[NB] Tammuz and St. George

This mourning for Tammuz/Damuzi thing…Okay, let me run through some stuff.

There is a quote that comes from a tenth-century manuscript, Nabatean Agriculture, that contains much useful information. Somewhat controversially attributed to Ibn Wahshiyya, Nabatean Agriculture sounds like a fascinating text that mixed star lore and magic with extensive practical advice about agriculture; I wish there was a complete English translation available, but read about it here.

(As an aside, I’m also interested in the relationship between agriculture and star lore showing up independently in both Mesoamerica and the Middle East. There seems to be some good evidence for strengthening the thesis that ritual might have preceded agriculture and laid the groundwork for it, that the experience of time in ritual might have preceded the understanding of time necessary for agriculture. In the Americas, you have the mound complexes, and in the Old World, you have Gobekli Tepi.)

The quote in question describes how rites of lamentation were shared by devotees to both Tammuz (Dumuzi) and St. George at the time of the manuscript’s composition.  I quote it here as an opportunity to consider the relationship between continuity and memory.

At length:

“All Sabians, both Babylonian and Harranian, weep and lament for Tammuz….When I was translating this book, I read in it that Tammuz was a man about whom there is a story and that he was killed in a horrible way only once, and there is no more to his story. They have no knowledge of him except that they say: ‘So we have known our fore-fathers to weep and lament during this feast ascribed to Tammuza.’…although the story about him has been forgotten because of the remoteness of his time….The Christians have a memorial feast which they hold for a man called Jurjis who, so they claim, was killed many times in horrible ways, but he returned to life each time, until he died at the end of the story which is too long to be explained….and they hold a memorial feast of Jurjis.”—qtd. in the Introduction to The Epistles of the the Brethren of Purity, Vol. 52a: On Magic (57)

Also this commentary from the translator of this text, Jaakko Hameen-Anttila, on that passage:

“The transmission of pagan material to Christianity is often obvious….but I cannot refrain from mentioning here that, according to al-Maqdisi, some Christians in the vicinity of Harran had adopted Harranian doctrines. What he probably should have said, is that some Harranians had converted—sincerely or not—to Christianity, bringing along with them much of their religious lore and wisdom. Instead of weeping for Tammuz they were now weeping for St. George.”—Ibid. (58)

Why does the rite survive even when the myth has been all but forgotten? It’s hard to say with so little evidence. It may be nothing more than a mimetic assertion of communal ties that preserves the rite, but I wonder if there isn’t something else going on, if what sustains the rite is the rite’s continued connection to the numinous that it once shared with the myth. They lament because the lament still brings them in touch with a mysterious world they desire connection with (which may also be something which affirms their communitas).

It’s pretty much impossible to know, but note (1) the structure of the myths being repurposed and (2) what happens to the figures afterward. The parallel that facilitates the transmission is the commonality of death. However, there is more to that. St. George undergoes great tortures which resonates more deeply with the Tammuz/Damuzi material than the Harranians could know, because when the galla come to take Damuzi away to the netherworld, they often threaten him with elaborate tortures (hence his tendency to flee them). So, dramatic tortures leading up to final expiration are sort of a thing with both.

With the figure of the shepherd, you have a figure who tends animals like sheep, whose value lies in part in their utility as sacrifices used to receive messages from the Anunna. Dumuzi is often also found on a throne (even, and especially, if it is Inanna’s), suggesting kingship. George? Well, funny how he becomes the patron saint with deep ties to sovereignty.

Though I should be careful. Some of George’s sovereignty functions derive from ties to myths a bit outside the Dumuzi range. The conquest of the dragon, for example, suggests myths like those associated with Marduk and Gilgamesh (though, again, we should probably look at Marduk and Gilgamesh as each belonging to their own layer of mytho-sovereignty; it is, after all, the Bull of Heaven that Gilgamesh slays, not the dragon of the deeps).

Huh. I hadn’t thought of that. There are some rival modes of sovereignty going on here, some of which might connect to Dumezil’s tripartite thesis. ‘Big Man’ Dumuzi as agricultural sovereign, ‘God-king’ Marduk as priestly sovereign, and ‘Mighty Man’ Gilgamesh as warrior sovereign. Maybe. Three layers of myth resonant but divergent from each other…again, patterns that are well-examined in the Indo-European frame, but clearly not exclusive to them.

That is probably important to pay attention to. One of the things modulating these myths, these records of gnosis, are political forces looking to capitalize on them.

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6 thoughts on “[NB] Tammuz and St. George

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