I am Asherah, the Tree of Life
Let me embrace you in the shade of My outreached arms
I will protect you from the harsh damning heat of the midsummer sun
Come take refuge from the arid desert air in my cooling oasis
I make way for life in places deemed inviable
I am the strength that make your perilous journey a possibility
Let Me sooth your brow with My sweet waters
I am the peace found in the midst of the struggle for survival
I am Peace
I am Life.
Asherah, Tree of Life by The Rose Laden Magdalene
Minoan Religion and
the Ancient Near East: A Connection?
Leonine demon/spirit servants present libations to
Goddess, queen, or high priestess. On a
ring from Tiryns, 14th century B.C.
The Mediterranean Sea connected many
cultures to each other, all throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the
Near East. Ancient cultures traded not
only goods and supplies with each other but also stories, ideas, and religious
beliefs. This is evident in some of the
gods and goddesses who had different names or diffusions in various
Mediterranean religions. One of the most
obscure ancient Mediterranean religions was that of the Minoans a civilization
that was situated primarily on the island of Crete but also on other islands of
the Aegean Sea, an embayment of the Mediterranean. Over the years since its discovery, there has
been some thought among scholars that the religion and culture of the Minoans
(and possibly their successors the Mycenaeans) was heavily influenced by its
Near Eastern neighbors.
Before I continue I must stress that the archaeological evidence from
Minoan Crete and the other islands is limited and from what artifacts that were
recovered not many complete ideas or stories are able to formed, let alone
verified. Most of the sources that I cite
are from scholars with their own interpretations but have done their best to
make a solid argument; however I will provide criticism to these arguments if
need be. Also, the Minoan civilization
was a part of the Bronze Age an era of prehistory meaning that the Minoans
lived in a time before recorded written history. To clarify, the Minoans and some other
ancient civilizations did have a language and writing system but it has little
decipherment and is considered by historians to be proto-writing. The main writing system
of the Minoans has been dubbed Linear A and is believed that have been based
off symbols and images like all other proto-writings. Due to the littler deciphering of the Linear
A script, most of the suggested names of the Minoan deities comes from both
later etymological versions in Linear B of the Mycenaeans and the Greek
language, and also earlier versions of Indo-European as some the deities
worshiped in these cultures may be the deities from the Minoan culture just
with different names.
of the most notable aspects of Minoan religion, based on archaeological
evidence, is presence of multiple female figures whether mortal or
goddesses. When Sir Arthur Evans
original unearth and discovered the ruins and artifacts of Minoan Crete he
believed that the constant presence of these female figures was evidence that
the Minoans worshiped a Great Goddess of nature who was accompanied by a male
god who was either her son or consort; an idea he based on James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1). This Goddess, her name, who she is, and who
the supposed male god that aided her is, are all subject to debate. This debate is based on the aforementioned
limited archaeological evidence. We
don’t exactly know who the women and men are in the pots, frescoes, coins, and
rings that remain; but that does not mean we cannot try to find out who they
The Goddess, or whomever the
prominent female figure truly is, was believed to be a vegetation, fertility,
nature deity primarily linked with symbol of the sacred tree, although she had
a host of other symbols such as pillars, axes, stones, snakes, bees, birds,
poppy flowers which may symbolize her multiple roles (2). Due to these multiple symbols is has been
theorized by some scholars that instead of multiple different goddesses there
was one supreme goddess with multiple faces or roles. It would not be wrong to think that the
primary goddess of the Minoans was linked with plants and fertility as many
important goddess from the Near East were sovereigns over such roles. Furthermore this has led to scholars believed
that the Minoan Goddess may just be the Minoan version of an important Near
Eastern goddess. One issue regarding all
this is the Goddess’ name.
rage on as to what the Goddess’ name is and also the name of the male god who
is with her. Robert Graves and Karl Kerényi put forth an interesting idea that the
Goddess could really be Ariadne, a woman most notably from the myth of Theseus
fighting the Minotaur. Ariadne was the
daughter of King Minos and Queen Pasiphaë of Crete and the granddaughter of the
sun god Helios. Minos, Ariadne’s father,
took youths from Greece as sacrifices to appease the Minotaur who lived in the
labyrinth under the palace at Knossos.
When Theseus went to kill the Minotaur, Ariadne, who had fallen in love
with Theseus, tied a thread to the hero so that he could find his way through
the labyrinth. Theseus succeeded in
killing the Minotaur (who was actually Ariadne’s half-brother) however he left
her behind in Crete unable to reciprocate her love and eventually became king
bases part of his idea that Ariadne is the Minoan Goddess from an inscription
found on a small clay tablet at Knossos.
The inscription reads “da-pu-ri-to-jo
/ po-ti-ni-ja me-ri” which
transliterates to “To the mistress of the labyrinth honey” (po-ti-ni-ja is a Mycenean Greek word
that means “mistress” or “lady” and gave way to the more recent Greek potnia); and “mistress of the labyrinth”
is title given to Ariadne based on her aid to Theseus (3). Kerényi links the “mistress of the labyrinth”
to a winding and unwinding ecstatic dance, often depicted by female figures on
some Minoan rings and also believes that Ariadne’s name is a Cretan-Greek form
for “Arihagne” meaning “utterly pure”
with the adjective adnon from hagnon (4). Ariadne was also associated with the god
Dionysus who may have been the Minoan God who aided the Goddess as in the
original Greek myth after Theseus leaves Crete Ariadne is eventually taken by
Dionysus to Olympus. In Argos, a part of
mainland Greece, there was a tomb for Ariadne which gradually became an altar
to her in which the people made her a subterranean (or chthonic, which is
considered to be an aspect of the Minoan Goddess) deity; however, the site was
also a sanctuary of Dionysus Kresios, or Dionysus the Cretan (5).
writer Pausanias in his multi-volume work Description
of Greece believed that this was where Dionysus buried Ariadne before her
ascension to godhood thus linking Dionysus to the Goddess even more (6). Most of this proposed evidence puts forth
that Ariadne, whether she truly existed or not, was either deified as the
Minoan Goddess or in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur was a humanized
incarnation of the Goddess. In a much
earlier post, Lady Xoc already mentioned as to how the Sumerian queen Kubaba
may have been deified as the Hurrian goddess Hannahannah who was also closely
identified with the goddess Hebat and how she eventually became the Phrygian
god Kybele then the Greco-Roman goddess Cybele. It was also said that Queen Kubaba was also
given sovereign over the world by the god Marduk whom Kubaba ordered offerings
to. Kubaba’s devotion and relationship
to Marduk is similar (but not necessarily connected) to Ariadne’s devotion and
relationship to Dionysus. However,
Ariadne and Dionysus’ relationship mostly resembles the relationship between
that of the goddess Inanna/Ishtar and her consort Dumuzi/Tammuz.
This is where the possible connection to the ancient Near
East comes in. The relationship between
Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz is one of the most well-known and documented
myths of the Near East. Inanna/Ishtar is
the goddess of love, war, sex, and fertility and her lover Dumuzi/Tammuz won
her over after a contest. Their sexual
union has been called hieros gamos,
which is Greek for “sacred marriage”, and is said to cause the vegetation and
fertility of the world to grow.
Eventually Sumer would adopt a symbolic version of the union between
their kings and the high priestesses of Inanna.
and sexual relationship between Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz is strikingly
similar to Dionysus, a very sexual god of ecstasy, wine, decadence, grape harvest,
and fertility and Ariadne, if we are to assume that she is the Minoan Goddess
associated with many different roles.
However, as pointed out earlier, Ariadne is not the exact name given to
the Minoan Goddess. Based on Linear A
tablets and votive stone libations, along with phonetics of Linear B, it was
been suggested by some scholars that the Minoan Goddess’ name is A-sa-sa-ra or
Asasara or Asasarame (7). This name
sounds similar to multiple Near Eastern goddesses including Asherah (Athirat),
Ishtar, and Astarte/Ashtoreth. I will
continue on these possible connections but I have not completely ruled out
Ariadne and will return to her.
impossible for the Minoan Goddess and the Minoan God to be Cretan versions of
goddesses and gods from the Near East.
For example, it’s been highly speculated that Aphrodite and her lover
Adonis are Greek versions of Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz (8). Obviously, as Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz
diffused through the Near East and the Mediterranean, aspects of their worship
and duties changed. Given the
aforementioned name Asasara, it’s possible for the Goddess to have been the
Cretan versions of either the goddess Asherah or the goddess Astarte/Ashtoreth. Astarte/Ashtoreth is believed to be the immediate
Canaanite version of Inanna/Ishtar (9).
Asherah, also called Athirat, appears to be her own goddess.
What may connected the Minoan Goddess to either Asherah or
Inanna/Ishtar (the later through Astarte/Ashtoreth) is the sacred tree
symbol. The sacred tree was one of the
symbols of the Minoan Goddess which possibly links her to nature and
fertility. Bother Asherah and
Inanna/Ishtar had some reverence to trees in their cults and myths. What also connected them to her was their
titles as Queen/Lady/Mistress of Heaven/the Gods, of which Nanno Mariantos
believes the Minoan Goddess had this title believing the word po-ti-ni-ja to be the Mycenaean
equivalent of the Ugarit rbt which
meant “lady” (10). The original Ugarit rbt pt meant “lady of heaven” and the
like and was used by multiple powerful goddesses across the Near East (11).
Back to the
tree, the first tree connection comes from the myth of Inanna and the huluppu tree. In the myth the huluppu tree is planted on the banks of the Euphrates River and
Inanna cares for it while it is attacked by the elements and various creatures
take refuge in it. Inanna laments to her
brother Utu but he does nothing, she then turns to Gilgamesh who helps her by driving
away the creatures and cutting the tree down and both he and Inanna make gifts
for each other from it. As for Asherah,
there is no real myth or story that associates her with a tree, rather it is
shown in her cult among the Canaanites and Israelites. The asherim,
or sacred poles, were symbols of Asherah made from trees and were place on both
the lofty hills under trees and next to altars in the temple where she was
worshiped alongside Yahweh (12).
Ariadne, she too was associated with a tree.
One version of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur ends with Ariadne
committing suicide by hanging before Dionysus comes for her. Furthermore, in ancient Attica (Central Greece)
the cult of Dionysus tied masks, representing young girls who committed
suicide, to a pine tree in a vineyard and eventually dolls were added to
represent Ariadne (13). Both the tree
and the aforementioned tomb-altar make Ariadne similar to the Minoan Goddess
who was believed to reign over life and death.
Another Ariadne tomb was at Amathus in Cyprus in the grove of
Aphrodite-Ariadne (14). And it is here
that I believe there is further connection between Ariadne, the Minoan Goddess,
and goddesses of the Near East.
Given the name Aphrodite-Ariadne, it is most likely that at
Cyprus that a goddess was worshiped who was a combination of these two. Cyprus itself is the “birthplace” of
Aphrodite and Adonis, whom most likely are Greek versions of Inanna/Ishtar and
Dumuzi/Tammuz. The first wave of
settlers of Cyprus, confirmed by both the ancient historian Herodotus and
modern historians and archaeologists, were Mycenaean Greeks around 1400 B.C.
(15th century B.C.) from Argos the same place where the altar-tomb
of the chthonic Ariadne associated with Dionysus Kresios was located. In the 8th century B.C., Cyprus
was colonized by the Phoenicians (Canaanites) and sometime after was conquered
by the Assyrians. And it was the
Phoenicians who brought the goddess Astarte/Ashtoreth to Cyprus.
Adonis link back to Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz through the deities Baal
and Astarte both of whom were worshiped by the ancient Cypriots after the
Phoenicians brought them over, especially at Amathus; the location of both the
syncretized Aphrodite-Ariadne and other Ariadne tomb (15). It is most likely that the Greek Aphrodite
came about through the Levantine Astarte who is a diffusion of the Mesopotamian
Inanna/Ishtar. There is some crossover
of events and periodization between the Minoans and Mycenaeans in the years. The Minoans themselves are believed to arrive
on Crete from either mainland Greece or the Levant or Anatolia (modern day
Israel, Lebanon, and Syria and Turkey respectively). The former would go along with the original
Ariadne tomb in Argos with the eventual Ariadne tomb in Cyprus theory, whereas
the latter agrees that a Near Eastern goddess was imported to the
center of Minoan Cretan culture, was in power until roughly 1200 B.C. (13th
century), about thirty years after Theseus supposedly killed the Minotaur and
met Ariadne and the beginning of the Iron Age in the Mediterranean and Near
East. The myth and history of Ariadne
with Theseus was written down physically by the Roman Plutarch in the 1st
century A.D. with his work Lives,
alternatively titled Parallel Lives
or Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. The original legend was passed down orally
for centuries and most of Plutarch’s sources for it are from the fourth and
fifth centuries. It’s possible that
Ariadne’s story happened in the 13th century and then continued as
oral tradition until Plutarch. However,
given the aforementioned periodization and dates it is safe to say that
Ariadne, despite her connections to Near Eastern goddesses and the Minoan
Goddess, was Mycenaean not Minoan.
What’s even more interesting is that the many statues and
figurines of women found at Crete- whether they be goddesses, priestesses, or
queens- are not as old as the Minoan period and are actually from the Mycenaean
period (16). Most archaeologists and
historians of religion do believe that Aphrodite was imported from the Near
East to Greece. Pausanias agreed with
this as well but claimed that Aphrodite originated among the Assyrians, then
came to Cyprus, then to the Phoenicians who brought her to Cythera (17). Some do believe she was connected to the Minoan
Goddess as well. It is most likely true
that the Minoan Goddess was an import of a Near Eastern goddess, however, as to
which goddess specifically and her connection to Ariadne both become mystified
due to the dates of the Phoenician colonization of Cyprus, although it is
possible that Astarte was brought to Cyprus before the official colonization.
was a trade center and many other cultures went there to trade. Minoan artwork, or artwork inspired by it,
has been seen in mainland Greece, Egypt, and the Levant. The Mycenaeans took over much of what the
Minoans originally owned and possibly including their religion. Cathy Gere claims that based on remaining
Minoan archaeology, a cult involving Dionysus swept across Greece in the 6th
century B.C. that incorporated the worship of Aphrodite-Ariadne (18). Furthermore, certain traditions and rituals
that originally revolved around Ariadne eventually passed to Dionysus, her
consort, when his cult swept through 6th century Greece (19).
So what does
all this mean? What we can definitely conclude
is that the Minoan Goddess and God do definitely originate in the Near
East. Dionysus is the Minoan God and is definitely
the successor of Adonis and Dumuzi/Tammuz (Baal is similar in some ways but not
many). The Goddess is possibly the
successor of Aphrodite through Astarte/Ashtoreth who is the successor of Inanna/Ishtar. Ariadne maybe a humanized version of the
Goddess brought about through oral tradition and when she was “re-united” with
Dionysus much of the cultic focus went to him.
The Minoans are very difficult to study and I thank you all for reading
this. If you have questions please ask
them through our ask box as this post is just too long to respond to reblogs.
Goodison and Christine Morris, “Beyond the Great Mother: The Sacred World of
the Minoan,” in Ancient Goddesses: The
Myths and Evidence, ed. Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris (London: British
Museum Press, 1998), 113.
Berger, The Goddess Obscured:
Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1985), 15.
Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, trans. Ralph Manheim (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 89-90.
4. Ibid., 99.
5. Ibid., 103.
6. Pausanias, Description
of Greece, Book II, chapter 23, section 8.
7. Nanno Marinatos, Minoan
Kingship and the Solar Goddess: A Near Eastern Koine (Urbana, Chicago, and
Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 165.
Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Journal
of Aesthetic Education 30, no. 2 (1996): 45-46, (Found via JSTOR).
Amico Wilson, Women of Canaan: The Status
of Women at Ugarit (Whitewater: Heartwell Publications, 2013), 188-189.
Marinato, Minoan Kingship, 166.
Cornelius, The Many Faces of the Goddess:
The Iconography of the Syro-Palestinian Goddesses Anat, Astarte, Qedeshet, and
Asherah c. 1500-1000 BCE, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck
& Ruprecht, 2008), 80-83.
Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the
Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth
(New York: Free Press, 1992), 153-155.
Graves, The Greek Myths (New York:
Penguin Books Inc., 1957), 263.
Theseus, part 20.
Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in
Magic and Religion (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 329.
more details see Kenneth Lapatin, Mysteries
of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History (Boston and
New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002).
Greece, Book I, chapter 14, section
Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of
Modernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 46.
What are some of the Canaanite gods? I only know Ba'al because Egypt usurped him. :D
Ooooh, fun question!
I’m going to start off by clarifying (just ‘cause) that Canaan was never a country. It was a region, and the gods I know best are from Ugarit. They were found in many places throughout the Canaanite region but, like any religion that travels, it was slightly different from place to place.
Also, Ba'al is a title rather than a name. :) It means Lord. Normally when someone refers to Ba'al, they’re referencing Ba'al Hadad (I’ll get to him in a sec). Also, like the difference in religion by location, their names shift somewhat. I’ve seen Ba'al Hadad written Ba'lu Hadi, Anat as Anath, Anatu and Antit. Then there’s also the Hebrew name vs. Canaanite name (Asherah v. Atirat, 'Ilu v. El, etc.) Like any recon bit, it’s complicated. xD It probably doesn’t help that I have a tendency to mix and match the names.
So… some of the gods.
Ba'al Hadad – Ba'al Hadad is the god of storms, and possibly fertility. (There was a love of sexualizing Canaan, so whether gods were fertility gods is…difficult to tell, sometimes.) He was often portrayed as the active leader of the gods, almost the protagonist, though he was not the head of the pantheon. He is the main character in the Ba'al Cycle, in which he battles both Yam and Mot.
'Ilu (aka El) – 'Ilu is the head of the pantheon. He is the creator of humanity, and likely the world, and is shown as just, benevolent, and kind.
Atiratu (Asherah to the Hebrews) – Atiratu is the Queen of the Heavens. She is 'Ilu’s wife, and the mother of all the gods. She and 'Ilu are charged with caring for the world together.
Astarte – Astarte is a goddess of justice and law. She is one of the more difficult to ascertain for certain, as she was historically portrayed as a war and sex goddess, and then later lumped together with Anat and Atiratu. However, in the epics which have been found, she has dealt more with justice and law than much of anything else.
Shapash – Shapash is the goddess of the sun. Yep. That’s right. Sun GODDESS. As in female. Yep. Also, she’s not married to the moon. They’re siblings. Totally different vibe than you’ll get from some mythologies. Anyway, she spends her days warming the earth, and her nights underground with the Rapi'uma (spirits of the dead) in the House of Freedom.
Yarikh – Yarikh is the god of the moon and fertility. See what I mean? Fertility: it’s everywhere. Anywho, he spends his days opposite his sister Shapash, and the fertility aspect comes from his association with morning dew as his semen. Seeing as how he’s married to Nikkal, that actually makes a fair deal of sense.
Nikkal – Nikkal is the goddess of orchards. I assume that she is similarly influential on all kinds of crops. One of the earliest pieces of music in the world is a hymn sung to Nikkal.
Yam – Yam is the sea god, and the enemy of Hadad. He was announced prince of the gods by Ilu at the beginning of the Ba'al Cycle, seeks Ba'al Hadad’s subjugation to him, and is eventually defeated.
Mot – Mot…Mot is the god of decay, and death. He is seen as the open maw of the earth that takes you when you die. He seriously isn’t someone’s attention who you want to draw, unless you want to be working with some really serious stuff. And even then….he didn’t have temples. He wasn’t called on in blessings, though possibly in curses.
Kothar-wha-Khasis – Kothar-wha-Khassis is the god of artisans and magicians. Yeah. So he’s pretty fabulous.
Anat ('Anatu) – So…Anat is the goddess because of whom I found the Canaanite pantheon, and it is to her I feel a special attachment. Anat is the adolescent war goddess. She is passionate, likely to just do whatever she wants, but is fiercely loyal to those she cares for. She is Ba'al Hadad’s lover, though not his wife. She suckles young gods at her breast, has had many children by Hadad, yet is still the adolescent, sometimes called virgin. In this sense, she isn’t so much a virgin in sexual purity, as she is acting in a role outside of what would have been normal for girls, by remaining outside of the role of a “woman.”
There’s more, as well, these are just the ones which I know better.
As well, I thought that you might be interested to know that Athiratu and Anat has had some comparisons made, heavily so, to Isis. Anat’s defeat of Mot matches a lot of Egyptian mythology very well. Also, there was one pharaoh who chose Anat as his personal god. Very, very devoted, that one. So, yeah. Especially with how close they were to each other, geographically, and how easily their religions may have meshed, transitions from one to the other were probably pretty common. :P
There’ve been a ton of scarab beetle talismans found in Ugarit, so it obviously went both ways.
William G. Dever suggests that this could be a Late Bronze Age depiction of the Canaanite-Hebrew mother goddess Asherah, and if so it is one of the earliest depictions of her. But Dever says we should also consider some more thoughts.
Canaanite portrayals of the goddess are typically in the fashion of lascivious courtesan of the gods while ancient Israelite ones are more chaste (the image above could be the latter because nothing promiscuous is being depicted. Simply one revealing their vulva and nursing wasn’t necessarily promiscuous in those days). The figure could have also been a talisman used in fertility magic or invocations to the fertility goddess, in this case Asherah. The figure could represent Asherah, or a woman praying to a deity, or a votive offering symbolizing the worshiper’s prayers and vows.
William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsman Publishing Co., 2005), 187-188.
Asherah, thou mother of the earth,
thou calmer of the storms
who walkst on water, who dwellest in the trees,
be within my heart and weather me-
in thine arms might I find peace,
that I might give myself to thee.
Pillar set up in the shrine of my home,
as I anoint you with this sweet-smelling oil,
I pray that Asherah enter you,
I pray that your eyes be open,
I pray that you be Asherah,
here in front of me.
Asherah in my shrine,
Asherah, in front of me here in my shrine:
smell this sweetly scented oil with which I anoint your body.
Be honored, be powerful, be present before me,
Asherah, yourself, in this pillar.
I erected this pillar here on the high place.
I raised this alter of unhewn stone.
I pour out beer and offer bread
to Asherah, Heaven’s Queen,
Queen of the World.
However! If you go back to an older version of the mythology, before the dawn of Judaism, the myth went a little bit differently. Back then, the religion was a polytheism. The father-god, then known as El, and later by other names, had a wife named Asherah. Asherah was among other things a goddess of wisdom and knowledge, and her symbol was a snake wrapped about a tree. Originally, the snake wasn’t some diabolical boogieman, it was just a mother passing on her knowledge to her daughter, Eve.
I have no idea who wrote that. I was looking through old research notes regarding the mythology of abrahamic religions and this quote popped up. The link takes me to a dead page.
I’ve always been so fascinated by this, the idea that the Queen of Heaven would later have her symbols twisted to mean corruption.
Is there anyone out there who’s a follower or devotee of Asherah? Or Astarte or Ishtar? I’m pretty sure Asherah’s been calling me, and She did so in the most creative way… I feel really connected to Her already, and I wanted to talk to others who worship or have worshiped Her. Please message me if you have any connection with the goddess under any of these names. Thanks!
Zebra scarf for altar cloth, yellow & red candles for fire and summer, green candle and praying woman statue to represent me, mirror to remind me that reflections aren’t always accurate, Asherah statue, seven color bookmark, and a wooden box of myrrh for offerings.
Simple, because I don’t have the spoons for complicated right now. Even spoonie pagans need altars now and then.