Ancient Sumer and the Stars

I’m researching Sumer for my next writing project, and I just came across a fascinating and highly problematic book, The Shiny Herd: Ancient Secrets Hidden in the Sky by Charles M. Houck. Here’s my Goodreads review:

I gave this book a low rating because it shamelessly mixes religion, history, and science, which makes it impossible to tell fact from belief. But I’m going to recommend it for three audiences: 1) people who are into the concept that “Each individual point of consciousness — the self — destines itself to repeat its pilgrimage through this plane of matter until that lesson is learned” and are less concerned about provable facts; 2) people who are interested in ancient astrology and don’t mind doing their own fact-checking; 3) Sci fi authors looking for a story idea. For all that, it’s pretty interesting.

For all its problems, though, this book is totally worth a mention, because it opened my eyes to something that would be completely obvious to anybody who lived in a world without light pollution. Here’s the first part of the cover text:

Long before the Roman Empire, the Egyptians, and even the ancient Akkadians, there existed a society in southern Mesopatamia known as “The Watchers.” Perhaps the greatest legacy left to the world by the Watchers was a teaching tool that drew its lessons from the stars. The Sumerians called this gift from the ancients ‘The Shiny Herd’; in modern times, we refer to it as the Zodiac.

The way the author talks, these Watchers are apparently beings from some higher plane that brought us refinements of civilization and higher truths, etc. etc. If these Watchers existed, though (it’s hard to tell from this book), they could just have been people whose job it was to watch the stars and tell everybody what they meant. Whatever further spiritual meaning there might have been or not been, I would not be qualified to say.

Either way, here’s my realization: the ancient Mesopotamians could go to the movies every night, for free. Without light pollution, stars are much grander and more imposing. And they move, even though it’s slow. Comets and astrological events must have had quite an impact. Furthermore, because it is human nature to assign meaning to what we see, it’s likely they incorporated what they saw into their world view, which means their understanding of the gods.

So I’m off to find out more about astronomy and the zodiac.

Meanwhile, I do hope somebody will write a scifi book about space aliens who bring civilization to Mesopotamia. I would be all over it.


From the online collection African Cosmos: Steller Arts at the African Art Museum

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