Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Sumerian civilization (5): Soul vs Spirit

Sunday evening, I watched a BBC program on Belgian public TV: Around the world in 80 Faiths by Pete Owen-Jones. Faith is indeed a better description than Religion. Please also see my 15 September 2016 blog: Faith vs ReligionEpisode 1 was about “Australasia and the Pacific Ring of Fire”.

The first 2 items dealt with afterlife traditions and rituals relating to the spirit (or ghost) of the deceased on the island of Sulawesi. Both reminded me of Sumerian traditions and rituals at 4,000 BC. The item on the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime mythology could have been connected to the Sumerian Dreambook or iškar Zaqīqu and – perhaps – a 2011 Science study that could link the Aboriginals to the Sumerian “black/dark headed” people.

The Sumerians believed that mankind was created by fertilising a human egg cell with divine sperm. The male human baby (Adapa or Adam) was conceived in the womb of a god. Humans therefore contained both an earthly and a divine component. The earthly component is characterised by the Body/Flesh when living, or the Spirit (eṭemmu) when dead.

The divine component is represented by the Soul (zaqiqu). The Akkadian/Sumerian word for Soul also means brise or breath. There is a clear parallel with Death (last breath) and Life: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The divine Soul (zaqiqu) “was [also] associated with dreaming because it could depart the body while the individual was asleep” (Ancient). This may explain why we struggle to understand dreams today. The Sumerian explanation of the Soul is beautiful in its elegance and simplicity: a travelling divine-human kinship. It also fits well with my “unknown unknowns” category of human intelligence (eg, imagination, fantasy) – or Carl Jung‘s concept of collective unconsciousness.

The earthly Spirit is a source of human fear in probably all human cultures (eg, demon, djinn, genie, jinn). Depending on the type of death (eg, never married, suicide, violent), a Spirit could become negative and could then haunt the living. We can still see a parallel with examples today: Chinese ghost marriageexorcismghostsHaitian voodooism, and spiritism

According to the Sumerian civilization, “both the eṭemmu [Spirit] and the zaqiqu [Soul] descended to the netherworld after physical death. Aside from descriptions of dreams, however, the eṭemmu [Spirit] is mentioned far more prominently than the zaqiqu in Mesopotamian literature. This may be due to the fact that, unlike the eṭemmu, the zaqiqu [Soul] was considered relatively harmless and unable to interfere either positively or negatively in the affairs of the living.” (Ancient)

It’s intriguing to see how much the Sumerian civilization of 4,000 BC has influenced modern society. It’s even more intriguing how certain of their rituals and traditions are still in use by contemporary tribes living far away from modern society. I feel a Sumer brise blowing through the jasmine in my mind……. 😉

Summer Breeze (1973) by The Isley Brothers
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise.


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