Thursday, April 23, 2009
Okay, Metalheads, sit down and shut the fuck up. It's time to get educated on a subject that you've all been pretending to understand for a long time.
Sumerian Mythology and its offshoots form the underlying framework that 75% of Heavy Metal is built upon, whether you posers know it or not. Hell, half the Black and Death Metal bands out there have names somehow derived from Mesopotamian Theology.
But you don't even KNOW what Mesopotamian Theology IS, do you?
Jesus, it's gonna be a long day.
Alright, let's start at the beginning. Sumer was a civilization that flourished from 6000-2000 BC in Southern Iraq (also known as Mesopotamia - see map, above). The Sumerian Empire is grouped into three main periods, the Ubaid (late 6th millenium, BC), the Uruk (4th millenium, BC), and the Dynastic (3rd millenium, BC). Sumer is referred to by historians as the "Cradle of Civilization", due to the fact that they were the first to practice year-round agriculture, record-keeping, and writing.
From here on out, I'll provide links for any people, gods, or regions that Metal bands have either named themselves or their albums after, just so you ignorant fucks will realize how intrinsic Sumerian Mythology is to Heavy Metal culture.
The Sumerian Empire was eventually overshadowed by the rise of Babylon, an empire referred to heavily in the Book of Genesis (11:9) whose name translates literally to "confusion". So Sumer existed way before Babylon, which in turn existed way before the Bible. Hence, it is known as a pagan place of ancient, ancient evil. Sumerian texts are few and far between because most of their records were written in clay. The ones that have survived are open to mixed translation, as ancient Sumerian is a tongue completely unlike any modern language. In fact, Babylon, or Babel, root word for the modern English term "babble", referred to that Empire's fragmentation and destruction of the Sumerian language. Got that?
Anyhow, the best known literary work from Sumer is The Epic of Gilgamesh, an narrative poem about a god-king and his battles and triumphs throughout the Mesopotamian lands. The poem is preserved on 12 ancient clay tablets (one is pictured above and to the left), none of which are totally complete or undamaged.
Right: A 7-pointed star or "heptagram", symbol of the Whore of Babylon (great tattoo idea for all you slutty chicks out there).
But let us not confuse The Epic of Gilgamesh with the ACTUAL creation myths of the Sumerians. Most of what is known about the Sumerian pantheon came from a tablet known as the Eridu Genesis, which was excavated in Nippur and published in 1914. According to the (partial) Eridu Genesis, the Sumerian ("black-headed") people were created by four gods: Anu (God of Heaven), Enlil (God of Air), Ninhursag (Mother Goddess). and Enki (Lord of the Abyss and God of semen and water - these two life-bringing substances were interchangable in Sumerian thought). At some point (remember, the tablet is fragmentary), the gods become displeased with the Sumerian people and decide to send a flood to wipe them out. Luckily, Enki spills the beans to a hero named Atra-Hasis, who builds a big old boat and loads it up with people and animals, who in turn survive the deluge. Any of this sound familiar?
Eventually, a priest-king named Zi-ud-sura provides the proper sacrifices to Anu and Enki, and their boat is spared. The rest of the tablet was lost.
A couple other Sumerian gods with the same names as Metal bands appear in the Eridu Genesis as well: Inanna (aka Ishtar, Goddess of Love and War), and Utu (aka Shamash, Sun God and bringer of justice).
Below: A chart containing all known symbols in the Sumerian alphabet. Study closely. There will be a test later.
The point where Sumerian Mythology got really Metal-centric was the introduction of an arcane text known as the Necronomicon to the Western world. There are two main versions of the Necronomicon, both of extremely dubious origin, which have served as totems of evil, demonic possession, and cryptic incantations since time out of mind. But the Necronomicon's ties to Sumerian Mythology were most likely created well after the fact, indicating that the Cthulhu/Necronomicon worship practiced by many Metal bands today is a tad superfluous in regards to ACTUAL Sumerian Evil. But I digress.
Let's take a minute to differentiate between these two Necronomicons. The first "Book of the Dead" appeared in the writings of Mr. Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and was basically an idea he created to set a background for his often-used Cthulhu Mythos. Although many authors cited it in later works, Lovecraft's evil book, which was bound in human flesh (above, left), most likely did NOT actually exist. This, however, didn't stop him from writing a detailed account of its discovery (titled A History of the Necronomicon). In this psuedo-history, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred writes a book entitled the Al-Azif after unearthing cryptic relics amongst the Babylonian ruins. The Mad Arab, worshipper of Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, is eventually ripped apart by invisible demons in an open marketplace, and the Al-Azif is lost until centuries later, when it is discovered and re-published as the Necronomicon.
But it is the so-called Simon Necronomicon (above, right), first published in 1977 and thusly titled due to an introduction by a mysterious author named "Simon", that really brought the Necronomicon-Sumerian connection full circle.
The Simon Necronomicon (or Simonomicon) took Lovecraft's fabled Cthulhu Mythos and wrapped it in a thick blanket of authentic Sumerian/Mesopotamian Theology. In this book, a battle between a group of gods known as The Ancient Ones and their children, The Elder Gods, is a main theme. Many of these gods are based on actual Sumerian deities, but some are obvious fabrications. The Ancient Ones are presented as a chaotic, evil force, bent on destroying mankind. They are led by the Goddess Tiamat, and include in their ranks such Metal-band-named deities as Apsu (Absu), Kingu,
Ereshkigal, Kutulu (a slight variation on Cthulhu), Azag-Thoth,
Ninnghizhidda, Pazuzu, Namtar, and the seven Maskim, or "Liers-In-Wait".
The basic creation myth in the Simon Necronomicon is as follows: An Elder God named Marduk slays Tiamat, cutting her body in half to create Heaven and Earth. The blood of the Ancient One Kingu is used to create Man, and the remaining Ancients are banished to either the ground or to space, where they remain to this day. This myth bears a strong resemblance to the Babylonian creation myth, entitled Enuma Elish, as well.
Although it would be impossible to determine how much of the Necronomicon is based on ACTUAL Sumerian Mythology due to the obscure nature of all subjects at hand, the few who actually admit to being a part of its creation (including the aforementioned "Simon") claim it is all valid and true. Either way, it's an engaging idea, and pretty mind-blowing to consider that a civilization from so many millenia ago can still hold sway over the imaginations of people today.
Oh wait, no. I was thinking of Christianity.
Editor's Note: Upon second inspection, I found that the Metal band Absu gets their name from Enki's water-bound fortress in the city of Eridu, known as Abzu, and NOT from the god Apsu. My bad.