Wednesday 22 August 2012

Sacred geography

There are certain areas which are sacred to certain gods.  Obviously, there can be found spirits dwelling within all things, even down to door-bolts and musical instruments.  It is also important to remember that the gods make their homes in cities as well, with Canaanite religion being more urban-based than nature-based.

There are three layers to the universe.  I have discussed some ideas about cosmology in my analysis of creation myths, but to put it simply: there are the heavens above, the earth below, and the underworld beneath.  There are also the cosmic waters, held above the firmament and below the ground.  The mountains are the pillars of heaven, reaching up into the skies.  Below the earth can be found mountains and lakes of the deep, and these chthonic mountains act as the foundations which hold up the earth.  Certain gods can make their dwelling in heaven, on earth, or in the underworld.  Baal oversees the heavens, Yam the seas, and Mot the underworld.

Certain natural areas are sacred to certain gods.  For example, the source of the great rivers are said to begin at El's throne.  Caves and wells are sacred to Choron and believed to be entrances to the underworld.  Groves of trees are sacred to the goddess, Asherah.  The seas are sacred to Yam, and springs to Mari.  Deserts are where hungry Mot makes his home.  The shores of the sea are home to Asherah.  The Adon valley and river are sacred to the god with the same name.

In the stars, certain constellations represent various gods.  The Scorpion is sacred to Ushkharaya, the Twins to Shachar and Shalim.

Now certain gods live atop certain mountains.  El lives atop Mount Kasu, while Baal lives atop Mount Zapan.  The whole assembly of the gods meet atop Mount Lel.  The Sinai and Peor are also known to have their own gods, one of whom- Baal Peor- may be either Shamash, Chemosh, or Haru, or another god entirely.

Now the gods also have certain cult-cities or lands where they are said to dwell, and here is a short list:

Dagon lives in Tuttul and Gaza.
Anat and Ashtart live in Inbab.
Yarikh lives in Larugat, Hazor, and Jericho.
Resheph lives in Babut.
Ashtart lives in Mari.
Chemosh lives in Churyat and Moab.
Milcom lives in Ammon and Ashtart.
Zeduq lives in Shalem/Jebus/Jerusalem.
Kothar lives in Kaphtor (Crete) and Menef, in Egypt.
Choron lives in Masad.
Baalat Gebal and Adon live in Gebal.
Yam lives in Be'erot.
Anat lives in Javan (Greece).

In addition to this, the gods also have their own peoples who formed a covenant with them:

Baal is the god of the Canaanites.
Ashtart is the goddess of the Sidonians.
Melek is the god of the Ammonites.
Chemosh is the god of the Moabites.
Qaush is the god of the Edomites.
Melqart is the god of the Tyrians.
Dagon is the god of the Philistines.
Amor is the god of the Amorites.

From, the mountains and waters

Tuesday 21 August 2012

The relationship between gods and mortals, or the need of sacrifice

(Please note, I will be discussing sacrifice and offerings in more detail in a later post).

I realize that it's been a long time since I last posted anything here, so I will now discuss something that is a rather controversial topic.  That is the relationship between gods and mortals.  This is where the Canaanite concepts differ vastly from the Greek and others.

To state it as plainly as possible, the gods require offerings and sacrifices from their servants.  They need to be fed, housed (in temples), and attended to by servants.  They need their servants to sing them hymns and songs when they are in an angry or unhappy mood in order to uplift their hearts.

I have often been met with negative reactions by others when this is stated by a member of the Canaanite community.  The people who seem to take the most issue with this is a small minority of Hellenists who are culturally unfamiliar with the Canaanite concepts of divinity and sacrifice.  I have, unfortunately, heard this idea dismissed as 'hubris', 'neopagan drivel', 'arrogance', 'demeaning to the gods' etc.

First, just to clarify, I do not believe that the gods require humans in order to exist.  That would be simply absurd.  The trouble is that they have a busy task running the universe and so it can be hard for them to provide themselves with food and drink, clothing and homes.  It's not impossible for the gods to build their own homes and make their own food (in fact the Qabirim did this, by building a temple near Mount Zapan).  And the gods themselves supposedly built their own cult cities long ago.  In particular, Gebal, Jericho, and Tyre are very old cities seen as having divine origin.  The trouble is, it can be difficult for them.  If Baal was preparing offerings for all the gods, who would send the rains to earth?  There would be drought and water shortage.  If it was Shapash, there would be no sun shining in the heavens.  The whole earth would fall into a state of chaos.

The gods are pictured like human beings, only larger and more powerful.  They exist in the universe, they have thoughts, hearts, and souls.  They require feeding.  Offerings will strengthen the nepeshim (souls) of the gods, it will make them grow stronger and more powerful.  And in return they will bless us.  This is the idea of a covenant, in which both sides- mortal and divine- must do their part.  In doing so it strengthens the bond between the gods and mortals, heaven and earth, and creates a sense of community between us all.

One argument I commonly hear against this is that it reduces the deities to the role of 'slaves' to us mortals, stating that they 'need' us and rely upon us to do everything.  Or that it is mortals arrogantly placing themselves on an equal level or even above the gods.  This is ridiculous.  A king, preoccupied with ruling the city and his kingdom from the royal palace, needs his servants to do things for him.  He needs them to play music for him to uplift his mood, he needs them to prepare food for him, and to give him his cup of wine.  He needs them to arm him with weapons and bring him his horse before battle.  He needs them to do this because given all of his royal duties and tasks, it would be impossible for him to do all of this by himself.  His has more important things to do, but the mundane tasks are not to be neglected, but rather left to the palace staff.  He needs his servants.  But does that honestly mean that his servants are on an equal level or even above him?  Is it arrogance to insist that he 'needs' servants?  No, it's simply reality.

So, hopefully that will explain the Canaanite point-of-view concerning this.  It is obviously very different from the Greek, but it does share similarities with the Egyptian and Sumerian.