THE SAPPHIRE TABLET
Thoughts on our ancient faith and our modern world
Silima hemenzen - peace be upon you all.
This is the tentative first post of an experiment I'm running, where - when I'm struck by the inspiration - I intend to publish a series of short articles on how I practice my Sumerian faith, and the lessons I read into the world around me through the lens of that faith.
After all, learning about the faith and history of Mesopotamia has changed my worldview in innumerable ways, and top of the list would be my view of our place in the history of civilization and the human species. The Mesopotamian underpinnings of our civilization's scientific and spiritual foundations are almost too numerous to list, but the history we are taught is narrow and selective, and we are not taught of our connection to the roots of history.
This is important to us as Sumerians because we are taught that civilization is a gift of the gods. A time without civilization was fresh in the cultural memory of the Sumerians - a time in our human ancestry when we lived a nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers of no fixed abode, forever on the move, searching for the next source of food and shelter, as it had always been.
It's no wonder, then, that with the advent of agricultural technology and the rise of the first cities, the people who lived at that time knew an appreciation for civilization, revered it, and vowed to treat it appropriately. In the modern faith, we too should treat each and every facet of our lives and our societies as a sacred relic; they are the me that Inana brought to Uruk, and those that all the gods brought to their own cities.
It is my belief that the dominant religious paradigms of the past two millennia serve to sever people from their spiritual link to the dawn of civilization. That the Abrahamic belief system teaches that the first cities were founded in shame when the first people were run out of Paradise, but that the Sumerian faith carries the distant spiritual memories of life before the first cities, and guides us to be mindful of what we have.
A passage of the Atrahasis Epic contains the phrase "for a myriad years, [the Igigi gods] bore the excess of hard work, night and day". This may reflect a cultural memory of pre-Neolithic times, as above, and this is spiritually significant because in the Sumerian worldview, human society was created as a reflection of divine society - if the Sumerians conceived of their gods labouring in the open air night and day, that's because there was a reflection of it on the Earth at one point in time.
In the Atrahasis tale, the Igigi gods use their resources and wisdom to create humanity to do the work the gods had tired of (tending the Earth). This doesn't imply that humans were created as slaves, for if the gods wished to have created a mindless slave race, they could simply have done so. Instead, we have inside us a wondrous, creative spark in the way of the gods themselves. We can invent, we can build up from nothing and form complex societies that grant us permanent food and shelter, and what a wonder that must have been to the early Sumerian, who knew what it took to raise that civilization from scratch. They may well have believed that the forces of technology and abundance were taking them towards a point where they could end their own dependence on labour and subsistence.
The Sumerian obligation to civilization, as touched on previously, was an obligation to treat each and every person in that civilization with due respect and dignity. Utu, spoken of as the pronouncer of equity and justice, is therefore central to the Sumerian vision of a just society. And what does that society look like? Like the one where the spiritual reminders of our pre-Neolithic past had been eradicated - one where scarcity, toil and want had been ended by innovation. It's a natural thing for us to strive for because we contain the breath of the Igigi gods who strive for the same thing.
We have the power to end scarcity at a stroke; it's right there within our grasp, as a species, to deliver dignity to every person on the planet, and commit to further to harness our modern technology to make yet more advancements that could benefit every human being beyond what we can conceive of right now, and yet, we don't. It's against the will of the people who have the power to make it happen.
Recognising our place on the grand tablet of history, as thought of in Sumer and Babylon, tells us that civilizations have not lasted forever, and that ruin is frequently promised to leaders whose stewardship is unjust and greedy, and that a civilization's decline is not a short, sharp shock but a period of centuries or more of disorder, instability and negligent leadership; severe climate trends and a breakdown of social cohesion often run alongside.
This would be the Sumerian answer to "why do bad things happen to people?" or "in the world?" - when humans were first uplifted to a higher technological state, we were granted luxuries most abundant, with the resources to make the process of working the soil ever easier and the fruits of the earth available to all, and we remembered what it was like to exist before those times. As long as we retained a spiritual link to our history and prehistory, we at least knew what we were striving for as a species. It seems no coincidence that this link was broken at the same time the prevailing spiritual thought turned to shame rather than innovation as being the marker of our link with antediluvian times.
Even so, we acknowledge when it is right to give thanks. Prevalent social trends resulted in the tales of our gods and the ideals of justice and order they upheld being blotted out from history for millennia, but we are thankful that we live in a time when their names have been brought up again, so that we may honour them.
Despite the troubled waves we're navigating in our current age, we are aware of our historical context on the grand scale. We are thankful that we have access to a modern industrialised society and a supply chain of goods and information unprecedented in human history, while we recognise where these resources are lost and misused.
In this way, we may glorify our gods, honour their providence, and share in the bounties of the Earth with them, and we become pioneers, as part of the first generations of a new Sumerian community. I am thankful for all those who bore witness to the testimony of our gods, in the ancient world and the modern, starting from scratch both times to establish the body of knowledge and experience available to us.
For the administration of justice,
For setting forth the days of the calendar,
Light of the World, Glory of the Heavens,
For ensuring the righteous fate of the people and the nations,
For illuminating the way to Truth,
Lord Utu, may you ever be crowned by radiance.
May your decrees be bestowed upon the Land.
May your people be led to wise decision, and ever to honour truth and equity.
Lord Utu - it is right to praise you!
All-shrines festival of the full moon, month of Apin Dua.