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Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

17 December 2015

Christmas card advice

The Grammarly Website (https://www.grammarly.com/grammar-check) offers the following advice for choosing whom to send holiday cards to. (If you're my age, I apologize for the almost unreadably small type. This is the largest I could make the graphic.)




07 December 2015

Season's readings holiday hop


I'm taking part in another blog hop. This one starts today and lasts one week. It promotes Mocha Memoirs Press' new holiday releases as well as some of its backlist. 

There's a list of participating blogs below as well as a Rafflecopter whose prizes include ebooks, gift cards, and swag.

But first, my own blog-hop post on the most important holiday in ancient Mesopotamia . . . one that celebrated barley and continues to be celebrated by millions of people to this day.

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The Akītu festival of Mesopotamia 

Barley, Hordeum vulgare vulgare [public domain]
Behold a founder of civilization: Barley! 

Barley, a wild grass, was harvested in the Fertile Crescent to make beer perhaps 11,000 years ago. People then discovered how to make bread. Over time, people began planting barley in fields to have a more reliable source. Once they had control over the growth of barley, they selected for several traits that made the barley plant produce more barley. Eventually, most people of the Fertile Crescent settled down in villages near their barley fields.

In Mesopotamia, barley beer and barley bread were daily staples. The earliest written records that mention the barley (akītu) festival date to the mid-2000s B.C.E. The festival celebrated the sowing of summer crops and the harvest of winter crops. However, only a small percentage of the documents created before then survive and have been translated. The akītu festival could have been millennia old by then.

The barley festival outshone all the other festivals and marked the New Year. The festival was celebrated around the spring equinox and was called akītu (in Sumerian and Akkadian) or reš šattim (in late Akkadian dialects). 

Some Sumerian cities, such as Ur and Uruk, celebrated akītu at both the spring equinox and the fall equinox. Over time, the festival evolved, taking on additional meanings and adding new rituals. 

By the time of the Babylonians and the Assyrians, the spring and fall akītus, respectively, had become a complex and lavish 12-day extravaganza. Among many, many other events, the akītu now included feasts; dances; singing (both solemn hymns and bawdy songs); performances that included recitation of a creation epic and re-enactments of myths; religious rites; sacrifices; the humbling and penitence of the naked king followed by his crowning or re-crowning; and a procession in which the statue of the main god [Tammuz (or later Marduk) for the Babylonians and Ashur for the Assyrians] left his temple to face danger each year and conquer it, returning in a triumphant parade. Meanwhile, statues of lesser gods processed in new clothes to the temple of the main god to honor him.

An aurochs, one of many beautiful reliefs in glazed brick that once made the Ishtar Gate (constructed about 575 B.C.E.) in Babylon one of the Seven Wonders of the World. During akītu, statues of deities were paraded through this gate and down a long avenue decorated with glazed bricks to the  temple of Marduk.  [Credit: Josep Renalias, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]
The Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered Babylonia in 539 B.C.E. This conquest was not the end of the akītu festival, but rather the beginning of its expansion around the world.

The Persians either adopted akītu from the Babylonians or enhanced their own existing spring festival with elements of akītu, such as the ritual "sacred marriage" between the king and a goddess (represented by either a priestess or a statue of the goddess). 

This Persian New Year festival later also integrated aspects of Zoroastrianism. It still exists under a couple dozen names (including Newruz, NuRoz, Noruz, and Nowruz) and is celebrated in many countries as well as by the Parsi of India, some ethnic groups in China, and members of the Bahá'í faith. The god(s) honored by the festival, of course, have changed over the centuries, and in some places it is now a secular festival.
Novruz feast in Azerbaijan [Credit: Азербайджан-е-Джануби; used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 Internationallicense]
Cyrus the Great also liberated the Jews who were being held captive in Babylonia. Some Jews took aspects of Mesopotamian culture back to Israel, including akītu, which gradually evolved into the New Year festival Rosh Hashanah

Shofar made from a ram's horn. The shofar is blown before and during Rosh Hashanah, which today lasts one or two days and focuses more on penitence than on singing and performances. [Credit: Olve Utne; used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.]
Other Jews moved to northern Iraq and Syria, taking akītu with them. It became the Kurdish Jewish festival of Seharane, which survived intact until the 1950s.

In the first to third centuries C.E., several peoples of northern Mesopotamia and nearby areas converted to Christianity. Since then, these groups have been subject to persecution and even many massacres. Over the centuries, many fled to other countries and now spread around the world. Massacres continue to occur in the 21st century. The most recent one took place in 2014 in northern Iraq, when terrorists belonging to Daesh attacked towns of Christianized Mesopotamians.  

As many as 400,000 "Assyrians," as the supposed descendants of the Mesopotamians who converted to Christianity are often called, live in the United States today, with 5,000 in Chicago alone. 

Other names, such as Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Arameans, reflect differences in believed ancestral place of origin, the variant of Christianity they belong to, the language or dialect they speak, and other factors. The names and origins of the "Assyrians" are controversial, even among the groups themselves. If you have friends who trace their ancestry back to Mesopotamia, don't automatically assume they consider themselves Assyrians; they may, for example, be proud Chaldeans.

Despite the cultural differences that accrued over hundreds of years of Assyrian diaspora, despite the need for the Assyrians to sometimes hide their identity, the akītu survived. Many Assyrians today celebrate the spring akītu on April 1. It has developed several other names including Resha d-Sheta (which is pronounced much like its ancient Akkadian name, reš šattim), Kha b' Nisan, and Ha b' Nison. 

Wild barley still grows across a wide swath of northern Africa, southern Europe, and Asia. Genetic studies show that, like the akītu festival that celebrates it, cultivated barley has changed but remains recognizably like its ancestors of 5,000 years ago.  

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a Rafflecopter giveaway


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The stories and books that Mocha Memoirs Press is promoting are:
 “Under theMistletoe” by Siobhan Kinkade
“Holly and Ivy” by Selah Janel
Mistletoe Dreams bundle containing three stories: 
—"A Trick of Frost" by Dréa Riley and RaeLynn Blue
—"Naughty Klauses" by Dréa Riley
—"Winter’s Guard" by Laurel Cremant

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Other blogs taking part and offering holiday-themed posts—maybe a favorite recipe, a top-ten list, a flash story, or an essay about a holiday or a holiday symbol—are listed below. Click on each name to go to the linked post.





21 November 2015

Fun holiday presents that do good!

Yesterday I realized I still needed to get a few presents and was scouring the Web for ideas. 

I allow browsers to track where I go, and as a result, I get ads tailored (usually) to my interests. An ad for The Elephant Pants company popped up, and I realized that one can support a charity and get an unusual, personal gift that the recipient will certainly not receive ten others just like it.

My charitable interests are feeding and housing people, feeding and housing animals, protecting endangered animals, and supporting musicians and writers. The presents ideas below reflect these interests. 


The Elephant Pants company donates a part of the proceeds from its harem pants (for women and kids for everyday wear and suitable for men to wear for yoga or as loungewear or pajamas), tops, leggings, and other elephant-themed products to the African Wildlife Foundation, which supports park rangers who protect elephants from poachers.
https://www.theelephantpants.com/



Bat Conservation International helps to conserve bats and their ecosystems and provides information to the public about bats. Its gift shop, Batgoods.com, has a wide range of products in a wide range of prices—including books, bat houses, jewelry, mugs, prints, Christmas ornaments, plush toys, socks (see one set at top), ties, and even carvings and antiques—good for gifting.
http://www.batgoods.com/shop/ 


The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is dedicated to saving the Chesapeake Bay through educationadvocacylitigation, and restoration. Its small gift shop has clothes, tote bags, and other items with the foundation's logo.
https://www.cbfshop.com/


Habitat for Humanity works worldwide, bringing volunteers together to build homes for low-income people and to revitalize neighborhoods. They also provide shelter for people who've lost homes to natural disasters. Its gift shop sells branded merchandise such as stadium chairs, tents, food, golf items, clothes, tools, and books.
http://www.thehabitatstore.org/


The Awkward Robots, otherwise known as the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop class of 2012, produces an e-book anthology of short stories each year, with the proceeds going to the Clarion Workshop, which has a six-week summer workshop each year to advance the writing careers of 18 people. You can donate as much or as little as you wish for this year's anthology (minimum for last year's, though, is $3) and then download the volume in the format of your giftee's e-reader and email it to them.
The Red Volume (the 2014 anthology) is here
The Orange Volume (the 2015 anthology) is here. Please keep reading before ordering! From 23 to 30 November, people who donate at least $30 for The Orange Volume may receive unusual and valuable prizes. For more information on prizes and rules, go here.

Don't like my charities? It's easy to find your own. Have you, like me, already received a couple dozen beautiful calendars from charities you donated to and related charities they shared their mailing list with? Rather than letting the calendars you can't use go to waste, you can give them as gifts. Children may especially like the large, gorgeous pictures.

Also think about the museums, parks, and other public services near you that you support. Some may have gift shops, possibly with locally produced gifts. 

If you want to vet a large charity first, try http://www.give.org/ (run by the Better Business Bureau) or https://www.charitywatch.org/top-rated-charities (run by the American Institute of Philanthropy), or do a Google search to find more vetting organizations.



16 November 2015

New interview with me

I was interviewed at the blog "CT Commie Tiger Mommy" (subtitled "America's most Irish author to come out of Eastern Europe"), and was asked some interesting questions. If you're interested in reading this post, which is not too long, please visit:
http://ctcommie.blogspot.com/2015/11/mesopotamia-in-historical-fiction.html


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In other news, I spent the first weekend in November at the World Fantasy Con, a convention of writers and fans of fantasy, in Saratoga Springs, New York (which I pronounced as "Sarasota" the whole weekend, and no one corrected me). It was a hard place to get to, and the hotel was not fully accessible (and one of the guests of honor was in a wheelchair!), but I think it would be a wonderful city to vacation in in the summer. 


Former horse-drawn fire-wagon house across the street from the hotel
The downtown still has beautiful old houses and commercial buildings, many repurposed, and there were many restaurants and indie bookstores within walking distance, as well as the usual charming little shops found in most tourist destinations. 


Shauna; Ruby Katigbak
At the con, I got to meet many friends I had known previously only from email or Facebook, as well as renew acquaintances with people I hadn't seen since a previous con. 

I sat on a panel about what effect, if any, recent anthropology and archaeology discoveries have had on fantasy fiction. I went to hear friends and favorite authors read from upcoming books and attended parties. 

And of course, I always look forward to the bag of free books—lighter this year than usual, but I bought more books from the small presses in the exhibit room.

Next year, WFC will be in Columbus, Ohio, which is far easier and cheaper to get to (although as a large city, Columbus has fewer things within walking distance of the hotel). It will take place at the end of October 2016. If you think you may be interested in attending, basic information is at http://worldfantasy2016.org/, and more will be added as time goes on. You can see the type of programming that goes on at http://www.wfc2015.org/program01.html, this year's formal program.



25 October 2015

Moon gods of ancient Mesopotamia


http://broaduniverse.org/blog/2015/10/25/full-moon-blog-tour/

This post, part of the Broad Universe Full Moon Blog Tour, is lo-o-o-ng, so here's a roadmap. First comes my moon-related post with many illustrations. Then comes the Rafflecopter for the blog tour and a list of other blogs participating in the blog tour, where you can enter other contests. Then comes my own contest. 

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The myths, legends, and temple and government records of ancient Mesopotamia list thousands of gods and goddesses, demons and protective spirits, and supernatural monsters. Only a few—depending on the text, 60 at most—were considered major gods.

The moon god was one of these major gods, and I’ll call him Nanna/Sin. For him and all gods, I list the Sumerian name first followed by a slash and the Akkadian (Semitic) name of the god with whom the Sumerian god became syncretized. 

Even if you don't know the term "syncretization," you probably are familiar with examples of it. Early Christianity encouraged conversions by absorbing pagan solstice and equinox holidays and their symbols into Christian festivals, most notably Christmas and Easter; New Orleans Voodoo combines Catholicism and traditional West African faiths by making correspondences between them so that, for example, Legba and his symbols are equated with St. Peter and his.

Like baseball players, the ancient Mesopotamia gods had stats. Here are the stats for Nanna/Sin:


Names: Nanna, Nannar (Sumerian); Su’en (Akkadian), which eventually morphed into Sîn; Dilimbabbar (Akkadian for “the luminous,” used in literary texts)

Number: 30

Symbols: crescent moon, bull, tripod; cowherd; things shaped like the crescent moon such as the horns of a bull and a boat

In this cylinder seal impression, Nanna/Sin, in the guise of the crescent moon, watches a goddess lead a new governor to his king, probably Ur-Nammu. When  in this position, the moon looks like a Mesopotamian boat and like bull horns. [public domain]
Distinguishing traits: beard of lapis lazuli, flowing beard, old age

Duties: with his parents, paternal grandparents, and children, he is one of the "Seven Who Decide the Fates"; every month, during the new moon, Nanna/Sin goes to the Underworld to decide the fates of the dead 

Patronage: astronomy, astrology, fertility of animals, divination

Cities whose patron he was: Ur, Harran (see map below for their locations), Ga’eš (a suburb of Ur), Urum

Map of modern Mesopotamia with some ancient cities shown. [Map created for public use by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Additions and color by Shauna Roberts. Links to all of the OI's Ancient Near East Site Maps can be found here.]

Major temples: É-kišnugal (“house of the great light”) in Ur; É-húl-húl (“house of rejoicing”) in Harran

The ziggarat of the É-kišnugal temple complex in Ur showing partial restoration of the façade by Saddam Hussein. The ziggarat was started by Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, after his accession in 2047 B.C.E. and finished by his son King Shulgi. The ziggarat fell into ruin over time, and Nabonidus, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, rebuilt it in the 6th century B.C.E. [public domain]
Major epithets (nicknames): Lord of Wisdom; The Luminous; Young Calf of Enlil; Boat; “Diviner of Fates” 

A few other epithets: Frisky Calf of Enlil; The Light of the Land; The Lord Who Alone Is the Rising God; Great Lion of Heaven and Earth; The Wise One on High Who Reaches the Decisions; Lord of Ur; Chief Son of Enlil

Wife: Ningal/— (goddess of dream interpretation)

Father: Enlil/Ellil (“Lord Air”; he probably was originally a weather god)

Mother: Ninlil (Sud)/— (“Lady Air”)

Children: Utu/Shamash (the sun god); Inanna/Ištar (goddess of sex, war, and the “star” Venus)


Stele of King Melishipak I (1186–1172 B.C.E.) shows the king presenting his daughter to Nanaya, an enigmatic goddess who has the same symbols, genealogy, and traits as Inanna/Ištar yet is distinguished from her. Of interest here are the symbols above the scene: Flanking the crescent moon of Nanna/Sin in the middle are (left) the star of his daughter, Inanna/Ištar, and (right) the sun of his son, Utu/Shamash. [public domain]

Many literary works talk about Nanna/Sin, often with his wife, Ningal. Their courtship and marriage was the subject of myth. Rather than paraphrase and

The hymn below praises the temple of Nanna/Sin in Ga’eš. This hymn is one of many honoring small Sumerian temples that Enheduanna, a high priestess of Nanna/Sin at Ur for decades, wrote to help syncretize the gods of Sumer with the gods of Sumer’s Akkadian conquerers—an early example of political propaganda.


Note: The translators use ellipses to mark sections where the cuneiform tablets were unreadable. I changed two transliterations and added two definitions. 
O shrine, great sanctuary founded at a cattle-pen, small shining city of Suen, Kar-zida [“Pure Quay,” the name of the temple at Ga’eš], your interior is a mighty place, your foundation is holy and clean. Shrine, your gipar [residence of the high priestess],  is founded in purity. Your door is of strong copper set up at a great place. Lowing cattle-pen, you raise your horns like a bull. Your prince, the lord of heaven standing in celebration, ...... at midday and ......, Dilimbabbar, has erected a house in your precinct, O Kar-zida, and taken his seat upon your dais. [source: Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/), Oxford 1998–. ] 
This hymn and all other known temple hymns written by high priestess Enheduanna can be found here

“A Cow of Sîn” is an incantation to help a woman give birth more easily. It’s known in several forms and depicts Nanna/Sin as a loving cowherd. Here is a translation of one variant:


[source: Veldhuis, Niek. Library of Oriental Texts: Volume 2: A Cow of Sîn. The Netherlands: Styx Publications, 1991. This publication can be found in its entirety here.]

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Below is the Broad Universe Rafflecopter entry form and links to other blogs in the blog tour. The winners for these prizes will be drawn on 10 November. After entering, keep scrolling down to find my own Rafflecopter giveaway of Ice Magic, Fire Magic swag.

a Rafflecopter giveaway





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In my contest, one person will win an Ice Magic, Fire Magic swag pack containing a tote bag, mousepad, notebook, bookmarks, pen, a 2016 calendar magnet, and (not shown) sticky notes and a $10 Amazon gift card. This contest also ends on 10 November.


The prize: Ice Magic, Fire Magic swag pack.

a Rafflecopter giveaway