Friday, 30 July 2010

The silver apples of the moon, golden apples of the sun...

I'm not one for imagining complicated astronomical alignments built in to Neolithic/ Bronze age structures. I approach the idea of sun+moon alignments within massive wood or stone structures from the point of view of someone who has made labyrinths, and knows first hand that large structures are difficult to make accurately and that accuracy is rarely the point...

There is just something magnificent about creating something so large and complex out of earth and stone, it instantly becomes weird or numinous or perhaps more correctly, sacred space.

Aubrey Burl had caused me to believe that the midwinter moon always rose in the North East; and that the Cotswold Sevens -long barrows- are aligned NE/SW so that the midwinter moon would illuminate the bones, deep within the gloom. It is also true that Stonehenge and Woodhenge are both aligned that way...but the midsummer sunrise is on the same azimuth as the midwinter who is right, the Druids or Aubrey?

Now there's a thing, azimuth. It means -and I didn't know this until yesterday- the compass alignment expressed in degrees: so North is 0, East is 90, South is 180 and West is 270. Latitude and longitude do have an effect on where the sun and moon are seen to rise, but give or take a few thousand years, plus the fact that the moon has a eighteen point something it is only in the same place in the sky once every eighteen point something years, all in all I think using azimuth values for London are accurate enough for my purpose.

And there is the moon standstill cycle, meaning that there is a minimum and maximum range of azimuth values:
A major (or minor) lunar standstill always happens near an equinox; and what's more, it happens when the Moon is at or near quarter phase. A major lunar standstill faithfully occurs within one week of a lunar or solar eclipse, and oftentimes takes place right between a lunar and solar eclipse. For instance, this year's March 22 southern major lunar standstill comes one week after the March 14 lunar eclipse and one week before the March 29 solar eclipse; similarly, the September 15 northern major lunar standstill is flanked by the September 7 lunar eclipse and the September 22 solar eclipse.
To be honest I was put off, the moon seemed very difficult!

The moon and sun calculator are here [LINK].

So, using 2006 (after checking out other years and drawing lots of diagrams!) because that year had the maximum range of values, the midsummer sun does indeed rise in the North East (which is an azimuth of 45) and it doesn't really matter if its a special moon-stand-still year of not. The midsummer sun rises at 49 degrees and sets at 311.

Meanwhile the equinox sunrise, both autumn and spring, is at 89 degrees (East is 90 degrees) and sun set is at 271 (West is 270).

It is the moon though, more than the sun, that proves fascinating.

The moon always rises on the Eastern side of Woodhenge. It sets in the West and North West, but never enters the North to rise or set. The midwinter full moon gets the closest to the North of all the moons.

I seem to recall something about the North being the 'Land of the Dead' because neither the sun or moon ever go there.

In December and January the midwinter full moons cast a path of silver for the midsummer sun. The midwinter moon is a North-East moon rising from the brimming lip of the world somewhere between 40 degrees to 50 azimuth (the same path the sun takes when it rises at midsummer).

The January, February and March full moons rise towards the East and cross the Northern sky to set increasingly in the North West. The New moons go the other way, rising at first in the South East and progressing with each new moon rise, towards the East, and set in the South West.

The March full moon and new moon rise in the East -between an azimuth of 83 and 86 degrees- with only a few degrees of difference between them. If you want to know when it is March, wait for the full and new moons to rise from the same place...

In April, May and June the moons have swapped places with the new moons now rising in the North-East and setting in the North-West and the full moons rising in the South East and setting in the South West.

In July, August and September the new moons still rise in the North East but are now moving towards the East and setting in the North West. The September full moon does an odd thing, it crosses the path of the sun into the West; I mean it crosses the 270 degree line just a fraction. This is the only time in the year when the moon does this. The full moons are moving from South East towards true East, with the most easterly full moon almost at true East.

For October, November and December the full moon is back in the North East and heading North to hang like the Queen of Ghosts at the entrance to Stonehenge, and the new moons are turning away from the East, heading West.

Yes, I drew lots of diagrams and satisfied myself that the difference in where the moon rises and which direction it moves in, is significant enough for even a dolt like me to be able to work something out about what time of year it is.

I particularly liked the September full moon crossing the sun-path.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

General frustrations.

Plans of Woodhenge.

Top: - A reconstructed elevation showing the possible building's width as 140 ft.

Lower: - Showing the two posts outside the causeway entrance, whose positions seem to be marking the inner and outer edges of the high surrounding bank.

(Taken from 'Stonehenge and Avebury' [Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1959, 9th Impression, 1973]. Maps and plans by Reitz.)

I really don't like that hut drawing. The logic is that each ellipse of posts corresponds with the timber up-rights.

It puts me in mind of a church hall!

It is the school summer holidays (today is the very first day) and this means that my husband is at home for the next six weeks; so in theory I could just get up tomorrow, get in the car car and drive to Salisbury, to see if there is a copy of Maud Cunnington's Woodhenge excavation notes (M. E. Cunnington, Woodhenge. Devizes, 1929, G. Simpson Co.) in the library there. Or make an appointment to read the notes at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

It is quite a long way, and I was going to go with my husband on the back of his bike. Unfortunately (because this is at the heart of my bad mood) we decided that it wasn't sensible.

Sensible, now there's a word.

So I'm stuck,  contemplating the idea of marriage as the opposite of an abduction because I'm in a black dog of a mood.

Instead of going there and experiencing, I've been circling through web-pages, reacquainting myself with the other theories: questions about alignments with sun, moon and stars, how Aubrey Burl favors the moon (specifically the midwinter moon as the land of the dead), theories about female moon+male solar conjunctions and the birth of a baby sun, and at least one person saying, hey...Woodhenge was a Cretan labyrinth.

I like that Cretan labyrinth idea, I mean it had occurred to me too. I had spent a merry half-hour with MS Paint proving to myself that it was possible to join the dots to make the seven coils in there, so for now, just as a mental exercise I'm going to take the idea seriously and explain how the labyrinth fits in with the most recent ideas about that particular ritual landscape.

Before I go any further with this, I categorically do not believe that Woodhenge was ever a Cretan labyrinth, but there is a link between the labyrinth and dancing, and the circular shape of henge monuments which puts me in mind of the 'Threshing floor' which was also a place of dancing and became a sacred space. It is possible people danced at Woodhenge...threading their way between the wooden poles.

But it highly unlikly that the circular henges and their latter woodhenge form were ever related to threshing floors. As far as I know Britain doesn't have any archelogical evidence for circular threshing floors?

Nor Bronze age labyrinths.

The circle is an enclosed space; the original sacred and circular spaces seem to be linked to the threshing floor. How well do metaphors and memes cross continents? If it is true that sheep for instance were brought to Britain around about 3000 BC it is true that other ideas arrived as well
when Neolithic settlers crossed the English Channel.

To illustrate the age of the threshing floor as sacred space idea, a quote from the Old Testament:
"Then the Angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite" (I Chron. 21:18
The first mythology concerning life-death-life came from knowledge of hunting. Death -specifically killing- is a highly emotionally charged experience; mythology provided  images and metaphors to handle and to make sense of what was felt and seen. When humans began to farm, new myths evolved, agriculture provided a new way to explain how death and life were connected, specifically the seed 'dies' under the ground to be reborn and the threshing floor became a metaphor for the process of life and death.

Christianity took words and images from Greek culture; the word Halo derives from Greek meaning "threshing-floor"  and came to mean the divine bright disk that adorns the heads of saints ...and threshing floor references connecting life and death are found in the Iliad: the horses of Achilles trample down the dead like oxen treading the barley on the well-built threshing-floor; the arrow rebounds from the breastplate of Menelaus like beans flying off the blade of the winnowing shovel on the great threshing-floor; the dust of the conflict that lay white on the Achaeans is likened to the whitening heaps when the wind drives off the chaff on the holy threshing-floors when men are winnowing and Demeter separates the chaff from the grain...

None of this has any definite link with Late Neolithic, Early Bronze age Britain save that farming communities all over the world share a common experience of using a threshing floor, and the observation from myth and legend that the threshing floor tends to gain a symbolic meaning, it becomes the place of sanctification and resurrection.

There is no direct connection between the labyrinth and the threshing floor, but the labyrinth has plenty of associations with death and rebirth.

It is hard to know how old the labyrinth symbol actually is; there is the Etruscan Troia link (leading on to why in England labyrinths were often called *Troy towns*)  an Etruscan pitcher of 700 BC show the image of a labyrinth containing the letters TRUTA, several armed riders are shown issuing from the labyrinth's mouth near two copulating couples.  Virgil in the Aeneid  describes the Troia as Trojan horsemanship, a complex battle formation, consisting of weaving and circling...perhaps it is from Virgil that British labyrinths became Troy towns?

The Cretan labyrinth appeared on Cretan coins in 500BC, some say there are older rock carvings at Val Camonica dating from 1000 to 1800 BC.

But primarily what we know about the labyrinth, the paradoxical uni-cursal - impossible to be lost in 'maze' - comes from mythology.

Plutarch (75 ACE)  list sources and versions of the Theseus myth , amongst other things he says:
Now Theseus, in his return from Crete, put in at Delos, and having sacrificed to the god of the island, dedicated to the temple the image of Venus which Ariadne had given him, and danced with the young Athenians a dance that, in memory of him, they say is still preserved among the inhabitants of Delos, consisting in certain measured turnings and returning, imitative of the windings and twistings of the labyrinth. And this dance, as Dicaearchus writes, is called among the Delians the Crane 'The Geranos'. This he danced around the Ceratonian Altar, so called from its consisting of horns taken from the left side of the head.
which is curious don't you think, that it is called *The crane dance* and that it is linked with the labyrinth as 'imitative of the windings and twisting of the labyrinth' I can't even begin to wonder at why the alter had only left sided horns.

Yet the labyrinth has always been associated with an entrance into death and then a return to life, the left hand path is counter-sun, the Ceratonian alter would perhaps have led the dancers counter-sunwise, in the direction of death.

The labyrinth with its seven walls reminds me of 'The Descent of Inanna'; how Irkalla the land of the dead is in effect  a prison with seven gates in each of the seven walls. As Inanna reaches each gate she is forced to give up a precious item of jewellery, of status, of protection or power before she may continue into the Land of The Dead.

But my favorite labyrinth theory is experiential; the labyrinth patten itself is a mixture of pattens of the kind found in near death experiences, or when using hallucinogenic drugs. I have not used hallucinogenic drugs or ever been that close to death, but I do know those pattens and I know how running a labyrinth feels. The four pattens which are derived from a universal brain structure common to all people are called *form constant* . These pattens are: lattices (including honeycombs, checkerboards, and triangles), cobwebs, tunnels, and spirals (from work by Heinrich Klüver).

The labyrinth recalls and resonates with an uncommon state of mind..

But back to history, another labyrinth link is the Meander river. The meander is a specific patten, and it can be expanded into a labyrinth, the meander is at the heart of the labyrinth. In ancient Greek art, the meander pattern, whatever it was called, was associated explicitly with the Cretan labyrinth. For instance, The temple to Apollo at Didyma, built in the third century B.C.E., is ornamented with the meander pattern, which an inscription refers to as a "labyrinthos."

But the labrys itself is the axe..

And at the center of Troy is the abducted woman, Helen...
Or within the Sumerian Irkalla is the abducted girl, Ereshkigal...
May day games in England not so long ago, in which a girl stands at the center of the Saffron Walden labyrinth and two young men race each other to reach her first..

So it is little wonder that the child at the center of Woodhenge was identified as female, all the stories are about abducted girls given over to the dark lord of the underworld, or sacrificed to appease the forces of wealth. Are there any myths or legends about abducted little boys, or stories of boys being sacrificed? Abraham and Isaak is the only one I can think of.

Or, when the bones from that central burial were examined were there good physiological reasons to identify the child as female? I wish it possible to know for sure.

The labyrinth is rich in meaning, with its themes of wondering underground from death to life, of dance, of celebration, but it also contains experiences of loss and fear. When Theseus sailed to Crete, he went as a sacrifice (Ah, boys and girls both sacrificed!) when he left he took Ariadne with him (who was in effect sacrificed to Dionysus) and Ariadne's sister Phaedra (who also died...suicide, by hanging).

Woodhenge is not unique, there are other, similar structures found and they don't have enough post holes for seven coils, but nor does that mean Woodhenge and other woodhenges were not labyrinthine experiences.

For more about labyrinths -no one better than my teacher Jeff Saward!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Virtual worlds.

Professor Vince Gaffney, of the University of Birmingham uses powerful radio-wave imaging to produce virtual images of  'lost' ground hidden under years of soil and superficial disturbances. My recent investigation into Woodhenge has left me dismayed at what almost amounts to the destruction of archaeological sites, by archaeologists; which could have been assuaged by good record keeping!

So I'm pleased to hear of a recent discovery made, using geomatics, close to Stonehenge [LINK]

This doesn't mean of course that it wont be dug up.  The careless loss of evidence by archaeologists in the past  is frustrating, but that is now really and truly a thing of the past. The removal of bodies for display -or even just for scientific research- is a more serious wrong than losing bits of chalk or failing to write everything down.

In the past the removal of human remains was justified, by taking care that the body remained intact,   I hope this too is now a thing of the past - for it is an act of both ignorance and arrogance.

For the myths we live by play a crucial role in determining behaviour, and I hope that now we have enough education to be able to to respect the mythologies of other cultures.

Britain was once a Christian country and in Christian mythology, a body should be kept whole and buried in 'Sacred' ground, ready for resurrection. The practice of cremation, rather than burial, was indigenous in Britain during the Neolithic and Bronze age periods. With the introduction of Christianity cremation became rare, and had ended by the 5th century:

"The first re-emergence of interest in cremation in modern times was in 1658 in an essay Hydriotaphia: Urn Burial, by Sir Thomas Browne, a physician from Norwich, but it was in 1664 in a book entitled Philosophical Discourses of the Virtuosi of France that it was first advocated as an alternative to burial. During the next two centuries numerous other discussions on this question took place but the grand revival of the subject really occurred in 1869 when it was presented to the Medical International Congress of Florence by Professors Coletti and Castiglioni "in the name of public health and civilization".Reference.
It seems that a new mythology of health and hygiene -plus the evidence from over stuffed graveyards:  the cholera epidemic of 1848/49 left almost 15,000 dead in London alone- did much to change burial practices in Britain. Nevertheless medieval artistic representations of 'The end of the world' show corpses getting up, out of their graves for the 'Final Judgment'.

When the Cunningtons removed the bones from Woodenge ditch they were abiding by the rules of their mythology. The bones were taken to a scientifically 'sacred' space to provide information, so that the bones may *speak* telling a story of the age of the deceased and his or her living conditions and provide knowledge. The Christian sentiment that the bones should be kept together was incidentally respected .

But removing  the bones from their place of burial destroys knowledge and may well lead -as in the case of the Woodhenge child- to the destruction of the bones. It would have been better for everyone if the bones had been left in place.

I cannot see a sarcophagus with its mummy displayed without knowing how offensive this is to the belief's of the people who took such care to preserve their dead in this way. The Ancient Egyptian concept of death is portrayed as a journey through the land of night; through The Amduaat. The funerary text known as 'The Twelve Gates' describes the destruction (at the second and I think the fith hours?)  of those souls who have not received proper burial rites.

It was considered  *improper* to be buried in such a way that ones corpse will be disturbed, for the preserved body acts as a kind of source-code for the virtual/spiritual aspect.

The soul, in Christian mythology is thought of as *eternal* this is not so for the ancient Egyptians. By digging up and removing the body from its burial ground, the person whose remains have been *stolen* dies twice.

It is offensive to act as if one's truth is the only truth when that particular truth cannot be tested.

Most of us do not believe in the soul, contemporary myth mirrors our understanding of computers and hence the soul is regarded as an emergent property of myriad neurones, and death as a final *shutting down*  but in the past, around the time when agriculture was *new technology* life and death were seen in terms of seeds and a mysterious germination process taking place under the ground.

It is foolish to speculate about Neolithic beliefs, but it seems to me that the burial of a whole body, rather than cremation is an act of enriching the earth and of binding a soul to a particular place.

The concept of a preserved body acting as a source for an astral body that is free to return to the stars is maintained in Taoist beliefs, this makes the ancient Egyptian view a type of belief; it is not unique. Corpses inspire fear, hence the need for complex burial or preservation rituals and to place the remains within the protection of a sacred space. A corpse that has neither been cremated or subject to complex embalming processes is a different kind of corpse. There is fear that the body will be possessed by a spirit, reanimate and become a zombie or that the corpse under ground acts through the soil, that the ground above the body becomes 'hungry grass'.

What did the burial of that young man at Woodenge mean?

Did it mean that the whole ditch (his place of sacrifice?)  was now dangerous?

So hats off to Professor Vince Gaffney, though of course it wont stop people digging things up!

The final stage of geomatics is to produce a virtual map so that a visitor, sitting at a computer can 'walk' through a reconstruction of the archaeological site.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Human sacrifice.

I was crying in my sleep.

In the upper world my husband was holding me saying "It's only a dream" loving me and trying to pull me out of my deep sorrow. But I didn't wish to come up into awake consciousness because then I would lose the understanding the dream gave me. Unless I could drive the feelings into words, the understanding -crazy and non-sensical as it may appear in the upper world of 2010- unravels; but finding words isn't easy to do when ones heart is breaking and I, journeying the path of both the victim and the murderer, cannot see through my own eyes.

Within the dream; the boy must die because his father's father of many years ago drowned in the river. Even within the context of the dream this may not be true, but that is of no importance, belief alone justifies and makes it so. Lines of logic that to us seem so illogical and plain wrong, make sense in the presence of a story that pulls the threads together into a different patten, one we no longer use or even see.

It is as complicated and as simple and as stupid as that.

This is something humans do.

The symbolic-truth has becomes bigger than fact, and as a consequence the symbolic gesture is too important to abandon.

I ride the dream into the implacable, immovable, completely true.

I see the river a thousand years deep.

I see the man fall and know that this condemns his line stretching into the future.

And now as I dream it, the boy is to die because it is his right to become a guardian at the entrance to Woodhenge.

No one knows the truth about human sacrifice -I'm tempted to say anywhere- but that's not entirely true. It's more a case of ignorance on my part because I've never been anywhere where it happens, nor do I know anyone who has seen it first hand.

But it is true to say that no one knows the truth about human sacrifice in Britain during the times when Woodhenge, or Stonehenge, The Sanctuary and Avenbury were constructed.

The times these places where built in and used, spanned several centuries; there were changes in society; eventually there were Romans, Saxons, Normans..Christianity. But the bones,  now divested of their story remain. There were and probably still are bodies buried within henge monuments and ritual murder may account for their deaths.

The boy I was dreaming of was found in the ditch of Woodhenge and sent to The British Museum and, like the skeleton of the child at the center of Woodhenge, it was believed to have been destroyed in the blitz. But, due to some excellent research work done by Mike Pitts the skeleton of the boy has recently been found and examined by Jackie McKinley.

The boy was found by the Cunningtons in their east Woodhenge section, lying crouched up, his head facing South in a pit dug on the ditch bottom (Mike Pitts. Hengeworld. 2001. Page 132). Unfortunately I don't have a comprehensive description of what was found either by the Cunningtons or Jackie McKinley. All that I know for sure is that Jackie described the skeleton as having  'long legs' and would have been 5 foot 7 inch in height (Mike Pitts.pp132)  not much of his pelvis remained, but the long bones 'looked male'.

Regarding pathology, he had troublesome teeth -his 'milk teeth' in the back of his mouth (molars) had not fallen out and his adult teeth had not erupted to push them out.

This makes me think of cleidocranial dysplasia, a genetic condition which delays the fusion of the long bones (bones generally 'fuse' at the age of twenty one -it depends which bone of course) but someone with cleidocranial dysplasia would have a different 'bone age' to his 'real age' if you see what I mean?

If he had cleidocranial dysplasia his bones would be younger than his actual days lived.

Jackie describes him as ' a young adult, eighteen to twenty-five, perhaps no more than twenty-one (some of his epiphyses, the articular ends, are not quite fused to his long bones' (Mike Pitts. pp 132) . His skull size isn't characteristic of someone with cleidocranial dysplasia, though. It is dolichocephalic with a cranial index of 67.3 people with cleidocranial dysplasia usually have brachycephalic skulls.

On the other hand Jackie describes the skull as 'long between the nose and teeth. His mandible's very narrow, too. He's got a narrow face with a flat forehead. Quite distinctive...' (Mike Pitts. pp132) . The mandible could indicate cleidocranial dysplasia?

Without all the information being available, I've no way to make an informed guess.

He also had what most archaeologists take to mean as a sign of poor nutrition, cribra orbitalis. This is a pitting in the top of the eye sockets and taken to be a sign of a lack of iron in the diet (leading to anaemia), though as other have pointed out, lack of blood cells may be due to other things. There may be a link between cribia orbitalis and scurvy and megoblastic anaemia (lack of B12) in which case it is interesting to ask what does this tell us about living conditions at the time this boy died?

It tells a story of a restricted diet, not enough meat, dairy products or eggs or of too many incidents of diarrhoea -especially when young.  I guess, anyone who has experience the Glastonbury festival could understand this.

The question remains though, was it human sacrifice?

Frazer's The Golden Bough. is full of stories reported to him by ex-pats and missionary clergymen, in short his prime sources of data were ancient histories, and questionnaires mailed by himself to missionaries and Imperial officials all over the globe. Frazer was championed by The Cambridge Ritualists who were instrumental in transforming myth into legend -taking myth and reading it as if it were a half remembered account of a true occurrence- the Cambridge Ritualists were sure meneads once ran wild at night tearing animals into bloody chunks -Sparagmos- because that is what the myth (or rather Euripides in The Bacchae) had said....but Euripides was writing plays (often to make political points) and using mythology as a metaphor, never as history.

The Golden Bough, with its many recorded incidents of bloody sacrifice seemed to make a convincing argument for this life-death-rebirth ritual -for there was so much information and plenty of descriptions of natives dancing wildly around fires and the victim's inevitable and horrible demise- that appealed to a post Victorian Britain. The Golden Bough is shocking and reassuring at the same time. It reassured by showing 'us' how far we had come and yet what darkness still surrounded us, reassuring to know that 'we' still have work to be done, to bring natives into the light...It shocked by portraying Christianity as just one more form of the same, fundamental myth.

I will be returning to the Golden Bough, but for now I leave you with this:
But the best known case of human sacrifices, systematically offered to ensure good crops, is supplied by the Khonds or Kandhs, another Dravidian race in Bengal. Our knowledge of them is derived from the accounts written by British officers who, about the middle of the nineteenth century, were engaged in putting them down...continue.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The first...Mistress of the Animals.

"The idea of a Master or Mistress of the Animals who must be won over to the side of the hunters is widespread and very possibly Paleolithic in origin; in the official religion of the Greeks this survives at little more than the level of folklore." ( Greek religion: archaic and classical. Walter Burkert 1985. pp 172)
The first,the very first Lady of the Underworld is described as "Mistress of the Animals". She is hard to name, belonging as she does to so very long, long ago.

My task was made more difficult because at first there seemed only a subtle difference between a *Mistress of Animals* who takes care of the wild animals and restores them to life, and the Earth-Lady whose sacrifice drives the plants out of the mud and into the light, as far as so many tellers of mythology are concerned.

And mythology is layer over layer, the stories I read concerning one goddess may be thousands of years apart.

When I first started thinking backwards I didn't think of the famous finds at Catal Hoyuk, nor did I recall Potnia Theron. I thought of Ereshkigal (Eres is Akkadian for *Nin* meaning Lady or Queen  *Ki* means earth and *Gal* means Great).
Ereshkigal is "Great lady under earth"  or "Queen of the great land" she is the goddess of Irkalla, the land of the dead or underworld. Sometimes her name is given as Irkalla, similar to way the name Hades was used in Greek mythology for both the underworld and its ruler.
 At first Ereshkigal didn't seem to me to be any kind of  Persephone figure, it was Kramer who first mentioned the link in his book (Sumerian Mythology: Samuel Noah Kramer) in the chapter 'The Destruction of Kur: the Slaying of the Dragon'.
"It is the first of the three versions of the slaying of the dragon which seems to be the more original; the details of the story, few as they are, are significant and instructive. For in the first place, the battle between the god and Kur seems to take place not long after the separation of heaven and earth. Moreover, the crime involved is probably that of abducting a goddess; it therefore brings to mind the Greek story of the rape of Persephone. (Kramer.)
The most famous story concerning Ereshkigal is The Descent of Inanna. In it, it is the male -Damuzi/Tammuz/Adonis figure followed by the young Lord's sister: Geshtinanna (or Ngeshtin-ana) who seem to be Persephone figures having to lie underground for periods of the year -Damuzi to fertilise the barley and Geshtinanna to fertilise the grapes. But the clues are there to indicate that Ereshkigal is an older Goddess, a 'Mistress of the Animals' or at least used to be.

The bull is often encountered in association with images of the Mistress of the Animals.

The reason Inanna gives for visiting her sister in the Great Below is to attend the funeral of  Ereshkigal's consort, *The bull of Heaven* .

The Mistress of the Animals must always be giving birth.

Latter in the same story the kurgarra and galatur slip under the door to soothe Ereshkigal who is described as if she is giving birth. Now there is no reason within the story to understand why Ereshkigal should be described as if in  labour, at first I thought that her distress was sorrow for what she had done to her sister, until I remebered that that the Mistress of Animals is always giving birth.

When this story was written the Mistress of the Animals had already become Queen of the Underworld and the motif of her labour was already obsolete for the dead now dissolved into ash...rather than return (unless as ghosts).

Ereshkigal does not offer re-birth by the time the Descent of Inanna was written.

But what stole Ereshkigal away? Kur is *mountain* but the words Kur and Hursag both denote mountains. The Kur is also foreign land and a threat, since the people of the mountainous countries were often at war with the cities of Sumer. Yet Kur may also be land in general; Sumer itself is described as kur-gal, "great land" the opposite to ki-gal "The Great-Below".
It is possible that the flames on escaping gas plumes in parts of the Zagros mountains would have given those mountains a meaning not entirely consistent with the primary meaning of mountains and an abode of a god.
The Kur is also a dragon living between the land and the sweet waters of the abyss (the Absu)in this case the monster Kur would correspond to the latter (around 1100 BCE), dragon-like mother of the sweet water, Tiamat described in the Akkadian Enûma Eliš.

Ninhursag is more recognisable as the Mistress of Animals. In another story Ninurta the warrior kills the Kur:
What had been scattered, he gathered,
What by Kur had been dissipated,
He guided and hurled into the Tigris,
The high waters it pours over the farmland.

Behold now everything on earth
Rejoiced afar at Ninurta, the king of the land;
The fields produced much grain,
The harvest of palm-grove and vineyard was fruitful,
It was heaped up in granaries and hills;
The lord made mourning disappear from the land,
He made good the liver of the gods
His mother Ki (mother Earth) falls in love with him.Ninurta far from horrified looks at her with the "eye of life," saying
:"O thou lady, because thou wouldst come to a foreign land,
O Ninmah, because for my sake thou wouldst enter an inimical land,
Because thou hast no fear of the terror of the battle surrounding me,
Therefore, of the hill which I, the hero, have heaped up,
Let its name be Hursag (mountain), and thou be its queen."
The Hursag brings forth everything needed for life: animals, plants, cheese, wine, gold and silver.

But Ereshkigal is confined to the Great Below, like Persephone her duty is to make judgments and to be Queen of the dead...