Monday, August 5, 2019

Interesting Observations on Kingship

I've had reason recently to dip back into Barbara G. Walker's incredibly informative "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets" and I came across this entry on KINGSHIP.  Here is a part of it, verbatim, that I typed word for word from my 1986 edition.

If you want to read the entirety of the lengthy and very informative/interesting entry online, you can find a scanned edition of "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets" online at (also in various formats, including PDF and in various zip formats, that you can read online or download).  It is the complete 2007 edition with footnotes and Bibliography.  I have found this book to be an invaluable resource in doing my research over the years and it is a treasure trove of information.


In early Asiatic civilizations, kingship depended on the choices of women.  There was no law of primogeniture.  Kings were rarely succeeded by their sons.  Kings of Sumeria and Assyria were of unknown fatherhood.  King Esakhuruna was called "the son of Nobody." (1)  Women were the kingmakers in the land he ruled. (2)

Marriage with the earthly representative of the Goddess, in the form of the queen, was essential to the position of kingship; this was the original meaning of "holy matrimony" (hieros gamos).  Akkadian kings apparently went on military expeditions chiefly to prove themselves worthy of the sacred marriage. (3)

Ashurbanipal said he ruled by the grace of the Goddess Ishtar, he was he king "whom her hands created."  Shamash-shum-ukin of Babylon said he was chosen for kingship by the same Goddess under her title of Eura, Queen of the Gods.  King Esarhaddon of Assyria said he was "beloved of Queen Ishtar, the goddess of everything, the unsparing weapon, who brings destruction to the land of the enemy." (4)  Ishme-Dagan, king of Isin in 1860 B.C., said he was "he whom Inanna, queen of heaven and earth, has chosen for her beloved husband.(5)  The Bronze Age King Iion of Thessalian Lapithis married the Mother of the Gods after killing her former mate, described as his father-in-law, because each king's successor was supposed to call his defeated rival "father."(6)  The queens were the same as Goddess, or Mother of God.  The pharaoh Amenhotep III built a temple for his wife Ti, who was worshipped as the Goddess. (7)

The goddess-queen's choice largely depended on the candidate's sex appeal.  If she tired of the king's lovemaking, he could be deposed or killed, for the queen's sexual acceptance of him determined the fertility of the land.  In many early societies the old king was killed by the new king, usually called a "son," though he was no blood relative.  Hence the unbroken chain of Oedipal murders that puzzled modern scholars before it was known that the words "father" and "son" were used in a different sense.  A Babylonian tablet says:

Haharni laid claim for himself to lordship over Dunnu.  Earth raised her face to her son Anakandu, "Come let me make love to you,"she said to him; in Dunnu, which he loved, they laid him to rest.  And Anakandu took over his father's lordship and Nether Sea, his sister, he took (as wife).  Lahar, son of Anakandu, came and Anakandu he killed and in Dunnu in the (tomb) of his father he caused him to rest.  Nether Sea, his mother, he took (as wife). (8)

After this Lahar's son killed Lahar and took his sister River as wife; he in turn was killed by his son, who married his sister Ningesh-tinna, "Lady of the Vine of Heaven," a shortened name of the Goddess Nin-gest-inanna.  Sovereignty passed from mother to the daughter, beginning with Earth, the Goddess Dunnu herself, foundress of the line - the same as Crete's Danuna, Anatolia's Danu, Greece's Danae, the Gaulish Diana.  Kings were expected to kill their predecessors or pseudo-fathers, "Son" meant "successwor," and "wsister" was synonymous with "wife." (9)

The length of a king's reign was often predetermined, because people thought the Goddess needed the refreshment of a new lover at stated intervals.  Up to 1810 A.D., kings of Zimbabwe were ceremonially strangled to death by their wives at the moon temple every four years. (1)  Kings of ancient Thebes reigned for seven years; so did kings of Canaan.  Myths suggest a similar seven-year period for each king of Crete.  Cretan kings were never allowed to grow old, they always died in the full bloom of youth. (11)  More recently, Nigerian kings were strangled after the queen's pregnancy was established, which meant each king fulfilled his role in life by begetting one royal offspring. (12)

White explorers in Africa spoke of tribal "kings," but rarely mentioned that the real rulers of the tribes were queens.  "In the oldest times there were no reigning princes in Africa, but the negroes had large kingdoms [sic] which were ruled by goddesses. (13)  Ghana was governed by kings of matrilineal succession whose divine right passed through sisters' sons.  The Lovedu were ruled by a female "king" who took a series of lovers but always left the government to one of the royal princesses. (14)  Angola was ruled by women until the Portuguese invasions.  Ashanti was ruled by queens until the British Protectorate in 1895.  Its kings were subject to the queen mothers; its princesses took no husbands but kept a series of lovers.  Similar customs obtained in Loango, Daura, the country of the Abrons, and other African nations.  The queen of Ubemba was called Manfumer, "Mother of Kings," and did all the governing. (15)

The Gospels' "Candace queen of the Ethiopeans" (Acts 8:27) was not a single individual but the hereditary title of queen mothers who governed the Nubian states. (16) Ethiopian kings were ritually slain from the earliest times.  Regicide was still the custom of Nubian Kassites of the Upper Nile in the 1st century B.C.  Diodorus said only one Ethiopian monarch escaped the kingly fate because he was educated in Greece and dared to disobey tribal law.  He led a party of soldiers into the sanctuary and killed all the priests before they could kill him. (17)

The Javanese Singasari dynasty had matriarchal queens similar to Candace, typified by Queen Dedes whose statues show her as a beautiful Shakti of wisdom.   She married a number of new kings after they killed her previous consorts, each apparently holding office for a seven-year period. (18)

Legends consistently associate kingship with ceremonial death.  A seal from Lagash shows the Goddess taking her new kin by the hand, while he raises a weapon to slay the old king, prostrate under the queen's feet. (19)  King Sennacherib of Assyria was "beaten to death with stauettes of the gods," in the temple at Nineveh.  Perpetrators of the deed were his "sons," one of whom succeeded him as King Esarhaddon.  Upon his succession, Esarhaddon proclaimed"  "I am powerful.  I am omnipotent.  I am a hero, I was gigantic, I am colossal!" (20)

Sometimes, kings had to proclaim they were embodiments of the Goddess herself so as to rule with the same authority as queens.  Antiochus of Commagene announced that he could rule because he was the Goddess. (21)  A king's investiture used to mean putting on female robes, so the king could be displayed as a transvestite Goddess (see Transvestism).

In the ancient Middle East generally, kings were not so much governing figures as ceremonial ones, primarily concerned with dedication of temples and other religious responsibilities. (22)  Sometimes they were also war leaders, able to preserve their lives in time of danger by convincing the people that no one else could defeat the enemy.  In such a case, a surrogate victim might be found - a real or adopted son, a prophet, a condemned criminal, or a divine animal.

A war leader of Carthage "clothed his best and most beloved son in royal robes and crucified him as a sacrifice" to secure the blessing of Baal on his military campaigns. (23)  Similarly, the god-king Isra-El clothed his only-begotten son Ieud in royal robes and sacrificed him "according to the custom of the Jews," as Philo said. (24)   The king became Jesus, "king" of the Jews (John 18:33).  Since a king was God, any king's real or adopted son was naturally the Son of God, and Yahweh himself was embodied in the Jewish king.  "In the early period of the Hebrew monarchy the central element of the annual New Year festival was the ritual enthronement of Jahveh as King. (25)

Son-killing was a habit, not only of the Jewish god-king but of many other god-kings who modified the old custom by shedding the blood of someone else in the proper season.  A Swedish king named Aun extended his reign for nine years by sacrificing one of his nine sons each year to ransom his own life. (26)

Footnotes and Bibliography for the material above:

1.  Assyr. & Bab. Lit., 198.
2.  Bachofen, 215.
3.  Hooke, S. P., 49.
4.  Assyr. & Bab. Lit., 91, 114, 130.
5.  Gray, 59.
6.  Campbell, C. M., 422.
7.  Budge, D. N., 83.
8   Albright, 94.
9.  Albright, 94, 128.
10.  Lederer, 132.
11.  Campbell, Oc. M., 59.
12.  Stone, 132.
13.  Briffault 3, 26-32.
14.  Hays, 296, 312.
15.  Hartley, 161.
16.  Briffault 3, 41.
17.  Campbell, P. M., 200.
18.  Campbell, M. I., 216-17.
19.  Campbell, Oc. M., 42.
20.  de Camp, A. E, 64.
21.  Cumont, M. M., 95.
22.  Hooke, S. P., 49.
23.  de Lys, 450.
24.  Frazer, G. B., 341.
25.  Hooke, S. P., 110.
26.  Frazer, G. B., 337.

1.  Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, Selected Translations, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1901.
2.  Bachofen, J. J., Myth, Religion and Mother Rite, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1967.
3.  Hooke, S. H., The Siege Perilous, Freeport, N. Y.:  Books for Libraries Press, 1970.
4.  Assyrian and  Babylonian Literature, Selected Translations, Ibid.
5.  Gray, John, Near Eastern Mythology, London: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., 1963.
6.  Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, New York; Viking Press, 1970.
7.  Budge, Sir E. A. Wallis, Dwellers on the Nile, New York: Dover Publications, 1977.
8.  Albright, William Powell, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968.
9.  Albright, William Powell, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, Ibid.
10.  Lederer, Wolfgang, The Fear of Women, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1968.
11.  Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, New York:  Viking Press, 1964.
12.  Stone, Merlin, When God was a Woman, New York: Dial Press, 1976.
13.  Briffault, Robert, The Mothers (3 vols.), New York: Macmillan, 1927.
14.  Hays, H. R., In the Beginnings, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1963.
15.  Hartley, C. Gasquoine, The Truth About Woman, New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1913.
16.  Briffault, Robert, The Mothers (3 vols.,) Ibid.
17.  Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, New York: Viking Press, 1959.
18.  Campbell, Joseph, The Mythic Image, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1974.
19.  Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Ibid.
20.  de Camp, L. Sprague, The Ancient Engineers, New York: Ballantine Books, 1960.
21.  Cumont, Franz, The Mysteries of Mithra, New York: Dover Publications, 1956.
22.  Hooke, S. H., The Siege Perilous, Ibid.
23.  De Lys, Claudia, The Giant Book of Superstitions, Secaucus, N. J.: Citadel Press, 1979.
24.  Frazer, Sir James G., The Golden Bough, New York: Macmillan, 1922.
25.  Hooke, S. H., The Siege Perilous, Ibid.
26.  Frazer, Sir. James G., The Golden Bough, Ibid.

My Notes:

1.  Frazer's The Golden Bough (my edition is a 1963 paperback issued by Collier Books of Macmillan Publishing Company, New York) has an entire chapter devoted to "The Killing of the Divine King" (Ch. XXIV) and consisting of:  I.  The Mortality of the Gods; II.  Kings Killed When Their Strength Fails; and III.  Kings Killed at the End of a Fixed Term.

There are also separate chapters devoted to:  Ch. XXV -- Temporary Kings; and Ch. XXVI -- Sacrifice of the King's Son (also cited in Walker's "The Woman's Encyclopedia...").  This would be considered a form of "substitute" King sacrifice.

2.  Wikipedia has an interesting entry on the ancient Egyptian Sed festival or "Jubilee," that tested the stamina and physical/mental fitness of the Pharaohs.  You may want to follow-up on Footnote 4 in the Wikipedia entry:

3.  For some "light" reading (har!), check out Human Sacrifice in Jewish and Christian Tradition by Karin Finsterbusch Amin Lange at Google Books online starting on page 21 under "5.3.  Ritual of the Substitute King."
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