Monday 25 March 2013

Syncretism and the Canaanite deities- part 1

Today, I'm going to take a look at the Canaanite deities and how they identify with gods from other cultures, namely those of the Hurrians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Hittites, Luwians, Karuwans, Arabians, Ludim, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Indians.

El- El is identified with the Hurrian god Kumarbi, with whom he shares some similarities.  Kumarbi is like a father god to the Hurrians, as is El to the Canaanites.  El also compares well with Ellil/Enlil in Mesopotamia as a creator and father god, but unlike Ellil/Enlil is not a young and active god.  As an older father god who dwells in the high heavens and isn't too involved in the lives of mortals, El compares well with Anu/An in the Mesopotamian religions.  In Egyptian religion, the closest comparison we can find to El is the god Amun.  Amun too is a hidden god and a father god who dwells in highest heaven, and he's also associated with kingship and creation.  And like El, who uses Shapash as an 'eye' and messenger, Amun's 'revealed' aspect is the sun god Ra, who can be seen clearly in the skies.  In Arabia, the closest god to El is Allah (whose name is linguistically related), and both are the creator and father gods.  The Greeks associated El with Kronos, and the Romans with Saturn.  This is because El belongs to the 'earlier generation' of gods, like Kronos and Saturn.  I've also seen El identified with Zeus at least once, as both are powerful and both govern the cosmos itself.  In some respects, El is comparable to the Persian Ahura Mazda (both are supreme god, referred to as simply 'God', both are also considered benevolent creators).  In India I feel that both Brahma and Vishnu are similar to El.  Brahma is the creator and is considered to be a wise god, so there is a link there; while Vishnu is also a benevolent god who dwells in the highest heaven and sends various avatars to earth (as El sends the prophets, angels, heroes, and messengers in times of distress).

Asherah- She is connected to various mother goddesses.  Specifically to the Hittite Ashertu (which is in fact the Hittite name for the same goddess), and to the Arabian mother goddess Allat.  She is also similar to the Hindu mother goddess Aditi, to whom children address prayers.  In Egypt, Asherah was always identified with Het-hert, who is also a powerful goddess with a lot of authority.  To the Greeks, Asherah could be connected to either Rhea (as wife of El/Kronos), Hera (as a powerful and authoritative goddess), or even Artemis (for her role as the Queen of Heaven, or a celestial goddess).  And likewise with the Romans, it could be Juno or even Diana.  Juno, as a mother goddess, seems to be the most common.

Baal- Baal Hadad is associated with many storm gods throughout the Near Eastern and Mediterranean world.  He is comparable to the Hittite Tarhuntas, the Hurrian Teshub, the Ludite Lebs, the Karuwan Milasa, the Indian Indra, and the Greek Zeus.  All of these are storm gods, and many of them are known for their battle with an evil serpent or dragon, which represents chaos.  Baal is also a lot like the Mesopotamian Ellil/Enlil (the powerful storm and war god), and Marduk (who is a storm god known for defeating Tiamat and commonly referred to as Bel).  He is likewise a lot like the Arabian storm and war god Hubal.  In Egypt, he is comparable to Set, who is also a storm god.  Unlike Set though, he is not associated with the desert or with chaos.  Since he was associated with the Greek storm god Zeus, the Romans quickly associated him with their own Jupiter.

Ashtart- Ashtart is connected in a deity-list from Ugarit with the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, and she shares many aspects with Ishtar and Inanna as a goddess of love and fertility associated with the Evening Star (the names Ashtart and Ishtar are also related).  Ashtart is also associated with the Hurrian goddess Shaushka, who is sometimes called Ishtar, and with the Hurrian and Ludite goddess Hebat, who is a goddess associated with lions and the consort of Teshub (as is Ashtart with Baal).  As a goddess of fertility, she is also linked the the Egyptian Aset and the Arabian Al-Uzzah.  As a goddess of love who has a cult city on Cyprus, she is connected to Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus, though she is sometimes also linked to Juno.

Anat- Anat is in many ways like Ashtart.  Like Ashtart she too can be identified with Ishtar and Inanna as a young warrior goddess.  Like Ishtar who threatens Anu in the myths, Anat threatens El.  Anat is a warrior goddess like Al-Uzzah of Arabia, and she also compares well with the Hurrian Shaushka.  In Egypt though, Anat is very much like the goddess Nit, who is a warrior goddess.  Likewise, she shares many similarities with the Persian Anahita, a warrior goddess who drives the chariot of Ahura Mazda and guards his wisdom and the holy Avesta against the malice of the daevas.  Anat is identified by Philon Byblios with the Greek Athena (both are warrior goddesses and virgin goddesses), and Roman Minerva.  In addition to this, Anat is also said to dwell in Greece (in addition to dwelling in Inbab's marshes, she is sometimes said to live in Javan, or Greece), which provides a connection to Athena.  She is also a lot like Artemis as a young virgin goddess who likes the hunt.  In India, Anat corresponds very well with Durga/Kali as a ferocious mother goddess associated with the fearsome predator (lion for Anat, and lion or tiger for Durga/Kali).  Both are destroyers, but both are also seen as benevolent by their devotees.

That is all for part one.  Next time, I'm going to look at Resheph, Yam, Mot, Arsh, Baal Shamem, Shapash, Yarikh, Nebo, Shadrapa, Melqart, Eshmun, and others.

Friday 15 March 2013

A note on patrons

There are a lot of misconceptions concerning patron deities.  A lot of people I run into will talk about gods as if they are the personal patrons of individuals.  I hear of people claiming things such as "Manat is my patron", "Baal is my patron", "Ea is my patron", "Teshub is my patron", "Ra is my patron" etc.

To clarify, deities do not specifically watch over specific humans.  They can if they choose to, but you as an individual cannot simply 'choose' a 'patron god'.  You do however have your own guardian spirits who watch over you.

Now, patron gods are usually gods who watch over professions or skills or crafts- and so anyone in these things can claim that said god is their 'patron', but only in the sense of them ruling over that specific profession, trade, craft, or skill.  For example, as a student, I can say that Nebo is my patron god.  Not because I 'chose' him, but because he is the patron god of scribes as a profession.  I will leave my offerings at the temple of Nebo.  On the other hand, soldiers can leave offerings for Anat, as she is their patron.  Athletes can worship Melqart as their patron, craftsmen can worship Kothar, sailors and fishermen can worship Yam, farmers can worship Dagon, administrators can worship Sakkun, government officials can worship El, doctors and healers can worship Eshmun, and so on.  There are many different gods for many different professions or aspects of life.

A good comparison to make would be with the saints in Christianity.  The Christian concept of saints is very close to the polytheistic one, probably because it was borrowed directly from polytheism.  I'm going to take a look at a few churches which I live close to (in city, villages etc.) and which saints they're consecrated to.  I know of churches to St. George, St. Michael (the angel), St. Gabriel (the angel), St. Nicholas, St. Athanasius, St. Paul, St. Joseph, St. Mary, St. Aidan, and St. Ignatius.  These saints obviously rule over certain professions or aspects of life, and Christians will consider them their patrons depending on what profession or trade they are in.  So, St. George is the patron of soldiers, St. Michael is another patron of soldiers, St. Gabriel is the patron of diplomats and messengers, St. Paul is the patron of writers, St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers etc.

So, they aren't guardians of specific people (in the way that a guardian angel would be), but are instead patrons of groups which they preside over or are linked to in some way.

Thursday 7 March 2013

How spirits can appear as humans?

Related to arguments on consciousness in the world around us, is the challenge to us on how our gods resemble humans, or animals.  People ask: how can the rivers, and the rocks, and things like doors or wine be conscious or intelligent entities?  Today, after much contemplation, I hope to answer that question.  These lessons are ones I often give to those curious in the temple classroom.

Firstly, my own experiences.  Walking into a village I can pass the green fields with the grazing sheep and see that they are conscious and intelligent beings, as am I.  They wander around and eat the grass from the fields or pastures.  You (regardless of who you are) are probably with me at this point.  You probably agree with me.  Now to move on.  I can pass rows of houses, built on a slope, and see that the houses of the street are there and are their own beings.  I can see a palm tree growing in a garden, and it too has its own character.  Going further up the hill I can see that the stone church has its own character, and furthermore it is consecrated (even within the context of Christianity, as opposed to Semitic polytheism) to divinities like God, and Jesus, and Mary.  So the house itself, is its own personality.

'How so?' you may ask.  Well, each thing has its own 'character'- it's different and unique, as we humans are all different and unique.  We can 'feel' very close to these supposedly 'inanimate' objects.  We can experience them both on a physical level, and on a spiritual level.  What do I mean by that?  This is where the idea of us seeing gods as human-shaped beings comes in.  If I am dreaming, and I see a tree or river appear to me as a human, am I then truly dreaming of that tree or river?  On one level, you could say yes (because I'm still dreaming of a real tree or river, but seeing it as a human-shaped being rather than in its regular physical form, and I innately know that it is that particular tree or river that I'm seeing).  On another level, you could say no (as its regular physical appearance does not resemble a human at all).  For me personally, I would say yes, for the reason stated above.  It's still that tree or river, regardless of how it appears to me in a dream-state, that I'm dreaming of.  I can awaken and say, "How peculiar!  I dreamed that I saw a tree, but it appeared in a human form."  When I speak of dream-like or meditative states, this is what I mean by 'spiritual' or 'psychic'.  Physical and spiritual form are two halves of the same whole, but are still the same whole.

How can we say that these things are living beings then?  Well, quite simply because life is the opposite of death.  Things like rivers have a purpose (to reach the sea) and most importantly are still continuing to fulfill that purpose.  They are still flowing to the sea.  Therefore, the river has a spirit, which is alive.  Likewise, we humans have a purpose which we fulfill while we are alive.  We have sex, give birth, create religious shrines and temples, worship the divine, eat, drink, work, and play.  All human societies do this, for it is our purpose.  We can do much more than only one thing, because we humans are more complex than most other beings.  But we still have our purpose, and just like river can only fulfill it while we have spirits, while we are alive.  For the dead no longer have a purpose, and can no longer fulfill it.  When a river dries up, or stops flowing- then it is dead, and the spirit is gone.  But there is life, and there are spirits (up to and including the gods at the top, for the gods themselves are spirits) in love, and war, and luck, and fate, and rain, and sun, and moon, and stars.

Sunday 3 March 2013


Misconceptions about Canaanite religion:

- Sex rites are not a part of Canaanite religion
- Lilith worship is not a part of Canaanite religion
- Human sacrifice is not a part of Canaanite religion
- 'Molech' is not a god, nor is he one to whom human sacrifices are performed
- Melqart and Mot are *not* the same deity
- We do not worship demons
- Our gods are not aliens