17. Further aspects of the cult of the hunter


The griffin man, acc. to Bossert called Ara, has a very long plaited (?) hair-lock running down his neck. Note the same curling “pigtail” on the neck of the composite animal guarding the Ishtar-gate in Babylon (It is mostly a snake, but has also some lion and bird-of-prey features). It is the guardian of the gate together with a bull symbol.

Now, in Assyrian palaces the winged bull with a human head and the winged lion with a human head are the typical guardians of the gate. They are the old gods of the folk religion, the bull-man and the lion-man, and together they form a kind of total presence of both nice and demonic guardians. The bull man is the guardian of the sun gate par excellence. He is often seen with a cylinder hat that makes him a column in the gate. But the composite animal is certainly not a nice spirit and in the procession of gods it carries the hunter. The curling lock is the symbol of ecstasy. (Acc to Plutarch, the soul leaves the top of the scull when going into ecstasy, but still being tied to it by a cord).

One of the most popular divine names used in composite personal names in Ebla is Ar. F.Pomponio-P.Xella[1] venture the suggestion that it is perhaps more an epithet than a name.

Another strange accentuation of the hairdo of the hunter are the two feathers. From very early layers in Tello Sarzec and Heuzey have brought to light the small monument mentioned above of a man standing behind the two Heracles-columns. He is dressed in the heavy kilt so characteristic of the hunter, both in early Susa and Gerza and at the Minoan sarcophagus, and on his head he has the large feathers already mentioned above, and also seen on the lion hunt palette. In Philo of Byblos´s description of El Kronos they are symbols of him being very spiritually alert. “And he in addition had two wings on his head, one for intuition (Greek: Nous), which is the most supreme authority, and one for perception”, I, 10.10, 37. These words emphasise the fact that he is a visionary.  

 A Persian king´s throne[2] shows how the king is guarded by both bull and lion. In the poem about Gilgamesh, the lion-man, and Enkidu, the bull-man, the gods create Enkidu as a counterweight to the violent nature of the lion-man and together they can do great things. Seals from tombs of the kings in Ur show the two representing duality wrestling, clinging to each other and thereby creating a symbol of primordial unity. (The snakes coiled into a tight knot). When the lion-man kills the bull-man, it is the breaking up of primordial harmony, but by the killing, the lion achieves an ascent of the kundalini-power: note the two snakes coiling up its tail. The killing is done after the ibex has been fed with plenty of beer; note the jar in front of the animal. The hunter is the killer of primordial mystical unity, but in a strange way also the one who, by his kundalini-mysticism, has visions of primordial unity.


(After C.L.Wooley)


Frankfort XI,d   


From the period of the Akkad dynasty there is a seal showing the world mountain with the tree of life at its top and primordial divinity as two bulls living on the paradise mountain and being killed by the bull man and the lion man. (Like Enkidu and Gilgamesh climbing the Cedar mountain and killing the “bull of heaven”.) Another seal shows the bull being killed by the lion man and the lion by the bull man  (Frankfort,pl. XVII,h.b). The last seal shows the two wrestling over a big bowl (trophy). Between the legs and over the back of the bull man are seen his symbols, a symbol of vegetation and the head of a horned animal, between the legs of his opponent and on his back his symbols, the symbol of light – three light-balls in the crescent moon, and between his legs the head of a lion or panther[3].



From A.H.Layard, Discoveries in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, 1853 we have chosen to show the remains of the entrance to the palace in Khorsabad. Layard calls the human figure in the centre of the arrangement: “the Assyrian Hercules strangling the lion” (p.136), and the instrument in his left hand is taken to be a scourge with a snake´s head at the end. It is the same instrument carried by Marduc in the picture below. It is the old instrument carried by the hunters already on the wall painting in Catal Hüyük: the curved club also seen to have been the favourite weapon of the god Martu.



Marduc is standing on the composite animal mentioned above. He has the mystical rosette on his forehead as the third eye, and he is shown as the world pillar reaching from the waters of the abyss to high heaven with lots of stars on his arms and shoulders and a cylindrical hat. Like the Syrian semeion-pole he even has 3 cakras (whirls) on the front of his skirt. (We shall return to this device later.) The composite dragon has the typical spiral coming out of the top of the skull (from the Ishtar gate, Babylon).


On the stele of Mesha we get a good impression of the nature of the hunter Ashtar-Kamosh:

“I killed the whole population in the town (Atharot) to the joy of Kamosh and Moab”

“I killed all, 7000 men, boys, women, girls, concubines because I had consecrated them to Ashtar-Kamosh.”[4] “I removed the alter of Dodoh…” Dodoh (= Amor) is a god of a type hailed in the Song of Songs (”My Friend”) a life- and love-giving god of the Eljon-type. Tammuz is called “the beloved”.



A picture of Kamosh (from Dussaud,ibd) shows the god with a very special hairdo somewhat similar to the hairdo of Baal in Ugarit (above) and the spiralling lock of the composite animal. Note the small crouching lion behind Kamosh.

From an Etruscan grave in Corneto (Tomba degli auguri) is taken the following picture[5]:



To the left a man with a lituus-like sign of dignity (the Italian version of the curved club). He supervises the wrestling match. The scene is part of the sports competitions so often pictured in Etruscan graves. These “Leichenspiele” were acc to L.Malten finished by bringing the poor loser as a sacrifice to the dead spirits[6], and from the “Leichenspiele” come the Roman gladiator games which ended with a figure dressed up as Dispater, the ruler of the underworld entering the scene to carry off the dead bodies[7], and this figure carried, as his sign of dignity, the hammer of the Estruscan death god Charun (the hammer has here replaced the double axe). These Roman customs are by Altheim used to interpret the scene in the picture: a poor blindfolded fellow has to fight a dog which has sunk its teeth deep into his leg and also given him heavy bleeding wounds in the other leg. But most interesting is also the masked man who seems to hold both dog and man by a line to prevent any of them from escaping.They have to fight or die. His name is Pherse, and Altheim sees this name in connection with Persephone, also called Phersis, and Persae, another name for Hecate, and Perseus, perhaps an old name for the ruler of the underworld. He has a high tiara and a peasant´s coat made of patchwork. This patchwork coat, the black-painted face and the pointed mitre is an appearance G.Widengren thinks goes back to the old Indo-European warrior bands, and he will find the patchwork coat by dervish monks and also among the oldest Christian and Buddhist monks (with a reference to A.Dieterich, Pulcinella, 1897 who has shown that this harlequin-coat goes back to the antique Roman farce, where the clown was dressed in centunculus, a coat made out of 100 patches). To me it seems more likely that it was originally a coat used by the “hunter” and the ecstatics serving the great hunter. Also Resheph carries the high pointed mitre. 



In 3 important articles in SYRIA V, 1924[8]. L. H. Vincent has dealt with some characteristic motifs on painted Palestinian ceramics (two goats eating from a holy tree, the bird eating from a fish, the heraldic eagle) and followed these motifs back to the “proto-elamitic culture”. In my opinion both goat and tree of life are manifestations of the highgod and his life giving force. The bird eating from the fish is, as we shall see, the symbol of a holy meal of a most orgiastic character. Acc to one tradition Typhon was overcome after he had eaten so much fish that he could hardly move and fight. The chaos king presides over a voluptuous meal, but after that the chaos king is dethroned.

One of the many likenesses pointed out by Vincent is the “wheel of goats”, a very specific symbol found both in Hierakonpolis and in the Susa-area[9]. Note how carefully the five goats in the Egyptian version are made different in colour and in the shape of the horns, but all this diversity unites in the centre of the wheel and note how some of the legs are prolonged so that they can all meet in the divine centre where all diversity is fused into unity. It is the mystical centre marked with the rosette in the Susa version. But this is not the only amazing similarity between prehistoric Egypt and Elam. P.A.Amiet[10] brings a picture from the handle of a flint knife from Gebel el-Tarif in prehistoric Egypt of two snakes coiling in a characteristic caducheus-like way around different versions of the mystical flower - and exactly the same motif from Susa. Amiet also brings a picture from a Sumerian cylinder from the pre-dynastic period. Two standards are carried up to a temple gate by two naked cult servants. They are both identical with Egyptian hieroglyphs, but in my opinion this need not be an example of far-reaching Egyptian fashion, as Amiet seems to suggest. These signs could also be understood by a Sumerian as the snake-coil and the gate of the sun, the symbol of unity and the symbol of duality.




From Tell Asmar in Mesopotamia we have this prehistoric seal with the hunter followed by his two dogs and surrounded by something which could be the leftovers from the poor bull or ram. Over his head the male and female snake are kissing (Amiet, 152). Later he often wears a very characteristic hat, and in this attire and nothing else he approaches the goddess. Between the two is seen a naked woman wearing the so called Hathor-wig, and over the heads the union of sun, moon, and morning star, the symbol of the union of all light in the mystical light. The union of male and female god, the union of sun and moon, are symbols of duality united to one by the rising of the kundalini power symbolised by the naked woman (Frankfort,fig.40) Another seal shows the hunter approaching the goddess, but this time the fish of the orgiastic meal is seen between the two, and behind the goddess the curved club, and behind the god the Hathor-wig and the naked hunter praying to a huge left hand on an altar. (A god simply called “Left” is later honoured by the people of Harran. We shall return to this in the chapter on Harran). The third seal showing us the god approaching the goddess (he is only dressed in a shawl which he is about to drop) has the naked goddess and a panther or lioness between the two. The hunter has put a very demonic looking animal into submission, and it follows him like a dog with a bowed neck. It is a symbol of the demonic forces placed at his disposal. Behind him two men with horned caps guarding a small symbol of the world axis[11].



L.Legrain has published three seals showing an erotic act accompanied by the beautiful playing on a harp[12]. What the scene is all about is seen more clearly on the next seal: A young woman is taken by force. That it is a religious scene is seen from the sun, moon and mandala-pattern over their heads and the mystical rosette behind the male. That they are scenes from the cult of the great hunter is obvious from the third scene where the hunter with game in his hands is blessing not only the erotic act, but also a naked person sitting in a very frank and indecent posture.



The story about Esther and Mardocai (Ishtar and Marduc) is the closest the Bible ever comes to accepting the cult of the great hunter. It starts with heavy drinking and the intention to expose the beauty of a woman to the public eye. Acc. to a Hittite myth Ishtar exposes her nakedness to Hedammu, a monster from the sea. Acc. to Oppian´s version of the fight with Typhon the dragon is lured into participating in a fish orgy. We find the motif, the “Sea thiasos”, as a popular decoration in Hellenistic Syria. Doro Levi, Antioch Mosaic Pavements[13] brings the picture of a “Sea thiasos (= drinking party)” under the presidency of a sea-creature called “Agreus” (= hunter). The sea is the element of chaos, and the women participating are naked, and the men are dark-skinned mermen with fishtails. One is blowing a giant Pan flute, another has a pedum in his hand. The story of Esther ends with the monstrous killing of thousands of Persians, the killing so typical of Ishtar and ´Anat, the female hunter. At the Jewish Purim festival devoted to the memory of Esther, the young pupils at the yeshivas are allowed to drink and smoke and do all the bad things they are prevented from doing the rest of the year. It is a day celebrating chaos. A lot of material for a better understanding of “Esther and Purim” is collected by H.Ringgren[14]. He mentions Gandareva, a creature killed during the Iranian New Year´s celebrations. He has a son, Parshanta, who is skinned during the New Year´s feast and whose name is also the name of the oldest son of Haman, Parshandatha[15]. At the Babylonian feast of the Sakaia, a criminal was selected and had to play the role of a chaos king even to the degree of taking over the leadership and having the concubines of the king at his disposal: Haman wants to be led through the town in triumphant procession on the king´s horse dressed in the clothes of the king. He is even accused of trying to have sex with the Queen and is finally hanged. Haman is also the name of a god, Baal Hamman, the personification of the world pillar (cf the extremely high gallows he has raised outside his house) seen as a pillar of fire, and more or less present in the pillar of fire and smoke on the burning altar.[16] Baal Hamman is a new variation of the Hunter, the “Burning One”. The criminal chaos-king is another variation, and mostly he is burned on a bonfire at the end of the feast (like Sandan on the pyra), but Haman in the book of Esther is hanged in an extremely high gallows. But in the popular celebration of Purim, a bonfire is called Haman´s bonfire. A typical chaos-king is Sardanapal  (Ktesias fragm. by Diodor from Sicily). He was the strong king of Nineve, but dressed in women´s clothes and living the sweet life in the harem. When Nineve was about to fall, surrounded by enemies, he burned himself together with all his mistresses on a big bonfire. At Tarsus, Sardanapal had an epitaph with an inscription preserved by Athenaeus (8th book) in different versions. They are the typical confession to the “hunter” & to libertinism:


“Sardanapal, son of Anacyndaraxos, builder of Anchiale and Tarsus in only one day.

Food, drink, lust – everything else is nothing.”


Sardanapal also had his statue in the big temple of Mabbug, dressed in “unusual clothing” Lucian, de dea 40.

The founder of Tarsus was Sandan, so he and Sardanapal must be identical. Acc to Johannes Lydus, Sandon at the court of Queen Omphale wore the thin transparent dress of the rich Lydian women called sándykes (Movers). In one of Athenaeus´s versions he is called Ninos, the founder of Nineve. His female partner was Semiramis, the female warrior who burned herself because of the death of a beloved horse[17]. Also Dido, the founder of Cartage, burned herself on a bonfire after a hunt during which she had given herself to Aeneas (Virgil).

W.Weber[18] has proved that the Kronos feast celebrated by the Roman army in Rumania under Licinius goes back to a Syrian custom. A soldier was selected by lot to play the role of King Saturn and installed in this position on the 18th of Nov, the Silvester of the Syrian calendar. He could then indulge in all kinds of “diabolic lusts” a whole month until he, at the end of the month, had to commit suicide at the altar of Saturn[19]. In Amaseia in Pontus, the Roman army celebrated a kind of carnival mentioned by bishop Asterios[20]. Asterios mentions the procession (pompeia) of the carnival and that some soldiers mounted a car, from which they appointed a staff of court officials; besides some soldiers dressed in women´s clothes formed a harem, in this way, at least in the eyes of the bishop, mocking the highest authority.

 The great feast of bonfires in the Christian period is the exaltatio crucis on the 14th of September. After the period of chaos due to the plundering of the Persian army, the Christian emperor Heraclius was able to recapture the lost territories, and even recapture the “true cross of Christ”; and on the 14th of Sept. he brought it back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The hunter is a man of many faces and masks. One of them is as the king of chaos, finally burned, but as fire is his own true element this burning himself is perhaps rather an apotheosis. The children sacrificed to him in fire are certainly thought to “pass through the fire” to some kind of apotheosis.

[1] Les dieux d´Ebla,1997, pp.353-55

[2] Cook, I, p.208, fig.153

[3] ibd, XI, l; 2nd or 3rd early dynastic period

[4] Text & translation is given by R.Dussaud, Les Monuments Palestiniens et Judaïques, 1912, p.5-16

[5] F.Altheim, “Persona”, ARW 27, 1929-30, t.1, by p.240

[6] Römische Mitteilungen 38/39, pp.300f.

[7] Tertullian adv. nationes 1, 10, apolog. 15

[8] “La Peinture Céramique Palestinienne”, pp.81ff., 180ff., 294ff.

[9] SYRIA V, pl.XXIV

[10] Glyptique Susienne Archaïque, RA LI, 1957, p.121-9 fig. 7 & 8

[11] ibd, fig. 42f.

[12] Ur Excavations III, pl.18f., 49f., no.368-70

[13] II, 1947, pl. LXIIc & LXIII from the public bath

[14] SEÅ XX, pp.5-24

[15] Esther 9, 7

[16] See the important article by H. Ingholt in Melanges Syriens off. a R.Dusseaud.

[17] Plin. hist. nat.1, VIII, 42

[18] “Das Kronosfest in Durostorum”, ARW 19, 1916-19, pp.316-41)

[19] Acta Dasii. Cumont, “Les Actes de St.Dasius”, Analaecta Bollandiana 16, 1897, pp.5-16)

[20] About 400 A.C., Migne 40, 221, see M.P.Nilsson, „Studien zur Vorgeschichte des Weihnachtsfestes“, ARW 19, pp.84f.