In the last couple of postings, I’ve presented the disadvantages of assassinating or impeaching Trump, and my readers might be wondering if there’s anything I would suggest doing to him. Well, there’s one thing, and it’s straight out of an old Pagan ritual designed to put rulers in the right frame of mind.
The religion of the ancient Babylonians was mainly concerned to uphold their political and social system. Their most important sacred scripture, the Enuma Elish – so called from its first words – is a statement of the need for monarchical authority, based on the chaotic and perilous condition the Deities were in before they accepted Marduk as their king. Equivalent to Greek Zeus or Roman Jupiter, Marduk – the prototype of royal power, courage, wisdom, mercy, and awesomeness – slays a rampaging monster and proceeds to organize the cosmos properly.
The Enuma Elish is available in modern translations. However, it’s hard for us to truly appreciate the work, because it wasn’t intended to be read silently as a book, but recited aloud as part of a profound religious ceremony. This was the Akitu festival, the Babylonian New Year, celebrated during the waning days of winter and culminating on the first day of spring. The whole country took part in this rite, which not only renewed the fertility of the soil but the vigor of the government as well.
As the old year was ending, the chief images of the most important Babylonian Divinities would depart their temples in the various cities of Mesopotamia, and would journey on barges through the natural and artificial waterways of the Land of the Two Rivers to Babylon on the Euphrates, where they would all congregate on the shore. At the proper time, the image of Marduk would leave his dwelling in the great temple of Esagila in Babylon, and would journey through the city streets to meet with his fellow Deities. Once the Spiritual Powers had exchanged their mutual assurances of fealty and support, Marduk would return with great pomp to his habitation, the other Gods and Goddesses would go home, and the cycle of life would proceed.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this ritual. When we consider the flotillas of worshippers that must have accompanied the Divine Beings as they floated to and from Babylon, the crowds lining the streets as Marduk lumbered through the thoroughfares of the capital, the pilgrims coming from every corner of the realm to see the festivities, and all the vendors, musicians, fortune-tellers, and con artists on hand to service the throngs, it’s clear that a significant portion of the population must have been caught up in the activities surrounding this ceremonial. And Akitu wasn’t simply a big Mardi Gras. The coming year’s prosperity was dependent on the correct performance of the ritual, so the party atmosphere was mixed with a dash of angst. It’s not too much to say that the Babylonian nation was held together by this shared personal experience of the joys and anxieties of the New Year fete.
The monarch had a major role to play in the Akitu rites. At a certain stage of the proceedings, his majesty would present himself at the entrance way to Marduk’s temple, decked in all his trappings of royal power and authority, for an audience with the God. He was obliged to pass a number of portals to reach the supreme Deity, and at each one of these, he’d be divested of one of his symbols of sovereignty. Successively, the king lost his crown, his jewels, his scepter, and everything else about his person that denoted his kingly office, finally standing in his skivvies before Marduk and the high priest who spoke for Marduk – whereupon the high priest would haul off and slap the king across the face, as hard as he could. After a ritual verbal interchange between high priest and king, his majesty would be reinvested with the accoutrements of power, and would stand resplendent in all his finery before God and priest – whereupon the high priest would slap him again, just as hard as previously.
These slaps couldn’t be token pats on the cheek. Akitu was (to use our modern Pagan terminology) a Magickal working, which was believed to have real effects. All participants were obliged to play their parts to the max. The high priest was supposed to whack the king so sharply that he shed tears – this was considered a good omen. If the king didn’t cry, that meant the high priest hadn’t done his duty, and he might get blamed if the harvest was bad.
One Babylonian king refused to participate in the Akitu ritual – Nabonidus, who reigned in the mid-sixth century BC. Interestingly, he was the last king of Babylon. He may have had a political dispute with the priests of Marduk. He may have favored the worship of Sin, the Moon-God. Or maybe he simply didn’t want to get slapped. For whatever reason, he avoided Akitu by moving his court to an oasis in the middle of the Arabian desert, so he wouldn’t be present in Babylon for the New Year. Scandalized, the priests of Marduk made a secret arrangement with Cyrus of Persia, who overthrew the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC.
What does this have to do with Trump? I’ll get to that next time.
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