Sunday 4 December 2011

Worldview of the Ancients

To the ancient Canaanites and their neighbours, the world was very different to the way we see it today.  In an age when science was not as advanced as it is today, people had different views on the world.  Many of these affected Canaanite culture.  Though many modern Canaanites probably don't believe any of these anymore, the worldview of the ancients can still be useful to explore during meditation and dreams, as well as poetry.  Also, as we venerate the Rapi'uma, the shades of the ancients, their worldview can be respected.  Here is the world from the perspective of an ancient Canaanite:

- The Cosmology:  There are three realms: the earth, the heavens above, and the underworld beneath.  The earth is flat, like a table, and rests upon foundations which extend downwards into the underworld.  There is a large freshwater lake in the underworld, which provides freshwater to the earth, unlike the saltwater celestial ocean (more on that later).  The underworld is a 'house' below the earth, extending in caves and wells underground.  The sky is a glass dome, built above the earth, and held up by mountains at the edge of the earth.  The sky (called the firmament) is built to hold back the waters above.  There is an endless celestial ocean surrounding the world, going on into the 'depths' for eternity.  The firmament holds back the waters above and prevents them from flooding the earth.  The sky is sometimes seen as a tent spread above the earth.

- Weather:  When there was rain, it was because Baal opened his palace windows (the 'windows of heaven') in the firmament, and let the waters above flow down onto the earth below.  Snow and hail were kept in celestial storehouses in the heavens, and Baal let them empty onto the earth.  Because the waters above the firmament were saltwater and seperate from the waters under the earth, saltwater and freshwater could not mix.  Also, the fountains of the deep poured forth the 'waters below' so that they surrounded the earth, and the earth was like an island in the middle.  These waters were the various seas of the world.  The great deep (the watery abyss) rested below them and below the earth, and was infinite.

- The heavenly bodies:  The sun, moon and planets were gods who wandered the heavens below the firmament.  The sun arose every morning and flew across the sky, and the moon followed by night.  The stars were tiny lights which hung from the firmament in the shape of people and things.  Some of them were kings and heroes who had attained immortality in the stars.  Astrology meant that people could read these signs and determine what the gods were attempting to reveal to mortals below.  There were three heavens, which contained celestial houses where different gods lived and where the planets could be found.  The idea of 'as above, so below' came about because of this.  The heavens were like cities above the earth where the gods lived.

- The age of the patriarchs:  The first people lived for a long time, for hundreds of years.  This shortened to about 70 years after the great deluge.  It was a golden age before the current time.

- The four corners of the earth:  During the Bronze Age, people of the Middle East hadn't gone as far as they would in later times.  There were four corners of the earth, in each direction, and they were bordered by eventual sea (which stretched to the firmament and to the watery abyss beyond).  The furthest they had explored was: to the north, the areas of modern Turkey and the Black Sea; to the east, Persia and the Persian Gulf; to the south, Arabia, Egypt, and Ethiopia; to the west, Greece and Libya.

- A world full of spirits:  Everything had a soul or spirit.  This meant that there were gods and spirits everywhere, and in all things.  The greatest of these was the divine assembly, the family of El, which lived in the heavens.  They included the most familiar personalities to the Canaanites, and the gods lived far longer than mortals, but they are often described like a human family might be in terms of their roles and relationships.  Sickness and illness might be caused by demons.

- The house of the dead:  After death, the dead were buried in tombs to go to the world below.  It was a gloomy world, unlike this world which was bright and colourful.  If not buried, the dead would return as ghosts.

- Monsters:  Monsters, like dragons, unicorns and basilisks, might live in the wilderness and attempt to attack people wandering there.

- Witchcraft and sorcery:  Black magic was real and controlled by witches.  They were to be feared and respected for their powers.

- Dreams:  During dreams, a person's soul entered the spirit world.

- The nations:  All nations were descended from an early man who lived after the great flood and founded his own land.  The Canaanites were descended from Canaan, the Egyptians from Mizraim, the Babylonians from Arphakshad, the Hittites from Heth, the Persians from Madai, the Libyans from Phut, the Ethiopians from Cush, the Greeks from Javan, the Hebrews from Eber, the Arabs from Jokshan etc.

- Giving birth:  When giving birth, the thoughts of the mother would determine the characteristics of the baby.  The same was true of animals.

- Healing:  Spitting on a wound cured it.

- Age of the earth:  The earth was a few thousand years old.

- Spilling salt:  Salt was precious, and spilling it meant bad luck. 

- The breath of life:  A soul is a person's breath.  When yawning, it is best to cover the mouth in case the soul accidentally escapes through the mouth.

- The evil eye:  A reflection is a person's soul.  Eyes are the gateways to the soul.  If a person stares and the reflection appears in their eye, it means that they are attempting to steal the soul through their eyes.  Avoiding the evil eye is important, as it is a curse.

- The power of words:  Words are magical, and speaking them creates power.

- Unclean:  Certain things are 'clean' and 'unclean'.

- Tribes:  The world is divided into tribes and kingdoms, ruled by a powerful king, and they can be hostile.


  1. It is interesting that the firmament in the ancient worldview cane interpreted nowadays as the edge of the Known Universe, and the Celestial Ocean to be the infinite *stuff* that lies beyond it.

  2. What do you mean? Did they mean something else to the ancients? The only interpretation I've heard is the standard one, with the firmament dividing the universe from the endless waters beyond it.