Baal's Cedar: Natib Qadish, Canaanite Religion
Natib Qadish, a polytheistic religion which reveres the Canaanite deities, is based on ancient culture and the cuneiform texts found at the city of Ugarit. The Canaanites lived 3200 years ago in the areas of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine.
I share articles and commentary rooted in polytheistic, Near Eastern, Levantine, Middle Eastern, Anatolian, and Natib Qadish perspectives. I teach about the deities, festivals, cultures, divination, magic, divination, and beliefs.
Animal Lore in the Near & Middle East, and Natib Qadish
Wonder where "hair of the dog" as a hangover cure came from? Canaan!
Each culture views its natural world, plants, animals, and gems in a unique way and it is important when looking into other pantheons and religions to recall that their symbolic language differs. Christianity views the donkey as symbolic of humility but in Canaanite religion the donkey symbolizes royalty. Here are a few animals, their appearance in ancient Near and Middle Eastern art and lore, and what they symbolize in Natib Qadish. This is the stuff you won't find in Ted Andrews's book Animal Speak.
The words in italics represent the animal's name in Ugaritic, a Canaanite language from the city-state of Ugarit, roughly 3200 years ago. I've listed the animals in alphabetic order...
Natufian carvings demonstrate a knowledge of baboon. Archaeologists have discovered primate figurines at Middle Bronze Age Nahariya. The Egyptians connected baboon with Thoth and literacy.
If we extend this idea further in modern practice, we could associate it with Kathiru-wa-Chasisu, the magician-craftsman god of the Canaanites since he himself is associated with the Egyptian gods Thoth and Ptah.
Scarab beetles turn up everywhere in Canaan as amulets from Egypt or amulets created in an Egyptian style. The scarab beetle, represents the Egyptian sun god Khepri and life cycles. The Egyptians used the actual beetle insect in healing practices.
In modern thought, we may associate the sun goddess Shapshu with the scarab beetle.
* Buffalo, rumu
This animal is not the same as the North American bison. Kathiru-wa-Chasisu forms Aqhat's bow using buffalo sinews. Ba`lu Haddu, the storm god, becomes a bull, either a buffalo bull or a bull of a heard of cattle in one of the Ugaritic tales: this symbolizes his ferocity, his wildness, his virility, his strength, and his leadership (see Cattle below).
* Cattle, thoru (bull)
Near Eastern peoples had domesticated cattle by roughly 8000 BCE. Archaeologists have found cattle figurines at Middle Bronze Age Nahariya. Associated with gods Ilu and Ba`lu, the bull represents leadership, virility, and strength. Gods and kings are often shown with horns atop a helmet to represent strength or divinity. The Canaanites offered cattle to the deities. Egyptians used cattle in healing, and the cow was symbolic of Hathor. In Jewish thought, the bull may represent familial bonds. Cattle provide us with milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, and meat.
In modern associations, cattle represent wealth, wellbeing, fertility, abundance, connection to earth, and sacrifice.
* Dog and Wolf, kalbu
Dogs were domesticated descendants of wolves, and this domestication could have taken place as early as 10,000 BCE. Archaeologists have discovered remains of wolf bone in a Near Eastern Neolithic settlement. The archaeological record in Canaan attests dog as an infrequent offering. In Ugaritic texts, instructions for healing a hangover include dog hairs placed upon the forehead; instructions for healing an ill child include the removal of fish or dog.
("Hair of the dog" as a hangover cure comes directly from Canaanite primary documents of 3200 years ago!)
The Egyptians used dog for healing. In Canaanite Ugaritic texts, the dog is associated with the moon god Yarikhu, night, and healing. In Jewish thought, the wolf may have come to represent both loyalty and self-determination.
* Donkey, `eru
Peoples of the ancient Near East had domesticated donkeys by the fourth millennium BCE. Donkey burial, an unusual practice, appears in the archaeological record at Middle Bronze Tell el-Dab`a. Far from being viewed as a humble mode of transportation, donkeys were used as exclusive transport for deities and monarchs in Canaan.
Athiratu travels donkey-back to visit Ilu on behalf of Ba`lu. From a modern Canaanite perspective, a donkey could symbolize a special visit from Athiratu, or high honors. Jesus's riding upon a donkey to Jerusalem on what became known as Palm Sunday insulted the Romans because it was symbolic of proclaiming himself king and undermining Roman authority.
In Jewish symbolism, they represent the quality of exaltation. A king will travel donkey-back as a part of a religious festival procession.
Canaanite tell how Ilu created Sha`taqatu the Dragon from clay. Upon giving her a name and holding his cup to her in blessing, she becomes animated. (This represents one of, if not the first texts about created golems.)
She flies to Kirtu and cures him of an illness. Thus it could be said that dragons can represent vitality, life, healing, reversal of ill-fortune, and they can bestow `second-chances'. In Jewish thought, the dragon may have come to represent the forces of nature.
* Fish, dagu
Some scholars think Dagan originated as a fish god from Mesopotamia because the word for fish is so close to Dagan's name, but this tradition is poorly substantiated in ancient tradition. In later traditions, the goddess Atargatis is said to make her will known through the observation of fish swimming in oracular pools.
The Ugaritans may have eaten fish soup in a garden during `Ashuru Ganni (Festival of the Garden) as part of their spring equinox celebration. Because of this possible connection of fish and gardens, I associate fish with sustenance and abundance, spring crops, and the underworld.
Before domesticated animals, hunters primarily relied on gazelle, a type of antelope, as a meat source. In the legend of Kirtu (a primary text from the Canaanite city of Ugarit), Kirtu's military captains are referred to metaphorically as 'gazelles'. In Egyptian iconography, the Canaanite god Rashpu wears a gazelle head on his crown. The gazelle in Egyptian and Canaanite symbolism conveys warlike and desert qualities. In Jewish thought, the gazelle symbolizes confidence and an awareness of one's surroundings.
*Goat, Wild Goat, Ibex, Oryx
On an ivory cosmetic jar lid from Ugarit, Atiratu holds vegetation above two ibex, a type of wild mountain goat. The ibex could remind us to depend on our deities and our world to provide for our needs, and to give thanks to the deities for providing for us.
Ugaritic documents list domestic goats and sheep as very common offerings to the deities.
* Horse, suswu
Archaeologists hypothesize that ancient Near Eastern people domesticated horse by the end of the third millennium BCE; and in Tell es-Sweyhat they have unearthed a horse figurine dating from roughly 2300 BCE. Horses are associated with Near Eastern sun veneration, and according to legend, even the Hebrews honored the sun by dedicating their horses and chariots to the fiery orb.
A sculpture of a horse with a solar disk upon its head may support this idea. The Ugaritans may have associated the horse with Shapshu, goddess of the sun, or with Chôranu, a deity invoked for keeping treaties and as protection from venomous bites. Two underworld deities, Rashpu (also known as Rashap, Resheph, and Reshef) and Milku `Athtarti (later known as Milkashtart), own horses, and their associations enhance the notion of horsepower as a means of conveyance between the worlds. The Canaanites were experts in constructing and driving chariots, thus associating this animal with swift movement, warfare, and travel.
* Lion, 'arwu
In Ugaritic literature, the lion represents wildness and an irrepressible appetite. The god `Athtaru bears a connection to lion. Rashpu, in Egyptian and Phoenician iconography share a connection with lions. The Egyptians associated the lioness to the goddess Sekhmet. In Jewish symbolism, the lion may represent the divine warrior.
* Murex and Shellfish
The Canaanites used two different species of shellfish for their purple and deep red-violet dyes: Bolinus (Murex) bradaris and Phyllonotus (Truncularis) trunculus. The Canaanites may have used the purple dye like they used henna on the skin. Onycha, a substance comprised of dried ground mouth membranes from certain species of shellfish, found its way as an ingredient in a biblical incense recipe. Marine life is connected to Yammu, but these animals can also symbolize wealth, trade, and royalty.
Although rare, the Natufians first used ostrich eggshell containers, as evidenced at sites in Negev. The Phoenicians decorated ostrich eggs with geometric and floral designs, palms, suns, moons, snakes, and lotuses, and human faces. The Phoenicians and their daughter-cultures would cut these eggs into forms such as bowls, cups, vases, and masks. Ostrich shells were difficult to obtain but were included in some burial and religious practices perhaps as an act of sacrifice. The Egyptians used ostrich egg in healing head wounds.
* Pig, Boar
Ancient Near Eastern peoples had domesticated the pig later than they had domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle. The Canaanites may have used pigs as an infrequent source of meat; they may not have had the same aversion to swine as the later Israelites. Mesopotamian records reflect that the Mesopotamians ate pork, although they considered an inferior meat source. The Canaanite Ugaritic texts never list pig as an offering to the deities. The Phoenicians may have rarely offered boar to Adonis since boar plays a role in his tradition, but this matter is in dispute.
* Pigeon, yantu qartu
Some of the Ugaritic sacrificial lists call for a sacrifice of a 'city dove'. Archaeological evidence from Late Bronze Lachish indicates that Canaanites elsewhere also sacrificed pigeons.
I think chicken, although not available in the ancient world--chicken was not domesticated until Persian times--makes a good modern substitute for pigeon offerings. Cornish game hen also substitutes well.
The dove, also related to the pigeon, is a sacred animal to both the goddess 'Athtartu (Athtart, Ashtart, "Ashtoreth", "Astarte), as well as the Carthaginian celestial goddess Tanit.
Scorpion carried varied symbolic meanings in the ancient Near East including reproductive fertility, evil, and protection from evil. The Canaanite god Choron, a god of exorcism and protective magic, has an association with scorpions.
* Sheep, ta'otu
Ancient Near Eastern peoples had domesticated sheep by roughly 8000 BCE. The Ugaritic sacrificial lists include sheep as offerings. Sheep provide meat and wool, and figure prominently into the offering-lists from the city of Ugarit.
* Snake, nachashu
'Athiratu may have an association with snakes. The Israelites associated snakes with poison and venom as well as healing, as demonstrated in the Nehushtan, Moses's bronze serpent on a pole. In Jewish symbolism, the snake convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Archaeologists have found bronze snakes at Middle Bronze Megiddo and Late Bronze Hazor, and a votive snake figurine at the city of Pella during the Late Bronze Age. The god Choron also shares an association with snakes, and the clearing away of snake venom.
As the snake sheds its skin, it gives the appearance of moving between life to death, to return to life once again, and snake may therefore also represent a state between living and dying, or death and birth.
* Sparrow, Swallow, Songbird naparu
The Ugaritans characterized the Katharatu, the seven goddesses who oversee the mysteries of conception, as sparrows or other small songbirds.
* Vulture, Eagle, Hawk, Bird of Prey nashru
In the legend of Aqhat, the warrior Yatspan does `Anatu's bidding as she plots against Aqhat. Yatspan strikes down Aqhat, and vultures feed upon the prince's corpse. Some translations of the tale use the words vulture, eagle, hawk, and bird interchangeably. The vulture, eagle, or hawk may represent seizing an opportunity or taking power over another.
This list is far from complete, but I hope it serves to introduce you to a different way in understanding the animals in our world and the richly different contexts in which they appear.
21 Shalamu (month), Shanatu 84 (year)
This date reflects a date in the Canaanite calendar according to Ugaritic texts from 1200 BCE. All we have left of this intercalary month's name is "sh". In the reconstructed calendar, we call this month "Shalamu" which means "peace" and "peace offering." It is the twenty-first day from the new moon. Our next holiday falls on the new moon before autumnal equinox, and that holiday is 'Ashuru Mathbati, also spelled 'Ashuru Mothbati, the Festival of Dwellings, which falls on September 15, 2012 of the secular calendar. The coming holiday is our new year.
The cover image is an oryx, taken by Rei, and used under the Creative Commons Attribution and the GNU Free Documentation License
Second image is an ancient scarab beetle from Egypt, commemorating the marriage of Amunhotep III and Queen Tiye. Photo taken by Keith Schengili-Roberts and used under Creative Commons Attribution and the GNU Free Documentation License.
Third image is a photo of a boar rhyton (a drinking vessel). It was imported into the Canaanite city of Ugarit from Greece around 1300 BCE (3300 years ago). Photo is taken by Jastrow, and in the Public Domain.
The last image is a cosmetic container in the shape of a duck. The container probably held khol, an eyeliner. The artifact was discovered in Minet el-Beida, a harbor town associated and under the protection of the city of Ugarit. Photo taken by Marie-Lan Nguyen and released into the Public Domain.
Please login first in order for you to submit comments