The text on this page is used with permission from Oxford University Press from A Dictionary of World Mythology by Arthur Cotterell.
- Son of Ea and Sumerian King of Eridu. He was regarded as the first man,
sage but not immortal. His role in Akkadian mythology is comparable to
that of Adam (naming beasts and fowl). The only difference is that he is
credited with inventing language as well.
Myth: On a fishing expedition in the Persian Gulf, Adapa was buffeted by the South wind. Adapa's curse, however, was so strong that is was able to break the wings of the South Wind. When Anu summoned Adapa to heaven because of his actions, Ea dressed Adapa in a sackcloth and asked him to refuse any food offered to him. He was greeted by Tammuz and he informed the dying god that he missed his absence from earth, a sentiment that was well received. His frank admission of guilt appeased Anu and he was offered the 'food of life' and the 'water of life' which he declined, following his fathers advice. He then returned to Eridu where he realized that his father had told him not to accept the food only to deny him immortality. He then realized that disease and death would be the lot of mankind
Adonis - Adon means lord in Canaanite and Adonis is derived from that. The Greeks adopted a fertility cult associated with Adonis who was killed by a wild boar, a holy animal for the Syrians. His most important temples were at Byblos and Paphos. In Babylon, the temple of Astarte celebrated the death and resurrection of Adonis. His reappearance was marked by the blooming of the red anemone.
Ahriman - Principle evil in Persian mythology. As Angra Mainya, Ahriman first introduced death into the world. He led the forces of evil against good. These two, Ahriman and Ahura Mazdah, follow classic mythological "guidelines," so to speak. They are good vs. evil and to choose the righteous path leads to 'meet the wise lord'.
Myth: These two forces were always in battle. Ahura Mazdah told Zoroaster that Angra Mainya had upset his plans to make Persia into a terrestrial paradise. Angra Mainya took pleasure in 'choosing to do the worst things'. To thwart Ahura Mazdah he introduced frost in winter, heat in summer, all manner of diseases and many other ills that man had to endure. He also created the Dragon Azhi Dahaka who brought destruction to the earth.
Ahura Mazdah - Originally Ahura, 'the lord' he may have been connected to Mithra, the ruler of the day. He was elevated to the position of the Supreme Being by the prophet Zoroaster and acquired the epithet Mazdah or 'wise'. He bestowed fire as a symbol of truth upon his followers. Light or fire was opposed to darkness and represented truthfulness and righteousness, asha.
Myth: Azhi Dahaka has usurped the earthly throne. The three-headed dragon's need has caused 'need and misery, hunger and thirst, old age and death, mourning and lamentation, excessive heat and cold, the intermingling of demons and men'. Atar, Ahura Mazdah's son, overcame the dragon that was consigned to the bottom of a deep ocean. The Dragon, however, was destined to escape and destroy a third mankind before he was slain. The divine fire was the symbol of Ahura Mazdah.
Alilat - Arabian mother goddess, a deity created under significant Assirian and Babylonian influence. Historians have recorded that Nabateans revered a four-sided stone known as allat or alilat. These stones were often a feature of the nomadic people of West Asia.
Amun - An Egyptian ram-headed god. Amun was often shown as a bearded man wearing a cap with two tall plumes. Amun is a Tehran Sky God whose power was greatest when the Egyptians expelled the Hyssops and extended their boundaries to Canaan. Amun soon grew to be associated with Re. As a dynastic guardian, Amun-Re was King of the Gods, present in the ruling pharaoh. He was looked upon as one of the creators of the universe and was sought for his known generosity. To the Greeks, he was identified with Zeus and was famous for his Oracle at Siwa in Libya.
An - The personification of Heaven in Sumerian Mythology. He was personified as a human, unlike Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, he remained a shadowy figure, the survivor of a creation myth. He was the father of Enlil and was known as Anu is the Assiryo-Babylonian pantheon. He retired into background before the active gods. His symbol was the star.
Anubis - The Jackal headed funerary god of Egypt was the chief deity on who mortuary prayers were to be made before the rise of his father, Osiris. He is considered the patron of embalming and the guardian of the tomb.
Ark - At Sainai Moses went up the mountain and Yahweh talked to him. However, after the making of the golden calves and the breaking of the first tablets of the law Moses was told by Yahweh to fashion an ark or chest in which to store the second tablets. The 'Ark of the Golden Covenant', was the symbol of the Hebrew belief in a special relationship with heaven and was on one occasion captured by the Philistines. However, they were obliged to return it, as the inhabitants of every city where the Ark appeared were smitten with plagues.
Ashur - The Assyrian God of war, he took over the roles of the Assyrian Gods Enlil and Marduk. He was portrayed as a winged disc enclosing a bow ready to let fire an arrow. His consort was Ishtar, who responded to the war-like temperament of her mate by sprouting a beer that grew to her breasts.
Astarte - The mother goddess in the Ras Shamra texts appears as Anat, Athirat and Athrat other than Astarte. The consort and sister of Baal, she was the most active Canaanite God. Through her flattery of El, Baal was allowed to build a house on Saphon, a mountain situated in 'the sides of the north'. Despite names like 'the maiden' and 'the virgin’, Astarte was most aggressive, slaying Baal's enemies and desiring to posses Aquhat's bow. She was adopted by Egypt as Hathor and the cow’s horns of Hathor have come to be a part of her iconography.
Attis - The son of Cybele, Attis was self-mutilated and self-resurrected.
Baal - Literal meaning: 'lord'. In Canaan the old title of local fertility Gods. Baal did not emerge as a distinct rain god till comparatively late times, when he appears to have gained special functions for each.
Myth: After building a house on Saphon Baal announced that he would no longer acknowledge the authority of Mot, 'death'. Excluded from Baal's good side, Mot was told only to roam earth’s deserts. In response to this challenge, Mot invited Baal to his abode in order to taste his own fare. Unable to avoid the challenge, Baal coupled with a calf in order to strengthen himself and set out. Anat, aided by the sun goddess Shapat, brought back the corpse for burial. El placed Athtar of the fertility throne. Anat, however, sorely missed her dead husband and brother. When her pleads to resurrect Baal fell on deaf ears she had no choice but to mercilessly assault Mot by ripping him into pieces 'with a sharp knife', scattering his members 'with a winnowing field', burning him 'in a fire', grinding him 'in a mill' and 'over the fields strewing his remains'. In the meanwhile El beheld a return to fertility in his dream and found out that Baal was not really dead. Baal was found by Shapat in due time and Athtar fled from the throne. Mot, however, was able to renew his attack but neither god was able to gain victory. El stepped in and dismissed Mot, leaving Baal in possession of the fields.
Bastet - Egyptian cat-goddess first associated with a lioness. This goddess was cat-headed and had her cult at Bubastis a necropolis that housed mummified cats. Cats were revered in the Egyptian household. It was impious to hunt lions during the festival of Bastet.
Bes - A deity, of Nubian origin, that was popular in Egypt as a household deity. He is usually depicted as a dwarf with a large bearded face, shaggy eyebrows, long hair, large projecting ears, a flat nose, and a protruding tongue. His arms are thick and long, his legs are bowed and he wears a tail. He is shown in full face unlike other Egyptian deities, which are always shown in profile. Bes was a genial figure associated with human pleasures, a guardian against misfortune.
El - The first Canaanite god. The father of gods and men, El was remote, old and was the 'benevolent and merciful lord'. He was the one that propagated the marriage of Baal and Anat, Baals defeat of Yam and Mot, and Baals title as bestower of life giving rain. El is always shown as a seated figure wearing bull's horns as a symbol of strength. Two epic cycles associated with El tell of Keret and Aqhat. The first tells of the assistance given to Keret, son of El and a righteous king. The second tells of when Anat steals the bow of Aqhat, the son of whom El had granted to King Daniel.
Enki - Sumerian water god of Eridu. Along with the God An, Enlil, and Ninhursaga, Enki was one of the creators in Sumerian Mythology. Enki was the God of lustration and was associated with a cleansing power. Therefore, priests wore garments in the form of fish during purification processes.
Myth: In paradisal Dilmun, now identified with Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, The water god lived with the earth god, Ninhursaga. It was a happy place, a utopia where there was no violence, no disease or aging. Enki's union with Ninhursaga had turned the island into a fruitful garden, as the only thing that was missing, water, had been provided by Enki. However, when Enki ate eight plants grown by the earth mother, she cast a curse on him where he contracted disease in eight parts of his body. His condition declined rapidly and the other gods were powerless to stop it. Until the fox spoke up. The fox offered to bring Ninhursaga back to Dilmun, provided there was significant reward. Ninhursaga agreed and created eight deities to heal her consort's afflictions.
Enlil - The Sumerian God of earth and air. At the beginning of the primeval waters generated a cosmic mountain, which consisted of heaven and earth. The former was personified by the god An and the later as the goddess Ki. An and Ki gave birth to Enlil, who separated his parents and united his mother to beget mankind. His principal gift to mankind was the pickaxe.
Myth: Enlil was banished from the nether world for raping the goddess Ninlil, but she decided to follow him in order to give birth in his presence. The banished god, however, managed the escape of their child, Nanna, the moon god, so that he could become the light of the night sky.
Etana - King of Kish.
Myth: He made an attempt to ascend to heaven on the back of an eagle and obtain the 'plant of birth' since his queen could not give birth. Shamash, the sun god, had suggested that Etana seek an Eagle caught in a pit. He found an eagle that was trapped by a serpent after it had taken the serpents young. The eagle, in gratitude to its rescuer, took him to heaven. At this point, the story splits into two contrary parts. One narrates of how Etana got afraid and the eagle faltered and they fell to earth and were killed. However, another mentions a son of Etana as King of Kish.
Gayomart - Literal translation: 'dying life'. In Persian mythology, he was the primeval man, the creation of Ahura Mazdah. For 3000 years, he lived as a spirit before he assumed the corporeal form of a youth. After lasting as a youth for 30 years he was poisoned by evil's, Ahriman's, creation. Jeh, or 'the whore'. From his seed grew Mashye and Mashyane, who forsook Ahura Mazdah for Ahriman and were damned to hell forever.
Gilgamesh - Semi-legendary King of Uruk.
Myth(s): Born of a union of a goddess and a man, Gilgamesh was 2/3 divinity and 1/3 mortal. Akkadian myths portray Gilgamesh as a tyrant. The people of Uruk beseeched the gods for help. In response to their pleas, the mother goddess Aruru fashioned a grass-eating wild man from spittle and clay, Ekindu. Upon hearing the news, Gilgamesh sent a temple prostitute to ensnare the wild man who had never experienced sensual pleasures. The prostitute reared the wild man in civilized ways and fired his ambition to topple Gilgamesh. The fight ended in the defeat of Ekindu and the start of a lifelong friendship between the Heroes.
Together the friends set upon a series of adventures. They invaded the cedar forest of the fire-breathing Huwawa, which they defeated with the assistance of Shamash. Another pivotal point in the story came when Ishtar offered her love to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh, however, rejected her with pointed remarks about her fickleness and inconsistency. Enraged, Ishtar demanded that Anu release a bull that would cause destruction for mankind. The two heroes slayed the beast, but in doing so, excited the wrath of the gods. Enlil obtained Ekindu's death in punishment for their arrogance.
Overwhelmed with grief and the fear of mortality, Gilgamesh sought to find a way to become immortal. He decided to seek the help of his immortal ancestor Utanapishtim. However, in order to reach Utanapishtim's residence Gilgamesh had to cross the waters of death, a task that could only be accomplished by the aid of the special ferryman Ursanapi.
Gilgamesh found the ferryman, built a special boat and reached Utanapishtim. The only chance that Gilgamesh had for immortality was the plant, 'Never Grow Old' which grew at the bottom of the sea. Gilgamesh retrieved the plant, but on the way home he slept near a water-hole. A serpent smelled the wonderful perfume of the leaves, stole up and swallowed the plant. Gilgamesh awoke and realixing his fate as death, he wept in utter grief.
Hadad - Literally, 'the crasher'. The foremost deity of the Aramaen peoples of Syria was Hadad, synonymous with Baal-Hadad, who convulsed the earth, shook mountains and blasted trees. The rulers of Damascus were known in Biblical times as 'the sons of Hadad'. Hadad may have been a fertility god.
Haoma - The Persian equivalent of the Hindu Soma, the elixir of life. As a celestial deity Haoma was 'correct in faith and the adversary of death'.
Hapi - To the Egyptians, Hapi was a well-fed plump god who took pleasure in exchanging gifts. Hapi was the river god, and was represented holding a corn and a cornucopia. The river god was offered food, precious ornaments, and jewels.
Hathor - The cow goddess represented by a cow with the solar disc or a woman with a cows horn with the solar disc between them. She is identified with Hathor of Denderah. Hathor was a fertility goddess and was regarded as the tutelary deity of beauty, love and marriage.
Horus - Falcon headed god conceived by Isis, sister and wife of Osiris, of the slain god and raised in utmost secrecy on the delta marshes. Horus was raised specifically to avenge the slaying of his father by Set.
Myth: Illuyankas overcame the weather god, but the goddess Inaras set a trap for the dragon. She spread a feast and obtained the help of her lover too feed Illuyankas and his children to the point where they could no longer enter their lair. Then the goddess's lover tied them up with a strong cord and the weather god slew the dragon.
Imhotep - One of the deified mortals of the Egyptian religion. The architect built the step-pyramid for king Zoser, about 2650 BC, Imhotep later became a popular god of healing. Imhotep was a patron of learning and was portrayed as a priest with a shaven head holding a papyrus at his feet.
Inanna - Inanna was the most important goddess in the Sumerian Pantheon. She was the daughter of Anu or Enlil and one of the variations of the name was Ninanna meaning 'mistress of heaven'. Her temples were usually built in groups of two, one for her and one for her consort Dumuzi. Inanna was best known as the goddess of fertility and love.
Ishtar - In Babylonian mythology, Ishtar was the equivalent of Inanna. Ishtar was the wife and sister of Tammuz, the Sumerian Dumuzi. As a war goddess Ishtar was especially honored in Assyria. She carried a bow and a quiver and had a beard.
Isis - The mother goddess of Egypt. Isis was the daughter of Geb and Nut, the wife and sister of Osiris and the mother of Horus. She was depicted as a woman often suckling her child, Horus, on her lap. She was identified with Hathor. Using her clever mind, Isis was able to gain a portion of Re's power. Therefore she sparkled as the constellation Sirius, while her cult spread to Greek and Rome.
Marduk - Meaning, 'bull-calf of the sun'. Marduk has been a god of incarnation and magic from early times. This double-headed sun god was given the title Bel 'lord' after he became the head of the Babylonian pantheon after he slayed Tiamat, the salt-water she-dragon.
Melqart - The Canaanite Heracles and the city god of Tyre. He is associated with the sea and navigation. Cape Melqart still exists in Sicily and is not unlikely that the pillars of Hercules may have formerly been called the pillars of Melqart.
Min - The Egyptian Priapus, Min was shown as a man wearing a head-dress from which rose two plumes, holding a scepter in the form of a whip and with his sexual member fully erect. He was a chthonic deity.
Mithra - Of all the celestial beings ruling over this earth, he was most popular with the Persians, who thought of him as the son of Ahura Mazdah. Mithra was the light that preceded the son, the one that drove away the darkness. Mithra was all-seeing, nothing would escape his gaze, not matter how small or insignificant it might appear. Mithra was the god of war and was the protector of kings and warriors. Mithra means 'friend'. Mithra was the friend to those who followed the path of righteousness and Ahura Mazdah, and evil to those who forsook Ahura Mazdah for the evil Ahriman.
Moloch - A Roman author records that in Carthage there was a bronze statue of statue of a deity on the outstretched hands of which a child was placed so it could fall into the fire below. It was previously thought that Moloch was another name for Melqart, however, the present view is that it is a name for this ancient Canaanite rite.
Nergal - Nergal was represented wearing a crown and waited upon by 14 gruesome attendants. His city was Cutha, whose name could have meant death. He was Irra, god of pestilence, fire, battle, and the desert. He was also the sun god Shamash, who lent fierce winds that aided Gilgamesh and Ekindu. Nergal was feared and zealously propitiated.
Myth: Ereshkigal, 'the mistress of death', summoned Negral for his refusal to stand up in the assemble of gods before her envoy. The gods agreed the Negral should depart them, and Ea gave him an escort of 14 demons that caused sickness. Negral used these demons to his advantage and gained control of the seven portals of the nether world. Once inside the throne room, Negral seized Ereshkigal and almost slayed her. Ereshkigal, however, agreed to be his wife and acknowledge him as the ruler of the kingdom of the dead. Negral ruled the kingdom of death as her consort.
Nimrod - King of Shinar.
Ninhursaga - One of the chief Sumerian deities, mother earth. Ninhursaga ranks after Anu with her brother Enlil. Ninhursaga represented productivity, the goddess reaped from the ground. Her domain extends over wildlife.
Ninurta - The Sumerian war god who had the power over the spring flood and the thunderstorm. Ninurta may actually mean 'Lord Plough'. Gradually his elemental attributes may have become that of an archetypal warrior king.
Nun - Primeval waters of Egyptian mythology.
Nut - Egyptian Sky goddess. Atum rose from Nun and created Shu and Tefnut. From their union came Geb and Nut. The Sun was a child that entered her mouth every evening, passed through her body during the night and was born from her womb again in the morning.
Osiris - The Egyptian Savior and the chief deity of death. Osiris is credited with civilizing much of the world. Sacred to him was the town of Zedu. Osiris was represented as a bearded man, either green or black in color, wearing the crown of Upper Egypt and swathed like a mummy.
Ptah - A leading member in the Egyptian pantheon. His culture center was at Memphis where he had the lion goddess Sakhmet as wife and Nefertem as son. Ptah-Nun created the world. He may have been the crafts god as the Greeks associated them with Haphaistos.
Rashnu - The 'just' judge in Persian mythology. 'His spiritual scales favor no one; neither good nor the bad, nor yet kings and princes. Not for a hair's breadth will he deviate, for he is the respector of persons. He deals out impartial justice to the highest and the lowest.' He was the one that decided what would happen to the souls of a dead man.
Re - The sun god. The worship of the sun god rose to new heights during the reign of Akhenaton whose transforming zeal reject the gods created by the past pharaohs. Re was extremely powerful and had a cult that spread across much of Egypt. His cult center was Heliopolis. Re was credited as the creator of the Universe and brought about Shu and Tefnut alone (believed to be through masturbation or some form of spittle).
Saoshyant - Savior. In Persian mythology one who will come to renew all life at the end of time. The purpose of the savior is to cleanse the world of Ahriman and resurrect all of the dead. The dead shall include birth the damned and the blessed. He shall then let forth a burning torrent that all mankind shall have to endure. To the blessed however, it shall seem like warm milk, but to the damned it shall be exactly what it is. This process shall cleanse mankind and the world will return to Ohrmuzd in joy.
Satan - Malevolent things which haunt the air and the secret places of the earth.
Seker - Egyptian funerary god in the form of a mummified man with the head of the falcon. Sekers cult was located in Memphis. His domain was one where the serpent Nehebkau lay in wait for the dead. Often Seker was identified with Osiris. Both are mummified men.
Serapis - The state god of Polemic Egypt (period of Macedonian Rule, 305-30 BC). Portrayed as a man with curly hair and a beard wearing a basket upon his head. Serapis was the healer of the sick, a deity who was superior to fate.
Seth - Seth had a donkey-like appearance according to painters who painted his gravestones. They saw him as a man with long legs, broad ears and a short upright tail. However, over the years the God was transformed into a magnificent beast, not unlike a dog. Seth was 'lord of upper Egypt', the chief city being Ombos. Seth was also a rival to his nephew Horus and his brother's, Osiris's, worst enemy.
Sheba - Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to test the wisdom of King Solomon with extremely difficult questions. Around the visit of the nameless queen, legend has woven a rich tapestry.
Simon Magus - This Canaanite sorcerer exercised the mind of Christian theologians due to his Gnostic teachings. Gnosis, 'knowledge', was Simon Magus's principal claim. Simon Magus possessed an understanding of the cosmos, human nature, and destiny. Simon Magus is remembered today for the sin of simony.
Sin - The moon god of Ur and the first son of Enlil. As 'lord of the calendar', his cult exhibited monotheistic tendencies since they believed no other god knew of Sin's plans and Sin was the one that determined destiny. Sin was also known as Suen and Nanna. Refereed to in prayer as 'perfect in lordliness', Sin was associated with fertility, the nether world, and kinship.
Sphinx - In Egyptian Mythology the Sphinx was the image of the sun god. The Sphinx has a human head and a lions body that is wearing the headdress of the pharaohs. It was in the third millennium BC that Chepren had craftsmen shape the great Sphinx at Giza. In Greek Mythology a Sphinx was a monster with the face and breasts of a woman, the body of a lion, and wings. The Sphinx was sent by Hera to afflict the city of Thebes.
Sraosha - Means 'to hearken'. Originally a genius of hearing and obeying in Persian mythology. In Zoroastrian times Sraosha was Ahura Mazdah's all-hearing ear which listened for the cries of men wronged by Ahriman.
Myth: When the god of Agriculture left in a temper, both gods and men faced ruin. The land was dry and plants dried up, famine swept the land, women were no longer able to give birth. The sun god's attempts to find the missing deity were unsuccessful. Then the mother god Hannahanna sent out a bee to sting Telipinu and smear him with wax to bring him back home. The stings, however, failed to do anything but enrage Telipinu who then brought massive floods upon the land that washed away houses and killed people. It was not until Kamrusepas, the goddess of spells, removed Telipinu's anger in a special ceremony, that Telepinu came back to his temple.
Thoth - The scribe of the Egyptian gods. Thoth was credited with the foundation of law, the advancement of learning, and the invention of hieroglyphic writing. The modern pack of playing cards is sometimes called 'the book of Thoth'.
Tiamat - Babylonian She-dragon Slain by Marduk.
Ullikummi - Ullikummi was a giant that was locked in conflict with generations of gods. Ullikummi was made out of diorite stone and when he was taken down to earth and put on the right shoulder of Upelluri, an atlas figure, he grew with such rapidity that the sun god ran to warn the storm god.
Myth: From the summit of a mountain Teshub and Ishtar and Tasmisus viewed the monstrous Ullikummi rise out of the sea. The storm god pounded the giant with all his might, but Ullikummi was unharmed. He grew so huge that Teshub had no choice to give up Kummiya to Ullikummi. Teshub pleaded to the Gods for help and Ea called a meeting of the gods. The council broke up in dismay and Ea consulted Enlil and the went to Upelluri, self-absorbed and unaware of the struggle. When Ea looked closely at Upelluri's right shoulder, he saw Ullikummi's right feet. He then brought out a copper saw and sawed off Ullikummi's feet. Cut off from his power, Ullikummi lost and Teshub was restored.
Vahagn - The national deity of the Ancient Armenians. Vahagn was the god of war and was popular enough to avoid the fates of the lesser deities. Vahagn was associated with the sun, lightning, and fire. He had a hair of fire, a beard of flame and his eyes were suns. He was identified with Heracles because of his heroism.
Yima - In Persian mythology Yima is schizoid. Like the Hindu Yama, he was regarded as the first man and progenitor of the human race. Yima is credited with the subjugation of the demons , taking away their lands and riches. On three occasion he extended his borders for all the 'cattle great and small, men and dogs, birds and red, burning fire'. At the end of time Yima will return and refurbish the earth.
Zu - The lion-headed Sumerian storm-bird took the tablets of destiny from Enlil and threatened the very existence of gods as whoever wrote them on the breast was the supreme ruler of the world. The gods could not find a champion to retrieve these tablets until Ninurta, god of war and the chase, found the nest of Zu and recovered the tablets.