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Observations placeholder

Mesopotamian - Means of achieving spiritual experience 09 Creating a sacred geography



Type of Spiritual Experience


We have provided a large number of examples on this section of the city states that employed sacred geography.  There is good reason to believe they employed practically every sacred symbol.  Those that they did not employ, they had no need for, because they had an alternative.  For example they had no need for a barrow, because they had caves.  The list below shows all the features they appear to have used in one site or another.  They may have used these in all sites, but because all we have are the remains as a pile of clay, and the descriptions of tablets of clay, it is difficult to judge.

A description of the experience

Sacred geography - guardians

Dr Joan Oates - Babylon

The shedu and lamassu represented in the form of huge human headed winged lions and bulls stood as guardian figures at the gates of Assyrian palaces.  Private homes were protected by figures made and consecrated with elaborate ritual and buried beneath the threshold.

Sacred geography - The Egg


The site of Tell al Rimah, ancient Karana is in northern Iraq.  It has provided rare evidence for the building techniques of the Ur III period.  At Rimah a monumental temple and ziggurat, occupying the whole of the central mound of thre ancient city was built.  It has elaborate spiral columns and palm trunks in mud brick – we have not repeated the symbolism below, but a palm tree is the tree of life – which ornament the façade of both temple and ziggurat. There are two types of palm tree and the other may be the tree of knowledge.  It shows an engineering expertise far in advance of later periods. 

Dr Jean Oates – Babylon
This elaborate complex, with its ornamentation, was built entirely in mud-brick; the rooms, including the stairs, were constructed using radial vaulting with impressive expertise. Even the monumental staircase leading up from the town below was carried on a series of three vaults of increasing height. The whole structure was meticulously designed with a careful eye to the impact of its exterior elevations. The building owes its remarkable state of preservation to Karana's lack of resources after the death of its wealthy patron and protector. Not only was the original temple never completed, but thereafter this small kingdom could never afford to rebuild its main shrine in the manner of wealthier dynasties. The original sanctuary remained in use, though in a state of increasing neglect and dilapidation, for over 6oo years, the extraordinary ornament preserved through the centuries by the continuous build-up of debris within the temple.

Sacred geography - beacons

Dr Joan Oates - Babylon

Fire beacons were used, these consisted of a series of signal fires by which a message could rapidly be transmitted over the entire country.  Occasionally this system led to confusion, as it was of course necessary to establish in advance what the signal was to mean.  In one instance, the incompetent Yasmah-Adad was severely reprimanded by his elder brother [although this may be a term of address not familiarily] for setting off the whole system

Say to Yasmah-Adad,thus says Ishme Dagan, your brother
Because you lit two fires during the night, it is possible that the whole land will be coming to your assistance.  Have letters written to the whole land…. And send your fastest messengers to deliver them.


The source of the experience

Mesopotamian system

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Sacred geography
Sacred geography - altars
Sacred geography - ancient trees
Sacred geography - artificial hills
Sacred geography - beacons
Sacred geography - bridges
Sacred geography - castle
Sacred geography - citadel
Sacred geography - cities
Sacred geography - cliffs
Sacred geography - cross
Sacred geography - crossroads
Sacred geography - cursus
Sacred geography - enclosures and camps
Sacred geography - gardens
Sacred geography - guardians
Sacred geography - hollow roads
Sacred geography - islands
Sacred geography - isthmus
Sacred geography - labyrinths
Sacred geography - ley lines
Sacred geography - lighthouses
Sacred geography - mark stones
Sacred geography - mountain
Sacred geography - natural hills
Sacred geography - obelisk
Sacred geography - palace
Sacred geography - physical caves
Sacred geography - pole
Sacred geography - pyramid
Sacred geography - rivers and streams
Sacred geography - sacred grove
Sacred geography - underground secret passages
Sacred geography - water sites
Sacred geography - ziggurat

Activities and commonsteps



Creating a sacred geography



For comparison purposes, the Pyramids in Mexico