Art, Spirit, and Wonder: Finding the Sacred Through Art​

Art History tells the story of humanity. Here we'll look at how Paganism has been viewed in art through the ages; into the ancient past, the Renaissance and other eras, and how artists are exploring Paganism today.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

ISIL, Inanna, and the Lamassu

Recent events in the Near East have turned my attention to Mesopotamia and the horrific destruction of artifacts from its civilizations by the organization known as ISIL, or the Islamic State. (I will use ISIL instead of ISIS, hopefully for reasons that will be obvious to my fellow Neo-Pagans). In my last blog post, I discussed the damaging effect a symbol can have on a population vis a vis the Confederate flag. Today, I am going to discuss the beautiful and mysterious art of ancient Mesopotamia, and what its destruction means to people living today. With the destruction of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts, ISIL believes they are shutting down previous history and replacing it with their vision of how the world must be.

The civilization of ancient Mesopotamia is one of the oldest in the world. Art in the Mesopotamian region stretches back to the end of the Neolithic period, around  4500 – 4000 BCE.. Mesopotamia lies in what is modern day Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Its very name means “the land between the rivers.” This particular area of land came to be known as “The Fertile Crescent,” has been credited as the birthplace of writing and literature, and has also been the site of many conflicts and conquests for thousands of years. The ancient Mesopotamians built temples with their corners aligned to the cardinal points of the compass, created the potter’s wheel, and refined tool making from stone to metal.

The images and films I have seen online of ISIL taking hammers and other blunt force instruments to the Lamassu at the Mosul Museum broke my heart. The Lamassu are winged bulls with human heads and elaborate beards often depicted on entry ways of palaces and city gates. They were meant to be protective deities and appear in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Their images were also engraved on tablets and placed in the entry ways of household doors as a means of home protection for common people. It is interesting to note that the Assyrians did not produce many pieces of fully three-dimensional arts, seeming to prefer the bas-relief for palace, temple, and home decoration. The Lamassu must have been considered very important beings. Watching ISIL destroy these beautiful creatures is almost enough to make me turn away from watching the news altogether. Almost.

What can we do or say when we are faced with such intolerance and hatred? How can we fight modern day destroyers of ancient culture?

One consolation we have is that many of Mesopotamia’s treasures can be viewed in museums outside of Iran and Iraq. The art we have seen being destroyed on video is at the Mosul Museum in Iran. We can visit these museums and still enjoy original art from Mesopotamia away from the destruction of ISIL. Interestingly, one artist has found a unique method of preserving the art destroyed through using a 3D printer.

UNESCO has declared ISIL’s actions as war crimes. That is a positive move, but what can we do to battle ISIL and prevent new attacks on ancient monuments? The people of the city of Timbuktu are one example of how a population can protect its treasures. When ISIL threatened destruction of Timbuktu’s many public and private libraries last year, individuals smuggled most of the precious manuscripts out of the country before they could be destroyed – often driving them out of Mali in their own vehicles. That is well and good for portable items like books, but what about entire ancient cities? How do we resist an army bent on destruction? The situation can lead one to despair, as we wait for the global community to act before these atrocities occur, however there are some individuals who are working on the problem.

Both books and artifacts can be preserved digitally through the use of organizations like the Google Cultural Institute. San Francisco artist Morehshin Allahyari has begun creating files of the artifacts  destroyed in Mosul in order for them to be able to be printed out on 3D printers. She states that this is an effort to “resist that removing or re-writing of history that ISIS wants to do.” She will make the files available online for anyone to access and reproduce. Digital efforts will not restore the originals but they can demonstrate that they will not be gone and forgotten forever.

The Goddess Inanna is one of the most important deities in the Mesopotamian pantheon (She became known as Ishtar during the Akkadian period (2300 – 2100 BC). Like Egyptian Isis, she is a very complex deity, whose roles shifted and expanded during the time of the Mesopotamian civilization. Inanna’s roles include that of the coy seductress, the devoted wife, and the Goddess of War. The lion, along with the star were her symbols. I wrote this prayer in her honor, my own small contribution to turning the tide.

Oh Inanna, Great Ancient Goddess

So long ago you were worshipped.

Do you hear the call of your followers in these times of despair?

Please tell me you are not so far removed to hear my cry.

Your great ancient cities, Nimrud, Hatra, Mosul

Suffer destruction at the hands of those who would remove your name

From all places and all times forever.

Inanna, also known as Ishtar,

Call forth the Lammassu, those ancient guardians

Guard and protect your cities and those who love them.

All things die in time.

Here on earth we are human.

Here on earth we battle.

Here on earth we die.

Your great cities stood as reminders of who we once were

And of who we might be again.

We remember, we who live in dusty books

We who create our own shrines

Let all remember you.

Shine the light of your star on the plans of those who hate

Shine the light of your star on ways we may resist

Shine the light of your star so that we may remember

Let the light of your star bring justice

Bring justice

Bring peace

Bring wisdom.

Let not your name and your people be removed from this earth.

For you ancient one, are far more powerful.

 

References:

Ben Valentine. (2015). Isis Vs. 3D Printing. Retrieved from: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/isis-vs-3d-printing on July 17, 2015

Thiago Velozo and Lucas Bento, (2015). ISIS Is Destroying Priceless Artifacts. Here's How to Stop Them. Retrieved from: http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/isis-is-destroying-priceless-artifacts-heres-how-to-stop-them/ on July 17, 2015.

 

Last modified on
Helena Domenic has been an art history nerd for her entire life, having toured the Sistine Chapel at the age of eighteen months. She never quite recovered from that experience (thankfully) and has been seeking out the sacred and profane in art ever since. She's even a real-life art history professor at a Pennsylvania university. She is also a Tarot nerd, having created her own Tarot deck, the Fellowship of the Fool.

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 17 July 2015

    Thank you, I have a copy of Myths from Mesopotamia by Stephanie Dalley but thus far no guided imagery or pathworkings for dealing with the situation in the middle east have sprung to mind. If you should come up with one or three pathworking or guided imagery ideas for coping with the spiritual side of the ISIL situation I hope you will share them.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information