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Inanna/Ishtar Bibliography

Dec. 30th, 2020 | 08:38 am

Last updated 15 February 2014.

Inanna/Ishtar BibliographyCollapse )

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Sekhmet and related goddesses bibliography

Dec. 29th, 2020 | 11:05 am

Last updated 24 April 2014.

Sekhmet and related goddesses bibliographyCollapse )

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Partial bibliography for this LJ

Feb. 12th, 2020 | 12:56 pm

Partial bibliography for this LJCollapse )

(Last updated 15 February 2014.)

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Female tricksters

Oct. 28th, 2015 | 10:40 pm

Couple of notes on these rara aves from The Encyclopedia of Religion.

"In her study of Zinacantecan myth from the Chiapas Highlands of Mexico, Eva Hunt [in The Transformation of the Hummingbird: Cultural Roots of a Zinacantecan Mythical Poem (Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 1977)] links contemporary female tricksters to the sixteenth-century goddess Cihuacoatl, a female deity with a tail, a fake baby, and a snake, which emerges from under her skirt and between her legs. In the contemporary Cuicatec region and the Puebla-Nahuatl area of Mexico, she is embodied as Matlacihuatl, and she is also known as Mujer Enredadora ("entangling woman"). Her name derives from maxtli, a loincloth. Matlacihuatl is adulterous and promiscuous, and she specializes in seducing homosexual men. She is sexually anomalous, having a vagina at the back of her neck that opens like a mouth. If a man does seduce her, he will become pregnant and give birth to a child that looks like excrement.

"A female turtle is the trickster of the Desána people in southern Columbia. She constantly outsmarts primordial monkeys, jaguars (the dominant supernatural beings of the primordial age), foxes, deer, and tapir, using their body parts to her advantage; for example, she uses the leg bone of the jaguar as a flute."

(At some point I will have to get my grubby little protruberances on Marilyn Jurich's Scheherazade's sisters: Trickster heroines and their stories in world literature.)

Sullivan, Lawrence E. "Mesoamerican and South American Tricksters". in Eliade, Mircea (editor in chief). The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York, Macmillan, 1987. (p 51)


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Links September 2015

Sep. 30th, 2015 | 01:43 pm

'Witchcraft' Island [Blå Jungfrun, an island off the east coast of Sweden] Reveals Evidence of Stone Age Rituals (livescience.com, 22 September 2015)

Paleo People Were Making Flour 32,000 Years Ago (NPR, 14 September 2015)

Breakthrough in world's oldest undeciphered writing [Proto-Elamite] (BBC, 25 October 2012)

Nail Polish History Dates Back to 3200 B.C. (Nails Magazine, 1 January 1995) Not exactly an academic source, but interesting stuff if it's accurate.

Were the First Artists Mostly Women? (National Geographic, 9 October 2013) "Three-quarters of handprints in ancient cave art were left by women, study finds."

Alan F. Dixson and Barnaby J. Dixson. Venus Figurines of the European Paleolithic: Symbols of Fertility or Attractiveness? Journal of Anthropology, Volume 2011 (2011)

Oldest-known dentistry found in 14,000-year-old tooth (ABC, 17 July 2015)

Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History (Smithsonian.com, 1 January 2007)

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity (New York Times, 30 November 2009) Review of the exhibition The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 - 3500 BC.

Last of millennium of temple marriages made in heaven (SMH, 30 April 2015): "Sashimani Devi, who has died aged 92, was the last Mahari devadasi (ritual dancer) of the 12th century Jagannath Temple in Puri, in the eastern Indian state of Orissa; her death brings to an end a tradition which has lasted nearly a millennium."


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Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality (continued)

Sep. 21st, 2015 | 08:21 pm

There are Amduat images over at my Tumblr, dwellerinthelibrary, which focusses on mythology, especially the irresistable visuals of Ancient Egypt. (I can see have a bit of tidying up work to do over there, though!)

The cosmic drama comes to its climax in the seventh hour, as Apophis tries to stop the sun-boat, preventing the sun-god's rebirth and "repeat[ing] the murder of Osiris". (And this battle takes place every night! The Egyptians lived with a constant threat the universe will come to its end. It's like growing up in the eighties.) Apophis dries up the water, and the barque can no longer be towed; it sails on by magical power, provided by Isis, Set (called "the eldest magician"), and the sun-god, who is protected by the Mehen-serpent, while the goddess Selkis puts Apophis in shackles and her assistants chop him to bits.

The sun barque still has a long way to go and a lot of work to do before dawn. The middle register of the eighth hour is another long scene of the barque being towed, including "the four rams of Tatenen, the god of the depths of the earth". Again the ram symbolizes the four ba-souls of Re, here identifying him with Tatenen. (Exactly which four gods those four ba-souls represent changes with the source, in typical Egyptian fashion.)

The upper and lower registers are each divided (by doors again called "knives") into five caverns. The hieroglyph for "cloth" appears repeatedly (often with someone sitting on it), with fresh clothing being provided for the afterlife and as part of the general business of rebirth. Osiris (also protected by the Mehen-serpent) sits in judgment on his foes, who are decapitated (by a cat-eared demon). The sun-god sends the stars "on their way, since their stable orbits are a sign of the continuous order of the cosmos".

This bit blows my mind. "The texts in the vaults describe how the Ba-souls of these beings respond to the generous promises of the Sungod. Human ears hear their jubilation as cries of animals and sounds of nature, like the humming of bees, banging on metal, the screeching of tomcats, the crying of birds, the roaring of bulls, etc. The Sungod, however, is able to recognize what their distorted voices are shouting."

The work of renewal continues in the ninth hour, with bread and beer provided to the dead by three "idols" sitting on what look like neb-baskets. The darkness is illuminated by twelve fire-breathing ureai. In the tenth hour ("With Deep Water and High Banks" – the barque is afloat again, at least part of the time), the solar eyes are restored; eight forms of Sekhmet stand before a seated Thoth, who holds the whole eye. Horus rescues the bodies of drowned people from decomposition (as Isis rescued the parts of Osiris' body from the Nile).

The leftmost figure of the eleventh hour is the "Time Lord" (well, the "Master of Time", with three faces: the sun disc in the middle, and two crowned heads looking left and right (ie backwards and forwards), representing the two Egyptian concepts of time, nḥḥ and dt. Next, Atum repeats the gesture made by Sokar back in the fifth hour, holding (lifting?) the wings of a serpent, with the paired eyes appearing on either side of him. The renewed sun-disc now appears in the prow of the barque; it's preceded by fire-breathing goddesses riding "double serpents", and by twelve gods carrying the Mehen-serpent. Isis and Nephthys, in the form of ureai, carry the red and white crowns.

Meanwhile, the condemned are punished once more, "at depths not visited by the Sungod… 'completely deep, completely dark, completely infinite'", in pits into which armed goddesses and the serpent "Who Burns Millions" spit fire. ("You have not come into being," declares Horus of the Netherworld, "you are upside down!" Take that!)

Finally we've reached the twelfth hour, where gods (including the sun-god) and the blessed dead walk through the body of the Mehen-serpent from tail to mouth, emerging rejuvenated. The sun-god has been reborn as Khepri, and Shu lifts him to the horizon. Osiris remains behind in the Duat - shown as a corpse lying against its curved wall. (Both authors remark that the helpful Mehen-serpent points in the direction as the barque, while Apophis points in the opposite direction. "Nevertheless, later Egyptian texts speculate about Apophis having not only an evil, but also a positive, regenerating aspect." – which makes me think of Set's dual role as Osiris' enemy, but Re's ally against Apophis.)

Hornung has briefly summarized the Amduat, pointing out a few key or interesting highlights, and I've summarized his summary! I'm struck, though, by how much internal logic there is, how much sense it all actually makes (even without the help of Abt's Jungian interpretation, which I've only glanced at). What's also striking is that the Egyptians expended so much thought on the details of what happened in the netherworld – the commands of the creator god were apparently enough to explain goings-on in the realm of the living. Or can we squint and see the complexities of the underworld renewal as a dark reflection of the constant processes of renewal in the natural world?

Thanks again for the loan, kylaw!

Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung. Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Living Human Heritage Publications, Zurich, 2003.

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Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality

Sep. 13th, 2015 | 12:18 pm

Time to write up my notes from this book so I can return it to kylaw!

Written to accompany the travelling exhibition "The Quest for Immortality – Treasures of Ancient Egypt", this book takes the unusual approach of juxtaposing Egyptologist Erik Hornung's description of the Amduat with Jungian analyst Theodor Abt's exploration of its meaning for modern, and perhaps ancient, spirituality and psychology. Abt remarks that the sun god's journey through the "nightworld, that is also the world of the deceased... can also be seen as a symbolic representation of an inner psychic process of transformation and renewal." Not surprisingly, this fits well with the Wiccan and Neo-Pagan ideas about the Dying God's trip to the netherworld and back, which takes place not during the night but during a different natural cycle – the seasons of the year.

The Amduat, or "What is in the Netherworld", first appears in the early New Kingdom – "the first illustrated book in history", as Hornung puts it, "lavishly illustrated throughout" with scenes from the sun's journey through the twelve hours of the night. Part or all of the book appears in various arrangements in the tombs of NK pharaohs. In the late 21st Dynasty, the book appears in the tombs of the Theban priests of Amun, and is written on coffins and papyri rather than in tombs. It appears again in royal tombs of the 22nd and 26th Dynasties, and on royal and non-royal sarcophagi of the 30th Dynasty and the early Ptolemaic period. (There's also short, un-illustrated version – Hornung calls it a "quick guide".)

The first hall of the tomb of Tuthmosis III includes a catalogue of 741 deities from the Amduat; in total, there are 908 "beings" in the book, including those which are punished and damned. (The Egyptians were not great followers of the principle Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate.)

Each of the twelve hours shows the sun-god in his barque, attended by various deities. In the first hour, the sun passes through the (unrepresented) first gate, "Which Swallows All", which is then "'sealed' to prevent any evil forces from entering' (or exiting, I wonder?) this "intermediate realm" between the world of the living and the netherworld proper. The sun god travels in the form of a ba-soul; hence his ram's head. He's accompanied by two forms of the goddess Ma'at (as Abt remarks, it's "encouraging and consoling" that ma'at is present in the netherworld too - or, I wonder, does the creator god bring ma'at with him?) and welcomed joyfully by nine baboons (familiar from the tomb of Tutankhamun). This hour also introduces the twelve goddess of the hours of the night, which Abt calls "aspects of the goddess Hathor" – given names like "She who smashes the brows of her foes", "She who protects her Eye" and "She who rages", they certainly could be – and twelve ureai, whose fiery breath will protect the sun god from his enemies.

In the second hour (called Wernes), the solar barque is accompanied by four more boats, one of which carries the moon. "Since the moon is meant to replace the sun during the night," says Hornung, "she is not normally present in the netherworld; but by going through phases, disappearing and becoming full again, is an important symbol not only of rejuvenation for the dead but also of the circular regeneration in time. Moreover, she is the left eye of the Sungod, as Hathor [whose symbol is carried in the next boat] is his right eye."

The "abundant and well-watered" second hour and third hour (called Water of Osiris) are followed by the arid fourth hour (Rosetau), "the land of Sokar, who is upon his sand". Hornung characterises the netherworld falcon-god Sokar as "an aspect of Osiris". Sokar-land is filled with "impenetrable darkness", but if you could see it, it would look remarkably like a video game: there are "serpent monsters, some with several heads, or with legs and wings to emphasize their ability to move around quickly", as well as "a zigzag path" blocked by doors named "knife" and "full of 'fire from the mouth of Isis'". The barque, which has turned into a fire-breathing amphisbaena in order to light the way, has to be towed across the sand. The "night sun", which "has finally become the dark sun", can't wake the dead with his light – but they can hear his voice, the only sound in the darkness. The hour is broken up into short scenes, such as Thoth and Sokar healing the solar eye.

In the fifth hour, we're still in Sokar-land. At the centre of the top register is Osiris' burial mound, with Khepri emerging from it in scarab form (like every other being in this register, it's helping pull the barque along!). At the centre of the bottom register is the double-headed sphinx god of the earth, Aker; inside Aker is Sokar in a cavern, lifting the wings of a triple-headed "multicoloured serpent" which is the sun god in another form. At the very bottom of the hour is the Lake of Fire – which punishes sinners, but provides cool water for the "blessed dead". (Dunno who the head in the centre of the middle register is, though.)

At the "utmost depth" of the sixth hour (Arrival That Gives the Right Way), "Re as Ba-soul and Osiris as his corpse" are reunited, "and thus the light of the sun is rekindled". Re is reunited with both of his eyes (shown above Osiris in lion form, behind whom sits Isis-Tait). A baboon-headed Thoth offers himself in ibis form to a goddess who holds the eyes behind her back. The gods Nun and Sobek (with Set-ears?) appear in this watery hour, representing the primeval ocean, "out of which the Sungod has emerged at the beginning of time and is now renewed again." At the right of the middle register can be seen a five-headed snake protecting the sun god's corpse, a scarab on his head.

In the next exciting installment: the battle with Apophis!

Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung. Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Living Human Heritage Publications, Zurich, 2003.

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The Gender Heresy of Akhenaten

Aug. 24th, 2015 | 10:11 pm

Wanted to note here Winnie Brant's theory that Akhenaten was transgender - hence his "epicene" portrayal. Brant is not an Egyptologist, so caution is indicated (the vandalism of Amun-Min's phallus in temple portrayals dates to much later, doesn't it?) but some of her ideas are interesting - for example, she suggests that Akhenaten might have turned against Amun after the god failed to change his male body into a female one.

Brant points out that if Akhenaten wanted to appear in public (or in inscriptions) as a woman, he faced a problem: "If Akhenaten dressed in women's clothes, he would not be pharaoh! If he felt the urge to appear cross-dressed in public, there was only one woman he could pretend to be and still maintain his royal authority: his chief queen, Nefertiti." She suggests that this could explain their resemblance in portraits, as well a kingly portrayal of Nefertiti smiting foreign female prisoners in a male skirt, as well as her sanctuaries at Karnak which had "no counterpart for the king". It's an interesting suggestion, that this symbolic merging of king and queen could have been a way for the pharaoh to express or inhabit his female self.

Brant, Winnie. "The Gender Heresy of Akhenaten". in in Bullough, Bonnie, Vern L. Bullough, and James Elias (eds). Gender Blending. Prometheus Books, New York, 1997.

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The Sal-Zikrum, or "woman-man"...?

Aug. 7th, 2015 | 10:21 pm

Before the library began to shake, roar, and be evacuated (what was that all about?!), I read with interest a short article from the journal Iraq, from 1939. It concerns a figure called the SAL-ZIKRUM, who appears in the Code of Hammurabi, and in just one another Old Babylonian text. The word's meaning is disputed, but one interpretation is Sumerian "female" plus Akkadian "male", and in texts it's used as though it's feminine.

In Hammurabi, the SAL-ZIKRUM appears in six sections: firstly, in laws about priestesses and their dowries, and secondly, in laws about the adoption of a son by either the chamberlain of the palace or by a SAL-ZIKRUM. The one other document, possibly to do with a palace or temple, concerns rations for women weavers and for a SAL-ZIKRUM.

The authors conclude that the SAL-ZIKRUM was probably a eunuch who dressed as, and was treated as, a woman; but to my inexpert eye, this seems to involve a lot of assumptions that aren't given support in the article - for example, that the chamberlain of the palace was a eunuch. They refer to an earlier commentator who "suggested that it is intended to describe either "female men" in the sense of women designated as men or else some kind of female eunuch." Well, the eunuch part doesn't sound likely to me either, though celibacy (or rather, not having children) is a possibility. Equally difficult for the authors to imagine is "the treatment of women as men, ie of the inferior as the superior sex" - though to be fair they probably intended to indicate the attitude of the Babylonians, and not necessarily their own - even if it was 1939. :)

What if, though, we have here a glimpse of a "fourth gender" in Mesopotamia? We know about plenty of cultic functionaries who are apparently feminised men and who are at least somewhat recognised and integrated. If the SAL-ZIKRUM actually was the "woman-man", is it possible she, or he, was a masculinised woman? Or - perhaps like the authors - am I trying to build too large an edifice on too small a foundation?

* This translation of Hammurabi gives "devoted woman", and Brigitte Groneberg similarly interprets the word as SALsekretu, referring to a class of cloistered priestesses and to members of a harem.

G.R. Driver and John C. Miles. The SAL-ZIKRUM "Woman-Man" in Old-Babylonian Texts. Iraq 6(1) spring 1939 pp 66-70.
Groneberg, Brigitte. Die sumerisch-akkadische Inanna/Ištar: Hermaphroditos?. Die Welt des Orients 17 (1986), pp. 25-46.

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Anat, the Iliad, and the Bible

Jun. 30th, 2015 | 05:56 pm

When I saw the spectacular conjunction between Venus and Jupiter currently in our skies, my first thought was, "She's probably threatening to beat him up." I was thinking of Anat's threat to El ("I will make your beard run with blood") in the stories of the hero Aqhat and of Baal's palace, and the parallels between that bloodthirsty Ugaritic goddess, the Mesopotamian Ishtar, and the Greek Aphrodite. But perhaps Athena is a closer analogue for Anat, as Bruce Louden argues in The Iliad: Structure, Myth, and Meaning.

Although Athena is often "calm and thoughtful", she also has angry and martial episodes. "Many of Athena's more striking features in Homeric epic - her use of deception against mortals, resentment of Zeus, bloodthirstiness... - all have close equivalents in earlier depictions of Anat." (p 285) As well as the similarity in their names, both wield spears, both "have certain masculine tendencies, are closely involved with their fathers, and have no relation to their mothers." (p 247) Both confront their fathers to get their own way, Anat with a direct threat, Athena while gripped by "savage anger"; and both are summoned to their fathers by divine messengers. (p 249-250) Louden also draws parallels with Anat and Baal and Athena and Ares (p 252-7).

Anat and Athena both punish arrogant heroes who foolishly offend them (something they have in common with Ishtar). In Anat's case, it's Aqhat, whose bow she covets; he rejects her offer of riches or immortality, telling her that bows are not for girls and even describing to the goddess of war what materials are needed to make one. In Athena's case, Hektor, Paris, and Pandaros all fall victim to the cheeked goddess' wrath. In both instances, the goddess enlists the help of another warrior (Yatipan, Achilles, and Diomedes) to get her revenge.

Louden compares the linking of feasting and slaughter in the Odyssey (the gory massacre of the suitors, in which Athena is instrumental), and Anat's "bloodbath":

"She arranges chairs for the soldiery,
Arranges tables for the hosts,
Footstools for the heroes...
Knee-deep she gleans in warrior-blood,
Neck-deep in the gore of soldiers,
Until she is sated with fighting in the house,
With battling between the tables."

(This is the most straightforward explanation of that passage I've ever read: Anat isn't fighting actual furniture, nor turning tables and chairs into soldiers, but hosting a feast and then killing the participants!)

Though there's no mention of Anat's worship in the OT, she is mentioned in personal and place names; but Louden also argues that the depiction of Yahweh himself was influenced by her imagery and mythology. He remarks that "divine bloodthirstiness is a typical aspect of deity for the period", as are deception and cruelty; he gives some striking and disturbing Biblical examples, including images of sacrifice and cannibalism (which tie back in to the combination of feasting and killing). He also compares the herem of Yahweh - the mass killing of a city's whole population, with the implication of human sacrifice - with a word of the same root used in one text to describe Anat's warfare.

Louden, Bruce. The Iliad: structure, myth, and meaning. Baltimore, Md, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

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