Monday, 4 November 2013

Halloween Persephone.

Halloween comes from ancient Greece and commemorates the abduction of Persephone by Haides, which causes the shift into winter and the dead to roam the earth...

I like this a lot.
It is so full of myth.

One by one....

Myth originated in Greece.
This is an archaic notion which is impossible for anyone who has read through Berkert and Herodotus to believe. There is just too much evidence to the contrary. The notion that most myths are Greek in origin belongs to the Roman tradition which respected 'the Greeks', regarded the Egyptians as weird-foreigners and hated the Carthaginians. The fact that some people still think that 'Greek' myth originated with the Greeks demonstrates how cultural beliefs are cut and pasted into the future. It is true to say that the myths we call Greek were written in Greek. It is also true to say that the Romans destroyed anything 'Punic' that they could lay their hands on. This didn't destroy 'Punic' myth, just the connections and correspondences between what was practiced in Canaan, Memphis and Athens (let alone Babylon and Persepolis) and makes my job so much harder~

But the Persephone myth originated in Greece.
I have a problem with the name, Persephone...
Yes, the 'Greeks' had the Elusinian mysteries and yes, Persephone was integral to that festival. At Eleusis, Persephone was Kore- the maiden.

The Eleusinian mysteries came to be about the after-life.
I'm not sure that they began that way.

But the question is, how do you decide when Cretan ritual becomes Greek? Besides which, when did Greece become Greek?

The lost girl.
Herodotus explains the trouble between the Persians and the Greeks beginning with the abduction of a girl.

He begins:
According to the Persians best informed in history, the Phoenicians began to quarrel. This people, who had formerly dwelt on the shores of the Erythraean Sea, having migrated to the Mediterranean and settled in the parts which they now inhabit, began at once, they say, to adventure on long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of Egypt and Assyria.

14th century map of Jericho in Farchi Bible.

The Phoenicians were the people of Canaan and from the beginnings of civilization (Jericho) the people of Canaan traded with the people of Egypt and Assyria and beyond.  According to Polybius (born c. 204 B.C.), the Greek historian Timaeus of Tauromenion (c. 357-260 B.C.) Carthage was founded around 814 or 813 B.C, some 300 years before Herodotus was born.

By around 550 BC, there were Phoenician colonies in Sicily, and the east and south edges of Spain.

In 1840 the Reverend R. Warner, in The Pagan Altar argued that both Avebury and Stonehenge were built by Phoenicians. In the early 1970s the axes carved into the Sarcen at Stonehenge were often described as being 'of Phoenician design'.

Anyway...this probably grew out of Stukeley and his lost tribe of Hebrews.

Herodotus continues:

They landed at many places on the coast, and among the rest at Argos, which was then preeminent above all the states included now under the common name of Hellas. Here they exposed their merchandise, and traded with the natives for five or six days; at the end of which time, when almost everything was sold, there came down to the beach a number of women, and among them the daughter of the king, who was, they say, agreeing in this with the Greeks, Io, the child of Inachus. The women were standing by the stern of the ship intent upon their purchases, when the Phoenicians, with a general shout, rushed upon them. The greater part made their escape, but some were seized and carried off. Io herself was among the captives. The Phoenicians put the women on board their vessel, and set sail for Egypt. Thus did Io pass into Egypt, according to the Persian story, which differs widely from the Phoenician: and thus commenced, according to their authors, the series of outrages. 

The abduction of a girl will cause trouble...
Always has, always will
In this case

Hades abducts Persephone, and her mother Demeter refuses to let anything grow, holding the gods to ransom..
For she [Demeter] is performing a mighty deed, to destroy [root phthi-] the tribes of earth-born humans, causing them to be without menos (life force),  by hiding the Seed underground—and she is destroying [root phthi-] the tîmai (honor) of the immortal gods. 
This seems to be about more than just stopping things from growing.

She is destroying the honor of the gods.
I assume that this is a Greek interpretation.

From a Mesopotamian point of view, the transaction is simplified.
The Mesopotamian gods need food even though they take only the spirit from the food for themselves.

So the problem of the hidden seed isn't entirely about honor.

Zeus is compelled to send Hermes into the Underworld to seek Persephone and lead her back to her mother...
"Go, Persephone, to your mother, the one with the dark robe. Have a kindly disposition and thûmos in your breast. Do not be too upset, excessively so. I will not be an unseemly husband to you, in the company of the immortals. I am the brother of Zeus the Father. If you are here, you will be queen of everything that lives and moves about, and you will have the greatest tîmai in the company of the immortals. Those who violate dikê– will get punishment for all days to come; those who do not supplicate your menos with sacrifice, performing the rituals in a reverent way, executing perfectly the offerings that are due."
Persephone has no choice, though young she is not a little child, and Hades is offering her the role of judge...When Ereshkigal was taken by the Kur, there was no way out for her eithe as the Kur took her down into the Underworld.

Nevertheless, the question with the Persephone stories, myths and rituals is always going to be: which Persephone: Persephone as lost child evokes very different feelings to Persephone as dread Queen of the Underworld.

The shift into winter and the dead to roam the earth...
The theme of a descent by a goddess causing winter was first recorded by the Sumerians. To solve the problem a brother and sister take it in terns to descend to the Underworld. In this case, Geshtinanna becomes the Halloween Persephone.

Inana turns her ear to the Great Below and sets out to bring the Underworld under her control.

Ovid records this theme by naming the cause of Proserpine's abduction as Aphrodite Erycina wanting to extend her rule to the Underworld:
".. why, then, should Tartarus escape our sway—the third part of the universe at stake—by which thy mother's empire and thy own may be enlarged according to great need."

When Inana reaches the court of her sister, Inana is sentenced to death, hung from a hook, and slowly becomes just another heap of rotting meat.

But she knew that this may happen and had left an emergency plan in place.

Only after she is out and filled with rage at her husbands lack of concern for her disappearance do we begin to get the origins of a winter myth that becomes Autumn-Persephone.
She looked at him, it was the look of death. She spoke to him (?), it was the speech of anger. She shouted at him (?), it was the shout of heavy guilt: "How much longer? Take him away." Holy Inana gave Dumuzid the shepherd into their hands.
Inana sends her husband to the underworld to take her place. At first it feels good to be free of him...

And then it begins to hurt.

Holy Inana wept bitterly for her husband.
4 lines fragmentary
She tore at her hair like esparto grass, she ripped it out like esparto grass. "You wives who lie in your men's embrace, where is my precious husband? You children who lie in your men's embrace, where is my precious child? Where is my man? Where ......? Where is my man? Where ......?"

The sister wandered about the city, weeping for her brother.
Geshtinanna wandered about the city, weeping for Dumuzi:
"O my brother! Who is your sister?
I am your sister.
O Dumuzi! Who is your mother?
I am your mother.
The day that dawns for you will also dawn for me.
The day that you will see I will also see.

I would find my brother! I would comfort him!
I would share his fate!"

When she saw the sister's grief,
When Inanna saw the grief of Geshtinanna,
She spoke to her gently:
"Your brother's house is no more.
Dumuzi has been carried away by the galla.
I would take you to him,
But I do not know the place."

Then a fly appeared.
The holy fly circled the air above Inanna's head and spoke:
"If I tell you where Dumuzi is,
What will you give me?"

Inanna said:
"If you tell me,
I will let you frequent the beer-houses and taverns.
I will let you dwell among the talk of the wise ones.
I will let you dwell among the song of the minstrels."

The fly spoke:
"Lift your eyes to the edges of the steppe,
Lift your eyes to Arali.
There you will find Geshtinanna's brother,
There you will find the shepherd Dumuzi."

Geshtinanna shared Dumuzi's fate, every September after the equinox, Geshtinanna descends and Dumuzi returns. After the March equinox, Geshtinanna returns and Dumuzi sinks to the Great Below...

Halloween Persephone.
At Halloween, the gates to the Underworld are open.

No, the seven gates to the Underworld are never all open at once!

The dead who wander this side are the ones who did not receive proper burial. There is no special time for this, it happens all the time!

Burial and offerings to the dead are important.

The unburied or disinterred may become troublesome ghosts; more important, some Mesopotamian texts suggest that they are blown to the empty places, abandoned areas, and may become part of the demonic world that is neither human nor god, male nor female.

A body left unattended, and left to become a stinking rot, is a terrifying thing;  it belongs psychologically with the fear of death. This is one reason why the bodies of those killed in execution were not given burial, but left to decay in full view for all to see. It is a way of killing the person twice and terrifying the living into compliance.

But of course the taboo about burial of a corpse is not true for all societies.

Dismemberment and the drying out of bodies seems to have been equally common in other parts of the world.

The memory of the charnal ground... Marija Gimbutas suggests, remains as a taboo against eating certain kinds of animals...
The ones that would find the dead a useful source of food: dogs, carnivores, crows..

Who wonders the streets at Halloween if it is not the dead?
I've no idea! I think the confusion arises because the end of the year, end of October, was the winter Blot month. It makes sense to kill weak animals,alongside the fatted ones, and to make offerings to the gods as the darkness of winter draws near.

People with knives, the screams of animals...
Blood attracts spirits, hence its use in Mesopotamian temples as a cleansing agent, or in Greek stories as ways to animate the dead souls.

In European countries, Saxon and Viking belief, there may be a similar notion.

But Blot month would be an uncanny, scary time.

Persephone is dread Queen of the Underworld.
Did she ever threaten to lose the dead upon the living?
Did that happen at Halloween?


Sorry, I mean yes! but it wasn't at Halloween.

The Dread Queen of the underworld was taken by the Kur...
The Kur is the force of abduction, of trouble, of chaos.

The Kur is sometimes a river...
The Tigris and Euphrates flood when the snows melt from the Zagros mountains in spring, beginning in March and at a peak in May. The floods are unpredictable and sometimes exceptionally fierce.

There are specific times when the Kur may appear, but the Kur are not spirits of the dead in particular.

The Kur is the stranger in the crowd.
People with knives
You could call it the flood.

When Geshtinanna (Lady of the Grape-Vine) returns in the spring when the new wine is opened...The Lemuria in May when the lapis Manalis was opened...

Ghost, manes, ancestors and the Kur are practically the same thing by the time of the Romans.

Both Ereshkigal and Inana threatened to open the gates of the Underworld, indicating that there is nothing new about the zombie hoard.

Inana threatens it because she is Queen of Heaven, and woe betide you if you refuse to do as she says, on the other hand, this story tells us that it is reassuringly difficult to enter the Underworld if you are still alive:

If you will not open the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.
The gatekeeper hurried to tell Ereshkigal...

In another story
Ereshkigal and Nergal:

"If you do not send that god to me
According to the rites of Erkalla and the great Earth
I shall raise up the dead, and they will eat the living.
I shall make the dead outnumber the living!'"

Finally, does it matter if people simplify and mix:
Halloween comes from ancient Greece and commemorates the abduction of Persephone by Haides, which causes the shift into winter and the dead to roam the earth...
Stories mix and simplify; if the story of Inana's descent became the story of Persephone's abduction, such a lot has gone missing already and it has been mixed up with several other myths in the retelling...Does it matter?

There are always going to be people who are compelled to read old texts and to think about what they have read, and it is up to them to transmit what they know...we make mistakes, but our commitment is to retell the stories as accurately as possible and to add our understanding to the text. Personally, I have no commitment to purity, my commitment is to understanding and knowledge alone.

Yet to be honest, for me there is something more...

Or else I wouldn't spend all afternoon freezing here, doing this!

Thanks to Sannion for inspiring this post