Tiamat
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Basic Information

In Mesopotamian Mythology, Tiamat is a primordial being of saltwater and chaos. With her mate Abzu she created the cosmos and gave birth to the first generation of the Anunnaki deities. When those gods later made war upon and destroyed Abzu, it caused Tiamat to enter a dire rage. Appearing as a sea monster with udders, she gave birth to brood of 11 monsters, and then went in search of revenge. She was instead slain by Marduk, who later used her carcass to fashion the earth and the milky way. This whole process has shades of the titanomachy from Greek Mythology and would seem to mark Tiamat and Abzu as equivalent to titans. At some point before she was slain, she took up with a new consort, named Kingu. When Kingu was slain by the gods, his blood and body was used to make the human race.

In Dungeons & Dragons, Tiamat is a Dragon with five heads, but there is little (if anything) in actual Mesopotamian Mythology to suggest that description is correct or accurate. There are other creatures that are multi-headed dragons in Mesopotamian myths, so it's likely the authors of D&D conflated those myths together either purposefully or by mistake.

Prior to her revenge-fueled transformation, the Tiamat of ancient myth is described as a "glistening" human female, and it's possible that her worship included hieros gamos (holy marriage and/or sacred sexual rituals). There are parts of the original myths where they describe her tail, but there are other passages where she is human and some passages where she's described as if she were an ocean. There's at least one reference to her udder and another to her human-like breasts in the same story, which is anatomically confusing. There's one piece of ancient artwork that depicted her as a human woman with snakes for legs, but the difference between that and other descriptions makes scholars wonder if the picture is identified correctly. The original sources don't even all 100% agree on whether she's the Goddess of saltwater, or sweetwater, so everything is up for grabs.

The story of the battle between Marduk and Tiamat was part of the New Years celebration in ancient Babylon, probably including a ritual or theatrical reenactment of the battle. Part of how Marduk defeated her involved blasting wind into her mouth until Tiamat swelled up like a balloon and could be popped, so that suggests an interesting reenactment.

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • Using Mesopotamian Tiamat in a D&D campaign could have some very clever misdirection. You tell the players that there's a cult of Tiamat attempting a ritual to summon their mistress, and they'll assume you're talking dragons, not glistening goddesses. They may not be prepared for what they find, or they may assume more villainy afoot than there actually is.
  • A game set in the ancient world (or a time travel game) could include a session near the Babylonian new year. This could provide some good "cover" for any plot points about Tiamat cults or rituals. Things that are actually sinister might seem to be just ceremonial or fun. (So kind of the opposite of the previous bullet point.)
    • Or, you could take it in the fun or funny direction. Rather than worrying about getting the details accurate, you could have some fun with anachronism.
      • You could riff on Chinese New Year with an elaborate puppet/costume of Tiamat dancing through the streets.
      • Or you could riff on Shakespeare and use various theatre tropes, but swap in various Mesopotamian gods instead of Shakespearean characters.
  • Tiamat's contradictory descriptions are a good template for mysterious deities and/or the bissociation often found in myth. She is an ocean, and some sort of draconic beast, and a human(oid) goddess. She's also big enough to build a galaxy out of her corpse. All of it is true, and none of it is.
    • Maybe she's a shapeshifter, but probably not since nothing every describes her transformation in process. She's just human in one scene, and a monster somewhere else.
    • So if and when she shows up in your game, the players won't know what to expect.
    • Likely she is a avatar of primal, pre-creation chaos - which has been described as "waters" in more than one source, especially amongst the land-loving nations of the Middle East - who can manifest in various other forms but with a generally female identity. Like many great powers, her "destruction" might end up being little more than a radical change in nature.
    • Interpretatio Cthulhiana might suggest her as an archetype of Shub-Niggurath as an ancient, feminine chaos with fertility aspects.
  • Tiamat's spouse Abzu is killed, then she takes up with Kingu while still being mad enough about Abzu's death to go to war on the gods. In the end, both of her mates end up dead and their bodies end up transformed (Abzu = the source of oceans, and Kingu = the flesh of the human race). This gives some interesting possibilities for her characterization.
    • Is Kingu a rapid-rebound boyfriend who helped dull the pain for a little while? Or is Tiamat just such a believer in the "revenge is a dish best served cold" that she plots against the gods much later despite having found another chance at love?
    • Does Tiamat just have the worst luck, or is it a full-on curse dooming her destiny? Does she have PTSD from the deaths of her lovers, or does she roll with the punches and never show a weakness? Is it possible she's a supreme manipulator who set these guys up to die to justify the war she wanted to wage against the gods? To what extent is she a monster, and to what extent is she a sympathetic character?
    • Are the transformations her dead boyfriends go through a function of their innate primordial/metaphoric character? Is it some sort of magic effect or curse where anyone who's ever dated Tiamat becomes enchanted upon their death? Perhaps her shape-shifting is contagious?
  • If you've got a cool or unusual monster of the week, you might give it a good pedigree by making it a spawn of Tiamat.
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