Monday, February 11, 2013

Mesopotamian Worship

Image of the Sumerian god Enki, with character...
Image of the Sumerian god Enki, with characteristic symbols: bird, goat and water flows. Nederlands: Enki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       Mesopotamian people were religious as much as the other civilizations of that time. It was a part of their daily life, society and culture. They were polytheistic. In other words they believed in many gods, called Dingir in Sumerian. The Dingir (Gods) followed themes, or divine laws, that governed the universe. The Sumerians believed in divine order, that is, everything that occurs is pre-planned by the gods.They looked to religion to answer their questions about life and death, good and evil, and the forces of nature.

Religion in Mesopotamia gave the world its first mythology. These Mesopotamian mythology was a series of repeated stories that explained the unexplainable and was the backbone of the religion.

Their gods and goddesses looked and acted just like people. They had feasts, marriages, children, and wars. They could be jealous, angry, joyful, or kind. The gods and goddesses had supernatural powers. There were four all-powerful gods that created and controlled the universe. An was the god of heaven, Enlil was the air-god, Enki was the water-god, and Ninhursag was the mother earth-goddess. Each of these gods created lesser gods who were also important in Mesopotamia. Utu, the sun-god, lit the world with rays shooting from his shoulders. He moved across the sky in a chariot. Nanna was the moon-god who used a boat to travel by night.

Ancient Mesopotamians felt its very own unique god or goddess and the members of their family protected each city. In the middle of cities, spacious temples were erected for the gods to reside in and priests were placed in charge of making sure the gods were watched over. Everyone was expected to sing hymns, say prayers, make sacrifices and bring offerings to the local temple (ziggurat) for the gods.

The people trusted the priests and the priestesses in the temples to tell them what the gods or goddesses wanted, and they dutifully carried out their wishes. They believed that the gods could be annoyed at what you did and punish you, or they could be pleased and reward you. The priests were responsible for the sacrifices and rituals that were essential for the help of the gods. In addition, property belonged to the gods, so priests administered it. This made the priests valuable and important figures in their communities almost as powerful as the kings.

The Great Ziggurat was built as a place of worship, dedicated to the moon god Nanna (or Sin), in the Sumerian city of Ur in ancient Mesopotamia, and it was also thought to be the place on earth where the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur, had chosen to dwell. In Sumerian times it was called Etemennigur which means 'House whose foundation creates terror'.

The bedchamber of the god—was placed upon the ziggurat's summit. This was occupied each night by only one woman, chosen by the priests from among all the women of the city to be the god's companion. A kitchen, likely used to prepare food for the god, was located at the base of one of the ziggurat's side stairways. The construction of the ziggurat was finished in the 21st century BC by King Ur Nammu, who, in order to win the allegiance of cities, proclaimed himself a god. Today, after more than 4000 years, the ziggurat is still well preserved.

Mesopotamian belief also includes demons, which were created by the gods. These creatures had the body of a human, but possessed the head of another animal or bird. Some were good, while others were evil. The people of the time also believed in monsters, which were a combination of animals and birds.

It was said that at the start of time, only gods and goddesses roamed the earth. At the time, it was their responsibility to work the land and tend to the crops in order to have something to eat. While this was quite a hard task, they still worked very hard to get it done. Each god or goddess had a special job they were assigned. 

For instance, some were in charge of digging the fields, while others made sure that crops were planted. Overall, the work was draining and did not make the gods and goddesses happy. They got together and started to brainstorm on ways they could make their workload easier. 

They sought out the advice of Enki, who was known for his wisdom and cleverness. It was his advice that the gods and goddesses create beings that would serve them by tending to the land, which would make their lives much easier. The gods and goddesses agreed with him. So, Enki gathered clay from about his home for the material needed to mold humans. He sculpted clay figures and then breathed life into their bodies. He also made limits to how long they would live, as only the gods and goddesses were allowed to live until the end of time.

Mesopotamian Religion did not believe in the after-life. The Mesopotamians believed at death, they were expected to descend forever into a dark underworld, a huge cave filled with nothing but dust and silence.
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