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Religion & Legends                   5,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

In General

 However, no one can speak with certainty of the social and religious place of woman in this period, for the meager evidence of the bones and coarse pottery shards reveals nothing of her lot. One has to read back, hypothetically, from the evidence of the following millennium (4500-3500 BC), when a multitude of female figurines appear among the potsherds. These suggest that the obvious analogy of woman's life-giving and nourishing powers with those of the earth must already have led man to associate fertile womanhood with an idea of the motherhood of nature. We have no writing from this pre-literate age and no knowledge, consequently, of its myths or rites. It is therefore not unusual for extremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have rendered to the households for which they were designed. However, we know well enough what the services of such images were - the periods immediately following - and what they have remained to the present day. They give magical psychological aid to women in childbirth and conception, stand in house shrines to receive daily prayers and to protect the occupants from physical as we11 as from spiritual danger, serve to support the mind in its meditations on the mystery of being, and, since they are frequently charming to behold, serve as ornaments in the pious home. They go forth with the farmer into his fields, protect the crops, protect the cattle in the barn. They are the guardians of children. They watch over the sailor at sea and the merchant on the road. (128)

Africa

 Herodotus' record of his journey through Egypt in the fifth century BC does not include the story told Solon in the Timaeus. The Greek historian did find a venerable cult of Poseidon in North Africa, however, a land which was supposedly once under Atlantic control: "Alone of all nations the Libyans have had among them the name of Poseidon from the first, and they have ever honored this god". Herodotus also reported a curious people living at the foot of a mountain they called Atlas and from which they derived their name, "Atlantes". Little else was said of the Atlantes, other than that they ate no living creature and never had dreams. Maps based on Herodotus' account place them in the Hoggar region of the central Sahara, not far from the recently discovered collection of rock art in the massifs of Tassili n' Ajjer and Acacus. Most of these extraordinary works of art are far more ancient than Herodotus' Atlantes, but their ancestry is equally obscure and the traditions of their creators no less eccentric. (115)

Southwest Asia

 The archaeology and ethnography of the past half-century have made it clear that the ancient civilizations of the Old World ­ those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece, India and China - derived from a single base, and that this community of origin suffices to explain the homologous forms of their mythological and ritual structures. ...the beginnings of this epochal flowering have been traced to a neolithic base in the Near East, the first signs of which have been identified c. 7500-5500 BC, and to the sudden appearance in approximately the same area, c. 3200 BC, of a syndrome of priestly discoveries and crafts, including an astronomical calendar, the art of writing, a science of mathematics applied to and attempting to coordinate the measurements of space and time, and the conception of the wheel. Nowhere else in the world have any of the elements either of the neolithic assemblage or of higher civilization been identified at levels of anything like these depths; and the probability of a worldwide diffusion from the Near East of the basic arts, not only of all higher civilization, but also of all village living based on agriculture and stock­breeding, has consequently been argued with bountiful documentation, by a group of scholars of which Professor Robert Heine­Geldern of Vienna is today the leader. (128)

In the ancient Sumerian account of the creation of the Universe, the city of Eridu was the first to have emerged from the primeval sea that covered the world before humans. Eridu is in fact one of the earliest known settlements on the southern Mesopotamian alluvial plain, having been established at about 4750 BC. (46)

The Sumerians... took no credit for the miraculous way their harsh environment was transformed. Instead, they said that Enlil--a god of Heaven and Earth who had descended to this planet from another--"made people lie down in peaceful pastures like cattle and supplied Sumer with water, bringing joyful abundance." They speak of other gods as well, such as Ea (Enki), Enlil's brother. (68)

Layer upon layer of plaster continued to accumulate in the remodeled shrines; more than 60 layers were added in VI.A to the 120 of VI.B to bring the total number of applications of plaster (and perhaps years of life) at Catal VI to almost 200. The many replasterings caused the floor of Shrine VI.10 to rise almost two feet, giving the bulls' heads the appearance of sinking into the floor, but no effort was made to adjust them. Burials in this same shrine became so numerous that they could no longer be contained beneath the platforms, and some intruded into the space below the floor. Mellaart also noted that less care seems to have been taken to leave earlier burials undisturbed; bones and skulls were found rearranged, funeral gifts scattered. This combination of carelessness, conservatism, and a taste for monstrous iconography tells a familiar story. If the conflagration at VI.A had not completely destroyed the Catal shrines, their own encrusted weight of tradition (and plaster) must eventually have brought them down. It seems clear that some of the cults represented in these rooms were not at the beginning, but at the overripe end of their spiritual impulse, at least for this era. When a much smaller settlement was built over the ruins of the VI.A fire, the number of shrines was greatly reduced; the monumental wall constructions were gone, and most of the chthonic themes seem to have vanished with them. By Level II, as we shall see shortly, Catal Huyuk was a thoroughly reformed site with an altogether different orientation. (115)

Dechend and her associates have found evidence of an awareness of the Precession, the changing zodiacal position of the rising sun at the spring equinox, in some of the oldest fragments of art and myth of both ancient and primitive cultures. In the opinion of these investigators, the recognition of the Precession of the Equinoxes first occurred in the Near East at approximately 5000 BC and subsequently spread throughout the archaic world and into the recesses of primitive and ancient mythology. (115)

With only one human skull also reported in these post-conflagration strata (at Level V) [Catal Huyuk], it would seem that the twin cults of ancestor worship and glorification of the warrior, characteristic of the eastern Mediterranean for 2,000 years, were either dead or dying. The memory of Plato's war may have gone with them. (115)

The miniaturization of mortars and pestles in Iranian sites of this period (larger ones were known as well) suggests that these implements had acquired a special significance in the last half of the sixth millennium BC. We know that the mortar and pestle were ritual objects in Zoroastrian religion, used to press the sacred haoma. In the Vendidad the priest of Zarathustra is identified by his possession of the mortar. Zoroastrian priests were also invested with a mace, and although the marble maceheads at Sialk were adorned with chevrons rather than the bull's head of the later Mithraic gurz, their use was as patently ceremonial. In such a context one ventures to suggest that the carved stone "bracelets" at Sialk and other Iranian sites of this period were actually the rings which, entwined with animal hair, symbolically filtered the fluid from the haoma plant in Zoroastrian rites. …the use of rings wrapped with the hair of the bull may have replaced the slaying of that animal in the last half of the sixth millennium BC. (115)

\…that the smelting of copper was known as early as the middle of the sixth millennium, coeval with and possibly related to the achievement of higher temperatures for the firing of ceramics. At the same time, improved species of grain and the breeding of cattle, large and small, began to spread rapidly across Iran and Mesopotamia. We were thus allowed to observe that efforts toward the transformation of three of the four realms of nature--mineral, plant, and animal--seem to have been greatly accelerated around 5500 BC, the date (when corrected to calendar time) assigned to Zarathustra by the Greeks. If, as suggested in the Gathas, the prophet's interests extended to transmutations in the human realm as well, it may indeed have been he who laid the foundations of the alchemical idea, and gave Magian religion its own science of the earth. (115)

Legend says that the vitrification [of the Tower of Babel] was caused by fire which fell from Heaven and destroyed the zikkurat. It is true that Muslim tradition states that the Birs-i-Nimrud is the remains of the tower that was built by Nimmrod, a contemporary of Abraham, so that he might ascend to Heaven to see God. Nimrod persecuted Abraham, but God protected the patriarch, and destroyed Nimrod's tower by fire. The importance which Nebuchadnezzar II attached to the sanctuaries of Bel and Nabu is illustrated by the following paraphrases of extracts from his great inscription in the India Office.

"Marduk, the glorious chief, the captain of the gods, heard my petition and received my prayer. His Lordship showed compassion, he set the fear of his godhead in my heart, he made my heart to incline to the love of his laws. By his august help I marched into remote countries, and made long journeys over the difficult lands that lie between the Upper Sea (i.e. the Mediterranean) and the Lower Sea (i.e. the Persian Gulf), where there are no roads and the going is painful and laborious, and I subdued those who would not obey my will, and bound the rebels in fetters. I administered the country, and made its inhabitants prosperous, and I divided the loyal folk from the disloyal. I gathered together silver, gold, precious stones, copper, precious woods, and costly things of every kind, and whatsoever was in the mountains, and the products of the seas, and carried them to Babylon, and laid them as a rich gift before his Lordship in Esagila. I decorated the shrine of Marduk with them, and inlaid its walls with gold and precious stones. A former king had inlaid it with silver, but I plated it with gold. The vessels of Esagila I covered with gold, and I decorated the Boat of Marduk with precious stones and inlayings. I made the summit of E-temen-an-ki (the Tower of Babel) to rear itself up in burnt brick and fine stone, and I toiled hard to establish Esagila. I used the finest cedars which I had brought from Lebanon to roof the shrine of his Lordship, and I plated the beams with gold. I beautified Barzipa (Borsippa), and I restored Ezida, and decorated it with gold and silver and precious stones. I roofed the house of Nabu with cedar wood and plated the beams with gold. The roof of the Gate of Nana I plated with silver, and I made to shine with silver the bulls, the doors, the gate, the lintels, the bars and bolt, the ends of the roof-beams, etc. The paths to the shrine and the building I paved with glazed(?) bricks. The interior of the shrine was of carved silver work. I made the building so beautiful and fitted it with so many things of beauty that those who looked upon it would marvel." (118)

The Babylonians ascribed to their gods human attributes as well as human forms, and as they conceived of a time when the gods came into being or were born, like men and women, so they also thought it possible that a time would come when they would cease to be, or die, like men and animals. The Creation Legend described in a preceding chapter shows that the gods of evil could be killed and cease to exist. And a ritual text published by Meissner makes it clear that the priests of Bel-Marduk at Babylon held the dogma that their god died, went down to hell, and then raised himself to life again. This god was believed to be able to raise dead gods to life by reciting a certain spell or incantation. One interpretation of the text suggests that the god sacrificed himself and cut off his own head, so that from his blood man might be fashioned. The priests also held the view that Marduk had to cross the river in the Underworld, and to go to the kingdom of the dead therein, where he remained for some time in close captivity. He was delivered by the gods, and then became the King of the gods and Lord of heaven. (118)

The gods considered man to be, in some respects, akin to themselves, for though man's body was made of clay it was animated by a divine soul, and was made in their likeness and image. The gods were man's overlords, and men were their vassals; but the gods were also men's fathers, and men were their sons, and it was believed possible for a god to dwell in his son. But the gods who were thus closely related to men were gods of the lower orders of the celestial hierarchy, and there is no text which suggests that Anu, or Enlil, or Ea, ever became incarnate in man. Since men were vassals as well as sons of the gods, it was their bounden duty to render service to them, and it is clearly indicated that man was created in order to worship the gods and make offerings to them. To neglect the service of the gods, or to perform it carelessly or imperfectly, or to act in any way contrary to the well-known wishes of a god or goddess, was sin of the first order. Any breach of the Religious Law entailed serious penalties on the delinquent and even death. (118)

Each man and woman went to the temple and employed the priest to help him or her to obtain what he or she prayed for, but there is no evidence that any system of public worship, in our sense of the word, existed. The suppliant stood up before his god and raised his open hands as he prayed; then he knelt down and bowed himself before the god, presumably until his forehead touched the earth, even as do the Muslims today. Sometimes he kissed the feet of the god or touched his robes with his hands, and sometimes he wept bitterly and made loud lamentations over his sin, or folly, or misfortune. The offerings presented to the gods were of many kinds, food, drink, oil, incense, clothing, etc., being the commonest. The most important and most significant offering the suppliant gave was the animal, usually a sheep, which was killed before the god, and was intended to be a substitute for the suppliant himself, or for lone or all of his family. By the sacrifice of the animal he intended to show the god that he recognized his divinity, and acknowledged his own wickedness, which merited death. (118)

Around 5000 BC the 'Ubaid people descended from the Upper Zagros mountains to take over various existing sites of occupation throughout Upper Iraq.' They then spread gradually southwards to establish new communities, including the one at Tell al-Ubaid, c. 4500 BC. Many of their sites of occupation were inherited from an earlier, more advanced culture known as the Samarra, who had been the first to introduce land irrigation and agriculture to the region. The Samarra had also been behind the establishment of Eridu, the first Mesopotamian city, in around 5500 BC. In one temple complex dated to this early period, evidence of a ritual pool and large quantities of fish remains have been unearthed, leading scholars to suggest that the Samarra's principal deity was a primordial form of Enki, the much later Sumerian god of Abzu, the watery abyss, who subsequently became divine patron of Eridu. (149)

 It would appear that the settlement of Eden/Kharsag had been established sometime towards the end of the last Ice Age, say 9500 - 9000 BC. It had then continued in relative isolation until some kind of split appears to have taken place among its inhabitants. This led to a large number of the Watchers/Anannage - two hundred in the Hebrew accounts, six hundred in the Sumerian texts - descending on to the surrounding plains and living among humanity. The chances are that this occurred around the time of the establishment of the first pre-Sumerian city-state of Eridu, c. 5500 BC. This would then seem to have been followed by a series of more localized climatic catastrophes, c. 5000-4500 BC. From then onwards there would seem to have been two opposing camps of Anannage, or Watchers ­ one in the mountainous 'heaven of Anu' and the other 'in the earth', i.e. on the plains of Mesopotamia. This last faction would appear to have provided the impetus for the later Assyrian and Babylonian legends concerning the underground race of great stature and vampiric tendencies known as the Edimmu. (149)

c. 5500-5000 BC Gradual fragmentation of the Watcher colony into two opposing camps. One remains in isolation within the Kurdish highlands, while the other emerges on to the surrounding plains of Armenia, Iran and Mesopotamia. This new subculture is variously remembered as the Nephilim of Enochian and Dead Sea literature, the daevas in Iranian mythology and the Edimmu in Assyrio-Babylonian myth and legend. Foundation of first settled communities on the Mesopotamian plains, the earliest being Eridu in c. 5500 BC. Possible time-frame of biblical patriarchs. (149)

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 And India's epic poem the Mahabharata, dated by non-Westernized Indian scholars to five thousand years before Christ, contains references to its hero, Rama, gazing from India's present-day west coast into a vast landmass now occupied by the Arabian Sea, an account supported by the recent underwater discoveries. Less celebrated Indian texts even mention advanced technology, in the form of aircraft used to transport the society's elite and wage war. The writings describe these aircraft in detail and at great length, puzzling scholars and historians. The great Indian epics, what's more, vividly describe militaristic devastation that can be equated only with nuclear war. (56)

In addition, India's epic poem the Mahabarata, dated by some nonanglicized Indian scholars to the fifth millennium before Christ, contains references that place its hero, Rama, gazing from India's present-day west coast into a vast landmass now occupied by the Indian Ocean. These Indian epics also allude to advanced technology in the form of vimana, aircraft that were used to transport the society's elite and to wage war. Less celebrated ancient Indian writings describe these aircraft in detail and at great length, puzzling both scholars and historians. What's more, the great Indian epics vividly describe militaristic devastation that can be equated only to nuclear war. (83)

The Sanskrit scholar and the renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the hydrogen bomb, apparently interpreted the ancient epic as having described a prehistoric nuclear conflagration. After the first atomic test in Alamagordo, New Mexico, Oppenheimer chillingly quoted the Mahabharata, saying, "I have become death, the destroyer of worlds." In a later interview, when asked if the Alamagordo test was the first time an atomic bomb had been detonated, Oppenheimer replied that it was the first time in modern history. (83)

An Indian author, Sri. A. Kalyanaraman, in his book Aryatar-angini, ...argues that the Aryans had early made their home in north-west India, the Sapta Sindhu, even if they had originally migrated from the Caucasus. Their literature, he emphasises in three places, was composed at a much earlier date than British archaeologists allow: the Rig Veda 5000-4000 BC, the Yajur Veda 4000-3000 BC, the Brahrnanas 3000-2000 BC, the Upanishads 1500-1000 BC. He argues from the internal evidence of these compositions that the Aryans were a sun-worshipping sea-people, who sailed around the world, to the New World as well as to many parts of the Old. (135)

China

 

Europe

 The switch to settled farming in southeast Europe was no more sudden or illogical than similar phenomena in contemporary Iran and Mesopotamia. Were seekers of asa also to be found across Europe? We noted earlier the universality of this concept of an encompassing moral order (asa, rta, tao, maat) that governed the conduct of men as well as the rhythms of the cosmos. The extent to which it occurs in the traditions of ancient and primitive peoples is well documented... (115)

Among the symbols associated with the great goddess in the archaic arts of the Mediterranean we find the mirror, the kingly throne of wisdom, the gate, the morning and evening star, and a column flanked by lions rampant. Moreover, among the numerous neolithic figurines of her we see her standing pregnant, squatting as though in childbirth, holding an infant to her breast, clutching her breasts with her two hands, or one breast while pointing with the other hand to her genitals (the posture modified in the Roman period in the celebrated image of the same goddess found in the porticus of Octavia and now in Florence, the Medicean Venus). Or again, we may see her endowed with the head of a cow, bearing in her arms a bull-headed child; standing naked on the back of a lion; or flanked by animals rampant, lions or goats. Her arms may be opened to the sides, as though to receive us, or extended, holding flowers, holding serpents. She may be crowned with the wall of a city. Or again, she may be seen sitting between the horns, or riding on the back, of a mighty bull. (128)

Stage IV, then (c. 30,000-10,000 BC), reveals the mythology of the naked goddess and the mythology of the temple-caves. The richest finds of the first of these two complexes have turned up in the Ukraine, though the range extends westward to the Pyrenees and eastward to Lake Baikal. Provisionally, therefore, the Ukraine may be designated as the mythogenetic zone; and this likelihood is rendered the more evident when it is considered that many of the basic elements of the complex were to reappear in the neolithic goddess-cults of the fifth millennium B.C., directly to the south, on the opposite flank of the Black Sea. (128)

South America

 

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other

 The Australian Aborigones offer a wonderful subject for meditations on the nature of humanity. Consider: these people lived in what may have been nearly complete isolation for more than 40,000 years in an ecologically diverse continent, and when first encountered by Europeans in the 17th century, their technology hardly approached the sophistication of the Neanderthals: just simple stone tools and rudimentary wooden implements; and yet they evolved a kinship system and cosmology that most graduate students in anthropology have struggled to comprehend in all its complexity--and probably never do.(24)