Forgiveness and Favor

Eventually everyone is going to offend the gods in some way or other. What pleases one god might be offensive to another. If nothing else, there is always the risk of misinterpreting the will of the gods. Each offense is not considered unforgivable.

If one offends one of the gods or even their own personal god, then there were several things that one could do in order to regain the favor of that god. These include asking for forgiveness, making right what was done, and making an offering to the gods.

At times one can loose favor of a god simply by being part of a community that has offended the gods. Entire cities could offend the gods with their behavior. Obviously one could always distance ones self from the community, but community was extremely important to the ancient Sumerians, so this was obviously to be avoided.

In these instances it was all the more important to be on good terms with ones personal god. If one was on good terms with their personal god, then that god might intercede between them and the other gods. The gods are not unfeeling, and they will hear the pleas of the other gods or those who serve them.

One doesn’t need to have done something to offend the gods to seek their favor. Humans have sought the favor of the gods to help them in their personal goals since the beginning of recorded history. As ancient Sumer was present at the beginning of recorded history, we have many examples of humans acting to gain the favor of the gods in their endeavors.

1) Atonement: The first thing that should be tried whenever the gods have been offended is atonement. If you know that you have done something wrong, then putting things right is the most obvious way to return to the good graces of the gods.

Not only does this simple act bring the favor of the gods, but it also corrects any disturbance to the proper order of the universe. Even if the gods still hold a grudge for past actions it is a good first step. Not to mention the fact that maintaining the proper order of the universe is simply the right thing to do.

2) Scapegoats and the substitute king: There were instances when a community has offended the gods. This might be the fault of the king, spiritual leader or the community. It might even be the fault of some outside agency.

The community might not even know what it is that they have dine, but for whatever reason they want to return to the good graces of the gods. Thankfully the Sumerian gods respect the significance of symbolism. This means that there are some symbolic means that the community can use in order to regain the favor of the gods.

If a community has a curse upon them, then this curse can be taken away from the community by means of a scape goat. A scape goat is a literal goat that has had a communities curse transfered onto it. The curse is taken away from the community when the goat is driven out into the wilderness. If the gods find this vessel acceptable, then they will allow the curse to befall the sacrificial goat rather than the community.

For the modern Sumerian Reconstructionist, a goat may not be available. This does not mean that the scape goat method can’t be used. A curse can be transfered to any suitable substitute.

There are some crimes so terrible that only the death penalty can atone for. This sacrifice of a human in the name of justice was not commonly done, but it had been known to happen on extremely rare occasions. There are even instances in myth where a god has been sacrificed for the greater good of the gods.

If a king were to have done something so terrible that he thought that he needed to make the ultimate sacrifice, it was his right to do so. This suicide could take away not only his own problems, but the problems of the entire community. It was not a selfish act, and the ancient Sumerians did not look down upon it.

There were times however when the king was needed to lead his people more than his sacrifice was needed to save it. For times like this there was a special office called the substitute king. This person served as a stand in for the king on many occasions in life, he would be a friend and a companion. On rare occasions the king may decide that they have made a mistake so bad that his substitute king could take the place of the king in even in death.

In modern times, taking of a persons life for religious reasons is not only frowned upon, it’s illegal. In this circumstance it is not hard to let religion conform to modern society. Law and religion are supposed to be separate in many western countries, and the Sumerian religion is not the official religion in any modern country. This means that the substitute king is not a viable option for any modern Sumerian Reconstructionist. On the other hand the office of substitute king usually does not involve death, and so might still have value.

3) Sacrifice: The word “sacrifice” is almost a swear word among modern pagans, as it requires that one give up something that they value. Some call it wasteful since the gods don’t actually need what we could give them. Some are ashamed to admit that the gods are greater than us, or that they deserve to be given offerings. Others are frightened by the simple fact that in ancient times it was not uncommon to sacrifice something living to the gods.

The truth is that sacrifice is a part of every religion and it is most definitely a traditional part of Sumerian religion. Sacrifice requires that one give up to the gods something that is both valuable to them and valuable to the gods.

Traditionally sacrifices are burned on an altar. Gibil, god of fire and messenger to the gods, would carry the offering up to heaven and give its essence over to the gods. This offering could be fish, it could be a goat, it could be clothing, it could be anything that the gods might find valuable.

In ancient times human sacrifice did happen, but there is little evidence that humans were commonly offered up to the gods. There were also instances of blood sacrifice to some gods such as Nergal, but again it is unclear how many of the gods wanted a sacrifice of ones own blood.

4) Offering: There is an important difference between an offering and a sacrifice in the Sumerian religion. An offering is a gift of ones best that is shared with the gods. Offerings are given over to the gods in spirit and actually holds even more value to the worshiper who holds them.

Traditional offerings include beer, fish, bread, clothing, and jewelry. Anything that the ancient Sumerians cherished could be given over as a traditional offering. Modern Sumerian Reconstructionists aren’t limited to the traditional offerings, but giving something relatively close is always preferred as it is reminiscent of the ancient people that the gods once loved, and the modern worshiper respects.

If a lamb, for example, were to be given over to the temple, then its life might be sacrificed to the gods, but then the meat and wool could be used by the temple and worshipers.

Not every Sumerian Reconstructionist has the luxury of being part of a temple. One of the beautiful things about the Sumerian religion though is that it is perfectly suited to the solitary worshiper. Even the common practitioner can have an idol of their personal god to give an offering to.

It is not hard to dedicate a mouth watering meal to the gods in prayer before eating it. In a ritual a favored beer could be dedicated to a persons personal god, and then after the ritual is over the beer would then be enjoyed.

5) Plea and bribe: From time to time an unfavorable destiny will be decreed for a worshiper. The worshiper may not have done anything wrong. Bad things happen to even the best worshiper simply because that is the way that the proper order of the universe. It is also not too late to change it.

Sometimes it only takes a heart felt request for assistance to sway the will of the gods. This is true even if one’s personal god isn’t directly involved in determining fate. Even if a person’s personal god is merely the god of tin, that god can act as an intermediary between the worshiper and the seven who decree fate bringing the pleas of the worshiper to the gods.

However there is a difference between a plea for help and a constant request for favors. The gods want the best for their servants, but at the same time the order of the universe places the gods above man kind. The gods greatly resent being treated as our servants.

If you know that your request is somewhat frivolous, it might be a good idea to make an offer to the gods. This practice was one of those that was retained by the ancient Israelites, biblical descendants of the Sumerians.