Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

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Of special interest are the references in Sumerian psalms to the ravens as well as the doves of goddesses. Throughout Asia and Europe ravens are birds of ill omen. In Scotland there still linger curious folk beliefs regarding the appearance of ravens and doves after death. Michael Scott, the great magician, when on his deathbed told his friends to place his body on a hillock. "Three ravens and three doves would be seen flying towards it. If the ravens were first the body was to be burned, but if the doves were first it was to receive Christian burial. The ravens were foremost, but in their hurry flew beyond their mark. So the devil, who had long been preparing a bed for Michael, was disappointed."[481]

In Indian mythology Purusha, the chaos giant, first divided himself. "Hence were husband and wife produced." This couple then assumed various animal forms and thus "created every living pair whatsoever down to the ants".[482] Goddesses and fairies in the folk tales of many countries sometimes assume bird forms. The "Fates" appear to Damayanti in the Nala story as swans which carry love messages.[483]

According to Aryo-Indian belief, birds were "blessed with fecundity". The Babylonian Etana eagle and the Egyptian vulture, as has been indicated, were deities of fertility. Throughout Europe birds, which were "Fates", mated, according to popular belief, on St. Valentine's Day in February, when lots were drawn for wives by rural folks. Another form of the old custom is referred to by the poet Gay:--

Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind
Their paramours with mutual chirpings find,
I early rose....
Thee first I spied, and the first swain we see,
In spite of fortune, shall our true love be.

The dove appears to have been a sacred bird in various areas occupied by tribes of the Mediterranean race. Models of a shrine found in two royal graves at Mycenae are surmounted by a pair of doves, suggesting twin goddesses like Isis and Nepthys of Egypt and Ishtar and Belitsheri of Babylonia. Doves and snakes were associated with the mother goddess of Crete, "typifying", according to one view, "her connection with air and earth. Although her character was distinctly beneficent and pacific, yet as Lady of the Wild Creatures she had a more fearful aspect, one that was often depicted on carved gems, where lions are her companions."[484] Discussing the attributes and symbols of this mother goddess, Professor Burrows says: "As the serpent, coming from the crevices of the earth, shows the possession of the tree or pillar from the underworld, so the dove, with which this goddess is also associated, shows its possession from the world of the sky".[485] Professor Robertson Smith has demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semites.[486] It figures in Hittite sculptures and was probably connected with the goddess cult in Asia Minor. Although Egypt had no dove goddess, the bird was addressed by lovers--

I hear thy voice, O turtle dove--
The dawn is all aglow--