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So, in my blog Common Crystal Myths we saw that birthstones do not, contrary to popular opinion, have their origins in the Breastplate of the High Priest. But, as we’ll see, there was a connection way back then between the gods (the planets), the months and certain crystals which morphed into birthstone lore. I have incorporated into this blog parts of an essay on ‘The Chain of Being’ that I wrote when investigating the origins of birthstones for my MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology. Please excuse the academic language that was forced upon me. I found it a great trial and I suspect you will too. But I don’t have time to rewrite it into plain English. You can always skim read until you get to a bit that calls to you. I’ll be including another in my next blog, offering insight if you can negotiate your way around the verbiage. (We weren’t allowed to have an original thought or make an unsupported statement when writing academic MA essays, hence all the endnotes. Every statement has to have been made by someone else first, tracking them is tedious in the extreme. So to save you having to do it, my notes are provided in case you want to follow up sources and I’ll put in a guide to what came to be known as a ‘Patrick-speak’.) The Society for Plain English really needs to get stuck into academia, which seems to invent longer and more obscure terms each time I come into contact with it.
But before we get onto the essay itself, let’s take a look at what the ancient civilisations of the Near East offered us. This area covers Mesopotamia, Babylon, Assyria, Sumeria and Chaldea. I’ve most often called it Mesopotamian in my essay but my term is all-embracing for the other civilisations. It was a cradle of humanity and learning. The source of much science and astronomical knowledge. Later civilisations owed an enormous, most unacknowledged, debt to it.
Mesopotamia is, so far, one of the earliest civilisations that we can access because they actually wrote down their lore and knowledge instead of passing it on orally. All that is necessary is to crack the code. And all that is required to crack the code is someone with a working knowledge of the subject being recorded. When astrologer Chris Mitchell, who’d taught himself to read cuneiform, went to the British Museum to take a look at one of their Babylonian star charts, he excited the staff by pointing out a slight error in a previous translation. Something only an astrologer could have spotted. Suddenly everything clicked into place for them. Dry academic knowledge became a living breathing moment in time pressed into a clay tablet. Albeit several thousand years ago. No wonder the room lit up.
Remarkably sophisticated, this was one of the first civilisations to practise science including astrology and astronomy (as the two were one and the same at the time). It recorded the movement of the planets and created birth and star charts.
A tablet describes the timing of the appearance of different constellations and stars. You’ll no doubt spot the zodiac imagery references, some of which haven’t changed in thousands of years.
On the 1st of Nisannu the Hired Man becomes visible.
On the 20th of Nisannu the Crook becomes visible.
On the 1st of Ayyaru the Stars become visible.
On the 20th of Ayyaru the Jaw of the Bull becomes visible.
On the 10th of Simanu the True Shepherd of Anu and the Great Twins become visible.
On the 5th of Du’uzu the Little Twins and the Crab become visible.
On the 15th of Du’uzu the Arrow, the Snake, and the Lion become visble; 4 minas is a daytime watch, 2 minas is a nighttime watch.
On the 5th of Abu the Bow and the King become visible.
On the 1st of Ululu [. . . .]
On the 10th of Ululu the star of Eridu and the Raven become visible.
On the 15th of Ululu Shu-pa, Enlil, becomes visible.
On the 25th of Ululu the Furrow becomes visible.
Venus Pentagram formed by each Venus Transit over the Sun as seen from Earth https://deephighlands.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/the-mystery-of-the-tetragrammaton-part-1/
‘The Chaldeans’ were the astronomer priest-scribes who studied the stars and who would be quoted down through history as the source of astrological lore. This stelae shows a new moon-sun conjunction, possibly an eclipse, being measured.
The ‘chain of being’ is what links gods (planets), crystals and birthstones. Basically it’s the idea of ‘above above, so below’, the famous Hermetic saying (which we’ll come onto in the next blog), but it’s posited more as a chain that reached both up and down rather than a reflection. And it most definitely, as we will see, included crystals as homes of the gods. Something that later moved into Greco-Roman astronomy:
I am Heaven, you cannot touch me,
I am Earth, you cannot bewitch me…
Enlil is my head, my face is the day;
Urash, the peerless god, is the protecting spirit leading my way.
My neck is the necklace of the goddess Ninlil,
My two arms are the sickle of the western moon,
My fingers tamarisk, the bones of heaven.
I shall sing of the god who rules mysteriously over nature, the god who permeates the sky, the land, and the sea and who governs the whole immense structure with a unifying bond. I shall sing how the life of the whole universe is based on mutual sympathy and how it moves by the force of reason because a single spirit inhabits all its parts and radiates through the whole world, spreading itself through everything and giving it the shape of a living creature.
Manilius, Astronomica (2) (Roman astronomer)
The universe resembles more closely than anything else that Living Thing of which all other living things are parts, both individually and by kinds. For that living thing that comprehends within itself all intelligible living things…a single visible thing, which contains within itself all the living things whose nature it is to share its kind.
Plato, Timaeus(3) (Greek philosopher)
The Mesopotamians were great users of precious stones, which they equated with the various gods and magical properties. Thousands of amulets and cylinder seals still exist showing a connection between the god being called upon for protection and the crystal upon which it was engraved. Stones were considered to be alive. Indeed they once went to war. Battling the planet Saturn (the god Ninurta). And, unfortunately for them, losing – see below.
Sumerian art (3500-2300 BC)
The Sumerian palaces were beautifully decorated with gate guardian figures. Sculptures were erect, stylised figures characterised by clasped hands and huge eyes. It was the Sumerians who produced many small, finely carved cylindrical seals made of marble, alabaster, carnelian, lapis lazuli, and stone. A Sumerian container inlayed with shell, lapis lazuli and limestone depicts war and peace.
The Mesopotamian concept of planets located in crystalline spheres around the Earth with shamanic levels below held good until the Renaissance period:
The three-part Mesopotamian cosmos: 1) The heavenly spheres (H-1,2,3). 2) The earth known to the Mesopotamian people, including the central mountain house (Ekur) (E-1), the ocean (O), the dam wall (D), and the mountains of sunrise (M) and sunset (A). 3) The spheres of the underworld (E2-3), including the bottom of the mundane ocean (G) and the city of the death protected by seven walls (TR). The cosmos swims in the heavenly ocean (HO) (BHH; cf. Trenkwalder 2005, Bryce 2002, Haas 1986).
And now for the harder reading, with convoluted academic references, but do keep reading and you’ll understand the principles that lie behind birthstones:
The Chain of Being postulates that all creation from inanimate matter to sophisticated life-forms and the celestial realms is an unbroken metaphysical sequence. In stoicism, platonism and medieval thought divine emanation [the gods] pervades the chain: in modern astrology, planetary influence. The idea is described by Lovejoy as one of ‘the most potent and persistent presuppositions in Western thought’.(4) Lovejoy, a Hellenophile [lover of all things Greek who attributes the Greeks as the source of all knowledge rather than earlier civilisations],(5) commences his history in ancient Greece …
But is this so? In Plato’s Timaeus Critias chides his listeners for lacking ‘learning made hoary by time’ and being ‘devoid of beliefs handed down from antiquity by ancient tradition’, implying that Plato had knowledge of such a tradition.(6)… It can be suggested that the Chain of Being is a remnant of the Babylonian view that the gods were immanent within creation, the basis for astrological sympathy. Jacobsen identified three religious metaphors through which gods were viewed and represented in cosmology and mythology. The first a ‘spiritual core’ in which power of a god dwelled in objects and phenomena, the second kingship, and the third parental concern.(7) In the first and most enduring metaphor, gods are represented in non-human forms, objects and phenomena, but later become anthropomorphized [i.e.humanized]. … complex interrelationships led to magical, divinatory and mythological associations with the Gods of the Night.(8)
In astrological thought, ancient and modern, the Chain of Being is reflected in sympathy and correspondence. Sympathy has two meanings:
[Firstly] that force, subtle influence, or spiritual empathy, which links all things in union within the Chain of Being. [Secondly] individual relationships between creation and things; all sublunary things are visualized as being either ‘in sympathy’ or ‘in antipathy’, depending upon the elemental, planetary and zodiacal forces involved’.(10)
In popular astrological literature, the two uses blur and rulership and correspondence are often conflated.(11) The doctrine of correspondence expresses belief that heavenly, or astral, influence, in whatever shape or form a culture prescribes it, is acting in, and can be perceived through, forms and experiences in the physical world.(12) In modern astrology, correspondence indicates ‘particular relationships and congenialities… every material form bear[ing] an outer stamp of the planetary or zodiacal principle which underlies …quintessential nature represented within the form’.(13) In astrological symbolism ‘planets, signs and houses are said to ‘rule’ over everything on earth and every facet of our lives’.(14)These astrological concepts are intertwined yet have subtle differences, and potentially a common origin.
The connection of lapis lazuli with Inanna (Venus), for instance, is ancient and enduring. It still corresponds with Taurus and Libra, both signs ruled by Venus.(15) In the Descent of Inanna the goddess dons her lapis accoutrements before abandoning heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.(16)
From the great heaven she set her mind on the great below. From the great heaven the goddess set her mind on the great below. From the great heaven Inana set her mind on the great below. My mistress abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld. Inana abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld…
14-19She took the seven divine powers. She collected the divine powers and grasped them in her hand. With the good divine powers, she went on her way. She put a turban, headgear for the open country, on her head. She took a wig for her forehead. She hung small lapis-lazuli beads around her neck.
20-25She placed twin egg-shaped beads on her breast. She covered her body with a pala dress, the garment of ladyship. She placed mascara which is called “Let a man come, let him come” on her eyes. She pulled the pectoral which is called “Come, man, come” over her breast. She placed a golden ring on her hand. She held the lapis-lazuli measuring rod and measuring line in her hand.
And in the underworld Inanna is stripped and laid bare, going through a shamanic death and rebirth.
This tale most probably reflects the disappearance of Venus from the evening sky and her reappearance in the morning. As such, it contains a powerful death and rebirth motif. In the cultic Uruk Text, her suitor/husband/betrayer Dumuzi goes to the ‘gem-revealing heap’ where he proceeds to gather together Inanna’s queenly treasure:
On the surface of the heap he is gathering lapis lazuli for Inanna.
He is finding the “buttock beads,”
Is putting them on her buttocks!
Inanna is finding the “head beads.”
Is putting them on her head!
She is finding the roughcut clear blocks of lapis lazuli,
Is putting them around her neck![i]
As you’ll have noticed, academics have little sense of poetry and tend to translate literally. But the immediacy and rhythm of the myth comes across strongly even so.
Lapis lazuli carried the symbol of rebirth and renewal. Lapis Lazuli still represents Venus, divinity and union of earth with the celestial realms today.
Polished Lapis Lazuli: c. Jeni Campbell, www.angeladditions.co.uk
[Marduk] made the position(s) for the great gods,
He established (in) constellations the stars, their likenesses.
Epic of Creation(21)
In early creation myth, mankind was not divine although brought into being by a god. However, in the later Epic of Creation,(22)heaven and earth were created when Tiamat, primordial universal mother goddess, was felled by the new creator-god Marduk and split in two ‘like a fish for drying’. Half of her was set up as a heavenly cover, the other half forming earth and the ‘netherworld’ below, creating a huge hollow sphere. The two halves of this system were designated On High and Below.(23) In Mesopotamian thought, ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ are of the same material, and the Sun-god traverses both realms.
In another creation scenario there is a ‘cascading creation’ in which ‘above’ replicates itself into lower forms of matter:
After Anu had created heaven,
Heaven had created earth,
Earth had created rivers,
Rivers had created canals,
Canals had created marsh,
Marsh had created worm(24)
This could be postulated as the Chain of Being descending, as could Marduk arranging the six spheroidal levels. At the highest point ‘Upper Heaven’ was the abode of Anu, sky god and prime mover of creation; Marduk and celestial gods occupied an intermediary level, and ‘Inferior Heaven’ stars and constellations: images and reflections of the gods. Then came ‘Upper Earth’ where humans dwelt; ‘Intermediate Earth’, residence of Ea (Enki) god of magic and civilisation whose beast was the sea-goat, later symbol for Capricorn; and at the bottom, ‘Lower Earth’, headquarters of infernal gods, gathering place of human ‘ghosts’ after death.(25)
Despite, or perhaps because of, this plethora of gods, texts equate all gods with specific areas of one god’s body to syncretize their attributes into a single entity:
Oh lord, your face is the sun god, your hair Aya,
Your eyes, O lord, are Enlil and Ninlil.
The pupils of your eyes are Gula and Belit-ifi,
The irises of your eyes are the twins, Sin and Samas,
The lashes of your eyes are the rays of the sun god…
The appearance of your mouth, O lord, is Ishtar of the stars
Anu and Antum are your lips, your command…
Your tongue is Pabilsag of the above…
The roof of your mouth, O lord, is the vault of heaven and earth, your divine abode,
Your teeth are the seven gods who lay low the evil ones….
Your neck is Marduk, judge of heaven and earth…
Hymn to Ninurta(26)
From an early period ‘individual deities were associated, or at times totally identified, with a part of the universe’. These ‘parts’ could be vegetation, animals, meteorological phenomena, or aspects of social activities, and each city had a specific god. In a compendium of texts involving associations between gods and tangible objects ‘trees, plants, animals, substances or articles are equated with deities’.(27) So all gods were linked to the portion of physical cosmos they caused to function and each had cosmic and terrestrial duties, suggesting correspondence and sympathy in action.(28)Samas was not only the power in the sun but also god of justice and boundaries. It was not specified exactly how this occurred nor the rationale behind placement of gods: half were located ‘On High’ and half ‘Below’, and some could climb up and others down, depicting immanence of the gods throughout creation.(29) The entire cosmos, above and below, was under the same law,(30) and Baigent points out that mythology forever connects the celestial and terrestrial realms, highlighting astrology’s interdependence with this cosmic interweaving.(31)
The major Gods of Mesopotamia. Kudurru-stone (l300BCE) captioned: ‘the seated and horn-crowned god Anu, king of heaven; the walking bird Enlil, lord of the lands; the ram’s head [Aries] and goat-fish [Capricorn], the sanctuary of great Ea..;. sickle, water trough and wide boat of Sin; the radiant disc of the great judge Samas; the star-symbol of Istar [Venus], the fierce young bull of Adad son of Anu’. [Taurus](32)(after Black and Green p.16) [The scorpion sign of Scorpio is also visible.]
Additional correspondences found in the present day can be identified in Babylonian literature (see Appendix 1). According to Bottero, gods were assigned numbers and other symbolism as ‘an authentic deepening of the representation of the divine’,(33) and mythological and mystical Assyrian texts had a basic rationale that ‘plants, minerals and woods can be associated with deities and cultic, astrological and other matters.’(34) Trees, plants and stones were associated with zodiacal signs in late Babylonian texts with animals and cities sometimes added.(35) … Livingstone gives an early list of Mesopotamian metallic associations with gods, quoting a link between Samas and gold, a correspondence acknowledged today.(36)
In an early Mesopotamian herbal, kidney complaints are attributed to Mars, an association Ptolemy carries forward and which still abides.(37) Gypsum [Selenite] is listed in a ritual for curing a sick man: ‘the gypsum is Ninurta’,(38) a correspondence that does not stand nowadays as gypsum is associated with Aries, although gypsum is said to encourage strong bones and elasticity of skin and tissue, qualities associated with Saturn.(39)…
In Valens [Greek astrologer-astronomer], Saturn has authority over lead and stones, and the earth.(40) Fragments of Sumerian myth survive telling how the stones of the earth were hostile to Ninurta (Saturn), who was forced to battle with them.(41)After their defeat, he doled out their fates. Chalcedony was forever to be carved and split by chisels. Marble had the privilege of use for building temples. Flint was fated eternally to be flaked.(42) Twenty minerals were listed under control of Ninurta including magnetite, today a stone belonging to Capricorn (ruled by Saturn). In Mesopotamia magnetite was a ‘stone of truthfulness’, the man who wore it had to be pious and speak truth, qualities still associated with Capricorn.(43) Baigent suggests this myth is the source for later astrological attribution.(44) In a modern textbook, Saturn rules mines, mining, coal, lead and foundations of buildings.(45) In Mesopotamia Ninurta was ‘the net of the gods’ suggesting contemporary association with boundaries and restrictions.(46) Ninurta, also called ‘the Steady One’,(47) provided omens concerning the king and ruled truth and justice along with law and order.(48) Anciently symbolising the king in his role as governor and ruler, in modern mundane astrology Saturn is associated with the ‘foundations of the state’ and ‘the limits of socially or legally permissible conduct’.(49)
Certain aspects of Babylonian astrology were preserved in Hellenistic texts and there was a comprehensive association of planetary attributes with herbs, trees, places, stones, et al, although late texts could also be incorporating hermetic wisdom. Valens claims that the notion of colours being allocated to planets is an ancient one although he does not cite a source:
[They made] Kronos [Saturn] dark since it is a sign of time (for the god is slow); hence the Babylonians also named it Phainon since all things become manifest in time.(50) … the star of Zeus [Jupiter] bright, for, it is a bestower of life and good things. The star of Ares [Mars], tawny-orange, for the god is fiery and sharp and effective… The Sun, most transparent, through the pure and eternal light in him. Aphrodite [Venus], multi-coloured in body … And they made the star of Hermes [Mercury] pale-yellow resembling bile.(51)
My conclusion: It can be postulated, therefore, that some modern astrological correspondences and most especially birthstones are remnants of Mesopotamian gods, star, constellation and planetary affinities allied to crystals.
This world of ours has received and teems with living things, mortal and immortal. A visible living thing containing visible ones, perceptible god, image of the intelligible “Living Thing”, its grandness, goodness, beauty and perfection are unexcelled.
||Saturn (Ninutra)||Venus (Inanna)||Jupiter (Marduk)|
|Mars (Nergal)||Mercury (Nabu)||Moon (Sin)|
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