It is Friday – Devi’s Day. And therefore … a most beautiful silver depiction from Chorasmia, in the heart of Central Asia. And one which, as per usual, I am going to take a completely different view of as compared to much of academia.
Now, this style of depiction is not exclusively Chorasmian – far from it. We find fundamentally resonant renderings across the Steppe and its surrounding environs, particularly when looking at the ‘Nana’ portrayals of the Sogdians.
We also find elements here which are quite clearly co-occurrent in other Indo-European iconographic portrayals of the Goddess, and at some point I do intend to produce a more lengthy examination of these.
However, when I say that I am going to take a rather heterodox view – it is not to do with that particular broader saliency. Rather, it relates to another persistent belief – namely, that this is somehow ‘not’ an Indo-European Goddess at all, but rather some sort of Mesopotamian interloper.
Perish the thought!
As I have often observed, there are certain features of academic orthodoxy that are comfortably ensconced precisely because nobody has seriously re-appraised them in the many, many decades since they were first lain down.
A frequent manifestation for this (both in terms of academia – as well as my incandescent frustration therewith), is this bizarre belief that wheresoever one happens across a potent and powerful Goddess figure … that is somehow something intrinsically non-Indo-European. Something ‘borrowed’, something popularly incorporated from Mesopotamia or from pre-Aryan India or from the frankly non-existent literally “matriarchal” cultures claimed to have existed in the Mediterranean or elsewhere in Europe.
In order to maintain this charade, evidence is ‘silo’d’ – that is to say, individual occurrences for the Goddess in question are considered only within their specific and loka-lized Indo-European sphere, and with excessive, damn near exclusive reference to comparison with some nearby non-IE cultural sphere. Whether it actually exists or not in practice – a similar custom to what can be observed when other academics attempt to insist that Indra is somehow a BMAC [Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex] incorporation … by ignoring, say, the obvious points of resonancy to Herakles, Thor, etc. and hinging everything upon a quite literally unattested and entirely hypothetical BMAC figure of which there is no actual evidence. Or, of course, Hindu Shiva-Rudra having to be ‘Dravidian’, ‘IVC’, whatever-you-like provided that He is not endogenously Indo-European (a similar silliness, entirely uncoincidentally, bedevils Dionysus – and some fringe internet malcontents have recently begun attacking Odin on exactly the same basis, right down to the “is Mesopotamian, really!!”).
I have written upon these matters extensively elsewhere, and so shall not seek to repeat that analysis here. The point is – even CLEARLY ‘Core’ Indo-European Deities are vulnerable to this kind of chiseling out through seriously slanty views which omit their actual proper context within that self-same broader Indo-European sphere.
And that, as it happens, is precisely how we KNOW these figures are not non-IE incorporations – because it would be quite remarkable were such a significant array of Indo-European cultures running all the way from India to Iceland, all somehow encounter local non-/pre-Indo-European religions who all just happened to have deific figures with the same traits and which all were with significant consistency then ‘assimilated’ in each of these separate Indo-European specific spheres.
In other words, when I look at half a dozen deific expressions from half a dozen Indo-European cultures across pretty much all the major IE linguistic groups, and find these hallmarks of consistency – I do not tend to presume that there is some astoundingly homogenous non-/pre-Indo-European culture across that entire expanse … but rather, instead, that there is fundamental, indeed directly foundational consistency and coherency for the Indo-European Faith. Even across various of its daughter-descendants and through multiple millennia and many, many miles indeed.
But let us return to this beautiful artefact – and, for the moment, away from my more vociferous polemicizing.
The Goddess upon this fine silverware is four-armed, depicted in robes that intriguingly resonate with Roman renderings for ‘Eastern Barbarians’ (as should, perhaps, be expected given the area … and whom those ‘Eastern Barbarians’ were or were inspired by / trading with), bearing a Crescent that is likely the Moon and a Chakra (Wheel) which may plausibly stand for the Sun. The other hands bear a bowl, and what might be succinctly described as a scepter (there is an entire piece which could be written upon that detail – for another time). About Her Neck, we find fine jewelry, a triple-noded necklace; and upon Her Head, we find the refreshingly familiar device of the Corona Muralis – a device I describe as ‘refreshingly familiar’, for it is still in modern heraldic use today.
The Vahana [‘Mount’ / ‘Vehicle’] of this Goddess – and to begin our Indo-European comparanda at that point, this is a feature held in common with an array of other Indo-European deific expressions. Cybele is perhaps best-known in the West (and has likewise been labelled entirely falsely a non-IE incorporation, as I have written about elsewhere), Durga is vibrant among us in the Hindusphere, and Freyja’s chariot pulled by cats (which, it should be noted, are more properly the Scandinavian forest-cats … and quite a bit larger and more ferocious than may perhaps be anticipated by the word “cat” in that modern perspective) – each of these is running off that similar typology.
This also forms a core part of the argument for the Central Asian deific being non-Indo-European – as it is alleged that seemingly any such encounter of a Goddess riding a Lion, or a Lion-chariot, or seated upon a Lion Throne, must be Mesopotamian in ultimate origin.
That is rather curious.
We have the relevant paleontological attestations to show that big cats lived in Europe, more specifically, the Ukraine and related areas – that is to say, proximate to the Indo-European Urheimat.
We have, likewise, somewhat speculative Indo-European linguistics to suggest that Proto-Indo-European ought similarly to have possessed terms for these magnificent creatures – as we should expect, given they were to be encountered in the relevant geographical region of its speakers.
The argument that a Goddess of leonine association therefore cannot be Indo-European precisely because of this … would presuppose that the Indo-Europeans did not make any mythic nor theological mileage from very impressive and clearly apparent creatures encountered in their archaic neighbourhood, and were ignorant of the idea that you could link such a deific with a large hunting cat up until they all encountered non-IE peoples elsewhere who did so.
Now this does not mean there’s no room for Mesopotamian ‘cultural encounters’ to have taken place – say within the Achaemenid Empire, or amidst the Hittites … or, for that matter, among the Romans of the later imperial age. Quite the contrary – there is reasonable evidence of various of this occurring. My contention is that instead of providing a wholesale vector for these relevant elements to enter into the Indo-European mythosphere for the first time … they may instead merely have ‘reconfirmed’ them.
However, the issue which we have is twofold – whether these ‘relevant elements’ were in their ‘essence’ or merely in their ‘expression’ of non-Indo-European origins. And I would have to say that while there is no reason to ignore later (Greco-)Roman developments where we find Mesopotamian, Egyptian etc. iconographic features turning up on more northerly handiwork … these are ‘expressions’ rather than ‘essence’.
More to the point, they have no bearing upon the Vedic citations to be found for instance in the Shatapatha Brahmana wherein Vak Devi has the leonine iconic associations we ought expect here. There is most certainly no evidence that I am aware of for wholesale incorporation of Mesopotamian religious elements into such archaic Vedic religion !
(although perhaps I should say – there is no good evidence for this. Predictably, I have just run across an academic paper which attempts to force some very, very peculiar purported “parallels” indeed which seemingly make a nonsense of Vedic religious understandings in a hellbitten drive to mash them up with Mesopotamian ones upon the loosest of possible not-even-linkages (e.g. positing a Sanskrit substrate in very ancient Hebrew). But I digress)
Speaking of Vak (Aditi) – She is quite integral to the demonstration of the essential truth to these matters. We find this Goddess hailed in the oldest Indo-European religious canon available to us as, effectively, exactly what we should expect.
A Goddess, Wife of the Sky Father, a Mother, strongly correlate with Sovereignty, Warfare, and Power and Cosmic Order.
This ‘Queen’ understanding links heavily into the role for the relevant Goddess as ‘national deity’ which we see with later-attested figures up to and including the contemporary (although from far more archaic roots – see my 2018 Indian Independence Day (A)Arti-cle upon this most Blessed Subject) Bharat Mata [‘Mother India’]; and, of course, helps to establish the coterminity with Scythian Tabiti – another irreducibly Indo-European figure (again, see my previous works in this area).
And in terms of that Corona Muralis iconographic element – the fine castle-style headdress (well, ‘Civic Crown’) we find upon this Chorasmian figure’s head – again, that is what this stands for. Part of a frequent and pervasive understanding for the Goddess as irreducibly linked not just to ‘city’ in the topographical/geographical sense, but to the Nation for which it stands [‘Nagaradevata’, akin to the ‘Polias’ in Greek which demarcated a deific as ‘Of the Polis’, the City]. We have earlier demonstrated the foundational ‘cross-over’ with the ‘Mountain’ and ‘Fortress’ terms that are likewise so prominent for this Goddess – or, to phrase it in terms we Hindus should be more familiar with … ‘Parvati’ and ‘Durga’ respectively [and c.f Hittite ‘Pirwa’, Greek ‘Meter Oreia’, Artemis Orthia, etc.]
Now, speaking of theonymics – the default presumption pertaining to the Nana deific of Central Asia, is that the very name of ‘Nana’ confirms a Mesopotamian origin for the figure – and it is not hard to see how ‘Inana’ is speculated to have informed this later occurrence.
Except here is the thing. Vak Devi is also hailed as नना – ‘Nana’. What does ‘Nana’ there mean? ‘Mother’. Where does this term hail from? Proto-Indo-European. ‘Nana’ once more – as attested via the modern-day terms in English, Welsh, etc. derived from Proto-Celtic *Nana (‘Grandmother’) [consider English: ‘Nanny’, Welsh ‘Nain’ – Grandmother]; the Ancient Greek νῐ́ννη or νάννη (‘Ninne’ and ‘Nanne’, respectively – again, for a maternally linked female relative such as a mother, grandmother, or an aunt), and so on and so forth. Especially given that we have *male* correlates for these terms – Ancient Greek νόννος , νάννας and νέννος (‘Nonnos’, ‘Nannas’, & ‘Nennos’ – ‘Father’, ‘Uncle’, and ‘Uncle/Grandfather’, respectively), Latin ‘Nonnus’ (‘Old Man’, and thence ‘Monk’, ‘Teacher’), etc. … it would therefore seem incredibly unlikely that all of this was the result of some purported Mesopotamian incorporation.
Quite the contrary – the sounds involved in the PIE formulation are pretty clearly resonant with the sort any child may make as an infant hailing their adult familial members. They are, quite literally, ‘foundational’ and ‘formative’ in their ambit – not only for the infant in question, but also for the Indo-European languages all up.
Now, this is worth highlighting because – as I say – the notion of ‘Nana’, the Central Asian deific, being of Mesopotamian extraction is supposed to be significantly supported via claims that the theonym in question is a direct calquing or other form of borrowed incorporation from that much further south(west) non-Indo-European culturo-religious-linguistic sphere.
Except in order to arrive at that conclusion, one has to literally ignore and blatantly obviate an entirely plausible and endogenously Indo-European term that doesn’t just mean ‘Mother’ (i.e. exactly the role that the Goddess in question would have in these Central Asian occurrences), but is also directly attested with exactly this meaning, on the Vedic cognate deific right there in the RigVeda [RV IX 112 3, to be specific; and at some future point I may pen something brief upon the again foundationally congruent symbolism of this line] well before any such pervasive Mesopotamian influence of (Indo-European) Central Asia was supposed to have occurred.
Indeed, therefore fundamentally positing that the utilization of ‘Nana’ to refer to this Goddess – as ‘Mother’ – was something plausibly running right the way back to the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, all those many millennia ago.
The Central Asian IE sphere was demonstrably mostly Iranic in its linguistics – although notably also Sanskritized at various points, and with the degree of differentiation between, say, archaic Eastern Iranic and Indo-Aryan often overstated (as can be demonstrated via the observable congruence between the old Zoroastrian declamations of various things that were evidently not (just) Indo-Aryan, but rather encountered amidst the old post-Andronovo Indo-Iranic religious orthodoxy the Zoroastrians had been rebelling against, and continued on by the ‘Turanic’ / Scythian-sphere descendants of same), I see no good reason to presume that a Sogdian or other Steppe Iranic sphere employment of a term like ‘Nana’ to refer to a (Mother) Goddess (whether literally as ‘Mother’, or as a term of respect for a woman of rank and standing in the manner of modern English ‘Matron’, itself of the same archaic anchorage as ‘Mother’ via Latin ‘Mater’ thence ‘Matrona’) should be significantly different.
It would require a rather remarkable occurrence of a complete substitution for the endogenously Indo-European, Indo-Iranic term by a non-IE incorporation that nevertheless ‘just so happens’ to look exactly like the relevant IE term, which could somehow also sever via displacement the incredibly archaic interlinkage of ‘Mother’ (IE: ‘Nana’) and ‘Mother Goddess’ in theonymic terms.
Do we REALLY think that this has happened? Or that ancient Indo-Europeans of an array of different polities scattered across the eastern IE sphere would all somehow go around deciding to re-designate and re-dedicate the deific at the literal heart of their communities and ethnos-identity, as and to a foreign incorporation wholesale?
It would seem most curious to assert – and yet, assert this, without hint of irony, many do.
But let us return to Mat(t)ers directly in front of us.
When we are considering the deific likely depicted upon this fine silver vessel, or for that matter any of the various Steppe occurrent depictions with which it is significantly in concordance elsewhere …
… if we are told that this is a non-Indo-European Goddess (with four arms, no less) – a “Mesopotamian” or “Sumero-Akkadian” or whatever incorporation into our Pantheon –
Then the question quite rightly becomes “what about Her is non-Indo-European?”
And given all that we know, the fact that the various salient elements so often pointed to to attempt to suggest that this deific, this deific complex all up has to be non-IE … also have quite voluminous and archaic attestation from across the Indo-European sphere even in places, climes, and times rather incredibly remote from the Fertile Crescent of the Levant – points instead toward endogenous exaltation of these elements both iconographic and theological.
Are there similarities with the deifics of other and non-IE peoples?
Does this absolutely mandate that cross-over influence HAD to have occurred between these peoples – going in one direction, or the other – in order to arrive at such understandings?
Where the elements in question are demonstrably of plausible Proto-Indo-European archaic endogeneity, it is upon those who would seek to deride these claims to demonstrate for us why we should take them seriously.
And, in specia, just why it ought be found seemingly more credible that these aforementioned archaic and pervasive Indo-European understandings somehow vanished only to be displaced by local non-IE incorporations which mysteriously appear near-exactly what the original IE elements were in the first place.
There is a War on for your Heritage.
Join the Fight !
Jai Mata DI !
Aum Vache Namah !
Or, to reference a rather directly relevant epithet of our Devi –
Hail to श्रीमत् सिंहासनेश्वरी – The Empress Who Sits Upon The Lion Throne !