20. Eshmun


About Eshmun from Beirut it is told by Photios [1] that he was the eighth son of Sadykos and a very handsome young man. This kindled the love of the mother of the gods Astronoe. Eshmun was a hunter and once hunting in the wilderness he discovered that he was chased by A.  Quickly he cut off his genitals to avoid the shameful encounter. When the mother of gods saw the dead and maimed young man she called him Paian and gave "back to him the warmth of life by her own life-generating warmth”. The young man being chased by the great Syrian goddess is the man whose soul is seized by the ecstasy created by the dancing whirling servants of the goddess. Filled by the mebrum secandi impetus they cut off their manhood - often much against their normal human will. This is counted a death to normal civil life. The poor boy is not longer a human but a refait, a demon returned from death, a healing spirit. (Paian is the Greek god of healing). Therefore Lucian tells us that when the castrated priests die they are not buried, but only laid on the ground and covered with a heap of stone (de dea Syria). Coins from Beirut show Eshmun standing between two coiling snakes with wings - they are obviously able to fly through the air. The Greek god Asclepios is similar to this Phoenician god. He is often seen with a giant coiling snake with 7 coils. [2] He is a god who comes from the South Anatolian area.[3] Also the Greek god Zeus Meilichios is often pictured as a giant snake with seven coils (see the pictures from his sanctuary in Piraeus brought by Harrison in her book). Miss Harrison writes about his cult demanding the burning to the last bite of the whole animal:

"Zeus Meilichios will have all or nothing. His sacrifice is not a happy common feast, it is a dread renunciation to a dreadful power. It will later be seen that these un-eaten sacrifices are characteristic of angry ghosts...divinities who belong to a stratum of thought more primitive than Homer." [4] Harrison mentions a sanctuary for the Meilichians (plural) who received nightly sacrifices, which had to be eaten before sun rise, Pausanias I,38,8.

The grim, nocturnal service and the fire consuming the victim totally is the sure sign of a cult devoted to Molok-Malik, the sacrifice to the Oriental "King" of the underworld.

Ningizzida is "god of the drum", i.e. the god of ecstasy. On cylinder seals he is often seen with a double snake coiling around his body (see the enlarged picture above), and he is a god for healing [5]. To the right Eshmun as dwarf with the snake coiling up the world pillar. [6]

A magical arm ring shows acc to A.A.Barb [7] a "mystagogic progression": from the temple gate one proceeds to the Holy of Holies. But here the curtain is drawn to the side and one looks at the big bearded head of Serapis. But behind this rather conventional way of picturing the god one proceeds farther on, i.e. deeper into the mystery and is confronted with two snakes, a female with Ibis-head, and the male with a beard but without a head, both snakes standing on their tales. They are two very old guardian gods [8] in the Hellenistic period named Agathos Daimon & Agathe Tyche. They are the double snake of the old folk religion.

But our intruder into the mystery of Serapis can proceed even behind the double snake and is then at last confronted with the sphinx standing with the globe of the universe i.e. above the visible world. Characteristic of this important prehistoric symbol, the sphinx, is the special form of its wings here illustrated with examples from both prehistoric Egypt and Susa:

From a palette from Hierakonpolis [9], from a handle of a stone knife, Prehistoric Egypt (3600 BC) and from a Susa cylinder [10]  This very characteristic pair of double wings are perhaps originally a symbol of a flight upward instead of horizontally. The two last examples are an ivory from Megiddo and an elephant tusk from Ugarit, 14th-13th c.B.C. With the position of the wings and even the beak the animal indicates its heaven-bound journey. Note the seven "whirls" on the wing. That the number and position of the whirls are not accidental is seen from the other picture, where the “root-chakra” is added on the very body of the griffin thereby making the number 7 complete.

In early Egypt we find the double-snake as a feminine magical power clinging to the sun-disc. The (copper)snake coiling around the stake is a magical symbol of healing in the Bible or in the hand of the healer-god Eshmun. The snake rising along the stake is also a symbol of the raising of ecstatic energies understood as a snake force raised through the spinal cord resulting in mystic vision, the opening of the mystical third eye in front of the brain. This must be the reason for a lot of pictures where people or sacred animals are hit at both the third eye (or at the top of the scull) and at the root of the spinal cord.

 On Mesopotamian seals the bull man is seen hitting the lion at the top of the scull and squeeze it at the bottom of the spinal cord. The lion man is in the same way hitting calves [11]. On a small relief from early Ur [12]  (Al Ubaid period) the divine bull is seen standing on the moon at the top of the world mountain, but this symbol of mystic vision is threatened by the bird with the leopard's head biting at the root of its spinal cord. A majestic lion, the symbol of light and fire (it has a whirl of hair as light-symbol) is bitten by a dog at the root of its spinal cord (early temple of Beth Shan).

[1] Bibliotheca.,ed. R.Henry vol.VI,p.55

[2] see the pictures by Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion.

[3] L.Kjellberg, "Asklepios", Språkvetenskapliga Sällskapets i Upsala förhandlingar. UUÅ 1897, Filosofi, Språkvetenskap. III p.42).  

[4] Prolegomena. p.16.

[5] E.Douglas van Buren, "The God Ningizzida", IRAQ I,pl. X,d & e.

[6] W.W.Baudissin, Adonis und Esmun,1911

[7] "Magica Varia", SYRIA 49,1972,p.366

[8] E.Visser, Götter und Kulte im ptolomäischen Alexandria, 1938.

[9] Vandier, Manuel d´archéologie égyptienne 1,1952, fig.382.

[10] Flagge, Untersuchungen z Bedeutung des Greifen, 1975, Abb. 3, 1937. I. Flagge quotes from an Egyptian papyrus hailing the "shredder", the griffin, as the greatest creature of the earth.

[11] RA VI,1907,pp.106ff.,pl.II,8; Amiet,1103.

[12] L.Woolley, Ur Excavations I, t.35