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Chaoskampf – How the ones in power portray their enemies, foreigners and the old (and comming)


The motif of Chaoskampf (“struggle against chaos”) is ubiquitous in myth and legend, depicting a battle of a culture hero deity with a chaos monster, often in the shape of a serpent or dragon. The same term has also been extended to parallel concepts in the Middle East and North Africa, such as the abstract conflict of ideas in the Egyptian duality of Maat and Isfet or the battle of Horus and Set.

The origins of the Chaoskampf myth most likely lie in the Proto-Indo-European religion whose descendants almost all feature some variation of the story of a storm god fighting a sea serpent representing the clash between the forces of order and chaos.

Early work by German academics such as Gunkel and Bousset in comparative mythology popularized translating the mythological sea serpent as a “dragon.” In particular, the Typhonomachy is generally thought to have been influenced by several Near Eastern monster-slaying myths.

Indo-European examples of this mythic trope include Thor vs. Jörmungandr (Norse), Tarḫunz vs. Illuyanka (Hittite), Indra vs. Vritra (Vedic), Θraētaona vs. Aži Dahāka (Avestan) and Zeus vs. Typhon (Greek) among others. Non-Indo-European examples of this trope are Yahweh vs. Leviathan (Hebrew), Susano’o vs. Yamata no Orochi (Japanese) and Mwindo vs. Kirimu (African).

The mušḫuššu

Ḫaldi (also known as Khaldi) was one of the three chief deities of Urartu. He was portrayed as a man with or without wings, standing on a lion. Some sources claim that the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation, Hayk, is derived from Ḫaldi. Arubani, the Urartian’s goddess of fertility and art, was the wife of Khaldi.

The other two chief deities were Theispas, the Urartian weather-god, notably the god of storms and thunder, of Kumenu, and the solar god Shivini of Tushpa, who is equal to Utu in Sumerian, Shiva in Hinduism, Mithra in Mithraism, Ra in Egypt and Artinis by the Armenians.

Khaldi was a warrior god to whom the kings of Urartu would pray for victories in battle. His shrine was at Ardini, in Assyrian known as Muṣaṣir. The temples dedicated to Khaldi were adorned with weapons such as swords, spears, bows and arrows, and shields hung from the walls and were sometimes known as ‘the house of weapons’.

The location of Ardini is not known with certainty, although there are a number of hypotheses in the Zagros south of Lake Urmia. It was attested in Assyrian sources of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. It was acquired by the Urartian King Ishpuini ca. 800 BC. The temple, built in 825 BC, was an important temple in the holy city of Urartu.

The name Musasir in Akkadian means exit of the serpent/snake. MUŠ is the Sumerian term for “serpent”. The form mušḫuššu is the Akkadian nominative of the Sumerian MUŠ.ḪUS (“reddish snake”, sometimes also translated as “fierce snake” or “splendor serpent”).

The mušḫuššu is a creature depicted on the reconstructed Ishtar Gate of the city of Babylon, dating to the 6th century BC. It was a mythological hybrid, a scaly dragon with hind legs resembling the talons of an eagle, feline forelegs, a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snake-like tongue, and a crest.

It is the sacred animal of Marduk and his son Nabu during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It was taken over by Marduk from Tishpak, an Akkadian god who replaced the god Ninazu as the tutelary deity of the city of Eshnunna, an ancient Sumerian and later Akkadian city and city-state in central Mesopotamia c. 3000-1700 BC.

Set and the Set animal

In ancient Egyptian art, the Set animal, or sha, is usually depicted at rest, either lying down or seated. The shape of the head often resembles a giraffe, causing confusion between the two signs. The general body shape is that of a canine.

The linguistic use of these hieroglyphs in the Egyptian language is as the determinative for words portraying “items with chaos”, example words related to “suffering, violence, perturbation”, and also for “violent storms” of the atmosphere, a “tempest”.

The earliest representations of what might be the Set animal comes from a tomb dating to the Amratian culture (“Naqada I”) of prehistoric Egypt (3790 BC–3500 BC), though this identification is uncertain.

However, according to Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson, the first known use of the Set animal was upon a ceremonial Scorpion Macehead of Scorpion II of Naqada III. The head and the forked tail of the Set animal are clearly present.

It was soon after portrayed mounted upon the serekhs of the Second Dynasty kings Seth-Peribsen and Khasekhemwy. In Twelfth Dynasty tombs at Beni Hasan; and, in the form of Set, in the royal cartouches of the Nineteenth Dynasty pharaohs Seti I and Seti II and the Twentieth Dynasty king Setnakhte and his descendants.

Drawings of the sha appear in Egyptian artwork from Naqada III until at least the period of the New Kingdom, a period of some two thousand years. Although sometimes described as a fantastic or composite animal, it was depicted in a realistic manner more typical of actual creatures.

The Set animal is the totemic animal of the god Set, a god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence, and foreigners in ancient Egyptian religion. Set had a positive role where he accompanies Ra on his solar boat to repel Apep, the serpent of Chaos.

In Egyptian mythology, Set is portrayed as the usurper who killed and mutilated his own brother Osiris. Osiris’ wife Isis reassembled (remembered) Osiris’ corpse and resurrected her dead husband long enough to conceive his son and heir Horus. Horus sought revenge upon Set, and the myths describe their conflicts.

Set was depicted standing on the prow of Ra’s barge defeating the dark serpent Apep or Apophis was the ancient Egyptian deity who embodied chaos (ı͗zft in Egyptian) and was thus the opponent of light and Ma’at (order/truth).

In some Late Period representations, such as in the Persian Period Temple of Hibis at Khargah, Set was represented in this role with a falcon’s head, taking on the guise of Horus. In the Amduat Set is described as having a key role in overcoming Apep.

Set had a vital role as a reconciled combatant. He was lord of the red (desert) land where he was the balance to Horus’ role as lord of the black (soil) land. The Set-animal is one of the portrayals of the god Set. The other common hieroglyph used to represent Set is a seated god with the head of the Set animal.

During the Second Intermediate Period (1650–1550 BC), a group of Asiatic foreign chiefs known as the Hyksos (literally, “rulers of foreign lands”) gained the rulership of Egypt, and ruled the Nile Delta, from Avaris.

They chose Set, originally Upper Egypt’s chief god, the god of foreigners and the god they found most similar to their own chief god, as their patron. Set then became worshiped as the chief god once again.

When, c. 1522 BC, Ahmose I overthrew the Hyksos and expelled them, Egyptians’ attitudes towards Asiatic foreigners became xenophobic, and royal propaganda discredited the period of Hyksos rule. The Set cult at Avaris flourished, nevertheless, and the Egyptian garrison of Ahmose stationed there became part of the priesthood of Set.

The demonization of Set took place after Egypt’s conquest by several foreign nations in the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. Set, who had traditionally been the god of foreigners, thus also became associated with foreign oppressors, including the Assyrian and Persian empires.

It was during this time that Set was particularly vilified, and his defeat by Horus widely celebrated. The Greeks would later associate Set with Typhon, a monstrous and evil force of raging nature. Both were sons of deities representing the Earth (Gaia and Geb) who attacked the principal deities (Osiris for Set, Zeus for Typhon). Nevertheless, throughout this period, in some outlying regions of Egypt, Set was still regarded as the heroic chief deity.

Set has also been classed as a trickster deity who, as a god of disorder, resorts to deception to achieve bad ends. Yet it is perhaps most telling that Seth’s cult persisted with astonishing potency even into the latter days of ancient Egyptian religion.


Because Set was identified with the Greek Typhon from c. 500 BC, the animal is also commonly known as the Typhonian animal or Typhonic beast. Typhon was a monstrous serpentine giant and the most deadly creature in Greek mythology.

According to Hesiod, Typhon was the son of Gaia and Tartarus. However one source has Typhon as the son of Hera alone, while another makes Typhon the offspring of Cronus. Typhon and his mate Echidna were the progenitors of many famous monsters.

Typhon attempted to overthrow Zeus for the supremacy of the cosmos. The two fought a cataclysmic battle, which Zeus finally won with the aid of his thunderbolts. Defeated, Typhon was cast into Tartarus, buried underneath Mount Etna or the island of Ischia.

Typhon mythology is part of the Greek succession myth, which explained how Zeus came to rule the gods. Typhon’s story is also connected with that of Python (the serpent killed by Apollo), and both stories probably derived from several Near Eastern antecedents.

The Typhonomachy, Zeus’ battle and defeat of Typhon, is just one part of a larger “Succession Myth” given in Hesiod’s Theogony (i.e. “the genealogy or birth of the gods”), a poem by Hesiod (8th – 7th century BC) describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods.

The Thogony describes how Uranus, the original ruler of the cosmos, hid his offspring away inside Gaia, but was overthrown by his Titan son Cronus, who castrated Uranus, and how in turn, Cronus, who swallowed his children as they were born, was himself overthrown by his son Zeus, whose mother had given Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow, in place of Zeus.

However Zeus is then confronted with one final adversary, Typhon, which he quickly defeats. Now clearly the supreme power in the cosmos, Zeus is elected king of gods. Zeus then establishes and secures his realm through the apportionment of various functions and responsibilities to the other gods, and by means of marriage.

Finally, by swallowing his first wife Metis (“wisdom,” “skill,” or “craft”), who was destined to produce a son stronger than himself, Zeus is able to put an end to the cycle of succession. Metis was an Oceanid, the daughters of Oceanus and his sister Tethys, who were three thousand in number.

Typhon’s story seems related to that of another monstrous offspring of Gaia: Python, the serpent killed by Apollo at Delphi, suggesting a possible common origin. Besides the similarity of names, their shared parentage, and the fact that both were snaky monsters killed in single combat with an Olympian god, there are other connections between the stories surrounding Typhon, and those surrounding Python.

Although the Delphic monster killed by Apollo is usually said to be the male serpent Python, in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, the earliest account of this story, the god kills a nameless she-serpent (drakaina), subsequently called Delphyne, who had been Typhon’s foster-mother.

Delphyne and Echidna, besides both being intimately connected to Typhon—one as mother, the other as mate—share other similarities. Both were half-maid and half-snake, a plague to men, and associated with the Corycian cave in Cilicia.

Python was also perhaps connected with a different Corycian Cave than the one in Cilicia, this one on the slopes of Parnassus above Delphi. Just as the Corcian cave in Cilicia was thought to be Typhon and Echidna’s lair, and associated with Typhon’s battle with Zeus, there is evidence to suggest that the Corycian cave above Delphi was supposed to be Python’s (or Delphyne’s) lair, and associated with his (or her) battle with Apollo.

From at least as early as Pindar, and possibly as early as Homer and Hesiod (with their references to the Arimoi and Arima), Typhon’s birth place and battle with Zeus were associated with various Near East locales in Cilicia and Syria, including the Corycian Cave, Mount Kasios, and the Orontes River.

Besides this coincidence of place, the Hesiodic succession myth, (including the Typhonomachy), as well as other Greek accounts of these myths, exhibit other parallels with several ancient Near Eastern antecedents, and it is generally held that the Greek accounts are intimately connected with, and influenced by, these Near Eastern counterparts.


It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu or Namma, a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology.

Ma is a Sumerian word meaning “land” that in Sumerian mythology was also used to regard Primordial Land. The same name Ma appears again later, also tied to the Earth, in Ma being referred to as “Mother of the mountain” – in this case, Kur (Mountain) the first dragon god. The underworld Kur is the void space between the primeval sea (Abzu) and the earth (Ma). Which seem a likely pairing for parentage, in a fuzzy set of records.

Namma was a female principle of a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki. Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions.

Nammu was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.

In the religion of ancient Babylon, Tiamat (TI.AMAT or TAM.TUM, Greek: Thaláttē) is a primordial goddess of the salt sea, mating with Abzû, the god of fresh water, to produce younger gods. Tiamat was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.

Tiamat is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation. She is referred to as a woman, and described as the glistening one. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon. The Enûma Elish states that Tiamat gave birth to dragons and serpents among a more general list of monsters including scorpion men and merpeople, but does not identify her form as that of a dragon; however, other sources containing the same myth do refer to her as such.

The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish is named for its incipit: “When above” the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, “the first, the begetter”, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, “she who bore them all”; they were “mixing their waters”.

Abzu (or Apsû) fathered upon Tiamat the elder deities Lahmu and Lahamu (masc. the “hairy”), a title given to the gatekeepers at Enki’s Abzu/E’engurra-temple in Eridu. Lahmu and Lahamu, in turn, were the parents of the ‘ends’ of the heavens (Anshar, from an-šar = heaven-totality/end) and the earth (Kishar); Anshar and Kishar were considered to meet at the horizon, becoming, thereby, the parents of Anu (Heaven) and Ki (Earth).

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a sacred marriage between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second Chaoskampf Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.

In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Apsu, correctly assuming they are planning to kill him and usurp his throne, later makes war upon them and is killed.

In the myth recorded on cuneiform tablets, the deity Enki (later Ea) believed correctly that Apsu was planning to murder the younger deities, upset with the chaos they created, and so captured him and held him prisoner beneath his temple the E-Abzu. This angered Kingu, their son, who reported the event to Tiamat, whereupon she fashioned eleven monsters to battle the deities in order to avenge Apsu’s death.

These were her own offspring: Bašmu (“Venomous Snake”), Ušumgallu (“Great Dragon”), Mušmaḫḫū (“Exalted Serpent”), Mušḫuššu (“Furious Snake”), Laḫmu (the “Hairy One”), Ugallu (the “Big Weather-Beast”), Uridimmu (“Mad Lion”), Girtablullû (“Scorpion-Man”), Umū dabrūtu (“Violent Storms”), Kulullû (“Fish-Man”) and Kusarikku (“Bull-Man”).

Enraged, she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, taking on the form of a massive sea dragon, she is then slain by Enki’s son, the storm-god Marduk, but not before she had brought forth the monsters of the Mesopotamian pantheon, including the first dragons, whose bodies she filled with “poison instead of blood”. Marduk then forms heavens and the earth from her divided body.

Tiamat possessed the Tablet of Destinies and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children.

The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.

The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a culture hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon. Chaoskampf motifs in other mythologies linked directly or indirectly to the Tiamat myth include the Hittite Illuyanka myth, and in Greek tradition Apollo’s killing of the Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle.

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