Ancient history has always been especially fascinating for me, although I found it to be the hardest while studying in the university. I still spend time reading and watching about artifacts coming from Ancient Egypt, Sumer and Akkad, Crete etc. The religious system of the different ancient societies is something one can spend a lifetime to learn about, especially when it comes to polytheistic beliefs. Each single God and Goddess has not only its own story, but also a unique way of worshiping with rituals in order to get his/her grace.
Warka Vase dated to c. 3200–3000 BC
It depicts a procession of people bringing offerings to Inanna
Now let's jump to present. Few years ago when Alek handled me the comic Sandman by Neil Gaiman the last thing I expected to find there was characters based on ancient deities. At that time I have already knew Neil Gaiman from his "American Gods", which didn't grab me as much as it would if I start reading it now. I should have guessed that he will stay true to his passion for different beliefs... or not really. A comic book with a main character the Dream lord, well known in Europe under the name Morpheus, well that would be a difficult guess.
For those who haven't read Sandman the plot is based around seven main characters called The Endless - Dream, Death, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Destruction and Delirium (first incarnated as Delight). Each one of these characters is anthropomorphic personifications of its concepts and has its own realm. Dream is in the center of the stories, depicted often as headstrong but true to his duties man, who is also impulsive, poetic and unlucky in love. He is often referred as The Shaper, the Shaper of form, such a beautiful and true appellation.
The Endless excluding Destruction, Season of Mists Vol. 1
Among with the main narrative thread, there is one following the "destiny" of old gods, what happens to them once people stop worshiping them. Throughout the comic many of these old gods appear, in one or another situation, some of them we can even see living among and as humans. One can sense a nostalgic sneak about "the old days" when they were strong and important.
In the preface to Sandman a Book of Dreams Frank McConnell writes "How do gods die? And when they do, what becomes of them then? You might as well ask, how do gods get born? All three questions are, really, the same question." If you are curious about Neil Gaiman's answer of these question just grab the comic, really I've never read anything like it.
Sandman, A Midsummer Night's Dream
In Brief Lives vol.5 while searching for his brother Destruction, Dream meets Goddess Ishtar. Neil Gaiman presents her as exotic dancer. In a conversation between Ishtar and two other dancers a main topic becomes temple prostitution or also called sacred prostitution in ancient middle-east. There are evidence for temples of Goddess Inanna later called Ishtar, where every woman has to go once in her life and do a sexual ritual.
Some historians stays that there wasn't such thing as wide-spread sacred sex and if there was a ritual that is between the king and the high priestess "to represent the union of Dumuzid with Inanna". What is and what isn't true is hard to say and I doubt if we ever get to know for certain. Nevertheless the myths around Ishtar are intriguing.
In the comic before Ishtar does her last dance she says "I know how gods begin, Roger. We start as dreams. Then we walk out of dreams into the land. We are worshipped and loved, and take power to ourselves. And then one day there's no one left to worship us. And in the end, each little god and goddess takes its last journey back into dreams … and what comes after, not even we know."
Inspiring, inspiring, inspiring! That's all I can say, that's how I feel when I read Sandman, think about ancient times, wondering what happened to all those Gods and Goddess. Are we just like them shaped first in dreams and if so who dreamed of us?