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.
Know Your Middle East Religions: Ancient and Modern Polytheists
I was inspired to create a pocket guide to polytheists and alternative religions centered on the Middle East. These movements are growing. Very little was available when I started out as a qadish fourteen years ago, and now Middle Eastern-based religions are sprouting up everywhere. I will present a quick historical look at these religions and regions, then include where you can find them online in modern communities.
These cultures listed below were all separate civilizations, separate peoples, only as interconnected as neighboring countries are today. Some of these civilizations were more coherent than others. For instance the Hittites formed an empire which fought with the Egyptians, and both empires (Egyptian and Hittite) were ruled over by one respective king each, ruling many cities under them. By contrast, the Canaanite civilization was comprised of many different city-states which shared the same culture and family of languages, but which never formed a cohesive “nation” on a multi-city scale—each city had its own king and the kings sometimes made allies or enemies of neighboring kings. These civilizations are just that: civilizations.
This is the Fertile Crescent region: the birthplace of civilization. Most of these people were not tribal people living in tents, nor were they hunters and gatherers. The people lived in cities and created written history before the Greeks and Romans were in diapers. Near and Middle Eastern polytheistic religions often have themes which support community and order, and the religions had a certain amount of hierarchy and interest in civic matters.
Sometimes below I will mention cultures that share a language family: this does not mean that they are the same culture—not by a long shot. English and German are related languages and American culture and German culture have more in common than some of the cultures which share a language family below. However, looking at language families are a useful tool for understanding which cultures are more related to each other than other cultures. Most of the cultures below are part of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family, but one culture below is from the Indo-European language family, and another one is even a “language isolate” meaning that it has no close relatives. The Indo-European language family and the Afro-Asiatic language family are not related. The vast category of Afro-Asiatic languages is further divided into about six categories, one of which is the Semitic category. The Semitic category includes ancient Canaanite dialects, Phoenician, Ugaritic, Akkadian, and Aramaic, as well as modern-day Hebrew and Arabic. Egyptian is an Afro-Asiatic language, but it is not included as a Semitic language.
Mesopotamia is a geographical term which includes the Sumerian, Assyrian, and the Babylonian civilizations. Of the three, Sumerian polytheism has more modern adherents currently than Assyrian and Babylonian polytheism. The three are not the same, but sometimes their memberships overlap.
Sumerian civilization and the Egyptian civilizations began around the same time, roughly 3100 BCE (about 5,100 years ago). These two civilizations are the oldest on earth, and they were both polytheistic. The Sumerian language is a language isolate, meaning it does not belong to a language family and it has no linguistic relatives—that is to say that Sumerian is neither Indo-European nor Afro-Asiatic. Sumerian culture lasted to about 2050 BCE (4050 years ago).
If going with the prototype for the world’s polytheistic religions appeal to you, but you’re not as in love with Egyptian cultures as others are, you may want to read about the Sumerian people. These people invented cities and civilization. As a whole, Sumerian polytheism is concerned with themes of order, structure, and civilization. They are not the back-to-nature type: they are the move-forward-with-technology-and-urban-development-type. The Sumerians sought cultural development beyond a difficult hand-to-mouth hunter-gatherer prehistoric existence. To survive in the hot, dry climate, they invented urban community and pooled their resources to create irrigation projects which made the desert fertile enough to live on.
In Sumerian polytheism, the human worshiper is viewed as a component in a much larger scheme. The deities created humans to do the deities’ work. This sort of relationship doesn’t appeal to everyone in the modern day, but it is part of the Sumerian mindset and it teaches discipline, respect, and being able to work in a larger social structure. The Sumerians didn’t view their deities as “friend”-figures or as in taking parental roles over their worshipers. And this is part of Sumerian polytheism today.
Sumerian polytheistic religion has nothing to do with the fictional accounts of H.P. Lovecraft, nor does it have anything to do with the dubious theories of Sitchin, Von Däniken, or Icke about space alien intervention.
Assyria and Babylonia
The Assyrians and Babylonians—separate empires with a common culture—both spoke dialects of the Akkadian language, a Semitic language which became a lingua franca throughout Mesopotamia and Canaan. The Assyrians and Babylonians inherited much of Sumerian culture, but added their own spin.
The Babylonians, in southern Mesopotamia, came into being around 1950 BCE (3950 years ago) and lasted to about 539 BCE (2539 years ago). If you were awake in a world history class, you might remember Hammurabi’s Code—one of the first law codes in history. Hammurabi, a Babylonian king, ruled from 1792-1750 BCE (3792-3750 years ago). His image even appears in the US Supreme Court today. Babylon holds a place in legend, too, as home of the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Babylonian religion often focuses on the god Marduk.
The Assyrians, in northern Mesopotamia, come into being around 1869 BCE (3869 years ago) and lasts to about 612 BCE (2612 years ago). The Assyrians were slightly more warlike than the Babylonians. Their religion differed in that instead of focusing on Marduk, they emphasized the god Ashur and the goddess Mulissu.
Where You can Find Modern Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian Communities:
Temple of Sumer Blog: RiverSylt’s blog about ancient Sumerian religion, life, and modern culture. This blog isn’t updated often, but I hope that it will grow over time.
Temple of Sumer: RiverSylt’s informative site about reviving Sumerian polytheistic religion.
Ashurism for Assyrian religion on Facebook: A new and growing community for Assyrian religion.
Kaldanism for Babylonian religion on Facebook: A new and growing community for Babylonian religion.
Levantine/Near Eastern Religion
The Levant, also called the Near East or known as the western part of the Middle East, is a geographic region which encompasses modern-day coastal Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Gaza. The oldest of the Levantine religion is Canaanite religion. Phoenician, Carthaginian, and even Israelite religion came from Canaanite religion. The Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian religions are polytheistic: adherents of these religions are also polytheists. The Israelite religion started out polytheistic then gradually became monotheistic: adherents of an ancient Israelite revival religion are sometimes polytheists and sometimes monists.
The ancient Canaanites rose up from the prehistoric Natufian and Sultanean peoples. The Canaanite civilization began around the Early Bronze Age, 2500 BCE (4500 years ago). The city of Ugarit, from which most Canaanite written accounts come, ended around 1200 BCE (2200 years ago). Canaanite religion is concerned with honoring the deities first and foremost, and secondarily, supporting community and honoring the ancestors. In doing so, the natural order, and nature itself, is maintained. There is a sense, too, that the deities can interact with humans directly in dreams, or sometimes in person. Although there is an overarching pantheon, ancient adherents of Canaanite religion believed that each locale often had its own deities—places like mountains, springs, and cities often had their own patron deities. In the Middle to Late Bronze Age, Canaan had enough rain to sustain agriculture without the extensive irrigation projects taken on by their neighbors the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians.
Think you know nothing about the Canaanites? Many modern western cities and towns have biblical names which have Canaanite origins. If you live in Salem, you may be pleased to know that this is linguistically related to the Canaanite god of dusk, Shalim. If you live in a town named Bethel, you might like to know that your town name means “House of the god El/Ilu”. Even personal names track back to Canaan. Nathaniel means “gift of the god El/Ilu”. The name Tamara comes from a Canaanite word for date palm. Do you sometimes say “hallelujah”? “Hallelu-ˮ is a Canaanite word meaning “praise” or “praise to.” Substitute another deity’s name in for the biblical god Yah and you have a Canaanite praise: hallelu-athiratu means “praise the goddess Athiratu.” The very structure of most churches or synagogues comes from the structure of Canaanite temples. Canaanite religion is hidden everywhere just under a veneer of Christianity and Judaism.
Natural disaster and invasions caused a lapse in culture for a while and by Iron Age—1000 BCE (3000 years ago)— the original Canaanite culture split into two separate daughter cultures, the Phoenicians and the Israelites. Phoenician lasted from about 1000 BCE (3000 years ago) to about 539 BCE (about 2539 years ago) and then continued under Persian, Greek, and Roman rule until around 65 BCE (2065 years ago). The Phoenicians founded colonies throughout the Mediterranean, into the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), and in North Africa. There isn’t as many primary documents about Phoenician religion as there are for earlier Canaanite religion, but it seems quite similar. There are, however, plenty of secondary sources written by Greeks—the sources are interesting but they are as helpful as they are problematic. Much of what we know about Phoenician religion looks like Canaanite religion with a Greek influence, due to the sources. Many of the same deities worshipped in Canaan are worshipped again in Phoenicia, with the addition of Eshmun, a healing god, and Melqart, a protective city god identified with Heracles.
The Phoenician city of Tyre founded the colony of Carthage around 900 BCE. Carthage, or more accurately Qart-Chadasht means “new city” in Phoenician. Hannibal, a Carthaginian general, was one of the few men Rome feared. His name means “favored of the god Baʻal”. He served Carthage as a general during the Second Punic War. His tactics are still discussed in military schools today, and he was even featured on an episode of Deadliest Warrior. Grab some popcorn: the episode is about 45 minutes long and features a discussion of a falcata (for those of you who love swords). Carthaginian religion was a further evolution of Canaanite religion, with an added feature of different deities--Baʻal Khammon and Tanit at the top of the pantheon instead of Ilu and Athiratu in the Ugaritic-Canaanite pantheon. Cartagena in Spain, a Phoenician colony, also was named Qart-Chadasht.
Where You can Find Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian Communities:
These religions have a growing number especially in the US, in Lebanon and Israel, and in Spain and Portugal (and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries)—this is wonderful because Lebanon and Israel are the birthplace of these religions, and Spain and Portugal have an inheritance as well gained from ancient Phoenician colonies. Truly, anyone with a connection to biblical religion—Judaism or Christianity—has a spiritual and cultural inheritance that traces back to the Canaanites. The largest movement in modern Canaanite religion is Natib Qadish, a polytheistic religion based on Late Bronze Age religion practiced in the city of Ugarit.
Echoes of Canaán Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian Polytheism in Spain. English & Spanish.
Romã: Politeísmo Canaanita – Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian Polytheism. By Osvaldo Feres. In Portuguese.
Bet-ilim by Ben-el Canaanite, Phoenician, Carthaginian, and Hebrew Polytheism. This blog explores aspects of Near Eastern religion with an emphasis on history.
Kina'ani: Impressions of Tess Dawson, Canaanite Polytheist (Natib Qadish). Another blog of mine regarding Natib Qadish, Canaanite polytheistic revival religion.
Natib Qadish Discussion Group. Although fairly quiet right now, this group has been going for over ten years.
Phoenician-Canaanite Paganism on Facebook. Spanish & English.
Canaan Is Here. This is a new blog for Israelis who honor the Canaanite deities. Hebrew.
Israelite religion, beginning around 1000 BCE (3000 years ago) started out as polytheistic and based on Canaanite religion. They worshiped the god known as El in Hebrew (Ilu in Ugaritic). The word “el” (and the word ilu) means “god”. They also worshiped Asherah alongside him. Asherah is the Hebrew version of the original Canaanite-Ugaritic goddess Athiratu. Eventually this changed and YHVH, also known as Yah or Yehovah, became the head of the pantheon, but for a long time Asherah was still worshiped at his side. Where the Phoenicians were urban, coastal, city-dwelling polytheists, the Israelites were more rural, based more in the desert, and became increasingly monotheistic.
Politics, hardship, conquering and exile, changing opinions, exposure to monotheism from other cultures, and zealousness eventually caused the establishment of Israelite monotheism and the ousting of polytheism in the area. But even into Greek times, amulets invoked the Israelite god Iao (Yah) along with many other deities and supernatural beings in spells in the PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae) and in other amulets of the time in the area.
In modern practice and communities, alternative religion based on ancient Israelite culture usually takes a different approach than Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian polytheistic religion. Often the revival of ancient Israelite religion takes the form of honoring Jewish themes, Judaism, or even one god with many facets (a form of monism); rather than the polytheism of the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians. One such organization which focuses on Judaism in a nature-based setting is Amcha, also called Am Ha-Aretz (People of the Land), or the Hebrew Primitive Assembly. What nature-based Israelite revivalists do and what Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian polytheists do is quite different in focus, in practice, and in theology with an occasional cultural overlap.
Modern Alternative Religion in the Near East
I would also like to add that there are a number of polytheist, alternative religion, Pagan, Wiccan, and Asatru sources growing up in the Levant region today:
Alexandria 415 Mysticism and Alternative Religion in the Fertile Crescent This blog in Arabic covers anything from meditation to Ecoshamanism. What is fascinating about it is that it shows a return of mysticism in the Middle and Near East. And they have a sister group on Facebook in English and Arabic.
Arden’s Arcanum Magic and Rootwork in Israel (English).
Natalie Shop in Israel (Hebrew)
The Old Religion on Facebook in Arabic
Canaan is Here Canaanite polytheism in Israel. (Hebrew)
“Arabia” is a term which encompasses the Nabataean, Sultanian, and Palmyrene cultures—some of these cultures were partially nomadic, with occasional cities and permanent outposts. Nabataean culture began around 312 BCE (2312 years ago),
Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Search for the Holy Grail where they travel between the cliffs and reach the supposed resting place of the grail? That is the city of Petra, the home of the Nabataean people. Although the place has no connection to the grail, it was a thriving center of commerce and had its own polytheistic religion where Allah was a part of a pantheon which included the goddess Al-Lat. Information on these religions is notoriously difficult to find, and most of it on the internet is either written with an eye towards championing Islam, or with a strong New Age theme which isn’t based on accurate information.
Where you can find Arabian religious communities and information:
Al-Muqaddas blog by Ben-el – Arabian Polytheism “Al-Muqaddas” means “the holy” in Arabic.
New Tadmorite Temple specifically for Palmyrene Polytheism, on Facebook: a small but growing group.
Anatolia is a geographic term which refers to the area of modern-day Turkey. Two civilizations thrived in Anatolia: the Hurrians and the Hittites.
The Hittite culture is older than the Hurrian culture, starting around 1650 BCE (3650 years ago) and lasting through to about 1180 BCE (3180 years ago), but revived again in some form later after 1000 BCE (3000 years ago) to about 600 BCE (2600 years ago). These people inhabited Anatolia to the west of the Hurrians. The Hittite language falls into the Indo-European family. Hittites speak the earliest recorded Indo-European language.
The Hurrians’ main kingdom was the city of Mitanni, so sometimes you will see the Hurrians referred to as the Mitannians. The Hurrians lived to the east of the Hittites and to the north of Mesopotamia. The Hurrians spoke a language only related to one other language on earth (Urartsian/Urartian), and is neither an Indo-European nor an Afro-Asiatic language. Hurrian and Hittite religion influenced one another. This is the best quick resource I can find on Hurrian and Hittite religion. This religion is still quite small, but growing. My best recommendation is the very new Facebook group Hurrian Polytheism.
For a point of reference in time:
- The Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt was built around 3000 BCE (5000 years ago), and the Egyptian culture lasted to about 30 BCE (2030 years ago)
- Sumerian culture lasted from about 3100 BCE (5100 years ago) to about 2050 BCE (4050 years ago)
- Canaanite culture lasted from about 2500 BCE (4500 years ago) to about 1200 BCE (2200 years ago)
- Babylonian culture lasted from about 1950 BCE (3950 years ago) to about 539 BCE (2539 years ago)
- Assyrian culture lasted from about 1869 BCE (3869 years ago) to about 612 BCE (2612 years ago)
- Earliest mention of the city of Palmyra (Palmyrene culture) was about 1800 BCE (3800 years ago)
- In Europe, Stonehenge was completed around 1500 BCE (about 2500 years ago) perhaps by the Beaker Folk (but not the Druids).
- In Europe, Celtic culture in western Europe begins roughly 1000 BCE (3000 years ago)
- Phoenician culture lasted from about 1000 BCE (3000 years ago) to about 539 BCE (2539 years ago)
- Israelite culture began around 1000 BCE (3000 years ago)
- Carthaginian culture began around 900 BCE (2900 years ago)
- Greek culture began roughly 800 BCE (about 2800 years ago) and the first Greek Olympiad was held 776 (about 2776 years ago)
- Rome was established about 735 (about 2735 years ago)
- Nabataean culture arose around 312 BCE (about 2312 years ago)
- In Europe, Viking culture began around 793 CE (about 1207 years ago)
25 Khiyyaru, Shanatu 85
It is the month of Khiyyaru and it has been twenty-five days since the last new moon. It has been 85 years since the rediscovery of the Canaanite city of Ugarit.
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