An archetale of the Assembling Terrania Cycle
Author’s note: One of the joys of writing Assembling Terrania tales is imagining which gods and archetypes stand behind the key events of human history and behind the people caught up in those events. Who (with a capital “W”) was on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Whispering in the ear of Aesara of Lucania as she wrote the first book in the world on human nature? In the grove where the Buddha gave the Lotus Sermon?
Challenges of this fanciful approach to fiction and the folkloresque include: How to present the gods not as literal entities operating from outside, but as the faces worn by what Brian Swimme thinks of as the powers of the universe, powers that (as Jung showed) also show up in us as moods and fantasies, urges and ambitions both personal and collective? And how to do all this while preserving the precious sense of human agency? And perhaps even emphasizing it in a time that devalues both humaneness and the humanities?
My hope is that I have put together enough of a set of stories—not a mythology, which takes collective time and tradition, but the beginnings of a loreology—that others will eventually contribute their creative efforts to it. – July 25th, 2020
Gather here, my cosmic kindred, so I can tell you all a tale….
Once thrown out of the great Temple of Nanna in Ur, Enheduanna had prayed to her moon god, as befitted his earthly bride. Until her exile she had served as High Priestess of the Akkadian Empire.
Declaring his epithets—Wise Celestial Orb, Nightly Illumination, Master of Oracles, Keeper of Time, Herder of Cattle, Diviner of Life and Fate, and so on—she came to the point: “Why did you allow the usurper Lugal-Anne to invade the holy precincts and exile me to the eastern mountains?”
An interesting question. She was patient in awaiting a response, to a point. The hovering presence of Lugal-Anne’s guards did not soften her temper.
Her father, Sharruken (“Rightful King”) of Akkad, had appointed her to the position of High Priestess, in part to bring the upstart southern region of his empire more firmly under religious control. Ur’s Temple of Nanna was nearly as ancient as the city itself. Its latest inhabitants were the Sumerians who populated the dry land between the northern and southern seas. The Akkadians, speaking a Semitic tongue, had migrated in from the west and mingled peacefully.
Until Sharruken. He had other ideas, and most of them involved control. He began with marshaling troops in an arid plain, then spread out. He claimed authorization from supreme An, land-ruling Enlil, warlike Ilaba, and fierce Inanna.
Before him, Enmebaragesi had tried and failed to unite the cities of Sumer, leaving behind only a cult of the blustery weather god Enlil “the Mountain” of Nippur. Enlil was a father god who wanted it all his way.
Through family members, inspectors, judges, a legion of officers, and a standing army, the King of the Akkadian Empire, that forerunner of all future kingdoms, controlled currencies of silver and barley (mainly for beer), crops of wheat and dates, herds of goats and sheep, textiles of wool and reed, smithies that turned out tools and weapons of copper and bronze. Military governors replaced conquered chiefs instead of incorporating them into the Empire. Akkadian ships carried fabrics and gems from as far away as Anatolia, Lebanon, and the Indus Valley.
Conquest brought into the resource-poor land oils, cedar, ivory, lapis, alabaster, serpentine, carnelian, copper, tin, and diorite. Some local artisans gave way to mass production, one product of which was featureless ceramics shaped into pots, bowls, and cups. Smelting operations burning reeds from the marshes turned out axes, bracelets, spear points, and manacles.
Through his daughter’s influence, the king sought to control the beliefs of his subjects. Some of them disliked control. Angry at having their leaders deposed, their irrigation canals diverted, their arable fields confiscated, their homelands handed over to Akkadian dignitaries, and a full two-thirds of each crop paid to their new landlords, the city-state citizens gathered and fought back.
Lugal-Anne was not the usual outlaw. Copying Sharruken’s principles of military organization, he had gathered an army of his own and cast out the Akkadian officials, including the High Priestess.
Perhaps her father should not have boasted, “Any king who would rival me, let him go where I have gone!” Although he had gone to the afterlife, his influence continued through Enheduanna’s nephew Naram-Sin, bent on consolidating the empire.
After wrecking the inner temple, the usurper had assaulted her, and, when she resisted, handed her a dagger so she could hurt herself. She refused to give him the satisfaction.
Instead, she had called out for heavenly help. But the moon god would not reply.
To the goddess of the Morning Star, then, she directed her prayerful petition:“Great queen of queens, lady of all the foreign lands, holder of divine powers, life-force of the teeming people:
“I entered the innermost temple at your service, carrying the ritual basket and intoning a song of joy. But my offerings darkened into a funeral meal, the honey of my mouth dried up, and Lugal-Anne desecrated your sanctuary, removed my crown of office, and cast me out of my home. I pled with my celestial husband Nanna, but to no avail.
“In your great presence, Inanna, cities and mountains tremble. Gods quake before you. Smash the works of Lugal-Anne, and him along with them! Crush the heads of the rebels and devour their corpses. Then turn your benevolent gaze back upon me, who have sung your holy praises. Let me return to the temple and celebrate your rites once more. I will write you hymns of thanks.”
Distant shouts brought Enheduanna back to the mountain tent, her temporary abode. She stepped outside and stared.
A column of Akkadian fighting men approached. No one tried to halt them. Her surmise later proved correct: Her nephew’s army had defeated the rebellion. She knew what the rebels could expect: either slavery or mass execution, with their leaders in stocks on display first. Later, she found out that Naram-Sin ordered a flood to wash through rebellious Uruk and its partner city Kish.
The lead officer advanced like a determined bull. He gripped an ax with thick fingers. The torn battle tunic draped over his left shoulder freed his right arm to wield melee weapons. Spots of blood stained his girdle.
Covered by archers, slingmen, and spearmen to the rear, he stopped three feet from Enhedhuanna’s nervous guards. Through his black beard he stated, “We have come for the High Priestess.”
Enheduanna kept her word, even in the midst of restoring the Temple and welcoming back its personnel. Every evening, when the days rites and responsibilities were finally done, she picked up her stylus and wrote on moist clay in praise of the great goddess. Though Akkadian, she wrote in Sumerian, as her mother had taught her to do.
Outwardly, all was well. Inanna had saved her. The king had restored order. She had restored it in the Temple, the religious heart of a network of priests and other officiants spread throughout Akkad. The herders, farmers, fishing fleet captains, ox drivers, masons, carpenters, jewelers, accountants, goods dealers, stewards, weavers, musicians, smiths, tanners, potters, painters, and high and low officiants she administered once again worked together with their former efficiency. The network of forty-two temples across the Empire resumed their alignment and outreach.
Inwardly, though, she knew she was in crisis. It could cost her position, her reputation, and even her life.
“I, accustomed to triumph, have been driven forth from my house and made to walk among the mountain thorns….”
Why had Nanna not responded to her prayers when she most needed him to? Even now he floated silently above her, maddeningly self-sufficient, a nightly law unto himself.
Enheduanna had to talk to someone. No priests or priestesses; no scribes or treasurers; no king’s officials or majordomos; no oracles who read dreams or excised sheep livers. No one key to the power structure three bold overlords had woven around her. But she did have a friend at court.
She spent most of her time on the premises: the temple of Ningal, giver of dreams and heavenly wife of Nanna; his temple northwest of the ziggurat in the center between them; a private sanctum; and her chambers, where she was now. Although she respected the need for statuary, incense stands, braziers, altars, libations, lutes, lyres, and all the other accoutrements of her sacred office, she also felt relieved when freed of them.
When Ilum Palilis entered to rearrange her thick coif for the evening, Enheduanna told her of the doubts she harbored. Officially, Ilum was her hair dresser; unofficially, her counselor. She unbound the cheek braids of her mistress, removed her silver lunate earrings, and went to work.
Ilum possessed the virtue of knowing how to listen deeply, allowing the High Priestess to gather her thoughts in conversation. This relationship had begun after Enheduanna overheard Ilum talking quietly to a cook about a recent dream. There were unplumbed depths to Ilum. Naram-Sin would have ordered her executed for that dream, but in the falling walls and setting sun, Enheduanna heard the inevitability of time and change. Even the Empire could not last forever, no matter how large its buildings or thick its walls, especially when run by ruthless men who raised metal statues to themselves. As an old Sumerian poem put it,
From time out of mind, from the foundation of this land and the multiplying of its people,
Who has ever seen a royal dynasty that lasted uppermost for long?
Ilum also possessed an even rarer virtue: she could be trusted to keep things private. Enheduanna had tested her.
As burning tapers flicked shadows around the chamber, the High Priestess told of her new questions about how gods and humans got along.
“…And since Nanna did nothing to help me, his earthly wife, what does his silence say about the fickle favors of all the gods? Can we really count on any of them? What if I get into trouble again and Inanna is in a bad mood that day? What if the Empire needs her and she is off making love with Dumuzi? For that matter, what if I initiate a lunar rite and Nanna decides not to rise?” One of her many responsibilities was tracking the phases and eclipses of the Moon.
“And why did the goddess punish me, who always showed love to her, by letting me go into exile?”
“My Lady,” murmured Ilum as she combed and plaited, “you seem to assume—if I may be forgiven for raising this—that the gods have a duty to help us when we suffer distress. But do they?”
Enheduanna considered it.
Gods and governance. For her people, for her father, they had always gone together. Humans lived to serve the gods; citizens lived to serve the Empire, ruled by kings favored by the gods. She had not questioned this. Now, though, the silence of Nanna and her own unvoiced objections when Naram-Sin declared himself divine and a lover of Inanna, whose sexuality transcended gender, merged to upset her long-held beliefs.
“Perhaps,” she replied to Ilum, musing, “the gods have their own plan, whether it serves us or not.”
“Just one plan?”
“No…as many plans as gods. Which means they can conflict. With us caught in the middle.”
“What is the right choice in such a situation?”
“It must be to mediate the dispute and get the gods to talk to each other. To be the ziggurat that joins the temples of Nanna and Ningal.”
A welcome breeze blew through the lingering warmth around them as Ilum wove hair and Enheduanna thought. A thin shaft of moonlight lit the diadem in her cast-off headband.
“My impression,” Ilum said as she worked, “is that because each god has an agenda, their gifts to us are not always good for us. Is that not so?”
“That is so. Recall the story of how Inanna got Enki drunk and took from him the plans for civilization. When he sobered enough to realize he couldn’t retrieve them again, he told her, ‘With these arts of delight and craftsmanship, music and rejoicing must go the kindling of strife, plundering of cities, lamentation, fear, pity, terror, and death: all this too is civilization, and you must take it all with no argument; and once taken, you cannot give it back.’”
“Yes. Strife, plundering; and even now, the farmers say the salts that rise from the exhausted soils cannot be washed away. What then?”
“Let us say,” the High Priestess continued, “that it is not the responsibility of the gods to keep us safe. That is our task, not theirs. Even so, why did Inanna save me when I called out to her when Nanna did not?”
“Did you merely call out for help?”
“No. I was more confrontive than that.”
“I…shamed her. I held up her punishing of me as blameworthy. I reflected on her neglect and showed her how I felt about it.”
“You taught her something about herself that altered her behavior?”
“Perhaps. The gods can learn from us. Even the ones who wear the robes of the old, old gods. As when Inanna had become too dependent on the sky god An and needed to break free.”
“Then the relationship goes in both directions?”
“It must. They seem different after each encounter. Not only more…personal somehow, but less reactive. But it only works if we step back as our individual self with something valid to offer them. I revere Inanna, for example, and always will, but I don’t want to reenact her descent to the underworld anymore. —Does that answer your question?”
“Yes. And perhaps yours as well.”
The roving moonlight touched the tip of Enheduanna’s mace of office, illuminating it.
Enheduanna wrote hymns for the forty-two temples of Akkad. If the receiving priests were astonished by what she wrote, they did not say so.
The High Priestess wrote not only to the temple officials, but to the temples themselves. As though the structures too were listening, active partners in relation to their patron god.
Each temple conducted rites and prayers for the god of the host city. Hymns to forty-two temples meant hymns to forty-two deities—which the High Priestess described as individual entities to be in conversation with.
For perhaps the first time ever, the priest reading her hymns wondered: Who am I in relation to this temple, this city, this society, and this god? Not, What is the god saying? as before, but, What is the god saying to me? Self-discovery haunted an Empire filling up with increasingly personalized deities. Individualized consciousness: something new under the sun, birthed by a psalmist poet.
The last Temple Hymn was for Eresh, where stood the holy precincts of Nisaba. Long, long ago, when Enki had brought forth the first mound of Sumer from the depths of a watery abyss, there at the delta where Tigris and Euphrates met, the temple built on that site celebrated all the Anunnaki gods, but Nisaba in particular; for she had brought not only writing, but measure, the city, work with grains, and other practical wisdoms.
Enheduanna had always appreciated Nisaba, but with a heightened depth of self-discernment, she saw the goddess in a new light. As the High Priestess had learned to revel in her newfound individuality, so all the gods stood forth in greater particularity. Nisaba, she saw, had brought forth more than the people of this land. She had intended the land itself to host a diversity of peoples, present to learn her wisdom and teach it to each other. A wisdom not just for kings or priests or Akkadians, but for everyone.
This shining house of stars bright with lapis stones
has opened itself to all lands
a whole mix of people in the shrine every month
lift heads for you, Eresh
all the primeval lords
Nisaba, Lady of Saba
brought powers down from heaven
added her measure to your powers
enlarged the shrine, set it up for praising
faithful woman, exceeding in wisdom
opens her mouth to recite over cooled lined tablets
always consults lapis tablets
and gives strong council to all lands
true woman of the pure soapwort
born of the sharpened reed
who measures the heavens by cubits
strikes the coiled measuring rod on the earth
praise be to Nisaba
The High Priestess then did something previously unthinkable anywhere. Instead of anonymously dedicating her work to the king, she signed her name to it.
the person who bound this tablet together
my king, something here never before created
did not this one give birth to it
The Powers, or Komuay as they know themselves, are a busy group of immortal intelligences. Overseeing life on countless worlds, they manifest in the Coaguum, our plenum, as sentient natural forces rendered by human imagination into gods, spirits, daemons, and other magical entities.
At the moment, a small part of their group consciousness is focused on Earth: Sumer, 2300 BCE in human ways of figuring time. From the standpoint of the Powers, humanity, embarked on a Long Adventure toward consciousness and maturity, has reached a Nexus Crisis: a point of historical turbulence where, beneath the sequence of events, various Powers’ agendas come into conflict. At such times, only a mortal mind or group of minds can move events forward by resolving the Crisis, postponing it, or succumbing to it.
Although their sentience is not confined to a particular plane of being, we could think of Them as having a conversation while floating in orbit above the Middle East.
“An interesting tale,” remarked Wildia, otherwise known as Nature. “She was right, you know, about endings. Their monocrop agriculture met a drought and collapsed. Empires aren’t sustainable.”
“Hard to worry about that when there are people to feed,” grumbled Kerp the gatherer.
“Not to mention keeping the forges fed,” said Smee the artisan.
“I’d like to have heard more about the kings and their troopers,” put in Cempa the champion. Bellum the warrior nodded, as did Pandere, patron of expansive rulership. (There were actually no “nods,” of course, just two bursts of natural radio noise.)
“The five of you,” replied Magus, who had told the tale, “helped the Akkadians conquer the peaceful Sumerians.” When Kluni smirked: “You are not excluded, Trickster.”
Kluni, still smirking: “You, teller of tales, were the one who abandoned her.”
“No. As Nanna, I withdrew for a time so she could work things out. Apparently, she did.”
“She did,” said Cronicus, Komuay of Time.
“Meanwhile, I stood in,” said Aluere, the fiercely seductive Power behind the presence of Inanna.
“That makes six,” replied Magus>Nanna.
“What do you mean? Just because Sargon claimed me as a patron doesn’t mean I was one.”
“I think I get it,” said Ordiri, who liked to be insightful. “The goddess-rich polytheism of Sumer needed some kind of counterweight. Inanna too is a goddess, and one of the pantheon, but she grew to be more dominant even than An.” Naran, who had worn that mythic mask, nodded. “And Inanna is linked with Enlil and Assur.” This time Pandere nodded. He had enjoyed his time of being praised and prayed to on Earth.
“The High Priestess,” concluded Ordiri, “was a tool of patriarchal governance. Even while she wrote poems to Inanna.”
Aluere shook her head. “The consensus seems to be that the time and place of Enheduanna provided an earthly site for a Nexus Crisis. But if everyone was on the side of the conquerors, who among us was against them?”
Thoughtful silence. Some of the Powers didn’t think of themselves as on that side at all, but neither had they forcibly opposed it. They weren’t ready to speak up yet.
“What about you, Kluni?”
He shook his head. “Oh, I may have whispered ideas to some of the rebel leaders while they slept,” he admitted, “but nothing methodically carried out on my end. Not guilty.”
“Let’s be systematic about this,” Ordiri suggested. “Process of elimination. Kerp inspired their agriculture, with Unda’s help. Cempa and Bellum motivated some of the fighting, and Smee provided the arms. Pandere loaned his expansive disposition to the Akkadian leaders. Magus shone as their magical moon god, Naran as their ancient father god, and Aluere as Inanna their heavenly queen. Kluni stirred the rebel pot, as usual. Who else was involved?”
“I stood behind the hair dresser,” added Terkwa, prompting a laugh from Kluni, “and some of the priesthood.”
“Don’t laugh,” Terkwa said. “Hair dressers have changed history. Anyone can in the right place and time.” Kluni nodded.
“I tended their contemplations and prayers,” said the soft voice of quiet, inward Innra.
“I closely followed the battles and executions,” drawled the cold, dry voice of Athara, to whose realm all life eventually runs down. “When Pandere sparked Sargon’s three sons to ambition, the first two of whom claimed to have been called by Enlil, I cut short their reigns.”
“Whose reigns?” asked Ordiri.
“All three. Sargon had reigned for much longer, but in the end I took him too.”
“Perhaps I can add something,” stated Vaeda the Wise. Magus began nodding slowly as pieces began fitting together….
“You’ll recall that some of us visited that place thousands of their years ago. As Enki, Kluni left behind Sumerian tales of a people rising up from below. Pandere was there, and Unda. Others of us. Including me.
“My hope was for the birth of something new there, a kind of mortal consciousness that could know itself deeply. To do that, it would have to separate somewhat from all of us while staying in touch with each of us. The problem all along has been that mortals, being fragile and transitory, tend to react to our presence, however gentle, by identifying with us. They are easily possessed by forces greater than themselves.
“Through her encounters with Nanna and Inanna, Enheduanna became the first to take a step back and disidentify long enough to acquire a sense of her own individuality. I supported this against the pressure of all of you. That was the true basis for the Crisis.”
“That makes sense to me,” chimed in Cempa unexpectedly. “As the commanding officer who brought her back to Ur, I saw true heroism in how she learned to take up a stand against us as the gods and, to some extent, against the Empire that employed her.”
“So,” asked Pandere of Vaeda, “you were the one of us who prompted her poetry and teachings?”
“No. That was her idea. Terkwa, Aluere, and Magus contributed, but it was really on her own initiative that she began to stand on her feet. Seeing this, I gently reminded her of my presence as Nisaba.”
None of them liked being told they were so intrusive. Even Vaeda, for all her wisdom, balked at the truth of it. But for them to evolve, they had to accept it. After all, it was why sentient life had arisen to begin with, as Radantia, the mother of all of them, had reminded them at the beginning of this universe.
“I’m curious,” said Ordiri. “Cronicus, can we roll the time stream forward to see how this birth of individual consciousness plays out?”
For hundreds years after Enheduanna’s death, which occurred not long before the overextended Akkadian Empire fell, its soils strangled by rising salt, high priestesses continued to be trained at the Temple in Ur. Then Ur too began to decline as local powers vied for control of the belt of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In Ur, a man named Terah fathered three sons, who fathered children of their own. Terah earned his keep by crafting idols. But when conditions grew more violent and depressed as the once-Fertile Crescent degenerated into a desert, he decided to move his family to more pleasant climes. During their journey they stopped in Haran, where Terah died. Prompted by Pandere, one of his sons decided to depart the country. His name was Abram, and his wife’s was Sarai.
“More patriarchy,” murmured Wildia.
“Indeed. But also the idea of a personal deity accountable to the individual,” added Vaeda. “Cronicus, can you run us forward a few millennia?”
In 1927, a British archeologist found a calcite disc while excavating Ur. The Akkadians had been big on inscriptions; this disc bore the names and images of Enheduanna the High Priestess, her hair dresser Ilum, her estate manager Adda, and her scribe Sagadu.
From the rubble of the temple complex came forth hymns and poems translated and published in 1968. Enheduanna had written them before the Code of Hammurabi, the Rig Veda, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the I Ching, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Hebrew Bible, including its Psalms, composed in a style inspired by her.
“You know,” observed Aluere, “for all their destructive misbehavior when they fall into identity with us, I still have hope for this species coming of age. Enheduanna did not resolve the Nexus Crisis that has continued in the Middle East, place of endless-seeming colonizations and conquests. But look at the treasures she left. Even as Inanna, I admired her.
“Which reminds me,” she went on. “Magus, did she ever make her peace with Nanna? I assume so since she stayed employed in his temple in Ur.”
“She did. Cronicus, one more time?”
A fragment surfaced of a work dedicated to Enheduanna. No one knew who had written it, but everyone knew whose apotheosis it praised:
She is shining
The high priestess chosen for the pure divine offices,
may she bring you your prayer to the abyss.
The one who is worthy for Suen/Nanna,