Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ancient Middle Eastern Cat Names

The Civilizations of "The Fertile Crescent" which existed between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates (the present day location of Syria, Iraq, and parts of Iran and Saudi Arabia) were diverse and numerous. Within this relatively small area rose and fell such great civilizations as Babylonia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Syria, and Sumer, just to name a few. While not the cat worshippers as their mystic neighbors in Egypt were, these cultures nevertheless portrayed their gods with unmistakably feline behaviors. In later antiquity, Muhammad, the Prophet and founder of Islam, often made use of water that a cat had sipped from in his devotional purifications. It is said that Muhammad held his cat in such high regard that he preferred to cut away a section of his robe upon which the cat had fallen asleep rather than disturb her slumber.
ADDU (Male. A.k.a. HADDAD): Addu was the Babylonian god of the clouds, the atmosphere, and storms. He was also worshipped as a god of rain and tempests by the Mesopotamians and the Assyrians as well. An interesting and unusual name to consider if you've got one of those rare meteorological cats.

AHRIMAN (Male): This guy comes from Persia, Zoroastrian to be exact. Basically he's just one of those all wicked, all evil spirits that each culture seems to have by necessity. Ahriman is known for matching every good thing created by AHURA MAZDA (the supreme god of the Persians) with an equally bad thing. For instance, upon the creation of life, he creates death; into the lush garden of Ghaon, he introduces ravenous insects. Obviously this name suits a nasty, ill tempered cat. How anyone would be able to put up with a cat foul enough to deserve this name is beyond my reckoning, but, even nasty, ill tempered cats need love too. Incidentally, Ahriman is known by other names including Angra Mainyu and Shaitin, better known by his later moniker Satan, adopted by Christianity as its representative of evil forces and darkness.

AHURA MAZDA (Male. A.k.a. MAZDA, ORMAZD): To the Zoroastrians, this is the name of the one true God, The Supreme Being from which all was created. He was said to have given the Universal Law. This name translates into something close to "God of Wisdom". According to this religion, there is only ONE BEING, Ahura Mazda, from which two spirits were formed: Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, the Evil Spirit. The spirit of righteousness is known as Spenta Mainyu. It's important to understand that they are not considered independent of one another, but are bound to each other in the all encompassing Ahura Mazda. This idea is very close to the concept of yin and yang found in Taoism. These forces are believed to have existed in relation to each other since the beginning of time, each dependent upon the other, each defined by their mutual source of origin, and both influencing one another by intermingled cause and effect. So, what does all this have to do with cats? Not a damn thing, but at least you've been provided with several exotic names that you may use for the SUPREME feline in your household.

AMURRU (Male): History is filled with accounts of seafaring cats. Cats have been used on cargo ships to rid the holdings of rodents for centuries, and the Royal Navy of Great Britain used cats on their warships up until 1975 when it was decided that the sailing cats of the R.N. were at continual risk of contracting and spreading rabies during their travels. Amurru was the Phoenician god responsible for the protection of sailors. The Phoenicians were a seafaring people themselves, and it is suggested by some historians that these sailors might have smuggled cats out of Egypt to supply the growing demand for them throughout the world due to ubiquitous rat problems. If this is true, then we have the Phoenicians to thank not only for helping in the distribution of cats around the world, but for initiating the tradition of salty, barnacle toughened felines of the brine. Amurru then is an honorable name for any cat in residence aboard tugboat, sailboat, or houseboat, much in keeping with the finest of Naval traditions.

ANAHITA (Female): Persian goddess of procreation. She is often portrayed in the company of a lion with a bull's head. A very popular goddess throughout the Mediterranean, Anahita would make a perfect name for a mother cat who has had more than her share of kittens.

ANSHAR (Male): Sumerian sky deity and personification of all that is masculine. Like his Egyptian counterparts, Anshar married his sister KISHAR. Together they brought forth all the heroic gods of the Sumerian pantheon. This is one of those all purpose names that would fit any healthy male cat.

ASHTART (Female): Phoenician goddess of the planet Venus. Ashtart was known by various names to different cultures, for instance Astarte to the Babylonians and Assyrians, Ishtar to the Mesopotamians, Arabians, the Canaanites and others. To those that recognized her under these various titles, she was above all, the "Queen of Heaven." One legend tells of her coming to earth upon a blazing star-like rock that fell from the sky, landing near the city of Byblos. A stone (which today we would obviously identify as a meteorite), was kept in a temple dedicated to her glory in Byblos and was said to be the very rock upon which she descended. Since she is associated with both Venus, "the morning/evening star," and falling stars, this name might well suit the sort of contemplative cat that curls up upon the window ledge to watch the gradual darkening of the night sky in all its mysterious beauty. If you're lucky, you might catch a fiery glimpse of this celestial goddess in the wide-eyed curiosity of your cat's attentive gaze.

BAALITH (Female): Cats seem to be drawn to trees. In fact, the image of the worried old woman wringing her hands nervously as a somewhat amused fireman climbs his ladder to reach an overly adventurous feline stuck among a tangle of branches is a familiar cliché that we've all seen in comics, movies and on television. If by chance you have a cat that loves trees, Baalith might be a good name for her. Baalith was the Canaanite goddess of trees, as well as of love, the moon, and the hidden realm of the Underworld. The fact that she was also the goddess of fresh water wells is simply a bit of synchronicity which I'm almost certain has nothing at all to do with the well known Nursery Rhyme which begins: "Ding Dong Bell..."

BELITIS (Female): (pronounced Bell-ee-tis). This is yet another tree goddess, this time of Mesopotamian and Babylonian origin. In fact, her symbol was of a tree with intricately complex branches woven into fantastic designs. However, Belitis (whose name means "Lady") was primarily a fertility goddess. A nice sounding name to suit almost any female cat, regardless of whether she happens to be a tree climber or not.

DAGON (Male): Dagon was the Philistine god of the sea, portrayed as half-man and half-fish. Oddly enough, this god was much later associated with the Greek god Apollo. You see, the temple of Dagon was where the Philistines placed the Ark of the Covenant after swiping it from the Israelites. Later, the temple statue of Dagon was said to have been discovered upon the ground as if in reverence to the Ark. This is supposed to have happened twice, and both occasions were followed by catastrophe; first by an epidemic that nearly wiped out the city of Ashdod, then by an army of mice that everything they came across. For some reason, centuries after the fact, Dagon and Apollo were connected because one of Apollo's manifestations (known as Apollo Smintheus) claimed the bizarre, yet feeble power of being able to make mice go away, thus Dagon became associated not only with fish, but with mice as well. Definitely a name for a cat who appreciates the finer gastronomic specialties of feline cuisine.

ESHMUN (Male): Time to get in some exercise. Ready? Eshmun was the ancient Sidonian god of healing. One method he used in reviving those who were taken ill was to hold a quail under their nose. Nothing more. That's it. He just held a quail under their nose and they were healed. We all know how much a cat loves chasing birds like quail, never mind what the cat's reaction might be if you were to hold one under its nose. Sick or not, I'd lay even money that the cat would give chase. Ahhhh, doesn't it feel good to stretch?

HEPAT (Female): The sun goddess of Arrina. Shown as riding upon a lion. Not much here, really, but the name was too close to Hepcat for me to resist.

ISHTAR (Female): A powerful goddess of many cultures and of many aspects. She was recognized in Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Sumeria, Arabia, and Phoenicia. Not only was she the goddess of heaven and the moon, but of fertility and creation as well. She was also the sex goddess and the war goddess wrapped up into one mighty deity covering several dualistic principles. She ruled law and order, prophecy, and the records of life. Often portrayed as the victorious goddess of battle, riding a chariot drawn by seven lions, she was always given the utmost respect and praise. Like Isis and Aphrodite, Ishtar represents the mysteries of procreation. Her countless temples were often the site of uninhibited sex rituals that today would appear to be nothing more than wanton orgies, though they were considered divine to her following. A powerful name that would suit almost any female cat.

MARDUK (Male): Since he was the supreme Babylonian god, Marduk's sphere of influence was considerable. He was said to have fifty names, each reflecting one of his characteristics. Destiny, Law, the four quarters of the Earth, patron of priests, ruler of fate, agriculture, resurrection, storms, the sun, victory and purification--all of these are aspects of the great Marduk. A good, solid, all encompassing name for a male cat.

MARRATU (Female): Chaldean goddess of the sea and of the Moon, both symbols of the subconscious. In this regard, she is the goddess of dreams. Her color is blue and in some ways she is related to the Tarot card of the Major Arcana known as "The High Priestess." A relatively forgotten deity, but an important one with a beautifully lyrical name for your mysterious cat.

MITHRA (Male): The Persian lion-headed god of truth and friendship. He was such a popular god thathe became the symbol of mystic light for several Middle Eastern cultures. The Romans, always on the lookout for a pagan deity to steal, just loved this guy. It's true that the cult of Mithra was the strongest competitor against Christianity. As a matter of fact, the Romans even celebrated his birthday on December 25, long before Christianity adopted this date for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The cult died out not long after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion. A name for your cat that harkens back to a time when a once great, yet all but forgotten god, "...could'a been a contender."

NISABA (Female): Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of grain and vegetation. Not much else to tell you on this one. A somewhat minor goddess with a lovely name for a lovely cat.

RAMMON (Male): Syrian storm god. Rammon was also guardian of the sacred pomegranate which was a symbol of life and death as well as a solar symbol. Since pomegranates are never eaten by worms, the fruit came to be considered holy. This has led to the belief that the pomegranate was the fruit referred to in many myths surrounding an 'original fruit', such as the story of creation found in Genesis. If anything here reminds you of your cat or anyone else's cat for that matter, then think of this as your own private entry, because I can't think of one way this will tie in with cats whatsoever.

RASHNU (Male): The Persian god of justice. He is often portrayed holding the scales of spiritual judgment. His associate gods of justice were MITHRA and Saoshyant. This trio was said to weigh the deeds of the soul during the three day period of evaluation following the death of an individual. While not really possessing attributes reminiscent of cats, Rashnu and his two companions in jurisprudence might well suit a trio of wise and thoughtful felines.

SHAMASH (Male): This Mesopotamian solar deity was the son of the moon god Sin, as well as brother and husband to the great goddess Ishtar. His story is not unlike the story surrounding Egypt's sun god Ra: Living in a magnificent palace situated in the mountains to the East, Shamash rose each morning to make his daily rounds of the heavens. The massive Eastern doors of his palace would be opened by scorpions, allowing his brilliant solar chariot to cross the sky into the giant doors of the Western mountains. Navigated by his faithful driver Bunene, Shamash made his way through the earth, back to his point of origin, only to begin the eternal cycle once more. Besides being a good name for one of those sunbathing cats, Shamash might also be suitable for a beautiful longhaired cat such as an Angora, a Himalayan, or a Persian. "Shams" is the word for sun in Arabic. The source of Samson's great strength is none other than his long, flowing hair. This in itself presents a solar image (countless rays emanating from the brilliant orb), as does the notion of a diminishment in Samson's might due to the treachery of cutting hishair and his subsequent blinding. Using this suggestion as a guide, the symbolism of Samson's renewed strength upon the return of his hair becomes obvious.

TAMMUZ (Male): Tammuz is one of those universal gods representing the eternal process of birth, death, and resurrection. Every culture seems to have their own variation of such a god. In this respect, Tammuz is related to Osiris, Attis, Adonis, and Mithra, just to name a few. These "dying gods" all share the common elements of sacrifice and rebirth which associate them with cyclical events such as the seasonal shift in solar positions and the growing, reaping, and sowing of crops and vegetation. It was in this latter capacity that Tammuz reigned as the Mesopotamian god of the harvest. You might consider naming your outdoor cat after this god if he's gotten into the habit of disappearing for several days, only to return once he begins to miss the domestic comforts of home and hearth.

TIAMAT (Female): This Mesopotamian goddess of "the primal abyss" (said to be the turmoil from which all the Mesopotamian gods were born) was believed to be half good and half bad, thus representing the concepts of light and dark in one entity. She took it upon herself to whip the newly born gods into shape since they were a rowdy, undisciplined bunch. To that end, she gave birth to an army of dragons, sphinxes, storms, demons, scorpions, lions and other grotesque monstrosities. Frightened by this bizarre rogues' gallery, the gods petitioned Marduk to battle Tiamat in their behalf. After a fierce battle, Marduk finally defeated Tiamat by cutting her into two sections which were to become the heavens and the earth. Due to the dual nature of this goddess, the name Tiamat might suit one of those moody, Jekyll and Hyde type cats.

UTU (Male): See SHAMASH. Utu was the Sumerian name for the Mesopotamian god Shamash.

ZABABA (Male): Sumerian and Babylonian god of combat, the battlefield, and implements of destruction. He ruled over both victory and defeat, conquerors and the conquered. Needless to say, this is a tailor-fitted name for your warrior cat.

ZURVAN (Male): Persian god of the abstract concept of infinite space and time. He was called the god of the four faces, said to be Procreation from the infinite, Birth into space, Aging amidst time, and Return to the infinite. One tale describes the thousand year sacrifice which Zurvan endured that his wish for a son might be fulfilled. After all this time had been occupied with devotion, sincerity, and single-mindedness, one measly doubt entered Zurvan's thoughts which was then born as AHRIMAN, a being of extreme darkness. Instantly coming into existence upon the birth of Ahriman was AHURA MAZDA, the polar opposite of darkness and supreme being of the light, brought forth from the thousand years of sacrifice and acts of devotion wrought by Zurvan. Since the ideas surrounding this god are filled with some pretty heavy abstractions, his name won't fit just any cat. However, if you have been charged with the care of a contemplative metaphysical cat (recognizable by frighteningly attentive and all-knowing eyes), Zurvan might turn out to be an appropriate name after all.

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