I’ve had a few people reach out and ask me lately about the status of the Ishtar Gate project. I want to reassure people that the website is not dead. A range of personal and life issues, as well as other personal projects that I've been carrying out, have meant that I haven’t been able to devote much time at all to this site in months, which has been a regret of mine, but my own spiritual work and journey continues.
My methods for ascertaining my path remain the same as ever. I pray for growth, awareness, and the wisdom to carry out the will of the Anuna gods on Earth. The move that I have made has been kind to me, and has allowed me to make some profound personal connections in the wider Pagan community. I do have further plans for the Ishtar Gate site and it is my intention to begin reworking much of the content on the site shortly.
My reflections, lately, have led me to consider the topic of loss. As I write this, it is the night of 29/30 June in the western hemisphere, the new moon which equates to the last day of the Sumerian month of Sig Ga. The new moon is a solemn time in our faith, occasioning the rite of 𒆠𒋧𒂵 kisiga (Akk. kispu). On this day, it is appropriate to pour out libations to the blessed dead of our families and communities.
In the earliest days of settled civilisation, a family would bury their dead beneath their home. The grave acted as a gate to the nether world, and a libation pipe would be installed so that offerings could literally be poured into the grave for the family’s ancestors in the nether world. An ancestor’s spirit would retain their individuality for as long as their names and deeds were spoken of, and if their needs were satisfied (through libations), then - as their spoken memory faded to obscurity - so too would their spirit, amalgamating with those of the immediate family or clan. Over the course of a civilisation, families and clans come and go, rise and fall, and in the process, a yet further course of amalgamation would occur, resulting in the “cultural spirit” (Akk. kimtu rapaštu) which holds the ancestral memories of an entire people.
In honouring the glorious dead during the kisiga rite, I am always sure to keep the cultural spirit of the Mesopotamian peoples in my heart and pour out offerings to them in turn. The Mesopotamian cultures consisted of humans and were, therefore, imperfect. Some of their cultural practices would seem unthinkable to us today, and it is always important to acknowledge that fact, because we have learned and advanced much as a species in the millennia since the Sumerian city states. However, it is through the collective cultural effort to build a relationship with the immanent and numinous divine, to make careful record of their observations, and to detail the chronology of their society, that we are able to draw upon their experience in our own relationships with the deities that humans first encountered in our meteoric technological boom that started in the Ur III period and which continues to the present day.
The night of kisiga is a night of mourning. We mourn those close to our hearts who had the greatest impact on our lives, and we pledge to keep their memories alive, but so too do we mourn those we never had a chance to know or even to read about. The Sumerians were proud of their own forms of individual expression, such as the cylinder seal, which served as the ancient equivalent to a signature. They were not restricted to the rich - everyone would own one, from kings down to enslaved persons and labourers, and their construction, design and engravings were just as unique as the individual experience is.
When we mourn all that is lost at kisiga, we mourn the myriad lost human experiences, the fragmentary tablets and tales that are untold and unknown to us, the trail-blazers and pioneers whose names were lost to history, the past that we never knew and the hopeful futures that were sacrificed on the altar of that selfsame history.
The time between the settlement of Eridu and the present day is a blip constituting maybe one or two per cent of the time anatomically modern humans have walked the Earth. The technological revolution launched in Uruk never stopped, but at each stage of our development, presented with the opportunity to use our ever expanding technological prowess in the fight for human dignity, we have chosen instead base militarism and barbarism. This, too, we mourn at kisiga, for a society given all of our resources should be ashamed that we have not defeated fear and want, as was the dream of the first people to taste of the sweet waters at the mouth of the two great rivers, who saw that Land to be the perfect place to settle a city that could feed and support a thousand, no, ten thousand families in peace and abundance.
Some time between the first city-states and the conquest of Sumer by Sargon of Akkad, warfare went through certain stages of development: first a means of defense, then an unfortunate economic necessity, and then a way of life. By the time of the Babylonian and - particularly - Assyrian Empires, warfare had become the very means by which the state kept itself in existence, and the military strongmen who held the reins of power in those states set their sights not on providing for their people but on the subjugation of the entire world.
With the rise of the militaristic state also came the subordination of all the gods of heaven before the new concept of the national god. Aššur in Assyria and Marduk in Babylon were no longer present only in their temples and holy sites, but everywhere the boundaries of those nations might reach. As the states absorbed more territory, so too must the national gods absorb more functions; if the empire was to subjugate the known world, so too must the national gods integrate all the functions of the lesser gods into their own. A fervently henotheistic culture developed, particularly in Assyria, where the solar iconography of Aššur became emblematic of the god’s presence.
It was one small step from there to the invisible iconography of Yahweh, national god of Israel, a nation locked in opposition and defiance to Assyria. The only way for the Israelites to explain the Assyrian yoke in terms of their own theology was if Aššur was in fact subject to Yahweh and being used as a tool of divine punishment, which is why Assyria is described as the rod of Yahweh’s anger in the Israelite scriptures (Isaiah 10:5). History would have it that the Christian offshoot of the Israelite faith - with a new and aggressive missionary zeal - therefore came into being with a highly militaristic outlook, set on utilising state power, first of Rome, then of the post-Roman kingdoms, to impose its form of universal monotheism upon every tribe of people that it encountered.
The only way to understand the Sumerian and Abrahamic faiths is therefore as a part of the same historical current. Anything less is historical blindness. Although religiosity in general is in decline in much of the West, the entrenched systems of Abrahamic power still dominate most countries in the world, and the decisions of courts and governments worldwide should serve to make this clear.
We - as part of the first century of modern day Sumerians - must understand our political realities in light of the will of the Anuna gods, which is the will for equity, fairness, and dignity. Anything else is to be understood as a betrayal of a civilisation’s duty to all of its inhabitants as well as to itself. On this night, we mourn those in our civilisation whose stories are never told, those who are marginalised or erased by conflict or outright hostility to their lived experiences, those who are robbed of their dignity by a society that fails to heed a billion plaintive cries for help.
Not only have many been failed by modern civilisation but that civilisation is in peril. I do not believe this to be an alarmist thing to say, but a grim acceptance of reality. That’s not to say that “the end is nigh” - the experience of the ancients tells us that the fall of a civilisation is like a slow landslide in motion, in which society contracts, turns inwards, loses cohesion, and grapples with crisis after crisis that it is too paralysed to fend off.
The ancients would have been able to see the warning signs, but Westernised society is beset by a certain kind of exceptionalism that leads people to think “it can’t happen here”. The collapse of a civilisation takes hundreds or even thousands of years, and all the while, people live “normal” lives, only with ever increasing prices, shortages of goods, a backdrop of conflict and discord in the world. It is our responsibility as Sumerians to be aware of the historical context in which we sit, and the cycle of civilisation that so many advanced societies have followed before us.
A collapse is never inevitable. Society has weathered worse crises than the one we find ourselves in at this time. However, we must not blind ourselves to the urgency of the situation, and we must be ready to declare our intentions for a better future society, whatever direction this one takes.
O, bright lady of the morning,
Ever may your colours dawning,
Stir our hearts to deed and passion,
That all souls shall know compassion.
Bride who makes the morning’s light shine,
By your grace may Utu assign,
Dignity to every nation,
May your songs of adoration,
Call your beauty to the hillsides,
So your youthful splendour still shines,
In the human soul forever -
Lady of the dawn, Šerida!