Ancient Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals: Bite-size Slices of the Hidden Knowledge

By: Ranilo Abando (Manila, December 27, 2020) ****

Interpreting thousands-year-old symbolic scenes contained in ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals is a real challenge for the mind.  Not only are the meaning of the depicted individual figures and deities deep, one also has to find the hidden relationship among the different elements in the depicted scene. Therefore, the context of the scene is important.  But once I have trained my mind in the art of abstracting the concepts being conveyed by the cylinder seals, I feel a special kind of joy in my heart whenever I analyze one because these types of scenes contain precious hidden knowledge that are worth more than a thousand words.

Shown above is a greenstone cylinder seal from ancient Mesopotamia.   From the left side, a hunting god (full-face) has a bow and an arrow over his shoulder.  Two scaly flat-topped raised platforms are shown, representing two peaks of a mountain.  On the mountain peak to the left stands a small tree and the goddess Ishtar (full-face) who is winged and armed with weapons including an axe and a mace rising from her shoulders.  She is holding a bush-like object, probably a bunch of dates, above the sun-god Shamash’s head.  The sun-god Shamash, with rays emanating from his shoulder and holding a serrated blade, is just beginning to emerge from between the two peaks of the mountain. The water god Ea stands to the right with his one foot placed on the right-hand peak of the mountain.  He stretches out his right hand towards an eagle.  A couchant bull lies between his legs and streams of water and fishes flow from his shoulders.  Behind him stands his two-faced attendant god Usimu with his right hand raised.  All wear the multiple-horned head-dresses of deities.  The male figures are bearded and Usimu has a double beard and wears a flounced skirt.  Ea and Ishtar both wear flounced robes.  Ea and Shamash wear their hair in a triple bun. The scales of the mountain peaks are continued in a horizontal band all round the lower part of the seal and it is on this band that the figures are standing. There is a two line inscription in a frame and below it a lion is pacing towards the right and roaring. 


As I have already mentioned in previous posts, the sun-god Shamash represents a person’s spirit.  The scaly mountain represents a person’s mind column, with its two peaks representing the higher mind and the lower mind.  The human spirit cyclically journeys between these two zones of his mind, in the same way that the sun cyclically journeys the sky.  The human spirit metaphorically rises at the east at dawn, meaning it is reborn in a dreamy heavenly reality of the higher mind after physical death.  Afterwards, it sets down at the west, meaning it is reborn in this virtual physical world that is hosted by his dark lower mind to start another cycle of earthly life.  The eagle which looks down at Shamash in the cylinder seal scene above confirms the interpretation of him as a spirit, as the eagle symbolism is often associated with the spirit.

The Akkadian god Ea, the same god as Enki in Sumer, represents the thinking aspect of the mind, especially that of the higher mind.  The water with fishes emanating from Ea is fertile freshwater, representing higher spiritual knowledge, as opposed to the metaphorical infertile saltwater representing total chaos.  Ea stepping over the east-facing peak of the mountain indicates that the higher mind has a powerful thinking aspect.  The docile bull shown under Ea in the scene represents the dark passions in the lower mind which had been ultimately conquered by a highly-evolved higher mind.   

The multiple horns on the head-dresses of the deities represent higher spiritual knowledge possessed by those being symbolized by the deities, especially Ea and Ishtar.  Ishtar (or Inanna in Sumer), represents the wise teachers in the past who brought civilization and agriculture to humanity.  That is why she is shown holding a symbolic bunch of fruits – the produce of agriculture.  Her wings represent the higher mind which is strong in those intellectually highly-evolved beings.  The armed Ishtar, and the hunter-god with bow and arrows shown in the scene, indicate that those advanced beings with strong spiritual will were able to successfully wage war against the natural forces of chaos and ignorance on earth, symbolized in Mesopotamian myths as Tiamat, the saltwater world serpent.

The small tree shown is the Tree of Life. Its presence on one of the peaks is meant to confirm that the mountain represents the mind column of a person.  The roaring lion in the scene represents the strong spiritual will of those represented by the deities, especially those by Ishtar and Ea.

Shown above is a Mesopotamian cylinder seal showing a seated god giving a plow to a human worshipper who is being presented by a high priest or lesser god.  The scene depicts the gift of agriculture to humanity by intellectually advanced beings who taught humanity the arts of civilization in the past.  The plow is a symbol of agriculture.

Shown above is a Mesopotamian cylinder seal depicting deities with symbolic animal limbs.  The deities with feet in the form of snakes represent the “serpents of wisdom” – those teachers of humanity in the past who were intellectually advanced.  They used the snake to represent them because snakes see in the dark, just like them who can see higher spiritual knowledge despite the darkness of this physical world.  Their wings symbolize their highly evolved higher minds.  Limbs of mountain goats represent high knowledge during ancient times because those animals were observed to be so nimble and agile in traversing cliffs and mountain slopes.  The others have hands in the shape of a scorpion, a metaphor that indicates that, during their earth life, those advanced beings also had impulsive passions just like ordinary humans.

Shown above is an ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seal showing a worshipper being presented to a seated god, indicated as the god Sin by the moon symbol above him. The moon, which reflects light from the sun and shines it toward the earth, symbolizes higher knowledge that was brought down to earth from high up the mind column.  Thus, the seated god in the scene represents an advanced being from a home reality high up the mind column who possess higher spiritual knowledge even while living in a human body on earth. Those beings ruled humanity for thousands of years.  This scene is very common among cylinder seals of ancient Mesopotamia.

Shown above is a cylinder seal with a scene interpreted to be depicting the god Ninurta fighting, using thunderbolts, the chaos monster Anzu, which appears as a lion with clawed human hands and an eagle’s talons, tail, feathers, and wings.  The wings of Ninurta represent his highly evolved higher mind.  Ninurta represents the intellectually advanced beings who were born on earth in the deep past, while the chaos monster represents the dark lower mind.  Those advanced beings fought the tendency of this physical world that is hosted by the lower mind to revert toward disorder (chaos) and ignorance by introducing to humanity the gift of intellectual enlightenment and civilization.

(Thanks to Creative Commons for all the photos above)

Published by rabando

I am a Filipino and a geologist by profession but I have also been an ardent searcher for answers to the fundamental questions of human existence ever since 42 years ago. It has been a long, lonely and difficult journey. Why are we here? Where did we come from? What on earth is this world where I found my self in? Surprisingly, I found out that the answers are right there under our noses. There just need to be some adjustments in the way people think.

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