“The dividing line between the author’s choice of symbols and the translator’s choice of words, like the dividing line between truth and lies, is an affair of the heart.” – Madeleine Daines, Preface.
It’s time we talked about Sumerian translation: the author’s words ring true.
Meno to Socrates:
“And how will you inquire into a thing when you are wholly ignorant of what it is? Even if you happen to bump right into it, how will you know it is the thing you didn’t know?”
Me – no
Spirit – not/knot
Spirit in a knot (1)
Control over the narratives of our past began thousands of years ago with the obfuscation of the earliest Sumerian symbols. Their meanings were scrambled and the truth about the civilisation that first created them was hidden. Then in the 19th century, piles of clay tablets buried under the sands of Mesopotamia were dug up, dusted off and carted away. They were to be transliterated into stories utterly disconnected from the original language and knowledge of Sumer.
Despite their dramatic journey through the ages and a concerted effort to destroy all knowledge of mankind’s most ancient past, Sumerian symbols have begun to yield their secrets. The Story of Sukurru is the first text to be re-translated back to the earliest language. Currently known as The Instructions of Shuruppak, it is considered to be one of the oldest literary texts in the world. In fact, it is that and much more. Seen for the first time in its original form, it brings to life a lost culture, one with which we can identify far more easily than in the other version of it. And it contains compelling evidence of a unique source in deep antiquity for languages, mythologies, and advanced spiritual knowledge.
The name of this early language is not unknown to the specialised textbooks, but the full method of its translation and its importance have been missed. It was once given as EME, the women’s tongue, supposedly a dialect reserved for certain sophisticated ritualistic texts. That may well have been true from a certain point in time. However, EME is a compound phonetic form of two symbols, KA and ME, the word and the spirit, the spirit tongue, where the original ME, properly translated for the first time here as SPIRIT, is the key to everything. Did Plato know? I don’t know.
An article written on Graham’s site under the title The Rustle of Stones in August 2016 offers an overview of my perspective on this, a vast and hitherto unvisited layer of our history. Also, a full explanation of my method of translation is given in The Story of Sukurru. I suspect that, having posited that there is strictly no sophistication underlying the ‘primitive’ Sumerian symbols while also roundly dismissing the idea of Sumerian as having ever been a monosyllabic language, academics will be unlikely to validate this new and very different notion, however convincingly coherent the result on a long literary text. However, the themes explored in The Instructions of Shuruppak(2) can be easily compared with those of The Story of Sukurru, and now people can decide for themselves.
The subject of this ancient language is so vast and so little explored that, for the purpose of introducing my rather strange little book, it was not evident which aspect of it to tackle. Finally, I have chosen to carry out a short study of some Sumerian symbols which might be instrumental in piercing the mysteries of the pyramids. My hope is that this will serve to inspire others to get stuck into that untouched mound of clay tablets where there are surely many more secrets to be found. Only together can we get from the top to the bottom of them and back up again:
LAGAR, with the declared meaning of ‘priest’ and ‘priesthood’, takes the form of a simple triangle/pyramid if you look for it in ‘L’Ecriture Cunéiforme’(3). The pyramid symbol can also be seen in the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) under the German reference ZATU659, a system used to designate otherwise unidentified pictograms, those where the phonetic equivalence and meanings have not been established.
LAGARg shown either as a mound or as a striped pyramid (a small g for gunu indicates additional short strokes across the basic symbol) has the principal meaning of ‘mound’ on ePSD (2). Look for it under DU6. It can also be found combined with the symbol of the foot (DU to stand, establish, bring) with the meaning ‘to go up’ or ‘to go down’ (on ePSD as ED3).
So, based on the excellent principle of ‘If it walks like a duck’, I propose that LAGAR is indeed the symbol of the pyramid and even of ancient artificial mounds, and that it has both of those basic meanings. Here is one method to coax more information from these and other archaic Sumerian symbols. Note that each symbol will usually have several phonetic values, some considered to be of greater antiquity than others. As we are looking for a monosyllabic source, the phonetic form LAGAR can be dissected into four simple sounds; LAG and AR or LA and GAR. Let’s take these four Sumerian words and study them individually:
LAG, number, to count, administrator.
Also given as LAK, ŠID, UMBISAG and others. Beginning with an investigation into a sound which is LAG, we discover a symbol closely linked to pyramids/mounds. LAG/LAK has as its principle meaning ‘number’, ‘to count’, ‘official’ and even the very precise ‘chief administrator of a temple household’ on ePSD.
I believe LAG/LAK to be the source of several modern words; ‘lag’, ‘lack’, ‘lay’ ‘layer’. Lag carries the sense of latency and delay, a link to the passage of time on Earth, the accounting of it, the time-lag. These are just a few of the overwhelming number of modern words which originate from a hitherto unknown source. If you look for their etymology, it will most likely be written that they come down to us from Proto-Indo-European, with the acronym PIE. PIE is a compilation of statistics with the avowed and respectable goal of highlighting probable common phonetic origins. However, it appears to have crept into existence and taken on flesh as being, in and of itself, a quasi-official and sufficiently proven source. Look no further, it seems to say. None of the words mentioned in my translations as generated from the Sumerian monosyllabic language can be established as originating from a different time or place than Sumer. That said, I don’t know when or where ‘Sumer’ took its roots, and use the well-known name for convenience only.
ŠID may be the source of our word ‘shed’ with its earliest meaning of ‘casting off’, ‘separating’, the dividing up, the watershed. Shed is also a term well known in the context of weaving, a theme in Sumerian cosmology and, no doubt, in their daily life. It refers to the mechanism used to separate the warp threads.
UMBISAG is another interesting phonetic form for the same symbol with a very important link to ancient sacred mounds. Sumerian UM-BI gave us the Portuguese word ‘umbigo’, the ‘navel’, the ‘umbilical’ through Latin umbilicus, and also ‘bi-, prefix of duality (see The Rustle of Stones for more on BI). Portuguese umbigo translates to Turkish gobek, navel and/or umbilical, leading in turn to the two first syllables of the name Gobekli. It is, of course, the point of attachment to the Mother, navel in the middle of the hill, potbelly being the modern-day interpretation of the name. SAG/SAK is Sumerian ‘head’, origin of ‘sage’ and ‘sagacity’ through Latin sagus, the prophet, but it also gave us ‘sacred’, ‘sacrum’ and even ‘sack’, this last through Greek sakkos. Sumerian BISAG, another symbol, can be read as ‘basket’ and dissected into BIŠ-AG, with a possible translation to ‘threefold-to do’.
Gobekli and other sites of extreme antiquity are the navels of Earth, the spiritual portals of its inhabitants. They speak of an eternal link to the Matriarchal womb through two cords (GU/GO-BI). They carry such tremendous force, have infused the Earth with their energy from such a remote age that mankind will never succeed in cutting those cords or in shaking Her off. Her life blood still flows through our rivers, down through the age-old gulleys (GU2/GO) carved into mountain sides countless years ago…and through us. There is no deal to be done, no covering up of bellybuttons, no final severing possible. Mother knows best.
AR, the second syllable of LAGAR, is another compound phonetic form shown, by consultation of ePSD or any other means, to be a combination of ŠI and RI:
ŠI, symbol of the eye. ŠI might be pronounced here as SHE. The principle meanings are, of course, the ‘eye’, but also ‘to see’ ‘to be first’, ‘to lead’. I hesitate to add that this symbol is of tremendous importance. (5) Such a declaration applies to most, if not all, the Sumerian symbols.
RI, to collect, gather, fly.
Sumerian nouns usually come before adjectives, with the verbal forms placed at the end of the phrase. Taken together, ŠI-RI, the eye – to collect, the eye – to fly, becomes ‘to watch’, and ‘the flying eye’, the ‘watcher’. Sumerian AR gave rise to Greek arkhein with meanings including ‘be the first’, ‘lead the way’ and to our prefix archi- where KI is ‘Earth’ and ‘place’.
LA, to hang, balance, scales, to check or supervise.
This symbol shows the two upper sides of the pyramidal form in suspension, detached from the ground, and an obvious pictogram for the notion of balancing and weighing up. To form LAG, take LA with AK/AG, to do, origin of ‘act’ through Latin actus, giving ‘the act of suspending and/or weighing’. The symbol also appears quite frequently in the long and extremely ancient text that I have re-translated and re-named ‘The Story of Sukurru’. It is found there in the company of E and BA, the high and the low, source of Greek baetyl, the sacred stone.
GAR, to measure, to place.
This is also a common symbol in the text of The Story of Sukurru, and used in some surprising ways, as either verb or noun. The juxtaposition of LA and GAR reinforces the use of this place, this pyramid/mound, as either an instrument of measure or as a place where measurements are carried out, where precision is a requisite, perhaps where something is placed and something is weighed under a watchful eye.
Is GAR an inverted pyramid placed below LA? Do the two pyramidal forms work together to form another sign? See the symbol PAD here below on a tablet dated to the URUK III period, ca 3200 BCE, with the avowed meaning ‘ration’, ‘to allocate’. It looks very like a combination of LA and GAR with an added section linking them on one side; perhaps a reservoir?
So, with a small amount of delving and without any great flight of fancy, we find ourselves with a pyramid and a watchful eye that may be in movement, along with the notion of time and division, perhaps of water. You, the followers of this site, can draw your own conclusions. My purpose here is to demonstrate a method. Note the similarity between ŠI-RI and Sirius. We can also agree that the first stated meaning of LAGAR as priest is not wrong; the watcher of the pyramid keeps an eye on the place or on the sky above, going up or going down. Neither does any of the above negate the more obvious function of that person as accountant, administrator of a temple and its daily functioning, where the scales are used for weighing incoming goods, where nothing lacks and no one lags. Another name for the LAGAR pyramid symbol is NAGAL;
NA-GAL, the great stone.
To continue on the subject of pyramids and to discover more about them from a Sumerian perspective, there are quite a few paths open to exploration. For example, we might look at other symbols with a triangular shape to see what they offer:
ZU, to know, knowledge, doctor, specialist. This is a pyramid/triangle with a ladder at its centre. SU, ‘to sink’, ‘skin’, and ‘to repay’, can be seen in the name Sukurru. ZU and SU are almost the same symbol and sound.
The slight difference between them is a closed and pointed pyramid for the first (sewn up), whereas SU is more obviously open at its peak with a ladder to climb. SU is reminiscent of those dwellings found at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, where the ladder would be used on the exterior wall to access a home through a hole in the roof, to sink into it. That would be a very practical explanation for a pictogram. But to presume that any of the most archaic Sumerian signs carry only a simplistic pictographic message would be to do them a grave injustice, and to completely miss the point. The meanings of ZU and SU are strange bedfellows, but there is surely a profound link, an ancient story to be rediscovered at some point in time. We might even wonder what ancient knowledge Shakespeare was tapping into when he wrote The Merchant of Venice.
Building on the suggestion that the combination ŠI-RI is one of the origins of the name Sirius, here are two more possible references to the star:
ŠI-UR, eye and dog, the eye of the dog, another combination that shows up in my re-translation of The Story of Sukurru. Sirius, the dog star, is illustrated in the book with this curious detail from the Egyptian Sekhet of Peribsen:
The two symbols ŠI and UR are also grouped together as phonetic HUL with ‘bad’ and ‘ruination’ among the most ancient meanings (ePSD). This is the origin of the French word ‘houle’, high waves and stormy winds, and of the mythological Frau Holle. HUL is perhaps the aspect of Sirius as harbinger of destructive weather.
PA-AN, breath/flutter – air/sky. In The Story of Sukurru, and thus at least 4600 years ago, the tale was told of a boat rising in the sky. The sun, fast asleep, didn’t notice until dawn when it rose and was annoyed to find an unexpected vessel already there, fluttering (PA) across the sky (AN). To quote Robert Bauval, ‘Sirius will scintillate with all the colours of the rainbow when seen low on the horizon.’ Is this also ŠI on IM, the eye and the wind, the Eye in/on/of the Wind, the Windy Eye that shim…shim…shimmers across the sky? Listen closely for the faint sound of a flute. I will leave the questions that might result from this and other studies of the original Sumerian language for the archeoastronomers, far more competent than me, to explore. (6)
Here is the first key to an ancient precious world, our world. In the notes that accompany The Story of Sukurru I don’t pretend to provide or to know all the answers. And I didn’t want there to be more words of mine than of his, but you will find some intriguing clues to help fill the void in our collective memory. With the caveat that you have no reason to fear the feather of Ma, you are free, if you choose, to continue in the company of the Sumerian Wisdom Teachers and of the Master Scribes. If you do, if you are careful and concentrated, they will lean over your shoulder and you will feel their breath on your cheek as you work. And when you have begun to master their music, play with the sounds as you would play across the strings of an exquisite old violin. This is the call to the scribes. There is work enough for all. This is the time. There is a crack. In everything.
(1) Plato will never yield on his “unseriousness” which for him is a matter of principle, a way of leaving mystery alone while respecting reason as far as it can go. P.333, Hamlet’s Mill, Giorgio de Santillan and Hertha von Dechend, published by David R. Godine
(2) The Instructions of Shuruppak can be found on the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL) under ‘Wisdom Literature’, reference 5.6.1.
(3) L’Ecriture Cunéiforme, Syllabaire Sumérien, Babylonien, Assyrien, by Lucien-Jean Bord and Remo Mugnaioni, published by Geuthner Manuels
(4) Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (ePSD).
(5) Eyes looking up and eyes looking down, great round eyes staring up from the head of a stone lion so magnificent that we catch our breath at the sight of it. Fountains of water spring skyward from the globes like endless tears mushrooming into the sky, while more water pours out from the gaping mouth; When the river is high, when it laps against the lion’s flanks, the sound is a roar, and at other times just a pleasant tinkling.
Thousands of Sumerian proverbs or riddles are to be found on the ETCSL site. They range from one to five or six lines of text and are most certainly multi-layered; factual, spiritual, cosmic, humoristic. They speak of ancient times, perhaps of times far more ancient still than the tablets on which they were found. I would suggest that their apparent strangeness stems in great part from the fact that, thus far, very few have been properly translated – even to their most superficial level of meaning. An example with suggested new translations, this from ETCSL Collection 5, 5.68, line 33. (no clear early symbol for UZU.):
ŠI UR MAH A KA (?)UZU AL KAxGAR E
Eye -dog -great (lion) -water/weep/flow -mouth/word/say- mushroom- all/great- mouth- place/ measure (consume/opening) -highly/lift/lofty
a) When the tears of the lion flow to its mouth, all of the mushroom is consumed.
b) When the lion weeps, the great mushroom its measured voice will uplift.
(6) Some assert that Lord of Canals is the signification of the Akkadian word for Aquarius, given to it 15,000 years ago (!), when the sun entered it and the Nile flood was at its height. And while this statement carries the beginnings of astronomy very much farther back than has generally been supposed, or will now be acknowledged, yet for many years we have seen Egyptian and Euphratean history continuously extended into the hitherto dim past; and this theory would easily solve the much-discussed question of the origin of the zodiac figures if we are to regard either of those countries as their source, and the seasons and agricultural operations as giving them names. Star Names and their Meanings, Richard Hinckley Allen, 1899