Tuesday 31 January 2012

Da'mat in Qart-Hadasht

Today, I think I'm going to discuss an important goddess to the city cult of Qart-Hadasht.  And that goddess is the Greek goddess Demeter.  This post will be something of a 'deity' post, and something of a history post.  It's really no suprise that her cult ended up in the city, as foreign gods were long adopted by the Canaanites.  At Ugarit we see Hittite and Hurrian deities alongside the major ones.  And at Sidon and Tyre we see Egyptian gods.  Same in Qart-Hadasht.  We find many Egyptian gods, and in later periods some Greek and Roman gods as well.

Long ago, the Canaanites of the city of Qart-Hadasht invaded the island of Shekelesh (called Sicily by the Greeks).  Shekelesh is a volcanic island and was a centre for trade.  The Canaanites and the islanders lived alongside one another, and the Canaanites built several cities along the coast for trade.

Now, the Greeks eventually invaded Shekelesh.  The Canaanites, as was normal in their culture, merely left for western Shekelesh and left the Greeks in control of eastern Shekelesh.  The Greeks themselves founded several important cities, including Syracuse.

Both the Canaanites and the Greeks had several rural villages on the island to supply the cities with produce from agriculture.  To the Canaanites, an important god was Baal, as he allowed the rains to fall.  For the Greeks, Zeus was important, though the main deity was Demeter.  Demeter had several shrines built to her in the Greek villages.

Soon, as can be expected, tensions began to grow between these two peoples.  When the Greeks landed in Sapan (Iberia), another area controlled primarily by Canaanites, the Canaanites fought back.  The defiant kingdom was Qart-Hadasht, which showed violent resistance to Greek expansion.  Eventually, many wars broke out.  This period was around the same time that the Persian Empire was becoming powerful in the east.

With the former king, King Hannibaal, dead, it was up to his successor Himilkat to take up the crown and resolve the issue of the wars for Shekelesh.  King Himilkat brought his army to the marshland around Syracuse, and besieged the city in an act of revenge against the Greeks for attacking a Canaanite city.  Himilkat's army camped in and around the temple of Zeus. 

Himilkat's men attacked the city and succeeded in breaching the city walls, unleashing destruction upon Syracuse.  They attacked and destroyed the temple of Demeter, which stood in the city.  A plague then broke out, killing many men, and it was revealed through divination that it was sent by angry gods for destroying the temple and for setting up camp in another.  Himilkat himself was no stranger to divine wrath.  The former king, Hannibaal, himself had fallen to a plague sent by gods and the shades of the dead for desecrating tombs to gain resources.  The newly-crowned King Himilkat had made offerings to various gods, and had made a grand sacrifice to Baal Hammon.  This had stopped the plague before, but now seemed to have no effect.  Himilkat withdrew from the island, after an attack by the Greek King Dionysius I at sea.

Arriving back in his home city, Himilkat moaned and wailed with his hands stretched to the heavens, accepting full responsibility for what he had done.  He stood before the ruling council of judges at the city and testified to it, then dressed as a slave and wandered all the temples of the city before bricking himself in his house and starving himself to death.

The judges then decided that Greek youths should be sent to the city to serve as priests in the new cult of the offended goddesses, Demeter and Kore.  A temple was constructed, and Greek priests began the rites of the goddesses in Qart-Hadasht.

Since then, Demeter became an important goddess to the Qart-Hadashtites and their colonies.  She was perhaps known as Da'mat, and her daughter Kore was identified with the Canaanite goddess of the underworld, Allani.  Da'mat was also important at Shekelesh, and farmers built shrines to her in rural Canaanite villages on the island.  All of Da'mat's temples were built low into the ground, and the interior was decorated as a Canaanite tomb.  This was to show Da'mat as an underworld goddess.

Da'mat is worshiped as part of a triad consisting of Tanit, Da'mat, and Allani.  She is a goddess of farmers, farms, and villages.  She is worshiped in small shrines on the harvest with offerings.  The actions while performing these offerings are important.  Also, all of her sanctuaries are lowered slightly into a kind of pit.  When making offerings, one does so low down.  Da'mat is an underworld goddess, and she is the goddess of life and how it triumphs over death.  Her symbols are associated with eternal life, and she is worshiped alongside Tanit as the goddess with the power to grant life.  Da'mat is also honoured with Greek-style games, however, it is important to note that although she was originally (and still is) a Greek goddess, her worship at Qart-Hadasht (though done respectfully) was somewhat different, and fits into the Canaanite religion.

This mask may represent either Demeter or Medusa

Sunday 29 January 2012

The military of ancient Canaan

Today I would like the discuss the warriors of ancient Canaan.  Now, it is first important to note some things about Canaanite culture before we proceed.  The Canaanites were more of a merchant and trading people than a warrior people.  More often than not they were being conquered rather than doing the conquering.  There is one real exception to this, and this is Qart-Hadasht.  This kingdom (later a republic ruled by judges rather than a king), began as a colony of Tyre and was a powerful Canaanite city which essentially ruled the seas and had its own powerful empire.  They were mostly a merchant people, but were also famed for their aggression in war.

Now, with this in mind, we will look at the Canaanites and how their military was organized.  They never had a large unified empire like the Egyptians, the Hittites, or the Babylonians.  Their land was divided into smaller kingdoms and city-states.  The Canaanites lived in a class system.  At the head was the king and the royal family, then below them the council of judges, then the upper classes (which included the nobles, aristocrats, priests, scribes, and warriors), the middle classes (including labourers, shopkeepers, and people who worked in guilds and industry), the lower classes (including the farmers who lived in villages around the cities), and then the slaves at the bottom. 

Canaanite society in the cities was very much based around industry, while agriculture and rearing animals was left to villagers on the outside of the city.  With the army and navy, it was complicated.  The army was made up of the wealthy classes, who began their training at a very young age and were usually born into warrior families.  They served as officers and captains of a very high prestige, and were well armed for combat.  They were also highly skilled.  But the soldiers usually spent their time in the fort/citadel (hamet) which was a large, block-like building built on a hill with walls surrounding it.  They were only called upon in times of great need, and were primarily defensive rather than offensive. 

Instead, the bulk of the army and much of the lower ranks were made up of allies as well as paid mercenaries.  Mercenaries were well-used, and each of their individual talents were useful in creating a balanced army, which the general led into battle. 

The general was their leader, but he had a large responsibility.  If a Canaanite general failed to lead his army into victory, the punishment was severe.  They were usually executed. 

The navy, on the other hand, was a different story.  The Canaanite navy was one of the most powerful ever known, and their ships were among the finest ever seen.  Many empires which conquered Canaan used Canaanites in the navy.  The Persians relied heavily on their Canaanite navy.  Soldiers in the navy were not usually from among the upper classes.  Usually commoners could easily join. 

Now we will discuss the soldiers themselves.  I will talk mainly about Canaanite soldiers in the army, rather than allies or mercenaries or the Canaanite navy.

As already mentioned, they came from the upper classes.  They were taken and trained since a very young age in a number of tactics during their training.  Usually sons had fathers who were in the army too, and so they would often teach them in fighting styles.  They were very important, and names and ranks of soldiers frequently appear in palace archives.  The word for a soldier is 'mohar' or 'mahar'.  It more specifically means a hero or champion, and is used to describe these high-ranking officers within the military.  It features in several names (including Maharai and Maharbaal), and was actually borrowed by the Egyptians at one point.  A mahar would spend most of his time in the citadel of a city, either in the fort itself or in the barracks where he trained.  They didn't see war most of the time, and would only be used in times of defense, or fighting for an empire like Egypt.  But the king might call upon them to help keep the peace, and a successful military campaign meant that a kingdom acquired more land and conquered people.

The training for the mahar warriors was in fighting styles.  In particular, these men appear to have been armed primarily with spears and swords, as well as a shield.  They drank nothing, except when it was prepared in cups of gold and silver.  The officers had to pay their own troops.  Field commanders called muru-u took command of the infantry, cavalry, and chariots.  The cavalry and charioteers had a vital role, and were dressed in bronze armour, including breastplates; and they often carried javelins as well. 

With the infantry, they carried long spears and were less well-trained than the cavalry or the Sacred Band.  An old Canaanite tradition dating back to the pre-Bronze Age was that the infantry supplied themselves with their own equipment.  Elite heavy infantry called na'arum served in the royal palace and protected the king or lord.  They were hand-picked by him for their loyalty and bravery. 

Another class of individuals which some cities hand was a Sacred Band.  These were an elite group of warriors, some of them mounted while others were on foot, who were dedicated to the gods.  They often also served as standard-bearers, bearing symbols of the gods into battle.  They were well-armoured and highly trained, fearless themselves and feared by their enemies.   The Sacred Band were usually armed with long spears and with round shields.  It was extremely difficult for enemies to penetrate their heavy armour. 

The military uniform for Canaanite soldiers varied over time.  During the early days, it often consisted of a pointed helm, a bronze breastplate, a purple cloak (the whole uniform made heavy use of purple), a round shield, and a long spear and curved sword.  Later on, the curved sword was replaced by the straight sword.  In later times, several Greek elements were also incorporated.  The helmets often had cheek-plates, and a plume (though it was purple).  Greaves also became popular.  Fighting styles like the phalanx formation were incorporated into the Canaanite military.  Though the military uniform still retained most of the original elements, and the ornamental designs/symbols and heavy use of the colour purple made the Canaanite soldiers very different in appearance from Greek ones.  Chariot warfare also died out in favour of a regular cavalry.

Military tactics made use of the chariots and cavalry, telling them to attack first and ambush the enemy while they were still advancing.  This tactic would slow advancement towards the Canaanite city or its army.  Mercenaries would also be on the front-lines, most of them suffering the bulk of the enemy attack while the more experienced and elite Canaanite troops attacked from the flanks.  The spearmen and archers would attack from behind.  Phalanx formations of troops would hold their ground, forcing the enemy back, until the cavalry could cut them off from behind.  But every general had his own unique strategy.  Some of them were extremely successful, while others got the generals executed when they returned home.

Below trained mahar warriors, it appears as though the average citizens were not usually used as conscripts.  There are some mythical texts, such as the Epic of Keret, which mention kings conscripting large armies in which all men (even the newly-married etc.) had to serve.  But it is important to note that this is a mythical epic, and in the story, Keret is actually planning to scare another king into giving his daughter's hand in marriage; and so it can't be taken as representative of a real Canaanite army in times of war.  Now, I'm not denying that conscription may have happened, but it appears as though it was not favoured as most men worked in industry or agriculture, and to have a decline in either of these could prove dangerous for the whole kingdom (especially in times of war).  Instead, relying upon allies or recruiting mercenaries seems to have been preferred.

The army was made up of a variety of different soldiers.  There were light and heavy infantry, cavalry and chariots, archers, and generals who led the army below the kings and princes.  The kings themselves also sometimes appeared in battle.  Generals wielded quite a lot of power and authority, and they could form their own battle plans without the king's own input.  They could also sign treaties by themselves.  But it was the kings who rallied the army, and who gave the generals permission to begin military campaigns.  Canaanite kingdoms and clans frequently warred against one another.  Local lords could also be called upon by the king to provide some of their soldiers for a battle.  Skilled craftsmen and slaves might come along with the army to help with repairs etc., while diviners and soothsayers often helped work out the outcome of a battle strategy through contact with the deities, and physicians and doctors helped with healing the wounded after battle.  Craftsmen of various sorts would be important, as technology was far less advanced in pre-modern societies like ancient Canaan.

Learning to be a warrior required more than just studying weaponry and fighting skills.  Historical tactics made by famous generals (both Canaanite and foreign) were studied and replicated.  Honour and patriotism towards the king and the people was required, and often taught to the experienced soldiers.  It is remarkable that the Canaanite generals could inspire a level of loyalty and commitment even in the most disheartened of soldiers.  Endurance was taught, and learning to survive on rations and limited provisions.  Religion and religious ideas were also important to Canaanite warriors.  The goddess Anat is the patron goddess of warriors, and many soldiers were called the 'sons of Anat' to signify her protection.  Ideally, a soldier could hope for Anat's fury while in the heat of battle.  Before a battle, generals would offer grand sacrifices to the gods in order to appease them.  It was also not unknown for warriors to set themselves alight in order to appease the gods and show their devotion towards them.

Below, you can see some images of Canaanite warriors through varying points in time, some of them ancient and others modern:

Friday 27 January 2012

Prayers in thanks for the harvest

Autumn saw for me the beginning of the winter harvests, especially of wheat (which is what a large portion of my diet is made up of).  Now it is the middle of winter, the wet season, when the rains fall.

I prepared some wheat cereals today in a bowl and passed with it under the square archway in the wall which divides the kitchen (near the entrance to the house) from the central room.  As I went I said a prayer, thanking the food itself.  And I thanked the cows who provided their milk.  And the farmers who harvested the wheat in the fields (the village where I live is mostly industrial rather than agricultural in the present, but there are still some large fields surrounding the outskirts, some near my house).  I then thanked Dagon for growth within the black earth, and finally Baal for sending his rains to allow for growth and food.

Deity Post: Nikkal

Today, Nikkal has touched my heart and filled me with joy.  I had prepared for me a bowl of fruit (which I normally don't eat too frequently until the summer time, when the festivals celebrate fruit harvests and blossoming orchards).  As today was Yom Shish, the Sixth Day, I finished school and arrived home already in high spirits.  When my mother prepared the bowl, I took it and said a prayer to Nikkal before I ate the fruit.  Afterwards, I was in even higher spirits.  And it occured to me that Nikkal is a deity with whom I must admit I've never had much experience apart from at festivals such as Ashuru Liyati.  So to praise Nikkal, my blog post will be on her.

The bowl of fruit from Nikkal's orchard
I eat the fruit within my house

Nikkal-wa-Ib means 'Great Lady-and-Fruitful', and can be taken as a combination of two names.  One of them, Ib, comes from the Semitic name/title of the fruit goddess, Ilat Inbi.  The other, Nikkal, actually comes from Sumerian religion, and from the goddess Ningal, who is the wife of the moon god Nanna.  Ningal was a goddess particularly worshiped by cow-herders in the marshlands, but later became a major goddess and her cult spread across the lands.  So that is basically the origins of Nikkal worship.

Nikkal is the goddess of fruits and orchards.  She is particularly honoured during the summer fruit harvests.

Nikkal is a gentle goddess, modest and faithful to her husband.  She is providing and provides her fruits in a time when the harvests of the fields are becoming rare.  She is an earthly or terrestrial deity, and her domain is over the orchards held sacred to her, and over all that grow in them, including the olive tree, apple tree, date tree, fig tree, almond tree, and walnut tree.  It is Nikkal who allows these fruits and nuts to grow.  She is gentle and quiet, peaceful and devoted.

Nikkal is the daughter of Khirkhib in stories from Ugarit, while she is the daughter of Dagon in stories from Tuttul in Serug (Syria).  She marries the moon god Yarikh after he refuses to marry any but her.  By night, Yarikh passes over the desert and comes into the orchard before his bride, and fertilizes her womb (the orchard) with his semen (nightly dew).  This causes the fruits to grow. 

Nikkal shows great love and devotion towards her husband, and he does so in return.  Nikkal's hymn may be sung at weddings.  Her worship is connected to fertlity of the orchard during the summer fruit harvest.

Nikkal is thanked when fruit is collected in.  She is worshiped to bring forth fruit in her beautiful orchards.  And she is worshiped at weddings.  The sacrifices to Nikkal are usually sacrifices of cows, and so beef offerings are the best for Nikkal.

Friday 13 January 2012

Disheartened though still strong

Today I want to talk about something which happened to me on Yom Hamish (Fifth Day) of this week.  I went in to some school exams.  I had revised well and was feeling confident.  Before I set out from home in the morning, I said a prayer to Kothar and Nebo downstairs.

I waited in the corridor running alongside the school hall, before I entered and sat at the desk.  My school hall is large, with a high roof (painted white) which has a design running around the edges of it.  The design looks sort of Greek-influenced (it's like flowers with lines zig-zagging around them), and this made me feel spiritual as I thought of how important Kothar was as a deity when the Greeks ruled Canaan, when he was identified with the Greek god Hephaestus, and when the Greeks and the Canaanites shared a lot of ideas surrounding their deities.  But then I thought of Kothar as he had appeared in the even older Ugaritic literature, and had been described in the writings of Mosheh.  He is the source of all knowledge and wisdom.  I said a prayer to Kothar to help me bring my thoughts into writing and to be blessed with wisdom.  I then prayed to Nebo, the scribe god and patron of students, to help me write my exam.  With my prayers being said, I began to work.

Unfortunately, all did not go as planned.  I became confused, didn't manage my time correctly, and though I had a lot of ideas I didn't manage to put them all down.  I ran out of time and didn't write everything correctly.  I left the hall at the end feeling ashamed and feeling disheartened. 

The point of me telling this story is not to gain sympathy (as I neither want nor need any), but to tell of what I chose to do next.  I decided that it is pointless to worry about the future (as Canaanite philosophy suggests), and it is foolish since I don't have the results yet.  But would I still give offerings to the deities?

After arriving back at home after a long day, I decided I would.  I came back and took some food from the kitchen (which was being cooked for a meal) and brought it to the dining room table where I left it as a sacrifice to Kothar and Nebo.  It was my own fault, my own shortcoming, which had led to me not managing everything properly.  Kothar and Nebo had blessed me with wisdom and creative ideas, and it was my doing and not theirs.  So I continued with the sacrifice as I intended.  I will now work on improving my skill.

In my own spirituality, I still offer sacrifices to the gods if my prayers are answered, though through my own failings I do not succeed in what I orginally intended.  I won't abandon my duty in serving them, or blame them for my own faults.

The Causes of Impurity

As discussed in the last post, purity is important during ritual and temple worship.  Now I shall discuss some of the common causes of impurity.  Impurity causes bad health, ill fortune, and does not allow you to stand before the deities.

One common cause of impurity is pollution and uncleanliness.  This includes contact with anything taboo.  The most common unclean substances are bodily fluids such as blood and semen.  Other sources include contact with corpses or the dead.  These can be passed on if one is near others who are unclean.  In order to cleanse oneself of this impurity, one should take a ritual bath before beginning a ritual or making a sacrifice.

Another source of impurity is deeds.  If you have behaved in a sinful way, you may be impure as a result of your actions. 

Ghosts and evil spirits can also cause impurity.  Coming into contact with ghosts makes one impure, and evil spirits can also cause impurity.  Related to this is the idea of good thoughts and a state of mind, as avoiding evil will ensure that one is clean.  Evil spirits may also contaminate food or drink which is left out overnight, even within your own house.  Unclean spirits also cause uncleanliness.  Going without a bath means poor hygiene, which attracts demons.  Said demons then make a person unclean, and they will continue to grow worse over several days.  Washing the hands and mouth are especially important.

Fate is another source of impurity.  If something bad comes to pass, it may not always be the fault of the individual, but circumstance may still make them impure.

Not providing for the ancestors is another source of impurity, as they may be offended, and in some cases may return as a ghost.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Purity and Purification

Related to the concept of khatz'a or sin (more on that later), is the concept of purity and purification.  It is a vital part of most religions.  In Canaanite tradition it also plays a vital role, as texts from Ugarit and other cities demonstrate. 

We live in a world which has many things which may cause impurity.  One can very easily be contaminated by this impurity, and it manifests itself in a number of ways.  There are certain areas which are 'unclean', certain bodily fluids, certain spirits, certain people even in the most extreme circumstances.

While one is impure, one cannot perform a ritual or celebrate a festival or enter a temple and come before the gods.  They become 'unclean', and may pass this on to others who they come into contact with.

This is an introduction to purity and purification, as I now have school and will need to get ready.  My next post will be on what causes impurity.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Deity Post: Kothar

Kothar-wa-Khasis (meaning 'Skillfull-and-Clever') is the god of craftsmanship, smithing, architecture, masonry, and magic.  Kothar is the patron of artisans, craftsmen, builders, architects, smiths, masons, and soothsayers. 

He is a wise and benevolent god, helpful and skilled.  He belongs to an order of gods concerned with labouring, who possess knowledge of creation (in the sense of creating or making something) greater than that of their master (Baal) but who are still willing to do as he commands anyway (the main example being the building of the window in Baal's palace).  He is crafty, cunning and humourous; but skilled and able to create anything himself.  He is also a spiritual god, displaying divine knowledge when 'naming' things he creates in order to give them magical power.  However, Kothar is a very distant god.  He doesn't live in Canaan, but instead lives in foreign lands, namely Egypt and Kaphtor (Crete).  These places were important areas of trade for the Canaanites, which is why Kothar is said to live there.  For this reason, Kothar is somewhat distant from the other deities.  They have to send messengers to him for him to arrive in Canaan.  He is very much a god who prefers to go his own way.  His city is said to be Hikaptah in Egypt, which is the city of Menef (Memphis); Ptah's cult city.  This suggests identification between Kothar and Ptah being very old.

Kothar makes furniture and weapons for the deities.  He also builds the heavenly palaces and temples for them.  Being very much a 'distant' deity, Kothar tends to exude a feeling of great divine power in his own right.  He is perhaps a netherworld god, seeming to have some domain over the underworld.  He is a close companion of Shapash, guiding her on her solar barge through the underworld at night.  It is for this reason that Kothar often appears alongside Shapash.  He is possibly to be associated with the baboon and monkey as his sacred animal.

Kothar has the power to speak and to create, with his power over the magic of the spoken word.  He is the master shaper of world and forms, the master of creation and the power to create anything and give it form.  He can call forth an abstract idea from the ethereal and give it physical form.  He is the master over the created and the uncreated, the visible and invisible.  It is not suprising, perhaps, that Kothar's cult began to play a very important role in philosophy.  The Sidonian lawgiver and philosopher Mosheh wrote a creation myth which serves as an atomist cosmogony.  In it, Kothar is the creator of the physical universe, and the demiurge.  He is called the 'Opener', and is the source of all creation and the teacher of the true nature of mortals.  He is also responsible for forming our physical bodies in the womb and naming them with magic words.  With this myth taken into account, it is possible that Kothar is the opener of the nostrils to release the soul (napshu), and the soul's regenerator and renewer.  He also has knowledge of where all things came and how they came to be.

Kothar is worshiped when crafting, creating or constructing in any way.  He can also be seen as the source of wisdom and of knowledge, especially with sciences and technology.  As such, he is a very important god today.  He can also be worshiped as the one who brings knowledge of where all things came and how they came to be, and as the creator of the physical from the ethereal, and as the opener of the nostrils.

Kothar was known at Ebla and Ugarit, and was worshiped all across Canaan.  He was also worshiped by the Hebrews.  The Egyptians identified him with Ptah very early on, and as trade between Canaan and Egypt was common during the Bronze Age, Kothar was easily identified with the Egyptian god.  The Canaanites also sailed west, and Kothar was worshiped at Kittim (Cyprus), and Kaphtor (Crete), which was another important area of trade.  Even in the early period, we can see that the people of Mari often traded with Kaphtor.  When Qart-Hadasht was founded in Phut (Libya, the name given to the area west of Egypt) by the Tyrian princess Elishat, Kothar-Ptah was a syncretized deity who had a cult in the city.  In the later Iron Age periods, the Greeks identified him with Hephaestus, and the Romans with Vulcan.  Under the Seleucids, he became a very popular deity.  As can be seen, Kothar was a very popular god in Canaan throughout the ages.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Witchcraft and sorcery

Today's post was inspired by Apollodorosh's post here: http://youngflemishhellenist.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/magic/

It is about magic in Hellenismos, and how it is viewed in Hellenic culture.  I want to attempt to tackle this controversial issue, and how it relates to the Canaanites. 

I'm aware that this post may offend some neopagans who consider themselves 'witches', but it must be understood that the Canaanite view is different to their own.

In Canaanite religion, there is magic.  This magic can be divided into three types: a more 'divine' sort of magic, related to reaching the gods; folk magic practiced among the people; and another type which is best described as 'witchcraft' or 'sorcery'.  Divination, oracles, prophesy, healing, astrology, and so on are more the former (and are often practiced by temple priests); while the latter is of a very different sort of nature.  It should be noted that there are various magical practices or superstitious practices common among Canaanites, which are probably best described as 'folk magic'.  These include amulets, talismans, curses, knots, dolls, necromancy, serpent charming, and so on.  Some of these are more positive while others are more negative.  Amulets and talismans are used to ward off evil, evil spirits, and the Evil Eye.  Curses are viewed as harmful, though even gods are prone to cursing others when in anger (Baal does this in one myth).  Necromancy is viewed as taboo, and necromancers (while often valued and called upon for their skill) are often avoided as well because contact with ghosts makes one impure and unclean. 

This is probably one major difference between Canaanite and Greek and Roman cultures, and it's probably what led the Greeks and Romans to view the Canaanites as extremely superstitious and impious.

Now that we have handled divine magic and folk magic, I want to now move onto witchcraft and sorcery.  Witches and sorcerors are not viewed positively in Canaanite religion, and they are not the same as priests or priestesses.  A temple exorcist priest will often be on guard against witchcraft, and he fights the battle against the evil spells of the kashapim (more on them later).  Witches are people who use black magic, consort with demons and evil spirits, and attempt to cast spells to harm others.  Temple healers ward off sickness caused by spells.  People who use spells to harm others are condemned and are seen as dangerous.  It is this idea (black magic) that is considered 'witchcraft'.  Things such as divination, healing, exorcism, prayer, and astrology are *not* witchcraft or sorcery.  They are ways to reach the divine.  The difference between the three types of magic are simple: divine magic is reaching the gods, folk magic is local customs and superstitions which may or may not invoke certain gods, and witchcraft is impious and to practice it is to commit evil before the gods.

Witches often do not show respect towards different gods or spirits, they instead attempt to summon and control them through magic words.  They also consort with demons and unclean spirits, something which is highly dangerous.  These attempts are often foolish, and numerous stories from the Near East indicate that spirits may become angry at attempts to summon and imprison them.  This does not please the divine, who are to be worshiped and respected, not 'used' or 'controlled'.  As it has been noted, the servants of the gods (the priests) are involved in battles against witches.

Near to Canaan, in Babylon, witches could be executed for casting spells on others.  Back in Canaan, they weren't viewed positively either.  In Ugarit, the chaberim (who magically bind others to cause them harm) are listed in a list of evildoers.  The kashapim are sorcerers who cast spells to harm others.  They sometimes use herbs for healing, but more often than not are shown negatively and as immoral and evil.  In Ugarit, they were seen as harmful and dangerous.  Among the Hebrews, a sorcerer was to be sentenced to death.  The sorcerers are not temple priests, but they do sometimes appear in royal courts.  Overall, though, they are condemned and seen as evil. 

Outside of cities, many tribes had witches or sorcerers who performed magical acts, especially women.  In the deserts to the south of Canaan, wandering tribes of Arabs like the Nabataeans often had female witches who would reveal the fortunes of men who payed them.  But in the cities, and in the temples, the priests condemned the witches as evil.  And among the more urban and educated people, these tribal witches were probably viewed as charlatans who used tricks to gain money from the uneducated (sort of like people today who try selling things on markets and threaten to kill you with black magic should you refuse to buy from them).

I personally am not a witch or sorcerer.  I do not practice black magic, I am against the craft of the kashapim, and I do not see casting spells as a way of honouring the deities.  Praying is not witchcraft or casting spells.  There are several deities who protect against witchcraft.  One is Milcom the fire-god.  Another is Shapash, the sun-goddess, as a goddess of exorcism and warding off evil.

So, to finish off: divine magic is the first type.  This is used mainly by temple priests, and among wise men and women, and it involves reaching the deities or determining the will of the deities.  It reveres the deities.  These practices are not witchcraft and those who practice them are not witches.  The second type is folk magic.  This includes several folk customs and superstitions like making amulets to ward off evil spirits.  It reveres the deities, and may be either benevolent or malevolent (though even malevolent magic like cursing is often used in self-defense or in retaliation).  Witchcraft is the third type.  It is not respectful towards the gods or spirits, and is unclean and dangerous,

Saturday 7 January 2012

2nd Yom Shabbat Khiyyaru

Today is Yom Shabbat, the Seventh Day, and the day of rest.  As I woke up in the early hours of the morning, I left my bed and sat on my bedroom floor with a lamp lit to provide me with light during the dark hours of the morning.  I was reading on the civilizations to the north of Canaan, namely the Ashkenazites and Magogites, and the Gomerites (the Scythians and the Cimmerians respectively) and their interaction with the Assyrians and Persians through warfare.

When Shapash arose, I beheld the blue sky of a beautiful winter's morning.  The sky was clear and there was a light breeze.  I decided to spend the day reading through some blogs and visiting some forums.

Today I also plan to visit my household cultic shrine and give some offerings to household Asherah.

Friday 6 January 2012

Praying for my brother

This morning I awoke early.  My brother, Ashtar-yaton, came downstairs and expressed his fear of what is coming for him today.  His class is visiting the baths weekly on the sixth day in order to practice swimming.  It has been a while since I myself had these lessons, but I don't remember ever been as nervous or afraid as he is.

I gave Ashtar-yaton some encouraging words, then kneeled down on the floor with him to recite a prayer to Yam, who has domain over water.  I hope he will remember it today, though he is still very young and behaves somewhat immaturely.  He often relies on me to pray for him.  So he will be in my prayers today.  May Yam help him swim well and rid him of fear.

Tuesday 3 January 2012


Today I thought that I would talk about ghosts in Middle Eastern religions.  In the religions of the Canaanites, Egyptians, Hebrews, Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, and Arabs, the shades of the dead journey to the underworld below the earth (or in 'the west' in Egypt).  But cults of ancestor worship exist within the religions, and the parallels between them can be clearly seen. 

Ghosts are created at the time of death, but it is important to mention that often the word 'ghost' is specifically used to mean an offended spirit which returns from the underworld or else is not allowed into it.  There are many reasons why a ghost may wander the earth or be denied access into the underworld.  One is that they may have been unburied or without a proper funeral, that their tomb may have been disturbed, that they may have been an evildoer in life, that they may have died before their time, or that they may not have received offerings by their descendants.

Ghosts have a spirit form, meaning that they may appear or else make an invisible attack.  They may be able to pass through walls and doors with ease.  Ghosts may be responsible for attacks in the living, and they may go about this by different means.  One is by a haunting or apparition, in which a ghost may or may not attempt to actually cause harm.  Another is by cursing.  And yet another is by inflicting sickness, a different kind to that which is inflicted by gods and demons. 

Whilst in the underworld, Shapash has dealing with the shades of the dead, and may punish those responsible for returning as ghosts to harass the living.  While she is in the skies, ghosts do not appear on the earth as they dwell in darkness.

A necromancer is one who has contact with ghosts and may communicate with them by speaking in a high-pitched tone.  But necromancers are often viewed as ritually impure, as contact with ghosts causes impurity.  In Hebrew the word 'ob' is used to mean the ghost and the necromancer who communicates with them.  It may originally be a word to describe a kind of pit, well or cave (considered to be the entrance to the underworld).  In Hittite religion and Babylonian, a pit is dug in the ground by a necromancer, and an offering such as a wild boar or dog, or a model ear to represent the desire to hear, is lowered into the pit.  The ghost then ascends and shares its knowledge with those gathered.  This may also appear in Hebrew religion, and in Canaanite religion there is a connection between ghosts and wells, caves, or tombs underground.  Ghosts may also enter through the floor of a house.  Breaking a hole in the earth or digging a pit is a way to communicate with them, though as mentioned, contact with ghosts makes one impure and some can be dangerous or angry.

To exorcise ghosts, the goddess Shapash may be called upon.  Resheph and Choron as gods of the netherworld are also good to invoke in an exorcism ritual to ward off ghosts.