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Mesopotamia - Its technology and culture 02 Divination

Identifier

022203

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

A description of the experience

Divination

Although some writers are rather dismissive of the ‘Divination’ that took place in Mesopotamia, it was possibly the first attempt to trace causes and effects and thus to understand the systems of the universe.  Remembering that this is 5000 years ago, it was undertaken scientifically, methodically and carefully by men of considerable influence, who were held in very high esteem.  Celestial and meteorological  phenomena such as thunder, rain, hail, earthquakes and so on were recorded on clay tablets by a network of observatories and observers throughout the country.  Observations relating to the moon alone occupy 23 tablets.  By far the greatest number of these observation stations were in Babylonia – at Babylon, Borsippa, Dilbat, Nippur and Cutha, and the development of this specialised branch of ancient learning would seem to have been a particularly Babylonian contribution.

In the Ninevah archives are preserved, for example, hundreds of reports sent by experts in the king’s service.  The observer’s only responsibility was to dispatch regular reports to the capital

“The king has given me the order: Watch and tell what occurs!  So I am reporting to the king whatever seems to me to be propitious and well portending and beneficial for the king, my lord, to know”.

The subjects investigated are very wide ranging, medical, weather/meteorological, celestial – and interpreted to produce astronomical calculations,-  geophysical and so on.  In effect all the ‘natural’ systems of our planet.  By 1000 BC, the astronomical observations and system descriptions had become very sophisticated.

The interpretations in some cases might be regarded as crude, even superstitious, but then heuristics are crude, furthermore these peoples had no instruments with which to observe – telescopes, microscopes and so on. And before we scoff, scientists of today are still no further on in their understanding of the systems of the universe.  In some cases the heuristics used in medicine are more dangerous, crude and invalid than any in use in Babylonia.   Many scientists do not even understand the concept of function dependency or systems.

The systems – the function dependencies they attempted to work out are described these days in text books as ‘omens’.   This gives the books in which they were written down the appearance of being some sort of ‘magic’.  But they were not magic books, they were books recording events that occurred together, it is thus no different to a doctor grouping symptoms and giving that group a name – an ‘illness’.  Babylonian ‘divination’ was actually more sophisticated than this, as each entry in the long omen series stated – ‘if such and such happens, then a certain consequence or consequences follow’.  As their laws were phrased in the same way, this was probably the first attempt to write down the ‘laws of the universe’, laws of the universe and systems being the same.

It is worth noting that this approach is the same as that promoted by Aristotle.  Ulla Koch-Westenholz, in her 1995 book Mesopotamian Astrology, for example stated that this form of so called divination “shares some of the defining traits of modern science: it is objective and value-free, it operates according to known rules, and its data are considered universally valid and can be looked up in written tabulations".

Underlying this research was an understanding that there is the material world and the ‘spiritual world’ – hardware and software.  The Intelligences were personifications, as they were in the Greek system and as more was found out about systems over time, more ‘Intelligences’ emerged.  Thus the pantheon of spirit entities was not fixed, observations resulted in new ones being added. 

If you know the cause effect chain – the function dependencies of the software/spirit realm – then one is in a better position to prophecy.  If we think about the big weather simulation computer systems that have been built, we are still doing the same thing.  We have modelled what we perceive to be the weather system and by taking what exists now and running the system forward we have ‘prophesied’ the weather.

One rather fascinating aspect about the collection of data is that the Babylonians did not exclude observations relating to the behaviour of animals.  In effect they recognised that often an animal is able to perceive events and likely effects better than human beings.  The obvious example of this of which we know today is the behaviour of animals before an earthquake, but the Mesopotamians observed animals at key ‘telluric hot spots’ – in temples, at crossroads and city gates.  Some of these  observations can be found in the Shumma alu, a series of at least 107 tablets and the Shumma izbu

The source of the experience

Mesopotamian system

Concepts, symbols and science items

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

References