Friday, April 30, 2021

The Goddess and the Peacock

A dream report from last summer popped out of my journal and I see that it offers a portal for mythic exploration. My initial research took me to ancient Mesopotamia and a contemporary persecuted religion. There is more dream archaeology to be done with this.

August 4, 2020


Peacocks Fan Me

I am looking at a beautiful frieze carved in sandstone or alabaster. Are those lotus blossoms? There are reeds and lush vegetation. I suppose that once the scene was painted in bright colors. It starts to come alive. To my amazement and delight, peacocks step out of the frieze and fan me with their tails, a welcome breeze in the warm sunshine of the courtyard

A priestess is near me, seated on a bench, a light robe pinned at her shoulder. She wears a jeweled headband and a star. She is holding a moist tablet, wax or clay. She makes a notation and assures me that being fanned by peacocks is a very good sign.

Reentry: I stay with the dream and try to go back in. I want to check on the star and to find out more about the priestess. Her eyes are rimmed with thick bands of malachite blue, giving her the aspect of an intent bird

“You may call me Nanshe,” she says. I am humbled. This is the name of a Sumerian goddess. What have I done to earn her personal attention?

“You honored me with fresh poetry. This is the best offering you could bring. It pleases my sister Nisaba too.”

I want to pursue the symbolism of the peacocks. I have heard that only the male peacock has the cherubim tail of many eyes, and opens it only as a show of strength, especially when facing off other males in the mating season.

“The peacock reveals his splendor to honor the goddess,” she tells me. “And to open portals to other worlds.”

Feelings: Excited, intrigued, blessed.

Reality check: I have been close to peacocks in several European countries, including Ireland. I recall that peacocks feature in the auras of Indian deities.

I remember that in Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful novel A Wind in the Door a "singular cherubim" covered with eyes like a peacock tail provides the portal for travel to other dimensions.

Peacocks, in Mesopotamia? My inner fact-checker wanted to investigate right away.

Immediate research: I found that in Old Babylonian the word for “peacock”is also the name of a god, Haya, the consort of Nisaba, the goddess of writing and grain. Apparently this peacock god is himself no slouch at the scribal arts. l

The Peacock Angel (Tawûsê Melek) is central to Yazidi religion, and some believe he is a version of the ancient Mesopotamian god Dumuzi/Tammuz. In art and sculpture, Tawûsê Melek – king of archangels - is depicted as peacock. Though peacocks are not native to the lands where Tawûsê Melek is worshipped., peacock imagery spreads like the bird's tail over shrines, gateways, graves, and places of worship. The Yazidis have been persecuted as "devil worshippers" by Islamic extremists.

The Peacock Angel 

I go back to the night before the peacock dream and find this in my journal:

August 3, 2020

Hypnopompic Encounter


The name is clear and definite, stamped in fresh black letters on a white field as I exit my dreams at 4 am.

I try to see where it is coming from. I am looking down into what may be an archaeological dig, at objects partly obscured by dust and clay. An undulating spinal column, perhaps of a snake. A pointed helmet on a skull. A metallic scorpion or dagger shaped like one. Figures from the impression of a cylinder seal: lion, bull, bull man, a deity with thunderbolts. A stone ax, perhaps a thunder stone. A star connection I cannot track to a system I can name.

In a preceding dream I was seeking to limit a power - perhaps a spell - so it did not cause chaos and block the streets. 

I am reminded that in some genealogies, Ninhursag is the mother of Nanshe, a goddess of dreams and the sea and social justice. The act of generation is really strange, It unfolds in an Edenic garden where Enki has sex not only with Ninhursag but with their daughter and granddaughter Uttu  Ninhursag intercedes at round 3, draws Enki’s semen out of Uttu and pours it into the earth, where it generates trees and plants. Returning to the garden, Enki finds all this tended new growth delicious and devours all the plants. Now Ninhursag displays the full wrath of the Great Mother. She fixes the Eye of Death on him, and the god starts to die. Nothing can heal him except NInhursag, the life bringer who has now brought death. Taking pity on him – or noting his continued usefulness – she arranges his body so his head is at, and maybe inside, her vagina. He is restored and the plants come back as deities including Nanshe. Now one of her titles is Lady of the Rib. One of Enki’s injuries was to a rib. More significantly, in wordplay the ancient Sumerian/Akkadian word for “rib” also means to “give life”.

I am moved to write a little hymn for Nanshe

For Nanshe, Dream Opener

Lady of dark waters
born in the first garden
the Mother made you for healing
you speak the language of birds
you bring fish from the deep
you call kings to give justice
to the poor and oppressed
you see into the hearts of men
as if they are split reeds

Dream opener, highly prized
open the gates of dream for us
come to us as a gentle breeze
or a wild goose on the wing
show us how to read
the handwriting of the gods

Nanshe with geese. Third dynasty of Ur

Until my journal retrieval just now, I had lost the chronology. I see that I wrote this poem the night before Nanshe appeared in the unexpected luster of the peacock plumes and told me "You honored me with fresh poetry".

Mercury/Hermes as Peacock Boat

Peacock Tales Fan Out

Myths have a thousand faces, in collective as well as personal dreams. They fan out like the peacock's tail. Scholars believe that peacocks were unknown in the Hellenic world until Alexander the Great brought some back from India or Persia. Aristotle knew the peacock as a "Persian" bird. Then suddenly we hear that the peacock is the animal companion of Hera, especially at her temple on the island of Samos, where she was greatly reverenced. With his Metamorphoses Ovid carries the stiryhroughout the Greco-Roman world that Juno (Hera) created the splendor of the peacock' s tail by sowing it with the glowing eyes of Argus.
      A century or two later we hear the story that the soul of Homer transmigrated into a peacock, a bird unknown to him in his lifetime. That tale sprang from a dream of the Roman poet Ennus.
     And the tales keep fanning out. To celebrate the wedding of a Medici prince, Cosimo II, in 1608, a pageant was staged on the river Arno. Among the floats was a giant peacock that carried actors playing Aethalides, herald of the Argo, and two of his fellow-Argonauts. The peacock was supposedly a form taken by Aethalides' father, Hermes/Mercury. Where that association came from wll require further dream archaeology.[1]
       Two years after the peacock god appeared on the river, Peter Paul Rubens painted Ovid's blood-drenched story of Hera giving the peacock the eyes of Argus, her murdered watchman. We see clearly how the eyes in the peacock feathers are a symbol of vision. Rubens composes his picture in a blazing chord of primary colors: blue, yellow and red. The rainbow arch evokes the whole spectrum of light. 

Peter Paul Rubens, "Juno and Argus"

[1] Catalogue copy for the Peacock Boat: "The Argonauts Eurytus, Echion, and Aethalides (Eurito Echione e Etalide Argonote), led by Mercury [Hermes] in the form of a peacock, from the series 'The magnificent pageant on the river Arno in Florence' for the marriage of the Grand Duke'.

Drawing at top by RM


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