Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ishtar egg hunt!

Our story here begins waaay back in the Old Kingdom of Egypt which started around 2600 B.C. During the Old Kingdom the Egyptians subscribed mainly to a group of eight deities that were called the Ogdoad. At this point I don't deem it necessary to get too in depth into the specific beliefs of the Old Kingdom but there is something in the mythology that relates. The eight deities were made up of four male and four female couplings that also contained Ra the sun god. Each of the four couples represented primordial elements that the Egyptians believed existed at the beginning. According to the mythology, which is vague and has changed with the culture over time, Ra and the eight deities were birthed from an egg that came from an ibis bird. The Ibis bird was deified in the god Hathor. In other words, we have a goose laying a golden egg.

This concept reminds me of the age old chicken or egg dilemma. It looks like the Egyptians believed the egg came first! According to Aristotle, "If there has been a first man he must have been born without father or mother – which is repugnant to nature. For there could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there should have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg." Aristotle believed that every being on Earth first existed as a spiritual being. The concept of a corresponding spiritual form to all physical forms is a powerful concept that we will return to later, but for now I want to focus on the egg symbol.

Departing from the Egyptian creation mythology and moving to the Babylonian and Assyrian counterpart mythology, let's take a look at a particular goddess figure called Ishtar. According to the epic of Gilgamesh, Ishtar is a goddess of fertility, love, sex, and war. In the Babylonian pantheon, she "was the divine personification of the planet Venus". The same way that the Egyptians deified or idolized the aspects of nature that played significant roles in their lives, so did the Babylonians. The mythology surrounding Ishtar was meant to parallel the cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth of the seasons and the fertility rituals that were celebrated in it's honor. To the left is a depiction of Ishtar complete with owls and lions by her side.

Ishtar was perceived as being the consort of the gods. She had many lovers and was conceptually perceived as being an archetypal "lover of the gods". This makes me think of Ishtar as a universal symbol of feminine sexuality. This aspect of Ishtar as a deified lover is very significant and we will return to this aspect of her later. Ishtar's primary aspect was her association with sex. In fact, her cult involved sacred that an oxymoron?! So in this regard, Ishtar is only half of the story. The other half of the story revolves around her lover Tammuz.

So the story goes that Ishtar gets hitched with a shepherd boy named Tammuz. Their marriage is deified and so Tammuz is made a god of vegetation and fertility. The Babylonians believed that the marriage of Ishtar and Tammuz made the Earth fertile, ensured the cyclical renewal of the seasons, and all is right with the world :) But, it seems that all good things must come to an end and it wasn't any different for Ishtar and Tammuz. For one reason or another the locals decided that they were going to dismember Tammuz and spread his body parts out all over the place!! There is a bit of confusion on how Tammuz died. I was able to find other sources that claimed he was killed by a wild this point I'm not sure what that means.

Long story short, Ishtar is able to eventually secure the resurrection of Tammuz from the underworld for six months out of the year paralleling the life-death-rebirth cycle of the seasons. During the period of time that Tammuz is dead Ishtar supposedly became miraculously pregnant by Tammuz and in honor of this pregnancy had a golden egg made. Hmmm...there's that egg as a fertility symbol again. This pregnancy seems to also be symbolic of the rebirth of vegetation in the spring. Another concept worth noting here is the apparent immaculate pregnancy of Ishtar. This story is loaded with symbolism!

The symbolism of the egg as a point of creation exists in many cultures around the world and throughout time. For instance, in the Hindu mythological tradition Brahma, the creator, was born from a golden egg. Almost all cultures' mythology symbolize the egg as a point of creation. It's not a stretch to assume that if the egg was a symbol of universal creation that it would also be viewed as a symbol of life and birth. Thinking of the concept of immaculate conception in parallel with the cosmic egg one can see the obvious similarities. In other words, egg without chicken and child without sex. Hence the reason behind Ishtar and her golden egg.

Moving back to the original Egyptian hieroglyph for Sirius I want to call attention to the dome symbol and suggest that the dome relates to the feminine mother aspect as it is intended to be reminiscent of an egg or womb. I will also suggest that the dome in architecture is meant to metaphorically depict the feminine egg or womb. For example, "The main mass of the classical form of the stupa consists of a solid, hemispherical dome. Early Buddhist texts refer to this as the garbha, meaning 'womb' or 'container.' With this reference the stupa as a whole is called the 'dhatu-garbha.' Dhatu is Sanskrit for element. Herein lies the derivation of the word 'dagoba,' which is the short form of dhatu-garbha and which is the most usual designation of the stupa in Sri Lanka. Thus this section of a stupa is an allusion to the primordial, creative waters. Indeed in all the major cosmologies, life arose from the archetypal waters, a female symbol of formless potentiality. The dome by virtue of representing the womb from which issues all manifested existence signifies this creative matrix."

So now we've got the potential meaning behind two out of three of the symbols contained in the Sirius hieroglyph. The obelisk indicating the masculine/father aspect and the dome representing the feminine/mother aspect. Historical record has hinted at the type of ritualistic worship that came into play regarding the worship associated with these symbols (orgies and sacred temple prostitutes) which leads me to wonder what role these symbols play in modern society. To the left we can see the domed U.S. capital building that is capped off by the goddess Columbia standing triumphantly atop the building to further solidify the dome as feminine symbol.

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