(Custom Portrait of Asherah and El by Deepti Lamba (https://www.bluesigil.com/)
The ancient Semitic Pagan encompasses mainly of the polytheistic religions. These religions belong to the ancient Semitic people living in the east and northeast regions of Africa along with some regions of Middle East. In ancient times, different categories of polytheistic as well as monotheistic religions were found in the Semitic traditions.
Some of the major Semitic traditions are Arabian polytheism, Assyro Babylonian religion, Hebrew religion of Israelites, and Canaanite religions. According to some Theologians, Semitic polytheism emerged from Abrahamic monotheism and some belief vice versa.
Semitic paganism is a collective representation of a variety of cultures and traditions that mainly emphasize the revival of animistic and polytheistic ancient practices. In the recent history, some religious forms of Paganism were found in the 19th century having roots in the European nationalism. Most of the Semitic pagan groups have an emphasis on spiritual belief and archetypal psychology.
Semitic paganism has origins belonging to the era of fertility symbols associated with goddesses and gods, about tens of thousands of years ago. There are two main characteristics of Paganism. The first one is religious and spiritual worship, and devotion to the nature, earth, and universe, etc. the second one if the belief in spiritual and mystical beings such as gods, goddesses, angels, and ancestral spirits.
As discussed above polytheism is one of the main principles of the Semitic Pagan movement. This deals with the belief of multiple gods and goddesses. There are many deities found in the ancient records of Semitic religions. All deities have some characteristics, associations, and some mystic powers. These characteristics have an influence on the region and culture they belong to. Many ancient deity sculptures have been found in the excavations in Africa and the Middle East. The deities are mainly depicted in a human form, although some are therianthropic i.e. combination of a human and animal bodies. In historical times the deity sculptures were considered a symbol of wisdom, strength, and power.
Ugarit is one of the famously known sites from where Semitic paganism originated. It is an ancient port city in the northern regions of Syria. This site, present near the outskirts of Latakia, was discovered in 1928. Different Semitic paganism texts have been found during the excavation of this ancient port. El also was known as ila, is a commonly used word to refer to a high god or a deity. El is known as the supreme god and he is the god of creations in Semitic Paganism.
In the Ugaritic history, El had children known as ilhm (Elohim). This group of children is referred to as the gods under the high gods. The mothers of these god children were the goddesses. Astarte (Athirat) and Anat is also known as ladies of high heaven. Many deities were born from the bloodline of El and Asherah. Most of their followers belong to the Canaanite religion. Some of the main worshipped deities are stated below.
Asherah (Athirat) is the famous goddess who is one of the wives of El. She is the mother Goddess also known as “walker of the sea”. El and Ashreah had many god children. Anat, Baal and Astoreth are the prominent godchildren mentioned in ancient Ugaritic texts. Astoreth also is known as Athtart and Astarte is the goddess of love, fertility, and war. She has seven daughters and 2 sons. Adonis, son of Astarte, is one of the most famous gods of youth, desire, and beauty.
Chemosh is also known as subduer,” or “fish god, is the god of war and destruction. He is one of the sons of El. He was the national deity of Moabites (West-Semitic people of central Jordan). He was also known as a symbol of sinister and cultic activities. His presence has been stated in the Old Testament. His cult was imported to Jerusalem by King Solomon.
Bel or Bol is a famous chief god of ancient Palmyra in Syria. His temple was destroyed on August 30, 2015. Ishat is the goddess of fire who was killed by Anat. She is well known for creating chaos and representing the burning heat of fire which destroys plants and other living creatures. Apart from these deities, there are more than 100 Semitic pagan deities.
Asherah also known as Ašratu and Athirat is a mother goddess in Semitic Paganism is a mother goddess in Semitic Pagan religion. As a mother goddess, she has been widely worshipped throughout Syria, Africa, and Palestine. She is one of the wives of El (Supreme god). She has also been known as the “goddess who walks on the sea”. In the ancient mythological texts found in Ugarit belonging from the Bronze Age, Asherah is called as “the creatress of the gods”. In the Jeremiah texts written in 628 BC, Asherah has been entitled as the “queen of heaven”. According to a myth El and Asherah had seventy children. In some ancient Semitic texts Asherah has been found performing the maternal role of a wet nurse. In most of the ancient Ugaritic and other Canaanite sculptures of Asherah, she is found surrounded by lions (indicates strength and power), serpents (indicates healing), and sacred trees (signifying fertility and richness). Due to this description, Asherah is also called “Lady of the serpent” and her children (lower ranked gods) are called the “pride of lions”.
Asherah has been associated with sacred trees in Israelite traditions too. There have been some similarities found between Eve, “the mother of all living” and mother goddess Asherah. She is also associated with cult objects. Asherah has been stated in the Hebrew Bible more than 30 times. The cult objects that are linked with the goddess are mainly like a tree or a pole that could be planted to nurture. In some cases, these cult symbols seem destroyed as a plant being burnt, overturned, or broken.
According to biblical records, the cult symbols of Asherah were erected by the Israelites during the period when the monarchy was divided along with the tribal period, in the northern kingdom of Israel and Judah. Biblical records have emphasized that the worship of Asherah in Israel was an apostate behavior. Despite these indications, there are multiple verses in biblical records indicating that Asherah was honored and considered as a sacred symbol by the ancient Israelites.
In the 1970s and 1980s some archaeologists discovered that ancient Israelites used to worship Asherah in the temples present in Jerusalem. There were vessels in the temples that were used to make sacrifices for Asherah. Women cult functionaries used to wove garments to clothe Asherah’s symbolic statue. Even though the ancient Israelites were keen to worship Asherah, according to biblical records some prophets (Isa 17:8, 27:9; Jer 17:2: Mic 5:14) were against this act and considered the act of worshipping Asherah inappropriate.
Anat also known as Anath is the great god El and the wife (also sister) of god Baal. According to some Ugartic texts, Asherah is the mother of Anat. She is the chief West Semitic goddess of sexual love, fertility, and war. She has also been referred to as virgin Goddess of sacrifice. She has been famous throughout history for her violent temperament, bravery, and taking pleasure in slaughter. She is also depicted as a violent goddess, delighted in war but on the other hand, also tries to establish peace. Though she has been known as a “Virgin goddess”, she was considered as a symbol of strong sexual love and fertility.
Anat was very famous for her beauty and youthful vigor during the reign of Egyptian king Ramses II (1279–13 BC). Archaeologists have found sculptures of goddess Anat in the temples of Egypt. The cult objects of goddess Anat show a nude goddess standing on a lion and holding flowers. In some sculptures, she was given a plumed crown and carried an axe, shield, and Ankh. Anat represents the sacrifices required to make betterments. In ancient Hellenistic texts, it is found that Astarte (the sister of Anat) and Anat were blended together into one deity.
She was well known for slaying the enemies of her consort Baal. In ancient Ugaritic text “The Epic of Baal”, it is stated how Baal had a battle with the Mot. In this battle, Mot had triumphed and he sent Baal to the land of the dead. This made Anat furious and she took revenge by killing Mot and bringing back Baal. She has also found threatening her father (god El) for not treating Baal fairly.
Although she appears as a ruthless goddess, she was considered the most beautiful and graceful goddess. In some texts, she is also known as wanton due to her putative lust for sexual intercourse. Anat used to get dressed and had a feast with Baal and after that, they had erotic sexual intercourse. Later Anat and Baal gave birth to an offspring in the form of a Wild Bull.
Many men and women throughout history have been inspired by the bravery, penchant, and stupendous characteristics of Asherah and Anat. Apart from this, every deity has different powers and characteristics. With the passage of time, the Semitic pagan rituals have changed. Semitic paganism has played a key role in binding people to their faith and stimulating the capacity to heal.
- Ancient Israelite & Judean Religion, Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/article/1097/ancient-israelite–judean-religion/. Accessed on: [July 18, 2020]
- Encyclopedia, Asherah/Asherim: Bible, Available at: https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/asherahasherim-bible. Accessed on: [July 18, 2020]
- Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol, Available at: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-goddess-or-cult-symbol/ Accessed on: [July 18, 2020]
- Encyclopedia Britannica, Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Asherah-Semitic-goddess. Accessed on: [July 18, 2020]
- The magical art of Thalia took, Anat, Available at: http://www.thaliatook.com/AMGG/anat.php. Accessed on: [July 18, 2020]