Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Bull of Heaven.

One thing I didn't concentrate on, when I wrote a possible explanations of religion as practiced in Bronze Age Britain, was the bull. The bull has a long association with death rituals from the sacrifice of the sacred Apis bull, to the bull fight in Spain.

In Britain cattle bones are sometimes found in connection with Neolithic and Bronze Age burials, and inside the henge circles; as if cattle in particular were chosen as the animal for 'the underworld'.

The man buried in the ditch at Woodhenge was buried with three vertebrae from a cow or a bull.

In the outer ditches and circles of henges it is pig bones that predominate. In Greek mythology, especially the Persephone myth, pigs are sacrificed it seems, to pay a blood dept, a way to 'wash away sins'.

In Britain, pigs were for feasts.

To go way, way back -to Sumerian myth the consort of Ereshkigal (the Sumerian Persephone) was Gugulanna -the Bull of Heaven.

In myth cattle seem to represent all the fertile powers of the springtime skies: rain-clouds, rays of sunlight and the newborn sun.

More specifically though, the Sumerian Bull of Heaven is described as a destructive force which came down from heaven to drink the rivers dry and to scorch the land.

These seem to be seasonal changes. [LINK].
From Wiki:
Taurus was the constellation of the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox from about 3,200 BCE. It marked the start of the agricultural year with the New Year Akitu festival (from á-ki-ti-še-gur10-ku5, = sowing of the barley), an important date in Mespotamian religion.

The "death" of Gugalanna, represents the obscuring disappearance of this constellation as a result of the light of the sun, with whom Gilgamesh was identified.

In the time in which this myth was composed, the New Year Festival, or Akitu, at the Spring Equinox, due to the Precession of the Equinoxes did not occur in Aries, but in Taurus. At this time of the year, Taurus would have disappeared as it was obscured by the sun.
But the bull was also an earthquake [From the Epic of Gilgamesh.]:
At the snort of the Bull of Heaven a huge pit opened up,
and 100 Young Men of Uruk fell in.
At his second snort a huge pit opened up,
and 200 Young Men of Uruk fell in.
At his third snort a huge pit opened up,
and Enkidu fell in up to his waist.
The bull is a lunar creature, due to his moon-like crescent hornes and his testicles which are full of fertilizing 'dew'. In the Sumerian tale, the Bull of Heaven as consort of the Queen of the underworld would have been more lunar than solar.

But a few thousand years latter in Akkadian times, Marduk is called 'The Bull of the Sun'.

The 'underground' power of The Bull of Heaven always has a starry connection; and over time its power becomes man shaped -as Ereshkigal's consort changes from bull to God, in the form of the plague god: Nergal.

Marduk is hardly man-shaped, but he is seen as the archetypal leader, the super hero, and his powerful courage means that he is bull-like, bull of the sun.

Reading the symbols leads me to interpret the bull as representing at first man's fertility and his role as protector of his family and finally his capacity for war.

Meanwhile in Egypt, somewhere between 323 BC – 283 BC the cult of the Apis bull becomes linked to Hades in the form of Serapis -a syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god. Combining Osiris with Hades for the Greeks, and Osiris and Apis for the Eqyptians.

The name Serapis seems to have got into the Greek language from Babylon ;The Akkadian god Ea (Sumerian Enki) was titled Serapsi, meaning 'king of the deep'.

It seems that the priests of Ea were consulted in hope of them being able to help, as Alexandra The Great, lay dying.

Thus the name Sarapsi became known to the Greeks; but Sarapis is not exactly Ea or Enki.

The Greeks didn't bother too much with Akkadian myth, besides which they were in Egypt! Osirus as Lord of the Dead was an important god for the Egyptians and so Ptolomy's statue of Sarapis shows a bearded man with a basket/grain-measure, on his head; a Greek symbol for the land of the dead.

Cerberus, the three -headed dog plays around his knees; though I have heard it explained that the three heads represent a wolf, a dog and something else (sorry...) symbolizing 'the three times'

Apis was an Egyptian god who became associated with Ptah, but once again I cannot find a connecting myth.

Herodotus wrote that the Apis was the "calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to have another. The Egyptian belief is that a flash of lightning descends upon the cow from heaven, and this causes her to receive Apis."

Ptah, in the Memphis mythology, was the creator of the primeval mound.

Sumerian myth contains references to a primeval mound -the Du.Ku- but Enki isn't its creator.

Sumerian tradition holds that the knowledge of agriculture, animal husbandry and weaving were brought to mankind from the "Du-Ku", which was inhabited by the Anunna gods, but I do not know if there is a myth to connect Enki with the knowledge held by the Anunna?

But, back to Egypt.

Plutarch wrote that the "Apis was a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris"

Osiris was lord of the dead and the Apis bull (chosen for his distinctive markings) became known as the living deceased one. When the Apis bull reached the age of twenty-eight (the age when Osiris was said to have been killed by Set and symbolic of the lunar month) the bull was put to death with a great sacrificial ceremony.

For more about Egyptian bull cults continue...

A temple of Serapis is a Serapeum; and it contains the graveyard of the bulls.
The Serapeum was the centre of a cult relating to the Apis bull, a bull selected from the sacred flock of bulls and cows. It was believed to be the incarnation of the blessed soul of Ptah and Osiris after his death. All through its life it was treated as a deity with its own priests and a harem of cows.

When it died it was buried at the Serapeum with the finest of ceremonies. The bull was lain in a sarcophagus which could weight up to 80 tons, and a new sacred bull was selected. There is a story that women during the first 40 days of the selection of a new Apis bull, 'would pose in front of it exposing their private parts for fertility'. The cult of the Apis bull lasted from early 14th century BCE until 30 BCE. The great cult of Serapis survived until 385 AD, when early Christians destroyed the Serapeum of Alexandria, and subsequently the cult was forbidden by the Theodosian decree.

The Serapeum at Saqqara was known of since ancient times, but not located until 1851 by Auguste Mariette.[LINK]
Of ancient Britain there is unfortunately little to say; no one wrote anything down.

All we have is what we find.

Some of the posts of Woodhenge had offerings of cremated cattle bone and horns placed around and inside them, some barrows -particularly Neolithic, contained the skulls of cattle- bucrania...