Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

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  • The Fertile Crescent

    The Fertile Crescent is a term for an old fertile area north, east and west of the Arabian Desert in Southwest Asia. The Mesopotamian valley and the Nile valley fall under this term even though the mountain zone around Mesopotamia is the natural zone for the transition in a historical sense.

    As a result of a number of unique geographical factors the Fertile Crescent have an impressive history of early human agricultural activity and culture. Besides the numerous archaeological sites with remains of skeletons and cultural relics the area is known primarily for its excavation sites linked to agricultural origins and development of the Neolithic era.

    It was here, in the forested mountain slopes of the periphery of this area, that agriculture originated in an ecologically restricted environment. The western zone and areas around the upper Euphrates gave growth to the first known Neolithic farming communities with small, round houses , also referred to as Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) cultures, which dates to just after 10,000 BC and include areas such as Jericho, the world’s oldest city.

    During the subsequent PPNB from 9000 BC these communities developed into larger villages with farming and animal husbandry as the main source of livelihood, with settlement in the two-story, rectangular house. Man now entered in symbiosis with grain and livestock species, with no opportunity to return to hunter – gatherer societies.

    The area west and north of the plains of the Euphrates and Tigris also saw the emergence of early complex societies in the much later Bronze Age (about 4000 BC). There is evidence of written culture and early state formation in this northern steppe area, although the written formation of the states relatively quickly shifted its center of gravity into the Mesopotamian valley and developed there. The area is therefore in very many writers been named “The Cradle of Civilization.”

    The area has experienced a series of upheavals and new formation of states. When Turkey was formed in the aftermath of the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians perpetrated by the Young Turks during the First World War it is estimated that two-thirds to three-quarters of all Armenians and Assyrians in the region died, and the Pontic Greeks was pushed to Greece.

    Israel was created out of the Ottoman Empire and the conquering of the Palestinian terretories. The existence of large Arab nation states from the Maghreb to the Levant has since represented a potential threat to Israel which should be neutralised when opportunities arise.

    This line of thinking was at the heart of David Ben Gurion’s policies in the 1950s which sought to exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims in the Lebanon for the fruits of acquiring regional influence by the dismembering the country and the possible acquisition of additional territory.

    The Christians are now being systematically targeted for genocide in Syria according to Vatican and other sources with contacts on the ground among the besieged Christian community.

    According to reports by the Vatican’s Fides News Agency collected by the Centre for the Study of Interventionism, the US-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and ever more radical spin-off factions are sacking Christian churches, shooting Christians dead in the street, broadcasting ultimatums that all Christians must be cleansed from the rebel-held villages, and even shooting priests.

    It is now time that the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians is being recognized, that the Israeli occupation, settlements and violence against the Palestinians stop, and that the various minorities in the area start to live their lifes in peace – without violence and threats from majority populations, or from the West, and then specificially from the US.

    War in the Fertile Crescent
    https://aratta.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/war-in-the-fertile-crescent

    Everyone is free to use the text on this blog as they want. There is no copyright etc. This because knowledge is more important than rules and regulations.

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Shassuru, the ‘womb goddess’

Posted by Sjur Cappelen Papazian on November 16, 2019

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The “Frog” in history

History of the Mother goddess

Fertility and religion

List of fertility deities

Far before the words ‘vagina’ and ‘clitoris’ had to be spoken in hushed tones—or worse, euphemized out of existence—everyone knew how to find a clitoris. No, not just find it. Worship it. We now live in a culture where female genitalia is politicized, yet hidden. It’s hard to believe that it was ever revered and celebrated. But there is a long history of vagina and clit worship.

The word ‘vagina’ didn’t appear in English until 1682. However, non-English speaking cultures revered the vagina for a variety of reasons. Considering the vagina’s role in producing life, it comes to no surprise that in Hindu philosophy, the vagina symbolizes formation of humanity.

In traditional Hindu culture, the embodiment of life itself is distinctly female. The Hindu goddess Shakti represents the divine and cosmic energy from which we are all created. Certain texts like the Kama Sutra refer to the vagina or the “yoni” as a “sacred area, an occult religion worthy of reverence,” and “a symbol of the cosmic mysteries.”

While they value femininity in all of its diversity, texts like the Kama Sutra have been subject to many rewritings and reinterpretations that have muddled their true meaning.

But it’s not just the vagina as a force, the physical vagina and vulva has often had its own distinct influence. To understand just how willing we once were to embrace the vagina, it helps to look at the goddess Ishtar. As far back as 3500 BCE Ishtar was recognized as the Mesopotamian goddess of  love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, and politics—a formidable figure indeed.

To celebrate the festival of Thesmophoria, honey and sesame cakes, a triangular shape called “mylloi”, representing Ishtar’s vagina, were given out freely. Vagina cakes were just a part of the celebration. And it wasn’t just a symbolic embracing. The gesture of ana suromai or anasyrmaliterally meaning to lift up your skirt and display your genitals – was thought to be able to ward off evil in ancient Greece and other cultures.

But the practice didn’t end with antiquity. Another unrestrained expression of vagina worship came in the form of Sheela Na Gigs, which were popular carvings also meant to keep evil at bay. These carving were of female figures showing off their vulva—often exaggerated far beyond its actual size.

They are believed to have originated in 11th century France and Spain, but the practice spread to other areas of Europe. The idea of vaginas being a force against evil really stuck—even as late as the 17th century, we find drinking mugs portraying Satan cowering before a vagina.

The vagina has had obvious connotations of fertility—both in humans and in agriculture. In fact, in Hawaiian mythology Kapo, the goddess of fertility, was able to confound a persistent half-man, half-pig by detaching her vagina and tossing it his way. Not only did it distract him, he then chased the vagina to the end of the earth—an interesting statement about women’s power over their suitors.

Midwifery guru Ina May Gaskin put forward an interesting theory about the relationships between the symbolism of the Sheela Na Gig and other illustrations of the vagina to the more practical sides of fertility in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth:

“My idea is that this figure [the naked Sheela Na Gig] was probably meant to reassure young women about the capabilities of their bodies in birth. As you can see the vulva of the crouching figure is open enough to accommodate her own head.” With childbirth looming, it’s easy to see why women would want the reassurance.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy in art covers any artistic work that portrays pregnancy. In art as in life, it is often unclear whether an actual state of pregnancy is intended to be shown. A common visual indication is the gesture of the woman placing a protective open hand on her abdomen.

Historically, married women were at some stage of pregnancy for much of their life until the menopause, but the depiction of this in art is relatively uncommon, and generally restricted to some specific contexts.

There are two subjects often depicted in Western narrative art, or history painting, where pregnancy is an important part of the story. These are the unhappy scene usually called Diana and Callisto, showing the moment of discovery of Callisto’s forbidden pregnancy, and the biblical scene of the Visitation. Gradually, portraits of pregnant women began to appear, with a particular fashion for “pregnancy portraits” in elite portraiture of the years around 1600.

Depictions of Mary were by far the most frequent images featuring a pregnant woman in post-classical Western art, and probably remain so to the modern day. The moment of Mary’s conception of Jesus, called the Annunciation, is one of the most common subjects in traditional Christian art, but depictions from later in her pregnancy are also common.

Unlike many other kinds of depictions of pregnancy, there is usually no ambiguity as to whether Mary is intended to be shown while pregnant, even where the pregnancy is not clearly visualized.

The Visitation, a meeting between two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke Luke 1:39–56, was very often depicted, but their pregnancy is usually not emphasized visually, at least until Early Netherlandish painting of the 15th century. Medieval thinking held that Elizabeth was about seven months pregnant at the meeting, and Mary about one.

Images of pregnant women, especially small figurines, were made in traditional cultures in many places and periods, though it is rarely one of the most common types of image. These include ceramic figures from some Pre-Columbian cultures, and a few figures from most of the ancient Mediterranean cultures. 

Many of these seem to be connected with fertility. Identifying whether such figures are actually meant to show pregnancy is often a problem, as well as understanding their role in the culture concerned.

Among the oldest surviving examples of the depiction of pregnancy are prehistoric figurines found across much of Eurasia and collectively known as Venus figurines. The best known is the Venus of Willendorf, an oolitic limestone figurine of a woman whose breasts and hips have been exaggerated to emphasise her fertility.

These figurines exaggerate the abdomen, hips, breasts, thighs, or vulva of the subject, but the degree to which the figures appear to be pregnant varies considerably, and most are not noticeably pregnant at all.

Some kinds of art have been designed with pregnant women especially in mind, though these are perhaps less common than art intended for women wanting to become pregnant (discussed in art history using the term “fertility”).

One of the many contexts and uses speculated for Venus figurines is that they were held in the hand during childbirth, for which their rather consistent size and shape seems well suited. However, there are a variety of other explanations.

Pregnancy as a fertility god was not used in the Bronze Age period and really only comes up in the Iron Age I levels at Tell Beit Mirsim, an archaeological site in Israel, on the border between the Shfela and Mount Hebron. Even after that, pregnant women are not represented in the Middle East except for these terracotta figures.

Tell Beit Mirsim has “a town plan characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites” including, Beit Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Khirbet Qeiyafa and Beersheba. “A casemate wall was built at all of these sites and the city’s houses next to it incorporated the casemates as one of the dwelling’s rooms. This model is not known from any Canaanite, Philistine or Kingdom of Israel site.”

Vulva

The vagina and vulva have been depicted in art from prehistory to the contemporary art era of the 21st century. Visual art forms representing the female genitals encompass two-dimensional (e.g. paintings) and three-dimensional (e.g. statuettes).

As long ago as 35,000 years ago, people sculpted Venus figurines that exaggerated the abdomen, hips, breasts, thighs, or vulva. In 1866, Gustave Courbet painted a picture of a nude woman which depicted the female genitals, entitled “The Origin of the World”.

Various perceptions of the vagina have existed throughout history, including the belief it is the center of sexual desire, a metaphor for life via birth, inferior to the penis, visually unappealing, inherently unpleasant to smell, or otherwise vulgar. The vagina has been known by many names, including the ancient vulgarism “cunt”, euphemisms (“lady garden”), slang (“pussy”), and derogatory epithets.

Some cultures view the vulva as something shameful that should be hidden. For example, the term pudendum, the Latin term used in medical English for the external genitalia, literally means “shameful thing”. Positive views of the vagina use it to represent female sexuality, spirituality, or life, e.g. as a “powerful symbol of womanliness, openness, acceptance, and receptivity … the inner valley spirit”.

Hinduism has given the world the symbol of the yoni, and this may indicate the value that Hindu society has given female sexuality and the vagina’s ability to birth life. Other ancient cultures celebrated and even worshipped the vulva, for example in some ancient Middle Eastern religions and the paleolithic artworks dubbed “Old Europe” by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas.

Two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of the vulva, i.e. paintings and figurines, exist from tens of millennia ago. They are some of the earliest works of prehistoric art. The cave of Chufín located in the town of Riclones in Cantabria (Spain) has prehistoric rock art which may be a depiction of the vulva.

The cave was occupied at different periods, the oldest being around 20,000 years ago. Aside from schematic engravings and paintings of animals, there are also many symbols, such as a those known as “sticks”. There is also a large number of drawings using points (puntillaje), including one which has been interpreted as a representation of a vulva.

A Venus figurine is an Upper Paleolithic statuette portraying a woman. Most have been unearthed in Europe, but others have been found as far away as Siberia, extending their distribution across much of Eurasia.

Most of them date from the Gravettian period (28,000–22,000 years ago), but examples exist as early as the Venus of Hohle Fels, which dates back at least 35,000 years to the Aurignacian, and as late as the Venus of Monruz, from about 11,000 years ago in the Magdalenian.

These figurines were carved from soft stone (such as steatite, calcite or limestone), bone or ivory, or formed of clay and fired. The latter are among the oldest ceramics known. In total, over a hundred such figurines are known; virtually all of modest size, between 4 cm and 25 cm in height.

Most of them have small heads, wide hips, and legs that taper to a point. Various figurines exaggerate the abdomen, hips, breasts, thighs, or vulva. In contrast, arms and feet are often absent, and the head is usually small and faceless.

The ancient Sumerians regarded the vulva as sacred and a vast number of Sumerian poems praising the vulva of the goddess Inanna have survived. In Sumerian religion, the goddess Nin-imma is the divine personification of female genitalia. Her name literally means “lady female genitals”.

She appears in one version of the myth of Enki and Ninsikila in which she is the daughter of Enki and Ninkurra. Enki rapes her and causes her to give birth to Uttu, the goddess of weaving and vegetation.

Vaginal fluid is always described in Sumerian texts as tasting “sweet” and, in a Sumerian Bridal Hymn, a young maiden rejoices that her vulva has grown hair. Clay models of vulvae were discovered in the temple of Inanna at Ashur; these models likely served as some form of amulets, possibly to protect against impotency.

Aurignacian vulvar representations 

The Abri Castanet is a collapsed rockshelter located in the Vallon de Castel-Merle, 9 km downstream from Montignac-Lascaux in the Vézère Valley of southwestern France. Since early excavations in 1911–1913 and 1924–1925, it has been known as one of a half-dozen key sites in Eurasia with respect to the Paleolithic origins of European parietal and portable art and personal adornment.

Scientific understanding of the origins and early evolution of graphic and plastic imagery underwent a revolution in the 1990s and 2000s with the discovery and dating of Aurignacian wall images in the Grotte Chauvet and the Grotte d’Aldène, new ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany, and painted limestone blocks from Fumane, Italy.

Although a rich corpus of Aurignacian (40,000–28,000 BC) wall painting, engraving, and bas-relief sculpture had been recognized and studied since before World War I in the Vézère Valley of southwestern France, our understanding of the chronological and cultural context of that early-discovered symbolic record has been limited by the crude archaeological methods and anecdotal descriptions of that pioneering era.

Aurignacian vulvar imagery from Castanet, Blanchard, and other sites such as La Ferrassie and Abri Cellier in the Vézère Valley inspired debate and interpretation from the moment that the Abbé Henri Breuil first read engravings from Abri Blanchard as “Pudendum muliebre” in 1911. A century after the discovery of Aurignacian engraved and painted representations on limestone blocks, we now have the modern-quality recovery of one of these artifacts.

This discovery confirms that some of these representations were executed on the shelter ceiling 2 m above the occupational surface. Moreover, radiometric dates for the archaeological level corresponds to the ceiling representations, showing this early imagery to be as old or older than the oldest of the Chauvet paintings and those from the less-publicized site of Aldène in the Hérault region of southeastern France.

Archaeologists have dated an engraving of a vulva found on a one-and-a-half-ton limestone block at Abri Castanet, , Commune de Sergeac, Dordogne, a collapsed rock shelter in France, to about 37,000 years ago. That figure, however, is only a minimum age for the rock carving. The date actually corresponds to the approximate time when the rock shelter’s roof, of which the engraved block was once a part, collapsed.

The engraving is thus one of the earliest examples of European wall art, likely older than the elaborate paintings 200 miles east in Chauvet Cave. The block was found directly above a surface containing hundreds of artifacts from the early Aurignacian culture, the earliest modern humans in Europe.

The clearest engraving observable on the ceiling fragment fits morphologically into the category of vulvar images, many examples of which were recovered during excavations at the beginning of the 20th century at Abri Castanet and the adjacent site of Abri Blanchard. This new discovery from Castanet provides an age estimate for those earlier finds. 

The fact that the most recognizable image on the newly discovered surface falls broadly within the range of ovoid forms traditionally interpreted as vulva leads us to suppose that the above dates apply to other such images from Castanet, many of which were located within a few meters of the engraving described here. The vulvar tradition in the Vézère Valley seems to constitute a distinct regional variant within a mosaic of graphic and plastic expression across Europe in the Early Aurignacian.

The most obvious interpretation is that of oval-shaped female genitals. However the figure is difficult to interpret because of a strongly underscored curved line at the base. This could represent a vulval opening but the volume used casts doubt on this interpretation. A last, more debatable suggestion would be that it illustrates a male sexual organ, which is a known theme during these early Aurignacian phases.

Vagina cakes

The cult of Tammuz was particularly associated with women, who were the ones responsible for mourning his death. The custom of planting miniature gardens with fast-growing plants such as lettuce and fennel, which would then be placed out in the hot sun to sprout before withering in the heat, was a well-attested custom in ancient Greece associated with the festival of Adonia in honor of Adonis, the Greek version of Tammuz; some scholars have argued based on references in the Hebrew Bible that this custom may have been a continuation of an earlier oriental practice.

The same women who mourned the death of Tammuz also prepared cakes for his consort Ishtar, the Queen of Heaven. These cakes would be baked in ashes[26] and several clay cake molds discovered at Mari, Syria reveal that they were also at least sometimes shaped like naked women.

Purim is celebrated among Jews by exchanging gifts of food and drink, donating charity to the poor, eating a celebratory meal, reading of the megillah of the Book of Esther, usually in synagogue, and reciting additions to the daily prayers and the grace after meals, known as Al HaNissim.

Central to the holiday is a reading of the Book of Esther. Many scholars believe this book is a fable rather than a recounting of actual events. The details really make no historical sense so it is an open question what happen and why there is a Book of Esther.

Other customs include wearing masks and costumes, public celebration and parades (Adloyada), and eating hamantaschen (“Haman’s ear”); sometimes adults are encouraged to drink wine or any other alcoholic beverage.

Purim has been called “the Jewish Halloween.” In its origins, however, it was more like Carnival. On Purim Jews in various countries dress up in costumes, get drunk, put on plays, sing, parade, burn effigies of Haman (the traditional enemy), and eat little triangular filled cakes.

That was the 6th Century BCE, when the Hebrews were captive in Babylon. The Hebrews, naturally, adopted many Babylonian customs. The Babylonian calendar was easily accepted and is still used for religious observances.

Their New Year celebration was more of a threat, for the Hebrew priests. It consisted of a ten-day carnival, during which the people drank, feasted, staged processions, and had sex with people other than their spouses. The king, during this festival, was stripped of his insignia and humiliated, to remind him that he ruled by the grace of Ishtar, the Great Goddess.

Some of the exiles must have joined the party and assimilated. Eventually, the Hebrew priests came up with a solution: they gave a two-day holiday in place of a ten-day carnival; they gave the human Queen Esther instead of Ishtar, her uncle Mordechai instead of the Babylonian god Marduk.

They commanded the people to drink themselves silly, but not pour libations to foreign gods. Fornication remained a no-no. And the little cakes filled with poppy seeds or fruit preserves was made. Little vulva-shaped cakes.

Nowadays we are taught to call those cakes hamantaschen (Yiddish, Haman’s pockets) or oznei Haman (Hebrew, Haman’s ears), but they don’t look like pockets or ears. They’re still goddess images, stuffed with symbols of fertility and fruitfulness.

Purim is a joyful festival, and eating “the food of Ishtar” was reserved for happy occasions. Since the baking of cakes was also characteristic of the Ishtar festivals, we may conclude that the Jewish women’s cakes, either by shape or form or impressions, indicated the fertility-character of the festival.

The present day Jewish custom of baking and eating the “Hamantaschen” at the Purim festival may give some indication of what these cakes looked like. The “Hamantaschen” are triangular pastries filled with ground poppy seeds (sometimes with prunes); the common belief is that their shape resembles the three cornered hat of Haman, villain of the book of Esther, hence the name “Hainan’s pockets.”

Now, Purim is celebrated in remembrance of the vindication of Esther, and Esther is the Persian version of Ishtar, i.e., the queen of heaven. Very likely, therefore, “Hamantaschen” have nothing to do with Haman. The name may be a corruption of the German “Mohntaschen” (poppy-seed pockets). What these cakes with their triangle-shape and poppy seed filling indicated was the pubic mound of Ishtar.

Women across the ancient Near East worshipped Ishtar by dedicating to her cakes baked in ashes (known as kamān tumri). A dedication of this type is described in an Akkadian hymn. Several clay cake molds discovered at Mari are shaped like naked women with large hips clutching their breasts. Some scholars have suggested that the cakes made from these molds were intended as representations of Ishtar herself.

Purim

Purim, a Jewish holiday, falls at the full moon preceding the Passover, which was set by the full moon in Aries, which follows Pisces. The story of the birth of Christ is said to be a result of the spring equinox entering into the Pisces, as the Savior of the World appeared as the Fisher of Men. This parallels the entering into the Age of Pisces.

Inanna in her aspect as Anunītu was associated with the eastern fish of the last of the zodiacal constellations, Pisces. Her consort Dumuzi was associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries. Ēostre or Ostara is a Germanic goddess who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter in some languages.

Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Ēostre’s honour, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

As the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), historical linguists have traced the name to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *H₂ewsṓs (→ *Ausṓs), from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend.

Additionally, scholars have linked the goddess’s name to a variety of Germanic personal names, a series of location names (toponyms) in England, and, discovered in 1958, over 150 inscriptions from the 2nd century CE referring to the matronae Austriahenae.

Theories connecting Ēostre with records of Germanic Easter customs, including hares and eggs, have been proposed. Ēostre and Ostara are sometimes referenced in modern popular culture and are venerated in some forms of Germanic neopaganism.

Book of Esther

Purim («from the word pur ‘fate’, related to Akkadian: pūru) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman (Hebrew: Hâmân; also known as Haman the Agagite or Haman the evil, who was planning to kill all the Jews in the empire, as recounted in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester in Hebrew; usually dated to the 4th century BC).

Haman is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther. According to the Hebrew Bible he was the royal vizier, an Achaemenid Persian Empire official, in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I or Artaxerxes I of Persia, “Khshayarsha” and “Artakhsher” in Old Persian respectively, who died 465 BC.

As his name indicates, Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites, a people who were wiped out in certain areas by King Saul and David. According to the Bible, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz (himself the son of Esau, ancestor of the Edomites) and Eliphaz’ concubine Timna. Timna was a Horite and sister of Lotan.

Amalek is described as the “chief of Amalek” among the “chiefs of the sons of Esau”, from which it is surmised that he ruled a clan or territory named after him. The Amalekite people were considered to be Amalek’s descendants through the genealogy of Esau. In the chant of Balaam, Amalek was called the ‘first of the nations’.

Esau (Arabic: ‘Īsaw; meaning “hairy” or “rough”), in the Hebrew Bible, is the older son of Isaac. He is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and by the prophets Obadiah and Malachi. The New Testament alludes to him in the Epistle to the Romans and in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites and the elder brother of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. Esau and Jacob were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. Of the twins, Esau was the first to be born with Jacob following, holding his heel. Isaac was sixty years old when the boys were born.

Esau, a “man of the field”, became a hunter who had “rough” qualities that distinguished him from his twin brother. Among these qualities were his red hair and noticeable hairiness. Jacob was a shy or simple man, depending on the translation of the Hebrew word tam (which also means “relatively perfect man”). Throughout Genesis, Esau is frequently shown as being supplanted by his younger twin, Jacob (Israel).

Edom (Edomite: ’Edām; Hebrew: ʼÉḏōm, lit.: “red”; Akkadian: Uduma‎) was an ancient kingdom in Transjordan located between Moab to the northeast, the Arabah to the west and the Arabian Desert to the south and east.

Most of its former territory is now divided between Israel and Jordan. Edom appears in written sources relating to the late Bronze Age and to the Iron Age in the Levant, such as the Hebrew Bible and Egyptian and Mesopotamian records. In classical antiquity, the cognate name Idumea was used for a smaller area in the same general region.

Edom and Idumea are two related but distinct terms which are both related to a historically-contiguous population but two separate, if adjacent, territories which were occupied by the Edomites/Idumeans in different periods of their history.

The Edomites first established a kingdom (“Edom”) in the southern area of modern-day Jordan and later migrated into the southern parts of the Kingdom of Judah (“Idumea”, or modern-day southern Israel/Negev) when Judah was first weakened and then destroyed by the Babylonians, in the 6th century BCE.

Edom is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and it is also mentioned in a list of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I from c. 1215 BC as well as in the chronicle of a campaign by Ramesses III (r. 1186–1155 BC). The Edomites, who have been archaeologically identified, were a Semitic people who probably arrived in the region around the 14th century BCE.

Archaeological investigation showed that the country flourished between the 13th and the 8th century BC and was destroyed after a period of decline in the 6th century BC by the Babylonians.

After the loss of the kingdom, the Edomites were pushed westward towards southern Judah by nomadic tribes coming from the east; among them were the Nabataeans, who first appeared in the historical annals of the 4th century BC and already established their own kingdom in what used to be Edom, by the first half of the 2nd century BC.

More recent excavations show that the process of Edomite settlement in the southern parts of the Kingdom of Judah and parts of the Negev down to Timna had started already before the destruction of the kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587/86 BCE, both by peaceful penetration and by military means and taking advantage of the already-weakened state of Judah.

Once pushed out of their territory, the Edomites settled during the Persian period in an area comprising the southern hills of Judea down to the area north of Be’er Sheva. The people appear under a Greek form of their old name, as Idumeans or Idumaeans, and their new territory was called Idumea or Idumaea (Greek: Ἰδουμαία, Idoumaía; Latin: Idūmaea), a term that was used in New Testament times.

One modern scholar believes this attests to Amalek’s high antiquity, while traditional commentator Rashi states: “He came before all of them to make war with Israel”. First-century Roman-Jewish scholar and historian Flavius Josephus refers to Amalek as a ‘bastard’ in a derogatory sense.

According to the Bible, the Amalekites inhabited the Negev. They appear to have lived a nomadic or seminomadic lifestyle along the fringes of southern Canaan’s agricultural zone. This is probably based on the association of this tribal group with the steppe region of ancient Israel and the area of Kadesh (Genesis 14:7). As a people, the Amalekites were identified as a recurrent enemy of the Israelites.

Amalek is a nation described in the Hebrew Bible as enemies of the Israelites. The name “Amalek” can refer to the nation’s founder, a grandson of Esau; his descendants, the Amalekites; or the territories of Amalek which they inhabited.

Although Egyptian and Assyrian monumental inscriptions and records of the period survive which list various tribes and peoples of the area, no reference has ever been found to Amalek or the Amalekites. Therefore, the archaeologist and historian Hugo Winckler suggested in 1895 that there were never any such people and the Biblical stories concerning them are entirely mythological and ahistorical.

While considerable knowledge about nomadic Arabs has been recovered through archeological research, no specific artifacts or sites have been linked to Amalek with any certainty. However, it is possible that some of the fortified settlements in the Negev highlands and even Tel Masos (near Beer-sheba) have Amalek connections.

Easton claims that the Babylonian inscription Sute and the Egyptian term Sittiu refer to the Amalekites. Easton also claims that the Amarna tablets refer to the Amalekites under the general name Khabbatti, or “plunderers”.

In Judaism, the Amalekites came to represent the archetypal enemy of the Jews. In Jewish folklore the Amalekites are considered to be the symbol of evil. It is suggested that Amalekites have come to represent an “eternally irreconcilable enemy” that wants to murder Jews, and that Jews in post-biblical times sometimes associate contemporary enemies with Haman or Amalekites, and that some Jews believe that pre-emptive violence is acceptable against such enemies.

Agag is a Northwest Semitic name or title applied to a biblical king. It has been suggested that “Agag” was a dynastic name of the kings of Amalek, just as Pharaoh was used as a dynastic name for the ancient Egyptians. The etymology is uncertain, according to John L. McKenzie (1995), while Cox (1884) suggested “High.”

In the Torah, the expression “higher than Agag, and his kingdom will be exalted” was uttered by Balaam in Numbers 24:7, in his third prophetic utterance, to describe a king of Israel who would be higher than the king of Amalek.

This is understood to mean that Israel’s king would take a higher position than even Amalek himself, and would exercise a wider authority. The writer uses an allusion to the literal significance of the word “Agag”, meaning “high”, to convey that the king of Israel would be “higher than High”. A characteristic trait of biblical poetry is to use puns.

In the Hebrew Bible, Agag is also referred to as the king of Amalek who was defeated by King Saul in fulfillment of a decree by Yahweh. However, Saul failed to execute Agag and allowed the people to keep some of the spoil, and this resulted in Samuel’s pronouncement of God’s rejection of Saul as king. Agag was then executed by Samuel, who told him: “Just as your sword has bereaved women of children, in that way your mother will be most bereaved of children among women.”

According to the Book of Esther his plan to kill all the Jews in the empire were foiled by Mordecai and Esther his cousin and adopted daughter, who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing. According to the Scroll of Esther, “they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”

Puruli

Puruli (EZEN Puruliyas) was a Hattian spring festival, held at Nerik, dedicated to the earth goddess Hannahanna, who is married to a new king. Ḫannaḫanna (from Hittite ḫanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the Sumerian goddess Inanna.

Christopher Siren reports that Ḫannaḫanna is associated with the Gulses (Gul-Shesh; Gulshesh; Gul-ashshesh); they were called the Hutena (the three goddesses of fate ) in the Hurrian mythology. The Hutena always appeared in plural, never alone.

A possible translation of their names are the “Scribes” or “Determiners of Fate”. They dispenses good and evil, life and death to each human kind.They are similar to the Norns of Norse mythology, and the Moirai of ancient Greece.

Ḫannaḫanna was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. Ḫebat, also transcribed, Khepat or Eva, was the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living”. She is also called «Queen of the deities», «Mother of all living» and «Queen of the deities». The mother goddess is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian goddess Cybele.

Akitu

The corresponding Assyrian festival to Puruli is the Akitu or Akitum (Sumerian: EZEN Á.KI.TUM, akiti-šekinku, Á.KI.TI.ŠE.GUR₁₀.KU₅, lit. “the barley-cutting”, akiti-šununum, lit. “barley-sowing”; Akkadian: akitu or rêš-šattim, “head of the year”) of the Enuma Elish, a spring festival in ancient Mesopotamia. Also compared are the Canaanite Poem of Baal and Psalms 93 and 29.

The name is from the Sumerian for “barley”, originally marking two festivals celebrating the beginning of each of the two half-years of the Sumerian calendar, marking the sowing of barley in autumn and the cutting of barley in spring. In Babylonian religion it came to be dedicated to Marduk’s victory over Tiamat (Akkadian: DTI.AMAT or DTAM.TUM, Greek: Thaláttē).

In the religion of ancient Babylon, Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the salt sea, mating with Abzû, the god of fresh water, to produce younger gods. She is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation. She is referred to as a woman, and described as the glistening one. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a sacred marriage between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second Chaoskampf Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.

Demeter and Persephone

Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over grains and the fertility of the earth, and her daughter Persephone, also called Kore (“the maiden”), the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, were often worshiped together and were often referred to by joint cultic titles.

In their cult at Eleusis, they were referred to simply as “the goddesses”, often distinguished as “the older” and “the younger”; In Rhodes and Sparta, they were worshiped as “the Demeters”; in the Thesmophoria, they were known as “the thesmophoroi” (“the legislators”). In Arcadia they were known as “the Great Goddesses” and “the mistresses”. In Mycenaean Pylos, Demeter and Persephone were probably called the “queens” (wa-na-ssoi).

The epithets of Persephone reveal her double function as chthonic (underworld) and vegetation goddess. The surnames given to her by the poets refer to her character as Queen of the lower world and the dead, or her symbolic meaning of the power that shoots forth and withdraws into the earth. Her common name as a vegetation goddess is Kore, and in Arcadia she was worshipped under the title Despoina, “the mistress”, a very old chthonic divinity.

Plutarch writes that Persephone was identified with the spring season and Cicero calls her the seed of the fruits of the fields. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, her return from the underworld each spring is a symbol of immortality, and hence she was frequently represented on sarcophagi.

In the religions of the Orphics and the Platonists, Kore is described as the all-pervading goddess of nature who both produces and destroys everything, and she is therefore mentioned along with or identified as other such divinities including Isis, Rhea, Ge, Hestia, Pandora, Artemis, and Hecate. The Orphic Persephone is said to have become by Zeus the mother of Dionysus, Iacchus, Zagreus, and the little-attested Melinoe.

Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable, majestic queen of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. She becomes the queen of the underworld through her abduction by and subsequent marriage to Hades, the god of the underworld.

In the myth Pluto abducts Persephone to be his wife and the queen of his realm (this is the myth which explains their marriage). Pluto (Ploutōn) was a name for the ruler of the underworld; the god was also known as Hades, a name for the underworld itself.

The name Pluton was conflated with that of Ploutos (Ploutos, “wealth”), a god of wealth, because mineral wealth was found underground, and because Pluto as a chthonic god ruled the deep earth that contained the seeds necessary for a bountiful harvest. Plouton is lord of the dead, but as Persephone’s husband he has serious claims to the powers of fertility.

The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest; hence, she is also associated with spring as well as the fertility of vegetation. Similar myths appear in the Orient, in the cults of male gods like Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.

The Greek version of the abduction myth is related to grain – important and rare in the Greek environment – and the return (ascent) of Persephone was celebrated at the autumn sowing. Pluto (Ploutos) represents the wealth of the grain that was stored in underground silos or ceramic jars (pithoi), during summer months.

Similar subterranean pithoi were used in ancient times for burials and Pluto is fused with Hades, the King of the realm of the dead. During summer months, the Greek grain-Maiden (Kore) is lying in the grain of the underground silos in the realm of Hades, and she is fused with Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld.

At the beginning of the autumn, when the seeds of the old crop are laid on the fields, she ascends and is reunited with her mother Demeter, for at that time the old crop and the new meet each other. For the initiated, this union was the symbol of the eternity of human life that flows from the generations which spring from each other.

She is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was commonly worshipped along with Demeter and with the same mysteries. To her alone were dedicated the mysteries celebrated at Athens in the month of Anthesterion.

In Classical Greek art, Persephone is invariably portrayed robed, often carrying a sheaf of grain. She may appear as a mystical divinity with a sceptre and a little box, but she was mostly represented in the process of being carried off by Hades.

Demeter’s emblem is the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among the barley. However, though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death.

Her cult titles include Sito (“she of the Grain”), as the giver of food or grain, and Thesmophoros (thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; phoros: bringer, bearer; “Law-Bringer”), as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society.

Wanax (wa-na-ka) was her male companion (Greek: Paredros) in Mycenaean cult. The Arcadian cult links her to the god Poseidon, who probably substituted the male companion of the Great Goddess ; Demeter may therefore be related to a Minoan Great Goddess (Cybele).

The earliest recorded worship of a deity possibly equivalent to Demeter is found in Linear B Mycenean Greek tablets of c. 1400–1200 BC found at Pylos. The tablets describe worship of the “two queens and the king”, which may be related to Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon.

Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” (“to the Two Queens and the King” :wa-na-ssoi, wa-na-ka-te). The “Two Queens” may be related with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were no longer associated with Poseidon in later periods.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiations held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. They are the “most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece”. Their basis was an old agrarian cult, and there is some evidence that they were derived from the religious practices of the Mycenean period.

The mysteries represented the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by the king of the underworld Hades, in a cycle with three phases: the descent (loss), the search, and the ascent, with the main theme being the ascent of Persephone and the reunion with her mother. It was a major festival during the Hellenic era, and later spread to Rome. Similar religious rites appear in the agricultural societies of Near East and in Minoan Crete.

The rites, ceremonies, and beliefs were kept secret and consistently preserved from antiquity. For the initiated, the rebirth of Persephone symbolized the eternity of life which flows from generation to generation, and they believed that they would have a reward in the afterlife.

There are many paintings and pieces of pottery that depict various aspects of the Mysteries. Since the Mysteries involved visions and conjuring of an afterlife, some scholars believe that the power and longevity of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a consistent set of rites, ceremonies and experiences that spanned two millennia, came from psychedelic drugs. The name of the town, Eleusís, seems to be Pre-Greek and it is probably a counterpart with Elysium and the goddess Eileithyia.

Some scholars argued that the Eleusinian cult was a continuation of a Minoan cult, and that Demeter was a poppy goddess who brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis. Some useful information from the Mycenean period can be taken from the study of the cult of Despoina, (the precursor goddess of Persephone), and the cult of Eileithyia who was the goddess of childbirth.

The megaron of Despoina at Lycosura is quite similar with the Telesterion of Eleusis, and Demeter is united with the god Poseidon, bearing a daughter, the unnamable Despoina (the mistress). In the cave of Amnisos at Crete, the goddess Eileithyia is related with the annual birth of the divine child, and she is connected with Enesidaon (The Earth Shaker), who is the chthonic aspect of Poseidon.

In the Theogony of Hesiod, Demeter was united with the hero Iasion in Crete and she bore Ploutos. This union seems to be a reference to a hieros gamos (ritual copulation) to ensure the earth’s fertility. This ritual copulation appears in Minoan Crete, in many Near Eastern agricultural societies, and also in the Anthesteria.

Nilsson believes that the original cult of Ploutos (or Pluto) in Eleusis was similar with the Minoan cult of the “divine child”, who died in order to be reborn. The child was abandoned by his mother and then it was brought up by the powers of nature. Similar myths appear in the cults of Hyakinthos (Amyklai), Erichthonios (Athens), and later in the cult of Dionysos.

Thesmophoria

The Thesmophoria was an ancient Greek religious festival, held in honor of the goddess Demeter  and her daughter Persephone. It was celebrated in order to promote fertility, both human and agricultural. It was held annually, mostly around the time that seeds were sown in late autumn – though in some places it was associated with the harvest instead – and celebrated human and agricultural fertility.

The festival was one of the most widely-celebrated in the Greek world. It was restricted to adult women, and the rites practised during the festival were kept secret. Men were forbidden to see or hear about the rites. It is not certain whether all free women took part in the celebration, or whether this was restricted to aristocratic women; whichever was the case, non-citizen and unmarried women appear not to have taken part.

The fact that it was celebrated across the Greek world suggests that it dates back to before the Greek settlement in Ionia in the eleventh century BCE. The best evidence for the Thesmophoria concern its practice in Athens, but there is also information from elsewhere in the Greek world, including Sicily and Eretria.

In Athens, the Thesmophoria took place over three days, from the eleventh to the thirteenth of Pyanepsion. This corresponds to late October in the Gregorian calendar, and was the time of the Greek year when seeds were sown.

The Thesmophoria may have taken place in this month in other cities, though in some places – for instance Delos and Thebes – the festival seems to have taken place in the summer, and been associated with the harvest, instead. In other places the festival lasted for longer – in Syracuse, Sicily, the Thesmophoria was a ten-day long event.

The most extensive sources on the festival are a comment in a scholion on Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans, explaining the festival, and Aristophanes’ play Thesmophoriazusae, which parodies the festival. However, Aristophanes’ portrayal of the festival mixes authentically Thesmophoric elements with elements from other Greek religious practice, especially the worship of Dionysus.

According to the scholiast on Lucian, during the Thesmophoria pigs were sacrificed, and their remains were put into pits called megara. An inscription from Delos shows that part of the cost of the Thesmophoria there went towards paying for a ritual butcher to perform the sacrifices for the festival; literary evidence suggests that in other places, however, the sacrifices may have been made by the women themselves.

Some time later, the rotten remains of these sacrifices were retrieved from the pits by “bailers” – women who were required to spend three days in a state of ritual purity before descending into the megara. These were placed on altars to Persephone and Demeter, along with cakes baked in the shape of snakes and phalluses.

These remains were then scattered on fields when seeds were sown, in the belief that this would ensure a good harvest. According to Walter Burkert, this practice was “the clearest example in Greek religion of agrarian magic”.

It is not certain how long the remains of the pigs were left in the megara. The fact that they had decomposed by the time that they were retrieved shows that they had been left in the pits for some time. Possibly they were thrown in during one festival and retrieved the next year. However, if they were thrown in during the Thesmophoria and retrieved in time for the sowing of seeds that year, then they may have only been left for a few weeks before being taken out again.

The first day of the Thesmophoria at Athens was known as anodos (“ascent”). This is usually thought to be because on this day the women celebrating the festival ascended to the shrine called the Thesmophorion.

Preparations for the rest of the festival were made on this day: two women were elected to oversee the celebrations. Women also set up tents on this day; they would spend the rest of the festival staying in these rather than at home.

Matthew Dillon argues that the name anodos is more likely to relate to the ascent of Persephone from the underworld, which was celebrated at the festival. Dillon suggests that a sacrifice to celebrate this ascent was performed on the first day of the festival.

The second day of the festival was called the nesteia. This was a day of fasting, imitating Demeter’s mourning for the loss of her daughter. On this day, the women at the festival sat on the ground on seats made of plants which were believed to be anaphrodisiac.

Angeliki Tzanetou says that ritual obscenity was a feature of the second day of the festival; however, Dillon says that the ritual obscenity would have taken place on another day, not than the subdued second day, and Radek Chlup argues that it took place on the third day of the festival.

The third day of the Thesmophoria was kalligeneia, or “beautiful birth”. On this day, women called upon the goddess Kalligeneia, praying for their own fertility. Plutarch notes that in Eretria the women did not call upon Kalligeneia during the Thesmophoria.

Mylloi

To celebrate the festival of Thesmophoria, honey and sesame cakes, a triangular shape called “mylloi”, representing Ishtar’s vagina, were given out freely. Muliebra is the Latin word for the external female genitalia. In Sicily, there was the ‘myllos’ in the shape of the female genitals offered to Demeter and Persephone, representing Ishtar’s vagina, were given out freely. Vagina cakes were just a part of the celebration.

Heraclides of Syracuse in his ‘The customs of Syracuse’ says that at the Panteleia, which is a part of the celebration of the Thesmophoria, cakes in the shape of the female genitalia were made with sesame seeds and honey, and were called mylloi throughout Sicily, and were carried in procession in honour of the Goddesses.

Anasyrma

The origin of that custom might go back to the myth, related in the Orphic version of the rape of Kore, according to which the grieving Mother Demeter, in search of her lost daughter Persephone, was made to laugh when she is received by a woman named Baubo, a crone who makes her laugh by exposing herself, in a ritual gesture called anasyrma.

Anasyrma (composed of ana “up, against, back”, and syrma “skirt”; plural: anasyrmata), also called anasyrmos, is the gesture of lifting the skirt or kilt. It is used in connection with certain religious rituals, eroticism, and lewd jokes. The term is used in describing corresponding works of art. Many historical references suggest that anasyrma had dramatic or supernatural effect—positive or negative.

Anasyrma differs from “flashing”, a physically similar gesture as an act of exhibitionism, in that an exhibitionist has an implied purpose of his/her own sexual arousal, while anasyrma is done only for the effect on the onlookers.

Anasyrma is effectively “the exposing of the genitals”. This is a form of exhibitionism found in religion or artwork, rather than a display for arousal, and it always refers to the act of a woman exposing herself. In several cultures, there is a myth of anasyrma used for emotional healing.

The act of lifting up one’s skirt to display the genitals can be an apotropaic device; it can, in circumstances of war, evoke the fear of the enemy. It can also be an act that evokes surprise and subsequent laughter and a letting go of sadness. What is significant about anasyrma is that it reflects the numinous quality of the female genitals and the genital region through which birth ensues.

Anasyrma may be a deliberately provocative self-exposing of one’s naked genitals or buttocks. The famous example of the latter case is Aphrodite Kallipygos (“Aphrodite of the beautiful buttocks”). In many traditions, this gesture also has an apotropaic character, as a mockery or means to ward off a supernatural enemy, analogous to mooning.

Ritual jesting and intimate exposure were common in the cults of Demeter and Dionysus, and figure in the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries associated with these divinities. The mythographer Apollodorus says that Iambe’s jesting was the reason for the practice of ritual jesting at the Thesmophoria, a festival celebrated in honor of Demeter and Persephone.

A set of statuettes from Priene, a Greek city on the west coast of Asia Minor, are usually identified as “Baubo” figurines, representing the female body as the face conflated with the lower part of the abdomen. These appeared as counterparts to the phalluses decorated with eyes, mouth, and sometimes legs, that appeared on vase paintings and were made as statuettes.

Terracotta hermaphrodite figurines in the so-called anasyromenos pose, with female breasts and a long garment lifted to reveal male genitals have been found from Sicily to Lesbos, dating back to the late Classical and early Hellenistic period. The anasyromenos pose, however, was not invented in the 4th century BCE, figures of this type drew on a much earlier eastern iconographic tradition employed for female divinities.

Ancient literature suggests that the figures represent the androgynous Cypriot deity Aphroditus (possibly a form of Astarte), whose cult was introduced into mainland Greece between the 5th–4th century BCE. The revealed phallus was believed to have apotropaic magical powers, averting the evil eye or invidia and bestowing good luck.

Mulissu

Mullissu is a goddess who is the wife of the Assyrian god Ashur (also, Assur, Aššur; dAš-šur). Mullissu may be identical with the Mesopotamian goddess Ninlil, wife of the god Enlil, which would parallel the fact that Ashur himself was modeled on Enlil. Mullissu’s name was written “dNIN.LÍL”. Nonetheless, Mullissu, who was identified with Ishtar of Nineveh in Neo-Assyrian Empire times, is usually identified with Ishtar.

Nonetheless, Mullissu, who was identified with Ishtar of Nineveh in Neo-Assyrian Empire times, is usually identified with Ishtar. Also proposed to be Mullissu is a goddess whom Herodotus called Mylitta and identified with Aphrodite. The name Mylitta may derive from Mulliltu or Mulitta, names related to Mullissu.

Ashur is an East Semitic god, and the head of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south-east Asia Minor which constituted old Assyria. He may have had a solar iconography.

Aššur was a deified form of the city of Assur, which dates from the mid 3rd millennium BC and was the capital of the Old Assyrian kingdom. As such, Ashur did not originally have a family, but as the cult came under southern Mesopotamian influence, he later came to be regarded as the Assyrian equivalent of Enlil, the chief god of Nippur.

Enlil was the most important god of the southern pantheon from the early 3rd millennium BC until Hammurabi founded an empire based in Babylon in the mid-18th century BC, after which Marduk replaced Enlil as the chief god in the south.

In the north, Ashur absorbed Enlil’s wife Ninlil (as the Assyrian goddess Mullissu) and his sons Ninurta and Zababa—this process began around the 14th century BC and continued down to the 7th century.

Zababa (Sumerian: dza-ba4-ba4) (also Zamama) is a war god who was the tutelary deity of the city of Kish in ancient Mesopotamia. He is connected with the god Ninurta, and the symbol of Zababa − the eagle-headed staff − was often depicted next to Ninurta’s symbol. Inanna and Baba are variously described as his wife. His sanctuary was the E-meteursag.

Several ancient Mesopotamian kings were named in honor of Zababa, including Ur-Zababa of Kish (early patron of Sargon of Akkad, c. 2300 BCE) and Zababa-shuma-iddin (a 12th-century BCE Kassite king of Babylon).

The Hittites applied the name ZABABA to various war gods, using their Akkadian writing conventions. Among these gods were the Hattian Wurunkatte; the Hittite and Luwian Hašamili, Iyarri, and Zappana; and Hurrian Aštabi, Hešui, and Nubadig.

Asherah

The cakes go back much further than the Babylonian captivity, to pagan times when the Hebrews worshipped a goddess, Asherah, in ancient Semitic religion a mother goddess who appears in a number of ancient sources. They burned incense to her, danced in her sacred groves, and poured libations.

And baked cakes: in that same 6th Century BCE, the prophet Jeremiah denounces the women for pouring drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven, and baking cakes in her image. The women retort that they and their husbands would continue to do so, just as their ancestors had.

Asherah appears in Akkadian writings by the name of Ašratu(m) (Ashratum), and in Hittite as Aserdu(s) or Asertu(s). Asherah is generally considered identical with the Ugaritic goddess ʾAṯiratu (Athirat). The name Dione, which like ʾElat means ‘goddess’, is clearly associated with Asherah in the Phoenician History of Sanchuniathon, because the same common epithet (ʾElat) of “the Goddess par excellence” was used to describe her at Ugarit.

Asherah is identified as the queen consort of the Sumerian god Anu, and Ugaritic ʾEl, the oldest deities of their respective pantheons, as well as Yahweh, the god of Israel and Judah. This role gave her a similarly high rank in the Ugaritic pantheon. Despite her association with Yahweh in extra-biblical sources, Deuteronomy 12 has Yahweh commanding the destruction of her shrines so as to maintain purity of his worship.

Sources from before 1200 BC almost always credit Athirat with her full title rbt ʾaṯrt ym (or rbt ʾaṯrt). The phrase occurs 12 times in the Baʿal Epic alone. The title rbt is most often vocalised as rabītu, though rabat and rabīti are sometimes used by scholars. Apparently of Akkadian origin, rabītu means “(great) lady”.

She appears to champion her son, Yam, god of the sea, in his struggle against Baʾal. Yam’s ascription as ‘god of’ the sea in the English translation is somewhat incorrect, however, as ‘yām’ is a common western Semitic root that literally means ‘sea’. As a result, one could understand Yam to be the sea itself, deified, as opposed a god who holds dominion over it. Athirat’s title can therefore been translated as “the lady ʾAṯiratu of the sea”, alternatively, “she who walks on the sea”, or even “the Great Lady-who-tramples-Yam”.

Athirat’s name itself is theorised by certain translators and commentators to be from the Ugaritic root ʾaṯr, ‘stride’, a cognate of the Hebrew root ʾšr, of the same meaning. Alternative translations of her title have been tendered that follow this suggested etymology, such as “she who treads on the sea dragon”, or “she who treads on Tyre”.

The former of which appears to be an attempt to grant the Ugaritic texts a type of Chaoskampf. A more recent analysis of this epithet has resulted in the proposition of a radically different translation, namely “Lady Asherah of the day”, or, more simply, “Lady Day”.

The common Semitic root yvm or yôm, meaning ‘day’, appears in several instances in the Masoretic Texts with the second-root letter (-ô-) having been dropped, and in a select few cases, replaced with an A-class vowel of the Niqqud, resulting in the word becoming y(a)m. Such occurrences, as well as the fact that the plural, ‘days’, can be read as both yomîm and yāmîm, gives credence to this alternate translation.

Another primary epithet of Athirat was qnyt ʾilm which may be translated as “the creatrix of the Gods”. In those texts, Athirat is the consort of the god ʾEl; there is one reference to the 70 sons of Athirat, presumably the same as the 70 sons of ʾEl.

Among the Hittites this goddess appears as Asherdu(s) or Asertu(s), the consort of Elkunirsa (‘El, the Creator of Earth’) and mother of either 77 or 88 sons. Among the Amarna letters a King of the Amorites is named Abdi-Ashirta, “Servant of Asherah”.

She is also called ʾElat (‘goddess’), the feminine form of ʾEl (compare Allat) and Qodesh or Qudshu, ‘holiness’. Athirat in Akkadian texts appears as Ashratum (or Antu), the wife of Anu, the god of Heaven. In contrast, ʿAshtart is believed to be linked to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar who is sometimes portrayed as the daughter of Anu while in Ugaritic myth, ʿAshtart is one of the daughters of ʾEl, the West Semitic counterpart of Anu.

Beginning during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, a Semitic goddess named Qudshu (‘Holiness’) appears prominently. Some think this is Athirat/Ashratu under her Ugaritic name. This Qudshu seems not to be either ʿAshtart or ʿAnat as both those goddesses appear under their own names and with quite different iconography and appear in at least one pictorial representation along with Qudshu.

But in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods in Egypt there was a strong tendency of syncretism towards goddesses, and Athirat/Ashratum then seems to have disappeared, at least as a prominent goddess under a recognizable name.

Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 BC, polytheism was normal throughout Israel; it was only after the exile that worship of Yahweh alone became established, and possibly only as late as the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BC) that monotheism became universal among the Jews.

Some biblical scholars believe that Asherah at one time was worshipped as the consort of Yahweh, the national God of Israel. There are references to the worship of numerous gods throughout Kings: Solomon builds temples to many gods and Josiah is reported as cutting down the statues of Asherah in the temple Solomon built for Yahweh (2 Kings 23:14). Josiah’s grandfather Manasseh had erected one such statue (2 Kings 21:7).

Following the Exile, references to polytheism were heavily redacted from the Jewish scriptures. Hosea, for example, lambasts a goddess who is associated with trees but whose name is never mentioned.

The “Queen of Heaven” is likewise anonymous in Jeremiah, despite that she was widely revered. As the women of Jerusalem attested: “We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem” (44:17).

Further evidence for Asherah-worship includes, for example, an 8th-century BC combination of iconography and inscriptions discovered at Kuntillet Ajrud in the northern Sinai desert where a storage jar shows three anthropomorphic figures and several inscriptions. The inscriptions found refer not only to Yahweh but to ʾEl and Baʿal, and two include the phrases “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah” and “Yahweh of Teman and his Asherah.”

The references to Samaria (capital of the kingdom of Israel) and Teman (in Edom) suggest that Yahweh had a temple in Samaria, while raising questions about the relationship between Yahweh and Kaus, the national god of Edom. The ‘asherah’ in question is most likely a cultic object, although the relationship of this object (a stylised tree perhaps) to Yahweh and to the goddess Asherah, consort of ʾEl, is unclear.

It has been suggested that the Israelites may have considered Asherah as the consort of Baʿal, due to the anti-Asherah ideology which was influenced by the Deuteronomistic Historians, at the later period of the kingdom.

It has also been suggested by several scholars that there is a relationship between the position of the gĕbîrâ in the royal court and the worship (orthodox or not) of Asherah. In a potsherd inscription of blessings from “Yahweh and his Asherah”, there appears a cow feeding its calf.

Numerous Canaanite amulets depict wearing a bouffant wig similar to the Egyptian Hathor. If Asherah is then to be associated with Hathor/Qudshu, it can then be assumed that the cow is being referred to as Asherah.

William Dever’s book “Did God Have a Wife?” adduces further archaeological evidence—for instance, the many female figurines unearthed in ancient Israel, (known as Pillar-Base Figurines)—as supporting the view that in Israelite folk religion of the monarchical period, Asherah functioned as a goddess and consort of Yahweh and was worshiped as the queen of heaven, for whose festival the Hebrews baked small cakes.

Dever also points to the discovery of multiple shrines and temples within ancient Israel and Judah. The temple site at Arad is particularly interesting for the presence of two (possibly three) massebot, standing stones representing the presence of deities. This runs contrary to the biblical claim that there was only one temple, in Jerusalem, and it was dedicated to Yahweh.

Although the identity of the deities associated with the massebot is uncertain, Yahweh and Asherah or Asherah and Baal remain strong candidates, as Dever notes: “The only goddess whose name is well attested in the Hebrew Bible (or in ancient Israel generally) is Asherah.”

The name Asherah appears forty times in the Hebrew Bible, but it is much reduced in English translations. The word ʾăšērâ is translated in Greek as ἄλσος (grove) in every instance apart from Isaiah 17:8; 27:9 and 2 Chronicles 15:16; 24:18, with δένδρα (trees) being used for the former, and, peculiarly, Ἀστάρτη (Astarte) for the latter.

The Vulgate in Latin provided lucus or nemus, a grove or a wood (thus KJV Bible uses grove or groves with the consequent loss of Asherah’s name and knowledge of her existence to English language readers of the Bible over some 400 years).

The association of Asherah with trees in the Hebrew Bible is very strong. For example, she is found under trees (1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 17:10) and is made of wood by human beings (1 Kings 14:15, 2 Kings 16:3–4). Trees described as being an asherah or part of an asherah include grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtles, and willows.

Episodes in the Hebrew Bible show a gender imbalance in Hebrew religion. Asherah was patronized by female royals such as Queen Mother Maacah (1 Kings 15:13). But more commonly, perhaps, Asherah was worshiped within the household, and her offerings were performed by family matriarchs.

As the women of Jerusalem attested, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes impressed with her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?” (Jeremiah 44:19).

This passage corroborates a number of archaeological excavations showing altar spaces in Hebrew homes. The “household idols” variously referred to in the Bible may also be linked to the hundreds of female Pillar-Base Figurines which have been discovered.

Popular culture defines Canaanite religion and Hebrew idolatry as sexual “fertility cults,” products of primitive superstition rather than spiritual philosophy. This position is buttressed by the Hebrew Bible, which frequently and graphically associates goddess religions with prostitution. As Jeremiah wrote, “On every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute” (Jeremiah 2:20).

Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in particular blame the goddess religions for making Yahweh “jealous,” and cite his jealousy as the reason Yahweh allowed the destruction of Jerusalem. As for sexual and fertility rites, it is likely that they were once held in honor in Israel, as they were throughout the ancient world.

Although their nature remains uncertain, sexual rites typically revolved around women of power and influence, such as Maacah. The Hebrew term qadishtu, usually translated as “temple prostitutes” or “shrine prostitutes,” literally means priestesses or priests.

Some scholars have found an early link between Asherah and Eve, based upon the coincidence of their common title as “the mother of all living” in Genesis 3:20 through the identification with the Hurrian mother goddess Hebat.

There is further speculation that the Shekhinah as a feminine aspect of Yahweh may be a cultural memory or devolution of Asherah. In Christian scripture, the Shekhinah, or Holy Spirit, is represented by a dove—a ubiquitous symbol of goddess religions, also found on Hebrew naos shrines.

This interpretation is far from orthodox. Jesus himself dismissed goddesses in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, saying, “Whoever knows the Father and the Mother will be called the child of a whore.”

Goddess symbology nevertheless persists in Christian iconography; Israel Morrow notes that while Christian art typically displays female angels with avian wings, the only biblical reference to such figures comes through Zechariah’s vision of pagan goddesses.

Ugaritic amulets show a miniature “tree of life” growing out of Asherah’s belly. Accordingly, Asherah poles, which were sacred trees or poles, are mentioned many times in the Hebrew Bible, rendered as palus sacer (sacred poles) in the Latin Vulgate. Asherah poles were prohibited by the Deuteronomic Code which commanded “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God”.

The prohibition, as Dever notes, is also a testament that some people were putting up Asherah poles beside Yahweh’s altars (cf. 2 Kings 21:7). Another significant biblical reference occurs in the legend of Deborah, a female ruler of Israel who held court under a sacred tree (Judges 4:5), which was preserved for many generations.

Morrow further notes that the “funeral pillars of the kings” described by Ezekiel (43:9, variously translated as “funeral offerings” or even “carcasses of the kings”) were likely constructed of sacred wood, since the prophet connects them with “prostitution.”

Like the dove and tree, the lioness made a ubiquitous symbol for goddesses of the ancient Middle East. Lionesses figure prominently in Asherah’s iconography, including the 10th century BC Ta’anach cult stand, which also includes the tree motif. A Hebrew arrowhead from 11th century BC bears the inscription “Servant of the Lion Lady.”

As ‘Athirat’, she was attested in pre-Islamic south Arabia as the consort of the moon-god ‘Amm. A stele, now located at the Louvre, discovered by Charles Huber in 1883 in the ancient oasis of Tema, northwestern Arabia, and believed to date to the time of Nabonidus’s retirement there in 549 BC, bears an inscription in Aramaic which mentions Ṣalm of Maḥram, Shingala, and Ashira as the gods of Tema.

This ‘Ashira’ may be Athirat/Asherah. Due to differences in regional dialects, the Arabic ‘th’ (/θ/; Arabic: ث‎, romanized: ṯāʾ; corresponding to the Ugaritic 𐎘), can occur as either ‘th’ (/θ/; Hebrew: ת) or ‘sh’ (/ʃ/; Hebrew: שׁ).

Additionally, it is widely considered that the Canaanite ‘th’ is equivalent to the ‘sh’ sound in most other Semitic languages, which further complicates matters. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the name would be an Arabian vocalisation of the Ugaritic ʾaṯrt or a later borrowing of the Canaanite ‘Asherah’. We could therefore assert that the root of both names is ʾšrt, and we could infer an etymological connection between Ashira and Athirat.

The Arabic root ʼṯr is similar in meaning to the Hebrew indicating ‘to tread’ used as a basis to explain the name of Ashira as “lady of the sea”, especially as the Arabic root ymm also means ‘sea’. It has also been recently suggested that the goddess name Athirat might be derived from the passive participle form, referring to “one followed by (the gods)”, that is, “pro-genitress or originatress”, corresponding with Asherah’s image as the ‘mother of the gods’ in Ugaritic literature.

Al-Lat

Al-Lat (romanized: Al-Lāt, pronounced [al(i)ˈlaːt(u)]), also spelled Allat, Allatu and Alilat, is a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess worshipped under various associations throughout the entire peninsula, including Mecca where she was worshipped alongside Manat and al-‘Uzza.

The word Allat or Elat has been used to refer to various goddesses in the ancient Near East, including the goddess Asherah-Athirat.Al-Lat was attested in south Arabian inscriptions as Lat and Latan, but she had more prominence in north Arabia and the Hejaz, and her cult reached as far as Syria.

The writers of the Safaitic script frequently invoked al-Lat in their inscriptions. She was also worshipped by the Nabataeans and she was associated with al-‘Uzza. The presence of her cult was attested in both Palmyra and Hatra.

Under Greco-Roman influence, her iconography began to show the attributes of Athena, the Greek goddess of war, as well as her Roman equivalent Minerva.According to Islamic sources, the tribe of Banu Thaqif in Ta’if especially held reverence to her. In Islamic tradition, her worship ended when her temple in Ta’if was demolished on the orders of Muhammad.

There are two possible etymologies of the name al-Lat.[4] Medieval Arab lexicographers derived the name from the verb latta (to mix or knead barley-meal). It has also been associated with the “idol of jealousy” erected in the temple of Jerusalem according to the Book of Ezekiel, which was offered an oblation of barley-meal by the husband who suspected his wife of infidelity.

It can be inferred from al-Kalbi’s Book of Idols that a similar ritual was practiced in the vicinity of the image of al-Lat. Another etymology takes al-Lat to be the feminine form of Allah. She may have been known originally as ʿal-ʿilat, based on Herodotus’ attestation of the goddess as Alilat. Al-Lat was used as a title for the goddess Asherah or Athirat.

The word is akin to Elat, which was the name of the wife of the Semitic deity El. A western Semitic goddess modeled on the Mesopotamian goddess Ereshkigal was known as Allatum, and she was recognized in Carthage as Allatu.

Al-Lat was mentioned as Alilat by the Greek historian Herodotus in his 5th-century BC work Histories, and she was considered the equivalent of Aphrodite (Aphrodite Urania): The Assyrians call Aphrodite Mylitta, the Arabians Alilat and the Persians Mithra.

According to Herodotus, the ancient Arabians believed in only two gods:They believe in no other gods except Dionysus and the Heavenly Aphrodite; and they say that they wear their hair as Dionysus does his, cutting it round the head and shaving the temples. They call Dionysus, Orotalt; and Aphrodite, Alilat.

Early Palmyrene depictions of al-Lat share iconographical traits with Atargatis (when seated) and Astarte (when standing). The Lion of Al-Lat that once adorned her temple depicts a lion and a gazelle, the lion representing her consort, and the gazelle representing al-Lat’s tender and loving traits, as bloodshed was not permitted under penalty of al-Lat’s retaliation.

Queen of Heaven

The Book of Jeremiah, written circa 628 BC, possibly refers to Asherah when it uses the title “queen of heaven” in Jeremiah 7:16–18 and Jeremiah 44:17–19, 25. Queen of Heaven (Regina Caeli in Latin) is a title given to Mary, mother of Jesus, by Christians mainly of the Catholic Church, and also, to some extent, in Anglicanism, some Lutheran churches such as the Church of Sweden and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Queen of Heaven was a title given to a number of ancient sky goddesses worshipped throughout the ancient Mediterranean and Near East during ancient times. Goddesses known to have been referred to by the title include Inanna, Anat, Isis, Ishtar, Astarte, Astghik and possibly Asherah (by the prophet Jeremiah).

In Greco-Roman times Hera, and her Roman aspect Juno bore this title. Forms and content of worship varied. In modern times, the title “Queen of Heaven” is still used by contemporary pagans to refer to the Great Goddess, while Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglican Christians now apply the ancient title to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The title is a consequence of the First Council of Ephesus in the fifth century, in which Mary was proclaimed “Theotokos”, a title rendered in Latin as Mater Dei, in English “Mother of God”. Theotokos is a title of Mary, mother of Jesus, used especially in Eastern Christianity. The usual Latin translations, Dei Genetrix or Deipara (approximately “parent (fem.) of God”), are “Mother of God” or “God-bearer”.

The title has been in use since the 3rd century, in the Syriac tradition in the Liturgy of Mari and Addai (3rd century) and the Liturgy of St James (4th century). The Council of Ephesus in AD 431 decreed that Mary is the Theotokos because her son Jesus is both God and man: one divine person with two natures (divine and human) intimately and hypostatically united.

The Catholic teaching on this subject is expressed in the papal encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, issued by Pope Pius XII. It states that Mary is called Queen of Heaven because her son, Jesus Christ, is the king of Israel and heavenly king of the universe; indeed, the Davidic tradition of Israel recognized the mother of the king as the Queen Mother of Israel.

The title “Queen of Heaven” has long been a Catholic tradition, included in prayers and devotional literature, and seen in Western art in the subject of the Coronation of the Virgin, from the High Middle Ages, long before it was given a formal definition status by the Church.

Mother of all Living

Some scholars have found an early link between Asherah and Eve, based upon the coincidence of their common title as “the mother of all living” in Genesis 3:20 through the identification with the Hurrian mother goddess Hebat.

“Mother of all living” was also the title of Ninhursag, also means . This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah, who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam – not Enki – walks in the Garden of Paradise.

The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish is named for its incipit: “When above” the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, “the first, the begetter”, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, “she who bore them all”; they were “mixing their waters”.

It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu, a female principle of a watery creative force, the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki.

Tiamat was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.

Hieros Gamos

Hieros gamos or Hierogamy («holy marriage») is a sexual ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities. It is thought to have been common in the Ancient Near East between the kings of a Sumerian city-states and the High Priestesses of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and warfare.

Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The temple of Eanna, meaning “house of heaven” in Uruk was the greatest of these. The temple housed Nadītu, priestesses of the goddess.

The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos celebrated during the annual Duku ceremony, just before Invisible Moon, with the autumn Equinox (Autumnal Zag-mu Festival).

Dumuzid, later known by the alternate form Tammuz, is an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with shepherds, who was also the primary consort of the goddess Inanna. In Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld, Dumuzid fails to mourn Inanna’s death and, when she returns from the Underworld, she allows the galla demons to drag him down to the Underworld as her replacement.

Inanna later regrets this decision and decrees that Dumuzid will spend half the year in the Underworld, but the other half of the year with her, while his sister Geshtinanna, the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and dream interpretation, the so-called “heavenly grape-vine”, stays in the Underworld in his place, thus resulting in the cycle of the seasons.

Inanna – Tammuz – Ereshkigal – Nergal

In Mesopotamian mythology, Ereshkigal (DEREŠ.KI.GAL, lit. “Queen of the Great Earth”) was the goddess of Kur, the land of the dead or underworld in Sumerian mythology. In later East Semitic myths, she was said to rule Irkalla alongside her husband Nergal.

Sometimes her name is given as Irkalla, similar to the way the name Hades was used in Greek mythology for both the underworld and its ruler, and sometimes it is given as Ninkigal, lit. “Lady of the Great Earth”.

In the ancient Sumerian poem Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld, Ereshkigal is described as Inanna’s older sister. Inanna and Ereshkigal represent polar opposites. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, but Ereshkigal is the queen of Irkalla, the Underworld. she was the only one who could pass judgment and give laws in her kingdom.

Ereshkigal plays a very prominent and important role in two particular myths. The two main myths involving Ereshkigal are the story of Inanna’s descent into the Underworld and the story of Ereshkigal’s marriage to the god Nergal.

Inanna is an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power. She was originally worshipped in Sumer and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar.

She was known as the “Queen of Heaven” and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star.

Her husband was the god Dumuzid (later known as Tammuz), an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with shepherds, and her sukkal, or personal attendant, was the goddess Ninshubur (who later became the male deity Papsukkal).

In Sumerian mythology, Dumuzid’s sister was Geshtinanna, the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and dream interpretation. In the Sumerian King List, Dumuzid is listed as an antediluvian king of the city of Bad-tibira and also an early king of the city of Uruk.

In Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld, Dumuzid fails to mourn Inanna’s death and, when she returns from the Underworld, she allows the galla demons to drag him down to the Underworld as her replacement.

Inanna later regrets this decision and decrees that Dumuzid will spend half the year in the Underworld, but the other half of the year with her, while his sister Geshtinanna stays in the Underworld in his place, thus resulting in the cycle of the seasons.

Dumuzid was associated with fertility and vegetation and the hot, dry summers of Mesopotamia were believed to be caused by Dumuzid’s yearly death. During the month in midsummer bearing his name, people all across Mesopotamia would engage in public, ritual mourning for him.

Sacred sexual intercourse is thought to have been common in the Ancient Near East as a form of “Sacred Marriage” or hieros gamos between the kings of a Sumerian city-states and the High Priestesses of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and warfare.

Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The temple of Eanna, meaning “house of heaven” in Uruk was the greatest of these. The temple housed Nadītu, priestesses of the goddess.

The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos celebrated during the annual Duku ceremony, just before Invisible Moon, with the autumn Equinox (Autumnal Zag-mu Festival).

During the Sumerian Akitu festival, kings may have established their legitimacy by taking on the role of Dumuzid and engaging in ritualized sexual intercourse with the high priestess of Inanna as part of a sacred marriage ceremony.

Inanna in her aspect as Anunītu was associated with the eastern fish of the last of the zodiacal constellations, Pisces. Her consort Dumuzi was associated with the contiguous first constellation, Aries.

Inanna and her twin brother Utu, the god of the sun and justice (who was later known as Shamash in East Semitic languages), were regarded as the dispensers of divine justice, a role which Inanna exemplifies in several of her myths. In Sumerian texts, Inanna and Utu are shown as extremely close; in fact, their relationship frequently borders on incestuous.

Eileithyia

Eileithyia or Ilithyia in Greece, Eleuthyia in Crete, also Eleuthia Elysia in Laconia and Messene, and Eleuthō in literature, was the Greek goddess of childbirth and midwifery.

In the cave of Amnisos (Crete) she was related with the annual birth of the divine child, and her cult is connected with Enesidaon (the earth shaker), who was the chthonic aspect of the god Poseidon.

It is possible that her cult is related with the cult of Eleusis. In his Seventh Nemean Ode, Pindar refers to her as the maid to or seated beside the Moirai (Fates) and responsible for creating offspring.

According to F. Willets, “The links between Eileithyia, an earlier Minoan goddess, and a still earlier Neolithic prototype are, relatively, firm. The continuity of her cult depends upon the unchanging concept of her function.

Eileithyia was the goddess of childbirth; and the divine helper of women in labour has an obvious origin in the human midwife.” To Homer, she is “the goddess of childbirth”. The Iliad pictures Eileithyia alone, or sometimes multiplied, as the Eileithyiai:

Hesiod (c. 700 BC) described Eileithyia as a daughter of Hera by Zeus (Theogony 921) and the Bibliotheca (Roman-era) and Diodorus Siculus (c. 90–27 BC) (5.72.5) agreed. Also, a poem at the Greek Anthology Book 6, mention Eileithyia as Hera’s daughter.

But Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century AD, reported another early source (now lost): “The Lycian Olen, an earlier poet, who composed for the Delians, among other hymns, one to Eileithyia, styles her ‘the clever spinner’, clearly identifying her with Fate, and makes her older than Cronus.”

Later, for the Classical Greeks, “She is closely associated with Artemis and Hera,” Burkert asserts (1985, p 1761), “but develops no character of her own”. In the Orphic Hymn to Prothyraeia, the association of a goddess of childbirth as an epithet of virginal Artemis, making the death-dealing huntress also “she who comes to the aid of women in childbirth,” Thus Aelian in the 3rd century AD could refer to “Artemis of the child-bed” (On Animals 7.15). Vase-painters, when illustrating the birth of Athena from Zeus’ head, may show two assisting Eileithyiai, with their hands raised in the epiphany gesture.

As the primary goddess of childbirth along with Artemis, Eileithyia had numerous shrines in many locations in Greece dating from Neolithic to Roman times, indicating that she was extremely important to pregnant women and their families. People would pray for and leave offerings for aid in fertility, safe childbirth, or thanks for a successful birth.

Archeological evidence of terracotta votives figurines depicting children found at shines and holy sites dedicated to Eileithyia suggest that she was a kourotrophic divinity, whom parents would have prayed to for protection and care of their children.

Midwives had an essential role in ancient Greek society with women of all classes were midwives participating in the profession, with many being slaves with only empirical training or some theoretical training in obstetrics and gynecology. More highly educated midwives, typically from higher classes, were referred to as iatrenes or doctors of women’s diseases and would be respected as physicians.

She was invoked by women in labour, to ease the pain of labour and to further the birth. Callimachus recorded the hymn: “Even so again, Eileithyia, come thou when Kykainis calls, to bless her pains with easy birth; so may thy fragrant shrine have, as now this offering for a girl, some other offering hereafter for a boy.”

Her Egyptian counterpart is Tawaret. She was strongly connected with the goddesses Artemis and Hekate, the latter of whom she shared strong chthonic elements to her cult.

Eileithyia, along with Artemis and Persephone, is often shown carrying torches to bring children out of darkness and into light: in Roman mythology her counterpart in easing labor is Lucina (“of the light”).

The Cave of Eileithyia near Amnisos, the harbor of Knossos, mentioned in the Odyssey (xix.198) in connection with her cult, was accounted the birthplace of Eileithyia. The Cretan cave has stalactites suggestive of the goddess’ double form (Kerenyi 1976 fig. 6), of bringing labor on and of delaying it, and votive offerings to her have been found establishing the continuity of her cult from Neolithic times, with a revival as late as the Roman period.

Here she was probably being worshipped before Zeus arrived in the Aegean, but certainly in Minoan–Mycenaean times (Burkert 1985 p 171; Nilsson 1950:53). The goddess is mentioned as Eleuthia in a Linear B fragment from Knossos, where it is stated that her temple is given an amphora of honey.

In the cave of Amnisos (Crete) the god Enesidaon (the “earth shaker”, who is the chthonic Poseidon) is related with the cult of Eileithyia. She was related with the annual birth of the divine child. The goddess of nature and her companion survived in the Eleusinian cult, where the following words were uttered: “Mighty Potnia bore a strong son.”

In classical times, there were shrines to Eileithyia in the Cretan cities of Lato and Eleutherna and a sacred cave at Inatos. At a sanctuary in Tsoutsouros Inatos, two small terracotta figures, one breastfeeding and the other pregnant, have been dated to the 7th century.

On the Greek mainland, at Olympia, an archaic shrine with an inner cella sacred to the serpent-savior of the city (Sosipolis) and to Eileithyia was seen by the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century AD (Greece vi.20.1–3); in it, a virgin-priestess cared for a serpent that was “fed” on honeyed barley-cakes and water—an offering suited to Demeter.

The shrine memorialized the appearance of a crone with a babe in arms, at a crucial moment when Elians were threatened by forces from Arcadia. The child, placed on the ground between the contending forces, changed into a serpent, driving the Arcadians away in flight, before it disappeared into the hill.

The earliest recorded worship of a deity possibly equivalent to Demeter is found in Linear B Mycenean Greek tablets of c. 1400–1200 BC found at Pylos. The tablets describe worship of the “two queens and the king”, which may be related to Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon.

An early name which may refer to Demeter, si-to-po-ti-ni-ja (Sito Potnia), appears in Linear B inscriptions found at Mycenae and Pylos. In Crete, Poseidon was often given the title wa-na-ka (wanax) in Linear B inscriptions, in his role as king of the underworld, and his title E-ne-si-da-o-ne indicates his chthonic nature.

In the cave of Amnisos, Enesidaon is associated with the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, who was involved with the annual birth of the divine child. During the Bronze Age, a goddess of nature dominated both in Minoan and Mycenean cults, and Wanax (wa-na-ka) was her male companion (paredros) in the Mycenean cult. Elements of this early form of worship survived in the Eleusinian cult, where the following words were uttered: “Mighty Potnia bore a strong son.”

Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” (“to the Two Queens and the King” :wa-na-ssoi, wa-na-ka-te). The “Two Queens” may be related with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were no longer associated with Poseidon in later periods.

Sheela na gigs

Sheela na gigs are figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. They are architectural grotesques found all over Europe on cathedrals, castles, and other buildings. The highest concentrations can be found in Ireland, Great Britain, France and Spain, sometimes together with male figures.

Ireland has the greatest number of surviving sheela na gig carvings; Joanne McMahon and Jack Roberts cite 101 examples in Ireland and 45 examples in Britain. The carvings may have been used to ward off death, evil and demons.

Other grotesques, such as gargoyles and hunky punks, were frequently part of church decorations all over Europe. It is commonly said that their purpose was to keep evil spirits away. They often are positioned over doors or windows, presumably to protect these openings.

Scholars disagree about the origins of the figures. James Jerman and Anthony Weir believe that the sheela na gigs were first carved in France and Spain in the 11th century; the motif eventually reached Britain and then Ireland in the 12th century.

They argue that their location on churches and the grotesque features of the figures, by medieval standards, suggests that they represented female lust as hideous and sinfully corrupting. The faces of some figures are striated, indicating scarring or tattoos. Weir notes that a close examination of the figures reveals features that do not fit a fertility function.

Another theory, espoused by Joanne McMahon and Jack Roberts, is that the carvings are remnants of a pre-Christian fertility or mother goddess religion. They note what they claim are differences in materials and styles of some sheela na gigs from their surrounding structures, and noting that some are turned on their side, to support the idea that they were incorporated from previous structures into early Christian buildings.

A popular hypothesis is that sheela na gigs represent a pagan goddess, but academics believe the situation was more complex, with multiple interpretations and roles for the female character as spiritual traditions changed over time.

Barbara Freitag suggests that the figures were used in a fertility context and associates them with “birthing stones”. There is folkloric evidence of at least some of the sheela na gigs being used in this manner, with the figures being loaned out to women in labour. Other figures have wedding traditions associated with them.

According to Margaret Murray, the figure in Oxford at the church of St Michael at the North Gate has an associated tradition of being shown to brides on their wedding day. This theory does not cover all the figures: some are thin with their ribs showing and thin breasts, which do not signal fertility. Others are plump and are shown in a sexual context with a partner.

The Encyclopedia of Religion, in its article on yoni, notes the similarity between the positioning of many sheela na gigs above doorways or windows and the wooden female figures carved over the doorways of chiefs’ houses (bai) in the Palauan archipelago. Called dilukai (or dilugai), they are typically shown with legs splayed, revealing a large, black, triangular pubic area; the hands rest upon the thighs.

The writers of the encyclopedia article say: These female figures protect the villagers’ health and ward off all evil spirits as well. They are constructed by ritual specialists according to strict rules, which if broken would result in the specialist’s as well as the chief’s death. It is not coincidental that each example of signs representing the female genitalia used as apotropaic devices are found on gates. The vulva is the primordial gate, the mysterious divide between nonlife and life.

A 2016 book by Starr Goode called the Sheela na gig: The Dark Goddess of Sacred Power, traces these images throughout history and contributes a discussion of the universality of “female sacred display” in it meanings and functions back to the origins of culture as seen in the Paleolithic cave art through the inclusion of the image in contemporary art, particularly feminist art.

Cailleach

In Gaelic mythology (Irish, Scottish and Manx) the Cailleach is a divine hag, a creator deity, a weather deity, and an ancestor deity. She is also commonly known as the Cailleach Bhéara(ch) or Bheur(ach). In Scotland she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter.

The word literally means “old woman, hag”, and is found with this meaning in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and has been applied to numerous mythological figures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Cailleach (“old woman” or “hag” in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic) comes from the Old Gaelic Caillech (“veiled one”), an adjectival form of caille (“veil”), an early loan from Latin pallium, “woollen cloak”.

Gearóid Ó Crualaoich attributes twin meanings to the name; the legendary context of cow goddess, or association with horned beasts, and a folklore attribution as a word meaning “sharp, shrill, inimical” – bior(ach) or beur(ach) – and refers to the Cailleach’s association with winter and wilderness.

The plural of cailleach is cailleacha in Irish, cailleachan in Scottish Gaelic and caillaghyn in Manx. The word is found as a component in terms like the Gaelic cailleach-dhubh (“nun”) and cailleach-oidhche (“owl”), as well as the Irish cailleach feasa (“wise woman, fortune-teller”) and cailleach phiseogach (“sorceress, charm-worker”).

Related words include the Gaelic caileag and the Irish cailín (“young woman, girl, colleen”), the diminutive of caile “woman” and the Lowland Scots carline/carlin (“old woman, witch”). A more obscure word that is sometimes interpreted as “hag” is the Irish síle, which has led some to speculate on a connection between the Cailleach and the stonecarvings of Sheela na Gigs.

Lajjā Gaurī

Lajjā Gaurī is a lotus-headed Hindu Goddess associated with abundance, fertility and sexuality, sometimes euphemistically described as Lajja (“modesty”). She is sometimes shown in a birthing posture, but without outward signs of pregnancy.

The Lajja Gauri is an ancient icon that is found in many Devi-related temples across India and one that has been unearthed at several archaeological sites in South Asia. The icon represents yoni but with more context and complexity. It is a fertility icon and symbolizes the procreative and regenerative powers of mother earth, “the elemental source of all life, animal and plant”, the vivifier and “the support of all life”.

According to the Art Historian Carol Bolon, the Lajja Gauri icon evolved over time with increasing complexity and richness. Early depictions of Lajja Gauri in Shaktism cults were found in the Indus Valley seals, though her later depiction dates to the 1st-3rd centuries, and her worship is prevalent in the Deccan, a region of the Indian subcontinent. The majority of the terracotta figurines were carved in the Gupta and post-Gupta periods.

The earliest representations were variants of aniconic pot, the second stage represented it as the three-dimensional artwork with no face or hands but a lotus-head that included yoni, chronologically followed by the third stage that added breasts and arms to the lotus-headed figure.

The last stage was an anthropomorphic figure of a squatting naked goddess holding lotus and motifs of agricultural abundance spread out showing her yoni as if she is giving birth or sexually ready to procreate. According to Bolon, the different aniconic and anthropomorphic representations of Lajja Gauri are symbols for the “yoni of Prithvi (Earth)”, she as womb.

Her fertility aspect is emphasized by symbolic representation of the genitals, Yoni or the Womb, as blooming Lotus flower denoting blooming youth in some cases and in others through a simple yet detailed depiction of an exposed vulva. Added to the fact that she is sitting in a squatting position (malasana) with legs open, as in during childbirth, in some cases, the right foot is placed on a platform to facilitate full opening.

She is invoked for abundant crops (vegetative fertility) and good progeny. A blossoming lotus replaces her head and neck, an icon often used in Tantra. The seven Chakras of human energy anatomy are often depicted as blossoming lotuses.

The Goddess is often depicted in her Sri Yantra as a Yoni, shown as a simplified triangle at the centre. Further, most fertility goddesses of the Ancient world are similarly shown headless, while giving prominent focus to the genitals.

The arms of the goddess are bent upwards, each holding a lotus stem, held at the level of the head again depicted by the matured lotus flower. Owing to an absence of verifiable text in Vedic traditions on the iconography.

She doesn’t seem to hold any exalted position in Hindu pantheon, despite her strong presence throughout India, especially in the tribal region of Bastar in Central India and downwards to the South, suggesting that the goddess had a cult of her own.

The goddess is sometimes called Lajja Gauri, interpreted by some as the Innocent Creatrix, the Creator deity or at times simply “Headless Goddess”, or Aditi Uttanapada by modern archeologist, academicians and Indologists.

Devi, the Great Mother Goddess of Hinduism, in Her form as Lajja Gauri, is also known as Aditi, Adya Shakti; Renuka wife of sage Jamadagni, who is worshipped for fertility as Matangi and Yallamma (everybody’s mother), Kotari, Kotavi (a nude folk goddess), KottaMahika, Kotmai, and many other names. She is the most ancient Goddess form in the religious complex that is today referred to as Hinduism.

Yoni

Yoni, sometimes referred to as pindika, is a Sanskrit word that has been interpreted to literally mean the womb, and the female organs of generation. It also connotes the female sexual organs such as “vagina”, “vulva”, and “uterus”, or alternatively to “origin, abode, or source” of anything in other contexts.

The yoni is conceptualized as nature’s gateway of all births, particularly in the esoteric Kaula and Tantra practices, as well as the Shaktism and Shaivism traditions of Hinduism. For example, the Vedanta text Brahma Sutras metaphorically refers to the metaphysical concept Brahman as the “yoni of the universe”.

The yoni is usually shown with linga – its masculine counterpart. This iconography is found in Shiva temples and archaeological sites of the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, as well in sculptures such as the Lajja Gauri.

Together, they symbolize the merging of microcosmos and macrocosmos, the divine eternal process of creation and regeneration, and the union of the feminine and the masculine that recreates all of existence.

Shakti

Yoni is an aniconic representation of goddess Shakti (lit. “power, ability, strength, effort, energy, capability”), the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism, and especially the major tradition of Hinduism, Shaktism.

Shakti is the concept or personification of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as “The Great Divine Mother” in Hinduism. As a mother, she is known as “Adi Shakti” or “Adi Parashakti”. On the earthly plane, Shakti most actively manifests herself through female embodiment and creativity/fertility, though it is also present in males in its potential, unmanifest form.

Hindus believe that Shakti is both responsible for creation and the agent of all change. Shakti is cosmic existence as well as liberation, its most significant form being the Kundalini Shakti, a mysterious psychospiritual force. In Shaktism, Shakti is worshipped as the Supreme Being. Shakti embodies the active feminine energy of Shiva and is synonymously identified with Tripura Sundari or Parvati.

Shaktism regards Devi (lit., “the Goddess”) as the Supreme Brahman itself with all other forms of divinity considered to be merely Her diverse manifestations. In the details of its philosophy and practice, Shaktism resembles Shaivism.

However, Shaktas practitioners of Shaktism, focus most or all worship on Shakti, as the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine. Shiva, the masculine aspect of divinity, is considered solely transcendent, and Shiva’s worship is usually secondary.

Adi Parashakti, whose manifestation is Parvati and Tripura Sundari, is a Hindu concept of the Ultimate Shakti or Mahashakti, the ultimate power inherent in all Creation. This is especially prevalent in the Shakta denomination within Hinduism, which worships the Goddess Devi in all her manifestations.

Her human or Shakti Svarūpa (powerful form), Parvati, was married to Shiva, while her Gyān Svarūpa (knowledge form), Saraswati, weds Brahma and her Dhan Svarūpa (wealth form), Lakshmi, becomes the consort of Vishnu.

One of the oldest representations of the goddess in India is in a triangular form. The Baghor stone, found in a Paleolithic context in the Son River valley and dating to 9,000–8,000 years BCE, is considered an early example of a yantra (literally “machine, contraption”), a mystical diagram, mainly from the Tantric traditions of the Indian religions.

The triangular-shaped stone, which includes triangular engravings on one side, was found daubed in ochre, in what was considered a site related to worship. Worship of goddesses in that region was found to be practiced in a similar manner to the present day. Kenoyer, who was also involved in the excavation, considered it to be associated with Shakti.

Frogs

To the Egyptians, the frog was a symbol of life and fertility, since millions of them were born after the annual flooding of the Nile, which brought fertility to the otherwise barren lands. Consequently, in Egyptian mythology, there began to be a frog-goddess, who represented fertility, named Heqet. Heqet was usually depicted as a frog, or a woman with a frog’s head, or more rarely as a frog on the end of a phallus to explicitly indicate her association with fertility.

A lesser known Egyptian god, Kek, was also sometimes shown in the form of a frog. Texts of the Late Period describe the Ogdoad of Hermepolis, a group of eight “primeval” gods, as having the heads of frogs (male) and serpents (female), and they are often depicted in this way in reliefs of the Greco-Roman period.

Hapi was a deification of the annual flood of the Nile River, in Egyptian mythology, which deposited rich silt on the banks, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops. In Lower Egypt, he was adorned with papyrus plants, and attended by frogs, present in the region, and symbols of it.

Atargatis

Atargatis or Ataratheh, whom Lucian calls Hera, was the chief goddess of northern Syria in Classical antiquity. Her chief sanctuary was at Hierapolis, modern Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, Syria. Michael Rostovtzeff called her “the great mistress of the North Syrian lands”. Not unnaturally she is identified with the Greek Aphrodite.

The etymology of the name Atargatis points to a connection with “Astarte” (Ishtar), “Ata” (Anath), and this in turn suggests that Atargatis was a syncretistic figure which incorporated elements of many Near Eastern fertility divinities,

The picture given us by Lucian is characteristic of the worship not only of Astarte-Ishtar, but also of Aphrodite, Cybele, Ashera, Isis, and Caelestis. The representation of Atargatis as half woman/half fish, the emphasis on water (an essential element in the process of fertilization) and the sea, and their common titles “Urania” (“Heavenly”) and “Queen of Heaven,” points to a theology which was shared by many cults of fertility goddesses.

Atargatis is seen as a continuation of Bronze Age goddesses. At Ugarit, cuneiform tablets attest the three great Canaanite goddesses. These shared many traits with each other and may have been worshipped in conjunction or separately during 1500 years of cultural history.

It was Aṭirat, described as a fecund “Lady Goddess of the Sea” (rabbatu ʾat̪iratu yammi) and is identified with Asherah, Anat, the war-like virgin goddess. and Ațtart, the goddess of love, namesake of the Phoenician goddess Aštart, called Astarte in Greek. 

In many cases Atargatis, ‘Ashtart, and other goddesses who once had independent cults and mythologies became fused to such an extent as to be indistinguishable. This fusion is exemplified by the Carnion temple, which is probably identical with the famous temple of ‘Ashtart at Ashtaroth-Karnaim.

In Akkadian, the form one would expect Anat to take would be Antu, earlier Antum. This would also be the normal feminine form that would be taken by Anu, the Akkadian form of An ‘Sky’, the Sumerian god of heaven. Antu appears in Akkadian texts mostly as a rather colorless consort of Anu, the mother of Ishtar in the Gilgamesh story, but is also identified with the northwest Semitic goddess ‘Anat of essentially the same name.

It is unknown whether this is an equation of two originally separate goddesses whose names happened to fall together or whether Anat’s cult spread to Mesopotamia, where she came to be worshipped as Anu’s spouse because the Mesopotamian form of her name suggested she was a counterpart to Anu.

It has also been suggested that the parallelism between the names of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, and her West Semitic counterpart, Ishtar, continued in Canaanite tradition as Anath and Astarte, particularly in the poetry of Ugarit.

The two goddesses were invariably linked in Ugaritic scripture and are also known to have formed a triad (known from sculpture) with a third goddess who was given the name/title of Qadesh (meaning “the holy one”).

Ctesias also used the name Derketo for her, and the Romans called her Dea Syria, or in one word Deasura. Primarily she was a goddess of fertility, but, as the baalat (“mistress”) of her city and people, she was also responsible for their protection and well-being.

Her consort is usually Hadad, also known as Adad or Iškur (Sumerian), the storm and rain god in the Canaanite and ancient Mesopotamian religions. They are the protecting deities of the community. Atargatis, wearing a mural crown, is the ancestor the royal house, the founder of social and religious life, the goddess of generation and fertility (hence the prevalence of phallic emblems), and the inventor of useful appliances. 

By the conjunction of these many functions, despite originating as a sea deity analogous to Amphitrite, she becomes ultimately a great nature-goddess, analogous to Cybele and Rhea: In one aspect she typifies the protection of water in producing life; in another, the universal of other-earth; in a third (influenced, no doubt, by Chaldean astrology), the power of Destiny. She was also identified with Hera by Lucian in his De Dea Syria.

Hadad is usually written with the logogram dIM – the same symbol used for the Hurrian god Teshub. He was also called Pidar, Rapiu, Baal-Zephon, or often simply Baʿal (Lord), but this title was also used for other gods.

The bull was his symbolic animal. He appeared bearded, often holding a club and thunderbolt while wearing a bull-horned headdress. He was equated with the Greek god Zeus; the Roman god Jupiter, as Jupiter Dolichenus; the Indo-European Nasite Hittite storm-god Teshub; the Egyptian god Amun.

As Ataratheh, doves and fish were considered sacred to her: doves as an emblem of the Love-Goddess, and fish as symbolic of the fertility and life of the waters. She is sometimes described as a mermaid-goddess, due to identification of her with a fish-bodied goddess at Ascalon. However, there is no evidence that Atargatis was worshipped at Ascalon, and all iconographic evidence shows her as anthropomorphic.

The name Atargatis derives from the Aramaic form ʿAtarʿatheh, which comes in several variants. The name ʿAtarʿatheh is widely held to derive from a compound of the Aramaic form ʿAttar, which is a cognate of ʿAțtart minus its feminine suffix -t, plus ʿAttah or ʿAtā, a cognate of ʿAnat. 

It has also been proposed that the element -gatis may relate to the Greek gados “fish”. For example, the Greek name for “sea monster” or “whale” is the cognate term ketos). So Atar-Gatis may simply mean “the fish-goddess Atar”.

As a consequence of the first half of the name, Atargatis has frequently, though wrongly, been identified as ‘Ashtart. The two deities were probably of common origin and have many features in common, but their cults are historically distinct.

In the 1930s, numerous Nabatean bas-relief busts of Atargatis were identified by Nelson Glueck at Khirbet et-Tannûr, Jordan, in temple ruins of the early first century CE; there the lightly veiled goddess’s lips and eyes had once been painted red, and a pair of fish confronted one another above her head. Her wavy hair, suggesting water to Glueck, was parted in the middle. 

At her temples at Ascalon, Hierapolis Bambyce, and Edessa, there were fish ponds containing fish only her priests might touch. Glueck noted in 1936 that “to this day there is a sacred fish-pond swarming with untouchable fish at Qubbet el-Baeddwī, a dervish monastery three kilometres east of Tripolis, Lebanon.” The fishpond of fish sacred to Atargatis survives at Şanlıurfa, the ancient Edessa, its mythology transferred to Ibrahim.

The legends are numerous and of an astrological character. A rationale for the Syrian dove-worship and abstinence from fish is seen in the story in Athenaeus 8.37, where Atargatis is naively explained to mean “without Gatis”, the name of a queen who is said to have forbidden the eating of fish.

Thus Diodorus Siculus (2.4.2), quoting Ctesias, tells how Derceto fell in love with a youth and became by him the mother of a child and how in shame Derceto flung herself into a lake near Ascalon and her body was changed into the form of a fish though her head remained human.

Derceto’s child grew up to become Semiramis, the Assyrian queen. In another story, told by Hyginus, an egg fell from the sky into the Euphrates, was rolled onto land by fish, doves settled on it and hatched it, and Venus, known as the Syrian goddess, came forth.

The author of Catasterismi explained the constellation of Piscis Austrinus as the parent of the two fish making up the constellation of Pisces; according to that account, it was placed in the heavens in memory of Derceto’s fall into the lake at Hierapolis Bambyce near the Euphrates in Syria, from which she was saved by a large fish — which again is intended to explain the Syrian abstinence from fish.

Ovid in his Metamorphoses (5.331) relates that Venus took the form of a fish to hide from Typhon. In his Fasti (2.459-.474) Ovid instead relates how Dione, by whom Ovid intends Venus/Aphrodite, fleeing from Typhon with her child Cupid/Eros came to the river Euphrates in Syria.

Hearing the wind suddenly rise and fearing that it was Typhon, the goddess begged aid from the river nymphs and leapt into the river with her son. Two fish bore them up and were rewarded by being transformed into the constellation Pisces — and for that reason the Syrians will eat no fish.

During the Roman era, eunuch priests worshipped Atargatis. Similar to the Galli priests of Cybele. At the shrine in Hieropolis founded by Semiramis, eunuch priests served the image of a fish-tailed woman. Rituals to the goddess were accompanied by flute playing and rattle shaking. In one rite, young males castrated themselves to become cross-dressing priests at the temple and thereafter performed tasks usually done by women.

According to a third-century Syriac source, “In Syria and in Urhâi [Edessa] the men used to castrate themselves in honor of Taratha. But when King Abgar became a believer, he commanded that anyone who emasculated himself should have a hand cut off. And from that day to the present no one in Urhâi emasculates himself anymore.”

Abzu

The Abzu or Apsu (Cuneiform: ZU.AB; Sumerian: abzu; Akkadian: apsû), also called engur (Cuneiform: LAGAB×HAL; Sumerian: engur; Akkadian: engurru – lit., ab=’water’ zu=’deep’), is the name for fresh water from underground aquifers which was given a religious fertilising quality in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology.

Lakes, springs, rivers, wells, and other sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the abzu. In this respect, in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology it referred to the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above.

In the city of Eridu, Enki’s temple was known as E-abzu (house of the deep waters) and was located at the edge of a swamp, an abzu. Certain tanks of holy water in Babylonian and Assyrian temple courtyards were also called abzu (apsû). Typical in religious washing, these tanks were similar to Judaism’s mikvot, the washing pools of Islamic mosques, or the baptismal font in Christian churches.

Abzu (apsû) is depicted as a deity only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enûma Elish, taken from the library of Assurbanipal (c 630 BCE) but which is about 500 years older. In this story, he was a primal being made of fresh water and a lover to another primal deity, Tiamat, a creature of salt water.

The Enuma Elish begins: “When above the heavens (e-nu-ma e-liš) did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, the first, the begetter, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, she who bore them all; they were still mixing their waters, and no pasture land had yet been formed, nor even a reed marsh.”

This resulted in the birth of the younger gods, who later murder Apsu in order to usurp his lordship of the universe. Enraged, Tiamat gives birth to the first dragons, filling their bodies with “venom instead of blood”, and made war upon her treacherous children, only to be slain by Marduk, the god of Storms, who then forms the heavens and earth from her corpse.

Nammu, a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology, was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.

Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. An indication of her continued relevance may be found in the theophoric name of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur.

According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.

The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil requested from Nammu the creation of humans, and Nammu told him that with the help of Enki (her son) she can create humans in the image of gods. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.

Benito states “With Enki it is an interesting change of gender symbolism, the fertilising agent is also water, Sumerian “a” or “Ab” which also means “semen”. In one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn, Enki stands at the empty riverbeds and fills them with his ‘water’.

kourotrophos

Kourotrophos («child nurturer») is the name that was given in ancient Greece to gods and goddesses whose properties included their ability to protect young people. The term kourotrophos (plural kourotrophoi) or the verb kourotrophic is used to describe female figurines depicted with infants, which may depict either mortal women or divinities.

Numerous gods are referred to by the epithet, including, but not limited to, Athena, Apollo, Hermes, Hecate, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Eileithyi. They were usually depicted holding an infant in their arms.

Kourotrophos was a deity of the city of Athens, who was not among the twelve known gods of Olympus. She appeared as the protector of children and young people and a sanctuary built on her name in honor of the cult, the so-called Kourotropheion, a major figure of cult appearing in sacrifice groups connected with fertility and child care.

Cyprus

Cyprus was notable for its production of plank figure Kourotrophos during the Early Cypriot III to the Middle Cypriot I periods (ca. 2000-1800 BCE). There have been at least two Cypriot figures from this period that shown the figure nursing an infant, and two figures that are depicted sitting with the infant on their laps.

The Chalcolithic period did not come to an end at the same time throughout Cyprus, and lingered in the Paphos area until the arrival of the Bronze Age. The new era was introduced by people from Anatolia who came to Cyprus about 2400 BC.

The newcomers are identified archaeologically because of a distinct material culture, known as the Philia Culture. This was the earliest manifestation of the Bronze Age. Philia sites are found in most parts of the island.

The succeeding Early Bronze Age is divided into three general phases (Early Cypriot I – III) – a continuous process of development and population increase. Marki Alonia is the best excavated settlement of this period. The Middle Bronze Age which followed the Early Bronze Age (1900–1600 BC) is a relatively short period and its earlier part is marked by peaceful development.

Cyprus was known as Alasiya, also known as the Kingdom of Alashiya, a state which existed in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, and was situated somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a major source of goods, especially copper, for Ancient Egypt and other states in the Ancient Near East. The name is preserved in Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, Ugaritic documents.

Most kourotrophoi from this era stand 20 to 30 cm tall and were fashioned in a variety of materials, such as limestone and terracotta. They hold infants, who are typically within cradleboards, to their left shoulder.

There is evidence that cradleboarding was used on Cyprus during the Bronze Age, with signs of incidental skull shaping occurring in the Early and Middle Bronze Age and deliberate skull shaping during the Late Bronze Age, aligning with the time period for these figures depicting cradleboarded infants.

Maternal figurines waned in popularity on Cyprus during the Late Bronze despite being a uniquely popular subject in comparison to other surrounding cultures since the Neolithic Age, as contact with the foreign cultures led to cultural shifts. It may be argued that the importance of women as life givers decreased during this time period. 

The creation of kourotrophic figures continued, however, they were given bird faces with notable beaks and were depicted as significantly more voluptuous than previous plank figures, likely being inspired by similar figures that where already produced in the Near East. 

It has been proposed that these figures do not represent ordinary women but deities. Interest in maternal figures increased again in Cyprus during the Archaic Age. The reason for the creation of kourotrophic figures is debated, as the figures being representations of a great goddess, fertility charms, childbirth charms/aids, or companions to the dead have all been proposed.

Currently, all kourotrophic figures where the location of artifact was found is known have been found in tombs, however, this does not mean they were exclusively used to represent death/afterlife, as most figures do not have data on where they were found. 

Dea Gravida

Kourotrophos is similar to the Dea Gravida, or Dea Tyria Gravida, a major goddess of procreation and fertility in the Phoenician circle of influence in Cyprus from the 8th to the 5th century BC. Not much is known about her but her image has been spread throughout the Mediterranean in the form of votive terracotta statues. 

The most numerous and finest come from Phoenician tombs near Akhziv near ancient Tyre which is why the name Tyra is also added to the name. That is specifically from the six to the fourth century.

The term gravida comes from the Latin word gravidus. Gravida is used to describe a woman who is pregnant and is also a medical term for the total number of pregnancies a woman has had. For example, primigravida is meant to describe a women who is pregnant with her first child.

Atef – Hedjet

Dea Gravida has sometimes been found together with a statue of a bearded male wearing an Atef crown, the specific feathered white crown of the ancient Egyptian deity Osiris, who wears the Atef crown as a symbol of the ruler of the underworld. Together they formed a divine couple. It’s not clear exactly why they were together.

The Atef combines the Hedjet (Ancient Egyptian: ḥḏt “White One”), the white crown of pharaonic Upper Egypt, with curly red ostrich feathers on each side of the crown for the Osiris cult. The Atef crown is similar, save for the feathers, to the plain white crown (Hedjet) used in the Predynastic Period and later as a symbol for pharaonic Upper Egypt.

The Atef crown identifies Osiris in ancient Egyptian painting. The tall bulbous white piece in the center of the crown is between two ostrich feathers. The feathers are identified as ostrich from their curl or curve at the upper ends, with a slight flare toward the base. They may be compared with the falcon tail feathers in two-feather crowns, such as those of Amun which are more narrow and straight without curve. 

The feathers represent truth and justice. They may be compared with the falcon tail feathers in two-feather crowns, such as those of Amun, who was attested from the Old Kingdom together with his wife Amaunet. which are more narrow and straight without curve.

They are the same feather as (singly) worn by Maat or Maʽat, the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. Her ideological opposite was Isfet (Egyptian jzft), meaning injustice, chaos, violence or to do evil. 

Maat was also the goddess who personified these concepts, and regulated the stars, seasons, and the actions of mortals and the deities who had brought order from chaos at the moment of creation. 

The crown is also worn by Sobek, who above all else is an aggressive and animalistic deity who lives up to the vicious reputation of his patron animal, the large and violent Nile crocodile/West African crocodile. However, he also displays grand benevolence in more than one celebrated myth.

Pscent

After the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, it was combined with the deshret, the red crown of Lower Egypt, to form the pschent, the double crown of Egypt. The symbol sometimes used for the white crown was the vulture goddess Nekhbet shown next to the head of the cobra goddess Wadjet, the uraeus on the pschent.

The pschent was the double crown worn by rulers in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians generally referred to it as sekhemty (sḫm.ty), the Two Powerful Ones. It combined the White Hedjet Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Deshret Crown of Lower Egypt. The Pschent represented the pharaoh’s power over all of unified Egypt.

The pschent bore two animal emblems: an Egyptian cobra, known as the uraeus, ready to strike, which symbolized the Lower Egyptian goddess Wadjet; and an Egyptian vulture representing the Upper Egyptian tutelary goddess Nekhbet. The two ladies were responsible for establishing the laws, protecting the rulers and the Egyptian country, and promoting peace.

After the unification, the image of Nekhbet joined Wadjet on the uraeus, thereafter, they were shown together as part of the crowns of Egypt. These were fastened to the front of the Pschent and referred to as the Two Ladies. Later, the vulture head sometimes was replaced by a second cobra.

As is the case with the Deshret and the Hedjet Crowns, no Pschent has survived. It is known only from statuary, depictions, inscriptions, and ancient tales. Among the deities sometimes depicted wearing the Double Crown are Horus and Atum or Ra both representing the pharaoh or having a special relationship to the pharaoh.

Deshret

Deshret, from Ancient Egyptian, was the formal name for the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and for the desert Red Land on either side of Kemet (Black Land), the fertile Nile river basin. When combined with the Hedjet (White Crown) of Upper Egypt, it forms the Pschent (Double Crown), in Ancient Egyptian called the sekhemti.

The Red Crown in Egyptian language hieroglyphs eventually was used as the vertical letter “n” . The original “n” hieroglyph from the Predynastic Period, and the Old Kingdom was the sign depicting ripples of water.

In mythology, the earth deity Geb, original ruler of Egypt, invested Horus with the rule over Lower Egypt. The Egyptian pharaohs, who saw themselves as successors of Horus, wore the deshret to symbolize their authority over Lower Egypt. Other deities wore the deshret too, or were identified with it, such as the protective serpent goddess Wadjet and the creator-goddess of Sais, Neith, who often is shown wearing the Red Crown.

The Red Crown would later be combined with the White Crown of Upper Egypt to form the Double Crown, symbolizing the rule over the whole country, “The Two Lands” as the Egyptians expressed it.

As concerns deshret, the Red Land which comprised the deserts and foreign lands surrounding Egypt, Seth was its lord. It was considered a region of chaos, without law and full of dangers. Records No red crown has been found. Several ancient representations indicate it was woven like a basket from plant fiber such as grass, straw, flax, palm leaf, or reed.

The Red Crown frequently is mentioned in texts and depicted in reliefs and statues. An early example is the depiction of the victorious pharaoh wearing the deshret on the Narmer Palette. A label from the reign of Djer records a royal visit to the shrine of the Deshret which may have been located at Buto in the Nile delta.

The fact that no crown has ever been found buried with any of the pharaohs, even in relatively intact tombs, might suggest that it was passed from one regent to the next, much as in present-day monarchies.

Wadjet

Wadjet (Ancient Egyptian: wꜢḏyt “Green One”), known to the Greek world as Uto or Buto among other names including Wedjat, Uadjet, and Udjo. She was said to be the patron and protector of Lower Egypt, and upon unification with Upper Egypt, the joint protector and patron of all of Egypt “goddess” of Upper Egypt.

She was originally the ancient local goddess of the city of Dep, which became part of the city that the Egyptians named Per-Wadjet (“House of Wadjet”) and the Greeks called Buto (now Desouk). The city was an important site in prehistoric Egypt and the cultural developments of the Paleolithic.

The image of Wadjet with the sun disk is called the uraeus, and it was the emblem on the crown of the rulers of Lower Egypt. She was also the protector of kings and of women in childbirth. She was said to be the nurse of the infant god Horus. With the help of his mother Isis, they protected Horus from his treacherous uncle, Set, when they took refuge in the swamps of the Nile Delta.

Wadjet was closely associated in ancient Egyptian religion with the Eye of Ra, a powerful protective deity. The hieroglyph for her eye is shown below; sometimes two are shown in the sky of religious images. Per-Wadjet also contained a sanctuary of Horus, the child of the sun deity who would be interpreted to represent the pharaoh. Much later, Wadjet became associated with Isis as well as with many other deities.

Egypt

The invention of the Pschent is generally attributed to the First Dynasty pharaoh Menes, but the first one to wear a Double Crown was the First Dynasty pharaoh Djet: a rock inscription shows his Horus wearing it.

The First Dynasty of ancient Egypt (Dynasty I) covers the first series of Egyptian kings to rule over a unified Egypt. It immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, possibly by Narmer, and marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period, a time at which power was centered at Thinis.

The date of this period is subject to scholarly debate about the Egyptian chronology. It falls within the early Bronze Age and is variously estimated to have begun anywhere between the 34th and the 30th centuries BC. In a 2013 study based on radiocarbon dates, the beginning of the First Dynasty—the accession of Hor-Aha—was placed at 3100 BC give or take a century (3218–3035, with 95% confidence).

Menes (fl. c. 3200–3000 BC; Ancient Egyptian: mnj, probably pronounced */maˈnij/) was a pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt credited by classical tradition with having united Upper and Lower Egypt and as the founder of the First Dynasty.

The identity of Menes is the subject of ongoing debate, although mainstream Egyptological consensus identifies Menes with the Naqada III ruler Narmer (most likely) or First Dynasty pharaoh Hor-Aha. Both pharaohs are credited with the unification of Egypt to different degrees by various authorities.

Djet, also known as Wadj, Zet, and Uadji (in Greek possibly the pharaoh known as Uenephes or possibly Atothis), was the fourth pharaoh of the First Dynasty. Djet’s Horus name means “Horus Cobra” or “Serpent of Horus”.

Egypt-Mesopotamia relations

Naqada III is the last phase of the Naqada culture of ancient Egyptian prehistory, dating approximately from 3200 to 3000 BC. It is the period during which the process of state formation, which had begun to take place in Naqada II, became highly visible, with named kings heading powerful polities.

The Amratian culture, also called Naqada I, was a culture of prehistoric Upper Egypt. It lasted approximately from 4000 to 3500 BC. The Amratian culture is named after the archaeological site of el-Amra, located around 120 km (75 mi) south of Badari in Upper Egypt.

El-Amra was the first site where this culture group was found without being mingled with the later Gerzeh culture (Naqada II). However, this period is better attested at the Nagada site, thus it also is referred to as the Naqada I culture.

Gerzeh (also Girza or Jirzah), a prehistoric Egyptian cemetery located along the west bank of the Nile, is situated only several miles due east of the oasis of Faiyum. Distinctly foreign objects and art forms entered Egypt during this period, indicating contacts with several parts of Asia.

Some symbols on Gerzeh pottery resemble traditional Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were contemporaneous with the proto-cuneiform script of Sumer. The figurine of a woman is a distinctive design considered characteristic of the culture.

The Gerzeh culture was followed by the Naqada III (“protodynastic” or “Semainian culture”). Naqada III is often referred to as Dynasty 0 or the Protodynastic Period to reflect the presence of kings at the head of influential states.

Egypt-Mesopotamia relations seem to have developed from the 4th millennium BCE, starting in the Uruk period for Mesopotamia and the Gerzean culture of pre-literate Prehistoric Egypt (circa 3500-3200 BCE).

Influences can be seen in the visual arts of Egypt, in imported products, and also in the possible transfer of writing from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and generated “deep-seated” parallels in the early stages of both cultures.

There was generally a high-level of trade between Ancient Egypt and the Near-East throughout the Pre-dynastic period of Egypt, during the Naqada II (3600-3350 BCE) and Naqada III (3350-2950 BCE) phases. These were contemporary with the Late Uruk (3500-3100 BCE) and Jemdet Nasr (3100-2900 BCE) periods in Mesopotamia.

The main period of cultural exchange, particularly consisting in the transfer of Mesopotamian imagery and symbols to Egypt, is considered to have lasted about 250 years, during the Naqada II to Dynasty I periods. These early contacts probably acted as a sort of catalyst for the development of Egyptian culture, particularly in respect to the inception of writing, and the codification of royal and vernacular imagery.

Although there are many examples of Mesopotamian influence in Egypt in the 4th millennium BCE, the reverse is not true, and there are no traces of Egyptian influence in Mesopotamia at that time. Only very few Egyptian Naqada period object have been found beyond Egypt.

It is generally thought that Egyptian hieroglyphs “came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and, probably were invented under the influence of the latter”, and that it is “probable that the general idea of expressing words of a language in writing was brought to Egypt from Sumerian Mesopotamia”. The two writing systems are in fact quite similar in their initial stages, relying heavily on pictographic forms and then evolving a parallel system for the expression of phonetic sounds.

A recent 2017 study of the mitochondrial DNA composition of Egyptian mummies has shown a high level of affinity with the DNA of the populations of the Near East. The study was made on a mummies of Abusir el-Meleq, near El Fayum, which was inhabited from at least 3250 BCE until about 700 CE.

A shared drift and mixture analysis of the DNA of these ancient Egyptian mummies shows that the connection is strongest with ancient populations from the Levant, the Near East and Anatolia, and to a lesser extent modern populations from the Near East and the Levant.

In particular the study finds “that ancient Egyptians are most closely related to Neolithic and Bronze Age samples in the Levant, as well as to Neolithic Anatolian and European populations”. These connections date back to Prehistory and occurred at a variety of scales, including overland and maritime commerce, diplomacy, immigration, invasion and deportation”

The designs that were emulated by Egyptian artists are numerous: the Uruk “priest-king” with his tunique and brimmed hat in the posture of the Master of animals, the serpopards or sepo-felines, winged griffins, snakes around rosettes, boats with high prows, all characteristic of Mesopotamian art of the Late Uruk (Uruk IV, c. 3350–3200 BCE) period.

In addition, Egyptian objects were created which clearly mimic Mesopotamian forms, although not slavishly. The first man/animal composite creatures in Egypt were directly copied from Mesopotamian designs.

It is also considered as certain that the Egyptians adopted from Mesopotamia the practice of marking the sealing of jars with engraved cylinder seals for informational purposes. Spouted jars of Mesopotamian design start to appear in Egypt in the Naqada II period.

Various Uruk pottery vases and containers have been found in Egypt in Naqada contexts, confirming that Mesopotamian finished goods were imported into Egypt, although the past content of the jars has not been determined yet. Scientifc analysis of ancient wine jars in Abydos has shown there was some high-volume wine trade with the Levant during this period.

Cylinder seals appear in Egypt, as well as recessed paneling architecture, the Egyptian reliefs on cosmetic palettes are clearly made in the same style as the contemporary Mesopotamian Uruk culture, and the ceremonial mace heads which turn up from the late Gerzean and early Semainean are crafted in the Mesopotamian “pear-shaped” style, instead of the Egyptian native style.

Egyptian architecture also was influenced, as it adopted element of Mesopotamian Temple and civic architecture. Recessed niches in particular, which are characteristic of Mesopotamian architecture, were adopted for the tombs of the First Dynasty and Second Dynasty.

The route of this trade is difficult to determine, but contact with Canaan does not predate the early dynastic, so it is usually assumed to have been by sea trade. It was theorized that Uruk sailors circumnavigated Arabia, but a Mediterranean route, probably by middlemen through Byblos, is more likely, as evidenced by the presence of Byblian objects in Egypt.

Glyptic art also seems to have played a key role, through the circulation of decorated cylinder seals across the Levant, a common hinterland of both empire. The intensity of the exchanges suggest however that the contacts between Egypt and Mesopotamia were often direct, rather than merely through middlemen or through trade.

Uruk had known colonial outposts of as far as Habuba Kabira, in modern Syria, insuring they presence in the Levant. Numerous Uruk cylinder seals have also been uncovered there. There were suggestions that Uruk may have had an outpost and a form of colonial presence in northern Egypt. The site of Buto in particular was suggested, but it has been rejected as a possible candidate.

The fact that so many Gerzean sites are at the mouths of wadis which lead to the Red Sea may indicate some amount of trade via the Red Sea (though Byblian trade potentially could have crossed the Sinai and then be taken to the Red Sea). Also, it is considered unlikely that something as complicated as recessed panel architecture could have worked its way into Egypt by proxy, and at least a small contingent of migrants is often suspected.

Sobek

Sobek (in Greek, Suchos and from Latin Suchus «crocodile») was an ancient Egyptian deity with a complex and fluid nature. He is associated with the Nile crocodile or the West African crocodile and is represented either in its form or as a human with a crocodile head.

Sobek was also associated with pharaonic power, fertility, and military prowess, but served additionally as a protective deity with apotropaic qualities, invoked particularly for protection against the dangers presented by the Nile.

Sobek is, above all else, an aggressive and animalistic deity who lives up to the vicious reputation of his patron animal, the large and violent Nile crocodile/West African crocodile. The origin of his name, Sbk in Egyptian, is debated among scholars, but many believe that it is derived from a causative of the verb “to impregnate”.

Though Sobek was worshipped in the Old Kingdom, he truly gained prominence in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1650 BCE), most notably under the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh, Amenemhat III.

Amenemhat III had taken a particular interest in the Faiyum of Egypt, a region heavily associated with Sobek. Amenemhat and many of his dynastic contemporaries engaged in building projects to promote Sobek – projects that were often executed in the Faiyum.

In this period, Sobek also underwent an important change: he was often fused with the falcon-headed god of divine kingship, Horus. The fusion added a finer level of complexity to the god’s nature, as he was adopted into the divine triad of Horus and his two parents: Osiris and Isis.

Sobek first acquired a role as a solar deity through his connection to Horus, but this was further strengthened in later periods with the emergence of Sobek-Ra, a fusion of Sobek and Egypt’s primary sun god, Ra.

The entire Faiyum region – the “Land of the Lake” in Egyptian (specifically referring to Lake Moeris) – served as a cult center of Sobek. Sobek Shedety, the patron of the Faiyum’s centrally located capital, Crocodilopolis (or Egyptian “Shedet”), was the most prominent form of the god.

Specialized priests in the main temple at Shedet functioned solely to serve Sobek, boasting titles like “prophet of the crocodile-gods” and “one who buries of the bodies of the crocodile-gods of the Land of the Lake”.

After his association with Horus and consequent adoption into the Osirian triad of Osiris, Isis, and Horus in the Middle Kingdom, Sobek became associated with Isis as a healer of the deceased Osiris (following his violent murder by Set in the central Osiris myth).

In fact, though many scholars believe that the name of Sobek, Sbk, is derived from s-bAk, “to impregnate”, others postulate that it is a participial form of the verb sbq, an alternative writing of sAq, “to unite”, thereby meaning Sbk could roughly translate to “he who unites (the dismembered limbs of Osiris)”. It is from this association with healing that Sobek was considered a protective deity.

His fierceness was able to ward off evil while simultaneously defending the innocent. He was thus made a subject of personal piety and a common recipient of votive offerings, particularly in the later periods of ancient Egyptian history. It was not uncommon, particularly in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, for crocodiles to be preserved as mummies in order to present at Sobek’s cultic centers.

Sobek was also offered mummified crocodile eggs, meant to emphasize the cyclical nature of his solar attributes as Sobek-Ra. Likewise, crocodiles were raised on religious grounds as living incarnations of Sobek.

Upon their deaths, they were mummified in a grand ritual display as sacred, but earthly, manifestations of their patron god. This practice was executed specifically at the main temple of Crocodilopolis.

These mummified crocodiles have been found with baby crocodiles in their mouths and on their backs. The crocodile – one of the few reptiles that diligently care for their young – often transports its offspring in this manner.

The practice of preserving this aspect of the animal’s behavior via mummification is likely intended to emphasize the protective and nurturing aspects of the fierce Sobek, as he protects the Egyptian people in the same manner that the crocodile protects its young.

In Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, a local monograph called the Book of the Faiyum centered on Sobek with a considerable portion devoted to the journey made by Sobek-Ra each day with the movement of the sun through the sky.

The text also focuses heavily on Sobek’s central role in creation as a manifestation of Ra, as he is said to have risen from the primal waters of Lake Moeris, not unlike the Ogdoad in the traditional creation myth of Hermopolis.

Astarte

Small terracotta votives are found of Dea Gravida which have an association with a seated pregnant Astarte, the Hellenized form of the Middle Eastern goddess Astoreth (Northwest Semitic), a form of Ishtar (East Semitic), worshipped from the Bronze Age through classical antiquity.

The name is particularly associated with her worship in the ancient Levant among the Canaanites and Phoenicians. She was also celebrated in Egypt following the importation of Levantine cults there.

Astarte is one of a number of names associated with the chief goddess or female divinity of those peoples. She is recorded in Akkadian as As-dar-tu, the masculine form of Ishtar. The Etruscan Pyrgi Tablets record the name Uni-Astre.

Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked. She has been known as the deified morning and/or evening star.

The deity takes on many names and forms among different cultures, and according to Canaanite mythology, is one and the same as the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Ištar, taken from the third millennium BC Sumerian goddess Inanna, the first and primordial goddess of the planet Venus.

Some scholars claim that the cult of the Minoan snake goddess who is identified with Ariadne (the “utterly pure”) was similar to the cult of Astarte. Her cult as Aphrodite was transmitted to Cythera and then to Greece.

Herodotus wrote that the religious community of Aphrodite originated in Phoenicia and came to Greeks from there. He also wrote about the world’s largest temple of Aphrodite, in one of the Phoenician cities.

Tanit

Astarte was worshipped alongside and was equivalent to the goddess Tanit, also called Tinnit, Tannou, or Ta-ngu meaning “The Sun” and Ta-ngo (meaning the land of lions), a Punic and Phoenician goddess, the chief deity of Carthage alongside her consort Baal-Hamon. Tanit is sometimes depicted with a lion’s head, showing her warrior quality

Her shrine excavated at Sarepta in southern Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon) revealed an inscription that has been speculated, but as of yet not proven, to identify her for the first time in her homeland and related her securely to the Phoenician goddess Astarte (Ishtar).

Tanit was also adopted by the Berber people. In modern-day Tunisian Arabic, it is customary to invoke Omek Tannou or Oumouk Tangou (‘Mother Tannou’ or ‘Mother Tangou’, depending on the region), in years of drought to bring rain. Similarly, Tunisian and many other spoken forms of Arabic refer to “Baali farming” to refer to non-irrigated agriculture.

 Tanit was worshiped in Punic contexts in the Western Mediterranean, from Malta to Gades into Hellenistic times, and later worshipped in Roman Carthage in her Romanized form as Dea Caelestis, Juno Caelestis, or simply Caelestis.

From the fifth century BCE onwards, Tanit’s worship is associated with that of Baal Hammon. She is given the epithet pene baal (‘face of Baal’) and the title rabat, the female form of rab (‘chief’). In North Africa, where the inscriptions and material remains are more plentiful, she was, as well as a consort of Baal-hamon, a heavenly goddess of war, a virginal” (unmarried) mother goddess and nurse, and, less specifically, a symbol of fertility, as are most female forms. 

In Egyptian, her name means ‘Land of Neith’, Neith being a war goddess. Her symbol (the sign of Tanit), found on many ancient stone carvings, appears as a trapezium closed by a horizontal line at the top and surmounted in the middle by a circle; the horizontal arm is often terminated either by two short upright lines at right angles to it or by hooks.  Later, the trapezium was frequently replaced by an isosceles triangle. The symbol is interpreted as a woman raising her hands.

Taweret

There is a connection between Dea Gravida and Taweret (also spelled Taurt, Tuat, Taouris, Tuart, Ta-weret, Tawaret, Twert, Thoeris and Taueret, and in Greek Thouéris and Toeris), in Ancient Egyptian religion a protective hippopotamus goddess of pregnancy, childbirth and fertility.

She commonly bears the epithets “Lady of Heaven”, “Mistress of the Horizon”, “She Who Removes Water”, “Mistress of Pure Water”, and “Lady of the Birth House”. The name “Taweret” (Tȝ-wrt) means “she who is great” or simply “great one”, a common pacificatory address to dangerous deities.

Taweret bears physical aspects of both a fertility goddess and a fearsome protective deity. She is typically depicted as a bipedal female hippopotamus with feline attributes, pendulous female human breasts, and the back of a Nile crocodile. 

In the New Kingdom Taweret’s image was frequently used to represent a northern constellation in zodiacs. This image is attested in several astronomical tomb paintings. The image of this astral Taweret appears almost exclusively next to the Setian foreleg of a bull. The latter image represents the Big Dipper and is associated with the Egyptian god of chaos, Seth.

The relationship between the two images is discussed in the Book of Day and Night (a cosmically focused mythological text from the Twentieth Dynasty, c. 1186–1069 BCE) as follows: “As to this foreleg of Seth, it is in the northern sky, tied down to two mooring posts of flint by a chain of gold. It is entrusted to Isis as a hippopotamus guarding it.”

Although the hippopotamus goddess is identified in this text as Isis, not Taweret, this phenomenon is not uncommon in later periods of Egyptian history. When assuming a protective role, powerful goddesses like Isis, Hathor, and Mut assumed the form of Taweret, effectively becoming a manifestation of this goddess. Likewise, Taweret gradually absorbed qualities of these goddesses and is commonly seen wearing the Hathoric sun disc that is ichnographically associated with both Hathor and Isis.

This cosmic image continues to be seen in later periods, although the tendency was to show such divine astral bodies more abstractly. One example can be found in the late Ptolemaic or early Roman Book of the Faiyum, a local monograph dedicated to the Faiyum and its patron gods, namely Sobek-Re.

Taweret is depicted in her standard form with a crocodile on her back and a small upright crocodile in her right hand. She is shown in the section of the papyrus that is meant to depict the Faiyum’s central Lake Moeris.

The papyrus depicts the solar journey of Re with Lake Moeris as the place into which the sun god descends for his nightly journey, traditionally thought of as the underworldly realm of the Amduat.

Taweret appears here as a well known constellation to demonstrate the celestial and otherworldly properties of Lake Moeris. She also serves as a fine protective divine mother to Sobek-Re during his precarious journey. In this respect, she fulfills the role of Neith, the primary divine mother of Sobek.

This Taweret figure is labeled as “Neith the Great, who protects her son”, demonstrating the malleability of the hippopotamus goddess form. When in the role of a protective mother, it is not uncommon that other goddesses would appear in the form of Taweret.

Taweret was featured in other myths as well during these later periods. In the famed Metternich Stela, Isis tells Horus that he was reared by a “sow and a dwarf”, almost certainly referring to Taweret and her fellow apotropaic demon-god Bes, respectively.

Although the date of this stela is relatively late, the central role of Taweret in the successful raising of children is still being stressed, showing the continuity of her character. She is also mentioned in Plutarch’s notes on the central myth of Isis and Osiris. She joined the forces of order and helped Horus to defeat Set.

Taweret is featured in some versions of a popular and widespread myth in which the Eye of Ra becomes angry with her father and retreats to Nubia in the form of a lioness. Upon the Eye of Re’s eventual return to Egypt, she assumes the form of a hippopotamus (presumably Taweret) and consequently brings the flooding of the Nile.

This myth demonstrates Taweret’s primary function as a goddess of fertility and rejuvenation. Some scholars feel that her role in the Nile inundation is one of the reasons she was given the epithet “Mistress of Pure Water”.

However, her similar role in the rejuvenation of the dead also cannot be overlooked with regards to this epithet – just as she provided life for the living through physical birth and the inundation, she also cleansed and purified the dead so they could pass safely into the afterlife. Images of protective deities like Taweret and Bes were placed on the outer walls of Ptolemaic temples in order to keep evil forces at bay. Edfu, Egypt.

In the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (c. 332 BCE – 390 CE), Taweret maintained a central role in daily Egyptian life. In either the latter half of the Late Period (c. 664–332 BCE) or the early Ptolemaic period, a temple dedicated to Ipet was built at Karnak.

This enigmatic temple was thought to witness the daily birth of the sun god from the hippopotamus goddesses that dwelled there. The sun god (Amun-Re) was conceived of as having multiple divine mothers, and by this later period in Egyptian history, Taweret and the other hippopotamus goddesses were included in this body of solar mothers.

Taweret’s image also appeared on the outside of temples dedicated to other deities due to her apotropaic ability to ward off malevolent forces. Outside of temple settings, the household cult of the goddesses remained strong, and amulets bearing their likenesses peaked in popularity during these years.

She is also often seen with features from other predatory creatures, most notably being the tail of a Nile crocodile and the paws of a lioness. These features directly parallel those of other ferocious protective ancient Egyptian deities, most notably the crocodile god Sobek and the lioness goddess Sekhmet or Sachmis, a warrior goddess as well as goddess of healing depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians.

Sekhmet was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare. Upon death, she continued to protect them, bearing them to the afterlife. She is also a solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bastet. She bears the Uraeus, which associates her with Wadjet and royalty, and the solar disk. It was said that her breath formed the desert.

Sekhmet’s name comes from the Ancient Egyptian word sḫm, which means “power or might”. Sekhmet’s name (Ancient Egyptian: sḫmt) is thus translated as “the (one who is) powerful or mighty”. She also was given titles such as the “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”.

These violent theriomorphic deities take on some of the aspects of the animals that they represent – both to the benefit and detriment of humans. Taweret’s predatory form allows her to ward away evil from the innocent.

Likewise, Taweret’s nurturing aspects are also reinforced in her iconography, as she frequently is shown with a bloated pregnant belly, and pendulous human breasts. These breasts are shared by the god of the Nile inundation, Hapi, and signify regenerative powers. Taweret’s riverine form allows her to participate in that which annually revives the Nile Valley: the inundation personified by Hapi.

It is partly due to her role in this event that may share this iconographic feature with Hapy. She frequently is seen holding the sa hieroglyphic sign (Gardiner V17), which literally means “protection”.

Hippopotamus

Taweret takes the form of a female hippopotamus, a highly deadly creature. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that hippopotamuses inhabited the Nile well before the dawn of Early Dynastic Period (before 3000 BCE). The violent and aggressive behavior of these creatures intrigued the people that inhabited the region, leading the ancient Egyptians both to persecute and to venerate them.

From a very early date, male hippopotami were thought to be manifestations of chaos; consequently, they were overcome in royal hunting campaigns, intended to demonstrate the divine power of the king. However, female hippopotami were revered as manifestations of apotropaic deities, as they studiously protect their young from harm.

Protective amulets bearing the likenesses of female hippopotami have been found dating as far back the Predynastic period (c. 3000–2686 BCE). Evidence for the cult of hippopotamus goddesses exists from the time of the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 – 2181 BCE) in the corpus of ancient Egyptian funerary texts entitled the Pyramid Texts. The tradition of making and wearing these amulets continued throughout the history of Egypt into the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Roman period (c. 332 BCE – 390 CE). 

From her ideological conception, Taweret was closely grouped with (and is often indistinguishable from) several other protective hippopotamus goddesses: Ipet, Reret, and Hedjet. Some scholars even interpret these goddesses as aspects of the same deity, considering their universally shared role as protective household goddesses. 

The other hippopotamus goddesses have names that bear very specific meanings, much like Taweret, whose name is formed as a pacificatory address intended to calm the ferocity of the goddess. Ipet’s name (“the Nurse”) demonstrates her connection to birth, child rearing, and general caretaking, and Reret’s name (“the Sow”) is derived from the Egyptians’ classification of hippopotami as water pigs. 

However, the origin of Hedjet’s name (“the White One”) is not as clear and could justly be debated. Spell 269 in the Pyramid Texts mentions Ipet and succinctly demonstrates her nurturing role; the spell announces that the deceased king will suck on the goddess’s “white, dazzling, sweet milk” when he ascends to the heavens.

It was not until the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2055–1650 BCE) that Taweret became featured more prominently as a figure of religious devotion. Her image adorns magical objects, the most notable of which being a common type of “wand” or “knife” carved from hippopotamus ivory that was likely used in rituals associated with birth and the protection of infants.

Similar images appear also on children’s feeding cups, once again demonstrating Taweret’s integral role as the patron goddess of child rearing. Quite contrarily, she also took on the role of a funerary deity in this period, evidenced by the commonplace practice of placing hippopotami decorated with marsh flora in tombs and temples.

Some scholars believe that this practice demonstrates that hippopotamus goddesses facilitated the process of rebirth after death, just as they aided in earthly births. These statues, then, assisted the deceased’s passing into the afterlife.

As maternal deities, these goddesses served to nurture and protect the Egyptian people, both royal (as seen in the Pyramid Texts) and non-royal. With the rise of popular piety in the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1069 BCE), household deities like Taweret gained even more importance. 

Taweret’s image has been found on an array of household objects, demonstrating her central role in the home. Her role as a funerary deity was strengthened, as her powers became considered not only life-giving, but regenerative as well. Various myths demonstrate her role in facilitating the afterlives of the deceased as the nurturing and purifying “Mistress of Pure Water”.

However, Taweret and her fellow hippopotamus goddesses of fertility should not be confused with Ammit, another composite hippopotamus goddess who gained prominence in the New Kingdom. Ammit was responsible for devouring the unjust before passing into the afterlife. Unlike Ammit, the other hippopotamus goddesses were responsible for nourishment and aid, not destruction.

Although Ipet (aka Apet) is mentioned in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, and Taweret is seen frequently on Middle Kingdom ritual objects, hippopotamus goddesses did not gain a significant role in Egyptian mythology until the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1069 BCE).

Reret

Reret is depicted as a bipedal hippopotamus in a fashion virtually identical to Ipy or Tawaret, from whom she is distinguished by her astral associations. Reret is also often depicted bearing a crocodile on her back. Although she is always depicted as a hippopotamus, Reret’s name apparently means ‘the Sow’.

Reret is linked to two different sets of stars, but primarily to a constellation in the north sky corresponding to our Draco. This constellation, in turn, is linked in Egyptian thought to another constellation, corresponding to our Big Dipper, which Egyptians saw as having the shape of the foreleg of a quadruped and was known to Egyptians as the Meskhet, the Foreleg.

The constellation was usually depicted as a bull’s foreleg, connected by a tether to a mooring post held by Reret. The Meskhet was regarded sometimes as the foreleg of seth, and was then spoken of as the foreleg of a donkey or dog, but is never depicted in this fashion (note that Seth’s foreleg is already spoken of in PT utterance 61, though not in connection to a constellation).

Seth’s foreleg is tied to the mooring post guarded by Reret “so that it [the Foreleg] cannot travel among the Gods”. In texts from the temple of Esna, however, Reret is said to tether the Foreleg in the northern sky “in order not to let it [the Foreleg] go upside down into the Duat, the netherworld. In these texts there is no suggestion that the Foreleg is associated with Seth.

A similar concept of these stars and their relation to Reret seems to be expressed on the lid of a bull sarcophagus from Abû Yâsîn, which attributes the Foreleg to Osiris: “Hail Osiris … bull of the sky are you … the stars of the northern sky are your Foreleg. They never set in the west of the sky like the decanal stars but they travel, going upside down in the night as in the day. They are in the following of Reret the Great of the northern sky”.

There was also a Reret, similarly with a mooring post, among the hour stars, located near or in the decanal belt, south of and near the ecliptic. Reret is depicted with her front feet resting on the mooring post, or one on the mooring post and one on a small vertical crocodile. Sometimes a tether or chain runs from the mooring post to the Foreleg.

Opet

Opet (Apet, Ipet, Ipy) was a benign hippopotamus goddess known as a protective and nourishing deity. Her name seems to mean ‘harem’ or ‘favored place’. Our first reference to her comes from the PT, where the king asks that he may nurse at her breast so that he would “neither thirst nor hunger…forever”.

Afterwards, she is called “mistress of magical protection” in funerary papyri. Under the epithet ‘the great Opet’, she is fused to some extent with Tawaret, ‘the great one’, but she never completely losses all of her independent characteristics, irregardless of the fact that many modern texts completely assimilate her with Taweret.

She appears to have had a very strong connection with the Theban area and might have even been considered a personification of that city. In the theology of Thebes, she was thought to be the mother of Osiris and therefore her afterlife associations are clear in the funerary texts in which she appears.

Though dating to the Pyramid Age prior to the rise of Thebes as an important Egyptian city, she was particularly venerated in that city where her temple just west of the temple of Khonsu was an integral part of the Karnak complex, even though it was a fairly late addition.

In fact, it was on the ground that her temple sits, according to Theban beliefs, that she rested after giving birth to Osiris. Interestingly, while she even appears as a protective figure on the back of a statue of a 17th Dynasty ruler, in most areas of Egypt there appear to be no cult centers associated with the goddess.

Opet was usually depicted as some sort of combination of hippopotamus, crocodile, human and lion, though her hippopotamus aspect is dominant. She was represented as a female hippopotamus, usually standing upright on legs which have the feet of a lion. In this guise, her arms are usually human in appearance though they generally terminate in leonine paws.

Sometimes she was depicted with the swollen belly of a pregnant woman and with large pendent human breasts. Her back and tail were those of a crocodile and sometimes this aspect was emphasized by a complete crocodile stretched over her back.

Opet was only one of several goddesses, including Taweret, Reret and Heqet, who could take the form of a hippopotamus. All of these goddesses were associated with pregnancy and protection, and they were often difficult to distinguish from each other, not only in their form but also in their characteristics.

Sometimes her depictions appear to be apotropaic in nature, and the vignettes of funerary papyri such as Spell 137 of the Book of the Dead, the goddess is shown holding a torch and lighting incense cones to provide light and heat for the deceased.

Hapi

Hapi was the god of the annual flooding of the Nile in ancient Egyptian religion. The flood deposited rich silt (fertile soil) on the river’s banks, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops. Some of the titles of Hapi were “Lord of the Fish and Birds of the Marshes” and “Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation”.

He often was pictured carrying offerings of food or pouring water from an amphora, but also, very rarely, was depicted as a hippopotamus. The annual flooding of the Nile occasionally was said to be the Arrival of Hapi. Since this flooding provided fertile soil in an area that was otherwise desert, Hapi symbolised fertility.

Due to his fertile nature he was sometimes considered the “father of the gods”, and was considered to be a caring father who helped to maintain the balance of the cosmos, the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system.

Although male and wearing the false beard, Hapi was pictured with pendulous breasts because he was said to bring a rich and nourishing harvest and a large stomach, as representations of the fertility of the Nile. He also was usually given blue or green skin, representing water. Other attributes varied, depending upon the region of Egypt in which the depictions exist.

In Lower Egypt, he was adorned with papyrus plants and attended by frogs, present in the region, and symbols of it. Whereas in Upper Egypt, it was the lotus and crocodiles which were more present in the Nile, thus these were the symbols of the region, and those associated with Hapi there.

During the Nineteenth Dynasty Hapi is often depicted as a pair of figures, each holding and tying together the long stem of two plants representing Upper and Lower Egypt, symbolically binding the two halves of the country around a hieroglyph meaning “union”.

Khnum

Khnum was one of the earliest-known Egyptian deities, originally the god of the source of the Nile. He later was described as having moulded the other deities, and he had the titles “Divine Potter” and “Lord of created things from himself”.

Since the annual flooding of the Nile brought with it silt and clay, and its water brought life to its surroundings, he was thought to be the creator of the bodies of human children, which he made at a potter’s wheel, from clay, and placed in their mothers’ wombs.

In art, Khnum was usually depicted as a ram-headed man at a potter’s wheel, with recently created children’s bodies standing on the wheel. He was also shown holding a jar from which flowed a stream of water.

The worship of Khnum centered on two principal riverside sites, Elephantine and Esna, which were regarded as sacred sites. At Elephantine, he was worshipped alongside Satis and Anuket. At Esna, he was worshipped alongside Menhit, Nebtu, Neith and Heka.

In other locations, such as Herwer (Tuna el-Gebel perhaps), as the moulder and creator of the human body, he was sometimes regarded as the consort of Heket, or of Meskhenet, whose responsibility was breathing life into children at the moment of birth, as the (“ka”).

Satis

Satis (Ancient Egyptian: Sṯt or Sṯı͗t, lit. “Pourer” or “Shooter”), also known by numerous related names, was an Upper Egyptian goddess who, along with Khnum and Anuket, formed part of the Elephantine Triad. A protective deity of Egypt’s southern border with Nubia, she came to personify the former annual flooding of the Nile and to serve as a war, hunting, and fertility goddess.

Her name is derived from sṯ, meaning “eject”, “shoot”, “pour”, or “throw”, and can be variously translated as “She who Shoots”, thought to refer to the flowing river current, or “She who Pours” depending on which of her roles is being emphasized.

She was sometimes conflated with Isis and Sopdet, goddess of the bright star Sirius, which the Egyptians connected with the onset of the Nile flooding. Under the interpretatio graeca, she was conflated with Hera and Juno.

Her principal center of worship was at Abu (Elephantine), an island near Aswan on the southern edge of Egypt. Her temple there occupied an early predynastic site shown by Wells to be aligned with the star Sirius.

As a war goddess, Satis protected Egypt’s southern Nubian frontier by killing the enemies of the pharaoh with her sharp arrows. As a fertility goddess, she was thought to grant the wishes of those who sought love.

She seems to have originally been paired with the Theban god Montu, a falcon-god of war in ancient Egyptian religion, an embodiment of the conquering vitality of the pharaoh, but later replaced Heket as the consort of Khnum, guardian of the source of the Nile.

By Khnum, her child was Anuket, goddess of the Nile. After Khnum was conflated with Ra, she sometimes became an Eye of Ra in place of Hathor. Together Khnum, Anuket, and Satis formed the Elephantine Triad.

Satis was usually pictured as a woman in a sheath dress wearing the hedjet, the conical crown of Upper Egypt, with antelope horns. She is sometimes depicted with bow and arrows; holding an ankh or scepter; or offering jars of purifying water. She also appears in the form of an antelope. Her symbols were the arrow and the running river.

Heqet

Heqet (Egyptian ḥqt, also ḥqtyt “Heqtit”) is an Egyptian goddess of fertility, identified with Hathor, represented as a frog. To the Egyptians, the frog was an ancient symbol of fertility, related to the annual flooding of the Nile. Early frog statuettes are often thought to be depictions of her.

The name is written as ḥqt with the determinative “frog”. The phonetic spelling may use the biliteral ḥq hieroglyph (S38) in place of uniliteral ḥ (V28). The alternative form ḥqtyt adds an explicit feminine ending, used alongside the “egg” determinative (H8) to emphasize the deity’s femininity.

Heqet was originally the female counterpart of Khnum, or the wife of Khnum by whom she became the mother of Her-ur. It has been proposed that her name is the origin of the name of Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft. The Middle Egyptian pronunciation of the name may have been close to /ħaˈqaːtat/, which has been proposed (among other possibilities) as the origin of the name of Greek Hecate.

In the Osiris myth, it was Heqet who breathed life into the new body of Horus at birth, as she was a goddess of the last moments of birth. As the birth of Horus became more intimately associated with the resurrection of Osiris, so Heqet’s role became one more closely associated with resurrection. Eventually, this association led to her amulets gaining the phrase I am the resurrection in the Christian era along with cross and lamb symbolism.

As a fertility goddess, associated explicitly with the last stages of the flooding of the Nile, and so with the germination of corn, she became associated with the final stages of childbirth. This association, which appears to have arisen during the Middle Kingdom, gained her the title She who hastens the birth (cf. the role of Heqet in the story of The Birth of the Royal Children from the Westcar Papyrus).

Even though no ancient Egyptian term for “midwife” is known for certain—midwives often called themselves the Servants of Heqet. Women often wore amulets of her during childbirth, which depicted Heqet as a frog, sitting in a lotus.

The ancient Egyptian Egg hieroglyph, Gardiner sign listed no. H8, is a portrayal of an oval-shaped egg, tilted at an angle, within the Gardiner signs for parts of birds. It is an Egyptian language hieroglyph determinative used for the Egyptian word swht, “egg”. It is also used for the names of goddesses. Goddess Isis uses the egg in her hieroglyphic block.

Ninhursag

Ninḫursaĝ, also known as Damgalnuna (great wife of the prince) or Damkina (true wife), the consort of the god Enki, was the ancient Sumerian mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer.

She is principally a fertility goddess. Temple hymn sources identify her as the “true and great lady of heaven” (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were “nourished by Ninhursag’s milk”. She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders.

Sometimes her hair is depicted in an omega shape and at times she wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders. Frequently she carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash.

Her symbol, resembling the Greek letter omega Ω, has been depicted in art from approximately 3000 BC, although more generally from the early second millennium BC. It appears on some boundary stones—on the upper tier, indicating her importance.

The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor (Ancient Egyptian: ḥwt-ḥr “House of Horus”, Greek: Hathōr), and may represent a stylized womb. The symbol appears on very early imagery from Ancient Egypt. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.

She had many names including Ninmah (“Great Queen”), Nintu (“Lady of Birth”), Mamma or Mami (mother), Aruru, and Belet-Ili (lady of the gods, Akkadian). The mother goddess had many epithets including shassuru or ‘womb goddess’, tabsut ili ‘midwife of the gods’, ‘mother of all children’ and ‘mother of the gods’. In this role she is identified with Ki in the Enuma Elish. She had shrines in both Eridu and Kish.

Mami is a goddess in the Babylonian epic Atra-Hasis and in other creation legends. She was probably synonymous with Ninhursag. She was involved in the creation of humankind from clay and blood.

As Nintu legends states she pinched off fourteen pieces of primordial clay which she formed into womb deities, seven on the left and seven on the right with a brick between them, who produced the first seven pairs of human embryos.

She may have become Belet Ili (“Mistress of the Gods”) when, at Enki’s suggestion, the gods slew one among themselves and used that god’s blood and flesh, mixed with clay, to create humankind. Also known as Belet-ili, or Nintu. Alternative forms of her name include Mama and Mammitum.

In the legend of Enki and Ninhursag, Ninhursag bore a daughter to Enki called Ninsar (“Lady Greenery”). Through Enki, Ninsar bore a daughter Ninkurra (“Lady of the Pasture”). Ninkurra, in turn, bore Enki a daughter named Uttu.

Enki then pursued Uttu, who was upset because he didn’t care for her. Uttu, on her ancestress Ninhursag’s advice buried Enki’s seed in the earth, whereupon eight plants (the very first) sprung up.

Enki, seeing the plants, ate them, and became ill in eight organs of his body. Ninhursag cured him, taking the plants into her body and giving birth to eight deities: Abu, Nintulla (Nintul), Ninsutu, Ninkasi, Nanshe, Azimua, Ninti, and Enshag (Enshagag).

In creation texts, Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) acts as a midwife whilst the mother goddess Nammu (also Namma; dNAMMA = dENGUR) makes different kinds of human individuals from lumps of clay at a feast given by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind. In the text ‘Creator of the Hoe’, she completed the birth of mankind after the heads had been uncovered by Enki’s hoe. 

Ma is a Sumerian word meaning “land” that in Sumerian mythology was also used to regard Primordial Land. There seems to be some loss in records as to the transition, but the same name Ma appears again later, also tied to the Earth, in Ma being referred to as “Mother of the mountain” – in this case, Kur (Mountain) the first dragon god.

The underworld Kur is the void space between the primeval sea (Abzu) and the earth (Ma). Which seem a likely pairing for parentage, in a fuzzy set of records. Ma was a local goddess at Ma and a Phrygian alternative name for Cybele.

Ma was a local goddess at Comana in Cappadocia. Her name Ma means “Mother”, and she also had the epithets “Invincible” and “Bringer of Victory”. Ma has been interpreted as a mother goddess, but at the same time as a warrior goddess, as her name and epithets indicate both. She was associated with the transition of adulthood of both genders, and sacred prostitution was practiced during her biennial festivals.

Ma has been identified with a number of other deities, indicating her function. She has been compared to Cybele and Bellona. The ancient Greeks compared Ma to the goddess Enyo and Athena Nicephorus. Plutarch likened her with Semele and Athena. Ma was introduced and worshiped in Macedonia together with other foreign deities.

Hursag

According to legend, her name was changed from Ninmah to Ninhursag by her son Ninurta in order to commemorate his creation of the mountains. As Ninmenna, according to a Babylonian investiture ritual, she placed the golden crown on the king in the Eanna temple.

Nin-hursag means “lady of the sacred mountain” (from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG, a Sumerian term variously translated as meaning “mountain”, “hill”, “foothills” or “piedmont”. Thorkild Jacobsen extrapolated the translation in his later career to mean literally, “head of the valleys”. 

In a myth variously entitled by Samuel Noah Kramer as “The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and later Ninurta Myth Lugal-e by Thorkild Jacobsen, Hursag is described as a mound of stones constructed by Ninurta after his defeat of a demon called Asag.

Ninurta’s mother Ninlil visits the location after this great victory. In return for her love and loyalty, Ninurta gives Ninlil the hursag as a gift. Her name is consequentially changed from Ninlil to Ninhursag or the “mistress of the Hursag”.

The hursag is described here in a clear cultural myth as a high wall, levee, dam or floodbank, used to restrain the excess mountain waters and floods caused by the melting snow and spring rain. The hursag is constructed with Ninurta’s skills in irrigation engineering and employed to improve the agriculture of the surrounding lands, farms and gardens where the water had previously been wasted.

Hathor 

Hathor  was a major goddess in ancient Egyptian religion who took many forms and appeared in a wide variety of roles. The Egyptologist Robyn Gillam suggests that these diverse forms emerged when the royal goddess promoted by the Old Kingdom court subsumed many local goddesses worshipped by the general populace, who were then treated as manifestations of her.

Egyptian texts often speak of the manifestations of the goddess as “Seven Hathors” or, less commonly, of many more Hathors—as many as 362. For these reasons, Gillam calls her “a type of deity rather than a single entity”. Hathor’s diversity reflects the diversity of traits that the Egyptians associated with goddesses. More than any other deity, she exemplifies the Egyptian perception of femininity.

She was considered the mother of various child deities. As suggested by her name, she was often thought of as both Horus’s mother and consort. As both the king’s wife and his heir’s mother, Hathor was the mythic counterpart of human queens. Hathor also crossed boundaries between worlds, helping deceased souls in the transition to the afterlife.

Isis and Osiris were considered Horus’s parents in the Osiris myth as far back as the late Old Kingdom, but the relationship between Horus and Hathor may be older still. If so, Horus only came to be linked with Isis and Osiris as the Osiris myth emerged during the Old Kingdom. Even after Isis was firmly established as Horus’s mother, Hathor continued to appear in this role, especially when nursing the pharaoh.

Images of the Hathor-cow with a child in a papyrus thicket represented her mythological upbringing in a secluded marsh. Goddesses’ milk was a sign of divinity and royal status. Thus, images in which Hathor nurses the pharaoh represent his right to rule.

Hathor’s relationship with Horus gave a healing aspect to her character, as she was said to have restored Horus’s missing eye or eyes after Set attacked him. In the version of this episode in “The Contendings of Horus and Set”, Hathor finds Horus with his eyes torn out and heals the wounds with gazelle’s milk.

Beginning in the Late Period (664–323 BC), temples focused on the worship of a divine family: an adult male deity, his wife, and their immature son. Hathor was the mother in many of these local triads of gods. Satellite buildings, known as mammisis, were built in celebration of the birth of the local child deity. The child god represented the cyclical renewal of the cosmos and an archetypal heir to the kingship.

In the Fourth Dynasty, Hathor rose rapidly to prominence. She supplanted an early crocodile god who was worshipped at Dendera in Upper Egypt to become Dendera’s patron deity, and she increasingly absorbed the cult of Bat in the neighboring region of Hu, so that in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1650 BC) the two deities fused into one.

The theology surrounding the pharaoh in the Old Kingdom, unlike that of earlier times, focused heavily on the sun god Ra as king of the gods and father and patron of the earthly king. Hathor ascended with Ra and became his mythological wife, and thus divine mother of the pharaoh.

At Dendera, the mature Horus of Edfu was the father and Hathor the mother, while their child was Ihy, a god whose name meant “sistrum-player” and who personified the jubilation associated with the instrument. At Kom Ombo, Hathor’s local form, Tasenetnofret, was mother to Horus’s son Panebtawy. Other children of Hathor included a minor deity from the town of Hu, named Neferhotep, and several child forms of Horus.

The version from Hathor’s temple at Dendera emphasizes that she, as a female solar deity, was the first being to emerge from the primordial waters that preceded creation, and her life-giving light and milk nourished all living things.

Hathor’s maternal aspects can be compared with those of Isis and Mut, yet there are many contrasts between them. Isis’s devotion to her husband and care for their child represented a more socially acceptable form of love than Hathor’s uninhibited sexuality, and Mut’s character was more authoritative than sexual. The text of the first century AD Papyrus Insinger likens a faithful wife, the mistress of a household, to Mut, while comparing Hathor to a strange woman who tempts a married man.

Her beneficent side represented music, dance, joy, love, sexuality and maternal care, and she acted as the consort of several male deities and the mother of their sons. These two aspects of the goddess exemplified the Egyptian conception of femininity.

The Ka (soul)

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, Meskhenet, (also spelt Mesenet, Meskhent, and Meshkent) was the goddess of childbirth, and the creator of each child’s Ka, a part of their soul, which she breathed into them at the moment of birth. She was worshipped from the earliest of times by Egyptians.

In ancient Egypt, women delivered babies while squatting on a pair of bricks, known as birth bricks, and Meskhenet was the goddess associated with this form of delivery. Consequently, in art, she was sometimes depicted as a brick with a woman’s head, wearing a cow’s uterus upon it. At other times she was depicted as a woman with a symbolic cow’s uterus on her headdress

Since she was responsible for creating the Ka, she was associated with fate. Thus later she was sometimes said to be paired with Shai, who became a god of destiny after the deity evolved out of an abstract concept.

Meskhenet features prominently in the last of the folktales in the Westcar Papyrus. The story tells of the birth of Userkaf, Sahure, and Neferirkare Kakai, the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty, who in the story are said to be triplets. Just after each child is born, Meskhenet appears and prophesies that he will become king of Egypt.

Like Meskhenet, Hathor was connected with shai, the Egyptian concept of fate, particularly when she took the form of the Seven Hathors. In two New Kingdom works of fiction, “The Tale of Two Brothers” and “The Tale of the Doomed Prince”, the Hathors appear at the births of major characters and foretell the manner of their deaths.

Cow goddess

Hathor was often depicted as a cow, symbolizing her maternal and celestial aspect, although her most common form was a woman wearing a headdress of cow horns and a sun disk. She could also be represented as a lioness, cobra, or sycamore tree.

Images of cattle appear frequently in the artwork of Predynastic Egypt (before c. 3100 BC), as do images of women with upraised, curved arms reminiscent of the shape of bovine horns.

Both types of imagery may represent goddesses connected with cattle. Cows are venerated in many cultures, including ancient Egypt, as symbols of motherhood and nourishment, because they care for their calves and supply humans with milk.

The Gerzeh Palette, a stone palette from the Naqada II period of prehistory (c. 3500–3200 BC), shows the silhouette of a cow’s head with inward-curving horns surrounded by stars. The palette suggests that this cow was also linked with the sky, as were several goddesses from later times who were represented in this form: Hathor, Mehet-Weret, and Nut.

Despite these early precedents, Hathor is not unambiguously mentioned or depicted until the Fourth Dynasty (c. 2613–2494 BC) of the Old Kingdom, although several artifacts that refer to her may date to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100–2686 BC).

When Hathor does clearly appear, her horns curve outward, rather than inward like those in Predynastic art. A bovine deity with inward-curving horns appears on the Narmer Palette from near the start of Egyptian history, both atop the palette and on the belt or apron of the king, Narmer.

The Egyptologist Henry George Fischer suggested this deity may be Bat, a goddess who was later depicted with a woman’s face and inward-curling antennae, seemingly reflecting the curve of the cow horns.

The Egyptologist Lana Troy, however, identifies a passage in the Pyramid Texts from the late Old Kingdom that connects Hathor with the “apron” of the king, reminiscent of the goddess on Narmer’s garments, and suggests the goddess on the Narmer Palette is Hathor rather than Bat.

The milky sap of the sycamore tree, which the Egyptians regarded as a symbol of life, became one of her symbols. The milk was equated with water of the Nile inundation and thus fertility. In the late Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, many temples contained a creation myth that adapted long-standing ideas about creation.

Mistress of the sky

As a sky deity, she was the mother or consort of the sky god Horus and the sun god Ra, both of whom were connected with kingship, and thus she was the symbolic mother of their earthly representatives, the pharaohs.

Hathor was given the epithets “mistress of the sky” and “mistress of the stars”, and was said to dwell in the sky with Ra and other sun deities. Egyptians thought of the sky as a body of water through which the sun god sailed, and they connected it with the waters from which, according to their creation myths, the sun emerged at the beginning of time.

This cosmic mother goddess was often represented as a cow. Hathor and Mehet-Weret were both thought of as the cow who birthed the sun god and placed him between her horns. Like Nut, Hathor was said to give birth to the sun god each dawn.

Hathor’s Egyptian name was ḥwt-ḥrw or ḥwt-ḥr. It is typically translated “house of Horus” but can also be rendered as “my house is the sky”. The falcon god Horus represented, among other things, the sun and sky. The “house” referred to may be the sky in which Horus lives, or the goddess’s womb from which he, as a sun god, is born each day.

Eye of Ra

Hathor was a solar deity, a feminine counterpart to sun gods such as Horus and Ra, and was a member of the divine entourage that accompanied Ra as he sailed through the sky in his barque. She was commonly called the “Golden One”, referring to the radiance of the sun, and texts from her temple at Dendera say “her rays illuminate the whole earth.”

She was sometimes fused with another goddess, Nebethetepet, whose name can mean “Lady of the Offering”, “Lady of Contentment”, or “Lady of the Vulva”. At Ra’s cult center of Heliopolis, Hathor-Nebethetepet was worshipped as his consort, and the Egyptologist Rudolf Anthes argued that Hathor’s name referred to a mythical “house of Horus” at Heliopolis that was connected with the ideology of kingship.

She was one of several goddesses to take the role of the Eye of Ra, Ra’s feminine counterpart, a feminine personification of the disk of the sun and an extension of Ra’s own power, and in this form she had a vengeful aspect that protected him from his enemies.

The Eye of Ra protected the sun god from his enemies and was often represented as a uraeus, or rearing cobra, or as a lioness. A form of the Eye of Ra known as “Hathor of the Four Faces”, represented by a set of four cobras, was said to face in each of the cardinal directions to watch for threats to the sun god.

Ra was sometimes portrayed inside the disk, which Troy interprets as meaning that the Eye goddess was thought of as a womb from which the sun god was born. Hathor’s seemingly contradictory roles as mother, wife, and daughter of Ra reflected the daily cycle of the sun.

At sunset the god entered the body of the goddess, impregnating her and fathering the deities born from her womb at sunrise: himself and the Eye goddess, who would later give birth to him. Ra gave rise to his daughter, the Eye goddess, who in turn gave rise to him, her son, in a cycle of constant regeneration

The Mistress of Animals

The Mistress of Animals is a widespread motif in ancient art from the Mediterranean world and the Ancient Near East, showing a central human, or human-like, female figure who grasps two animals, one to each side.

The oldest such depiction, the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük is a clay sculpture from Çatalhöyük in modern Turkey, made c 6,000 BC. This motif is more common in later Near Eastern and Mesopotamian art with a male figure, called the Master of Animals.

Although the connections between images and concepts in the various ancient cultures concerned remain very unclear, such images are often referred to as of Potnia Theron (“Mistress of Animals”), a term first used once by Homer (Iliad 21. 470) and often used to describe female divinities associated with animals.

The word Potnia, meaning mistress or lady, was a Mycenaean Greek word inherited by Classical Greek, with the same meaning, cognate to Sanskrit patnī. Homer’s mention of potnia theron is thought to refer to Artemis, in the ancient Greek religion and myth the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity. Walter Burkert describes this mention as “a well established formula”.

An Artemis type deity, a ‘Mistress of the Animals’, is often assumed to have existed in prehistorical religion and often referred to as Potnia Theron, with some scholars positing a relationship between Artemis and goddesses depicted in Minoan art and Potnia Theron has become a generic term for any female associated with animals.”

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo, the Greek god shown as “Master of Animals”. She was the patron and protector of young girls, and was believed to bring disease upon women and relieve them of it.

Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities and her temple at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. She was worshipped as one of the primary goddesses of childbirth and midwifery along with Eileithyia. Much like Athena and Hestia, Artemis preferred to remain a maiden and is sworn never to marry.

Her symbols included a bow and arrow, a quiver and hunting knives and the deer and the cypress were sacred to her. The goddess Diana is her Roman equivalent worshipped on the Aventine Hill near Lake Nemi and in Campania.

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