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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 42

As we have seen (Chapter II) the earliest group of Babylonian deities consisted probably of four pairs of gods and goddesses as in Egypt. The first pair was Apsu-Rishtu and Tiamat, who personified the primordial deep. Now the elder deities in most mythologies--the "grandsires" and "grandmothers" and "fathers" and "mothers"--are ever the most powerful and most vengeful. They appear to represent primitive "layers" of savage thought. The Greek Cronos devours even his own children, and, as the late Andrew Lang has shown, there are many parallels to this myth among primitive peoples in various parts of the world.

Lang regarded the Greek survival as an example of "the conservatism of the religious instinct".[82] The grandmother of the Teutonic deity Tyr was a fierce giantess with nine hundred heads; his father was an enemy of the gods. In Scotland the hag-mother of winter and storm and darkness is the enemy of growth and all life, and she raises storms to stop the grass growing, to slay young animals, and prevent the union of her son with his fair bride. Similarly the Babylonian chaos spirits, Apsu and Tiamat, the father and mother of the gods, resolve to destroy their offspring, because they begin to set the Universe in order. Tiamat, the female dragon, is more powerful than her husband Apsu, who is slain by his son Ea. She summons to her aid the gods of evil, and creates also a brood of monsters--serpents, dragons, vipers, fish men, raging hounds, &c.--so as to bring about universal and enduring confusion and evil. Not until she is destroyed can the beneficent gods establish law and order and make the earth habitable and beautiful.

But although Tiamat was slain, the everlasting battle between the forces of good and evil was ever waged in the Babylonian world. Certain evil spirits were let loose at certain periods, and they strove to accomplish the destruction of mankind and his works. These invisible enemies were either charmed away by performing magical ceremonies, or by invoking the gods to thwart them and bind them.

Other spirits inhabited the bodies of animals and were ever hovering near. The ghosts of the dead and male and female demons were birds, like the birds of Fate which sang to Siegfried. When the owl raised its melancholy voice in the darkness the listener heard the spirit of a departed mother crying for her child. Ghosts and evil spirits wandered through the streets in darkness; they haunted empty houses; they fluttered through the evening air as bats; they hastened, moaning dismally, across barren wastes searching for food or lay in wait for travellers; they came as roaring lions and howling jackals, hungering for human flesh. The "shedu" was a destructive bull which might slay man wantonly or as a protector of temples. Of like character was the "lamassu", depicted as a winged bull with human head, the protector of palaces; the "alu" was a bull-like demon of tempest, and there were also many composite, distorted, or formless monsters which were vaguely termed "seizers" or "overthrowers", the Semitic "labashu" and "ach-chazu", the Sumerian "dimmea" and "dimme-kur". A dialectic form of "gallu" or devil was "mulla". Professor Pinches thinks it not improbable that "mulla" may be connected with the word "mula", meaning "star", and suggests that it referred to a "will-o'-the-wisp".[83] In these islands, according to an old rhyme,


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