meaning of life,  religion

Reading Ancient Sumerian Poetry

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I’m reading little bits from four thousand year old poems about Inanna, a Sumerian goddess, as translated by Betty De Shong Meador. Here are a few small samples.
 
She shifts a god’s curse
a blight reversed
out of nothing shapes
what has never been
her sharp wit
splits the door
where cleverness resides
and there reveals
what lives inside
 
….
 
to smooth the traveler’s road
to clear a path for the weak
are yours Inanna
 
to straighten the footpath
to make firm the cleft place
are yours Inanna
 
to destroy     to build
to lift up    to put down
are yours Inanna
 
 
….
 
her song sung
with joy of heart
in the plain
with joy of heart
she sings
and soaks her mace
in blood and gore
smashes heads
butchers prey
with eater-ax and
bloodied spear
all day
these evil blades
the warrior flings
pours blood on offerings
so who she feeds
dines on death.
 
____
 
Did that last one surprise you? I read it to my kids and the mood shift in it really hit them.
The second set belongs to a section on different jobs Inanna does, different powers she has. The list is really long and incorporates all different sets of opposites. I chose this section because it reminds me of certain Biblical verses.
 
As I read about a power struggle in an ancient temple, and a priestess being exiled… I think of the line “the personal is political” and how the ancient theologians expressed the belief that the personal is cosmological. Every event is part of the divine dramas. How much meaning that must have granted to their lives!
I know there are people today who believe their lives are part of some big divine adventure.
In hold shifting ideas in my mind right now. For a moment I picture the ancient gods and goddesses not as concrete beings or personalities but as forces of nature, as allegories. In one poem Inanna is the cyclical force of nature, who rages because a mountain fails to worship her. She seeks the god An’s support in attacking the mountain but he says no, he will not help. So she draws herself up to her full strength and subdues the mountain herself. The book I’m reading suggests that the mountain is in some way representative of a god that could exist outside the laws of nature, separate from matter. I wonder if it doesn’t in some way represent civilization/empire/attempts to conquer nature. For an instant I can picture the forces of nature and entropy destroying human hubris.
For a moment I can see how one could envision deities in our own lives. I can picture the yellow-vest movement in Canada as the forces of anger and ignorance teaming up together to move people out of apathy and into a wild untamed action. (Ok, pretty mild action – we are Canadian, after all, but still.) I can picture my love of books and learning as a form of worship at the alter of an oracle. I seek to see into the past. I seek to see the big picture. I can imagine my children’s struggle between the desire to play together and their frustration at things not going their way as being a battle between two deities – not literal spirits or anything but between desires personified.
If one can hold that thought in one’s mind for a moment – deities that aren’t personalities but more like the personification of concepts, desires, forces – one can imagine everything a sacred battleground, but one can also see the theological statements about the gods as being philosophical statements.
For a few minutes, thinking about all this, my world feels transformed.
I am fascinated by ancient religious texts. I want to know what manner of god a people worshipped, not because I believe in magic or deities but because I want to know what they said about themselves. How did they understand the problem of evil? How did they attempt to bring about social cohesion or limit the powers of tyrants? How did they attempt to protect the vulnerable or accept suffering? How did they understand their role in the universe?
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