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.
‘Ashuru Mothbati, Festival of Dwellings & Canaanite New Year
This Friday night kicks off ‘Ashuru Mothbati, the Canaanite Festival of Dwellings and new year. I am looking forward to honoring the deities, feasting with my family, and performing divination. In the Shanatu Qadishtu (sacred yearly holiday cycle) of Natib Qadish, this holiday occurs on the new moon of the lunar month which encompasses the autumnal equinox. The celebration marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, and it honors the Canaanite fruit harvest--dates, pomegranates, grapes, and figs. We know of the holiday from texts hand-written in cuneiform by the Canaanites 3200 years ago.
From ancient roots to modern observance, this holiday honors abundance and the gifts of the deities.
Record of this holiday comes to us written upon clay tablets, specifically the tablets archaeologists named RS 1.003 and RS 18.056. (The RS stands for Ras Shamra, the modern name of Ugarit, and a name which translates as "Head of Fennel".)These tablets are written in Ugaritic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Phoenician, but older. Scribes wrote the text in alphabetic cuneiform, a writing that looks similar to Sumerian, but functions more like the letters in English. Archaeologists date the texts to 1200 BCE (3200 years ago), and the traditions they encompass go back to 1500 BCE (3500 years ago) or further.
The Ugaritic-Canaanite calendar begins with Niqalu, the month of the autumnal equinox. At the beginning of the lunar month, new moon, the Ugaritans made offerings on top of a temple roof and created two groups of four temporary dwellings there. In these dwellings made of sticks and leafy branches the priests would house the deity statues for a short time.
The king of Ugarit would aid in the offerings and afterwards he would raise his hands to the skies and speak what is in his heart. In Canaanite tradition, the heart represents the mind, while the liver represents the center of emotion. So at this time the king would say anything he had kept on his mind or had kept secret: this could be a confession and a request for purification from misdeed, or it could be a personal petition to the deities on behalf of his people, or it could have been some sort of public address to the citizens of Ugarit. The Ugaritic texts only mention this speaking-from-the-heart address, and did not pen anything specific that the king spoke.
Of the offerings, the most popular type at this time include sharpuma (burnt offerings) and shalamuma (peace offerings)—a ram was given as a burnt offering, while seven bulls were given as peace offerings. The ancient texts also tell us that a little-known deity named Parglu-Tzaqarnu receives offerings on the first day of the year. Ancient offerings also included silver shekels, liver, emmer grain, and feasting rites.
This time holds special meaning in the Canaanite calendar because it is the time of the fruit harvest, but it is also the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. Ancient Canaan had two seasons with a little transition between them: a dry season in the late spring through late summer months, and a rainy season from the late summer months to the late spring. The rainfall in the autumn and winter was enough in the land of Canaan to sustain agriculture without the massive irrigation projects such their neighbors, the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians, used. There were two harvests as well: the grain harvest in the spring months and the fruit harvest in the late summer and early autumn months.
Anyone who worries that the Canaanite calendar is impractical for the US should consider that many states—including the Midwest—have winter grain crops with a harvest time at the same time as the ancient Canaanites, and a grape harvest later at the same time as the Canaanites. Also any part of the US that experiences hot, dry summers can appreciate the end of the Canaanite summer dry season. In quite a few respects, the Canaanite calendar fits many areas in the US as much as the Western European seasonal calendar.
In my modern observances, I make a small tabletop-sized mothbatu to go on my feast table or on a shrine outside my temple. I will use the time that the deities are temporarily housed outside of the temple to do clean the temple. I've made temporary tabletop dwellings from clean wooden crates, clean notched popsicle sticks, and even a rectangular basket set on its side. I put a festive cloth on the "floor" of the temporary dwelling, and I decorate it with flowers.
I make a large feast for my family and place offerings from the feast in front of the mothbatu in honor of the deities, as well as offerings of wine and incense. I like to offer beef, mutton, or both in honor of the ancient offerings. I make donations of goods or money to the local community. I like to do a ritual cleansing of misdeed (khats'a), and I also like to perform rites of divination using lots, dice, scrying, Phoenician letter readings, and dream divination.
Sometimes I like to engage in Israelite wind divination. To do so, I light an incense charcoal and place myrrh resin or a myrrh and cedar blend upon it, and I watch which way the smoke blows. An eastern wind brings drought and trouble for the grain which will be sown, but a western wind signals average precipitation. A northern wind symbolizes abundance, but southern winds bring too much rain which causes an overabundance and lower crop prices. The southern wind heralds wealth for some of the poor but hardship for landowners and farmers.
Some qadishuma may like the challenge of building a life-size mothbatu, though these days it is almost impossible and likely dangerous to build one on a rooftop, however a small second story deck fits the bill quite nicely. (Ancient Canaanite roofs were flat.) One can decorate the life-size mothbatu with a table, a rug, pillows, twinkle lights, art, garlands, leafy boughs, and fresh fruits. A life-size mothbatu in many ways resembles a Jewish sukkah, though the reason for building the structures differs considerably from Judaism to Natib Qadish. Examining how a sukkah is built and decorated can serve as inspiration for the qadish looking to make a life-sized mothbatu. I would love to do this sometime when I have the resources.
The ancient texts note that a king would often paint himself with red dye before a ritual: scholars believe that this is a ritual use of henna. If I have the opportunity to do so, I like to keep this practice before many of my holidays and paint patterns on my skin with henna.
Below are some suggestions of items to have around you at this time of the year.
Foods of the Season
Almonds for prosperity, health and wisdom.
Bread for life and hospitality
Carob for health and wellbeing
Pine Nuts for strength and protection.
Pistachios: their green color symbolizes beauty
Honey for sweetness. Based on a Jewish tradition to bring in a “sweet” new year.
Grapes and wine for abundance, fertility, and offering
White wine symbolizes Baʻlu Haddu’s life-giving rains.
Figs for peace, prosperity, fertility, and love
Pomegranates for virtue and fertility
Dates for goddess Athiratu’s wisdom, abundance, healing, and hospitality.
Incense, Oils, and Herbs
Acacia for meditation, purification, sacredness, and knowledge
Cedar for rain, protection, and Ba‘lu’s blessings in the new year
Coriander for warmth, love, and beauty
Cypress for justice, protection, balance, and the goddess ‘Athtartu’s blessings Frankincense for sacredness, offering, and blessing
Myrrh for health, wellbeing, and blessings
Pine resin for peace, love, abundance, protection, and healing
Shamnu Raqachi, spiced oil, for offerings
Shamnu Mori, myrrh-infused oil for offerings
Blessings of the fruit harvest and the new year to you; may your year ahead be abundant and joyous.
26 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-sixth 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. All our holidays begin on the eve of the holiday's date.
The first image is my own photograph, 2010. Please do not redistribute without permission.
The second image is based on John Singer Sargent's painting Pomegranates, Majorica, painted in 1908. The painting itself is in public domain. I altered it to add our holiday greetings. The bottom caption reads in Ugaritic: 'Ashuru Mothbati. The Ugaritic font comes from my friend David Myriad.
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