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The sheep on the barge remind me of the Christmas Tree seances some Spiritualists held, where toys were put under the tree for children on the other side. The spirits were heard to be playing with, enjoying, and even arguing over the toys. So, maybe the spirits these civilizations talked to, really did "eat" the sheep just to assuage them and their expectations, and it was not self-hypnosis.

"We can safely assume the statues did not actually eat anything, yet their priestly servants apparently believed that actual consumption was going on. (The alternative is to believe that the priests were engaged in a massive charade that persisted for thousands of years. Not only is this unlikely, but it fails to explain how the charade got started in the first place.)"

Well - isn't it just possible that the priesthood were simply running a scam? That the charade got started in the first place, because the priests found a way to get the gullible masses to provide them with unlimited supplies of food?

"Thanks for those offerings yesterday folks, the god's asked me to pass on his compliments to the chef. But what he'd REALLY like tomorrow is some more of that extra-strong mead and some of Mrs. Flintstone's prize-winning pork pies .... oh, and throw in a few packets of Cheesey Quavers while you're at it..."

Am I being too cynical? (Probably, knowing me!)

Are we sure the travelling goddess was a statue? Could it not be concieved as a goddess incarnated in a flesh and blood child or young adult, as happens in modern Nepal (or did until recently anyway)

"Are we sure the travelling goddess was a statue?"

I think it's well established that statues were treated as gods in Mesopotamia. The idea of an incarnated god belongs to Egypt, with its god-kings, but not to Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria.

Here's Jaynes on the ceremonies surrounding Mesopotamian statue-gods:

'Further evidence that such statues were aids to the hallucinated voices is found in other ceremonies all described precisely and concretely on cuneiform tablets. The statue-gods were made in the bit-mummu, a special divine craftsman’s house. Even the craftsmen were directed in their work by a craftsman-god, Mummuy, who ‘dictated’ how to make the statue. Before being installed in their shrines, the statues underwent mis-pi which means mouth-washing, and the ritual of pit-pi or “opening of the mouth.”

'Not only when the statue was being made, but also periodically, particularly in the later bicameral era when the hallucinated voices may have become less frequent, an elaborate washing-of-the-mouth ceremony could renew the god's speech. The god with its face of inlaid jewels was carried by dripping torchlight to the riverbank, and there, imbedded in ceremonies and incantation, his wood mouth washed several times as the god was faced east, west, north, and then south. The holy water with which the mouth was washed out was a solution of a multitude of exotic ingredients: tamarisks, reeds of various kinds, sulphur, various gums, salts, and oils, date honey, with various precious stones. Then after more incantations, the god was "led by the hand" back into the street with the priest incanting "foot that advanceth, foot that advanceth ..." At the gate of the temple, another ceremony was performed. The priest then took "the hand" of the god and led him in to his throne in the niche, where a golden canopy was set up and the statue's mouth washed again.'

"priests who saw uneaten food but remained convinced that the food had been eaten were perhaps entranced".

Perhaps a clue to what might've been going on here Michael's Yeats' idea about spirits partaking of the "wine breath".

Remember these priests wouldn't've been going down the freezer departments at Walmart's for the Goddess' food they'd've been using the only method available for keeping meat fresh ie slaughtering as and when required so it may well've been the life force or spirit of any say freshly beating hearts placed before her she was consuming rather than the actual meat [though the esoteric take's the actual sincere intentions of the sacrificer's the real food].

And if you've never read RB Onians' The Origins of European Thought about the Body the Mind the Soul the World Time and Fate I'd highly recommend it if only because he seems to believe this same idea underlay the practise of burnt offerings.

I agree with you too our anthropological friend might not've been aware how proprietorial he was coming across or indeed how much ire he himself'd provoke attending conferences of other equally proprietorial disciplines.

I merely wish to add once again for the record in an age when a scientific committee's only just achieved a majority only vote animals're conscious doesn't the fact apes're whupping the arses off our university students and their professors at iPad number based IQ tests suggest the possibility Jayne's bicameral mind evidence's interpretable as the reverse of the arising of modern self reflective mindedness ie a mysterious period of decline in our cognitive processes due to the emergence of cities and the agendas of those willing to stoop to any level to force the likes of 'dumb beasts' like Enkidu to inhabitant them?

Put it this way when Enkidu became a selfconscious 'man' I suspect his iPad IQ test results would've been somewhat lower than those he'd've achieved while he was still an unself-reflective 'ape'.

I always thought the food was removed by priests at night who used it to tempt the vestal virgins.

I've been following this interesting conversation and want to point out some possible parallels to contemporary civilization.

The ancients made state-of-the-art things (remember that these statues, while child's play for us to produce, represented, I would think, the pinnacle of their mastery with material objects). And they deified them. They expected these objects to make their lives better, and listened to what they had to say.

*We* make state-of the-art things like iphones, and plasma TV's. We glamorize our creations to the point where our lives become largely ABOUT these things. Anyone who looks at one of the slick TV ads for luxury cars might be tempted to say that our attitude towards our own creations is truly one of worship. After all, it is towards buying and maintaining these "idols" that we devote much of our working lives.

Without a doubt, we have to keep feeding them. :o)

And of course, we listen to them night and day for guidance. (Think commercials, news, and so much more that we imbibe from our media.)

Now you might say that it's the PEOPLE on the TV rather than the TV itself that we want to hear. Or you might agree with McLuhan that the medium is itself the message.

Now here's where I'm going to make a parallel that may not be popular here, and I don't mean to offend anyone.

Some of us look at the universe and feel comfortable calling it, in essence, a giant computer. Rather than see it as an inexplicable, living mystery that has given birth to ourselves, we are reminded of an object made by human hands.

Isn't this a bit like worshipping a manufactured idol?

"it may well've been the life force or spirit of any say freshly beating hearts placed before her she was consuming rather than the actual meat"

That's a good point, Alan, and it is a possible alternative explanation, although I don't get the impression that this level of theological sophistication had developed in ancient Sumeria and Babylon. Remember, they built houses for their gods to live in and washed the mouths of the statues to help them talk better. Still, it could explain the sheep and the daily feedings.

The big unanswered question is whether the ancients believed the icons were literally gods, or held a more sophisticated view in which the icon merely represented the god. If the latter is true, then we might argue that just as the statue represented the god, the sheep represented the god's meal. Or to put it another way, the god (which is a spirit) partakes of the sheep's spirit once the sheep has been killed. This would be consistent with the practice of burying the dead with their possessions, presumably in the expectation that the discarnate person could use the spiritual analogues of his possessions in the next world.

A contrary implication is left by the practice of forcing open the corpse's mouth and pouring food and beverages down its throat. This seems more consistent with the idea that the dead person actually does partake of food offerings.

Hi Michael, thank you for your post and your lengthy reply to my message. I'm sure there's some truth to your take on Jaynes' theory.

Regarding your point about what to make of people offering food and other gifts for deities, particularly food, you say that this demonstrates an alien mindset as it seems obvious to us that the food remains uneaten so how can the gods be said to have shared in the gift of food?

You don't need too look far to see how this mindset works: in Thailand it is very common to come across roadside shrines to local spirits where all manner of offerings are left for the spirit: food, cigarettes(!), cash etc, the same occurs in household shrines. A friend of mine who had a Thai girlfriend used to laugh at her practice of leaving offerings of vimto soda at her shrine, but as far as she was concerned, the spirits were pleased by the soda and liked the colour!

With food offerings there is a sense of the god or spirit somehow still enjoying the food offering, the best way I can describe it is that the deity somehow gets the 'essence' of the food and enjoys it all the same, as well as being pleased that you offered it in the first place. This is despite the fact that the old food offerings are removed after they are spoiled and are obviously uneaten to our eyes.

Many food offering and indeed other material offerings in Thai and other cultures work the same way, and indeed this sense of the deity getting the 'essence' of an offering is commonplace throughout the classical world. I don't see why it would be different in earlier periods.

Regarding statues, a similar mindset is at work in the classical world. It depended on context. If a roman art collector had a variety of Venus statues in his collection, they were just that, a collection of statues. If however the statues were actively used in a cult setting, either in a sanctuary or on a procession, these objects were not just statues: they were seen to embody the essence of the deity, as if the perfection of the statue itself reflected a higher divine perfection and it was assumed that the god was present through the statue. This has led to a common misunderstanding in the modern world because some people assume that classical peoples thought the statue was the deity itself, but actually this is an oversimplification. Classical worshippers were quite aware that the object on view was a statue, carved by a human sculptor, but they would also be aware that the statue was embodying the essence of the deity so that the deity was present through its cult statue, so only in this sense was the statue equated to the deity in question. I think Christian icons and Christ statues work the same way.

I don't think it's too hard for moderns to understand this talk of 'essence'
Think of our modern celeb gods: is a coffee cup once drunk out of by Elvis still 'just' a coffee cup? Or has the fact that it was once touched by the lips of the King somehow imbue the cup with something of the essence of the King himself?

Check EBay for the answer to this one ;-)

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