Disappearing (…and reappearing) deities – a Near Eastern theme

Hittite reliefs ( in Anatolian art: Hittite period ) ...Kalesi, and Fraktin, for example—are mainly of archaeological interest. They are inferior in carving to contemporary reliefs and to those of the Iron Age, of which there is a fine example at İvriz Harabesi in the Taurus Mountains, showing a local ruler of the 8th century bc paying homage to a fertility god.  A relief from Ivriz of an ancient king of Tyana, Warpalas, praying in front of the storm god Tarhunza, eighth century BCE (Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

Luwian(related to Hittite) reliefs of the Iron Age, at İvriz Harabesi in the Taurus Mountains, showing an ancient king of Tyana, Warpalas, praying in front of the fertility storm god Tarhunza, eighth century BCE (Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Istanbul) image: Wikipedia

For the Hittites, one of the most important ideas was the theme of  “turning back a god who got angry to someone or something, and went away the country, so with his departure, he took away the wealth and abundance”:
And for the Hittites,
“the gods had to be present in their world for prosperity and well-being to flourish. They feared the departure of the gods, or of any one god, and the dire consequences that would result (Popko). One common thread in Anatolian (i.e. Hittite and surrounding peoples) mythology is the vanishing god who retreats from the world in anger. One version describes the results of the god’s withdrawal in this way: “Mist seized the windows, smoke seized the house. In the fireplace the logs were stifled…The god went away and removed grain, animal fecundity, luxuriance, growth…Therefore barley and wheat no longer ripen. Cattle, sheep, and humans no longer become pregnant…The pastures and the springs dried up, so that famine broke out in the land. Humans and gods are dying of hunger” (Popko). One thing to notice in this description is the interdependence of gods and humans—gods can starve just as humans can, and they both have to solve the crisis.”

— Source: Reyhan, Esma “The Missing God Telipinu Myth A Chapter from the Ancient Anatolian Mythology

Similarly, the idea of disappearing deities is prominent in the body of myths of the Japanese, notably with the sun-goddess Amaterasu’s disappearance into the cave (entrance to the Underworld), which is related to the idea that the sun disappears at the winter solstice.

According to Esma Reyhan in her detailed look at the Hittite Telipinu myth:

“The ancient societies believed that an angry god might cause to the negative natural events such as storm, drought, flood etc. Therefore various gods, who were kept responsible for the natural events, came out in the prehistoric period. For instance, Telipinu, the son of Storm God, is an agricultural god.1
The agricultural activities such as sowing, plowing and irrigating, etc, are under his responsibility. Naturally, the disappearing of this god affected the nature and also, indirectly, the entire life. In many ancient societies, the missing god myths represent the transitions of seasons and the changes which were observed in the nature.
Telipinu Myth appears in different forms in the prehistoric period, such as Dumuzi/Tammuz and Inanna/Ištar2 in Mesopotamia, Demeter and Persephone3 in ancient Greece or Baal4 myth in Syria. In those creations, it seems that some themes such as the disappearing of the god, his returning to the earth, winter and summer, drought and abundance, revival of the nature and the losing its liveliness was underlined especially Telipinu mythos has a different aspect from the other ones; the god got anger owing to a reason which we couldn’t understand from our text, and then he disappeared (the missing god). In other myths which we mentioned above, it appears that the disappearing fact was occurred in different forms; either this god was kidnapped to the underground by the other gods (the kidnapped god), or he willingly went to the underground (the god who went to the underground). In the Hittite culture, the missing god wasn’t only Telipinu. A number of gods have also the disappearing character. We can enumerate them as follows:

Great Storm God, the Storm God of Kuliwišna town, the Sun Goddess, the Storm God of Queen Ašmunikal, the Storm God of Harapšili, the Storm God of Lihzina town, Anzili and Zukki, Hannahanna, the Goddess Inara5… It seems both that a mythos could be connected with different gods, and also that a mythos which belonged to same god has also different versions…”

From the Anatolian list above, we see parallels with Japanese myths, there are various disappearing Sun Goddesses, and a number of Storm Gods and other goddesses as well.

This Anatolian pattern throws light on Amaterasu’s disappearance into the Iwato cave, the exit of Izanagi and Izanami from the Middle World into the Underworld and Izanagi’s emergence from it and re-entry into our world. We thus see this theme enlarged with Susanoo as the archetypical Storm God who disappears in anger into the Underworld, after a quarrel with his sister, and as the royal chronicles would have the disappearing deity centred in his stronghold in ancient Izumo (today’s Shimane prefecture) province, more curiously is the myth that all the eight million deities of Japan vacate the rest of the land of Japan to join Susanoo there in Izumo (Shimane), during the month of the disappearing deities.

In October of the lunar calendar, a festival is held to welcome all the gods to Izumo Grand Shrine (Izumo Taisha). According to shrine tradition, the gods gather at Izumo Shrine in October to discuss the coming year’s marriages, deaths, and births. For this reason, people around the Izumo area call October kamiarizuki (“the month with gods”), but the rest of Japan calls October kannazuki’‘ (“the month without gods”).
The hasawa laid out apple blossoms as a path to bring home the angry god, photo © Fir0002 Flagstaffotos Wikimedia CommonsThe hasawa laid out apple blossoms as a path to bring home the angry god (Photo copyright Fir0002 Flagstaffotos, Wikimedia Commons)

And quite logically speaking, the disappearing deities have to be welcomed or ushered back into the land, hence, we see a similar thene with the various marebito festivals and rituals welcoming back the toshigami, see  Marebito (Mare or Mara deity)

Boat launched to welcome the deity back

Boat launched to welcome the deity back, marebito rite of Fukuoka

– Taru=>Taro also joins a class of disappearing, vanishing deities, including Amaterasu, whose disappearance mean failed harvests(either because of the sun’s or weather-storm god’s disappearance), Littleton gives details of the agricultural rites and role played by the vanishing deities:

“One account of the myth of the vanishing god concerns Telepinus — another of Taru’s sons and the god of agriculture and fertility — who became angry with creation as a whole and disappeared, causing all life on earth to die. His disappearance has an adverse effect on the other deities, too, who began to starve. In another version of this myth, the sun god vanished …
Both myths underline the importance of agriculture to the hittites, whose crops included barley, grapes, olives, and who raised livestock such as cows, sheep, and goats. Unlike other parts of Western Asia, the weather in Anatolia, and particularly in the Taurus Mountains in the south, could be unpredictable. The Illuyankas myth provides an explanation of bad weather and the resulting poor harvests. When Tara defeated the serpent, crops flourished, but when Illuyankas overcame the weather god, plants did not grow as well as people hoped. Some modern historians have agreed that the stories associated with Illuyankas were originally recounted at the spring festival of Purulli in order to honor Taru and ensure that the crops would grow abundantly and healthily. The Hittite story has a parallel with the Greek myth of Typhon, the hundred-headed serpent that threatened to overthrow the gods of Olympus and until Zeus defeated it in battle.
The myth of the vanishing god had an even more direct and ritualistic purpose then the Illuyankas tale and there is evidence that Hittites recounted it in order to entice Telepinu back into his sacred temple, where he could once more provide worshipers with his protection … The story is similar to the Greek myth of Demeter, the goddess of vegetation, who caused life on earth to wither and die in her sorrow at the abduction to the world of her daughter, Persephone.”

Source: C. Scott Littleton’s “Gods, Goddesses and Mythologies” Vol. 10, p. 695 http://books.google.co.jp/books?id=QfXP_teqPrgC&pg=PA695&lpg=PA695&dq=taaru+mythology+hittite&source=bl&ots=9Yt_KiR-5x&sig=fK9tTv6BliG1Ay2_QJXkjOd7Ka8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NIzxUu7ROsPwkQW1vYH4BQ&ved=0CEMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=taaru%20mythology%20hittite&f=false).

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