so intimately into their customs and labours must have remained essentially Babylonish in character. In cities, however, where official religions were formulated, foreign ideas were more apt to be imposed, especially when embraced by influential teachers. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that in Babylonia, as in Egypt, there were differences of opinion regarding the origin of life and the particular natural element which represented the vital principle.

One section of the people, who were represented by the worshippers of Ea, appear to have believed that the essence of life was contained in water. The god of Eridu was the source of the "water of life". He fertilized parched and sunburnt wastes through rivers and irrigating canals, and conferred upon man the sustaining "food of life". When life came to an end--

Food of death will be offered thee...
Water of death will be offered thee...

Offerings of water and food were made to the dead so that the ghosts might be nourished and prevented from troubling the living. Even the gods required water and food; they were immortal because they had drunk ambrosia and eaten from the plant of life. When the goddess Ishtar was in the Underworld, the land of the dead, the servant of Ea exclaimed--

"Hail! lady, may the well give me of its waters, so that I may drink."

The goddess of the dead commanded her servant to "sprinkle the lady Ishtar with the water of life and bid her depart". The sacred water might also be found at a confluence of rivers. Ea bade his son, Merodach, to "draw water from the mouth of two streams", and "on this water to put his pure spell".

The worship of rivers and wells which prevailed in many countries was connected with the belief that the principle of life was in moisture. In India, water was vitalized by the intoxicating juice of the Soma plant, which inspired priests to utter prophecies and filled their hearts with religious fervour. Drinking customs had originally a religious significance. It was believed in India that the sap of plants was influenced by the moon, the source of vitalizing moisture and the hiding-place of the mead of the gods. The Teutonic gods also drank this mead, and poets were inspired by it. Similar beliefs obtained among various peoples. Moon and water worship were therefore closely associated; the blood of animals and the sap of plants were vitalized by the water of life and under control of the moon.

The body moisture of gods and demons had vitalizing properties. When the Indian creator, Prajápati, wept at the beginning, "that (the tears) which fell into the water became the air. That which he wiped away, upwards, became the sky."[50] The ancient Egyptians believed that all men were born from the eyes of Horus except negroes, who came from other parts of his body.[51] The creative tears of Ra, the sun god, fell as shining rays upon the earth. When this god grew old saliva dripped from his mouth, and Isis mixed the vitalizing moisture with dust, and thus made the serpent which bit and paralysed the great solar deity.[52]