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Mesopotamian system

Category: Mystic groups and systems

 

Mesopotamia is a name for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq plus Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders.  Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires.

The indigenous Sumerians and Akkadians including the later Assyrians and Babylonians, dominated Mesopotamia from the beginning of written history (c. 3100 BC) to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, when it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire. It fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and after his death, it became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire.

Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of invention and creative thinking.  It has been identified as having "inspired some of the most important developments in human history including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy and agriculture”[Wikipedia].

The Sumerians in particular were extremely advanced: as well as inventing writing, they also invented early forms of mathematics, early wheeled vehicles, astronomy, astrology, written codes of law, organised medicine, advanced agriculture and architecture, and the calendar.

Nimrod was the great grandson of Noah and the
founder of Nineveh

And most of this creativity and inventiveness was inspired by a deeply spiritual people.  The Mesopotamian system was, like most mystic systems, lived by the people.  It was not a ‘religion’ it was them.  They ate, sang, danced, created, made love, and lived their beliefs.  They had one of the most developed sacred geographies the world has known, a set of methods for spiritual experience which involved love making and a symbol system of quite unsurpassed excellence.

And the vast vast majority of it has been lost, existing only in tablets and archaeological remains, in figurines and myths, in songs and sculptures. 

The tragedy of this loss cannot be overestimated, they fell from gold to lead............... black black lead.

And this fall was mostly due to the corruptive influence of power on its kings and their pursuit of wealth over all else.

 City states and their gods

Although the civilisation of Mesopotamia lasted over 4000 years, the greatest spiritual knowledge occurred during its earliest beginnings. 

Babylonians priests developed the zodiac of twelve signs . 
They also greatly developed the principles of astrology

From about 4,000 BC to 3,000 BC – a period archaeologists refer to as Early Dynastic, ‘city-states’ started to appear.  Each of these city states consisted of a centre based on sacred geography principles, and a surrounding territory including dependent towns and villages.  The closest analogously might be the old monasteries in Christianity’s early days. 

Each of these Sumerian cities was dedicated to a main deity.  The Sumerians recognised the existence of all the Intelligences - the Planets and the Signs of the Zodiac, - as such there would have been 19 main ones in total, although there was a recognition of further levels and layers – the underworld for example, as such there may well have been more.  Interestingly the Intelligences were paired – male and female – showing a possible influence from the Hindu system, but also a recognition that all Intelligences are essentially male and female.  Thus each city was dedicated to a paired male/female Intelligence. 

A simple ziggurat -  four main levels, but with the option
of adding a spire to represent the Planets and Zodiac

In symbolism, an Intelligence is represented as a mountain, thus the Sumerians set out to build mountains as representations of their Intelligences – and thus we have the appearance of a Ziggurat – a pyramid in effect, an artificial mountain.  The number of levels and layers would have told us which Intelligence, if these levels had survived. 

Thus there would have been the 4 elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire  [the levels would have probably been colour coded originally].  Then the Aether level – the abode of the gods.  Then there would have been a spire with further levels depending on the Intelligence.  We know this from stupas, which are simply another representation of the same thing. 

The Egg and the mountain/ziggurat in a mandala from above

And of course we also know from mandalas, which are a two dimensional picture and thus perhaps a little less obvious when viewed from the top, but have the advantage that as a picture they can be hung from a wall!  Mandalas also show the place of this 'mountain' within the Egg.  Instead of the levels being shown as square levels they are shown as concentric rings round the mountain/Intelligence.  Thus the Elements in a mandala are shown in a circular format, whereas the Intelligence is a squared tiered structure.

If you glance at the Map of the Egg you will be able to see how many levels there would have been on the spire.  The Moon would have had one level, Mercury two and so on.

The Sumerians recognised the existence of the underworld as an extra level and like the Mayans appeared to have used this site for rebirth ceremonies, possibly dedicated to Nergal.

One city was dedicated to the first ‘output’ of the Ultimate Intelligence during creation itself  – the paired Enlil/Ninlil [Creator/Created] the principal deity of the pantheon and at one time a permanent temple was dedicated to him/her – the temple of Ekur at Nippur.  Certainly in the early 3rd millennium a ‘league’ of city states existed all of which recognised Ekur as the paramount shrine of all Sumer.  Tradition points too, to Nippur as the place of assembly for the election of the supreme ruler. 

Myths describe the formation of the Intelligence hierarchy – the Tree of Life – in an identical way to that of other mystic systems – although thankfully without the symbolism used in the Greek system of castration.

copy of ancient seal showing Enlil/Ninlil with a date palm
a symbol of the Tree of Life and also of the kundalini
experience
a priest pays homage to the Tree of Life
 
 

 

 

 

Babylon

Although a great deal is made of the glory and opulence of Babylon, it is clear that Babylon was spiritually something of a disaster.  Nippur was long regarded as the spiritual centre for the Mesopotamians, but the rise of Babylon to political pre-eminence led to a deliberate and successful attempt by its priests and rulers, sometime in the 2nd millennium BC to replace Enlil and Ninlil the paired Creator/Created Intelligences with a single male city god – Marduk. 

Dr Joan Oates – Babylon
The elevation of Marduk to the central position in the Babylonian pantheon took place no earlier than Kassite times, and perhaps even as late as Nebuchadrezzar I, as part of a deliberate move to endow Babylon, which had then become a political capital, with the aura of authority and kingship previously associated with Enlil’s city, Nippur.

He had the wings, he had the pine code, he had the
jesters hat, and the purse, but he was just a clever
invention

In other words, Marduk was a political invention.

The rise of Marduk as a deity was thus the beginning of the end spiritually, as by this simple move, the priests had ousted the feminine, respect for the overall Intelligence hierarchy and an understanding of the cosmic Egg.

What is perhaps equally interesting is that by inventing a god, people then felt free to invent their own gods, and from here on in we get the situation, ‘my god is better than your god’, which if you invent them may indeed be the case.

Dr Joan Oates – Babylon
Closely associated with Marduk was his son Nabu, god of Borsippa, patron of the scribes, and like Ea and Marduk, a god of wisdom.  …. Nabu was popularised to such an extent (probably by the scribes themselves), that at times he appears to rival Marduk, and indeed may have been on the point of supplanting his father as supreme deity in the mythology.

The repercussions of this stupid political move are still reverberating round the Middle east - Babylon has a lot to answer for!

Dead men, not potsherds, covered the approaches,
The walls were gaping, the high gates, the roads were piled with dead
In the side streets, where feasting crowds would gather, scattered they lay.
In all the streets and roadways bodies lay.
In open fields that used to fill with dancers, they lay in heaps.
The country’s blood now filled its holes, like metal in a mould
Bodies dissolved – like fat left in the sun.

Means of achieving spiritual experience

Ideas travel with goods, and it appears that the Mesopotamian system was particularly richly blessed with numerous very effective techniques for promoting spiritual experience.  The Chaldeans to the south of the country were in control of trade routes along which travelled such exotic luxuries as ebony, ivory, sissoo-  a type of valuable Indian timber, elephant hides and gold.  With trade come ideas and the sorts of goods being traded indicate links with both African shamanic systems and the Indian yoga mystery techniques and system.  The border skirmishes along Babylonia’s eastern frontiers reflect the importance to Babylon of the eastern trade routes.  If we look at the map we can see that this might give access to Siberian shamanic ideas and even other oriental systems.

 

There was considerable interchange of peoples, goods and ideas between Babylonia and Egypt.  Letters were sent between the Kassite kings Kadashmaan-Enlil I and Burnaburiash II, for example, and the Pharaohs Amenophis III and Akhenaton in about the 1500s BC.  There were exchanges of ambassadors, exchanges of high valued presents and records of frequent ‘dalliances’ between men and women from the two countries.  By 1415 BC a regular exchange of messengers had been instituted.  In effect the people of Mesopotamia knew the Mysteries in Egypt and may have used the same initiatory techniques.  The Temple and the Ziggurat would thus have been key in those ceremonies, but all the ziggurats have long since collapsed or crumbled and thus we will never know whether they contained the same sorts of chambers as the pyramids for sensory deprivation.

We have provided a set of observations, where evidence is available, to show what methods were used to achieve spiritual experiences

Organisation of City states and the 4 pillars of wisdom

It is important, I think, to recognise that the Sumerians lived their spirituality.  They did not have religion, then lawyers, then administrators and the rest all separated out.  Their whole life was lived on the principle as above, so below.  Their architecture was an attempt to map the spiritual world and the indication is that they were organised around the four pillars of wisdom.

Spiritual priests and priestesses

This High Priestess comes from the Minoan
cult, but her dress and the symbolism used is
almost identical to that of the Mesopotamian
High Priestesses

The title ‘en’ was a priestly title, but much of the temple life appears to have revolved around women. 

Perhaps of most interest was the role of the Naditum who assumes a role almost identical to that of the Geisha in Japan – a High Priestess skilled in turning an Initiate to an Adept via sexual means.  Just like the Geisha, the Naditum were attached to the temple, but were also often wealthy.  They played a role in economic life lending silver and corn and supplying capital.  They lived in the ‘gagum’ – a sort of cloister, but it was certainly not a nun’s cloister.  These High Priestesses owned land and rented houses, and lived an all but normal life apart for the need for ‘celibacy’ due to the need to act as helpers to Initiates.

Their uniform is the bare breasts and skirt we see in many plaques.  She is typically depicted wearing a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders [wings], and not infrequently carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash. This same image seems to have found its way to places like Crete where it was used by the Minoan cult.

 

But everything went downhill and the use of sexual practices for the purpose of spiritual experience degenerated until many of the priestesses became little more than prostitutes or courtesans.  

There are interesting parallels with the Geisha too when we get to the end of the empire close to its collapse, when things have degenerated to a barbaric level. 

Even Herodotus baulked at this level of descent.  State condoned rape.  Public humiliation.  One cannot get much more cruel than this, this was in 500 BC or thereabouts.

Herodotus – The Histories
There is one custom amongst these people which is wholly shameful: every woman who is a native of the country must once in her life go and sit in the temple of Aphrodite and there give herself to a strange man. Many of the rich women, who are too proud to mix with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages with a whole host of servants following behind, and there wait; most, however, sit in the precinct of the temple with a band of plaited string round their heads - and a great crowd they are, what with some sitting there, others arriving, others going away - and through them all gangways are marked off running in every direction for the men to pass along and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her seat she is not allowed to go home until a man has thrown a silver coin into her lap and taken her outside to lie with her. As he throws the coin, the man has to say, 'In the name of the goddess Mylitta' - that being the Assyrian name for Aphrodite. The law forbids that it should ever be refused. The woman has no privilege of choice - she must go with the first man who throws her the money…… Tall, handsome women soon manage to get home again, but the ugly ones stay a long time before they can fulfil the condition which the law demands, some of them, indeed, as much as three or four years.

black, black lead.

By the Waters of Babylon - Thomas Bowman Garvie

Kings and administrators

Head of a wise man, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York. The identity of this lifesize head and where it
was created remain a mystery. It employs “expert
craftsmanship, innovative technology, and the use of
copper alloy, a very costly material”

Administrators resided and administered from a palace.  Thorkild Jacobsen in his research has identified that the earliest form of government  of each city state was an assembly of free citizens with an upper house of elders – wise ones – and a lower house of free men. 

The king in the early days was not a permanent post, but originally the ‘lugal’ or great man was simply the one the others respected the most – an elected leader. 

In other words, there was no ‘king’. 

The word ‘unken’ the Sumerian word for assembly and literally meaning ‘a circle of people’ occurs in the very earliest of texts [Uruk IV] and we know from later periods that the assembly was an effective organ of local administration – a true democracy. 

As late as the 2nd millennium BC, it was empowered to make legal decisions and assume corporate responsibility for robbery or murder committed within its jurisdiction – thus a sort of police force.  But it all went wrong as we will see.

A judiciary

Ur-Nammu (ca. 2047-2030 BC) founded the Sumerian 3rd dynasty of Ur in southern Mesopotamia. He is chiefly remembered today for his legal code, the Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest known surviving example in the world.  Though poorly preserved today, it is notable for being concerned with social justice and the correction of administrative abuse.  Court procedure is clearly shown in court records known as ditilla, literally ‘case closed’.  The phrase with which these tablets ends.  

Disputes between citizens were tried before benches of judges who sat in the courtyard of the temples.  The judges appear not to be permanent appointments but were selected from the ‘elders’ – somewhat like the original UK’s magistrate and jury system were intended to be.  They were not priests and there was no separate ecclesiastical and secular law – the law was the law!  As such the judiciary were free of state and religion.

Law code of Hammurabi, basalt, Babylon,
1792-1750 BCE. Carved in Babylonian, depicts
Hammurabi with ring and staff depicting kingship.
Erected in Babylon, discovered in Susa where it
had been removed as war booty.

From documents dealing with marriage law it is clear that the legal position of women was equal to that of men. 

Penalties were financial.  Lex talionis - "An eye for an eye", or the law of retaliation, - the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalized to a similar degree – was unknown.

Even as late as Hammurabi (c. 1810 BC - 1750 BC),  the sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty, the administration of justice was still a very primary concern.  But it is very clear that things had started to deteriorate, as many of Hammurabi’s letters are concerned with the administration of justice and indicate a very active supervision by the king not only over cases tried in Babylon, but also numerous other cities.    

Hammurabi’s reign marked the first appointment of permanent judges – his judges.

Hammurabi is also known for the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest surviving codes of law in recorded history and one which is a brutal reminder of what corrupt power results in. 

Here is a taster:

153.  If a woman has brought about the death of her husband because of another man, they shall impale that woman on stakes
195.  If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand
202.  If an awilum has struck the cheek of an awilum who is older than himself, he shall be beaten 60 times with an oxtail whip in the assembly

before we had Sumerian law but this is not Sumerian Law, it is Babylonian law.  Lead, black, black lead..................

 

 Defenders of the faith

 As is described above, the earliest records for the city states show elected leaders selected from those who were ‘wise’. Wise men and women are made spiritually.  They go through training as initiates, then undergo a period of trials and tests, a possible rebirth and then stages of purification, until they emerge as Adepts.  Plato went through this as did Moses and Socrates –Adepts all. 

Wisdom is a spiritual gift, as is inspiration.  Knowledge is acquired by memorising and rote learning, but it does not mean you are wise.  Clever and wise are very very different. 

And it appears that in the early days, only the wise administered and only the wise could become leaders.  Rule by wise men does not need defenders of the faith because wise men do not seek power for their own benefit, nor do they make war.  Defenders of the faith are only needed if the faith is threatened by people outside the spiritual system.

But it is clear that by the time Hammurabi came to power in the 1700BCs, kings had emerged who assumed a hereditary role, or fought for power and contemporary documents reveal a highly unstable political scene in which rival kingdoms joined in ever shifting coalitions as power moved from one centre to another.  It was a world of political intrigue.  Furthermore, the number of ‘kings’ had multiplied, for example here is a letter

There is no king who by himself is strongest.  Ten or fifteen kings follow Hammurapi of Babylon, as many follow Rim-Sin of Larsa, Ibal-pi-el of Eshnunna, and Amut-pi-el of Qatna, while twenty kings follow Yarim-Lim of Yamhad [Aleppo]

In the spiritual days, the defenders of the faith were selected from ordinary men as and when they were needed to defend against outsiders. 

Dr Joan Oates - Babylon
Warfare was a seasonal occupation and the ‘redum’ performed what one would term police duties as well as taking part in military campaigns.  Indeed we know from one small but revealing village archive that much of the time was spent tilling the land.  The owner of this archive – the redum Ubarram and his brother, apparently alternated in fulfilling military service and looking after the fields at home.  Ubarram also rented and cultivated fields other than those of his own ‘ilkum’ grant and himself owned sheep and goats which were left in the care of professional shepherds.

By the time Hammurapi came to power, permanent armies were used and they were not defenders of the faith, but defenders of the kingdoms and the king’s wealth and power.

All this is ample evidence that power corrupts.  In this case it was the kings and their lust for power wealth, influence and territory that caused the decline – both spiritually and ultimately economically.  And the introduction of Marduk.

 Painting-depicting a Babylonian marriage market

 The slide becomes a free fall - The Status of women

As we have seen, women initially were treated with great respect.  They had more power in spiritual matters than the men, and as we have seen from documents dealing with marriage law, it is clear that the legal position of women was equal to that of men. 

At least two queens ruled very ably over the region.  According to Herodotus – who gives no dates - Semiramis was responsible for a number of public works designed to stop the cities being flooded, she ordered embankments to be built.  But Nitocris was an extraordinary woman of considerable achievement.  According to Herodotus, she organised that the course of the river Euphrates was changed, she dug an enormous lake using the soil as an embankment and she built bridges using stones from the lake.  All of this was to repel the Assyrians, who appeared to have little sympathy with spiritual matters, and to make the cities safer against flood. 

But the rise of the masculine [power, intellect and ego] resulted in the repression of women in a cruel and brutal way.  We have already seen what happened to the High priestesses, now here is how marriage was arranged by the end of the Empire.

 

Herodotus – The Histories

I will go on to describe some of their practices. The most ingenious in my opinion  [sic] is a custom which, I understand, they share with the Eneti in Illyria. In every village once a year all the girls of marriageable age used to be collected together in one place, while the men stood round them in a circle; an auctioneer then called each one in turn to stand up and offered her for sale, beginning with the best-looking and going on to the second best as soon as the first had been sold for a good price. Marriage was the object of the transaction. The rich men who wanted wives bid against each other for the prettiest girls, whilst the humbler folk, who had no use for good looks in a wife, were actually paid to take the ugly ones, for when the auctioneer had got through all the pretty girls he would call upon the plainest, or even perhaps a crippled one, to stand up, and then ask who was willing to take the least money to marry her - and she was offered to whoever accepted the smallest sum. ……
This admirable practice [sic] has now fallen into disuse and they have of late years hit upon another scheme, namely the prostitution of all girls of the lower classes to provide some relief from the poverty which followed upon the conquest with its attendant hardship and general ruin.


Lead, lead, black, black lead.

 

 Overall

From what emerges in this analysis, it was the Sumerians who were the spiritually gifted peoples, not all the other invaders who formed empires and city states, later.  The decline was caused by the invaders.  Sumer was the first urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and arguably the first civilization in the world.  The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BC; early cuneiform writing emerged in 3000 BC.  Modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC.   

Sumerian myth said that “The gods were said to have created human beings from clay for the purpose of serving them”.   Clay is symbolic, the pot for example means the body.  So in other words, there were a group of Intelligences who were responsible for the creation of human beings both as a physical body and a spiritual being.  And it would seem the Sumerians were grateful for having been created.

But the rise of ‘kings’ – powerful men whose only motive was the acquisition of wealth, and who gradually usurped the rule of law and morality -  destroyed their democracy and the social fabric of society.  The people lost respect for all things spiritual and by the creation of Marduk declared themselves above the gods.  Laws became brutal and the feminine was crushed.  And the empire was destroyed. 

A lesson for us all.

 

 

References

  • Herodotus – The Histories
  • Dr Joan Oates - Babylon
  • The Enûma Eliš is the Babylonian creation myth. It was recovered by Henry Layard in 1849 (in fragmentary form) in the ruined Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (Mosul, Iraq), and published by George Smith in 1876Follow the link for more details and its content
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh is a poem from Mesopotamia and amongst the earliest surviving works of literature.  It consists of a series of verses, and the story of Gilgamesh himself, in tablet form.  Follow the link for more details of its content.
  • Myths of Babylonia and Assyria by Donald A. Mackenzie
  • Samuel Noah Kramer – Sumerians
  • Marc Van De Mieroop - History of the Ancient Near East
  • The Harps That Once....: Sumerian Poetry in Translation - Thorkild Jacobsen
  • W G Lambert – Babylonian Wisdom Literature
  • J N Postgate – Early Mesopotamia and The First Empires

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