Worship and Beliefs

1) Personal gods: Each person or family had a personal god to act as an intermediary between the worshiper and the greater gods. These gods would plead the worshipers case to the greater gods, and particularly between the worshiper and the seven who decree fate.

The personal god is like a third parent in that you can count the brothers of your personal god as your uncles. This leads to some confusing family trees as often the gods are listed instead of one parent or another. Confusing the matter is that all gods that father and mother were both terms of respect.

As the name suggests a personal god is a god that has a deep connection with their follower. A person’s personal god is as close to a companion to their follower as an animal lover is to their pets.

The term monolatry means the worship of one god among many. This is likely how Abraham of the city of Ur worshiped. In contrast to the monotheism that the modern descendants of Abraham use, monolatry does not deny the existence of the other gods.

2) Vessels of the gods: The gods can inhabit any suitable vessel. Most of the time this means that a statue of a god can be addressed as though it were the god. This works in reverse as well. An image of an Imdugud bird can provide a place for the Imdugud bird to inhabit, and the bird can act through the vessel to protect a home.

Like the Egyptians, the Sumerians believed that some individuals could be personal incarnations of the gods. This is evidenced in the way that humans were sacrificed in tombs like the royal tomb of Ur. There is evidence that the woman at the center of the tomb may have been a vessel for the goddess Inanna.

Being a human vessel for a god is not the same as being a god. One of the most important differences is that the vessel of a god does not have the power of a god. The priest of Ningishzida, the god of dawn, can’t return from the dead every day with the dawn for example.

3) Idolatry: It is hard for people today to understand the purpose and symbolism behind idolatry. Even the term idolatry has taken on bad connotations due to the Judao-Christian commandment against the worship of false idols.

Who wants to be thought of as the guy that worships statues? This would be the same as asking why a Christian would worship crossed sticks. Idolaters are not actually worshiping the statues that they appear to be worshiping. They are actually worshiping the god represented by the statue.

In Sumerian religion, as in many religions where idolatry is practiced, the statues represent a connection between the physical world and the spiritual world. A votive statue of a man worshiping a votive statue of a god IS the same as a man worshiping the god in person. The statue of the worshiper is acting as a vessel for the spiritual essence of the worshiper just as the statue of the god is a vessel for the actual god.

People in the Christian religion go to church and commune with their god but they are not in the physical presence of their god per se. They are symbolically in the presence of their god. If a statue of the virgin Mary begins to bleed it is not the wood or the stone that is bleeding, but rather a spiritual manifestation through an appropriate vessel. The Sumerians are doing no less than this when it appears that one is worshiping statues.

Everything on a Sumerian’s altar exists and is real in the spiritual realm. When the statue of a worshiper is placed on an altar in a position where it is worshiping the gods it begins to show devotion to the gods continually every moment of the day.

Not every statue represents a physical person. Some statues are votive worshipers or servants that exist entirely on the spiritual realm. These votive statues serve various functions depending on their form.

4) Ziggurats: This is an artificial mountain where the gods are worshiped. They are pyramids with steps that look more like Central American step pyramids than Egyptian pyramids. A Ziggurat was the ultimate temple to a god and served as a physical recreation of their spiritual home.

Ziggurats are decorated with growing things to please the gods. They are never approached directly, but instead the paths that lead to the top are given every possible twist and turn. As the Sumerians had strict class based clothing taboos, those who are permitted would approach unclothed. This showed that even the priests and kings were slaves to the will of the gods.

Modern Sumerian Reconstructionists do not have the luxury of building themselves a Ziggurat, but ancient Sumerians did keep altars. For the modern Recon it is an easy matter to keep their altar at the highest available point, such as the top of a book case or dresser. Turning the altar to one side so that the image of the god is at one side is also useful as this prevents the worshiper from approaching the gods directly by making them climb and turn before worshiping.

If the clothing taboo is imposable to observe then one can simply observe the spirit of the practice. Approaching the gods in simple garments and poor clothing shows them the same respect for the same reasons. It is more important that one aproaches the gods humbly than that they approach them in no garment at all.

5) Slavery: Man was created to do the work of the gods. They don’t need us at all, but that does not mean that they don’t want us. We are their servants and this makes us no better or worse than demons. Mankind was made to be a useful servant, but a slave nonetheless. For this reason the Sumerians had a fantastic work ethic. The gods wanted man to work and so man worked. This work ethic is ingrained into the religion.

In Sumer slaves were given far more rights than you might suspect. They could own property and run a business for example. A slave’s life was not easy, but it was not imposable. This is exactly how Sumerians viewed their world.

It was traditional for the high priests to approach their god in the nude to show that even though they were exalted among the slaves and had been given a high place in the world, that they were simply slaves to the gods. They showed reverence and obedience to their god. They would follow instructions given to them by their gods faithfully, and they expected to interact with their gods regularly.