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Springtime in Sumeria

May 6, 2020

Spring rites are upon us! Many of us have recently celebrated Beltane or May Day or may be anticipating another spring celebration. As we prepare for Ishtarfest 2020, let’s take a look at what the ancient Sumerians did to celebrate in their own seasonal style.

The big festival of the day was called Akitu. This word comes from the Sumerian word for barley. However, more seems to be known about the Babylonian version of the festival than the Sumerian. (Probably partially comes from the fact that the Babylonian civilization is slightly newer than the Sumerian, but hey, I’m not a historian.) The Babylonian Akitu was a twelve day festival that celebrated the new year for this region. There would be some prayers for Babylon, some recitation of the Epic of Creation, and a ritual drama in honor of the god Marduk. In fact, a lot of what was done for this festival was in honor of Marduk, Babylon’s patron god. The king of Babylon would travel down river and back and ultimately submit to Marduk at his temple. Statues of the gods of this pantheon were cleaned and dressed before being paraded around for worship. There were songs and possibly sacrifices.

These days, not too many of us are involved in twelve straight days of worship anymore. We’re too busy with work and family obligations, not to mention the myriad distractions we have! But chances are this year, none of us will be dancing around a Maypole in large groups (or small ones), so it might be interesting to think about ways we can modify celebrations to work for us.

As a New Year’s celebration, consider taking this time to make a few New Year’s resolutions. Sure, in Western culture we usually reserve making these for January 1, but any time could be a good time to make a promise to yourself or develop a new, positive habit. Now that we’re in isolation, it might be a good time for some self reflection to decide what you need or time to develop a skill.

As a holiday to celebrate barley, maybe you want to get some planting going or tend to a garden you already have. Plant flowers or crops ready to harvest later in the year. They’re about to get some great sunlight in the coming months! (My husband would say a good way to honor barley is to drink some beer. If that’s your thing, go for it.)

Read up on some creation myths. There are many out there, so familiarize yourself with a new one. Analyze similarities and differences (if you’re into that sort of thing). What kind of shared consciousness might connect civilizations from across continents with similar ideas and stories? Can you find a part of the Sumerian creation myth to honor in your own tradition?

Honor the deities you keep on your own personal altar. Dress them up, or just give them a dusting. Douse them with some holy water. Find a way to show them that this is a time in which you want to show them how much they mean to you.

Have a great spring!

Ishtarfest 2020 is still planned for this October, CLICK HERE for details!

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