Nina – Anne / Anna
Nina, Nína and Niná are feminine given names with various origins. These names serve as a short form of names ending in “-nina / -nine”, including Marina, Katharina, Antonina, Giannina, and Constantina. Nina and its international variants also serve as a short form of Anna, especially the Russian name Anninka.
Nina also has a relation to the Spanish word “Niña”, which translates as “little girl or great-granddaughter”. Nina has meaning in several other languages: (Hebrew: God was gracious, God has shown favor); (Persian: nice); (Hindi: beautiful); (Swahili: mother); (Native American: strong or mighty); (Arabic: friend); (Greek: flower).
Nina is a Russian diminutive form of Anne (gracious, full of grace) and Antonia. Annette is a diminutive of Anna (given name), and has since the Industrial Age been used as a name of its own. Antonia is a feminine given name of Roman origin meaning “priceless”, “praiseworthy” and “beautiful”.
Astrid is a feminine given name of Scandinavian origin (although it is also used among the French and Germans to some degree), a modern rendered as Ástríðr in its ancient form. It is derived from the Old Norse Ássfriðr, a compound name composed of the elements áss (a god) and friðr (beautiful, fair).
Some say the name essentially translates to “divinely beautiful” while others would say it means “beloved of the gods”. In either case, Astrid has a lovely and powerful Northern European sensibility. The name continues to maintain high usage in the Scandinavian countries, and is a poster-child Nordic female name much like Freja, Ingrid, Greta and Gudrun.
Anya is a Russian diminutive of Anna. Ania is the spelling in Polish, which is also a diminutive of Anna. The spelling Anja is common in Croatian, Norwegian, Danish, German, Swedish, Finnish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Slovenian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Serbian. Áine is the Irish spelling of the name. Anya is a Hungarian word for “mother”. Anya is also an Indian/Hindu name.
Anna is in wide use in countries across the world as are its variants Anne, originally a French version of the name, though in use in English speaking countries for hundreds of years, and Ann, which was originally the English spelling.
Anne, alternatively spelled Ann, is a form of the Latin female given name Anna. This in turn is a representation of the Hebrew Hannah, which means ‘favour’ or ‘grace.’ In the UK Anne was traditionally the Royal spelling and Ann was for commoners. This has largely fallen out of use.
Anne is sometimes used as a male name in the Netherlands, particularly in the Frisian speaking part (for example, author Anne de Vries). In this incarnation, it is related to Germanic arn-names and means ‘eagle’. It has also been used for males in France (Anne de Montmorency) and Scotland (Lord Anne Hamilton).
Anna is a Latin form of the Greek Anna and the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning “favor”, “grace” or “beautiful”. Hannah is one of the wives of Elkanah mentioned in the First Book of Samuel. According to the Hebrew Bible she was the mother of Samuel.
Although Ḫannaḫanna is similar to the Biblical name Hannah, mother of Samuel (according to 1 Kings), the Canaanite Anat, and the Christian Saint Anne, these are coincidental. The names Anne and Hannah derive from Hebrew Channah, meaning “favor” or “grace” while Anat may be from a Semitic root meaning “water spring.”
Ḫannaḫanna (from Hittite ḫanna- “grandmother”) in Hittite-Hurrian mythology is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the Sumerian goddess Inanna. The name Hannahanna derives from the Akkadian (Sumerian), Hebrew and Hittite-Hurrian roots: Inanna, Ḥannāh, hannas, meaning “grandmother”.
She is related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess “Inanna”, and is similar in name to the Biblical Hannah, mother of Samuel. In fact, in the Czech language, the name is translated “channa-channa” directly from the Hebrew “Channâh”.
Ḫannaḫanna (from Hittite ḫanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Ḫannaḫanna was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. Christopher Siren reports that Ḫannaḫanna is associated with the Hutena, the three goddesses of fate of the Hurrian mythology called the Gul Ses (Gul-Shesh; Gulshesh; Gul-ashshesh) in the Hittite mythology.
Hannahanna promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Soon after, Inara went missing and when Ḫannaḫanna was informed of this by the Storm-god’s bee, she apparently began a search with the help of her female attendant.
The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth. Apparently, like Demeter, Ḫannaḫanna disappears for a while in a fit of anger and while she is gone, cattle and sheep are stifled and mothers, both human and animal, take no account of their children.
Hebat – Cybele
Ḫannaḫanna was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat (Eva), the mother goddess of the Hurrians known as «Mother of all Living» and «Queen of Heaven».
Ḫebat, also transcribed, Khepat, was the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living” and “Queen of the deities”. It is thought that Hebat may have had a Southern Mesopotamian origin, being the deification of Kubaba, the founder and first ruler of the Third Dynasty of Kish.
The name may be transliterated in different versions – Khepat with the feminine ending -t is primarily the Syrian and Ugaritic version. In the Hurrian language Ḫepa is the most likely pronunciation of the name of the goddess. In modern literature the sound /h/ in cuneiform sometimes is transliterated as kh.
The Hittite sun goddess Arinniti was later assimilated with Hebat. A prayer of Queen Puduhepa makes this explicit: “To the Sun-goddess of Arinna, my lady, the mistress of the Hatti lands, the queen of Heaven and Earth. Sun-goddess of Arinna, thou art Queen of all countries! In the Hatti country thou bearest the name of the Sun-goddess of Arinna; but in the land which thou madest the cedar land thou bearest the name Hebat.”
Hebat is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian mother goddess Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubileya/Kubeleya Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”), who may have a possible forerunner in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia, where statues of plump women, sometimes sitting, have been found in excavations dated to the 6th millennium BC and identified by some as a mother goddess.
Cybele is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its national deity. In Phrygian art of the 8th century BC, the cult attributes of the Phrygian mother-goddess include attendant lions, a bird of prey, and a small vase for her libations or other offerings. Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies around the 6th century BC.
She was readily assimilated to the Minoan-Greek earth-mother Rhea, “Mother of the gods”, whose raucous, ecstatic rites she may have acquired. As an exemplar of devoted motherhood, she was partly assimilated to the grain-goddess Demeter, whose torchlight procession recalled her search for her lost daughter, Persephone.
In Greece, as in Phrygia, she was a “Mistress of animals” (Potnia Therōn), with her mastery of the natural world expressed by the lions that flank her, sit in her lap or draw her chariot. Inara, the daughter of Hebat and the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis.
The Hittite System
As the Hittite kingdom expanded, the cults of the various peoples of Anatolia, all of whom had their own religious traditions and local gods, were incorporated into the Hittite system.
Interference between these theological systems resulted at times in gender change: the male Hattic/Hittite ruler of the underworld Lelwani became female under Hurrian influence and was identified with the Hurrian goddess of the underworld, Allani. The Hattic goddess Kait, the deity of vegetation, became the Hittite god Halki (Grain).
Important goddesses of the Hattic pantheon were the two sun-goddesses, the sun-goddess of the sky, Wurunshemu, the consort of storm-god, and the sun-goddess of the earth (or the netherworld). The name of the sun-goddess of the earth in both Hattic and Hittite is unknown while in late Hittite texts she was referred to by the Hurrian designation Allani.
Next in importance was Inar (Hittite: Inara), a young warlike goddess, the protective deity of the land. In addition to being a goddess of the wild animals, she was said to have power over fields and floods.
Two important groups of goddesses were the Gulsh(esh) goddesses of fate and the mother goddesses. A mother goddess, Hannahanna (Grandmother), was a wise old woman, skilled in healing and childbirth, whose advice was regularly sought by other gods in the old Hittite vanishing god myths.
At the head of the Hittite pantheon were the storm-god and the sun-goddess of Arinna, identified with Hattic Wurunshemu. Kamrushepa, the Luwian goddess of healing, was responsible for the curing of earthly and heavenly diseases and illnesses.
In the sanctuary at Yazilikaya, a procession of the chief divinities of the Hurrianized Hittite pantheon was carved on its walls: one procession of gods on the western wall and another procession of goddesses on the eastern, with the principal deities meeting in the center. This monument provides an affirmation of the symmetry and equal importance of the gods and goddesses.
Saint Anne is traditionally the name of the mother of the Virgin Mary, which accounts for its wide use and popularity among Christians. According to apocryphal Christian and Islamic tradition, Saint Anne was the mother of Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus, which accounts for its wide use and popularity among Christians.
Mary’s mother is not named in the canonical gospels. In writing, Anne’s name and that of her husband Joachim come only from New Testament apocrypha, of which the Gospel of James (written perhaps around 150) seems to be the earliest that mentions them. The mother of Mary is mentioned, but not named, in the Quran.
The role of the Messiah’s grandparents in salvation history was commonly depicted in early medieval devotional art in a vertical double-Madonna arrangement known as the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. Another typical subject has Anne teaching the Virgin Mary the Scriptures.
According to apocryphal Christian and Islamic tradition, Saint Anne was the mother of Mary and the maternal grandmother of Jesus. The story bears a similarity to that of the birth of Samuel, whose mother Hannah (Hebrew: Ḥannāh “favour, grace”; etymologically the same name as Anne) had also been childless.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Hannah is ascribed the title Forebear of God, and both the Nativity of Mary and the Presentation of Mary are celebrated as two of the twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church.
The Dormition of Hannah is also a minor feast in Eastern Christianity. In Lutheran Protestantism, it is held that Martin Luther chose to enter religious life as an Augustinian friar after crying out to St. Anne while endangered by lightning.
The Sumerian word NIN (from the Akkadian pronunciation of the sign EREŠ) was used to denote a queen or a priestess, and is often translated as “lady”. Other translations include “queen”, “mistress”, “proprietress”, and “lord”.
Many goddesses are called NIN, such as DNIN.GAL (“great lady”), DÉ.NIN.GAL (“lady of the great temple”), DEREŠ.KI.GAL, and DNIN.TI. The compound form NIN.DINGIR (“divine lady” or “lady of god”), from the Akkadian entu, denotes a priestess.
EN is the Sumerian cuneiform for “lord” or “priest”. Originally, it seems to have been used to designate a high priest or priestess of a Sumerian city-state’s patron-deity – a position that entailed political power as well. It may also have been the original title of the ruler of Uruk. See Lugal, ensi and en for more details.
Deities including EN as part of their name include DEN.LÍL, DEN.KI, DEN.GURUN, and DEN.ZU. En-hedu-ana, Akkadian 2285 BC – 2250 BC was the first known holder of the title, “En Priestess.”
Ninti is the Sumerian goddess of life. She is also one of the eight goddesses of healing who was created by Ninhursag to heal Enki’s body. Her specific healing area was the rib (sumerian Ti means rib and to live). Enki had eaten forbidden flowers and was then cursed by Ninhursaga, who was later persuaded by the other gods to heal him.
Ninti, the title of Ninhursag, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title later given to the Hurrian goddess Kheba. This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah, who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam – not Enki – walks in the Garden of Paradise.
Ensi (cuneiform: pa.te.si Sumerian: ensik, “lord of the plowland”; Emesal dialect: umunsik; Akkadian: iššakkum) was a Sumerian title designating the ruler or prince of a city-state. Originally it may have designated an independent ruler, but in later periods the title presupposed subordinance to a lugal.
For the Early Dynastic Period (about 2800–2350 BCE), the meaning of the titles en, ensi and lugal cannot be differentiated clearly: see lugal, ensi and en for details. Ensí may have originally been a designation of the ruler restricted to Lagash and Umma.
The ensi was considered a representative of the city-state’s patron deity. In later periods, an ensí was normally seen as subordinate to a lugal. Nevertheless, even the powerful rulers of the Second Dynasty of Lagash (c. 2100 BCE) such as Gudea were satisfied with the title ensí.
During the Third Dynasty of Ur (about 2100–2000 BCE) énsi referred to the provincial governors of the kingdom. These exercised great powers in terms of government, tax revenue and jurisdiction, but they were supervised, installed, and dismissed by the lugal of Ur. Although the office could be inherited, all ensí had to be endorsed by the lugal. No independent foreign policy or warfare was allowed.
In the city-state of Assur, the hereditary ruler bore the Akkadian language version of the title ensí, while the patron deity was regarded as šarrum “king”. They held most political power in Sumerian city-states during the Uruk period (c.4100-2900 BCE).
In Sumerian mythology, Ninsar (from Nin = Lady, Sar = Green(ery)), also known as Ninki (Lady Earth), Ninmah, Ninmu, Nin-shar, is the goddess of plants. Her birth resulted from Enki impregnating Ninhursag who followed a period of gestation lasting nine days. The poet was careful to note that each day corresponds to a month in the human period of gestation; of this union is begotten the goddess Ninsar.
Ninsar in return is impregnated by her father and after nine days of gestation she gives birth to the goddess Ninkur (Lady Pasture), a minor mother goddess. Ninkura is the mother of Uttu by Enki. In an alternative tradition Ninkurra was the mother (by Enki) of Nin-imma (from nin – goddess, and imma – water that created everything), a Sumerian, Babylonian, and Akkadian fertility goddess and deification of the female sex organs.
In the version of Enki and Ninsikila from Nippur, Uttu is the daughter of Enki and Ninkurra, but, in another version, Ninkurra instead gives birth to Nin-imma, who mates with her father Enki and gives birth to Uttu as a result.
The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish is named for its incipit: “When above” the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, “the first, the begetter”, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, “she who bore them all”; they were “mixing their waters”.
Uttu is an ancient Sumerian goddess associated with weaving. The same cuneiform symbol used to write her name was also used to write the Sumerian word for “spider”, indicating that Uttu was probably envisioned as a spider spinning a web.
The Dawn Goddess was associated with weaving, a behaviour sometimes used as a metaphor for the generative properties of sunlight. This characteristic is normally seen in solar goddesses and it might indicate a large amount of syncretism between dawn and solar deities. The spider’s web was likened to the Wheel of Fate and the spider to the Goddess as a Spinner, sitting at the hub of Her Wheel.
Utu, later worshipped by East Semitic peoples as Shamash, is the ancient Mesopotamian god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth, and the twin of the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. He was believed to ride through the heavens in his sun chariot and see all things that happened in the day. He was the enforcer of divine justice and was thought to aid those in distress.
At night, Utu was believed to travel through the Underworld as he journeyed to the east in preparation for the sunrise. One Sumerian literary work refers to Utu illuminating the Underworld and dispensing judgement there. Shamash Hymn 31 (BWL 126) states that Utu serves as a judge of the dead in the Underworld alongside the malku, kusu, and the Anunnaki. On his way through the Underworld, Utu was believed to pass through the garden of the sun-god, which contained trees that bore precious gems as fruit.
The Hutena were the three goddesses of fate of the Hurrian mythology; they were called the Gul Ses (Gul-Shesh; Gulshesh; Gul-ashshesh) in the Hittite mythology. The Hutena always appeared in plural, never alone. A possible translation of their names are the “Scribes” or “Determiners of Fate”. They dispenses good and evil, life and death to each human kind. They are similar to the Norns of Norse mythology, and the Moirai of ancient Greece.
The Moirae, the Fates are the three crones who control destiny, whose fate is unraveled it is the art of spinning on the distaff the thread of life. Between themselves, the Norns weave fate or ørlǫg (from ór “out, from, beyond” and lǫg “law”, and may be interpreted literally as “beyond law”). According to Voluspa 20, the three Norns “set up the laws”, “decided on the lives of the children of time” and “promulgate their ørlǫg”.
The theme of textiles in mythology and folklore is ancient, and its lost mythic lore probably accompanied the early spread of this art. Weaving begins with spinning. Until the spinning wheel was invented in the 14th century, all spinning was done with distaff and spindle. In English the “distaff side” indicates relatives through one’s mother, and thereby denotes a woman’s role in the household economy. In Scandinavia, the stars of Orion’s belt are known as Friggjar rockr, “Frigg’s distaff”. Textiles have also been associated in several cultures with spiders in mythology.
In traditional societies today, westward of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, weaving is a mystery within woman’s sphere. Where men have become the primary weavers in this part of the world, it is possible that they have usurped the archaic role: among the gods, only goddesses are weavers. Herodotus noted, however, the cultural difference between gender identities and weaving among Hellenes and Egyptians: among Egyptians it was the men who wove.
Uttu appears primarily in the myth of Enki and Ninsikila, in which she resists the sexual advances of her father Enki by ensconcing herself inside her web, but he convinces her to let him in using a gift of fresh produce and the promise that he will marry her. Enki then intoxicates her with beer and rapes her. She is rescued by Enki’s wife Ninhursag, who removes Enki’s semen from her vagina and plants it in the ground, resulting in the growth of eight new plants, which Enki later eats.
Uttu matures and becomes “shapely and decorous”. Enki’s wife Ninhursag warns Uttu that Enki will try to seduce her, as he has done with all his other daughters. Uttu fortifies herself inside her web and, when Enki comes to seduce her, she forces him to promise that he will marry her before she will have sex with him.
As marriage gifts, Uttu demands that Enki give her fruits and vegetables. Enki finds a gardener, who demands that, in exchange for the fruits and vegetables, Enki must fill his irrigation ditches with water. Enki fills the ditches and the gardener gives him the produce.
Enki brings the produce to Uttu, who happily admits him into her web, but Enki gives Uttu beer to make her drunk and then rapes her. Uttu screams and Ninhursag comes to rescue her. Ninhursag removes Enki’s semen from Uttu’s vagina and plants it in the ground, causing eight plants to rise. Later, Enki sees the plants and is annoyed because he does not recognize them.
Isimud, Enki’s sukkal, or personal attendant, arrives, names each of the plants, and gives them to Enki to eat. The account ends with the declaration that “Enki determined the nature of the grasses” and “had them know it in their hearts.”
According to some authors, Nane was adopted from the Akkadian goddess Nanaya, from the Phrygian goddess Cybele, or was from Elamite origin. Nanaya (Sumerian, DNA.NA.A; also transcribed as “Nanâ”, “Nanãy”, “Nanaja”, “Nanãja”, or ‘”Nanãya”; in Greek: Νανα) is the canonical name for a goddess worshipped by the Sumerians and Akkadians.
Nana was a deity who personified voluptuousness and sexuality, and warfare. Her cult was large and was spread as far as Egypt, Syria, and Iran. She later became syncretised as an aspect of Inanna, an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power.
Inanna was originally worshipped in Sumer and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar. She was known as the “Queen of Heaven” and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star.
In Babylonian religion, Sarpanit (alternately Sarpanitu, Zarpanit, Zarpandit, Zerpanitum, Zerbanitu, or Zirbanit) is a mother goddess and the consort of the chief god, Marduk. Her marriage with Marduk was celebrated annually at New Year in Babylon. She may be the same as Gamsu, Ishtar, and/or Bêlit.
Akitu or Akitum (Sumerian: EZEN Á.KI.TUM, akiti-šekinku, Á.KI.TI.ŠE.GUR₁₀.KU₅, lit. “the barley-cutting”, akiti-šununum, lit. “barley-sowing”; Akkadian: akitu or rêš-šattim, “head of the year”) was a spring festival in ancient Mesopotamia.
The name is from the Sumerian for “barley”, originally marking two festivals celebrating the beginning of each of the two half-years of the Sumerian calendar, marking the sowing of barley in autumn and the cutting of barley in spring. In Babylonian religion it came to be dedicated to Marduk’s victory over Tiamat.
She is also known as Erua. The constellation of Virgo in Hipparchus corresponds to two Babylonian constellations: the “Furrow” in the eastern sector of Virgo and the “Frond of Erua” in the western sector. The Frond of Erua was depicted as a goddess holding a palm-frond – a motif that still occasionally appears in much later depictions of Virgo.
Her name means “the shining one”, and she is sometimes associated with the planet Venus. Tiamat, described as the glistening one, was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.
By a play on words her name was interpreted as zēr-bānītu, or “creatress of seed”, and is thereby associated with the goddess Aruru, another name of the Sumerian mother goddess Ninhursag, who, according to Babylonian myth, created mankind. She was worshipped via the rising moon, and was often depicted as being pregnant.
Belit is a form of the Akkadian language word beltu or beltum (meaning “lady”, “mistress”) as used in noun compounds; it appears in titles of goddesses, such as bêlit-ili “lady of the gods”, an Akkadian title of Ninhursag. The word bêlit appears in Greek form as Beltis, considered to be the name of the wife of the god Bêl.
In Babylonian religion, Belit Ilani was a title described as meaning “mistress of the gods” and the name of the “evening star of desire”. It has been associated with Ninlil and Astarte and has been found inscribed on portraits of a woman blessing a suckling child with her right hand. Theophilus G. Pinches noted that Belit Ilani or Nnlil had seven different names (such as Nintud, Ninhursag, Ninmah, etc.) for seven different localities in ancient Sumer.
Belet-Seri (also spelled Beletseri, Belit-Sheri, Belit-Tseri) in Babylonian and Akkadian mythology is an underworld goddess. The recorder of the dead entering the underworld, she is known as the “Scribe of the Earth”.
It is Belet-seri who keeps the records of human activities so she can advise the queen of the dead, Erishkigal, on their final judgement. Married to Amurru, the God of Nomads, she’s known as ‘Queen of the Desert.’ Beginning in the Old Babylonian Period, Belet-Seri was identified with the goddess Gestinanna.
Geshtinanna (also known as Geštinanna or Ngeshtin-ana) is the ancient Sumerian goddess of agriculture, fertility, and dream interpretation, the so-called “heavenly grape-vine”. She is the sister of Dumuzid and consort of Ningisida. She is also the daughter of Enki and Ninhursag. She was viewed as a mother goddess and was closely associated with the interpretation of dreams.
She shelters her brother when he is being pursued by galla demons and mourns his death after the demons drag him to Kur. She eventually agrees to take his place in Kur for half the year, allowing him to return to Heaven to be with Inanna. The Sumerians believed that, while Geshtinanna was in Heaven and Dumuzid in Kur, the earth became dry and barren, thus causing the season of summer.
Shala was an ancient Sumerian goddess of grain and the emotion of compassion. The symbols of grain and compassion combine to reflect the importance of agriculture in the mythology of Sumer, and the belief that an abundant harvest was an act of compassion from the deities.
Traditions identify Shala as wife of the fertility god Dagon, or consort of the storm god Hadad’ also called Ishkur. In ancient depictions, she carries a double-headed mace or scimitar embellished with lion heads. Sometimes she is depicted as being borne atop one or two lionesses.
From very early times, she is associated with the constellation Virgo and vestiges of symbolism associated with her have persisted in representations of the constellation to current times, such as the ear of grain, even as the deity name changed from culture to culture.
The constellation Virgo has multiple different origins depending on which mythology is being studied. Most myths generally view Virgo as a virgin/maiden with heavy association with wheat. In Greek and Roman mythology they relate the constellation to Demeter, mother of Persephone, or Proserpina, the Roman goddess of the harvest.
The symbol of the maiden is based on Astraea (“star-maiden” or “starry night”). In Egyptian mythology, the time when the constellation Virgo was in the sun was the beginning of the wheat harvest, thus connecting Virgo back to the wheat grain. Virgo has the equivalent sign in Indian astrology as the Kanya (which also means “maiden”), and has even been connected with the Virgin Mary.
Nineveh (URUNI.NU.A Ninua) was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq. It is located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Today it is a common name for the half of Mosul that lies on the eastern bank of the Tigris. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate. The two main tells, or mound-ruins, within the walls are Kouyunjik (Kuyuncuk), the Northern Palace, and Tell Nabī Yūnus.
Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area it occupied was originally settled as early as 6000 BC during the late Neolithic period. Deep sounding at Nineveh uncovered soil layers that have been dated to early in the era of the Hassuna archaeological culture.
By 3000 BC, the area had become an important religious center for the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. It was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until the year 612 BC when, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria, it was sacked by a coalition of its former subject peoples, the Babylonians, Medes, Chaldeans, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians.
The English placename Nineveh comes from Latin Ninive and Septuagint Greek Nineuḗ under influence of the Biblical Hebrew Nīnewēh, from the Akkadian Ninua (var. Ninâ) or Old Babylonian Ninuwā.
The original meaning of the name is unclear but may have referred to a patron goddess. The cuneiform for Ninâ is a fish within a house (cf. Aramaic nuna, “fish”). This may have simply intended “Place of Fish” or may have indicated a goddess associated with fish or the Tigris, possibly originally of Hurrian origin.
The city was later said to be devoted to “the goddess Ishtar of Nineveh” and Nina was one of the Sumerian and Assyrian names of that goddess. Inanna, an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power, was originally worshipped in Sumer and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar.
The cuneiform for Ninâ is a fish within a house (cf. Aramaic nuna, “fish”). This may have simply intended “Place of Fish” or may have indicated a goddess associated with fish or the Tigris, possibly originally of Hurrian origin.
Inanna in her aspect as Anunītu was associated with the eastern fish of the last of the zodiacal constellations, Pisces. Her consort Dumuzi was associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries.
Nun is the Egyptian word for the primal ocean, origin of the Hebrew letter nun meaning “fish”. As applied to a religious woman, “nun” descended from nonne, a nurse, because in antiquity priestesses were practitioners of the healing arts.
Nun is the fourteenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Nūn. In all languages, it represents the alveolar nasal /n/. The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek nu (Ν), Etruscan N, Latin N, and Cyrillic Н.
Nun is believed to be derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph of a snake (the Hebrew word for snake, nachash begins with a Nun and snake in Aramaic is nun) or eel. Some have hypothesized a hieroglyph of fish in water as its origin (in Arabic, nūn means large fish or whale). The Phoenician letter was named nūn “fish”, but the glyph has been suggested to descend from a hypothetical Proto-Canaanite naḥš “snake”, based on the name in Ethiopic, ultimately from a hieroglyph representing a snake.
An (Sumerian) or Anu (Akkadian) is the divine personification of the sky, supreme god, and ancestor of all the deities in ancient Mesopotamian religion. Anu was believed to be the supreme source of all authority, for the other gods and for all mortal rulers, and he is described in one text as the one “who contains the entire universe”.
By the time of the earliest written records, Anu was rarely worshipped, and veneration was instead devoted to his son Enlil, but, throughout Mesopotamian history, the highest deity in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, meaning “Heavenly power”.
Anu’s primary role in myths is as the ancestor of the Anunnaki, the major deities of Sumerian religion. His primary cult center was the Eanna temple (“House of Heaven”; Sumerian: E-anna; Cuneiform: E.AN) in the city of Uruk.
Although the temple was originally dedicated to Anu, it was by the Akkadian Period (c. 2334 – 2154 BC) transformed into the primary cult center of Inanna. His authority in Uruk had largely been ceded to the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. After its dedication to Inanna, the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess.
Anu’s consort in the earliest Sumerian texts is the goddess Uraš, but she is later the goddess Ki and, in Akkadian texts, the Babylonian goddess Antu or Antum, whose name is a feminine form of Anu. She was the first consort of Anu, and the pair were the parents of the Anunnaki and the Utukki.
Antu was a dominant feature of the Babylonian akit festival until as recently as 200 BC, her later pre-eminence possibly attributable to identification with the Greek goddess Hera. Antu was replaced as consort by Ishtar or Inanna, who may also be a daughter of Anu and Antu.
Dingir (usually transliterated DIĜIR, Sumerian pronunciation: [tiŋiɾ]) is a Sumerian word for “god.” Its cuneiform sign is most commonly employed as the determinative for religious names and related concepts, in which case it is not pronounced and is conventionally transliterated as a superscript “D” as in e.g. DInanna.
The cuneiform sign by itself was originally an ideogram for the Sumerian word an (“sky” or “heaven”); its use was then extended to a logogram for the word diĝir (“god” or goddess) and the supreme deity of the Sumerian pantheon An, and a phonogram for the syllable /an/.
Akkadian took over all these uses and added to them a logographic reading for the native ilum and from that a syllabic reading of /il/. In Hittite orthography, the syllabic value of the sign was again only an.
The concept of “divinity” in Sumerian is closely associated with the heavens, as is evident from the fact that the cuneiform sign doubles as the ideogram for “sky”, and that its original shape is the picture of a star. The original association of “divinity” is thus with “bright” or “shining” hierophanies in the sky.
The Sumerian sign DIĜIR originated as a star-shaped ideogram indicating a god in general, or the Sumerian god An, the supreme father of the gods. Dingir also meant sky or heaven in contrast with ki which meant earth. Its emesal pronunciation was dimer.
According to one interpretation, DINGIR could also refer to a priest or priestess although there are other Akkadian words ēnu and ēntu that are also translated priest and priestess. For example, nin-dingir (lady divine) meant a priestess who received foodstuffs at the temple of Enki in the city of Eridu.
Anu’s consort in the earliest Sumerian texts is the goddess Uraš, but she is later the goddess Ki and, in Akkadian texts, the goddess Antu, whose name is a feminine form of Anu. In Akkadian mythology, Antu or Antum is a Babylonian goddess. She was the first consort of Anu, and the pair were the parents of the Anunnaki and the Utukki.
Antu was a dominant feature of the Babylonian akit festival until as recently as 200 BC, her later pre-eminence possibly attributable to identification with the Greek goddess Hera. Antu was replaced as consort by Ishtar or Inanna, who may also be a daughter of Anu and Antu. She is similar to Anat.
Inanna was known as the “Queen of Heaven” and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. Her husband was the god Dumuzid (later known as Tammuz) and her sukkal, or personal attendant, was the goddess Ninshubur (who later became the male deity Papsukkal).
She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. Inanna in her aspect as Anunītu was associated with the eastern fish of the last of the zodiacal constellations, Pisces. Her consort Dumuzi was associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries.
Inanna and Ishtar were originally separate, unrelated deities, but they were equated with each other during the reign of Sargon of Akkad and came to be regarded as effectively the same goddess under two different names.
Inanna’s name may derive from the Sumerian phrase nin-an-ak, meaning “Lady of Heaven”, but the cuneiform sign for Inanna is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin) and sky (Sumerian: an).
These difficulties led some early Assyriologists to suggest that Inanna may have originally been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, who was only later accepted into the Sumerian pantheon.
This idea was supported by Inanna’s youthfulness, and as well as the fact that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, she seems to have initially lacked a distinct sphere of responsibilities. The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.
The name Ishtar occurs as an element in personal names from both the pre-Sargonic and post-Sargonic eras in Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia. It is of Semitic derivation and is probably etymologically related to the name of the West Semitic god Attar, who is mentioned in later inscriptions from Ugarit and southern Arabia.
The morning star may have been conceived as a male deity who presided over the arts of war and the evening star may have been conceived as a female deity who presided over the arts of love.
Among the Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, the name of the male god eventually supplanted the name of his female counterpart, but, due to extensive syncretism with Inanna, the deity remained as female, despite the fact that her name was in the masculine form.
Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hebat and her brother is Sarruma.
The mother goddess Hannahanna promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahanna with a bee. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.
The god Nu (also Nenu, Nunu, Nun), feminine Naunet (also Nunut, Nuit, Nent, Nunet), the deification of the primordial watery abyss in the Hermopolitan Ogdoad cosmogony of ancient Egyptian religion, is sometimes depicted either with the head of a frog surmounted by a beetle. The name is paralleled with nen “inactivity” in a play of words in, “I raised them up from out of the watery mass [nu], out of inactivity [nen]”. The name has also been compared to the Coptic noun “abyss; deep”.
The name is spelled phonetically with the nw hieroglyph, with the determiners “sky”, and waters”. An alternative phonetic spelling used the phonogram nn. The Ancient Egyptians envisaged the oceanic abyss of the Nun as surrounding a bubble in which the sphere of life is encapsulated, representing the deepest mystery of their cosmogony.
In Ancient Egyptian creation accounts the original mound of land comes forth from the waters of the Nun. The Nun is the source of all that appears in a differentiated world, encompassing all aspects of divine and earthly existence. In the Ennead cosmogony Nun is perceived as transcendent at the point of creation alongside Atum the creator god.
Beginning with the Middle Kingdom Nun is described as “the Father of the Gods” and he is depicted on temple walls throughout the rest of Ancient Egyptian religious history. The Ogdoad includes along with Naunet and Nun, Amaunet and Amun, Hauhet and Heh, Kauket and Kek. Like the other Ogdoad deities, Nu did not have temples or any center of worship. Even so, Nu was sometimes represented by a sacred lake, or, as at Abydos, by an underground stream.
In the 12th Hour of the Book of Gates Nu is depicted with upraised arms holding a “solar bark” (or barque, a boat). The boat is occupied by eight deities, with the scarab deity Khepri standing in the middle surrounded by the seven other deities. During the late period when Egypt was occupied by foreign powers, the negative aspect of the Nun (chaos) became the dominant perception, reflecting the forces of disorder that were set loose in the country.
Nut (Ancient Egyptian: Nwt), also known by various other transcriptions, is also the name of the sky goddess of the Ennead of Heliopolis. She is the goddess of the sky, stars, cosmos, mothers, astronomy, and the universe in the ancient Egyptian religion. She was seen as a star-covered nude woman arching over the Earth, or as a cow. She was depicted wearing the water-pot sign (nw) that identifies her.
The pronunciation of ancient Egyptian is uncertain because vowels were long omitted from its writing, although her name often includes the unpronounced determinative hieroglyph for “sky”. Her name Nwt, itself also meaning “Sky”, is usually transcribed as “Nut” but also sometimes appears in older sources as Nunut, Nent, and Nuit.
She was originally the goddess of the nighttime sky, but eventually became referred to as simply the sky goddess. Her headdress was the hieroglyphic of part of her name, a pot, which may also symbolize the uterus. Mostly depicted in nude human form, Nut was also sometimes depicted in the form of a cow whose great body formed the sky and heavens, a sycamore tree, or as a giant sow, suckling many piglets (representing the stars).
A sacred symbol of Nut was the ladder used by Osiris to enter her heavenly skies. This ladder-symbol was called maqet and was placed in tombs to protect the deceased, and to invoke the aid of the deity of the dead. Nut and her brother, Geb, may be considered enigmas in the world of mythology. In direct contrast to most other mythologies which usually develop a sky father associated with an Earth mother (or Mother Nature), she personified the sky and he the Earth.
Nut is a daughter of Shu and Tefnut. Her brother and husband is Geb. She had four or, in some sources, five children: Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys, and in some sources Horus. She is considered one of the oldest deities among the Egyptian pantheon, with her origin being found on the creation story of Heliopolis.
Nut appears in the creation myth of Heliopolis which involves several goddesses who play important roles: Tefnut (Tefenet) is a personification of moisture, who mated with Shu (Air) and then gave birth to Sky as the goddess Nut, who mated with her brother Earth, as Geb.
From the union of Geb and Nut came, among others, the most popular of Egyptian goddesses, Isis, the mother of Horus, whose story is central to that of her brother-husband, the resurrection god Osiris. Osiris is killed by his brother Set and scattered over the Earth in 14 pieces, which Isis gathers up and puts back together.
Ra, the sun god, was the second to rule the world, according to the reign of the gods. Ra was a strong ruler but he feared anyone taking his throne. When he discovered that Nut was to have children, he was furious. He decreed, “Nut shall not give birth any day of the year.”
At that time, the year was only 360 days. Nut spoke to Thoth, god of wisdom, and he had a plan. Thoth gambled with Khonsu, god of the Moon, whose light rivaled that of Ra’s. Every time Khonsu lost, he had to give Thoth some of his moonlight. Khonsu lost so many times that Thoth had enough moonlight to make five extra days. Since these days were not part of the year, Nut could have her children.
She had five children: Osiris, later ruler of the gods and then god of the dead; Horus the Elder, god of war; Set, god of chaos and the desert; Isis, goddess of magic; and Nephthys, goddess of water. When Ra found out, he was furious. He separated Nut from her husband Geb for eternity. Her father, Shu, was to keep them apart. Nevertheless, Nut did not regret her decision
Nut was the goddess of the sky and all heavenly bodies, a symbol of protecting the dead when they enter the afterlife. According to the Egyptians, during the day, the heavenly bodies—such as the Sun and Moon—would make their way across her body. Then, at dusk, they would be swallowed, pass through her belly during the night, and be reborn at dawn.
Nut is also the barrier separating the forces of chaos from the ordered cosmos in the world. She was pictured as a woman arched on her toes and fingertips over the Earth; her body portrayed as a star-filled sky. Nut’s fingers and toes were believed to touch the four cardinal points or directions of north, south, east, and west. She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the deceased. The vaults of tombs were often painted dark blue with many stars as a representation of Nut.
Because of her role in saving Osiris, Nut was seen as a friend and protector of the dead, who appealed to her as a child appeals to its mother: “O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.” Nut was thought to draw the dead into her star-filled sky, and refresh them with food and wine: “I am Nut, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil.”
The Book of the Dead says: “Hail, thou Sycamore Tree of the Goddess Nut! Give me of the water and of the air which is in thee. I embrace that throne which is in Unu, and I keep guard over the Egg of Nekek-ur. It flourisheth, and I flourish; it liveth, and I live; it snuffeth the air, and I snuff the air, I the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, in peace.”
Nane was an Armenian mother goddess, as well as the goddess of war and wisdom. She was depicted as a young beautiful woman in the clothing of a warrior, with spear and shield in hand, like the Greek Athena, with whom she identified in the Hellenic period.
As the conversion to Christianity was so powerful, most artifacts, books, and stories were destroyed. As a result, many things are unknown to contemporary scholars. It is however known that in Ancient Armenia, it was traditional for Kings to meet with the oldest woman in their dynasty because she was often seen as the epitome of Nane.
The temple of the goddess Nane was in the town of Thil across from the Lycus River. Her temple was destroyed during the Christianization of Armenia: “Then they crossed the Lycus River and demolished the temple of Nane, Aramazd’s daughter, in the town of Thil.”
“Gregory then asked the king for permission to overthrow and destroy the pagan shrines and temples. Trdat readily issued an edict entrusting Gregory with this task, and himself set out from the city to destroy shrines along the highways.”
In Armenia and other countries around the world, the name Nane continues to be used not only as a personal name, but also as a nickname for the grandmother of the household. Nanna, Nani, Nannan, etc. She has also been referred to as Hanea, Hanea, Babylonian Nana, Sumerian Nanai or Sumerian Nana.
Nane was closely associated with the cult of the goddess Anahit, the goddess of fertility and healing, wisdom and water in Armenian mythology. In early periods Anahit was the goddess of war. By the 5th century BC she was the main deity in Armenia along with Aramazd.
Anahit’s worship, most likely borrowed from the Iranians during the Median invasion or the early Achaemenid period, was of paramount significance in Armenia. Artaxias I erected statues of Anahit, and promulgated orders to worship them.
According to Strabo, the “Armenians shared in the religion of the Perses and the Medes and particularly honored Anaitis”. The kings of Armenia were “steadfast supporters of the cult” and Tiridates III, before his conversion to Christianity, “prayed officially to the triad Aramazd-Anahit-Vahagn but is said to have shown a special devotion to ‘the great lady Anahit, … the benefactress of the whole human race, mother of all knowledge, daughter of the great Aramazd'”
According to Agathangelos, tradition required the Kings of Armenia to travel once a year to the temple at Eriza (Erez) in Acilisene in order to celebrate the festival of the divinity; Tiridates made this journey in the first year of his reign where he offered sacrifice and wreaths and boughs.
The temple at Eriza appears to have been particularly famous, “the wealthiest and most venerable in Armenia”, staffed with priests and priestesses, the latter from eminent families who would serve at the temple before marrying.
This practice may again reveal Semitic syncretic influences, and is not otherwise attested in other areas. Pliny reports that Mark Antony’s soldiers smashed an enormous statue of the divinity made of solid gold and then divided the pieces amongst themselves.
Also according to Pliny, supported by Dio Cassius, Acilisene eventually came to be known as Anaïtica. Dio Cassius also mentions that another region along the Cyrus River, on the borders of Albania and Iberia, was also called “the land of Anaïtis.”
In Armenia, Anahit-worship was established in Erez, Armavir, Artashat and Ashtishat. A mountain in Sophene district was known as Anahit’s throne (Athor Anahta). The entire district of Erez, in the province of Akilisene (Ekeghiats), was called Anahtakan Gavar.
According to Plutarch, the temple of Erez was the wealthiest and the noblest in Armenia. During the expedition of Mark Antony in Armenia, the statue was broken to pieces by the Roman soldiers. Pliny the Elder gives us the following story about it:
The Emperor Augustus, being invited to dinner by one of his generals, asked him if it were true that the wreckers of Anahit’s statue had been punished by the wrathful goddess. “No!” answered the general, “on the contrary, I have today the good fortune of treating you with one part of the hip of that gold statue.”
The Armenians erected a new golden statue of Anahit in Erez, which was worshiped before the time of St. Gregory Illuminator. The annual festivity of the month Navasard, held in honor of Anahit, was the occasion of great gatherings, attended with dance, music, recitals, competitions, etc.
The sick went to the temples in pilgrimage, asking for recovery. The symbol of ancient Armenian medicine was the head of the bronze gilded statue of the goddess Anahit. According to Agathangelos, King Trdat extolls the “great Lady Anahit, the glory of our nation and vivifier …; mother of all chastity, and issue of the great and valiant Aramazd.”
The historian Berossus identifies Anahit with Aphrodite, while medieval Armenian scribes identify her with Artemis. According to Strabo, Anahit’s worship included rituals of sacred prostitution, but later Christian writers do not mention such custom.
The Armenian Anahit is related to the similar Iranian goddess Anahita. The Armenian cult of Anahit, as well as the pre-Christian Armenian religion in general, was very closely connected to Persian Zoroastrianism, but it also had significant distinct features deriving from local pagan traditions as well as from non-Zoroastrian foreign cults.
In present-day Armenia, it is remembered as part of the historical mythological heritage of the nation, and the name Anahid is a popular female given name. In 1997, the Central Bank of Armenia issued a commemorative gold coin with an image of the divinity Anahit on the obverse.
Anahita is the Old Persian form of the name of an Iranian goddess and appears in complete and earlier form as Aredvi Sura Anahita (Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā), the Avestan name of an Indo-Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of “the Waters” (Aban) and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom.
The Armenian goddess Anahit is related to the similar Iranian goddess Anahita. Aredvi Sura Anahita is Ardwisur Anahid or Nahid in Middle and Modern Persian, and Anahit in Armenian. An iconic shrine cult of Aredvi Sura Anahita was – together with other shrine cults – “introduced apparently in the 4th century BCE and lasted until it was suppressed in the wake of an iconoclastic movement under the Sassanids.”
The Greek and Roman historians of classical antiquity refer to her either as Anaïtis or identified her with one of the divinities from their own pantheons. Based on the development of her cult, she was described as a syncretistic goddess, which was composed of two independent elements.
The first is a manifestation of the Indo-Iranian idea of the Heavenly River who provides the waters to the rivers and streams flowing in the earth while the second is that of a goddess with an uncertain origin, though maintaining her own unique characteristics, became associated with the cult of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Inanna-Ishtar.
At some point prior to the 4th century BCE, this yazata was conflated with (an analogue of) Semitic Ištar, likewise a divinity of “maiden” fertility and from whom Aredvi Sura Anahita then inherited additional features of a divinity of war and of the planet Venus or “Zohreh” in Arabic.
It was moreover the association with the planet Venus, “it seems, which led Herodotus to record that the [Persis] learnt ‘to sacrifice to “the heavenly goddess”‘ from the Assyrians and Arabians.” According to a theory, this is attributed partly to a desire to make Anahita part of Zoroastrianism after diffusing from the extreme northwest to the rest of Persia.
There are sources who based their theory on this aspect. For instance, it was proposed that the ancient Persians worshiped the planet Venus as *Anahiti, the “pure one”, and that, as these people settled in Eastern Iran, *Anahiti began to absorb elements of the cult of Ishtar.
Indeed, according to Boyce, it is “probable” that there was once a Perso–Elamite divinity by the name of *Anahiti (as reconstructed from the Greek Anaitis). It is then likely (so Boyce) that it was this divinity that was an analogue of Ishtar, and that it is this divinity with which Aredvi Sura Anahita was conflated.
The link between Anahita and Ishtar is part of the wider theory that Iranian kingship had Mesopotamian roots and that the Persian gods were natural extensions of the Babylonian deities, where Ahuramazda is considered an aspect of Marduk, Mithra for Shamash, and, finally, Anahita was Ishtar.
This is supported by how Ishtar “apparently” gave Aredvi Sura Anahita the epithet Banu, ‘the Lady’, a typically Mesopotamian construct that is not attested as an epithet for a divinity in Iran before the common era.
It is completely unknown in the texts of the Avesta, but evident in Sassanid-era middle Persian inscriptions (see the cult, below) and in a middle Persian Zend translation of Yasna 68.13. Also in Zoroastrian texts from the post-conquest epoch (651 CE onwards), the divinity is referred to as ‘Anahid the Lady’, ‘Ardwisur the Lady’ and ‘Ardwisur the Lady of the waters’.
Because the divinity is unattested in any old Western Iranian language, establishing characteristics prior to the introduction of Zoroastrianism in Western Iran (c. 5th century BCE) is very much in the realm of speculation.
Boyce concludes that “the Achaemenids’ devotion to this goddess evidently survived their conversion to Zoroastrianism, and they appear to have used royal influence to have her adopted into the Zoroastrian pantheon.”
According to an alternate theory, Anahita was perhaps “a daeva of the early and pure Zoroastrian faith, incorporated into the Zoroastrian religion and its revised canon” during the reign of “Artaxerxes I, the Constantine of that faith.”
According to H. Lommel, the proper name of Anahita in Indo-Iranian times was Sarasvatī, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom, and learning. The name saraswati also means “she who possesses waters”.
In Sanskrit, the name means “of the waters, mighty, and immaculate”. Like the Indian Sarasvatī, Anāhitā nurtures crops and herds; and she is hailed both as a divinity and as the mythical river which she personifies, “as great in bigness as all these waters which flow forth upon the earth” (Yasht 5.3).
Saraswati is a part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva to create, maintain, and regenerate the Universe, respectively. She not only embodies knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality.
Saraswati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of saras meaning “pooling water”, but also sometimes translated as “speech”; and vati meaning “she who possesses”. She is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes light, knowledge and truth.
Originally associated with the river or rivers known as Saraswati, this combination, therefore, means “she who has ponds, lakes, and pooling water” or occasionally “she who possesses speech”. It is also a Sanskrit composite word of surasa-vati which means “one with plenty of water”.
The earliest known mention of Saraswati as a goddess is in the Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic period through modern times of Hindu traditions. Some Hindus celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami (the fifth day of spring, and also known as Saraswati Puja and Saraswati Jayanti in so many parts of India) in her honour, and mark the day by helping young children learn how to write the letters of the alphabet on that day. The Goddess is also revered by believers of the Jain religion of west and central India, as well as some Buddhist sects.
In hymns of Book 10 of Rigveda, she is already declared to be the “possessor of knowledge”. In Upanishads and Dharma Sastras, Saraswati is invoked to remind the reader to meditate on virtue, virtuous emoluments, the meaning and the very essence of one’s activity, one’s action.
Her importance grows in Vedas composed after Rigveda and in Brahmanas, and the word evolves in its meaning from “waters that purify”, to “that which purifies”, to “vach (speech) that purifies”, to “knowledge that purifies”, and ultimately into a spiritual concept of a goddess that embodies knowledge, arts, music, melody, muse, language, rhetoric, eloquence, creative work and anything whose flow purifies the essence and self of a person.
In Vedic literature, Saraswati acquires the same significance for early Indians (states John Muir) as that accredited to the river Ganges, or Ganga, a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through India and Bangladesh, by their modern descendants.
This river is the longest in India. The Late Harappan period, about 1900–1300 BCE, saw the spread of Harappan settlement eastward from the Indus River basin to the Ganges-Yamuna doab, although none crossed the Ganges to settle its eastern bank.
The disintegration of the Harappan civilisation, in the early 2nd millennium BC, marks the point when the centre of Indian civilisation shifted from the Indus basin to the Ganges basin. There may be links between the Late Harappan settlement of the Ganges basin and the archaeological culture known as “Cemetery H”, the Indo-Aryan people, and the Vedic period.
During the early Vedic Age of the Rigveda, the Indus and the Sarasvati River were the major sacred rivers, not the Ganges. But the later three Vedas gave much more importance to the Ganges. The Gangetic Plain became the centre of successive powerful states, from the Maurya Empire to the Mughal Empire.
In Hinduism, the river Ganges is considered sacred and is personified as the goddess Gaṅgā. She is worshiped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates Moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death), and that the water of the Ganges is considered very pure. Pilgrims immerse the ashes of their kin in the Ganges, which is considered by them to bring the spirits closer to moksha.
Several places sacred to Hindus lie along the banks of the Ganges, including Gangotri, Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi and Kali Ghat in Kolkata. During the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand, candlelit floats are released into waterways to honour Gautama Buddha and goddess Ganga for good fortune and washing away sins (pāpa in Sanskrit, used to describe actions that create negative karma by violating moral and ethical codes, which brings negative consequences).
Ganga is described as the melodious, the fortunate, the cow that gives much milk, the eternally pure, the delightful, the body that is full of fish, affords delight to the eye and leaps over mountains in sport, the bedding that bestows water and happiness, and the friend or benefactor of all that lives.
She holds an important place in the Hindu pantheon. Ganga is represented as a fair-complexioned woman, wearing a white crown and sitting on a crocodile. She holds a water lily in her right hand and a lute in her left. When shown with four hands she carries a water-pot, a lily, a rosary and has one hand in a protective mode. The Rig Veda mentions Ganga but more of her is said in the Puranas.
Ganga is depicted four-armed and mounted on a crocodile or enthroned surrounded by crocodiles. In one of iconography in Maha Virat-rupa she holds jar of amrita, rosary, lotus or shivalinga and varada mudra. She may be depicted in other ways holding only a kalash (or 2 replacing lotus) and lotus, while other 2 hands in varada and abhaya mudra.
Another one shows her holding kalasha, trident, shivalinga and varada mudra. Another depiction popular especially in Bengal shows her holding Conch (shankha) , chakra (discus) , lotus and abhaya mudra , with Kalash releasing her holy water.
Ganga is a consort to all three major male deities of Hinduism. As Brahma’s partner she always travels with him in the form of water in his kamandalu (water-pot). She is also Vishnu’s consort. Not only does she emanate from his foot as Vishnupadi in the avatarana story, but is also, with Sarasvati and Lakshmi, one of his co-wives.
In one popular story, envious of being outdone by each other, the co-wives begin to quarrel. While Lakshmi attempts to mediate the quarrel, Ganga and Sarasvati, heap misfortune on each other.
They curse each other to become rivers, and to carry within them, by washing, the sins of their human worshippers. Soon their husband, Vishnu, arrives and decides to calm the situation by separating the goddesses. He orders Sarasvati to become the wife of Brahma, Ganga to become the wife of Shiva, and Lakshmi, as the blameless conciliator, to remain as his own wife.
Ganga and Sarasvati, however, are so distraught at this dispensation, and wail so loudly, that Vishnu is forced to take back his words. Consequently, in their lives as rivers they are still thought to be with him.
Shiva, as Gangadhara, bearing the Descent of the Ganges, as the goddess Parvati, the sage Bhagiratha, and the bull Nandi look on (circa 1740). It is Shiva’s relationship with Ganga, that is the best-known in Ganges mythology. Her descent, the avatarana is not a one time event, but a continuously occurring one in which she is forever falling from heaven into his locks and being forever tamed.
Shiva, is depicted in Hindu iconography as Gangadhara, the “Bearer of the Ganges”, with Ganga, shown as spout of water, rising from his hair. The Shiva-Ganga relationship is both perpetual and intimate. Shiva is sometimes called Uma-Ganga-Patiswara (“Husband and Lord of Uma (Parvati) and Ganga”), and Ganga often arouses the jealousy of Shiva’s better-known consort Parvati.
Ganga is the shakti or the moving, restless, rolling energy in the form of which the otherwise recluse and unapproachable Shiva appears on earth. As water, this moving energy can be felt, tasted, and absorbed. The war-god Skanda addresses the sage Agastya in the Kashi Khand of the Skanda Purana in these words:
One should not be amazed … that this Ganges is really Power, for is she not the Supreme Shakti of the Eternal Shiva, taken in the form of water? This Ganges, filled with the sweet wine of compassion, was sent out for the salvation of the world by Shiva, the Lord of the Lords. Good people should not think this Triple-Pathed River to be like the thousand other earthly rivers, filled with water.
The Ganges is also the mother, the Ganga Mata (mata=”mother”) of Hindu worship and culture, accepting all and forgiving all. Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, destructive though she might be as a river in nature. She is also a mother to other gods. She accepts Shiva’s incandescent seed from the fire-god Agni, which is too hot for this world, and cools it in her waters.
This union produces Skanda, or Kartikeya, the god of war. In the Mahabharata, she is the wife of Shantanu, and the mother of heroic warrior-patriarch, Bhishma. When Bhishma is mortally wounded in battle, Ganga comes out of the water in human form and weeps uncontrollably over his body.
The Ganges is the distilled lifeblood of the Hindu tradition, of its divinities, holy books, and enlightenment. As such, her worship does not require the usual rites of invocation (avahana) at the beginning and dismissal (visarjana) at the end, required in the worship of other gods. Her divinity is immediate and everlasting.
Hegir-Nuna (or Gangir)
Hegir-Nuna (or Gangir) is a goddess in Sumerian mythology. She is one of the seven daughters of the goddess Baba, known chiefly at Lagash. Nintinugga was a Babylonian goddess of healing, the consort of Ninurta. She is identical with the goddess of Akkadian mythology, known as Bau (cuneiform: Dba-u2), or Baba though it would seem that the two were originally independent.
She is later known as Gula and in medical incantations, Bēlet or Balāti, also as the Azugallatu the “great healer”, the same as her son Damu. Other names borne by this goddess are Nin-Karrak, Nin Ezen, Ga-tum-dug and Nm-din-dug.
Her epithets are “great healer of the land” and “great healer of the black-headed ones”, a “herb grower”, “the lady who makes the broken up whole again”, and “creates life in the land”, making her a vegetation/fertility goddess endowed with regenerative power. She was the daughter of An and a wife of Ninurta. She had seven daughters, including Hegir-Nuna (Gangir).
The name Bau is more common in the oldest period and gives way to Gula after the First Babylonian dynasty. Since it is probable that Ninib has absorbed the cults of minor sun-deities, the two names may represent consorts of different gods. However this may be, the qualities of both are alike, and the two occur as synonymous designations of Ninib’s female consort. She was known as a patron deity of Lagash, where Gudea built her a temple.
After the Great Flood, she helped “breathe life” back into mankind. The designation well emphasizes the chief trait of Bau-Gula which is that of healer. She is often spoken of as “the great physician,” and accordingly plays a specially prominent role in incantations and incantation rituals intended to relieve those suffering from disease.
She is, however, also invoked to curse those who trample upon the rights of rulers or those who do wrong with poisonous potions. As in the case of Ninib, the cult of Bau-Gula was prominent in Shirgulla and in Nippur. While generally in close association with her consort, she was also invoked alone, giving her more dominance than most of the goddesses of Babylonia and Assyria.
In the Neo-Babylonian period, she also had an oneiric quality. She had sometimes violent nature as the “queen whose ‘tempest’, like a raging storm, makes heaven tremble, makes earth quake”. She was a source for blasphemous remarks where Gula and her dogs are mentioned in formulae of a curse.
She appears in a prominent position on the designs accompanying the Kudurrus boundary-stone monuments of Babylonia, being represented by a portrait, when other gods and goddesses are merely pictured by their shrines, by sacred animals or by weapons.
In neo-Babylonian days her cult continues to occupy a prominent position, and Nebuchadrezzar II speaks of no less than three chapels or shrines within the sacred precincts of E-Zida in the city of Borsippa, besides a temple in her honour at Babylon.
Apas is the Avestan language term for “the waters”, which, in its innumerable aggregate states, is represented by the Apas, the hypostases of the waters. Āb (plural Ābān) is the Middle Persian-language form.
“To this day reverence for water is deeply ingrained in Zoroastrians, and in orthodox communities offerings are regularly made to the household well or nearby stream.” The ape zaothra ceremony—the culminating rite of the Yasna service (which is in turn the principal act of worship)—is literally for the “strengthening of the waters.”
Avestan apas (from singular āpō) is grammatically feminine, and the Apas are female. The Middle Persian equivalents are ābān/Ābān (alt: āvān/Āvān), from which Parsi Gujarati āvā/Āvā (in religious usage only) derive.
The Avestan common noun āpas corresponds exactly to Vedic Sanskrit āpas, and both derive from the same proto-Indo-Iranian word, stem *ap- “water”, cognate with the British river Avon.
In both Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit texts, the waters—whether as waves or drops, or collectively as streams, pools, rivers or wells—are represented by the Apas, the group of divinities of the waters. The identification of divinity with element is complete in both cultures : in the RigVeda the divinities are wholesome to drink, in the Avesta the divinities are good to bathe in.
As also in the Indian religious texts, the waters are considered a primordial element. In Zoroastrian cosmogony, the waters are the second creation, after that of the sky. Aside from Apas herself/themselves, no less than seven Zoroastrian divinities are identified with the waters: All three Ahuras (Mazda, Mithra, Apam Napat), two Amesha Spentas (Haurvatat, Armaiti) and two lesser Yazatas (Aredvi Sura Anahita and Ahurani).
In the seven-chapter Yasna Haptanghaiti, which interrupts the sequential order of the Gathas and is linguistically as old as the Gathas themselves, the waters are revered as the Ahuranis, wives of the Ahura (Yasna 38.3). Although not otherwise named, Boyce associates this Ahura with Apam Napat (middle Persian: Burz Yazad), another divinity of waters.
In Yasna 38, which is dedicated “to the earth and the sacred waters”, apas/Apas is not only necessary for nourishment, but is considered the source of life (“you that bear forth”, “mothers of our life”). In Yasna 2.5 and 6.11, apas/Apas is “Mazda-made and holy”.
In the Aban Yasht (Yasht 5), which is nominally dedicated to the waters, veneration is directed specifically at Aredvi Sura Anahita, another divinity identified with the waters, but originally representing the “world river” that encircled the earth (see In tradition, below).
The merger of the two concepts “probably” came about due to prominence given to Aredvi Sura during the reign of Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358 BCE) and subsequent Achaemenid emperors.
Although (according to Lommel and Boyce) Aredvi is of Indo-Iranian origin and cognate with Vedic Saraswati, during the 5th century BCE Aredvi was conflated with a Semitic divinity with similar attributes, from whom she then inherited additional properties.
In other Avesta texts, the waters are implicitly associated with [Spenta] Armaiti (middle Persian Spendarmad), the Amesha Spenta of the earth (this association is properly developed in Bundahishn 3.17). In Yasna 3.1, the eminence of Aban is reinforced by additionally assigning guardianship to another Amesha Spenta Haurvatat (middle Persian: (K)hordad).
According to the Bundahishn, (‘Original Creation’, an 11th- or 12th-century text), aban was the second of the seven creations of the material universe, the lower half of everything. In a development of a cosmogonical view already alluded to in the Vendidad (21.15), aban is the essence of a “great gathering place of the waters” (Avestan: Vourukasha, middle Persian: Varkash) upon which the world ultimately rested.
The great sea was fed by a mighty river (proto-Indo-Iranian: *harahvati, Avestan: Aredvi Sura, middle Persian: Ardvisur). Two rivers, one to the east and one to the west, flowed out of it and encircled the earth (Bundahishn 11.100.2, 28.8) where they were then cleansed by Puitika (Avestan, middle Persian: Putik), the tidal sea, before flowing back into the Vourukasha.
In the Zoroastrian calendar, the tenth day of the month is dedicated to the (divinity of) waters (Siroza 1.10), under whose protection that day then lies. Additionally, Aban is also the name of the eighth month of the year of the Zoroastrian calendar (Bundahishn 1a.23-24), as well as that of the Iranian calendar of 1925, which follows Zoroastrian month-naming conventions.
It might be the precursor of the holy month of Sha’aban in the Hijri calendar. sha’aban meaning The Zoroastrian name-day feast of Abanagan, also known as the Aban Ardvisur Jashan by Indian Zoroastrians, is celebrated on the day that the day-of-month and month-of-year dedications intersect, that is, on the tenth day of the eighth month. The celebration is accompanied by a practice of offering sweets and flowers to a river or the sea.
The Sumerian god Enki (Ea in the Akkadian language) was believed to have lived in the abzu since before human beings were created. His wife Ninhursag, also known as Damgalnuna (great wife of the prince) or Damkina (true wife), his mother Nammu, his advisor Isimud and a variety of subservient creatures, such as the gatekeeper Lahmu, also lived in the abzu. Enki was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization. He is often shown with the horned crown of divinity.
On the Adda Seal, Enki is depicted with two streams of water flowing into each of his shoulders: one the Tigris, the other the Euphrates. Alongside him are two trees, symbolizing the male and female aspects of nature. He is shown wearing a flounced skirt and a cone-shaped hat. An eagle descends from above to land upon his outstretched right arm. This portrayal reflects Enki’s role as the god of water, life, and replenishment.
Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth. In the later Babylonian epic Enûma Eliš, Abzu, the “begetter of the gods”, is inert and sleepy but finds his peace disturbed by the younger gods, so sets out to destroy them.
His grandson Enki, chosen to represent the younger gods, puts a spell on Abzu “casting him into a deep sleep”, thereby confining him deep underground. Enki subsequently sets up his home “in the depths of the Abzu.” Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu, including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen.
Early royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE mention “the reeds of Enki”. Reeds were an important local building material, used for baskets and containers, and collected outside the city walls, where the dead or sick were often carried. This links Enki to the Kur or underworld of Sumerian mythology.
In another even older tradition, Nammu, the goddess of the primeval creative matter and the mother-goddess portrayed as having “given birth to the great gods,” was the mother of Enki, and as the watery creative force, was said to preexist Ea-Enki.
Benito states “With Enki it is an interesting change of gender symbolism, the fertilising agent is also water, Sumerian “a” or “Ab” which also means “semen”. In one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn, Enki stands at the empty riverbeds and fills them with his ‘water'”.
Ninḫursaĝ was the ancient Sumerian mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer. She is principally a fertility goddess. Temple hymn sources identify her as the “true and great lady of heaven” (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were “nourished by Ninhursag’s milk”.
Nin-hursag means “lady of the sacred mountain” (from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG “sacred mountain, foothill”. According to legend, her name was changed from Ninmah to Ninhursag by her son Ninurta in order to commemorate his creation of the mountains. As Ninmenna, according to a Babylonian investiture ritual, she placed the golden crown on the king in the Eanna temple.
Hursag (ḪUR.SAĜ) is a Sumerian term variously translated as meaning “mountain”, “hill”, “foothills” or “piedmont”. Thorkild Jacobsen extrapolated the translation in his later career to mean literally, “head of the valleys”.
Mountains play a certain role in Mesopotamian mythology and Assyro-Babylonian religion, associated with deities such as Anu, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag. Some scholars also identify hursag with an undefined mountain range or strip of raised land outside the plain of Mesopotamia.
In a myth variously entitled by Samuel Noah Kramer as “The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and later “Ninurta Myth Lugal-e” by Thorkild Jacobsen, Hursag is described as a mound of stones constructed by Ninurta.
After his defeat of a demon called Asag. Ninurta’s mother Ninlil visits the location after this great victory. In return for her love and loyalty, Ninurta gives Ninlil the hursag as a gift. Her name is consequentially changed from Ninlil to Ninhursag or the “mistress of the Hursag”.
The hursag is described here in a clear cultural myth as a high wall, levee, dam or floodbank, used to restrain the excess mountain waters and floods caused by the melting snow and spring rain. The hursag is constructed with Ninurta’s skills in irrigation engineering and employed to improve the agriculture of the surrounding lands, farms and gardens where the water had previously been wasted.
She had many names including Ninmah (“Great Queen”); Nintu (“Lady of Birth”); Mamma or Mami (mother); Aruru, Belet-Ili (lady of the gods, Akkadian). Possibly included among the original mother goddesses was Damgalnuna (great wife of the prince) or Damkina (true wife), the consort of the god Enki.
In the text ‘Creator of the Hoe’, she completed the birth of mankind after the heads had been uncovered by Enki’s hoe. In creation texts, Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) acts as a midwife whilst the mother goddess Nammu makes different kinds of human individuals from lumps of clay at a feast given by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind.
Mami is a goddess in the Babylonian epic Atra-Hasis and in other creation legends. She was probably synonymous with Ninhursag. She was involved in the creation of humankind from clay and blood.
As Nintu legends states she pinched off fourteen pieces of primordial clay which she formed into womb deities, seven on the left and seven on the right with a brick between them, who produced the first seven pairs of human embryos.
She may have become Belet Ili (“Mistress of the Gods”) when, at Enki’s suggestion, the gods slew one among themselves and used that god’s blood and flesh, mixed with clay, to create humankind. Also known as Belet-ili, or Nintu. Alternative forms of her name include Mama and Mammitum.
Some of the names were once associated with independent goddesses (such as Ninmah and Ninmenna), who later became identified and merged with Ninhursag, and myths exist in which the name Ninhursag is not mentioned.
The mother goddess had many epithets including shassuru or ‘womb goddess’, tabsut ili ‘midwife of the gods’, ‘mother of all children’ and ‘mother of the gods’. In this role she is identified with Ki in the Enuma Elish. She had shrines in both Eridu and Kish.
In creation texts, Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) acts as a midwife whilst the mother goddess Nammu makes different kinds of human individuals from lumps of clay at a feast given by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind.
Sometimes her hair is depicted in an omega shape and at times she wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders. Frequently she carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash. She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders.
The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and may represent a stylized womb. The symbol appears on very early imagery from Ancient Egypt. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.
In Sumerian mythology, Nammu (also Namma, spelled ideographically dNAMMA = dENGUR) was a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology. She was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.
Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and his mother, Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.
The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil requested from Nammu the creation of humans, and Nammu told him that with the help of Enki (her son) she can create humans in the image of gods. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.
In the religion of ancient Babylon, Tiamat (Akkadian: DTI.AMAT or DTAM.TUM, Greek: Thaláttē) is a primordial goddess of the salt sea, mating with Abzû, the god of fresh water, to produce younger gods. She is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation. She is referred to as a woman, and described as the glistening one. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.
It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a sacred marriage between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second Chaoskampf Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.
In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Apsu, correctly assuming they are planning to kill him and usurp his throne, later makes war upon them and is killed. Enraged, she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, taking on the form of a massive sea dragon.
She is then slain by Enki’s son, the storm-god Marduk, but not before she had brought forth the monsters of the Mesopotamian pantheon, including the first dragons, whose bodies she filled with “poison instead of blood”. Marduk then forms the heavens and the Earth from her divided body.
Thorkild Jacobsen and Walter Burkert both argue for a connection with the Akkadian word for sea, tâmtu, following an early form, ti’amtum. Burkert continues by making a linguistic connection to Tethys. The later form Greek thaláttē, which appears in the Hellenistic Babylonian writer Berossus’ first volume of universal history, is clearly related to Greek thálatta, an Eastern variant of thalassa (“sea”).
It is thought that the proper name ti’amat, which is the construct or vocative form, was dropped in secondary translations of the original texts because some Akkadian copyists of Enûma Elish substituted the ordinary word tāmtu (“sea”) for Tiamat, the two names having become essentially the same due to association. Tiamat also has been claimed to be cognate with Northwest Semitic tehom (“the deeps, abyss”), in the Book of Genesis 1:2.
Tehom (lit. the Deep or Abyss; Greek Septuagint: ábyssos) refers to the Great Deep of the primordial waters of creation in the Bible. Tehom is a cognate of the Akkadian word tamtu and Ugaritic t-h-m which have similar meaning. As such it was equated with the earlier Sumerian Tiamat. In Modern Arabic, Tihamah refers to a coastal plain of the Red Sea.
It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu, a female principle of a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki.
It was from here that the waters of Noah’s flood had their origin and the place that God temporarily receded the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass over before destroying the pursuing Egyptian army, and the place that God will dry up for the righteous to walk on towards their redemption at the End of Days (Isaiah 11:15, context entire chapter 11).
Abzu (apsû) is depicted as a deity only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enûma Elish, taken from the library of Assurbanipal (c 630 BCE) but which is about 500 years older. In this story, he was a primal being made of fresh water and a lover to another primal deity, Tiamat, a creature of salt water.
The Enuma Elish begins: “When above the heavens (e-nu-ma e-liš) did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, the first, the begetter, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, she who bore them all; they were still mixing their waters, and no pasture land had yet been formed, nor even a reed marsh.”
This resulted in the birth of the younger gods, who later murder Apsu in order to usurp his lordship of the universe. Enraged, Tiamat gives birth to the first dragons, filling their bodies with “venom instead of blood”, and made war upon her treacherous children, only to be slain by Marduk, the god of Storms, who then forms the heavens and earth from her corpse.
Ma is a Sumerian word meaning “land” that in Sumerian mythology was also used to regard Primordial Land. The underworld Kur is the void space between the primeval sea (Abzu) and the earth (Ma). Which seem a likely pairing for parentage, in a fuzzy set of records.
There seems to be some loss in records as to the transition, but the same name Ma appears again later, also tied to the Earth, in Ma being referred to as “Mother of the mountain” – in this case, Kur (Mountain) the first dragon god. Ma was a local goddess at Ma and a Phrygian alternative name for Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubileya/Kubeleya Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”).
Cybele is an Anatolian mother goddess; she may have a possible forerunner in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia, where statues of plump women, sometimes sitting, have been found in excavations dated to the 6th millennium BC and identified by some as a mother goddess.
In Phrygian art of the 8th century BC, the cult attributes of the Phrygian mother-goddess include attendant lions, a bird of prey, and a small vase for her libations or other offerings. Her name, and the development of religious practices associated with her, may have been influenced by cult to the deified Sumerian queen Kubaba.
Kubaba (in the Weidner or Esagila Chronicle; Sumerian: Kug-Bau) is the only queen on the Sumerian King List, which states she reigned for 100 years – roughly in the Early Dynastic III period (ca. 2500-2330 BC) of Sumerian history. In later times, she was worshipped as a goddess.
Shrines in honour of Kubaba spread throughout Mesopotamia. In the Hurrian area, she may be identified with Kebat, or Hepat, one title of the Hurrian Mother goddess Hannahannah (from Hurrian hannah, “mother”). Abdi-Heba was the palace mayor, ruling Jerusalem at the time of the Amarna letters (1350 BC). Kubaba became the tutelary goddess who protected the ancient city of Carchemish on the upper Euphrates, in the late Hurrian/early Hittite period.
Relief carvings, now at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi), Ankara, show her seated, wearing a cylindrical headdress like the polos and holding probably a tympanum (hand drum) or possibly a mirror in one hand and a poppy capsule (or perhaps pomegranate) in the other. She plays a role in Luwian texts and a minor role in Hittite texts, mainly in Hurrian rituals.
According to Emanuel Laroche, Maarten J. Vermaseren, and Mark Munn, her cult later spread and her name was adapted for the main goddess of the Hittite successor kingdoms in Anatolia. This deity later developed into the Phrygian matar kubileya (“mother Cybele”), who was depicted in petroglyphs and mentioned in accompanying inscriptions.
The Phrygian goddess otherwise bears little resemblance to Kubaba, who – according to Herodotus – was a sovereign deity at Sardis. In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her possibly Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the harvest–mother goddess Demeter.
In Sumerian mythology, Nammu (also Namma; dNAMMA = dENGUR) was a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat (Akkadian: DTI.AMAT or DTAM.TUM, Greek: Thaláttē) in Babylonian mythology, a primordial goddess of the salt sea, mating with Abzû, the god of fresh water, to produce younger gods.
Nammu was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.
Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”.
It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going. The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil requested from Nammu the creation of humans, and Nammu told him that with the help of Enki (her son) she can create humans in the image of gods. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.
The Abzu or Apsu (Cuneiform: ZU.AB; Sumerian: abzu; Akkadian: apsû), also called engur (Cuneiform:LAGAB×HAL; Sumerian: engur; Akkadian: engurru – lit., ab=’water’ zu=’deep’), is the name for fresh water from underground aquifers which was given a religious fertilising quality in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology.
Lakes, springs, rivers, wells, and other sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the abzu. In this respect, in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology it referred to the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above.
Enki and later Ea were apparently depicted, sometimes, as a man covered with the skin of a fish, and this representation, as likewise the name of his temple E-apsu, “house of the watery deep”, points decidedly to his original character as a god of the waters.
In the city of Eridu, Enki’s temple, a ziggurat temple surrounded by Euphratean marshlands near the ancient Persian Gulf coastline at Eridu, was known as E-abzu (house of the deep waters; also E-en-gur-a, meaning “house of the subterranean waters”). It was located at the edge of a swamp and was the first temple known to have been built in Southern Iraq.
Four separate excavations at the site of Eridu have demonstrated the existence of a shrine dating back to the earliest Ubaid period, more than 6,500 years ago. Over the following 4,500 years, the temple was expanded 18 times, until it was abandoned during the Persian period.
On this basis Thorkild Jacobsen has hypothesized that the original deity of the temple was Abzu, with his attributes later being taken by Enki over time. P. Steinkeller believes that, during the earliest period, Enki had a subordinate position to a goddess (possibly Ninhursag), taking the role of divine consort or high priest, later taking priority.
The Enki temple had at its entrance a pool of fresh water, and excavation has found numerous carp bones, suggesting collective feasts. Carp are shown in the twin water flows running into the later God Enki, suggesting continuity of these features over a very long period. These features were found at all subsequent Sumerian temples, suggesting that this temple established the pattern for all subsequent Sumerian temples.
“All rules laid down at Eridu were faithfully observed”. Certain tanks of holy water in Babylonian and Assyrian temple courtyards were also called abzu (apsû). Typical in religious washing, these tanks were similar to Judaism’s mikvot, the washing pools of Islamic mosques, or the baptismal font in Christian churches.
Atargatis or Ataratheh (Aramaic: ‘Atar’atheh or Tar’atheh) was the chief goddess of northern Syria in Classical antiquity. The name Atargatis derives from the Aramaic form ʿAtarʿatheh, which comes in several variants.
The Romans called her Dea Syria, or in one word Deasura. Michael Rostovtzeff called her “the great mistress of the North Syrian lands”. Ctesias also used the name Derketo for her, and the Romans called her Dea Syria, or in one word Deasura.
Primarily she was a goddess of fertility, but, as the baalat (“mistress”) of her city and people, she was also responsible for their protection and well-being. Her chief sanctuary was at Hierapolis, modern Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, Syria.
She is sometimes described as a mermaid-goddess, due to identification of her with a fish-bodied goddess at Ascalon. However, there is no evidence that Atargatis was worshipped at Ascalon, and all iconographic evidence shows her as anthropomorphic.
As Ataratheh, doves and fish were considered sacred to her: doves as an emblem of the Love-Goddess, and fish as symbolic of the fertility and life of the waters. Her consort is usually Hadad (Ugaritic), Adad, Haddad (Akkadian) or Iškur (Sumerian), the storm and rain god in the Canaanite and ancient Mesopotamian religions.
Atargatis is seen as a continuation of Bronze Age goddesses. At Ugarit, cuneiform tablets attest the three great Canaanite goddesses:ʾAṭirat, described as a fecund “Lady Goddess of the Sea” (rabbatu ʾat̪iratu yammi); she is identified with Asherah,ʿAnat, the war-like virgin goddess, and Ațtart, the goddess of love, namesake of the Phoenician goddess ʿAštart, called Astarte in Greek.
In many cases Atargatis, ‘Ashtart, and other goddesses who once had independent cults and mythologies became fused to such an extent as to be indistinguishable. These shared many traits with each other and may have been worshipped in conjunction or separately during 1500 years of cultural history.
The name ʿAtarʿatheh is widely held to derive from a compound of the Aramaic form ʿAttar, which is a cognate of ʿAțtart minus its feminine suffix -t, plus ʿAttah or ʿAtā, a cognate of ʿAnat. Alternatively, the second half may be a Palmyrene divine name ʿAthe (i.e. tempus opportunum), which occurs as part of many compounds.
It has also been proposed that the element -gatis may relate to the Greek gados “fish”. For example, the Greek name for “sea monster” or “whale” is the cognate term ketos). So Atar-Gatis may simply mean “the fish-goddess Atar”.
At her temples at Ascalon, Hierapolis Bambyce, and Edessa, there were fish ponds containing fish only her priests might touch. The fishpond of fish sacred to Atargatis survives at Şanlıurfa, the ancient Edessa, its mythology transferred to Ibrahim.
He was attested in Ebla as “Hadda” in c. 2500 BCE. From the Levant, Hadad was introduced to Mesopotamia by the Amorites, where he became known as the Akkadian (Assyrian-Babylonian) god Adad. Adad and Iškur are usually written with the logogram dIM—the same symbol used for the Hurrian god Teshub.
Hadad was also called Pidar, Rapiu, Baal-Zephon, or often simply Baʿal (Lord), but this title was also used for other gods. The bull was the symbolic animal of Hadad. He appeared bearded, often holding a club and thunderbolt while wearing a bull-horned headdress. Hadad was equated with the Greek god Zeus; the Roman god Jupiter, as Jupiter Dolichenus; the Hurrian storm-god Teshub; the Egyptian god Amun.
Hadad (Ugaritic: Haddu), Adad, Haddad (Akkadian) or Iškur (Sumerian) was the storm and rain god in the Canaanite and ancient Mesopotamian religions. He was attested in Ebla as “Hadda” in c. 2500 BCE.
From the Levant, Hadad was introduced to Mesopotamia by the Amorites, where he became known as the Akkadian (Assyrian-Babylonian) god Adad. Adad and Iškur are usually written with the logogram dIM – the same symbol used for the Hurrian storm-god Teshub.
Occasionally Adad/Iškur is identified with the god Amurru, the god of the Amorites. He was the patron god of the Mesopotamian city of Ninab, whose exact location is unknown. He was occasionally called “lord of the steppe” or “lord of the mountain”.
Amurru and Martu are names given in Akkadian and Sumerian texts to the god of the Amorite/Amurru people, often forming part of personal names. He is sometimes called Ilu Amurru (DMAR.TU). Amurru’s wife is usually the goddess Ašratum who in northwest Semitic tradition and Hittite tradition appears as wife of the god Ēl which suggests that Amurru may indeed have been a variation of that god.
Adad/Iškur’s consort (both in early Sumerian and the much later Assyrian texts) was Shala, a goddess of grain, who is also sometimes associated with the god Dagānu. She was also called Gubarra in the earliest texts.
The fire god Gibil (named Gerra in Akkadian) is sometimes the son of Iškur and Shala. Gerra (also known as Girra) is the Babylonian and Akkadian god of fire, derived from the earlier Sumerian deity Gibil. He is the son of Anu and Antu. Nergal is a deity that was worshipped throughout ancient Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia) Other names for him are among others Erra and Gibil.
Antu and Anat
In Akkadian mythology, Antu or Antum is a Babylonian goddess. She was the first consort of Anu, and the pair were the parents of the Anunnaki and the Utukki. She was a dominant feature of the Babylonian akit festival until as recently as 200 BC, her later pre-eminence possibly attributable to identification with the Greek goddess Hera. Antu was replaced as consort by Ishtar or Inanna, who may also be a daughter of Anu and Antu.
Anat is a major northwest Semitic goddess. Her attributes vary widely among different cultures and over time, and even within particular myths. She was often paired with the goddess Ashtart. She is sometimes called “Queen of Heaven”. Her iconography varies. She is usually shown carrying one or more weapons.
Anat, classically Anath (Hebrew: Ănāth; Phoenician: ʿAnōt; Ugaritic: ʿnt; Greek: Anath; Egyptian Antit, Anit, Anti, or Anant) is a major northwest Semitic goddess. Her attributes vary widely among different cultures and over time.
In Akkadian, the form one would expect Anat to take would be Antu, earlier Antum. This would also be the normal feminine form that would be taken by Anu, the Akkadian form of An ‘Sky’, the Sumerian god of heaven.
Antu appears in Akkadian texts mostly as a rather colorless consort of Anu, the mother of Ishtar in the Gilgamesh story, but is also identified with the northwest Semitic goddess ‘Anat of essentially the same name.
It is unknown whether this is an equation of two originally separate goddesses whose names happened to fall together or whether Anat’s cult spread to Mesopotamia, where she came to be worshipped as Anu’s spouse because the Mesopotamian form of her name suggested she was a counterpart to Anu.
It has also been suggested that the parallelism between the names of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, and her West Semitic counterpart, Ishtar, continued in Canaanite tradition as Anath and Astarte, particularly in the poetry of Ugarit.
The two goddesses were invariably linked in Ugaritic scripture and are also known to have formed a triad (known from sculpture) with a third goddess who was given the name/title of Qadesh (meaning “the holy one”).
In the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, ‘Anat is a violent war-goddess, a maiden (btlt ‘nt) who is the sister and, according to a much disputed theory, perhaps also the lover of the great god Ba‘al Hadad. Ba‘al is usually called the son of Dagan and sometimes the son of El, who addresses ‘Anat as “daughter”. ‘Anat’s titles are “virgin ‘Anat” and “sister-in-law of the peoples” (or “progenitress of the peoples” or “sister-in-law, widow of the Li’mites”).
Anat first appears in Egypt in the 16th dynasty (the Hyksos period) along with other northwest Semitic deities. She was especially worshiped in her aspect of a war goddess, often paired with the goddess `Ashtart. In the Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Re and are given as allies to the god Set, who had been identified with the Semitic god Hadad.
During the Hyksos period Anat had temples in the Hyksos capital of Avaris and in Beth-Shan (Israel) as well as being worshipped in Memphis. On inscriptions from Memphis of 15th to 12th centuries BCE, Anat is called “Bin-Ptah”, Daughter of Ptah.
In Akkadian, the form one would expect Anat to take would be Antu, earlier Antum. This would also be the normal feminine form that would be taken by Anu, the Akkadian form of An ‘Sky’, the Sumerian god of heaven.
Antu appears in Akkadian texts mostly as a rather colorless consort of Anu, the mother of Ishtar in the Gilgamesh story, but is also identified with the northwest Semitic goddess ‘Anat of essentially the same name.
It is unknown whether this is an equation of two originally separate goddesses whose names happened to fall together or whether Anat’s cult spread to Mesopotamia, where she came to be worshipped as Anu’s spouse because the Mesopotamian form of her name suggested she was a counterpart to Anu.
It has also been suggested that the parallelism between the names of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, and her West Semitic counterpart, Ishtar, continued in Canaanite tradition as Anath and Astarte, particularly in the poetry of Ugarit. The two goddesses were invariably linked in Ugaritic scripture and are also known to have formed a triad (known from sculpture) with a third goddess who was given the name/title of Qadesh (meaning “the holy one”).
Anat is attested in a few Phoenician inscriptions from Cyprus. In the Cyprian inscription KAI. 42, the Greek goddess Athêna Sôteira Nikê is equated with ‘Anat, who is described in the inscription as the strength of life : l‘uzza hayim.
Anat is also presumably the goddess whom Sanchuniathon calls Athene, a daughter of El, mother unnamed, who with Hermes (that is Thoth) counselled El on the making of a sickle and a spear of iron, presumably to use against his father Uranus. However, in the Baal cycle, that rôle is assigned to Asherah / ‘Elat and ‘Anat is there called the “Virgin.”
The goddess ‘Atah worshipped at Palmyra may possibly be in origin identical with ‘Anat. ‘Atah was combined with ‘Ashtart under the name Atar into the goddess ‘Atar‘atah known to the Hellenes as Atargatis. If this origin for ‘Atah is correct, then Atargatis is effectively a combining of ‘Ashtart and ‘Anat.
It has also been proposed that (Indo-)Iranian Anahita meaning ‘immaculate’ in Avestan (a ‘not’ + ahit ‘unclean’) is a variant of ‘Anat. It is however unlikely given that the Indo-Iranian roots of the term are related to the Semitic ones and although—through conflation—Aredvi Sura Anahita (so the full name) inherited much from Ishtar-Inanna, the two are considered historically distinct.
In the Book of Zohar, ‘Anat is numbered among the holiest of angelic powers under the name of Anathiel. In Sefer Yetzirah by Rabbi Kaplan, he mentions that this angel is the ruling malach over Venus.
Anat is associated with the native Egyptian goddess Neith (a borrowing of the Demotic form Ancient Egyptian: nt, likely originally nrt “she is the terrifying one”; also spelled Nit, Net, or Neit), an early ancient Egyptian deity who was said to be the first and the prime creator.
Neith is one of the most ancient deities associated with ancient Egyptian culture. A great festival, called the Feast of Lamps, was held annually in her honor and, according to Herodotus, her devotees burned a multitude of lights in the open air all night during the celebration.
She was said to be the creator of the universe and all it contains, and she governs how it functions. She was the goddess of wisdom, weaving, the cosmos, mothers, rivers, water, childbirth, hunting, war, and fate.
She is a goddess of war and of hunting, and had as her symbol two arrows crossed over a shield. She is a far more complex goddess than is generally known, however, and of whom ancient texts only hint of her true nature. A religious silence was imposed by ancient Egyptians for secrecy, employing euphemisms and allusions and often relying on symbols alone.
In her usual representations, she is portrayed as a fierce deity, a woman wearing the Red Crown, occasionally holding or using the bow and arrow, in others a harpoon. In fact, the hieroglyphs of her name usually are followed by a determinative containing the archery elements, with the shield symbol of the name being explained as either double bows (facing one another), intersected by two arrows (usually lashed to the bows), or, by other imagery associated with her worship.
Neith was the tutelary deity of Sais (Coptic: ⲥⲁⲓ Sai from Egyptian Zau), where her cult was centered in the western Nile Delta of Lower Egypt and attested as early as the First Dynasty. Her symbol also identified the city of Sais. This symbol was displayed on top of her head in Egyptian art. In her form as a goddess of war, she was said to make the weapons of warriors and to guard their bodies when they died.
As a deity, Neith is normally shown carrying the was scepter (symbol of rule and power) and the ankh (symbol of life). She is also called such cosmic epithets as the “Cow of Heaven”, a sky-goddess similar to Nut, and as the Great Flood, Mehet-Weret, as a cow who gives birth to the sun daily. In these forms, she is associated with creation of both the primeval time and daily “re-creation”.
As protectress of the Royal House, she is represented as a uraeus, and functions with the fiery fury of the sun, In time, this led to her being considered as the personification of the primordial waters of creation. She is identified as a great mother goddess in this role as a creator. She is the personification of the primeval waters, able to give birth (create) parthenogenetically.
Among the pairs of deities usually noted by the later ancient Egyptians, she is paired with Ptah-Nun. In the same manner, her personification as the primeval waters is Mehet-Weret or Mehturt (Ancient Egyptian: mḥt-wrt) is an ancient Egyptian deity of the sky in ancient Egyptian religion, conceptualized as streaming water, related to another use of the verb sti, meaning ‘to pour’.
In some creation myths, she was identified as the mother of Ra and Apep. When she was identified as a water goddess, she was also viewed as the mother of Sobek, the crocodile. It was this association with water, i.e. the Nile, that led to her sometimes being considered the wife of Khnum, and associated with the source of the River Nile. She also was associated with the Nile Perch as well as the goddess of the triad in that cult center.
As the goddess of creation and weaving, she was said to reweave the world on her loom daily. An interior wall of the temple at Esna records an account of creation in which Neith brings forth from the primeval waters of the Nun the first land. All that she conceived in her heart comes into being, including the thirty deities. Having no known husband she has been described as “Virgin Mother Goddess”.
The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) noted that the Egyptian citizens of Sais in Egypt worshipped Neith and that they identified her with Athena. The Timaeus, a dialogue written by Plato, mirrors that identification with Athena, possibly as a result of the identification of both goddesses with war and weaving.
The English Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge suggested that the account of the flight into Egypt as recorded in the apocryphal gospels was directly influenced by stories about Isis and Horus; Budge argued that the writers of these gospels ascribed to Mary mother of Jesus many peculiarities which, at the time of the rise of Christianity, were perceived as belonging to both Isis and Neith, for example the parthenogenesis issue shared with both Neith and Mary.
Mehet-Weret was mentioned in the Pyramid Texts. Her name means “Great Flood”. In ancient Egyptian creation myths, she gives birth to the sun at the beginning of time, and in art she is portrayed as a cow with a sun disk between her horns. She is associated with the goddesses Neith, Hathor, and Isis, all of whom have similar characteristics, and like them she could be called the “Eye of Ra”.
Mehet-Weret is described as having a woman’s body with a cow’s head, and as such, is sometime called the Cow Goddess. A sun disk lies between the horns on her head, which connects her to the creation of the sun.
“Myth of the Heavenly Cow” by Nadine Guilhou tells the story of a separate goddess that is related to Mehet-Weret who is named Hathor. While Hathor is the bloodthirsty warrior cow, focused on the destruction of humankind, Mehet-Weret is responsible for creating some of the most basic needs for humankind: sun and water.
Hathor is seen as more troublesome than Mehet-Weret, because she creates chaos in the human world. The title of the story of the “Myth of the Heavenly Cow” is also known as “The Destruction of Mankind” because Hathor was sent to kill the rebels who acted against the sun god Ra and his plans to rearrange the cosmos.
Mehet-Weret is primarily known as being the “Celestial Cow” or “Cow Goddess” because of her physical characteristics, but she contributes to the world in more ways than that. She is also the Goddess of Water, Creation, and Rebirth; in Egyptian mythology, Mehet-Weret is one of the main components in the making and survival of life.
Mehet-Weret was responsible for raising the sun into the sky every day. She produced the light for the crops of those who worshipped her, and she also caused the annual Nile River flood that fertilized the crops with water.
In Patricia Monaghan’s The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines, she describes Mehet-Weret as the Goddess of Creation because she gives birth to the sun every day, creating life for all those who worship her.
In Egyptian mythology, Mehet-Weret was known as the Goddess of Water and Creation, but Geraldine Pinch also introduces the idea that she was a piece of the nighttime sky. She is referenced as being the river of stars known as the Milky Way, because of her physical traits of being the responsible for the annual flood of the Nile River.
Mehet-Weret is described as being the mother of Ra, the ancient Egyptian solar deity. As the Goddess of Creation, she gives birth to the sun every day and is the reason the world isn’t in the dark. In her physical description, she is described as having a sun disk between her horns; in typical motherly fashion, she protects her son Ra and keeps him close to her.
Khnum (Ancient Egyptian: ẖnmw, also romanised Khnemu) was one of the earliest-known Egyptian deities, originally the god of the source of the Nile. Khnum was regarded as the guardian of the source of the Nile River. His significance led to early theophoric names of him, for children, such as Khnum-Khufwy “Khnum is my Protector”, the full name of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The worship of Khnum centered on two principal riverside sites, Elephantine and Esna, which were regarded as sacred sites. At Elephantine, he was worshipped alongside his consort Satis and their daughter, Anuket. At Esna, he was worshipped alongside Menhit, Nebtu, Neith and Heka.
In other locations, such as Herwer (Tuna el-Gebel perhaps), as the moulder and creator of the human body, he was sometimes regarded as the consort of Heket, or of Meskhenet, whose responsibility was breathing life into children at the moment of birth, as the kꜣ (“ka”).
Since the annual flooding of the Nile brought with it silt and clay, and its water brought life to its surroundings, he was thought to be the creator of the bodies of human children, which he made at a potter’s wheel, from clay, and placed in their mothers’ wombs. He later was described as having moulded the other deities, and he had the titles “Divine Potter” and “Lord of created things from himself”.
Khnum is sometimes depicted as a crocodile-headed god. Nebt-uu and Menhit are Khnum’s principal consorts and Heka is his eldest son and successor. Both Khnum and Neith are referred to as creator deities in the texts at Esna. Khnum is sometimes referred to as the “father of the fathers” and Neith as the “mother of the mothers”. They later become the parents of Ra, who is also referred to as Khnum-Re.
Khnum has also been related to the deity Min (Egyptian mnw), an ancient Egyptian god whose cult originated in the predynastic period (4th millennium BCE). Min was represented in many different forms, but was most often represented in male human form, shown with an erect penis which he holds in his left hand and an upheld right arm holding a flail. As Khem or Min, he was the god of reproduction; as Khnum, he was the creator of all things, “the maker of gods and men”.
In Egyptian art, Min was depicted as an anthropomorphic male deity with a masculine body, covered in shrouds, wearing a crown with feathers, and often holding his penis erect in his left hand and a flail (referring to his authority, or rather that of the Pharaohs) in his upward facing right hand. Around his forehead, Min wears a red ribbon that trails to the ground, claimed by some to represent sexual energy. The legs are bandaged because of his chthonic force, in the same manner as Ptah and Osiris.
Min’s wives were Iabet (Iabtet, Iab, Abet, Abtet, Ab) and Repyt (Repit). Iabet is a cleanser of the Sun god Ra, and goddess of the east. She is a counterpart of Imentet (Ament, Amentent or Imentit, meaning “She of the West”), a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religion representing the necropolises west of the Nile.
Imentet was the consort of Aqen, a god who guided Ra through parts of the underworld. Although she was never officially worshipped, she was mentioned in various hymns and passages of the Book of the Dead.
Her title “She of the West” is not just a statement related to geography, but also related as her role in mythology because, as the sun sets towards the west, it was to be accompanied by death, which was where Imentet usually reigned.
Additionally, amenti (or amentet) was thought to be where the sun set, and where the entrance to the Underworld was located, although later the term began to associate itself with graveyards and tombs as well.
Satis (Ancient Egyptian: Sṯt or Sṯı͗t, lit. “Pourer” or “Shooter”), also known by numerous related names, was an Upper Egyptian goddess who, along with Khnum and Anuket, formed part of the Elephantine Triad. By Khnum, her child was Anuket, goddess of the Nile. Together Khnum, Anuket, and Satis formed the Elephantine Triad.
She seems to have originally been paired with the Theban god Montu, but later replaced Heket as the consort of Khnum, guardian of the source of the Nile. After Khnum was conflated with Ra, she sometimes became an Eye of Ra in place of Hathor.
Satis was usually pictured as a woman in a sheath dress wearing the hedjet, the conical crown of Upper Egypt, with antelope horns. She is sometimes depicted with bow and arrows; holding an ankh or scepter; or offering jars of purifying water. She also appears in the form of an antelope. Her symbols were the arrow and the running river.
As a war goddess, Satis protected Egypt’s southern Nubian frontier by killing the enemies of the pharaoh with her sharp arrows. As a fertility goddess, she was thought to grant the wishes of those who sought love. A protective deity of Egypt’s southern border with Nubia, she came to personify the former annual flooding of the Nile and to serve as a war, hunting, and fertility goddess.
The exact pronunciation of Egyptian is often uncertain since vowels were not recorded until a very late period. In transcription, the goddess’s name also appears as Setis, Sati, Setet, Satet, Satit, and Sathit. Derived from sṯ, meaning “eject”, “shoot”, “pour”, or “throw”, her name can be variously translated as “She who Shoots” or “She who Pours” depending on which of her roles is being emphasized.
Her name was originally written with the hieroglyph for a linen garment’s shoulder knot; this was later replaced by Anuket’s animal hide pierced by an arrow. She was also known by epithets, such as “Mistress of Elephantine” and “She Who Runs Like an Arrow”, thought to refer to the flowing river current.
A goddess of the Upper Egyptians, her cult is first attested on jars beneath the Step Pyramid of Saqqara (Dynasty III). She appears in the Pyramid Texts (Dynasty VI) purifying a deceased pharaoh’s body with four jars of water from Elephantine.
Her principal center of worship was at Abu (Elephantine), an island near Aswan on the southern edge of Egypt. Her temple there occupied an early predynastic site shown by Wells to be aligned with the star Sirius.
Other centers include Swenet (Aswan proper) and Setet (Sehel Island nearby). She was particularly associated with the upper reaches of the Nile, which the Egyptians sometimes considered to have its source near Aswan.
She was sometimes conflated with Isis and Sopdet, goddess of the bright star Sirius, which the Egyptians connected with the onset of the Nile flooding. Under the interpretatio graeca, she was conflated with Hera and Juno.
Anuket was the ancient Egyptian goddess of the cataracts of the Nile and Lower Nubia in general, worshipped especially at Elephantine near the First Cataract. Her name meant the “Clasper” or “Embracer”. She was also shown suckling the pharaoh through the New Kingdom and became a goddess of lust in later years.
In later periods, she was associated with the cowry, especially the shell, which resembled the vagina. She was usually depicted as a woman with a headdress of either reed or ostrich feathers She was usually depicted as holding a sceptre topped with an ankh, and her sacred animal was the gazelle.
In the interpretatio graeca, she was considered equivalent to Hestia (“hearth” or “fireside”), the virgin goddess of the hearth, the right ordering of domesticity, the family, the home, and the state in Ancient Greek religion, or Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion.
She was originally the daughter of Ra, but was always related to Satet in some way. For example, both goddesses were called the “Eye of Ra”, along with Bastet, Hathor, and Sekhmet. Also, they were both related in some way to the Uraeus. She was part of a triad with the god Khnum, and the goddess Satis. She may have been the sister of the goddess Satis or she may have been a junior consort to Khnum instead.
During the New Kingdom, Anuket’s cult at Elephantine included a river procession of the goddess during the first month of Shemu. Inscriptions mention the processional festival of Khnum and Anuket during this period. Ceremonially, when the Nile started its annual flood, the Festival of Anuket began.
People threw coins, gold, jewelry, and precious gifts into the river, in thanks to the goddess for the life-giving water and returning benefits derived from the wealth provided by her fertility. The taboo held in several parts of Egypt, against eating certain fish which were considered sacred, was lifted during this time, suggesting that a fish species of the Nile was a totem for Anuket and that they were consumed as part of the ritual of her major religious festival.
Sopdet is the ancient Egyptian name of the star Sirius and its personification as an Egyptian goddess. Known to the Greeks as Sothis, she was conflated with Isis as a goddess and Anubis as a god. The exact pronunciation of ancient Egyptian is uncertain, as vowels were not recorded until a very late period. In modern transcription, her name usually appears as Sopdet (Ancient Egyptian: Spdt (lit. “Triangle” or “Sharp One”) after the known Greek and Latin form Sothis.
During the early period of Egyptian civilization, the heliacal rising of the bright star preceded the usual annual flooding of the Nile. It was therefore apparently used for the solar civil calendar which largely superseded the original lunar calendar in the 3rd millennium BC.
Despite the wandering nature of the Egyptian calendar, the erratic timing of the flood from year to year, and the slow procession of Sirius within the solar year, Sopdet continued to remain central to cultural depictions of the year and to celebrations of Wep Renpet (Wp Rnpt), the Egyptian New Year. She was also venerated as a goddess of the fertility brought to the soil by the flooding.
During the Old Kingdom, she was an important goddess of the annual flood and a psychopomp guiding deceased pharaohs through the Egyptian underworld. During the Middle Kingdom, she was primarily a mother and nurse and, by the Ptolemaic period, she was almost entirely subsumed into Isis.
Sopdet is the consort of Sah, the personified constellation of Orion near Sirius. Their child Venus was the hawk god Sopdu, “Lord of the East”. As the “bringer of the New Year and the Nile flood”, she was associated with Osiris from an early date and by the Ptolemaic period Sah and Sopdet almost solely appeared in forms conflated with Osiris and Isis.
She was depicted as a woman with a five-pointed star upon her head, usually with a horned hedjet similar to Satis. In the Ptolemaic and Roman period, the European notion of the “Dog Star” caused her to sometimes be represented as a large dog or as a woman riding one sidesaddle. From the Middle Kingdom, Sopdet sometimes appeared as a god who held up part of Nut (the sky or firmament) with Hathor. In Greco-Roman Egypt, the male Sopdet was conflated with the dog-headed Anubis.
Heka (also transliterated Hekau) was the deification of magic and medicine in ancient Egypt. The name is the Egyptian word for “magic”. According to Egyptian literature (Coffin text, spell 261), Heka existed “before duality had yet come into being.”
The term ḥk3 was also used to refer to the practice of magical rituals. The name Heka is identical with the Egyptian word ḥk3w “magic”. This hieroglyphic spelling includes the symbol for the word ka (kꜣ), the ancient Egyptian concept of the vital force. Other deities connected with the force of ḥk3w include Hu, Sia, and Werethekau, whose name means “she who has great magic”.
The Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts depict ḥk3w as a supernatural energy that the gods possess. The “cannibal pharaoh” must devour other gods to gain this magical power. Eventually, Heka was elevated to a deity in his own right and a cult devoted to him developed.
By the Coffin Texts, Heka is said to be created at the beginning of time by the creator Atum. Later Heka is depicted as part of the tableau of the divine solar barge as a protector of Osiris capable of blinding crocodiles. Then, during the Ptolemaic dynasty, Heka’s role was to proclaim the pharaoh’s enthronement as a son of Isis, holding him in his arms.
Heka also appears as part of a divine triad in Esna, capital of the Third Nome, where he is the son of ram-headed Khnum and a succession of goddesses. His mother was alternately said to be Nebetu’u (a form of Hathor), lion-headed Menhit, and the cow goddess Mehetweret, before settling on Neith, a war and mother goddess.
Menhit and Sekhmet
Menhit (also spelt Menchit) was originally a Nubian war goddess in Egyptian mythology. Her name depicts a warrior status, as it means (she who) massacres. Due to the aggressive attributes possessed by and hunting methods used by lionesses, most things connected to warfare in Egypt were depicted as leonine, and Menhit was no exception, being depicted as a lioness-goddess.
She also was believed to advance ahead of the Egyptian armies and cut down their enemies with fiery arrows, similar to other war deities She was less known to the people as a crown goddess and was one of the goddesses who represented the protective uraeus on royal crowns. In the 3rd Nome of Upper Egypt, particularly at Esna, Menhit was said to be the wife of Khnum and the mother of Heka.
She was also worshipped in Lower Egypt, where she was linked with the goddesses Wadjet and Neith. She became identified with another lioness goddess, Sekhmet or Sachmis, also spelled Sakhmet, Sekhet, or Sakhet, among other spellings, a warrior goddess as well as goddess of healing.
Sekhmet is depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians. It was said that her breath formed the desert. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare. Upon death, Sekhmet continued to protect them, bearing them to the afterlife. She is also a solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bastet. She bears the Uraeus, which associates her with Wadjet and royalty, and the solar disk.
Sekhmet’s name comes from the Ancient Egyptian word sḫm, which means “power or might”. Sekhmet’s name (Ancient Egyptian: sḫmt) is thus translated as “the (one who is) powerful or mighty”. She also was given titles such as the “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”.
In the earliest prehistoric period Astghik had been worshipped as the Armenian deity of fertility and love, later the skylight had been considered her personification, and she had been the consort of Vahagn.
In the later heathen period she became the goddess of love, maidenly beauty, and water sources and springs. She forms a trinity in the pantheon of Armenian deities. In the period of Hellenistic influence, Astghik became similar to the Greek Aphrodite and the Mesopotamian Ishtar.
Her name is the diminutive of Armenian astɫ (meaning “star”) and all star goddesses were originally called Night goddesses including the morning and evening star (Venus) which from Proto-Indo-European *h₂stḗr is cognate to Sanskrit stṛ́, Avestan star, Pahlavi star, Persian setār, Pashto stóray etc.
Her principal seat was in Ashtishat (Taron), located to the North from Muş, where her chamber was dedicated to the name of Vahagn, the personification of a sun-god, her lover or husband according to popular tales, and had been named “Vahagn’s bedroom”.
Other temples and places of worship of Astghik had been located in various towns and villages, such as the mountain of Palaty (to the South-West from Lake Van), in Artamet (12 km from Van) etc.
The unique monuments of prehistoric Armenia, vishap “dragon stones” (Arm. višap ‘serpent, dragon’, derived from Persian), spread in many provinces of historical Armenia – Gegharkunik, Aragatsotn, Javakhk, Tayk, etc., and are additional manifestations of her worship.
The Vishap is a dragon in Armenian mythology closely associated with water, similar to the Leviathan. It is usually depicted as a winged snake or with a combination of elements from different animals. The word vishap is likely an Iranian loan. The native Armenian word may have been gegh (from Proto-Indo-European wel).
According to ancient beliefs, the Vishap ascended to the sky or descended therefrom to earth, causing thunderous storms, whirlwinds, absorption of the sun (causing an eclipse). Mount Ararat was the main home of the Vishap. The volcanic character of the Araratian peak and its earthquakes may have suggested its association with the Vishap. Sometimes with its children, the Vishap used to steal children or toddlers and put a small evil spirit of their own brood in their stead.
The dragon was worshipped in a number of Eastern countries, symbolising the element of water, fertility and wealth, and later became a frightful symbol of power. According to ancient legends, the dragon fought Vahagn the Dragon Slayer.
Vahagn Vishapakagh (Vahagn the Dragon Reaper), or Vahakn, was a god of fire, thunder and war worshiped anciently in Armenia. Some time during Ancient history, he formed a “triad” with Aramazd and Anahit.
Vahagn was identified with the Greek deity Heracles. The priests of Vahévahian temple, who claimed Vahagn as their own ancestor, placed a statue of the Greek hero in their sanctuary. In the Armenian translation of the Bible, “Heracles, worshipped at Tyr” is renamed “Vahagn”.
Vahagn fought and conquered dragons, hence his title Vishabakagh, “dragon reaper”, where dragons in Armenian lore are identified as “Vishaps”. He was invoked as a god of courage, later identified with Heracles. He was also a sun-god, rival of Baal-shamin and Mihr.
Vahagn was linked to the divinity Verethragna (an Avestan language neuter noun literally meaning “smiting of resistance”), who is the hypostasis of “victory” in the texts of the Avesta; the name turned into Vahagn (the Avestan “th” becoming “h” in Arsacid Middle Persian), later on to take the form of Vahagn.
The neuter noun verethragna is related to Avestan verethra, ‘obstacle’ and verethragnan, ‘victorious’. In Zoroastrian Middle Persian, Verethragna became Warahrām, from which Vahram, Vehram, Bahram, Behram and other variants derive.
The word is cognate with the Vedic Sanskrit. The Vedic god Indra may correspond to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian Avesta as the Vedic vr̥tragʰná-, which is predominantly an epithet of Indra, corresponds to the noun verethragna-.
The name and, to some extent, the deity was borrowed into Armenian Vahagn and Vṙam, and has cognates in Buddhist Sogdian wšɣn w(i)šaɣn, Manichaen Parthian wryḥrm Wahrām, Kushan Bactrian Orlagno.
While the figure of Verethragna is highly complex, parallels have also been drawn between, Puranic Vishnu, Manichaean Adamas, Chaldean/Babylonian Nergal, Egyptian Horus, Hellenic Ares and Heracles.
The Vardavar festival devoted to Astghik that had once been celebrated in mid July was transformed into the Christian holiday of the Transfiguration of Jesus, and is still celebrated by the Armenians. As in pre-Christian times, on the day of this fest the people release doves and sprinkle water on each other with wishes of health and good luck.
Astghik was originally the goddess creator of heaven and earth, and the moon was being worshiped as Great Lady and Mother Deity. Later, Aramazd became creator as all sun cults rising to power began to be worshiped sun god personifications. Anahit, with her demotion to maiden, was being worshiped as the personification of the moon.
Aramazd was the chief and creator god in pre-Christian Armenian mythology. He was regarded as a generous god of fertility, rain, and abundance, as well as the father of the other gods, including Anahit, Mihr, and Nane.
The deity and his name were derived from the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda after the Median conquest of Armenia in the 6th century BCE. Like Ahura Mazda, Aramazd was seen as the father of the other gods, rarely with a wife, though sometimes husband to Anahit or Spandaramet. Aramazd was the Parthian form of Ahura Mazda.
There was some disagreement in scholarship as to the relationship between Aramazd, Amanor, and Vanatur, but the evidence most strongly indicates that Vanatur (“Lord of the Van”) was a title for the chief deity (be it Ḫaldi or Ahura Mazda/Aramazd, though recorded uses are only as a title for Aramazd), and that Amanor was both a common noun referring the new year and a title for the deity whose celebration was held on the new year (Vanatur, whether Ḫaldi or Aramazd).
Aramazd was readily identified with Zeus through interpretatio Graeca, the two often sharing specific titles regarding greatness, bravery, or strength. Zeus is the Greek continuation of *Di̯ēus, the name of the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr (“Sky Father”).
The god is known under this name in the Rigveda (Vedic Sanskrit Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (compare Jupiter, from Iuppiter, deriving from the Proto-Indo-European vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr), deriving from the root *dyeu- (“to shine”, and in its many derivatives, “sky, heaven, god”).
Ahura Mazda, also known as Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hourmazd, Hormazd, and Hurmuz) is the creator and highest deity of Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda is the first and most frequently invoked spirit in the Yasna.
Even though it is speculated that Ahura Mazda was a spirit in the Indo-Iranian religion, he had not yet been given the title of “uncreated spirit”. This title was given by Zoroaster, who proclaimed Ahura Mazda as the uncreated spirit, wholly wise, benevolent and good, as well as the creator and upholder of Asha.
Mazda is generally taken to be the proper name of the spirit, and like its Vedic cognate medhā́, it means “intelligence” or “wisdom”. The literal meaning of the word Ahura is “lord”. Both the Avestan and Sanskrit words reflect Proto-Indo-Iranian *mazdʰáH, from Proto-Indo-European *mn̥sdʰh₁éh₂, literally meaning “placing (*dʰeh₁) one’s mind (*mn̥-s)”, hence “wise”.
Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period (c. 550 – 330 BCE) under Darius I’s Behistun Inscription. Until Artaxerxes II of Persia (405–04 to 359–58 BCE), Ahura Mazda was worshipped and invoked alone in all extant royal inscriptions. With Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was invoked in a triad, with Mithra and Anahita.
In the Achaemenid period, there are no known representations of Ahura Mazda at the royal court other than the custom for every emperor to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses, to invite Ahura Mazda to accompany the Persian army on battles.
Some scholars believe that Ahura Mazda originates from *vouruna-mitra, or Vedic Varuna (and Mitra). According to William W Malandra both Varuna (in Vedic period) and Ahura Mazda (in old Iranian religion) represented same Indo-Iranian concept of a supreme “wise, all-knowing lord”.
In Manichaeism, the name Ohrmazd Bay (“god Ahura Mazda”) was used for the primal figure Nāšā Qaḏmāyā, the “original man” and emanation of the Father of Greatness (in Manicheism called Zurvan) through whom after he sacrificed himself to defend the world of light was consumed by the forces of darkness.
Although Ormuzd is freed from the world of darkness his “sons”, often called his garments or weapons, remain. His sons, later known as the World Soul after a series of events will for the most part escape from matter and return again to the world of light where they came from. Manicheans often identified many of Mani’s cosmological figures with Zoroastrian ones. This may be in part because Mani was born in the greatly Zoroastrian Parthian Empire.
In Sogdian Buddhism, Xwrmztʼ (Sogdian was written without a consistent representation of vowels) was the name used in place of Ahura Mazda. Via contacts with Turkic peoples like the Uyghurs, this Sogdian name came to the Mongols, who still name this deity Qormusta Tengri (Also Qormusta or Qormusda) is now a popular enough deity to appear in many contexts that are not explicitly Buddhist.
The pre-Christian Armenians had Aramazd as an important deity in their pantheon of gods. He is thought to be a syncretic deity, a combination of the autochthonous Armenian figures Aram and his son Ara and the Iranian Ahura Mazda. In modern-day Armenia, Aramazd is a male first name.
Varuna is a Vedic deity associated initially with the sky, later also with the seas as well as Ṛta (justice) and Satya (truth). He is found in the oldest layer of Vedic literature of Hinduism, such as hymn 7.86 of the Rigveda. He is also mentioned in the Tamil grammar work Tolkāppiyam, as the god of sea and rain.
In the Hindu Puranas, Varuna is the god of oceans, his vehicle is a Makara (part fish, part land creature) and his weapon is a Pasha (noose, rope loop). He is the guardian deity of the western direction. In some texts, he is the father of the Vedic sage Vasishtha.
The theonym Varuṇa is a derivation from the verbal vṛ (“to surround, to cover” or “to restrain, bind”) by means of a suffigal -uṇa-, for an interpretation of the name as “he who covers or binds”, in reference to the cosmological ocean or river encircling the world, but also in reference to the “binding” by universal law or Ṛta.
Georges Dumézil (1934) made a cautious case for the identity of Varuna and the Greek god Ouranos at the earliest Indo-European cultural level. The etymological identification of the name Ouranos with the Sanskrit Varuṇa is based in the derivation of both names from the PIE root *ŭer with a sense of “binding” – the Indic king-god Varuṇa binds the wicked, the Greek king-god Ouranos binds the Cyclopes.
While the derivation of the name Varuṇa from this root is undisputed, this derivation of the Greek name is now widely rejected in favour of derivation from the root *wers- “to moisten, drip” (Sanskrit vṛṣ “to rain, pour”).
Mitra (Proto-Indo-Iranian: *mitrás) is the name of an Indo-Iranian divinity from which the names and some characteristics of Rigvedic Mitrá and Avestan Mithra derive. Both Vedic Mitra and Avestan Mithra derive from an Indo-Iranian common noun *mitra-, generally reconstructed to have meant “covenant, treaty, agreement, promise.” This meaning is preserved in Avestan miθra “covenant.” In Sanskrit and modern Indo-Aryan languages, mitra means “friend,” one of the aspects of bonding and alliance.
The Indo-Iranian reconstruction is attributed to Christian Bartholomae, and was subsequently refined by A. Meillet (1907), who suggested derivation from the Proto-Indo-European root *mey- “to exchange.” A suggested alternative derivation was *meh “to measure” (Gray 1929). Pokorny (IEW 1959) refined Meillet’s *mei as “to bind.”
Combining the root *mei with the “tool suffix” -tra- “that which [causes] …” (also found in man-tra-, “that which causes to think”), then literally means “that which binds,” and thus “covenant, treaty, agreement, promise, oath” etc. Pokorny’s interpretation also supports “to fasten, strengthen”, which may be found in Latin moenia “city wall, fortification”, and in an antonymic form, Old English (ge)maere “border, boundary-post”.
The names (and occasionally also some characteristics) of these two older figures were subsequently also adopted for other figures: In Middle Iranian, the Avestan theonym evolved (among other Middle Iranian forms) into Sogdian Miši, Middle Persian and Parthian Mihr, and Bactrian Miuro. Aside from Avestan Mithra, these derivative names were also used for: Greco-Bactrian Mithro, Miiro, Mioro and Miuro; by the Manichaeans for one of their own deities.
A vrddhi-derived form of Sanskrit mitra gives Maitreya, the name of a bodhisattva in Buddhist tradition. Additionally, the Manichaeans also adopted ‘Maitreya’ as the name of their “first messenger”.
In Hellenistic-era Asia Minor, Avestan Mithra was conflated with various local and Greek figures leading to several different variants of Apollo-Helios-Mithras-Hermes-Stilbon. Via Greek and some Anatolian intermediate, the Avestan theonym also gave rise to Latin Mithras, the principal figure of the first century Roman Mysteries of Mithras (also known as ‘Mithraism’).
The first extant record of Indo-Aryan Mitra, in the form mi-it-ra-, is in the inscribed peace treaty of c. 1400 BC between Hittites and the Hurrian kingdom of the Mitanni in the area southeast of Lake Van in Asia Minor. Mitra appears there together with four other Indic divinities as witnesses and keepers of the pact.
Vedic Mitra is a prominent deity of the Rigveda distinguished by a relationship to Varuna, the protector of rta. Together with Varuna, he counted among the Adityas, a group of solar deities, also in later Vedic texts. Vedic Mitra is the patron divinity of honesty, friendship, contracts and meetings.
In Indic culture, Mitra (Sanskrit Mitrá) is a divinity whose function changed with time. In the Mitanni inscription, Mitra is invoked as one of the protectors of treaties. In the Rigveda, Mitra appears primarily in the dvandva compound Mitra-Varuna, which has essentially the same attributes as Varuna alone, e.g. as the principal guardian of ṛtá “Truth, Order”, breaches of which are punished.
In the late Vedic texts and the Brahmanas, Mitra is increasingly associated with the light of dawn and the morning sun (while Varuna becomes associated with the evening, and ultimately the night). In the post-Vedic texts – in which Mitra practically disappears – Mitra evolved into the patron divinity of friendship, and because he is “friend”, abhors all violence, even when sacred.
In the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedic texts, Mitra is mostly indistinguishable from Varuna, together with whom Mitra forms a dvandva pair Mitra-Varuna, and in which Mitra-Varuna has essentially the same characteristics as Varuna alone.
Varuna is not only the greater of the two, but also – according to RV 2.12 – the second-greatest of the RigVedic gods after Indra. Mitra is addressed independently in one hymn only RV 3.59, where he has hardly any traits that distinguish him from Varuna, and owing to the scantiness of the information supplied in that hymn his separate character appears somewhat indefinite.
Mitra as an independent personage is insignificant. … One theory holds that the dvandvic union possibly represents an apotropaic application [of “friend”] to the otherwise frightening and dangerous Varuna.”
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