Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tiamat’s Tears

“In the beginning…” These opening words of the Old Testament have a ringing familiarity, perhaps even to those who might seldom visit a church. But the human imagination allows for many ‘beginnings’, and each culture and belief creates its own beginning appropriate to itself. So…

In the beginning there was only Tiamat. Tiamat, the mother of all which will be, out of whose celestial womb all life will flow, fills all of space. She is the primordial salt ocean, and the rising and falling of her fertile waves are but the outward signs of the momentous acts of creation which are even now taking place beneath her surface, in the dark depths of the cosmos. At first it is as if there is only a vast nothing, a void without form. Then gradually, gradually, small flashes appear. At first they are only scattered sparks, shining briefly at random. Then come more and more, until the darkness is pierced by countless stars.

But Tiamat knows that more is needed: something to complement her own salt body. From her void emerges her husband Apsu. Her husband is also of water, but his waters are sweet. His waters are freshwater. It is this mingling of saltwater and freshwater which produces the potential for all the other gods to emerge. But in the eons to come a great sacrifice will be needed if the world itself – our world – is to be created.

The gods, who are Tiamat’s own creation, rise up and rebel against Apsu. Apsu is slain, and Tiamat, in her attempts to win justice for her lost husband, is herself torn in two. Out of this rending, this great separation, dry land at last emerges. Tiamat’s defeat and sacrifice have made it possible for life on earth to begin – and so for us to exist.

This particular ‘beginning’ myth of Tiamat is from Mesopotamia. In it we recognize many key elements of such stories: the creating Great Mother, the ‘alchemical wedding’ of opposing but complementary forces, the resulting struggle, and the need for sacrifice to drive things forward if further creative goals are to be achieved. Sacrifice is of course also at the heart of the Christian story, and it is the idea of sacrifice in such stories which also contains within it the promise of redemption. And what is redemption but an act of sacrifice with a further purpose? Tiamat’s sacrifice was needed to create the separation of land and sea, and so allow life on land to flourish.

But is there perhaps a further meaning that we can draw from the myth of Tiamat? Why was Tiamat specifically the salt ocean? Men wage war, and women weep. Strife and struggle are mingled with the salt tears of those who are left to mourn, and those who are left are the wives and the mothers who remain to grieve. Our mother is the earth, whose freshwater rivers that are the remains of Apsu always flow to be reunited with his beloved ocean. And our mother is also that ocean, containing the salt tears of Tiamat who, as mothers do, knows both the pains of sacrifice and the sweetness of redemption.   

Painting by David Bergen


  1. Thank you Emma for this fascinating story of creation and your remarkable insights into it! It seems that in all great stories, including stories of creation, that there is an antagonist - a 'problem' of sorts - that determine a critical point of change or transformation that allows the creation of worlds to manifest. In Tiamat's case her own creation, the gods she created, rebel and annihilate her husband Aspu, and yet this destruction, and the sacrifice of Tiamat, resulted in the creation of land for life on land to spring forth. Also the image of water is often used as a symbol for Spirit, and as you point out all water eventually returns to their Source, the primordial Mother, the Supreme Being. And in turn the primordial Mother projects herself, manifesting in infinite forms, in endless cycles similarly to how water on earth cycles from the ocean to the sky to the mountains, into the earth and finally returning to the Source. The return is always back to Her. The story of return is metaphor and it is not based on time. This story is both eternal and alive in the present moment. There are many transformations and cycles of change that appear on the surface, but at the heart of creation we are the Divine Mother.

    1. Hi Joseph, your reaction to Tiamat's Tears is heartwarming. I confess that creation myths are my favourite forms of myth, exactly because something new can be discovered and learned from them, and I feel that it is this which gives my writing this extra sense of discovery that I then can share with the reader. In such cases my conclusion can sometimes come as unexpected - a discovery made at the very moment that I write the last words of such a post!
      And you added your own gem in your last words:... but at the heart of creation we are the Divine Mother. Thank you ♥