Episode 25 – The Devil’s Threesome

Episode 25 Show Notes

Source: Assyrian/Babylonian Mythology

  • This week on MYTH, we’ll be starting the new year with a new creation myth from a new pantheon (see what I did there).  This story is between roughly 30 and 38 centuries old, which makes it the oldest one we’ve covered yet.  You’ll learn that Enki is basically a divine Batman, that ancient god names sound more like knock off super-heroes, and that infanticide is an acceptable solution to a lot of problems.   Then, in Gods and Monsters, you’ll learn that ancient demons can do a lot more than make you puke pea soup.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures from around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 25, “The Devil’s Threesome”.  As always, this episode is not safe for work.
  • This episode was requested by Reddit member Grokstockandbarrel (who wanted to hear about Assyrian mythology), and has proven a little bit of a challenge.  Given the incredible age of these stores, much has been lost to the march of centuries.  There’s a lot of crossover between the ancient Mesopotamian religions, at least as far as we’ve been able to tell, so this week’s story will pull from the Babylonian Enuma Elish (recovered in 1849) and Astrahasis, but the source tablets are broken, so the story has holes that can’t be filled.
  • The most famous story from this time and region is the Epic of Gilgamesh, often regarded as the first work of written literature in existence, and features a lot of the same players.  We’ll cover that beast of a story in another episode, but for now, to paraphrase from Reddit, Buckle your seatbelts, motherfuckers, because in one short episode, I’m going to learn you something that I only learned two hours ago. Let’s do this.
  • In the beginning, creation was without a name.  The heavens and the earth existed, but no one had thought to name them.  The three water gods, Apsu (god of fresh waters), Tiamat (goddess of the salt oceans), and Mummu (god of the mist that rises from the other two) were still mingled into one great, undefined mass.  The earth was flat, with no mountains, no valleys, no pasture land, and no reed marshes to break the surface of the clusterfuck of a triple water god.  
  • Given that you had a devil’s threesome going on in the waters, it’s no real shock that Apsu managed to knock Tiamat up, giving birth to two children and then, not long after, two more.  There’s really not much to do but fuck when you’re a god mixed together with other gods in a nameless, featureless nothing.  Honestly, I feel a little bad for Mummu, who doesn’t appear to be the father of any of the little godlings, so it looks like he’s getting left out of the divine fuck fest.  On the other hand, maybe he’s just a little kinky and prefers butt stuff or something.  Honestly, there’s no way to really know, so make up your own favorite explanation.
  • The godlings grew up and began to fuck one another, like gods are wont to do, incest taboo be damned, and they have more children.  This goes on until Enki, god of rivers and great grandson of Tiamat and Apsu, was born.  In a plot that bears a lot of resemblance to other pantheons, Enki is the cleverest of the gods and is able to master divine magic, which makes him the most powerful god.  He quickly takes control of the cosmos, ruling over his siblings, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  
  • Rule might be a bit of a strong word, though.  These kids had raised themselves while all of their adult supervision was too busy playing with celestial dicks and pussies to do any actual parenting, so they grew up about the way you’d expect.  They were wild and feral, and they raged across creation, fighting, fucking, and playing little god games all day every day.  You can’t imagine the noise.  They had no concept of inside voice, what with there being no real inside, so they screamed and crashed and made an absolute ruckus.  Unsurprisingly, this soon pissed off the old timers, who, like old timers everywhere, were trying to sleep way too early and being disturbed by these goddamned whippersnappers.  
  • Apsu in particular felt like he just couldn’t be in a good mood without a century or two of solid shut eye, and it began to really wear on him.  At some point, the three gods had finally separated into their own demenses (I mean, eventually, the freaky sex just isn’t worth having another noisy, rambunctious, destructive god brat, right?).  Apsu figured this was as much Tiamat’s fault as his, so he went to see her.  “Can’t you get your noisy motherfucking kids to shut up for a few minutes?  I’m tryin’ ta sleep!”  “Oh, so now they’re MY kids, asshole?  I seem to remember you taking a pretty active role in filling me up with god splooge, so you deal with this shit.”  
  • “Alright, fine.  I have an idea.  I say we go and round up all of our offspring, and then we straight up murder all of them.  Once they’re done gasping and dying, we’ll finally have some peace.  I can get some shut eye, and then we can just make some new kids to replace the ones we killed.  If they get too noisy, well, rinse and repeat.  What do you think?”
  • “You sick bastard!  You’re too lazy to do any actual parenting, so you decide to just murder your own kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids?  What the fuck is wrong with you?  Hell no, we’re not doing that.  Get out of my house until you come up with a better plan than murdering children.”  Apsu left, because he knew how Tiamat could be when she was angry, but he didn’t bother coming up with a new plan. He liked the one he had.  There was an elegance to its simplicity.  Murder everyone until the problem goes away.
  • Apsu was old and maybe a little senile, so he didn’t exactly go about his batshit crazy plan quietly.  He told some of the people he planned to murder that he was going to murder everyone if they didn’t shut up.  Apsu wasn’t known for exaggeration, so they correctly took him at face value and got more than a little worried.  Enki was the most powerful of the gods, but Apsu was no slouch.  He’d had a lot of time to learn, and he was very dangerous.  They knew they couldn’t take the old man themselves, but they knew that Enki could, so they immediately went to his court and sought his counsel.
  • “Enki, Enki!  Apsu’s planning a deicide!  He wants to annihilate the young gods to get some peace and quiet.  You need to stop him.”  Enki nodded.  Much like Batman, he was always prepared for everything, and he had long ago put together a plan to take out any of his fellow gods that went rogue.  He wasn’t about to let some upstart young god overthrow him and take his throne, the way he had done.  Some gods can learn from the past.
  • He prepared a powerful spell, and cast it on Apsu while he was trying to sleep.  The spell gave Apsu what he truly wanted, and he fell into a deep, deep sleep.  Then, Enki snuck into his home, pulled the crown of creation off his head (it really belonged to him anyway, since he was in charge) and the cut Apsu’s head off his shoulders.  The deed done, he looked around and decided that the old man’d had good taste.  This was a palace fit for the ruler of all creation.  Enki rolled Apsu’s body outside, presumably to rot, I guess, and then took Apsu’s waters as his own and raised his own palace on the spot.
  • Enki moved in and decided that, now that he had a home, it was time to get himself a family.  He convinces the goddess Damkina, a goddess of the earth and fertility, to move in with him and have a kid.  The story doesn’t get into how the courtship goes, so I don’t know if the whole deicide thing was a turn on for her or if she was just too scared shitless to say no to him.  Either way, they have a kid together: Marduk, the four-eared, four-eyed giant who was the god of rains and storms.  The poor guy literally had four eyes, so he had to be a power geek chock full of nerd rage.  I say poor guy, but he was an epic level badass, so maybe we shouldn’t feel bad for him.
  • However Damkina felt, the other gods were less than thrilled that Enki had straight-up murdered the king of the gods and taken over the place.  I mean sure, he planned on killing each and every last one of them, but he kept the trains running on time.  A bunch of them got together over beers and complained in a drunken slur about how the new guy just wasn’t as good and how this was bullshit.  After one too many, they decided to go complain to Tiamat, who I haven’t yet mentioned is sometimes a beautiful woman and sometimes a gigantic, pants-shitting terror of a dragon, about that upstart young asshole killing her husband.  Somehow, she hadn’t heard about this yet.  
  • To put it mildly, she…didn’t take the news well.  Thus began the first recorded chaoskampf, or struggle against chaos.  The chaoskampf is part of the monomyth, a story that appears in almost every culture independently.  Every culture has a story about a hero deity rising up to battle an embodiment of chaos, usually in the form of a monster, especially a serpent or dragon.  Tiamat is not going to be the hero here.
  • She gathers up an army of dragons and monsters, capable of laying waste to all of what little creation currently exists.  At their head, she sets her own children: Basmu (Venomous Snake), Usumgallu (Great Dragon), Musmahhu (Exalted Serpent), Mushussu (Furious Snake), Lahmu (Hairy One), Ugallu (Big Weather-Beast), Urodommu (Mad Lion), Girtablullu (Scorpion-Man), Um Dabrutu (Violent Storms), Kulullu (Fish-Man), and Kusarikku (Bull-Man), and sets her son, the god Kingu (Unskilled Laborer, which is a lot less intimidating of a name than the others) as the general.  To further bolster her army’s power, she gives Kingu the three Tablets of Destiny which he wears as a breastplate.  The tablets were originally created as a marker of the master of the universe, and supposedly, whoever controlled them controlled everything.  Unsurprisingly, this gives Kingu great magical power.  Then she turned this horde loose to try and bring her Enki’s head for murdering her husband (who, to be fair, was planning to murder him first).  
  • News soon reached the god king of the army crying for his head and, as powerful as he was, he wasn’t sure how to go about defeating an army of monsters and dragons led by a god bearing a powerful artifact.  So he did what every great leader does when confronted with an impossible problem: he passed the buck.  “Hey there, Marduk, my favorite son.  LIsten, there’s a couple of bad guys coming to hurt your old man kind of to death.  What say you take care of them for me?  I could do it easily, but I want to see if you’re up to the task of being my second in command.  Think of it as a little test.”  “Okay, first off dad, I’m not an idiot.  I know good and well just how big of a pile of shit you’re currently sinking into.  Second, I know you pride yourself on being all tricksy, but you don’t have to pull that bullshit with me.  If you want my help, just ask.  I’ll do it, on two conditions.  First, you actually ask for my help.  Second, if I manage to beat this massive army even you can’t handle and survive, I get to be king of the gods.”  Enki smiled and stuck out his hand.  “Will you kill an army for me, son?”  Marduk smiled back and shook his father’s hand.  “Sure dad.  Let me at ‘em.”  
  • The king wasn’t the end word on the subject, however.  If Marduk was to take over as king, he would need the blessing of the other gods.  Enki hadn’t gotten that permission, and look how that had turned out.  Enki had a plan, though.  He summoned all of the gods who weren’t actively joining with the army Tiamat was gathering, and he threw a lavish feast.   He fed them rich food and the date wine flowed like water.  Once everyone was full and drunk, he told them about Tiamat and Marduk’s offer to take her on in exchange for being the new god king.  The assembled gods talked it over and decided this was a win-win.  They didn’t love that Tiamat was allowing a horde of monsters to ravage the new creation, and they didn’t love than Enki had taken kingship for himself.  This neatly solved both of those problems.  They soon decided that sure, they would meet Marduk’s demands.
  • Enki dressed his son in royal robes and gave him his scepter of kingly authority.  It wasn’t powerful like the Tablets of Destiny, but it was shiny and in a pinch, you could probably whack somebody with it.  Marduk armed himself with his bow and arrows, his storm net, a huge thunder club, and his thunderbolt daggers (because, like Thor and Zeus, he was a storm god) and set out to kill an army all by his lonesome.  It really isn’t hard to find a massive horde of rampaging monsters in a mostly featureless plane of existence.  He wasn’t exactly trying to hide either, opting instead for a display of power.  Storms raged before him, and thunder echoed in his footsteps.  
  • Imagine every epic fantasy movie you’ve ever seen, where a lone hero stands in the rain, vastly outnumbered by the enemy.  He stands silently, looking out over the clamoring, screaming mass of death and destruction arrayed against him.  Then, with quiet dignity, he draws his weapon and charges into the heart of the maelstrom.  That’s exactly what happened here.  In spite of the overwhelming numerical superiority, Marduk was able to rip through Tiamat and Kingu’s army virtually unscathed, spinning from enemy to enemy in a ballet of death.  After a battle that lasted many days, the army lay dead or dying behind him, and Marduk faced the sea dragon goddess Tiamat, mother of all creation, mother of monsters, and attempted destroyer of worlds.  She howled her anger and despair to the heavens and charged at her relative.  With booming thunder as his reply, Marduk charged to meet her.
  • They met in a vicious crash, and the battle swirled as the two mighty gods fought.  Marduk soon realized he wouldn’t be able to beat her the way he had beaten most of the others, with pure skill at arms, so he withdrew a few paces, drew out his net, and twirled it into the air at her.  He claws and wings were caught up in the strong fibers, and she struggled to break it.  He charged in close, and she opened her mouth to rend his body with her fangs or to crush his body with her powerful, magical scream.  Marduk saw this, and he summoned the ill wind that served the storm god and filled her mouth with it’s evil force, keeping her from closing her jaws on him.  Her mouth pried open by the wind, Marduk had a clear shot.  He drew his bow and fired an arrow straight down her throat.  His aim was true, and the arrow sailed down her gullet and hit her heart, splitting it in two, and killing her.  With a final spasm of pain and surprise, Tiamat fell dead.
  • Marduk turned to kill the few stragglers from her army who had survived his first charge, and then returned to Tiamat’s body.  Since she had been an earth and fertility goddess, her body was equal parts salt-water and dry earth.  With his lightning daggers, he cut her water-laden body in half like a clam shell.  One half, he placed in the sky, creating the heavens.  He posted guards throughout the sky to make sure that Tiamat’s body would stay where he put it, and these became the stars.  He made the moon as well from a piece of her body, and set it to cross the sky each night.  From the other half of her body, he made the land, which he placed over Apsu’s fresh waters, and the water was hidden, but it still rose to the surface in wells and springs.  From her eyes, he made flow the Tigris and the Euphrates, the two most important rivers in Mesopotamian history, and they flow to this day.  Across the land, he made the grains and the herbs, the pastures and the fields, the rain and the seeds, the cows and the ewes, and the forests and the orchards, all the things needed for early civilization.  
  • Now that these things existed, someone needed to tend to them, and Marduk knew just the assholes.  He took the captured, vanquished gods from Tiamat’s army, and he set them to a variety of tasks, including toiling in the fields and the canals.  Frankly, it sucked.  It didn’t take long for the gods to forget that they had been part of an armed rebellion and that they could have simply been executed and start bitching and moaning.  “Ughh, this is so haaaaard, gooodss.  It’s, like, totally unfair that we have to do hard labor to make up for trying to help Gramma murder the king.  I bet he’ll be reasonable about that.  We should just confront him, right?”  
  • Everyone decided that, as the previous second in command, Kingu should be the one to go up with the suggestion while the rest of them burned their spades and baskets in the field.  And that definitely had nothing at all to do with the fact that if Marduk took it badly, the rest of them could abandon his ass and deny they had ever complained (although the bonfires made of burning tools might make that more of a challenge).  Marduk listened to Kingu’s suggestion, and had him clapped in irons while he worked through an idea he was having.  “You think it’s unfair that I make the rebel scum toil in the fields for their crimes.  Maybe you’re right.  Maybe it’s not fitting that a god should have to work like that.  Nothing worth having comes without sacrifice, though.  Are you prepared for that?”  “Nothing could be worse than the indignity we’ve been made to suffer.”  “Famous last words, friend.”
  • Marduk went to consult with Enki about his plan.  Enki talked it over with the most powerful gods, and they all agreed that Marduk’s plan was a good one, and it served two purposes they could get behind, so he had permission to proceed.  He went out to the public square in the new creation from Tiamat’s body and had Kingu dragged out in irons.  On one side stood the gods who had joined with the rebellion.  On the other stood the gods who, realistically, had just been too lazy to join the rebellion, but were able to play it off as loyalty after the fact.
  • “Assembled honored gods, goddesses, and traitorous rebels.  We have before us and beneath us a new world, and a new opportunity.  This place has the possibility to be the beginning of something incredible, but such things require sacrifice.  Someone must work the land, must till, harvest, and sow year after year.  You have said that this is not work fit for a god, and I have heard your complaints.  Let it not be said that I am not merciful.  Therefore, those of you assembled will be released to pay an appropriate ransom for your return as nobility.  On one condition: we need a new race of beings who will exist to serve the land, to harvest its bounty, and to worship our awesome might.  This new race of humans will take over in the fields after today, and you will all be here to witness their creation.”  He turned to Kingu.  “Except you, you traitorous son of a diseased whore.”  From his robes, he drew his lightning dagger and in one quick motion, he slit Kingu’s throat from ear to ear, all the way to the bone.  The god dropped to his knees in surprise, hands desperately trying to stem the flow of life’s blood into the rich soil he knelt on.  “I warned you that this would require sacrifice.  Is this better than having to do a little hard labor?  To know that your blood will be used to make our servants, our inferiors, and that your death is given for their life?  Fuck you, Kingu.  I hope some part of you can remember what is about to happen.  But it probably won’t.”
  • As Kingu died, Marduk chopped his body up finely, and mixed his body and blood with the thirsty earth to create a rich mud.  Then, the gods he trusted most stepped forward and offered a small piece of themselves to the creation by spitting the water of their bodies into the mud.  Then, Enki and the birth-goddess Nintu worked to create humanity from the blood of a dead god and the earth formed from the body of a dead goddess.  When they were formed, Enki imposed on them the labor previously assigned to the traitor gods.  Thus, humans were set to maintain the canals and boundary ditches, to hoe and to harvest, to irrigate the land and to tend the crops, to raise animals and to fill the granaries, and to worship the gods at the altars and at regular festivals.  
  • And that, my dear friends, is how the earth came to be and why mankind was created according to perhaps the oldest known version of the story.  I find this story fascinating in part because of the simple age of it, and how you can already see so many classic elements of the mythologies and religions to come inside it.   God rebellions, man created from dirt to toil in the fields, a single hero standing alone against the tide of darkness and destruction.  It’s all here.  You can also see a little bit of the ancient culture reflected in the story, with the king going to the council for advice and permission before proceeding on a risky plan.  .From our archaeological studies, this appears to have been an accurate depiction of how ancient Mesopotamia was ruled, with the king being the ultimate authority, but needing the permission of the council of those he ruled to make far-reaching decisions to ensure that the people had a voice.  If you look closely, you can often find grains of truth in these fantastical stories of heroes and villains.  And speaking of, it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s god-monster is the demon Pazuzu from the ancient Mesopotamian religion.
  • Pazuzu was the king of the demons of the wind, and was most popular between 2000 and 1000 BC (or between 30 and 40 centuries ago).  He was the son of Hanbi, the demon-god king of the underworld and its demons, and he was the brother of Humbaba the Destoryer, the demon-god protector of the Cedar forest from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which we’ll cover in a later episode.  All demons, Pazuzu included, were thought to dwell in the underworld, under the rule of Hanbi.  Humbaba is (spoiler alert, although if you haven’t heard a story over 4000 years old, that’s on you) killed by the heroes in the Gilgamesh story, which leaves Pazuzu one step away from the throne of the underworld.
  • Demons in ancient Mesopotamia were…complicated.  I mean, they were evil, sure, but not like capital E Evil.  The ancients alternated between fearing Pazuzu and his relatives, and turning to them for help when shit got rough.  Pazuzu, for instance, was definitely a blood-thirsty nightmare, but he was also called upon to protect women during pregnancy through apotropaic amulets.  The demon-goddess Lamashtu, who was incidentally Pazuzu’s wife, preyed on pregnant women and newborn babies (which helped explain high infant and maternal mortality rates in the ancient world), possibly because Pazuzu was unwilling or unable to knock her ass up and let her have demon children of her own, and only Pazuzu was willing enough and mean enough to stand up to her. He might be an asshole, but in this case, he’s pointed at a bigger asshole, and that makes him our asshole.  Basically, he’s the ancient version of Godzilla.
  • He was usually depicted as a combination of various animal and human parts: the body of a man, the head of a lion or a dog, the talons of an eagle, two pairs of wings, a scorpion’s tail, and a serpentine penis.  Most of the time, he is shown with his right hand up and his left hand down.  His horrifying appearance likely inspired later writers of the Torah (which later was incorporated into the Old Testament) when describing demons and some of the foul pagan gods the subjects of the stories encountered.  In particular, there is a story of King Solomon (yes, still that King Solomon) facing down a wind demon while attempting to build the Temple of Jerusalem.  He captures the spirit, and learns that its name is Ephippas, who has damaged the land and killed the people daily with his fierce winds.  This bears a lot of similarity to the stories of Pazuzu, and it’s possible he simply underwent a name change to avoid giving the pagans any free press.  
  • Pazuzu is the demon of the southwest wind, known for bringing famine during the dry seasons and locusts during the rainy one, and deadly storms whenever he goddamn well felt like it.  Since these southwest winds could bring such doom and destruction, it is hardly surprising that ancient people would assume they were controlled by a malevolent intelligence and seek to find a way to bribe the shit out of that intelligence to try and get out of being murdered by nature.
  • Given his power, pregnant women weren’t the only people to call on his dangerous help.  When things got life and death, Pazuzu was seen as a viable choice.  Archaeologists have uncovered ancient plaques that would be hung on the room of a sick person to protect the poor bastard from Pazuzu’s bitchy wife Lamashtu, as well as to ward off ghosts.  Most importantly, since he had the power to bring disease and famine, they hoped he had the power to take it away again too, hence the prayer plaques.  In some interpretations of ancient myths, malaria is the result of Pazuzu’s meddling, carried on the winds beneath his wings to spread over an unsuspecting population.  He was also blamed for the spread of typhoid, and with that one two punch, it’s no wonder people were desperate to stay on his good side (or at least his less evil side).  
  • Pazuzu was originally a storm-bird named Anzu, who could breathe water and fire.  Over the years, the god and the demon split into two personalities, leaving Pazuzu to take all of the shitty parts of being a storm-god, like floods, famines, and pestilence.  
  • If the name sounds familiar, and you haven’t yet figured out why, it’s probably because you watched the classic horror film, The Exorcist (or maybe you’re a Futurama fan).  In the film, the young girl is possessed by an ancient demon, and it is inferred that an ancient statue from the Iraqi desert of Pazuzu is the demon’s calling card.  It isn’t until the second film that the demon is explicitly named as Pazuzu.
  • So if you are a woman close to giving birth, consider making a little bracelet in honor of Pazuzu.  You might just convince him to save your baby’s life (assuming he doesn’t decide to possess you instead and make you vomit pea soup).  That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn and now, on Spotify, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth and on Instagram as Myths Your Teacher Hated Pod.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.
  • Next time, we’ll be launching into one of my favorite stories, and one you probably have heard before if only in bits and adulterated pieces.  We’ll be getting into the mythic epic of the Trojan War, starting with the event that accidentally kicked off the whole thing.  You’ll learn that you should never trust a goddess offering gifts, that Zeus is a crafty bastard, and that guest lists are vitally important.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the bizarre result of yet more interspecies god sex.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.