Feb 12, 2014

When First You Preached to the Swans

The priestess stared at the walls of Kilemanx for a long time, hoping to make them crumble with the power of her gaze.

Her companions stood on wet grass and dark granite and waited. Fog beclouded the walls.

There came a moment of doubt.

Photo by Alison Scarpulla

From Enheduanna to Hildegard von Bingen, History is rife with compelling, spiritual females who became thought leaders in their day.

Historians regard the Sumerian Enheduanna as the first literary author. She was priestess of the god An at the city-state of Ur, located in modern Tell el-Muqqayar, Iraq. You can read Enheduanna's Temple Hymns online. Two of my favorite passages:

O E-melem-huc (House of terrifying radiance) exuding great awesomeness, Ec-mah (Magnificent shrine), to which princely divine powers were sent from heaven, storehouse of Enlil founded for the primeval divine powers, worthy of nobility, lifting your head in princeship, counsellor of E-kur, pillar of the surroundings, your house ...... the platform with heaven. The decisions at its place of reaching the great judgment -- the river of the ordeal -- let the just live and consign to darkness the hearts that are evil.


O E-ninnu (House of 50), right hand of Lagac, foremost in Sumer, the Anzud bird which gazes upon the mountain, the car-ur weapon of ...... Ninjirsu, ...... in all lands, the strength of battle, a terrifying storm which envelops men, giving the strength of battle to the Anuna, the great gods, brick building on whose holy mound destiny is determined, beautiful as the hills, your canal ......, your ...... blowing in opposition (?) at your gate facing towards Iri-kug, wine is poured into holy An's beautiful bowls set out in the open air.

But there were so many others. 
Bel-Shalti-Nanna, the Babylonian princess who, along with her father, created the first known museum.
Veleda, a Germanic seer who arbitrated conflicts but also instigated armed conflict against Roman invaders of her homeland; and always knew which way the wind blows.
Shikishi of Japan, a saiin priestess whose religious career began at the age of six, became an accomplished poet. On the theme of summer, she wrote:

So rich in my hand 
was the scent of the water,
that I searched upstream —
and found it flowing there
beneath a wild orange tree. 

See you next Friday.


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