Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

Ancient Lourdes

The shrine at Lourdes

by Revilo P. Oliver

IT HAS LONG been known that the Gallic goddess Sequana (whose name is perpetuated in the Seine that flows through Paris) was as efficient as her Christian counterpart, Mary, in healing maladies and other physical afflictions. As in other places where a supposedly ubiquitous Christian deity has replaced a less vaporous predecessor, (1) the Virgin became, like Sequana, a local goddess, accessible only to visitors to her famous shrine at Lourdes, where a number of evidently genuine cures imposed on some credulous physicians who knew nothing about psychosomatic therapeutics.

(1. Cf. Liberty Bell, September 1985, pp. 5-12.)

Excavations by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, under the direction of Professor McGuire Gibson, have recently uncovered the temple of Gula at Nippur, the ancient Sumerian city on the Euphrates that even after the occupation of Sumer by the Semites, remained the Holy City of the great god Enlil and so flourished until the time of the Persian Empire. The temple of Gula, probably built on the site of an earlier one, dates from before 1600 B.C.

Gula, the wife of Ninurtu (Ningirsu), was the goddess of the therapeutic arts. She may have had other functions earlier, probably a political one, since there are indications that in the very early days of Sumerian civilization, when the position of lugal (often roughly translated as ‘king’) was elective, the elections were held in the temple of Gula.

Gula’s symbol was a bitch, and many figurines of dogs are found in connection with her worship. (2) It is, so far as I know, uncertain whether she was imagined as having canine form or the dog was sacred to her, since the antiseptic action of a dog’s tongue in licking wounds was early recognized.

(2. She was sometimes addressed as Bawa, which may have been either a name or an epithet, and could have been onomatopoeic (‘bow-wow’). If the latter, the word could be one of the Sumerian words for ‘bitch,’ a feminine variant of ‘dog.’ But remember that the phonology of many Sumerian words, especially in the Assyrian and Babylonian periods, is less certain than you would suppose from writings addressed to the general public.)

The archaeologists from the University of Chicago also found in the ruins many figurines of human beings, each represented as pointing to an organ of his body, which, presumably, had been healed by the divine power of Gula. These are the counterparts of the many votive offerings to the Virgin at Lourdes (and Guadalupe) by grateful votaries whose maladies she healed or relieved. We may thus be sure that the kind of medical business practiced by the Virgin at Lourdes goes back to at least 1600 B.C. and doubtless much earlier.

This is worthy of note because the pronouncements of Ronnie and Bushy suggest that our rulers intend soon to establish prayer as a rite in the schools, as desiderated by so many holy men, who think it would increase the suckers’ susceptibility to the hot air of vaporings about the supernatural.

The promoters of that attempt to instill superstition naturally expect the unfortunate moppets to pray to old Yahweh, the sacred spook of their business, but they try to circumvent the Constitution (to which lip-service is still paid) by hypocritically pretending that a child will be free to pray to the high-voltage ghost of his choice. In that event, an American’s offspring could (and probably will) do much worse than pray to Gula, a deity who, as the figurines attest, did help those who had faith in her, and did not, like Yahweh, refuse to be bothered, thus making theologians rack their brains to find excuses for him.

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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, September 1990

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