The Forbidden Legacy of a Fallen Race [PART II]
By ANDREW COLLINS Angels are something we associate with beautiful Pre-Raphaelite and renaissa...
By ANDREW COLLINS
Angels are something we associate with beautiful Pre-Raphaelite and renaissance paintings, carved statues accompanying gothic architecture and supernatural beings who intervene in our lives at times of trouble. For the last 2000 years this has been the stereotypical image fostered by the Christian Church. But what are angels? Where do they come from, and what have they meant to the development of organised religion?
Many people see the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, as littered with accounts of angels appearing to righteous patriarchs and visionary prophets. Yet this is simply not so. There are the three angels who approach Abraham to announce the birth of a son named Izaac to his wife Sarah as he sits beneath a tree on the Plain of Mamre. There are the two angels who visit Lot and his wife at Sodom prior to its destruction. There is the angel who wrestles all night with Jacob at a place named Penuel, or those which he sees moving up and down a ladder that stretches between heaven and earth.
Yet other than these accounts, there are too few examples, and when angels do appear the narrative is often vague and unclear on what exactly is going on. For instance, in the case of both Abraham and Lot the angels in question are described simply as ‘men’, who sit down to take food like any mortal person.
Eastwards, in Eden
The Book of Genesis speaks of God establishing a garden “eastwards, in Eden”. Here Adam and Eve became humanity’s first parents before their eventual fall from grace through the beguiling of the subtle Serpent of Temptation. Serpents were not only a primary synonym for the Watchers and Nephilim, but the Book of Enoch even states which “Serpent”, or Watcher, led our first parents into temptation. Interestingly enough, the Bundahishn, a holy text of the Zoroastrian faith, cites Angra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit and father of the daevas, as assuming this same role, and like the Watchers he too is described as a serpent with “legs”.
So where was Eden? All we know is that it was situated among the Seven Heavens, a paradisical realm with gardens, orchards and observatories in which the angels and Watchers reside in the Book of Enoch.
The word ‘Eden’ is translated by Hebrew scholars as meaning ‘pleasure’ or ‘delight’, a reference to the fact that God created the garden for the pleasure of mankind. This is not, however, its true origin. The word ‘Eden’ is in fact Akkadian – the proto-Hebrew, or Semitic, language introduced to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) by the people of Agade, or Akkad, a race that seized control of the ancient kingdom of Sumer during the second half of the third millennium BC. In their language the word ‘Eden’, or edin, meant a ‘steppe’ or ‘terrace’, as in a raised agricultural terrace.
Turning to the word ‘paradise’, I found that this simply inferred a ‘walled enclosure’, after the Persian rootpairi, ‘around’, and daeza, ‘wall’. It is a late-comer to Judaeo-Christian religious literature and was only really used after the year 1175 AD.
The English word ‘heaven’, on the other hand, is taken from the Hebrew ha’shemim, interpreted as meaning ‘the skies’. It can also refer to ‘high places’, such as lofty settlements. Moreover, the Hebrew word-root shm can mean ‘heights’, as well as ‘plant’ or ‘vegetation’, implying perhaps that the word ‘heaven’ might be more accurately translated as a ‘planted highlands’.
This quick round of simple etymology, in my opinion at least, conjured the image of a walled, agricultural settlement with stepped terraces placed in a highlands region. So is this what Eden was – a ‘walled, agricultural settlement’ placed among the mountains of Kurdistan? Had it been tended by angels under the dominion of the heavenly Watchers as is suggested by the text of the Book of Enoch? More importantly, where had it been located?
The Rivers of Paradise
The Book of Genesis says that from Eden stemmed the headwaters of the four rivers of paradise. The names of these are given as the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates. Of these four, only the last can properly be identified by name. The Euphrates flows through Turkish Kurdistan, Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The other three were identified by early biblical scholars respectively with the Ganges of India (although occasionally the Orontes of northern Syria), the Nile of Africa and the Tigris of western Asia, which, like its sister river the Euphrates flows through Iraq and empties into the Persian Gulf. The first two were chosen as suitable substitutes simply because they were looked upon by scholars as the mightiest rivers of the classical world; only the connection between the Hiddekel and the Tigris made any sort of geographical sense.
In no way could it be said that all four of these rivers rose in the same geographical region, a problem that was conveniently overlooked by theologians before the re-discovery of cartography in the sixteenth century. Other sources, particularly the Armenian Church, accepted the Euphrates and Tigris as two of the four rivers of paradise, yet chose to associate the other two, the Pishon and Gihon, with, respectively, the Greater Zab, which rises in Turkish Kurdistan and empties into the Tigris, and the Araxes, which rises in Armenia and empties into the Caspian Sea.
Had the Armenian Church been right to do this? Possibly yes, as they were the inhabitants of the geographical region in question and may well have been privy to local traditions unavailable to the outside theological world.
Whatever the identities of the four rivers of paradise, Kurdish tradition places their headwaters in the vicinity of Lake Van, an enormous inland sea – some 60 miles across and around 35 miles wide – situated on the border between Turkish Kurdistan and Armenia. Indeed, legend records that the Garden of Eden now lies ‘at the bottom of Lake Van’, after it was submerged beneath the waves at the time of the Great Flood.
The Heavenly Mountain
There is much more, however, for it is not just the Iranian and Jewish races that cite Kurdistan as the cradle of civilisation. The mythologies of both the Sumerians, who ruled the various Mesopotamian city-states from around 3000 BC onwards, and their eventual conquerors, the Akkadians, placed the homeland of the gods in this exact same region. The Akkadians originated as a Semitic, or proto-Hebrew, race of uncertain origin, and in their religious literature this heavenly abode is referred to asKharsag Khurra, the heavenly mountain. Here the gods, also known as the Anannage, lived in a paradisical realm with gardens, orchards, temples and irrigated fields that not only resemble the Seven Heavens described in the Book of Enoch, but is actually referred to on more than one occasion as edin, the Akkadian for ‘steppe’ or ‘plateau’.
Even further linking Kharsag with the Jewish domain of angels is the knowledge that the Anannage, like the Enochian Watchers, were governed by a council of seven. These undoubtedly equate with the seven archangels of post-exilic Judaism as well as the six so-called Amesha Spentas, or ‘bounteous spirits’, who with the supreme god Ahura Mazda, preside over the angelic hierarchies in Iranian tradition.
Were the Anannage, the gods and goddesses of Kharsag, simply another form of the Watchers of Enochian and Dead Sea literature, whose homeland was a lofty agricultural settlement called Eden or heaven, located somewhere amid the mountains of Kurdistan?
The Search for Dilmun
Kharsag is not the only name used by the ancient Mesopotamians to refer to their place of first beginnings. This cradle of civilisation was also known by the name Dilmun, or Tilmun. Here, it was said, the god Ea and his wife were placed to institute “a sinless age of complete happiness”. Here too animals lived in peace and harmony, man had no rival and the god Enlil “in one tongue gave praise”. It is also described as a pure, clean and “bright” “abode of the immortals” where death, disease and sorrow are unknown and some mortals have been given “life like a god”, words reminiscent of the Airyana Vaejah, the realm of the immortals in Iranian myth and legend, and the Eden of Hebraic tradition.
Although Dilmun is equated by most scholars with the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, there is evidence to suggest that a much earlier mythical Dilmun was located in a mountainous region beyond the plains of Sumer. But where exactly was it located?
Mesopotamian inscriptions do not say; however, the Zoroastrian Bundahishn text and the Christian records of Arbela in Iraqi Kurdistan both refer to a location named Dilamân as having existed around the headwaters of the Tigris, south-west of Lake Van – the very area in which the biblical Eden is said to have been located.
Furthermore, Ea (the Akkadian Enki) was said to have presided over the concourse of Mesopotamia’s two greatest rivers – the Tigris and Euphrates – which are shown in depictions as flowing from each of his shoulders. This would have undoubtedly have meant that the head-waters, or sources, of these rivers would have been looked upon as sacred to Ea by the cultures of Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent.
More curious is the knowledge that, as in Hebrew and Iranian myth, there would appear to have been a fall of the gods of Anu, the Anannage. Whilst 300 of their number remained in heaven, some 600 others, under the leadership of Nergal, god of the underworld, settled among mortal kind. Here they provided mankind with everything from basic agriculture, to astronomy, land irrigation, building technology and structured society.
These rebel Anannage lived “in the earth”, a reference to an “underworld” realm connected with the ancient city of Kutha, north of Babylon. In this “House of Darkness” lived “demons” and Edimmu, giant blood-sucking vampires who would return to the surface world after dark to steal the souls of the undead.
Could these infernal beings be a distorted memory of the rebel Watchers and their monstrous offspring, the Nephilim? Might these fallen angels have lived in underground cities after their descent on to the plains?
The Bodies of Birds
Ancient Mesopotamia fathered whole pantheons of devils and demons – each class having its own appearance, functions and attributes. Some were beneficial to mankind, while others caused only pain, suffering and torment in the mortal world.
In the story of the goddess Ishtar’s descent to the underworld, preserved in Assyrio-Babylonian tradition, the “chiefs” of the “House of Darkness” were said to have been “like birds covered with feathers”, who “from the days of old ruled the earth, (and) to whom the gods Anu and Bel have given terrible names”. In one cuneiform tablet written in the city of Kutha by a scribe “in the temple of Sitlam, in the sanctuary of Nergal” it describes the incursions into Mesopotamia of a race of demons, fostered by the gods in some nether region. They are said to have waged war on an unnamed king for three consecutive years and to have had the appearance of:
Men with the bodies of birds of the desert, human beings with the faces of ravens,
these the great gods created,
and in the earth the gods created for them a
in the midst of the earth they grew up and became great, and increased in number,
Seven kings, brothers of the same family,
six thousand in number were their people.
These “men with the bodies of birds” were looked upon as “demons”. They would appear only once a storm-cloud had consumed the deserts and would slaughter those whom they took captive, before returning to some inaccessible region for another year.
There seems every reason to suggest that these fierce “demons” were not incorporeal spirits at all, but beings of flesh and blood adorned in cloaks of feathers and bird paraphernalia.
But who were these human demons, and how did they relate to the development of civilisation in Mesopotamia?
The Sumerians were a unique people with their own language and culture. Nobody knows their true origin or where exactly they may have obtained the seeds of knowledge that helped establish the various city-states during the fourth millennium BC. Yet the Sumerians themselves were quite explicit on this point. They said their entire culture had been inherited from the Anannage, the gods of Anu, who had come from an ancestral homeland in the mountains. To emphasise this point they used an ideogram of a mountain to denote “the country”, i.e. Sumer, and built seven-tiered ziggurats in honour of these founder gods.
Was it possible therefore that the proposed Watcher culture of Kurdistan provided the impetus for the rise of western civilisation?
Archaeologists have no problem accepting Kurdistan as the cradle of Near Eastern civilisation. Shortly after the recession of the last Ice Age, c.8500 BC, there emerged in this region some of the earliest examples of agriculture, animal domestication, baked and painted pottery, metallurgy and worked obsidian tools and utensils. Curiously enough, from c.5750 BC onwards for several hundred years the trade in raw and worked obsidian throughout Kurdistan seems to have been centred around an extinct volcano named Nemrut Dag on the south-western shores of Lake Van, the very area in which both the mythical lands of Eden and Dilmun are likely to have been located.
Kurdistan was undoubtedly the point of origin of the so-called Neolithic explosion from the ninth millennium BC onwards. Indeed, it is because of this settled community lifestyle in Kurdistan that the earliest known form of token bartering developed. This primitive method of exchange eventually led to the establishment of the first written alphabet and ideogram system on the Mesopotamian plains sometime during the fourth millennium BC. It is therefore understandable that civilisation first arose in the Fertile Crescent during this same age. From here, of course, it quickly spread to many other regions of the Old World.
In the light of this information it appears that the evolution of the Middle East seems cut and dry, the actions of a few sophisticated protoneolithic farming communities located in the mountains and foothills of Kurdistan being responsible for the growth of civilised society. Yet what caused this so-called ‘neolithic explosion’, and why on earth did it start in this remote, and very mountainous, region? Something was missing, for as Mehrdad R. Izady, a noted scholar of Kurdish cultural history, has observed:
The inhabitants of this land went through an unexplained stage of accelerated technological evolution, prompted by yet uncertain forces. They rather quickly pulled ahead of their surrounding communities, the majority of which were also among the most advanced technological societies in the world, to embark on the transformation from a low-density, hunter-gatherer economy to a high-density, food producing economy.
What might these “yet uncertain forces” have been? Were they the Watchers, who were said to have provided mankind with the forbidden arts and sciences of heaven? If so, was I overlooking important evidence already unearthed by the spades of palaeontologists and archaeologists that might support such a wild hypothesis?
Turning to the archaeological reports and transactions on excavations in Kurdistan, I searched long and hard. What I found astounded me. For instance, in the late 1950s Ralph and Rose Solecki, two noted anthropologists, were uncovering the different occupational levels inside a huge cave overlooking the Greater Zab river at a site known as Zawi Chemi Shanidar, when they made a discovery of incredible significance to this debate. They unearthed a number of goat skulls placed alongside a collection of wing bones belonging to large predatory birds. All of the wings had been hacked from the bodies of the birds in question, while many had still been in articulation when found. Carbon 14 dating of the organic deposits associated with these remains indicated a date of 10,870 years (+/-300 years), that is 8870 BC.
The bird wings were subsequently identified as those of four Gyptaeus barbatus (the bearded vulture), one Gyps fulvus (the griffon vulture), seven Haliaetus albicilla (the white-tailed sea eagle) and one Otis tarda (the great bustard) – only the last of which is still indigenous to the region. There were also the bones of four small eagles of indeterminable species. All except for the great bustard were raptorial birds, while the vultures were quite obviously eaters of carrion.
The discovery of these severed bird wings had posed obvious problems for the Soleckis. Why had only certain types of birds been selected for this purpose, and what exactly had been the role played by these enormous predatory birds in the minds of those who had placed them within the Shanidar cave?
In an important article entitled ‘Predatory Bird Rituals at Zawi Chemi Shanidar’, published by the journal Sumer in 1977, Rose Solecki outlined the discovery of the goat skulls and bird remains. She suggested that the wings had almost certainly been utilised as part of some kind of ritualistic costume, worn either for personal decoration or for ceremonial purposes. She linked them with the vulture shamanism of Çatal Hüyük, a protoneolithic community in central Anatolia (Turkey), which reached its zenith a full 2000 years after these bird’s wings had been deposited 565 miles away in the Shanidar cave. Rose Solecki recognised the enormous significance of these finds, and realised that they constituted firm evidence for the presence of an important religious cult in the Zawi Chemi Shanidar area, for as she had concluded in her article:
The Zawi Chemi people must have endowed these great raptorial birds with special powers, and the faunal remains we have described for the site must represent special ritual paraphernalia. Certainly, the remains represent a concerted effort by a goodly number of people just to hunt down and capture such a large number of birds and goats… (Furthermore, that) either the wings were saved to pluck out the feathers, or that wing fans were made, or that they were used as part of a costume for a ritual. One of the murals from a Çatal Hüyük shrine… depicts just such a ritual scene; i.e., a human figure dressed in a vulture skin…
Here was extraordinary evidence for the existence of vulture shamans in the highlands of Kurdistan c.8870 BC! What’s more, all this was happening just 140 miles south-east of the suggested location for Eden and Dilmun on Lake Van at a time when the highland peoples of Kurdistan were changing from primitive hunter-gatherers to settled protoneolithic communities. Might these goats skulls and predatory bird remains have some connection with the “yet uncertain forces” behind the sudden Neolithic explosion in this region? Remember, I had already established that the Watchers wore coats of feathers, plausibly those of the crow or vulture.
My mind reeled with possibilities. What on earth had been going on in this cave overlooking the Greater Zab, which, of course, has been cited as one of the four rivers of paradise? Had it been visited by Watchers, human angels, in the ninth millennium BC? The presence of the predatory bird remains made complete sense, but what about the fifteen goat skulls – how might they have fitted into the picture?
The Pentateuch records how each year on the Day of Atonement a goat would be cast into the wilderness “for Azazel”, carrying on its back the sins of the Jewish people. Moreover, Azazel, one of the two leaders of the fallen angels, was said to have fostered a race of demons known as the seirim, or ‘he-goats’. They are mentioned several times in the Bible and were worshipped and adored by some Jews. There is even some indication that women actually copulated with these goat-demons, for it states in the Book of Leviticus: “And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the he-goats (seirim), after whom they go a whoring”, perhaps a distant echo of the way in which the Watchers had taken wives from among mortal kind. This clear relationship between the Watchers and he-goats is so strong that it led Hebrew scholar J.T. Milik to conclude that Azazel “was evidently not a simple he-goat, but a giant who combined goat-like characteristics with those of man”. In other words, he had been a goat-man – a goat shaman.
So it seemed that not only were the Watchers “bird-men”, vulture shamans indulging in otherworldly practices, but also goat shamans. It is bizarre to think that this association between Azazel and the goat was the impetus behind the goat becoming a symbol of the devil, as well as the reason why the world is so adverse to the inverted pentagram today.
Kurdish scholar Mehrdad Izady also sees the predatory bird remains of the Shanidar cave as evidence of a shamanistic culture whose memory influenced the development of angel lore. Kurdistan is home to three wholly indigenous angel-worshipping cults – the most notorious and enigmatic of these being the Yezidis of Iraqi Kurdistan. Their beliefs centre around a supreme being named Melek Taus, the ‘peacock angel’, who is venerated in the form of a strange bird icon known as a sanjaq. These statues, which sit on a metal column similar to a candlestick, are usually made of copper or brass. More curious is that the oldest known sanjaqs are clearly not peacocks at all, showing instead a bulbous avian body and head with a hooked nose. Izady has suggested that the sanjaq idols are more likely to be representations of a predatory bird like those apparently venerated by the shamans of Shanidar, in other words either the vulture, eagle or bustard.
The Jarmo People
All this was good news, for its helped vindicate the idea of an advanced culture existing in the mountains of Kurdistan at the point of inception of the Neolithic revolution. If it was these vulture shamans who had carried this superior knowledge to the gradually developing farming communities of the lower foothills, then perhaps they really were the truth behind the myth of the Watchers who imparted the heavenly sciences to mankind. There was, however, no description of these shamans beyond the appearance of their ceremonial garments. Did they in any way resemble the tall, white-skinned individuals with shining countenances and viper-like faces referred to in the Enochian and Dead Sea literature? Might there also be archaeological evidence for the former existence of a race bearing at least some of these distinctive features?
Indeed there is, for at a place called Jarmo, which overlooks the Lesser Zab river in Iraqi Kurdistan, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of an advanced protoneolithic community that thrived from around 6750 BC for up to 2000 years; indeed, the oldest known examples of primitive metallurgy have been found at Jarmo. More interesting is the knowledge that these people were a dab hand at producing small sculpted images in slightly-baked clay. Literally thousands of these figurines have been unearthed from the earliest occupational levels upwards. Most of them depict animals and birds. Some represent typically human heads, while others show a female figure, plausibly a representation of the Mother Goddess.
It almost appeared as if the Jarmo community enjoyed capturing images of the world around them, in much the same way that we take photographs today. Yet if this was the case, then how can we explain the presence among these small figurines of several anthropomorphic heads with elongated faces, slit eyes and clear ‘lizard’, or more correctly serpentine features? They are virtually inhuman in appearance and have more in common with bug-eyed aliens than abstract human forms.
Seeing pictures of these Jarmo heads sent a shiver down my spine, for the better examples bore striking similarities to the description of Watchers in Enochian and Dead Sea literature. Was it therefore possible that the neolithic people of Jarmo were depicting in partially abstract form the viper-like faces of the tall strangers in feather coats who would pay them uninvited visits? Was it these strangers who had provided communities like the one at Jarmo with the knowledge of metallurgy as well as the basic rudiments of agriculture?
We can only speculate, but it is worth pointing out that obsidian tools found at Jarmo are known to have been fashioned from raw material obtained from the base of Nemrut Dag on Lake Van. Did the Watchers deal in obsidian? Might these finely-worked tools be a sign of their presence among other similar-like communities of Kurdistan?
* * *
By 5500 BC the inhabitants of the Kurdish foothills were beginning to descend in great numbers on to the plains of Mesopotamia. It was around this date that Eridu (the biblical Erech), the Fertile Crescent’s first city, was established with its own temple complex that included an underground ritual pool.
Sometime around 5000 BC saw the arrival on to the northern plains of Mesopotamia of a new culture who are known today as the Ubaid (after Tell al’Ubaid, the mound-site where their presence was first detected during excavations by the eminent Near Eastern archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in 1922). They brought with them their own unique artistic style and funerary practices, including the habit of placing very strange anthropomorphic figurines in the graves of the dead. The statuettes were either male or female (although predominantly female), with slim, well-proportioned naked bodies, wide shoulders, and strange reptilian heads that scholars generally refer to as ‘lizard-like’ in appearance. They bear long, tapered faces like snouts, with wide, eye-slits – usually elliptical pellets of clay pinched to form what are known as ‘coffee-bean’ eyes – and a thick, dark plume of bitumen on their heads to represent a coil of erect hair (similar coils fashioned in clay appear on some of the heads found at Jarmo). All statuettes display either female pubic hair or male genitalia.
Each Ubaid figurine has it own unique pose. By far the strangest and most compelling shows a naked female holding a baby to her left breast. The infant’s left hand clings on to the breast, and there can be little doubt that it is suckling milk. It is a very touching image, although it bears one chilling feature – the child has long slanted eyes and the head of a reptile. This is highly significant, for it suggests that the baby was seen as having been born with these features. In other words, the ‘lizard-like’ heads of the figurines are not masks, or symbolic animalistic forms, but abstract images of an actual race believed by the Ubaid people to have possessed such reptilian qualities.
In the past these ‘lizard-like’ figurines have been identified by scholars as representations of the Mother Goddess – a totally erroneous assumption since some of them are obviously male – while ancient astronaut theorists such as Erich von Daniken have seen fit to identity them as images of alien entities. In my opinion, both explanations attempt to bracket the clay figurines into popular frameworks that are insufficient to explain their full symbolism. Furthermore, since most of the examples found were retrieved from graves, where they were often the only item of any importance, Sir Leonard Woolley concluded that they represented “chthonic deities” that is, underworld denizens connected in some way with the rites of the dead.
In addition to this realisation, it seems highly unlikely that they represent lizard-faced individuals, since lizards are not known to have had any special place in Near Eastern mythology. Much more likely is that the heads are those of serpents which are known to have been associated with Sumerian underworld deities such as Ningiszida, Lord of the Good Tree.
Since the heads of the Ubaid figurines appear to be styled on the much earlier examples found at Jarmo in the Kurdish mountains, were they highly abstract representations of viper-faced Watchers?
That these figurines were found specifically in grave sites suggests that they were connected with some kind of superstitious practice involving rites of the dead. What were the Ubaid attempting to achieve by placing such strange images alongside their deceased relatives? Were they trying to ensure the safe passage of the soul into the next world, or were they attempting to protect the corpse once the burial had taken place?
In later Babylonian tradition there was a true fear that if the dead were not interred in the correct manner, then their souls would be taken down into the underworld to become blood-sucking Edimmu. Is this what the Ubaid feared – that their departed would be made into vampires if the viper-faced Watchers were not appeased in the current manner? Did this include the burial of figurines bearing abstract features connected with their distorted memory of the fallen race?