Wednesday 17 October 2012


A hearth is a part of the household.  Hearths play an important role in a variety of cultures and religions in the Near East and Mediterranean world, seeing as many cultures revere fire as a source of light, warmth, and protection.  Among the Minoans and Greeks, it plays an important role being sacred to the goddess Hestia.  In Egypt, the hearth is used to prepare food, but for the most part isn't typically seen as a source of warmth, unlike other cultures.  In Hittite religion, the hearth is used for offerings to ancestors and various underworld gods.  For the Persians, the sacred fire- Atar- must be attended to at all times and kept burning within the home to make offerings through.  Defiling fire is a major sin, and fire in fire-temples must be kept burning forever.

Now let's examine the significance of the hearth for us in our community.  Though chimneys were known in Canaan, typically most houses didn't have one, and so the hearths were simply a pit dug into the earthen floor of the house where a fire would be kindled.  The king's winter palace would be heated by a brazier of burning coals, or by a pan of fire which was otherwise used for cooking or as a wash basin.  Another type of hearth is the 'altar-hearth', where sacrifices are offered.  Even tents could have a hearth, which was simply a pit dug into the floor and filled with burning coals, over which dough would be baked in a metal dish.

Preserving a fire is important, and so it is typically moved from one hearth to another by means of pottery.  Fire is seen as a source of warmth and heat, of cooking and cleaning.  It can also be seen as a destroyer, and so a powerful king might be compared to the raging fire.  Preserving and tending to a hearth is traditionally seen as a woman's duty, being a part of the household.

Hearths can also be used for metalworking, and for rituals invoking the household goddess.  Near the fires and cooking-pits, it is custom for women working near the fire to keep protective amulets and burning incense to welcome the household goddess and perform religious rituals to ward off evil spirits and demonic forces.  The god of fire is also known for warding away evil spirits.

Sunday 14 October 2012

My Shabbat

Yesterday I observed a wonderful Shabbat.

I awoke early in the morning to a new day.  The hours of darkness on the morning are growing longer, and I sat for a few hours entertaining myself with some old cartoons on the computer.  Then I saw the light beginning to show upon the white walls of the house.  Shapash was arising, starting her course through the heavens, as always.  I sat eating, drinking, and listening to music.  A perfect way to start the holy Seventh Day.  I sat at the table eating, thanking the gods for such a wondrous new day.  I was thinking of Shapash, who glowed in the blue sky above, shining down her warmth and radiance upon the earth.  The all-seeing eye of God.  I thought also of Asherah, the Shabbat Queen, standing between two goats holding palm leaves, whom I had invited into the home on the evening prior, before going to bed.

Then my younger brother, Ashtar-yaton, came downstairs with a board game.  We all sat on the floor and had some fun playing the game, while I told him of Asherah, and of Yam, and of Qos.  While playing, there were moments of happiness.  I felt the spirits of happiness bestow sudden moments of laughter upon me.  Good spirits, perhaps sent by Asherah herself.  And they helped me learn, helped me learn that even the most simple moments can bring such joy.  This would be something I would talk to Asherah about later.  We finished playing (he won), and I went and had a cleansing bath. 

I spent some time talking to some old friends, and also updating some information on the various Near Eastern peoples (the Canaanites, the Arabians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, and the Egyptians etc.) 

I thought of the skies, and of the sun, and how day and night come and go, and how we mere mortals (as close as we are to our gods) can do nothing about it.  It is beyond our control, within the sphere of the divine.  We may ride our chariots into battle, we may fight our wars, impress others with our brave and heroic deeds.  But can any of us do as Shapash, or El, or Shachar and Shalim do? 

I went upstairs, overwhelmed at how quickly the day had gone by, and into my bedroom.  I went to the end of the room and approached the household cultic shrine.  This had been the first time I had performed a ritual to the Teraphim since before Ashuru Mathbati (preparing for the festival and also for starting university took up a lot of time).  I approached the household gods, thanking them and offering them incense.  I also said a prayer to Asherah before her idol, as it is custom for me to do on the last day of every week that passes.  My prayers to Asherah felt personal to me, for the good things she has given me, and as the wife of El (whom I have had very personal experiences with lately).  I also feel close to her near a menorah, perhaps because one of its' lights represents the Shabbat.  I felt that the incense was pleasing to the household gods, its scent wafting before their idols.

After the ritual was finished, I went downstairs and listened to a Shabbat hymn, played on a lyre.  It filled me with the grace and power of the gods, capturing their majesty, which I had felt when offering the incense before Asherah in particular.

By now the sky was growing dark, Shapash was setting, returning to the underworld in the west.  The skies grew dark, and dusk came.  I said a brief prayer to Shalim, who brings the end of each day.  All good things must come to an end with the passing of time, but the memory does remain.  And as night fell, I prayed to El to bless this day.

Monday 1 October 2012


This post is mostly from a Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern point-of-view, and so I can't speak for other people.

I think, again from this perspective, that adopted culture and ancestry are more important for religious practice than birth culture and ancestry.  Here are a few examples of this from the ancient Mediterranean world.  We have the Philistines, coming from Kaphtor or Greece, being Mycenaeans, and entering Canaan after fleeing their homeland.  In addition to their old mother goddess, their old Greek pottery style, their Mycenaean-style houses and temples, and their old 'seren' system of government; the Philistines worshiped Dagon and Ashtart, and spoke a Canaanite language.

There were many occasions when Nubians entered Egypt and became prime ministers or even kings, adopting the Egyptian ways of kingship and in many cases influencing them.  The crowns, the symbols of kingship, the powers of heavenly Ra- all of these were influenced by the Nubians and adopted by the Nubian kings of Egypt.  Here's something else to remember- differences in people were marked by culture and customs, not physical appearances.  The Nubians were black and so unlike the Egyptians in appearance, but could still adopt the ways of their northern rivals.

The Cushites from their kingdoms often went into Arabia, to their kingdom Seba or Saba, which was also inhabited by Arabians who called it Sheba (the difference being whether they pronounced it with a 's' or 'sh' sound).  The Cushites, while having their own lifestyle and being valuable warriors in the Sabaean armies due to their skills with hunting and archery, did take the cults of the gods of the Sabaeans- in some cases even taking them back to their own lands.

In Persia much use was found for Babylonian art and architecture, much of it also coming through the Medes, who had contact with the Babylonians for years.  After invading Babylon, and due to their king paying homage to the city's chief god, many Persian names included the divine name 'Bel'.

After the conquests of Alexander, Jerusalem became a part of two Hellenistic empires: firstly the Ptolemaic, and then the Seleukid.  During the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, there were two factions of Jews living in Judah.  One of them was a Hellenized group of Jews who regrew their foreskins, went to the gymnasiums, worshiped Zeus Olympios and Pan by sacrificing pigs in their temples, and had Hellenic names such as Jason (which they used in place of Joshua, often their birth name).  The other were true to their Jewish origins and wanted a Jewish kingdom, and they had Hebrew or Aramaic names such as Honiyyo (Onias).  So it was entirely possible for a Jew to become a Greek at that time.

Ya-milku (Iamblichus) the Aramaean Neoplatonic philosopher, is also mentioned in Greek writings as being an Aramaean, and by that they meant a native Aramaean who was descended from the priest-kings of the ancient city of Hom-Es, located near to Dimashqu.  They make it clear that they did not mean a Greek who lived in Aram and adopted Aramaean ways and customs, indicating that it was possible for a Greek to become an Aramaean.

During the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history, as in the days of old, there were many groups living in Egypt.  The main two, though, were Egyptians and Greeks.  Egyptians often married Greeks, especially Greek soldiers, and as such their customs mixed.  A Greek might serve as a high priest in the temple of Osir-Api (Serapis) in Menef (Memphis) or Alexandria.  And there might be a Greek funerary priest who was born as Olympios but took the name Ptahhotep and wore the mask of Anapu (Anubis) in the city of Ta-opet (Thebes).  Similarly, there might be an Egyptian man named Ahmose who served as a priest in the shrine of Demeter, or an Egyptian named Ra'meses who took the name Alexandros and served as a priest in the shrine of Zeus, who he identified with his father's god Amun while he was growing up on the streets of Ta-opet.  In many parts of Egypt, it became difficult to work out who was born into an Egyptian family and who was born into a Greek family, because their children had adopted different customs.

Among the Canaanites, it is always custom to allow foreigners to stay as part of the community provided that they show respect for Canaanite customs.  And if a Hittite or Egyptian chose to, they could adopt Canaanite customs and religion and become a full member of the Canaanite community.