asherah

10

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey was first released in Japan five years ago today, on October 8th, 2009. Can you believe that shit? I sure as hell can’t.

Strange Journey was everything I wanted it to be, and more. Most importantly, it taught me that the basic concept behind Shin Megami Tensei is not just occult in appearance but that a great deal of thematic depth is hidden behind whatever facade its story wears. Specifically, it was the revelation that the game’s themes and subtext were reflective of the comparative analyses and histories within the decades-old mythology and religion books I was reading concurrently while playing; it’s a side of the series many may overlook or be only superficially aware of, but, by Strange Journey’s example, it’s there waiting to extend a psychopomp-like hand to the abyss of the collective unconscious when someone is willing and ready. 

Strange Journey lived up to the potential of Shin Megami Tensei absolutely. While it does have flaws which should not be overlooked, the game’s unique setting, atmosphere, and creativity still catapult it above most of its series peers. This is the game that really cemented my love for Shin Megami Tensei and it’s the future possibility of another game of its pedigree that will keep me a fan, no matter what the series throws out or how badly it fails to understand itself.

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.

2

mythology meme:  [7/9] deities

↳ Asherah

Asherah (alternatively spelled as Athirat or Ashratum) is one of the three greater goddesses of the ancient Semitic religions. She is primarily a mother goddess, married to the creator god, and having over seventy sons with him. Her affinities are love and kindness, but also divination and foresight. Some of her symbols include lions, serpents, and lilies.

MYTHOLOGY MEME || Goddesses (4/9) Asherah

In Semitic mythology, Asherah was a mother goddess of fertility, marriage, the sea, and the stars. She was known to the Akkadians as “Ashratum” or “Antu” and was identified with the Ugaritic goddess, Athirat. Regardless of her name, she was the consort of the sky god, known as Anu to the Akkadians and El to the Levantines. Asherah was also known by the titles of “Elat” (meaning goddess), “Qodesh” (holiness), and the Queen of Heaven.

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.

VERY LONG POST!!!

           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. 

One 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 are.

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.

Debates 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 of Athens.

 Kerényi 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).

 The ancient 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.

The romantic 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.

 It’s not 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).

Returning to 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.  

Aphrodite and 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 Mediterranean.  

Knossos, 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.

Minoan Crete 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.                        

1.      Lucy 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.

2.      Pamela Berger, The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), 15.      

3.      Karl Kerényi, Dionysos: 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.      

8.      Miroslav Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite,” Journal of Aesthetic Education 30, no. 2 (1996): 45-46, (Found via JSTOR).  

9.      Eleanor Amico Wilson, Women of Canaan: The Status of Women at Ugarit (Whitewater: Heartwell Publications, 2013), 188-189.

10.  Nanno Marinato, Minoan Kingship, 166.

11.  Izak 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.

12.  Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth (New York: Free Press, 1992), 153-155.

13.  Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (New York: Penguin Books Inc., 1957), 263.

14.  Plutarch, Theseus, part 20.

15.  James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 329.

16.  For 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).

17.  Pausanias, Greece, Book I, chapter 14, section 7.

18.  Cathy Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 46.

19.  Ibid., 85.

~Hasmonean

Goddess of the Day: September 16

Shekinah - Queen Goddess of the Middle East.  Originally Shekina was an extension of Asherah and Astarte’s worship in Canaan.  She evolved over time to become the consort and force of the Hebrew God as described in the Kabbalah.  Shekinah is now honored in pagan and and some Gnostic traditions as the Queen of Heaven, the light of Yahweh, or the feminine aspect of God. She is the Divine Mother who heals the heart and protects humanity from evil.

(text from Brandi Auset, The Goddess Guide. Art by Karol Bak)

One of the few steles that depicts the goddess Qetesh.  Qetesh was an Egyptian goddess of fertility who was originally worshiped by the Canaanites under the name Qudshu with alternates Qadshu, Qadesh, and Qedeshet.  The name has roots in the Semitic Q-D-S which means “holy” throughout various ancient Near Eastern languages.  She shared themes and was sometimes associated with the goddesses Asherah, Anat, and Astarte/Ashtoreth.  The key connection with Astarte/Ashtoreth is her standing on the lion, a symbol of war and power in the ancient Near East; we already know how Astarte/Ashtoreth is a Levantine version of the Mesopotamian Inanna/Ishtar.  In the original Canaanite cult, Qudshu may have been a separate goddess or a more sexual version of Asherah.

To the left is the Egyptian fertility god Min.  On the right is the god Resheph who was also originally a Canaanite deity incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon.      

 ~Hasmonean       

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