BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.

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Pop quiz, Jeopardy style: the Instructions of Shuruppak and the Kesh temple hymn.

Pop quiz, Jeopardy style: the Instructions of Shuruppak and the Kesh temple hymn.

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Question: what is the oldest surviving literature in the world? The Instructions of Shuruppak and the Kesh temple hymn, sometimes called the Liturgy to Nintud, both date to roughly 2600 BCE Sumer. The first is Mesopotamian wisdom literature, while the second is a creation myth. They were dug out of the ruins of Abu Salabikh in modern–day Iraaq, along with some five hundred other clay tablets, in a series of archaeological surveys which -- due to current conditions -- have yet to resume. Who knows what else lies beneath the sands, waiting?

Bonus answer: the Maxims of Ptahhotep.

Question: what is the oldest work of literature which can be credited to a specific author? Written down sometime around 2350 BCE, the Maxims are Egyptian wisdom literature, passed down from grandfather to father to son. A few decades later, sometime around 2270 BCE, the royal priestess Enheduanna penned her hymns in honor of Inanna and other Mesopotamian deities, making her the oldest known woman author.

Think about what that means, what that *really* means: the oldest works of literature in the world were written by pagans. Polytheists. People who prayed to Goddesses and Gods, who made offerings to spirits of river and cave and sky, who honored their forefathers and foremothers.

Literature was born of and thrived in *pagan* civilizations. For thousands of years before the monotheistic traditions rose to dominance in the West, pagans told stories about the loves and miseries and adventures of the Gods and Goddess and heroes, prayed to those same Deities, composed poems in their honor, fashioned legal codes inspired by them, penned philosophical and scientific tracts examining the nature of Gods and men and creation. Stories like the Legend of Etana and the Pyramid Texts and the Code of Urukagina and the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Lament of Ur and the Story of Sinuhe and the Enuma Elish and the Code of Hammurabi and the Rg Veda and the Poor Man of Nippur and the Book of Going Forth by Day and the Tale of Two Brothers and the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and the Analects and Oedipus Rex and Tao Te Ching and On the Nature of Things and the Book of Han and The Golden Ass and .... Well, the list continues.

Most of that pagan literature – we will never really know how much – has been lo lost to time, neglect, greed, violence, and fanaticism. But some survived, and more is being rediscovered every day. And even more literature – and this is the bit that makes me giddy with glee – is being written today.

The Pagans of the contemporary world, in addition to rediscovering the Gods and heroes of old, are also *writing* for those Gods and heroes. They are penning poems and plays and comedies, mysteries and romances and science fiction epics, devotionals and theological tracts and philosophical treatises, graphic novels and children's books, new myths and reimaginings of old myths.

And it is to the (re)discovery of pagan and Pagan literature, ancient and modern, that BookMusings is dedicated. In the weeks ahead, we will be looking at modern Pagan publishers; modern Pagan authors; Pagan–friendly science fiction, fantasyy, romance, mystery, and other genres; children's books; graphic novels; dictionaries and encyclopedias; texts on magic and ritual; art history books and history books and poetry collections. We will also be highlighting ancient works – some widely known, some loved by only a few – which sh serve as inspiration for so many contemporary authors.

Oh, and yes, if you have  any suggestions for authors or works which should be profiled in BookMusings, send `em my way!

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Friday, 20 July 2012

    Marvelous, Rebecca! Be sure to remember the Canaanite writings from 1200 BCE in Ugarit. ;)

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Saturday, 21 July 2012

    Oh! More info, please. :) Do you have specific titles or a book I can track down?

  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Friday, 27 July 2012

    Absolutely. Check out Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, edited by Simon B. Parker; Canaanite Myths and Legends by JCL Gibson; and Ritual and Cult at Ugarit by Dennis Pardee; for starters. I have some issues with Parker's compendium, but nothing that couldn't be cleared up by a perusing of The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth by Neal H. Walls. If you feel like diving into Ugaritica headfirst, I would suggest Mark S. Smith's The Ugaritic Baal Cycle--there are two volumes.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 27 July 2012

    Walls' book on Anat has been on my wish list for several years -- but I have not been able to find an affordable copy. :( I will add the others to my ever growing To Read list. *sigh*

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