The region of the Fertile Crescent,was known in ancient times as the land of Sumer. The rites and rituals of their religion changed as the needs of their civilization changed, providing us with a rich background of evolutionary religious study.

This page is devoted to articles and essays, both ancient and modern, on Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian rites and customs.

The Seasonal Myth and the Babylonian New Year

(The First Great Civilizations) - There were festivals recognized on the seventeenth and thirtieth days each month. Apart from the lamentations for Tammuz in the summer, the largest festival is that of the new year, which falls in the Babylonian month of Nisan and coincides with the Spring Equinox. "This was essentially a celebration of revival, of the promise of fertility in the renewed cycles of the seasons. In some places, including Ur, it was celebrated twice, there being a repetition in the autumn at the parched death of late summer." "There seems no doubt that the original protagonist of the rites was Enlil, but in Babylon his place had inevitably been taken by Marduk. In the familiar version of the Akkadian creation epic, the Enuma elish, he was the young champion of the gods who finally defeated Tiamat, or primeval chaos, and created man from the flesh of her champion, Kingu. This drama formed the centre of the New Year enactments, and the Enuma elish itself was solemnly recited on the fourth day of the festival."

As High Priestess of the Temple of Divine Mysteries and as teacher of all, I feel that it is my responsibility to have a thorough understanding of the seasonal myth, and the expression of that myth in as many cultures as possible. Because my spiritual origins lie in Mesopotamia, I decided to do some research on their Spring rites.

The Babylonian month of Nisan begins on the first day of spring (spring equinox). The Babylonians recognized this time as the beginning of the New Year. A twelve day celebration was held, and a recitation of the Enuma elish ( the Babylonian creation myth) was performed. In trying to piece together the events of the twelve days, I came across several discoveries. There are so many things that I learned which confirmed beliefs that I had. Even though the evidence was contrary at first, the longer I searched, the more richly was my heart of hearts rewarded. The Sumerian New Year was not the Bit Akitu rite as performed up and into the time of the Persian conquest; it was a sensual, earthy rite connected with the original fertility religions -- the rite of the Sacred Marriage. In the more modern rites of the Bit Akitu, this older ritual is still acknowledged and performed, but it succumbed in prominence to rituals securing power and a militaristic kind of glory in the worlds of heaven and earth alike. But, enough of that -- let's talk about the rites of the Sacred Marriage.

From the earliest of recorded times, the goddess of this ritual was Inanna (Innin, Irnini, Ishtar, Astarte); it is the god that has changed places. I want to examine why this has happened - I want to show what and why this ritual used to be, and the beneficial change that it can create if we accept these ways again.

Originally, the god that was the groom of this sacred marriage was Dumuzi (Tammuz) "True Son of the Deep Water", the shepherd-king. He represents the fertilizing waters of lakes, streams and rain. Although most original documents refer to Dumuzi as Lord of the herd, bringing sweet cream and cheese to his beloved goddess, scholars place him in the role of the vegetation-god. True, he dies and resurrects in myth, just as the ever-growing seed, I feel that scholars have labeled him a god of the greenery because the western mind has a difficult time truly accepting the belief in reincarnation. That being another topic of discussion entirely, I simply wanted to point out that in either aspect, Dumuzi is a god of nature. The love between Inanna and Dumuzi is great; many love songs, hymns and stories have been composed, detailing the passion that existed between them. The consummation of their marriage transformed the entire universe - out of their love, Inanna created a dimension whose existence was love, and Dumuzi tended that creation. The Sumerians saw this reflected in the renewal of life and the renewal of the seasons. A reenactment of this rite was performed every spring equinox (the Babylonian month of Nisan) in order to magickally ensure that this renewal and transformation through the act of uniting male and female energies would continue.

As Witches, we are taught that the aspect of the god usually manifests in a duality, and in the mythology of the Sumerians there was no exception. Dumuzi was not the first love of Inanna; her first passions were shared with her twin brother, Shamash (Utu). There exists lesser publicized information about the affairs of Inanna and her brother - but at the end of the tales, Shamash presents Dumuzi to his sister as her bridegroom. Inanna and Dumuzi quarrel upon meeting, and from that quarrel was sparked a love that has been remembered for well over five thousand years. [I am certain that Shamash plays an important role in the reenactment of the sacred marriage, but I have yet to find documentation that will confirm my suspicions.]

I feel that Shamash plays a very important role because of the belief in the god duality. As Pagans, we are taught that this duality is usually portrayed in the aspects of the young king and the old king, or that of warring brothers, but if we examine the relationship between Shamash and Dumuzi, we will find something entirely different. There is a bond that exists between the two gods, a bond that can be felt beyond the words of the written texts.

In the research that I have done, I can find no evidence of animosity between Shamash and Dumuzi, I could only find friendship and kindness. Not only does Shamash introduce Dumuzi to Inanna, But he also saves his life on more than one occasion. No matter how strong Shamash's love for his sister was, he still allowed, even encouraged, her to marry Dumuzi. In many mythologies, marriage of god to goddess commonly occurred within the immediate family, in order to maintain a direct lineage: not only was Dumuzi from a distant, rather than immediate family, the two branches of the family often opposed each other. I feel that Shamash's acceptance of Dumuzi reflects his attempt at creating a reality of unity through love. This would make sense, considering the fact that Shamash is a god of judgement, for judgement serves to maintain balance - within balance lies unity and vice versa. In another aspect that reflects this balance it can be understood that Shamash never really loses Inanna to Dumuzi. Inanna finds unity and wholeness as she shares her love with Dumuzi - their love is a symbol of the union of male with female. The interesting twist occurs when we pair this fact with the knowledge that Inanna and Shamash are not only brother and sister, they are twins. Thus, an equal balance of male/female energy can be found in either relationship.

Let me add another interesting ingredient into this equation: Inanna is a goddess of polarity. Inanna represents passion, and passion can express itself in extremes of love and war. The warring aspect of Inanna is perfectly balanced when united with the energy of her brother, and the aspects of love within her are fulfilled when joined with Dumuzi. This concept is a rather unique idea of Trinity, but if considered carefully, it makes perfect sense. This is not a concept of love between the mother, father and child, or even that of brothers warring over a single love; this is a concept of union between individuals. I think perhaps as we approach the new millennia, we might want to identify more with this idea of peaceful union between equals, for that is what we are all now striving for on earth. Also understand that this might possibly have been our first concept of how love expresses itself by union within a trinity. This concept I have presented is nothing new, it is ancient. If we are searching to recreate the peaceful past within our present and future lives, then we must also alter our spiritual concepts to accommodate this reality.

Why did we lose this peaceful existence to begin with? I feel that as civilization became more power-hungry, the gentle, guiding archetype of Dumuzi lost its appeal in a warrior-oriented society. Because myth (or religion) is a reflection of life and life is a reflection of myth, Inanna's lover was replaced with the god, Marduk. Marduk is very much a warrior-god, and if the sacred marriage is enacted to ensure prosperity and fertility for the king and the lands, then union with a warrior-god would also manifest military victory and success. I feel that lending energy to the concept of the sacred marriage as recognized in the Bit Akitu rites creates two problems. If you lend energy to the spiritual concept of war, the result on earth is just that - war. If we want to reduce the amount of war and violence on the planet, we must re-energize or reawaken the more peaceful loving archetypal forms, or gods, if you will; we must reduce the amount of energy we lend to violent concepts and the gods that oversee them.

The other problem becomes evident when we examine the true relationship between Inanna and Marduk. Not only was Marduk the brother of Dumuzi, but there is evidence to support the fact that Marduk was instrumental in causing Dumuzi's ultimate demise. There are also legends showing that Inanna was aware of this fact, and that it was she who played a role in the "entombment" of Marduk in a mountain which he escapes from annually in the Bit Akitu rites. This information is not common knowledge - it has taken me many years of intense study and reflection to find and assimilate these concepts in order to discover the truth. The truth is that we, as a spiritual consciousness, have been unknowingly lending energy to an unhealthy concept for thousands of years. By allowing the sacred marriage of Marduk to Inanna to continue unchanged, we are in some ways guilty of consenting to the rape of a goddess year after year. "As above, so below": if we are allowing the goddess of love and passion to be continually raped, isn't that also what we're doing to ourselves? Through awareness and understanding of these concepts I've shown you here, I feel that we can change this. Let us correct our future by understanding the true rites of the original religions of the past.

M. Michelle Griffin
Further Reading: The First Great Civilizations - J. Hawkes The Sumerians - S. Kramer The Greatness that was Babylon - H.W.F. Saggs The Earth Chronicles - Z. Sitchen Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth - D. Wolkstein


The worship of Adonis was practiced by the Semitic peoples of Babylonia and Syria, and the Greeks borrowed it from them as early as the 7th century B.C. [The mourning for Adonis is mentioned by Sappho, who flourished about 600 B.C.].

The legend of Adonis originates in Sumeria (Tammuz)

Cinyras is said to have founded a sanctuary of Aphrodite, that is, of Astarte, at a place on Mount Lebanon, distant a day's journey from the capital. The spot was probably Aphaca, at the source of the river Adonis, halfway between Byblos and Baalbec; for at Aphaca there was a famous grove and sanctuary of Astarte which Constantine destroyed on account of the flagitious character of the worship.

The site of the temple has been discovered by modern travellers near the miserable village which still bears the name of Afka at the head of the wild, romantic, wooded gorge of the Adonis. The hamlet stands among groves of noble walnut-trees on the brink of the lyn. A little way off, the river rushes from a cavern at the foot of a mighty amphitheatre of towering cliffs to plunge in a series of cascades into the awful depths of the glen. The deeper it descends, the ranker and denser grows the vegetation, which, sprouting from the crannies and fissures of the rocks, spreads a green veil over the roaring or murmuring stream in the tremendous chasm below. There is something delicious, almost intoxicating, in the freshness of these tumbling waters, in the sweetness and purity of the mountain air, in the vivid green of the vegetation. The temple, of which some massive hewn blocks and a fine column of syenite granite still mark the site, occupied a terrace facing the source of the river and commanding a magnificent prospect.

Across the roar of the foam and the waterfalls you look up to the cavern and away to the top of the sublime precipices above. So lofty is the cliff that the goats which creep along its ledges to browse on the bushes appear like ants to the spectator hundreds of feet below. Seaward the view is especially impressive when the sun floods the profound gorge with golden light, revealing all the fantastic buttresses and rounded towers of its mountain rampart, and falling softly on the varied green of the woods which clothe its depths. It was here that, according to the legend, Adonis and Aphrodite for the first or the last time, and here his mangled body was buried.

[Prof. A.H. Sayce - "Lectures of the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians" - London and Edinburgh, 1887]






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Last updated Feb. 24, 1998