comments by Patrick C. Ryan (2/22/98)
(continued from Part One)
"In the Old Babylonian Period, the bull can also be an attribute of the moon god Nanna- Suen, since it is associated with the crescent on seals."
Apparently, at a very early date, a connection was made among the menstrual cycles of women, human fertility, and the moon.
This had, as a consequence, a regular association of the moon and human reproduction in all its aspects. The Egyptian god Min (*mjn) is frequently portrayed as ithyphallic; and his name should be related to IE me:n, "moon".
The familiar moon-goddess of Greece is Selene (S/Helé:ne:) is transparently simply "moon". For the archetypical moon-god, the figure of Silenus (S(e)ile:nós), which I would trace to IE 2. swel- as well ( cf. Greek heíle:/héle:, "warmth of the sun, sunlight"). Silenus is a satyr,
One interesting thing that hares, goats, and lions have in common is the slit-iris, which was associated with the crescent quarters of the lunar cycle.
In Egypt, too, we can find a very important expression of the idea that the solstices were important turning points in the annual cycle.
On June 22, the summer solstice, the time in the year when the days become shorter and the nights longer, which suggested the death of the sun to the ancients — as the sun sets, the night sky reveals Antares, alpha Scorpionis, a fiery red star, culminating. Although the most frequent association of Antares is with a scorpion, as the name of the constellation indicates, there is some evidence for it being associated with the kite (Allen 1963, p. 363), a carrion-eater, one variety of which, a reddish hawklike bird, was once well-distributed throughout Eurasia.
We have the term Dr.tjw, reputedly the "two kites", which is supposed to refer to the sisters Isis and Nephthys. In view of the common association of Isis with the goose, it is probable that, originally, Dr.t, "kite", referred to Nephthys alone.
However, the connections between scorpions and both Isis and Nephthys are many and important.
First, let us look more closely at her name: nb.t-H(w)t, which is usually translated "lady of the house". The word H(w)t(t) can also mean "mine, quarry". And, with another sign, we also have Ht(t), "throat".
In addition, a meaning of "scorpion" for Ht(.[j]t) is recorded.
The Egyptian scorpion-goddess is srq.(j)t, but written Selqet in recognition of the Greek transcription Selkis.A fuller form, srq.(j)t-Ht.w exists, that has been rather surprisingly translated "she who lets throats breathe", a rather unusual role for a poisonous arachnid. I believe rather that srq is cognate with IE streng/k-; and that it means "to tighten, stiffen" so that srq.(j)t-Ht.w should be translated as "she who stiffens (paralyzes) the throats", rather more keeping with the usually anticipated effects of a scorpion's bite. This is a suitable epithet for a deity that is so closely connected with seasonal death.
Selqet's connections with Nephthys and Isis are close; and with Neith, the four are said to keep watch around the byre of Osiris. However, Neith should not be equated with Isis parallel with our identification of Nephthys with Selqet. Many characteristics of Neith (weaving, justice, war [trial by ordeal], arrows, bee) suggest that she was originally a sun-goddess whose presence in the annual renewal has been usurped by Horus/Osiris.
Therefore, I propose that nb.t-Ht should be properly translated as "lady of the cave", the dwelling place of scorpions; and that she represents as a causal factor the annual death of the sun, connected with Antares, alpha Scorpionis.
On December 22, the winter solstice, the time in the year when the days become longer and the nights shorter, which suggested the birth of the sun to the ancients — as the sun sets, the night sky reveals Hamal, alpha Arietis, a golden star, culminating. Although the most frequent association of Aries is with a ram, as the name of the constellation indicates, there is some evidence for it being associated with the goose (Allen 1963, p. 80), a water-bird, one variety of which, the greylag, was once well-distributed throughout Eurasia.
"The goose is said to have been sacred to Isis (Budge 1969, II, 374)".
According to Plutarch's treatise on Isis and Osiris: "The face of Isis represents Generation, and that of Nephthys Corruption (Budge 1969, II, p. 257)".
With the ritual lamentation at midsummer departure and the rejoicing at midwinter return which was associated with Sumerian Dumu-zi(d), we can easily compare the sentiment behind these lines, recited by two Egyptian priestesses, on the arm of one of which "to Isis" and on the arm of the other "to Nephthys" was written:
It appears to me to be highly indicated that Isis and Nephthys are closely related to Sumerian *Ta/umu-zi(d) and Geštin-anna(k) with the exception that, instead of being themselves actors in the cosmic drama, they have become facilitators of the process whereby a dying Osiris, representing the sun at the summer solstice, is brought back as a new, young Horus, representing the sun at midwinter.
We have suggested that Isis is associated with the star Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation of the Ram. To support this identification, let us look at some ancient words for ‘sheep'.
In Egyptian, we have a word for ‘sheep' attested in the Pyramid Texts: zj. We may compare this with Sumerian si-6, and IE *soi- in Tocharian B Saiyye, both with the same meaning. In addition, Sumerian sil-8, ‘ram', probably corresponds to Egyptian *zjr, a possibly attested form of zr, ‘ram'.
If Egyptian had a form zj, meaning ‘sheep', the normal way to form a feminine from it would have been to add -.(j)t, yielding *zj.t, ‘*ewe'. Although *zj.t does not seem to be attested in this meaning (though it exists), we might notice z(j)r.t, which is attested as a dekan-star; and, will it be a surprise to learn that the protectress of this dekan (#20) is Isis (Budge 1969, II, p. 306 and p. 309)?
Complicating matters further, the Coptic word derived from zr is esoou, ‘sheep', supposedly a plural; and while the termination -ou is expected, the initial e- is not.
To stir already murky waters, Egyptian attests s meaning ‘goose', with complementary sr and sr.t.
We must keep in mind that words only phonetically similar like these, although actually unrelated, were, for the ancients, related.
Let us try to make some sense of all this. The name of Isis is written with a ‘throne', supposed to be read st yet the Coptic equivalent is e:se and the Greek transcription Ísis (genitive: Ísidos). Therefore, although the throne may have been read st (corresponding to IE sed-, "sit"; Coptic se- , "place") in some cases, it must have been read *js(.t) (corresponding to IE e/e:s-, "sit") in others; specifically in the case of Isis, which, from the Coptic and Greek, must have been *js.(j)t.
Therefore, I conclude that Isis was originally *js.jt, the "Ewe" (an archaic j-plural used as a singular feminine); and since this word had gone out of fashion except dialectally (replaced by z(j)r.(j)t), was spelled with the throne; and further, that Isis represented Hamal, alpha Arietis, and the concept of the renewal of the annual cycle of growth by the lengthening of the days.
A further interesting connection is that ". . . the nomads of Tibet and Mongolia . . . believed that if sheep-bones were sown at the onset of winter, lambs would be born from the earth in the spring (Eberhard 1996, p. 264)". This hints at a sheep-sacrifice on the winter solstice to insure the start of the natural cycle of nature.
However, in view of the traditional Christmas goose, the association of this power of nature with the goose is probably equally old.
We have seen that Sumerian An, the sky-god, is probably depicted in figurines from
Tell Brak showing an image with two prominent eyes and little more.
The strong similarity of the depictions of the assumed sky-deities from Samarra and Hissarlik suggest that they have a common inspiration, and that the only significant difference — the incised
And, as the nocturnal symbol of the sky-deity, would have easily been associated with the most dramatic aspect of the night sky, the Milky Way or axis mundi, which explains its oracular ("wisdom") and deathly ("passage among the worlds") connections.
As we shall see, even Greek Athene had many other creature associations that are appropriate to her original function as a solar goddess.
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the latest revision of this document can be found at
Patrick C. Ryan * 9115 West 34th Street - Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 *
the latest revision of this document can be found at
Patrick C. Ryan * 9115 West 34th Street - Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 * (501)227-9947