Tiamat and the Madonna and Child

In Babylonian legend, Tiamat is the chaos creatrix. She creates the Babylonian gods, and the world, and then plots to overthrow the same gods because they seek after order, unlike her. This results in a series of battles which probably typifies the changing of deities in Babylon at the time. The god Ea tries, and fails, and so on until Merdoach is chosen. He is given the tablets of fate, and other magical items (one being a robe of power), and he goes off to face Tiamat. Having defeated Kingu, and Mummu, Merdoach faced Tiamat, and after summoning the evil wind, held her jaws open, and managed to drive his magic weapon into her open mouth, killing her.

This is, obviously, a quick summary of the legend, but it gives us the background detail that we need for the rest of the discussion. The “good” portions of Tiamat were not not destroyed, and were gifted too the Summerian Goddess Bau, who shares many characteristics with the Pheonician Baau, mother of the first man. Bau was also known as Ma and Nintu. Nintu was half woman half serpent. The Egyption Isis and Nephtys had serpent forms, and the serpent was a symbol of fertility and as a mother was a protector. Serpent charms were considered protective and give fertility.

Tiamat is probably most remembered for her being the great dragon, and dragons down the ages have been considered powerful and dreadful.

The Madonna and Child icon, seen in various forms from Babylonian times, through to Isis and Horus, and to the now more common Mary with Child Jesus. Even the Goddess Kali has such an aspect.

It is interesting, then, that if the Madonna and Child survives in Christianity as Mary, what happened to the original Creatrix? In Genesis 3, we can see the defeat of the serpent, and an outline of an on-going battle between the offspring of woman, and the serpent.

It seems, however, that Genesis, with the Israelite’s focus on the single God, manages to loose the feminine aspects that should, by rights, have been Eve’s. While she is responsible for the birth of humanity, she carries with her, forever, the stain of the fall. It appears that here we have a synthesis of both sides of the Creatrix, the good and the bad, but placed in a lower order (that is, subordinate to the male), which is not seen in other creation myths.

Of course, the story itself is too fluid, too complete to be the original version of the story. With the briefer, more ubiquitous Genesis 1 the more likely candidate. Genesis 1 (rather than Genesis 2, and it’s emphasis on gender), posits a creation of order out of the chaos, land out of the water. It has long been noted that Genesis 1 uses language when God speaks as though there should be another actor present in the myth, a more pluralist wording. “We” instead of “I”, and so on. Could it be then, that Gensis 1 is missing more than we would initially suspect when we compare it with the other creation myths that are prevalent at the time?

Of course, it could be argued that the self-proclaimed uniqueness of the Israelites hold out in this story, however, if Astere, or her early form (as she has links with Isis, which would explain her later adoption as the Madonna and Child), has some part to play in this myth, it would explain the later revisionism to remove the personified female aspect of God. That the Isrealites acknowledged more than one God can be seen in the psalms, but there is only scant evidence for the feminine (seen in the apparent use of feminine monikers for Wisdom and the Holy Spirit).

Did the New Testament attempt to redress the balance by giving a greater place to women?

~BX