ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
The kurgarrû was a "recognized office" rather than a temporary role (so was the saĝ-ur-saĝ, but the same evidence is lacking for the assinnu). Kurgarrû and assinnu often appear together, in lists and in rituals. In the Descent of Inanna, the kurgarrû and kalatura are sent to rescue the goddess, but in the Descent of Ishtar, it's Asushanamir the assinnu.

The kurgarrû, like some other "cultic officials", carried weapons. Henshaw cites lines from "Inanna and Ebiḫ", in which the god An says: "to the kurgara I have given the gír 'sword or dagger' and ba-da-ra ["club", "prod", "knife"] / to the gala I have given the drum and the li-li-is / for the pi-li-pi-li I have changed the sex".

(Interesting that it's An, not Inanna, doing the changing - "either a garment change, or a role change, or a literal sex change". It's Henshaw's parsimonious view the pili-pili carried the spindle when he played a female role, and a weapon when he played a male role. OTOH, the ETCSL gives a different translation: "I have transformed the pilipili cult performers." ETA: According to Jarle Ebeling, in pi-li-pi-li saǧ šu bal mu-ni-ak, the verb saǧ šu bal can mean "to turn something on its head / to turn something upside down". Betty De Shong Meador describes the transformation as "ritual head-overturning".)

Also in the kurgarrû's arsenal: the naglabu "razor", quppû "knife", ṣurtu "flint knife", and the belu / tillu also worn by the assinnu - all of which ulluṣ kabtat ᵈIštar, "delight the heart of Ishtar". An ershemma lamenting Dumuzi states: "the kurgarra of his city did not brandish the sword". "Elsewhere", says Henshaw, "one finds that these are not merely ceremonial weapons, but are covered with blood." Some authors suggest this is the result of self-mutilation; Henshaw believes it's part of a "war game". For example, in one rite, the kurgarrû and others "play war (lit. 'battlefield'), ie, act out a battle in dramatic liturgical form".

The kurgarrû also carry "instruments symbolic of the female": the pilaqqu "spindle, distaff or hair-clasp", whip, and comb. An astrologial prophecy tells us: "If Adad in the midst of the constellation Great Bear (gave a cry) and it rained cardamom (and they became?) men, then the kurgarrûs will sit in the house and the kurgarrûs will give birth to men." With epic litotes Richard Henshaw describes this as "difficult", but points out it does refer to the kurgarrû's "female role".

Ebeling, Jarle. "Multiword-verb combinations with and without ak". in Jarle Ebeling and Graham Cunningham (eds). Analysing literary Sumerian: corpus-based approaches. London, Oakville, CT, Equinox, 2007.
Henshaw, Richard A. "Appendix Three: The assinnu, kurgarrû and Similar Functionaries". in Female and male - the cultic personnel: the Bible and the rest of the ancient Near East. Allison Park, Pa, Pickwick Publications, 1994.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
(Long ago (June 2011) I started a series of postings about the assinnu which I made a hash of, so this is a do-over!)

Richard Henshaw (1994) groups the assinnu with the kurgarrû, the kulu'u, the saĝ-ur-saĝ, the pilipili (pilpilû), and similar cultic functionaries who are "a kind of actor in the cultic drama". He remarks that, unlike most professional titles, many of these can't be translated; possibly they're foreign loanwords, or pre-Sumerian words.

Like many Akkadian words, assinnu was actually written down using Sumerian signs; someone reading a tablet out loud would have said "assinnu" when they saw LÚ.UR.SAL or UR.MUNUS. The LÚ indicates it's the name of a profession; SAL and MUNUS both mean 'woman'. Martti Nissenen (1998) says that: "UR.SAL, or 'man-woman', should actually be read "'dog-woman', 'dog' representing masculinity in a despicable sense" (147n45). I've often encountered this assumption in the literature - that 'dog' in terms like the Sumerian saĝ-ur-saĝ or the Akkadian keleb must be derogatory. However, UR also appears in terms like ur.mah "lion" and ur.saĝ "hero, champion"; more than one scholar has wondered if the saĝ-ur-saĝ is a type of ur-saĝ. (Henshaw says that it's not "bitch", which was written SAL.UR.) Drawing on the online Sumerian Lexicon, Saana Teppo points out that "'dog' can also mean a young man, a servant, a warrior, or an enemy".

In various cultic texts, we get glimpses of the assinnu's religious jobs, including chanting, singing, and dancing. In one ritual, the assinnu and the kurgarrû wear the belû / tillu (possibly a scabbard?) of the goddess Narudu. (Any relation to the saltier of Atargatis, I wonder?) In another, "... the assinnu is found setting a brick down in the House of Lament... He lights a fire over it and roasts on it various meats, fish, and other items. He pours a libation of beer and places seven loaves on the fire. The ritual ends with him singing the Love Lyric 'When I saw you in the Equlû.'" (One of several tasks for the assinnu and the kurgarrû during the month of Simanu, as described by A.R. George, who remarks that they were probably busy the year round.)

Martti Nissinen (2003) describes letters from Mari which mention prophecies delivered by assinnus attached to the temple of Annunitum ("a manifestation of the warrior aspect of Ishtar" - Wilson). (Prophets are often grouped with assinnu in "lexical and administrative lists".) Åke W. Sjöberg quotes passages describing saĝ-ur-saĝs carrying "the corvée basket" and yokes, which "show that the saĝ-ur-saĝ (when corresponding to the assinnu) had duties other than only cultic assignments".

Richard Henshaw cautiously outlines the evidence for the assinnu's sexuality. The Epic of Erra contains a line referring to the assinnu and the kurgarrû in Anum and Ishtar's temple, the Eanna:

ša ana šupluh nišī Ištar zikrusunu uterru ana ain [nišūti]

"The translation of this is ambiguous," cautions Henshaw: "'those who in order to bring about awe/religious awe in people, Ishtar turned their maleness into femaleness'... Nothing more appears in this text to indicate the nature of this change".

In a text describing "sexual advances, sexual dreams, etc", there's a line "something like: 'if a man suffers physically in prison, and like an assinnu the desire to copulate is taken away from him..." (This impotence could mean sterility rather than erectile dysfunction.) And another line: "... if a man approaches (for sexual purposes) an assinnu..." (Henshaw cautions that many lines of the text describe the "fantastic actions" in dreams rather than "actual cases".)

Of the Descent of Ishtar and Asushanamir, Henshaw says, "Why the assinnu could pass through the gate and confront the queen... is not explained in the text, but I propose that being of in-between sex made him impervious to the sexual rites and power that Ereshkigal, following the example of her sister, could impose upon him." (She herself is a pretty sexy goddess.)

One text pairs the assinnu with the sinnišānu: "The form of this word can be explained as the word for woman, sinništu, with the feminine ending" replaced by the masculine ending -ānu, perhaps to be understood "man-woman". Elsewhere, a curse promises to "(turn) his maleness like (that of) a sinnišānu".

One text, says Henshaw, includes a possible reference to a female assinnu - that is, "the feminine form of the noun assinnu" - and another mentions a female kurgarru.

Concluding his appendix on the assinnu and co, Henshaw remarks: "Many of the texts discussed in this section are cryptic; indeed, I think they were meant to be." Scholars sometimes seem to have drawn great, and sometimes questionable, conclusions about these cultic personnel from very small scraps of information.

ETA: More on the assinnu's unclear sexuality from Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel. Robert R. Wilson cites the lines from the Epic of Erra above and notes that "This has been variously been interpreted to mean that the assinnu was a eunuch, transvestite, male cult-prostitute, or pederast. However, none of these interpretations can unambigously be supported by reference to other texts [therefore] some scholars hold that the assinnu was simply an actor who took a female role in cultic dramas." Assinnus appear in three of the Mari letters mention the assinnu, and in one of them, the assinnu Šelebum goes into a trance in Annunitum's temple before giving a prophet warning meant for the king. Wilson suggests that, during the trance, Šelebum was possessed by the goddess, and therefore would have spoken and acted in a feminine way; and that this might have been a regular part of the assinnu's job.

George, Andrew "Four temple rituals from Babylon." in George, A R and Finkel, I L, (eds). Wisdom, Gods and Literature: Studies in Assyriology in Honour of W. G. Lambert. Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 2000, pp. 259-299.
Henshaw, Richard A. "Appendix Three: The assinnu, kurgarrû and Similar Functionaries". in Female and male - the cultic personnel: the Bible and the rest of the ancient Near East. Allison Park, Pa, Pickwick Publications, 1994.
Kessler Guinan, A. Auguries of Hegemony: The Sex Omens of Mesopotamia. Gender & History, 9: 462–479, 1997.
Nissinen, Martti. "Introduction". in Prophets and prophecy in the ancient Near East, Martti Nissinen with contributions by C.L. Seow and Robert K. Ritner ; edited by Peter Machinist. Atlanta, Ga, Society for Biblical Literature, 2003.
Nissenen, Martti. Homoeroticism in the Biblical World. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.
Sjöberg, Åke W. A Hymn to Inanna and her Self-Praise. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40(2) autumn 1988.
Wilson, Robert R. Prophecy and society in ancient Israel. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1980.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
In "Genre, Gender, and the Sumerian Lamentation", Jerrold S. Cooper discusses the origins of the lamentation genre and the gala-priests who performed laments.

Cooper writes that the gala is "attested from the Fara [Early Dynastic IIIa] period... and at Lagash in the late-pre-Sargonic period and under Gudea the gala is associated with funerals". For example, mourners at Queen Baranamtara's funeral included "numerous gala"; Gudea's Statue B describes a general shut-down of funerals in Girsu during which "the gala did not set up his balag-drum and bring forth laments from it". (The balag-drum, Cooper points out, is the source of the name for the most common of the gala's laments, the balag; the term balag-di means "lamentation performer". "The gala first appears five hundred years prior to Ur III, and the balag-performer is attested five hundred years earlier still, in the earliest cuneiform lexical lists".)

In both examples above, "the gala is accompanied by women lamenters. Women may actually have served as gala in Presargonic Lagash, as they did later in the Diyala region". In cultures around the world and throughout time, funeral laments, as well as love songs and wedding songs, are the "musical province par excellence of women". Cooper notes that Inanna and Dumuzi appear in songs for both marriages and funerals, and that in some cultures these two rites have similarities. "That Inanna-Ishtar should be at the nexus of love and death is very fitting for a deity who is patron of both prostitution [sexuality, certainly] and battle. She is also associated with transformation and inversion... and weddings and funerals are the only two transformative rituals in ancient Mesopotamia of which we are aware."

Cooper's thesis is that the official lamentations developed from women's songs, much as Ancient Greek women's funeral laments were "brought under control and channeled into male-dominated ritual or literary enterprise"; female mourners were "joined by male colleagues who eventually replaced them". (Similarly, "the other realm of women's performance and Emesal usage, courtship and wedding song, came to be, at least for the elite, dominated by male performers.") Emesal is only used in Sumerian literature for the speech of women and goddesses, and for ritual laments, sung by galas. (A possibility about Emesal is that it was the local dialect of Lagash, and could only be written down "once Sumerian orthography fell under the influence of phonetic semitic orthography [which] could express dialectal differences", which is why no Emesal texts appear until the Old Babylonian period.)

This association with women, says Cooper, could explain "the ambiguous image of the gala - a ridiculous figure of uncertain sexuality according to some literary texts; a respected cleric with a wife and children in many documents". (Though personally I'm not convinced that the gala's "ridiculous" nature isn't a projection by modern authors.) Cooper points out that galas might have had different roles depending on historical period, context, and which deity they were serving. He also disputes that the logogram for gala, UŠ.TUŠ, should be read GÌŠ.DÁR, "penis + anus" - "the interpretation is not compelling, and other suggest themselves." (An example of projection? Here's another - the chief gala was in charge of "prostitutes", géme-kar-kíd. géme means female worker or slave, but the translation of kar-kíd (ḫarimtu) as "prostitute" has been challenged, as Cooper acknowledges; it may only mean "unmarried woman".)

(I thought of the cihuacoatl, the male deputy of the Aztec emperor, who was named after the snake goddess Cihuacoatl, "Snake Woman" - and speculation that the office might originally have belonged to women.)

Cooper, Jerrold S. Genre, Gender, and the Sumerian Lamentation. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 58(2006) pp 39-47.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Brief notes from Archaeological Perspectives on the Transmission and Transformation of Culture in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In "Minoan Asherah", Stephanie Budin seeks to explain the form of the Judean Pillar Figure*, goddess figurines holding their breasts and with "a pillar-shaped, free-standing base". She argues that these combine features from Levantine figurines, which hold their breasts, and Cypriot figurines, which wear a "hoop-skirt". The result is an alternative to "the traditional Levantine female divine iconography... The pillar-shaped based covers, hides, or otherwise deletes the most consistently significant attribute of Levantine female iconography: the prominent display of the genitalia." Judean prudishness - or perhaps the figurines represent Asherah, "with a base that would not only emphasise her tree- or pillar-like associations, but would clearly render her distinct from the more erotic Ištars and Aštarôth of the surrounding regions." (Paul Butler has very kindly made his drawings for this chapter available online.)

In "The worship of Anat and Astarte in Cypriot Iron Age sanctuaries", Anja Ulbrich writes: "The evidence for the worship of Astarte... shows her as a multi-faceted deity, who includes the functions of war- and city-goddess as well as a goddess of female sexuality, love and fertility. Anat is also "multi-faceted", but her primary role in Ugaritic myth is as goddess of war, "whose sexual activity is doubtful and elusive... This connects her strongly with the virgin Greek Athena, with whom, in the inscriptions from Iron Age Cyprus, Anat is invariably equated." A bilingual inscription is dedicated to "Anat, fortress of the living" in Phoenician, and "Athena Soteria Nike" in Greek.

Ulbrich notes that coins from the Cypriot city of Lapithos show Athena with her Corinthian helmet on one side, and on the other, "a female head en face with a helmet with cow-ears and bovine horns with wings attached to them... this iconography points to prototypes from the Near East, where horned helmets, wings and arms" appear in depictions of war-goddesses (usually identified as Ishtar - the Mesopotamian equivalent of Astarte). This means that Canaanite goddesses with horns, or horned helmets, could be either Anat or Astarte, as could the goddess on these Cypriot coins. (Only Anat is described as having wings in the texts, which can help with her identification.) Both Anat and Astarte had sanctuaries on Cyprus, but it's not known if they were separate sanctuaries or those of a pre-existing goddess. "Astarte-figurines, depicting naked females with prominently rendered breasts and pubis, who partly touch their genitalia" were introduced from Phoenicia and were used as votives.

Hathor was worshipped in Phoenicia, but, outside Egypt, only on Cyprus were large Hathor-capitals found, made from local limestone - like this one at the Met.

* Not to be confused with the Pillar Figure of Judea, obvs.
Clarke, Joanne (ed). Archaeological Perspectives on the Transmission and Transformation of Culture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Council for British Research in the Levant and Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2005.

ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
"See, from the breasts of Anat I have suckled, the big cow of Seth. See, I have lots of words against you! From the big pitcher of Seth I have drunk them; from his jug I have drained them. Listen, samana-demon, listen! The voice of Seth is roaring [… …] listen to his roaring!"

From number 24 in Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts, translated by J. F. Borghouts, Leiden, Brill, 1978.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
In this chapter from Sacred Marriages, Saana Teppo (now Saana Svärd) describes the assinnu, the kurgarrū, and the kulu'u (or gala), and their role in the worship of Ishtar. "in their ecstatic performances," she writes, "they were joined with Ishtar in a union comparabable to sacred marriage... they fulfilled the same function as the king in the sacred marriage ritual: they ensured the blessing of the goddess for the country."

"It seems that all three groups of cultic functionaries were born as men (or hermaphrodites [that is, intersex people]), but... their appearance was either totally feminine, or they had both male and female characteristics. [All three are] recorded in the literature of the Sumerian period [and] continued to appear in Akkadian texts up to the Seleucid and Persian eras." They were rained for their ritual duties: "ecstatic dance, music, ritual plays, and performances", in which they wore female dress and makeup and carried masks, spindles, and weapons. Teppo admits that the "evidence for this from Mesopotamia is not overwhelming", but it is possible that, like the galli and the hijra (?), the cultic performers mutilated themselves to achieve "an altered state of consciousness in which they could achieve union with the divine - a sacred marriage". (Perhaps the weapons were for mock or ritual battles? One of the love lyrics W.G. Lambert translates, perhaps describing a ritual, includes the lines 'Battle is my game, warfare is my game,' he/she will utter and the Assinnu-priest will go down to battle, he will ... a jig [...]".)

In the Sumerian version of the Descent of Inanna, Enki creates the kurgarrū and "the kalaturru (GALA.TUR, which can be translated as 'young kulu'u')" from dirt under his fingernails and dispatches them to rescue Inanna. In the Assyrian version, Ea creates the assinnu Asushanamir for the same purpose.

Teppo discusses the possibility that the assinnu, kurgarrū, and kulu'u performed sex work connected with Ishtar worship; I'm going to put that aside for now, because I still haven't fully got to grips with the recent overturning of the long-standing assumption that every priestess (and almost every woman!) in Mesopotamia was a sex worker. I will note, though, that the "kulu'u is called Ištar's 'sweet bedfellow' (ṣālitu ṭābu) and 'lover' (ḫabbubu)."

(ETA: Henshaw (p 300) discusses this last, translating the lines from a "namburbi text addressed to Ishtar": "come enter our house / with you may enter the beautiful one / who sleeps with you / your lover and your kulu'u." Henshaw notes: "it couldn't be three separate people invited in!" Oddly, that was exactly how I read it - although I think Henshaw's interpretation is probably right.)

Teppo suggests that the assinnu's role in healing is explained by Asushanamir's helping to bring Ishtar back to life. Assinnus could also be prophets (and there are three Neo-Assyrian prophets who, though are not called assinnus, are described as being both men and women). The kurgarrus performed a "war dance" "with knives, swords, and clubs", and played "ritual games with skipping ropes and bawdy speech". The assinnu and the kurgarrū are often found in each other's company, such as at liminal moments - the New Year's Festival, and eclipses.

The kulu'u or gala was originally a lamentation chanter, listed alongside "female mourners and wailers" and using the female literary dialect, Emesal. (Possibly they replaced female singers, retaining "the female forms of the profession".) An Old Babylonian poem describes Enki creating the gala to soothe Inanna's heart. Galas peformed in temples, at funerals, and possibly at court. The chief gala (GALA.MAḪ) was a high-ranking official; there may have been gala guilds, gala families, and female galas. (There's possible evidence of a female assinnu and a female kurgarrū.) But some galas were slaves, and the galas could be forced to do corvée work for the temple.

Ishtar could change someone's sex or gender, as noted in Inana C (aka The Stout-Hearted Lady, Lady of Largest Heart), the hymn Išme-Dagan K, and The Epic of Erra, which says of Ishtar and the kurgarru and assinnu: "Who changed their masculinity into femininity to make the people of Ištar revere her. The dagger-bearer, bearers of razors, pruning-knives, and flint blades, who frequently do abominable [ie "taboo acts, forbidden to regular persons] to please the heart of Ištar." Which said, nobody knows for sure whether some or all of the assinnus, kurgarrūs, and kulu'us were castrated (and if so, to what extent). (Eunuchs, ša-rēši, were a separate category of persons.)

So these cultic personnel had an established, institutional role, but how well were they treated as individuals? Some of Teppo's evidence that they were marginalised doesn't quite convince me. Enki created them from the dirt under his fingernails, but then, he created the human race out of lowly clay (maybe there was a bit left over :). The curse placed on Asushanamir is pretty unequivocal, though, damning the assinnu to a homeless city life, and someone is insulted with the remark "He is a kulu'u and not a man" - a reminder that "in practical terms Mesopotamian society was strongly patriarchal and had fairly inflexible gender categories," as Teppo remarks. She goes on to say: "There was very little toleration for individuals who did not conform to the expected male and female roles." (I wish she'd given some evidence for Mesopotamian gender non-conformity!) Perhaps these "third gender" roles "existed specifically because the roles of men and women were so clearly defined" - they represented "an outlet, a means for society to deal with people who could not, for whatever reason, function in society as men and women."

Lambert, W.G. "The Problem of the Love Lyrics". in Hans Goedicke and J. J. M. Roberts (eds). Unity and diversity: essays in the history, literature, and religion of the ancient Near East. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975. (p 105)
Teppo, Saana. "Sacred Marriage and the Devotees of Ishtar". in Martti Nissinen and Risto Uro (eds). Sacred marriages: the divine-human sexual metaphor from Sumer to early Christianity. Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 2008. pp 75-92.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
In Drakōn: dragon myth and serpent cult in the Greek and Roman worlds, Daniel Ogden discusses the "radical reinterpretation of Near-Eastern iconography" which may have formed the basis of some Greek myths: for example, images of Marduk vs Tiamat become the story of Perseus vs the sea-monster, Gilgamesh vs Humbaba becomes Perseus slaying Medusa, and the demoness Lamashtu portrayed with animals becomes Medusa "giving birth" to Pegasus. This is an interesting enough idea in itself, but the reason I mention it is Ogden's analogy: "We may invoke the model of the cult British stop-motion television series, The Magic Roundabout. Eric Thompson created this by watching the episodes of the French original, Le Manège enchanté, with the sound down, and spinning his own, whimsical narrations around the characters' ostensible actions, narrations that inevitably has little or no point of contact with the original stories." (A story which appears to be essentially correct. :)

Ogden, Daniel. Drakōn: dragon myth and serpent cult in the Greek and Roman worlds. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
"Woman-woman marriage - in which one woman pays brideprice to acquire a husband's rights to another woman - has been documented in more than thirty African populations," opens this chapter from Boy-Wives and Female Husbands. "In these groups," the authors go on to say, "female political leaders are also common. These women chiefs rarely have male husbands (whether or not they had wives). Indeed, among the Lovedu, the queen was prohibited from having a male husband and was required instead to have a wife."

Amongst many examples, they quote E.E. Evans-Pritchard about the Nuer version of the practice: "... the husband gets a male kinsman or friend or neighbour... to beget children by her wife and to assist... in those tasks of the home for the carrying out of which a man is necessary." (He's paid in cows for each child and for his work.) And Max Gluckman about the "rich and important Zulu woman" who takes a wife: "she is the pater of her wife's children begotten by some male kinsman of the female husband. They belong to the latter's agnatic lineage as if she were a man." And George W. B. Huntingford about the Nandi: "This gave both women the legal and social status of husband and wife respectively. There was no lesbianism involved here, for the female husband could have her own men friends and the wife could have intercourse with any man of whom her 'husband' approved." (The chapter's authors warn against ethnographers' assumptions that female husbands and their wives never had sexual relations.)

Discussing the gender of the female husband, the authors draw on researchers whose view is that gender or sex are not as important in African societies in general than social standing, age, and lineage. Evans-Pritchard said that a woman who had not had children "for this reason counts in some respects as a man". She is her wives' "legal husband and can demand damages if they have relations with men without her consent... Her children are called after her, as though she were a man, and I was told they address her as 'father'. She administers her home and herd as a man would do, being treated by her wives and children with the deference they would show a male husband and father."

"In other words,' remark Carrier and Murray, "African marriages are between individuals in male and female roles, not necessarily between biological males and females." More than one author calls the female husbands "social males", "promoted" to the status of men. There's a parallel here with the ancient daughters adopted as sons, especially when it comes to inheritance. To what extent are, or were, the female husbands "social men"? Among the Nandi, "to some extent" the women dressed and adorned themselves as men, and stopped doing "women's work", and have the right to attend "public meetings and political discussions" (but don't!). OTOH, amongst the Simiti, husband and wife are considered mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Interestingly, the chapter also mentions an Igbo dike-nwami ("brave-woman"), who described her belief that she "was meant to be a man" and her interest in "manly activities". Childless, she was divorced, dressed as a man, farmed and hunted, was initiated into men's societies, and took two wives (her brother begat her children).

Carrier, Joseph M. and Stephen O. Murray. "Woman-Woman Marriage in Africa". in Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (eds). Boy-wives and female husbands: studies in African homosexualities. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1998.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
My standing Google search for "sekhmet" brought up Hashem's Repudiation of the Egyptian Deities (I also found its academia.org incarnation, "And Upon all the Gods of Egypt I Will Execute Judgment": The Egyptian Deity [Sekhmet] and the Ten Plagues) a fascinating article discussing the Ten Plagues described in Exodus, and suggesting that more than one of them was intended to "repudiate" Sekhmet as a false god. Fascinating not so much for its actual content, but because of the idea that you could match the Plagues to particular Egyptian deities, which I hadn't encountered before: for example, the idea that Ra couldn't penetrate the darkness created by the Jewish God.

Unfortunately, Ira Friedman's arguments are convoluted. He suggests that the first plague, the Nile turning to blood, was intended as a sort of signal to the Egyptians to turn (ultimately unsuccessfully) to Sekhmet for protection - a riff on the Destruction of Mankind, in which, he says, "... Sekhmet slaughters disloyal Egyptians, and either their blood or the blood-like substance with which a remorseful Ra subdues Sekhmet flows into the Nile." The idea of connecting the field flooded with blood-coloured beer with the bloody Nile is pretty clever, but the polluting of the Nile with either the beer or the actual blood of Ra's enemies isn't mentioned in the myth. What's more, the image of the bloody beer represents not the goddess' wrath, but her pacification.

In the academia.org paper, Friedman connects Sekhmet to the pestilience that affected domestic animals, but not to the plague of boils. In the article, Friedman skips ahead to the final plague. He says that Sekhmet was known to the Egyptians as "the Destroyer", identifies her (I think?) with "the destroyer" mentioned in Exodus, and so argues that the Egyptians would have been dismayed when God killed their children but prevented Sekhmet from killing the Israelites' children (in revenge, I guess?). tbh, it's an involved argument based on an epithet I'm not sure Sekhmet actually had - Friedman doesn't give us a reference for it. As best I can make out, it doesn't appear in the list of 187 epithets listed in Hoenes' book, nor in the Lexikon. (The closest is "Sḫmt-sbi-nb: Die jeden Feind zerstört"; "Who destroyed every enemy".)

(More than anything, writing this posting has reminded me that I know far too little about one of the deities that is most personally significant to me - even though I fancy myself as a lay scholar.)

Hoenes, Sigrid-Eike. Untersuchugen zu Wesen und Kult der Göttin Sachmet. Rydolf Habelt Verlag, Bonn, 1976.
Leitz, Christian. Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen. Dudley, MA, Peeters, 2002-2003.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
In a much-annotated and tbh rather muddled posting from 2009, I attempted to describe Sekhmet- of Sahure or Sekhmet-Sahure. This goddess is attested by stelae and inscriptions; her cult lasted from the New Kingdom until at least the Late Period. She is, or was, thought to be a local version of Sekhmet who came into being because of an image of the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Sahure offering to her in the ruins of his mortuary temple.

However, Tarek el Awady's 2013 article "Sekhmet-Sahure: New Evidence" argues that Sekhmet-Sahure was not a local form of Sekhmet, and that the whole of Sahure's "temple was revived in the New Kingdom as a healing place... and not as a temple of a new local cult".

el Awady points out that Sahure's temple at Abusir is only eight kilometers from "the central worship place of Sekhmet-Ptah in Memphis", so there would have been no need for a local version of the goddess. Also, it's doubtful that an image of the king and Sekhmet survived intact until the New Kingdom; the images of gods and royalty had long since been defaced. (Many of the stelae found in the temple were made of stone recycled from the temple.)

The evidence points to "a small settlement" for "priests-physicians and patients" on the south side of the temple. For example, votive stelae asked Sekhmet-Sahure for "healthy limbs, youthful limbs, sound body, sound mouth, goodly lifespan, breath and pleasure". Stelae were also found for Bastet and Sobek, who, like Sekhmet, are "well attested as healers". Many wedjat and Tawaret amulets were uncovered. Amongst the goddess' epithets was "the eye of Re upon the sun disk", also an epithet of goddesses such as Hathor and Bastet in their roles as healers.

el Awady suggests that Sahure's own knowledge of medicine is the reason that a cult of Sekhmet and a sort of hospital sprang up in the ruins of his funerary temple (in which Sekhmet, Bastet, and Sobek were all depicted). The pharaoh's chief physician was named Ni-ankh-Sekhmet.

The article includes a photograph of a limestone stela found in "the upper northern side of Sahure's causeway" which shows a worshipper facing Sekhmet-Sahure and (behind her) Qadesh. Also found at the site were a fragment of a stela to either Reshef or Astarte, and another to Qadesh "beloved of Ptah".

el Awady, Tarek. "Sekhmet-Sahure: new evidence." in Etudes et Travaux XXVI. Centre D'Archeologie Mediterraneenne de L'Academie Polonaises des Sciences, Varsovie, 2013. Vol 1, pp 57-63.
Gaber, Amr Aly Aly. "Aspects of the Deification of some Old Kingdom Kings". in Eyma, A.K. and C.J. Bennett (eds). A Delta-Man in Yebu: occasional volume of the Egyptologist's Electronic Forum 1, 2003. pp 12-31.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
It's been a long time since I made one of my postings about gender in the ancient world. Until now, I've mostly posted about "third genders" which undermine the assumption that "man" and "woman" are universal constants in all times and places. This time I want to share my notes on a practice which calls into question the "natural" nature of gender. In at least three ancient Near Eastern cities, a woman could become a man, or simultaneously a man and a woman - at least for the purposes of inheritance.

Counting descent solely through the male line requires any society to tie itself into knots*, especially when sons are necessary not just to inherit the property of the paterfamilias, but to perform ancestor worship. In the ancient Near East, a daughter could inherit, but then her father's property would go to her husband's household. In the absence of a son, an ancient Near Eastern man would usually appoint his son-in-law, brother, or brother's son as his male heir; or he might adopt a son. However, as Zafrira Ben-Barak points out, a man from another household could be a dangerous place to stash your patrimony. We have the documents from a case in which, through a series of dodgy steps, the son-in-law's brother ended up inheriting everything - taking the original testator's property entirely out of his household, and extinguishing his line to boot.

One solution? If you had a daughter, you could make her into a son. In a will from the Hittite city of Emar, a man's will states: "I have established my daughter Al-ḫati as female and male [MUNUS ù NITAḪ]." and charges her with the worship of the household gods and ancestors. (His brothers were called as witnesses to the will; I wonder what they thought of not being appointed his legal heirs.) He also appoints his wife "father and mother [a-bu ù AMA] of my estate".

In another will, also from Emar, the testator's wife is appointed "mother and father of the house", and his daughter is declared to be "male and female" and again given a son's responsibility of maintaining worship of the family's gods and ancestors.

From the city of Nuzi, in the Hurrian-speaking kingdom of Mitanni, comes a will in which Unap-tae declares: "My daughter Šilwa-turi as a son I made." "Using the accepted term for son-adoption, marutu ["sonship"], the father adopts his daughter as a son," writes Ben-Barak. Another will gives three daughters all the status of sons and leaves the testator's property and gods to them. And finally, in a will from the Syrian city at el-Qitar, the testator adopts the wife of his adopted son as his own son.

Katarzyna Grosz suggests that this custom - which, from the documents, was clearly a well-established practice - paved the way for "full legal independence" for women. What I'd like to find out is whether a woman's legal status as "head of the household" gave her any other rights which were normally exclusively male - or was her new status only relevant when it came to the family?

Ben-Barak's analysis of the term "male and female" is that it doesn't literally mean Šilwa-turi is a legal hermaphrodite; rather, she is "a female with the status of a male". The entire business is a reminder that "man" and "woman" are social categories which can be changed by a bit of clay with marks on it**.

(In one of the wills from Nuzi, the testator says that should his nephews try to make a claim on his estate, "may this tablet break their teeth". I just had to get that in somewhere.)

ETA: Left out a bit. There's a parallel from India, the putrika-putra, a "daughter appointed as a son". Because she was considered a son, her son would not be the heir of her husband, but the son of her father: "As the merits of a son and grandson are equal (eg in offerings made to ancestors)," writes Grosz, "the latter ranked as a son." (A quick Google showed that this is only a glimpse at the complexities of traditional Hindu inheritance law.)

* We're watching the TV series Wolf Hall at the moment. When you're the King of England, the lack of a male heir has world-changing consequences, not to mention getting a lot of people killed. (Do matrilineal societies have the same kind of crazy problems?)

** Come to think of it, I wonder if there's any chance those curses - "may Ishtar impress female parts on your male parts" - have some basis in some real-life events? I have no doubt that the goddess can change anybody's physical sex, but perhaps the ancient civilisations of the Near East were familiar with a change of gender, and might wish the inferior social status of "woman" on their male enemies?


Ben-Barak, Zafrira. "The legal status of the daughter as heir in Nuzi and Emar." in Society and economy in the Eastern Mediterranean (c.1500-1000 B.C.): proceedings of the International Symposium held at the University of Haifa from the 25th of April to the 2nd of May 1985 / edited by M. Heltzer and E. Lipinski (eds). Leuven, Uitgeverij Peeters, 1988.

Grosz, Katarzyna. "Daughters adopted as sons at Nuzi and Emar". in Jean-Marie Durand (ed). La Femme dans le Proche-Orient Antique: compte rendu de la XXXIIIe Rencontre assyriologique internationale (Paris, 7-10 juillet 1986) (Rencontre assyriologique internationale 33). Paris, Recherche sur les civilisations, 1987.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Inanna's magnificence was certainly distracting as I tried to read about an Old Babylonian tigi-hymn to Inanna (BM 96739, CT 36, 33-34). The hymn is about Inanna's investiture of Dumuzi and by extension the Babylonian king with authority, and scholar Daniel Foxvog examines its astronomical references, but as usual I got caught up on lines like these:
Lady, though (first) joyfully formed beautifully by Ningal for delight,
She then provided you with the power to destroy, like a dragon (ušumgal).

... from your mother's very womb you have girded on the utug and mitum maces.

Lady, the matters of your heart are greater than all heaven and all earth, who can know (anything) about you,
And at your word, a doubled cord that cannot be cut, the whole heaven is consumed.
Fabulous stuff! Inanna is also described as "mounted upon the storm winds", which IIRC is more characteristic of a male war-god such as Yahweh ("him who rides on the clouds", Psalm 68:4). But, as Foxvog points out, despite her awesome power she is a benevolent figure in this hymn (as she is in many others): "Could this be a memory of a time before her syncretism with Ištar?" (Dumuzi, by contrast, is an unusually martial figure.)

As for the astronomical bit: Foxvog discusses the constellations associated with various deities, including Orion (Papsukkal aka Ninshubur), Aries (Dumuzi/Tammuz), and Anunitu, "the eastern fish of Pisces" (Inanna / Ishtar). He suggests an astronomical interpretation of one of the concluding lines of the hymn: "Heaven shall beget him [Dumuzi] (anew) each month on the day of the new moon like the Moon (himself)". "The sun moves through the entire zodiacal belt of constellations over the course of a year, but the moon makes the same circuit monthly," he explains. In an idealized lunar calendar, "the moon would return each month to its starting point in its apparent course through the zodiacal belt, and the first visibility of the new crescent would invariable coincide with the first visibility of Aries. In this way, for the purposes of a priestly hymnographer uninterested in the details, the sky could indeed be said to 'give birth' every month to both Suen and Amaušumgalanna/Aries on the day of the new moon." (I'm not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the astronomy here!)

Foxvog gives a table of the correspondences between the Mesopotamian and Classical zodiac - here's a simplified version:

Aries ram
Taurus (Pleiades) bull
Orion and Gemini men
Cancer water (perhaps the Tigris and Euphrates)
Leo lion
Virgo grain
Libra scales
Scorpio scorpion
Sagittarius (tablet is damaged)
Capricorn goat
Aquarius figure
Pisces (tablet is damaged)

Foxvog, Daniel. "Astral Dumuzi". in The Tablet and the scroll: Near Eastern studies in honor of William W. Hallo. CDL Press, Bethesda MD, 1993.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
If we don't include the Deities and Demigods Cyclopedia*, the first time I encountered the goddess Inanna, aka Ishtar, was the remarkable book Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, co-written by scholar Samuel Noah Kramer and folklorist and storyteller Diane Wolkstein. It presents an accurate but accessible "portrait" of the goddess through ancient Mesopotamian literature, as well as background info from Kramer and a slightly dodgy analysis by Wolkstein (about which Kramer was later scathing). It was one of my first Pagan-ish books, bought from a New Age bookshop some time in the early-to-mid nineties, around the time I was starting to discover Wicca, though I'm not sure which came first - Kramer and Wolkstein's Inanna or Starhawk's description of the Great Goddess in The Spiral Dance.

I had fallen rather in love with the cosmically** powerful character of Phoenix from the X-Men comics - particularly in her incarnation of Dark Phoenix. A friend once pointed out that Dark Phoenix is, literally, expressing the uncontrollable rage of a victim of rape. Without making that comparison - at school the continual attacks were rarely physical, let alone sexual - what could be more attractive to a young woman unable to escape or stop the bullying than her unrestrained, uncontrollable, shameless, gleeful destructiveness?

The other figure that had caught hold of my soul was Hundra, the eponymous barbarian warrior from a sort of paella sword-and-sorcery flick - an unapologetically feminist story, despite all the titillation. At about the same time I watched the video with a friend, I stumbled across a poem which I now understand was a parody - although til this day I still don't know which poet was being parodied - which contained the line: "the weasel burst, in colours past belief". Somehow my increasingly hypomanic mind fused all of this together into the character of the Weasel, who then appears throughout my adolescent art and poetry.

So I was very ready to encounter the queen who kicked over the mountain Ebih when it failed to show her proper respect, who sent her own husband to hell for the same crime. "You fasten combat and battle to your side", writes Wolkstein. But to my surprise, on looking through the book as I write up this personal account, there's very little reference to Inanna's impulsive, conflict-loving nature, her annihilating wrath - of the monster who eats corpses on the battlefield like a dog. That must have come when I discovered Enheduanna's poems Lady of Largest Heart and The Exaltation of Inanna. But how did I get from the regal lover of Kramer and Wolkstein's book to that Hundra - Dark Phoenix figure? Is there any way to reconstruct that path at this point?

* Or whatever that children's book was that taught me the word "Mesopotamia" and the idea of a stratified society, with people called "artisans" somewhere in the middle. Must try to figure out what that was.

** This is actually a word.


Kramer, Samuel Noah and Diane Wolkstein. Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper and Row, New York, 1983.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Distinguished religious scholar Christine R. Dowling writes passionately about the Greek goddess Gaia in her chapter for The Book of the Goddess, in similar energetic terms to Carl Olson's introduction to "the goddess" in general.

Unlike other Greek goddesses, writes Dowling, "Gaia is never wholly personal, never entirely humanized", but this does not make her a lesser being than the anthropomorphic deities; rather, she "reminds us that the divine is transhuman and prehuman - there from the beginning - not simply a human projection. Because of this, she is the primordial source as no humanlike mother can be." She is "a reminder of the time when matter was still rebellious" - in fact, "matter is still rebellious, alive and eruptive. Gaia is earthquake and volcano, molten lava and shifting rock." She is growth, but not the human-controlled growth of agriculture. "Gaia signifies all that cannot be brought under control." She contains the dead as well as producing all life.

In Homer, "Because earth is always near at hand and cannot be escaped, she is guarantor of the most serious oaths. Even the gods swear by her." (I couldn't help thinking of the inescapable Aztec deity, Tezcatlipoca, "Lord of the Close and Near".)

Beginning a list of the goddess' many offspring, Dowling remarks: "To be creative is Gaia's very essence. To be Gaia is to give birth to something other than herself, to heterogeneity." (Coincidentally, I just came across a line from Jill Raitt's alternative creation story: "Why should not the female genitrix be called Diversity, rather than Chaos?" Cf the Cambrian Explosion: boom!)

Other Greek goddesses, including Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, and Persephone, are "highly developed and specialized forms of the primordial mother goddess". As presented to us by their patriarchal authors, Dowling reminds us, "the Greek goddesses are not very attractive creatures. These texts all exhibit a deep suspicion of feminine power; they all seem concerned to validate the priority of the social over the natural order" (think of Athena's declaration that mothers are not their children's parents). As well as becoming "implacably hostile to one another", the goddesses have lost their connections to natural places and powers. IIRC there's evidence that the Mesopotamian goddesses underwent a similar reduction in their importance, though perhaps not so much of a reshaping.

Interestingly, Dowling's view of Demeter is a negative one: instead of the mother determined to rescue her abducted daughter, Dowling portrays her as clinging and childish. This jibes with a number of representations of Persephone's myth which I've encountered online, in which Hades is not a gross old rapist but a brooding, handsome figure in need of the love of a good woman, and sometimes Demeter is a "helicopter parent". I agree with the poster who preferred a version of the myth in which Persephone is raped, but endures.

ETA: Found on Tumblr: Homeric Hymn XXX - Earth Mother of All and Homeric Hymn XIV - The Mother of the Gods.

Olson, Carl. The Book of the Goddess Past and Present. The Crossroads Publishing Company, New York, 1987.
Raitt, Jill. The "Vagina Dentata" and the "Immaculatus Uterus Divini Fontis". Journal of the American Academy of Religion 48(3) September 1980, pp. 415-431.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Having Bipolar II Disorder, and being treated for it, has confused my sense of my own mind. But I think my natural state should be one of joy. And I think it was exactly that until the nightmare of adolescent bullying began. That unpredictable, inescapable harassment and abuse, that expulsion from the body of humankind, profoundly shaped me. One of the most obvious results is an immense sort of pit of anger at the centre of my being. I was unable to respond aggressively to my torturers; so no wonder that when I began to encounter aggressive female characters in fiction, they became not just alternative selves, but actual goddesses.

I'll write more about that later. What I wanted to note here is the connection between those teenage experiences of a raging, powerful, guiltless divinity, and my later discovering the Great Goddess of Wicca and Neo-Paganism, who incorporates that furious, destructive aspect alongside the soothing manifestations you'll find in any New Age shop.

In the introduction to The Book of the Goddess Past and Present, Carl Olson writes:

"The essays in this book often depict the goddess with a strong, powerful and dynamic character... in contrast to the mistaken concept that the feminine is tranquil, passive, or inferior. The goddess is associated with life-giving powers, renewal, rebirth, transformation, and the mystery of death. She also attracts us with her alluring charms, arouses our curiosity about her powers, and tempts us with her pleasureful and unbridled nature.

Another aspect of her nature that many of these essays depict is her demonic or destructive power... a virtually inconceivable, overpowering aspect that threatens death and darkness... like the process of time, the goddess can be irrational, merciless, and destructive."

In a word, the Goddess is energetic. With the latest adjustment to my meds, I feel as though I've finally reconnected to that blazing and delightful fountain of energy.

Olson, Carl. The Book of the Goddess Past and Present. The Crossroads Publishing Company, New York, 1987.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
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)

ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
'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."

ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
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, [livejournal.com profile] kylaw!

Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung. Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Living Human Heritage Publications, Zurich, 2003.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Time to write up my notes from this book so I can return it to [livejournal.com profile] 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.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
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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Plaything of Sekhmet

July 2017



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