Recently, I felt called to study the mythology of ancient Canaan, a Semitic-speaking region and civilization in the Ancient Near East during the late 2nd millennium BC. This originated from a sudden and intense desire that formed seemingly out of nowhere in the past few weeks (but does anything ever really manifest out of nowhere?) to understand, and potentially revive, pre-Israelite polytheistic practices. As the Biblical scholar Mark Smith notes in The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities of Ancient Israel, archaeological data suggests that “the Israelite culture largely overlapped with and derived from Canaanite culture…In short, Israelite culture was largely Canaanite in nature.” As a culturally Jewish person with ancestors originally hailing from Israel, presumably (according to family records), I feel drawn to this history in both an academic sense and with a sentiment of spiritual longing…as if there is something precious to be gained, something secret and powerful and ritualistic about it that I have yet to unlock. I have always found myself fascinated with ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology, as well as the unique overlap between Greco-Roman-Egyptian spiritual and cultural practices that took place in ancient Alexandria. The Canaanite religion of the Levant, as well as potentially the Sumerian tradition–inspired Assyro-Babylonian religion of Mesopotamia, seem like the missing puzzle pieces to answering the following question: “what kind of modern polytheist am I, anyway?”
The book I read this past week was Stories from Ancient Canaan (second edition)* edited and translated by Michael Coogan and Mark Smith (what we know of ancient Canaanite mythology comes from a series of ancient tablets that were uncovered within the ruins of the equally ancient city of Ugarit located in northern Syria, both of which – the city and the tablets – were discovered by accident in 1928). This was my first time learning about Canaanite mythology, so I wanted to take some time to collect my thoughts and start to piece together some overarching themes. I also couldn’t help but feel twinges of gnosis while reading this book. Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) is a term that floats around the modern pagan and polytheist world, and it basically refers to any opinion or belief about the gods (and other spiritual entities) that doesn’t originate from a broadly-accepted factual/academic source, like a verified historical document. In short, it’s a term for personal revelations or intuitive feelings that can contribute to an overall sense of “this feels right to me.” Sometimes, specific UPG becomes so widely reported that it eventually evolves into VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis), also sometimes known as Community Gnosis. Kind of neat, isn’t it? In any case, the following notes are a mix of:
- A summary of each major myth, so I have a personal record of them
- Direct quotes from the myths, as translated by Coogan and Smith, that stood out most to me
- Direct quotes from Coogan and Smith’s own interpretations of the myths that stood out to me
- Thoughts, comments, and UPG of my own, that came about as a result of me reading about all of this
- A list of the gods and heroic figures that seem most relevant to continue studying. I want to eventually settle on which gods will be worshiped in my hearth cult
*Note: This is by no means the only book out there about Canaanite mythology, it was just the first one I came across that had been recommended to me. I am sure my understanding of the myths, gods, and heroes, as well as my own UPG, will evolve as I continue with my studies.
The hero Danel has a daughter, Pugat, whom he loves, but he desires a son, so that he will have an heir. He performs the rite of incubation – a method of communicating with deities through a dream/trance state – and petitions El for a son. El promises a son will be born, and with the help of the Kotharat (goddesses of marriage and childbirth), a son is conceived by Danel’s wife, Danataya. The boy is named Aqhat.
Sometime after Aqhat’s birth, Danel is visited by the divine craftsman, Kothar-Wa-Hasis. A feast is held in the God’s honor, and during the feast Kothar-wa-Hasis presents Danel with a beautiful and masterful bow and arrows. Danel gives them to his son, Aqhat, as they are befitting a young hero. Anat, goddess of war and the hunt, became immediately jealous of Aqhat’s bow and arrows, and offers him gold and silver in exchange for them, but he refuses to give them to her. Finally, she promises immortality, but this too, does not sway Aqhat – and in a moment of arrogant refusal, he insults Anat, denying her hunting ability. Anat, furious with Aqhat, contracts her henchman, Yatpan, to murder Aqhat. Yatpan and Anat assume the form of birds and descend upon Aqhat while he is eating; Yatpan strikes Aqhat down and kills him. This allows Anat to take possession of the sacred bow and arrows, but it also causes all the crops in the land to die. Vultures hover over Danel’s house, the signal for a death in the family, and Danel, Danataya, and Pugat realize what has happened and begin the mourning process. Pugat asks for her father’s blessing to avenge her brother’s death, which he grants. Dressing in cosmetics and a lovely robe (beneath which she conceals a dagger), Pugat visits Yatpan and gets him drink, during which he boasts of his murder of Aqhat. The tablet breaks off abruptly with the suggestion that Pugat eventually kills Yatpan in revenge…
- “This form of communication with deities through dreams [incubation] was considered an effective way to contact with a divine power.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 28)
- “…prompted the suggestion that Anat was after more than Aqhat’s bow, that the bow was a symbol of the hero’s masculinity. Though not necessarily a direct symbol, the weapon opens the way for Aqhat’s first hunt, and in this context is a token of Aqhat’s transition into male adulthood. The bow in its use for the hunt serves as the occasion for Anat’s proposal to Aqhat, and the later falling of the bow into the sea parallels the hero’s death. The parallels are also an example of how ancient Mediterranean literatures – both Near Eastern and Greco-Roman – shared the same motifs.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 29)
- “She who carries water / she who collects dew on her hair / she who knows the course of the stars.” (Description of Pugat, from the tablets, translated/recounted on page 31 and subsequent pages)
- “…Similarly, in Egyptian myth, after Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, his wife and sister Isis retrieved his body, buried it, and aided their son Horus to avenge his father. The coincidence of themes here – the deaths of Baal, Osiris, and Aqhat as threats to fertility, and the bodies of Death, Osiris, and Aqhat all dismembered – suggests one level of interpretation for Aqhat. Nearly every Ugaritic text translated here has to do with fertility in some way, and Aqhat is no exception…the Aqhat cycle may have continued with Aqhat’s restoration to life and the consequent return of fertility to the fields. A leader was vital to continued agricultural prosperity.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 32)
My Interpretation / Thoughts / UPG:
- Pugat feels like the “true” hero of the story
- “She who carries water” – reminds me of Miriam from the Old Testament
- Could we possible view Pugat and Anat as two sides to the same “coin” (i.e. the divine feminine?)
- Aqhat was arrogant, hot-headed, privileged, entitled, rude (a typical young man in power), and he was both bested and avenged by women
- Did he get what he deserved?
- Should we view Anat as villain or hero, or both, for orchestrating Aqhat’s death? Did she know he might come back to life, given the fertility cycle theme so prevalent in this story and the fact that the end of the tablet is cut off / missing? Did she merely intend to teach him a lesson vs end his life for good? Does his imprudence trap him in a yearly cycle of life and death, year over year?
- The bow & arrows, the violence & association with the hunt, the dislike of men, the disinterest in marriage…the similarities between Anat and Artemis are unmistakable.
- Aqhat and Pugat can definitely be compared to Osiris and Isis
The hero Danel invites the Rephaim, the divine dead (ancestors), to a feast. The feast is taking place in the late summer / early autumn, during the fruit harvest. The Rephaim prepare to visit Danel, make the journey, and take part in the feast. A table set with fruit and wine, both products of the late summer harvest, are mentioned. The feast takes place for seven days. Much of these tablets have been lost, but overall this myth seems to be more of a recounting of an ancient festival celebration that a typical narrative or story.
- “The Rephaim (probably vocalized in Ugaritic as “Rapauma”), the principal figures in The Rephaim, were the deified dead ancestors. Their name may mean “Healthy Ones”, denoting their well-being after their deaths.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 57)
- “Sun rules the Rephaim / Sun rules the divine ones: / Your company are the gods, / see, the dead are your company.” (From the tablets, translated/recounted on page 57 and subsequent pages; note: the Sun was a goddess, called Shapshu )
- “The Rephaim were the divine dead in general Ugaritic society; in another text the Ugaritic dynasty recalled its own ancestral Rephaim as warrior-kings of great antiquity.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 58)
- “The celebration of fertility in this season may also have been a traditional time for the monarchy to pay tribute to its ancestors.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 59)
My Interpretation / Thoughts / UPG:
- Danel’s feast for the divine dead / ancestors seems to take place during when Jews celebrate Sukkot. Could this ancient Canaanite holiday have been the predecessor of Sukkot?
- The Rephaim offer blessings of fertility and abundance, it makes sense to make offerings to them on a regular basis.
- Do we – lay folk – have our own Rephaim, the heroes of our families?
- What must one do to ensure that they can become a Rephaim in death? It seems like being in favor with the gods is a primary requirement, as is living a life of honor and heroism.
- Should a distinction be made between the “heroic dead” and the “regular dead”? The myths are unclear. Perhaps I will learn more in other books.
Kirta is a great king of Hubur, but he has a problem: his once-large family has perished, and he has no descendants. Kirta petitions El, and has a dream, wherein Kirta is given detailed instructions to offer a sacrifice to the Gods and then to prepare for war. The purpose of the war is for Kirta to win the hand of the daughter of King Pabil of Udm, a city that will take Kirta and his army seven days to reach. Kirta carries out the instructions nearly perfectly, except for one small deviation: during the march to Udm, Kirta stops at a shrine of Asherah, mother of the gods, and promises an offering to the goddess should his quest prove successful. Upon finally reaching Udm, Kirta manages to lay siege to the city and eventually win the hand of Hurriya, the beautiful daughter of Pabil. El blesses the marriage in front of the Assembly of the Gods, promising Kirta that he will have many children, thus solidifying Kirta in the long line of the Rephaim, the ancestral divinized heroes and kings, of Ugarit. Indeed, Hurriya gives birth to many children.
However, in the throes of his victory, Kirta forgets all about his promise to Asherah, and never ends up making any offerings to her. Because of this, many years later, Kirta grows severely ill as a punishment, and nearly dies. While he is sick, all of the crops in the kingdom fail, and a great famine takes place. Kirta’s son Ilihu urges his father to give in to death so that the famine will end, as it is clear that he is meat to die; Kirta’s favorite daughter, Thitmanit, mourns her father with great passion. However, right before Kirta can official die, El decides to intervene. He creates a divine agent of healing, a goddess called Shataqat (“to expel”), and she is able to expel / banish the disease from Kirta (when no other gods or mortals could).
Though Kirta has been healed, he faces one last trial: his son, Yassub, thinking his father too weak to rule due to the fact that Kirta became ill in the first place, threatens to usurp the throne. Kirta curses his son, but the tablets end / break off before the story wraps up…
- “These are also echoes of Aqhat: like Danel when he was childless, Kirta seems to have performed an incubation rite, during which El, his patron and perhaps his father, appeared to him in a dream.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 66)
- “Kirta has to face three problems as a king: his childlessness, his illness, and his son’s challenge…one key function of kingship in the ancient world was the maintenance of stability.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 68)
- “Originally a Hurrian name, “Kirta” evokes the verb “to cut” in Ugaritic. This is precisely the condition of his household at the beginning of the story. The name of his wife, Hurriya, may be a play on the verb “to conceive” (with a slightly different spelling).” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 68-69)
- “Kingship in the ancient world, however, was not just a political and social institution; it was also religious, or sacral. Kings were representatives of their people to the gods. Kirta, for example, clearly functioned as a priest in offering sacrifices to El and to Baal, and he was present at the divine Assembly when El and the other gods blessed his marriage. In addition, and perhaps because he was a member of the divine Assembly, the king was responsible for the prosperity of his subjects. There was a direct connection between the health of the king and the agricultural cycle; more accurately, the king and the gods were jointly responsible for the harvest…thus Kirta’s sickness, the subject of the latter part of the cycle, was a failure of kingship, but because of his quasi-divine status the gods were also implicated in its consequences.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 70).
- “Despite his status as El’s adopted son, Kirta was still mortal…For the Canaanites, unlike the Egyptians, with whom they had commercial contacts and by whom they were influenced, did not believe that the king was a god; to be son of god was to remain human.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 71)
- “How can Kirta be called El’s son, / the offspring of the Kind and Holy one? / Or do gods die? / Will the Kind One’s offspring not live on?” (Spoken by Ilihu, Kirta’s son, from the tablets, translated/recounted on page 87)
- “Death – be broken! / Expeller – be strong!” (From the tablets, translated/recounted on page 83)
My Interpretation / Thoughts / UPG:
- The concept of “to be a son of god is to remain human” feels quite reminiscent of the Orphic belief that humans are all children of the gods, that we (humans) are “of earth and starry heaven.” When we die, do we fully embrace our divine natures? Do we become one with the gods? Do we have no more use for the parts of us that were mortal (“of earth”)?
- The fact that Kirta became sick because he did not keep a promise to Asherah – could this suggest that Asherah and El must be worshiped equally, that they require equal patronage, that there is some aspect of balance required here? Or did he merely slight a powerful goddess and pay the price (without any additional meaning)?
- Could Shataqat be prayed to in modern times to protect a person or household from disease? “Death – be broken! / Expeller – be strong!” feels like a particularly powerful mantra. This seems quite relevant, considering the current pandemic.
- Thitmanit is described very similarly to Pugat; lots of parallels between this story and the Aqhat story
- The bull seems to be a very common symbol for El
- Lapis lazuli was apparently a sign of beauty (and wealth/abundance)
- This is a story about a human king dealing with very human woes, and yet, the gods are not separate from it, but partly responsible. What does this tell us about the relationship between the gods and humanity? Perhaps the gods need us, and we need the gods…a constant cycle of give and take…
One day, the god of the Sea (Yammu) demands that the Assembly of the Gods surrender Baal (Anat’s brother) to him. El promises to hand over Baal to the Sea; lately, Baal has been growing more and more ambitious, and El suspects the younger God plans to overthrow him and assume leadership over all the Gods (which has always been El’s traditional role as father and divine king). Kothar-wa-Hasis crafts two extraordinary clubs for Baal so that he may fight the Sea. Baal and the Sea have a great battle, and Baal comes out victorious. Astarte declares, “Hail, Baal the Conqueror!” and the gods recognize Baal as a worthy leader. Baal, with the help of his sister Anat, also defeats many minor monsters: Litan, or Leviathan, the Dragon, Rabbim, and the Waves, to further show his dominance over the Sea.
Despite clearly defeating Sea, and asserting his dominance over the gods, El makes it clear that Baal cannot be crowned a king of the gods until he has a proper royal palace (i.e. a great temple built in his honor, where he can reside during his rule). At Anat’s insistence, El agrees to give his permission for the construction of a great palace for Baal by the talented Kothar-wa-Hasis – however, there is one caveat: Asherah, mother of the gods and El’s wife, must also give her consent. Baal goes himself to visit Asherah and ask for her approval of his building project, and she is won over by his charm. Asherah joins Anat in her support of Baal and the building of his palace. Asherah also prophesies that with the completion of Baal’s temple palace, Baal’s mastery over storms will be manifest, and there will be great fertility across all the lands (bountiful crops, rich harvests, etc.) Kothar-wa-Hasis builds the palace, using the finest cedar, gold, silver, ore, and lapis lazuli. These materials are turned into bricks after seven days of firing (using divine alchemy). When the palace is complete, Baal invites the gods to a lavish banquet in celebration.
Except the palace isn’t quite complete, there is one small omittance: there are no windows. Despite Kothar-wa-Hasis’s insistence, Baal refuses to allow the installation of even one window, but after the inaugural banquet and a successful military campaign, Baal changes his mind. Kothar opens a window in the house, and immediately thereafter, Baal reveals himself as the storm god, declares his sovereignty, and specifically refuses to pay the tribute that is the god Death’s due. Death (Mot) makes it known to Baal that he must be punished, not just for refusing to pay tribute to him, but for defeating the Sea, which caused a great cosmic collapse / imbalance. Baal must be consumed by Death, whose appetite is famously insatiable. To face the ultimate challenge (defeating Death) or perhaps because he ultimately agrees with Death’s assessment of his crimes, Baal allows himself to be swallowed by Death, and enters the Underworld, bringing with him the components of a storm (clouds, wind, rain, and lightening bolts). When news reaches El and the other gods of Baal’s death, they mourn in typical Semitic fashion. Anat and the Sun (Shapshu) bury Baal’s body and perform a funerary rite. Though they try, none of the sons of Asherah can adequately succeed Baal as king. Drought and sterility control the land in Baal’s absence. Anat, desperate to end all of their suffering, goes to Death and challenges him to a fight. Anat ends up defeating Death, which releases Baal from the Underworld. El has a prophetic dream in which fabulous fertility is restored to nature, a sure sign of Baal’s revival; El sends Sun (Shapshu), the all-seeing eye of heaven, to search for any sign of the returned Baal. She eventually finds Baal, and he re-asserts his power and reclaims his throne. After seven years, however, Death challenges Baal again – but this time, Sun intervenes on Baal’s behalf, and frightens off Death with her threats…the tablets end / are broken off, but it is suggested that this cycle continues every seven years…
- “Hail, Baal the Conquerer! / Hail, Rider on the Clouds! / Prince Sea is our captive, Judge River is our captive.” (Astarte’s full declaration from the tablet, recounted / translated on page 99 and subsequent pages)
- “Sea and river are two aspects of the same reality.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 101)
- “It may be more accurate to say that while Baal battles Sea on the cosmic plane, Anat battles human enemies on the earthly plane. Thus they may be viewed as allies. In any event, Baal sent messengers to Anat to announce his victory, urging her to cease fighting and to visit him.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 101)
- “But since Baal was a god, his house was also a temple.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 101)
- “Now Baal will provide his enriching rain, / provide a rich watering in a downpour; / and he will sound his voice in the clouds, / flash his lightning to the earth.” (Description of Baal’s power, from the tablets, recounted / translated on page 102 and subsequent pages)
- “The transfer of power from an older sky god to a younger storm god is attested in other contemporaneous eastern Mediterranean cultures.” (Coogan & Smith, page 104. The Greek Gods Cronus & Zeus and the Hurrian Gods Teshub & Kumarbi are mentioned)
- “This passage [about the window] implies a popular superstition that Death entered a house through a window, and it may explain Baal’s initial reluctance to include a window in his new house.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 105)
- “Just as the health and prosperity of a city-state depended on the vitality of its ruler, so the survival of the earth and its inhabitants was bound up with the existence of “The Lord of the Earth.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 107)
- “She seized El’s son Death; / with a sword she split him; with a sieve she winnowed him; with fire she burned him; with millstones she ground him; in the fields she sowed him.” (The description of how Anat defeated Death, from the tablet, recounted / translated on page 107 and subsequent pages)
- “Death suffered the various processes that grain has to undergo to make it editable and reproductive.” (Coogan & Smith commentary about Anat’s process, page 107)
- “This repetition of the contest between Baal and Death shows that the defeat of the forces of sterility was not permanent. Drought could return, unpredictably and fiercely, once again destroying the fertility that Baal symbolized. The mention of the seven-year interval makes it clear that the struggle between Death and Baal was not annual, as were analogous struggles in the Greco-Roman world. The Mediterranean climate is in fact not characterized by alternating semiannual cycles of productivity and barrenness. Different crops grow in different seasons, and while the summer is rainless, it is not unproductive. But the failure of the winter rains is an agricultural disaster; it is this constant menace that the repetition of the struggle between Baal and Death reflects.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 108)
- “Run to me with your feet; / race to me with your legs, / For I have a word to tell you, / a message to recount to you; / the word of the tree and the / whisper of the stone, / the murmur of the heavens to the earth, / of the seas to the stars, / I understand the lightening that / the heavens do not know. / the word that the people do not know, / and earth’s masses cannot understand. / Come, and I will reveal it; / In the midst of my mountain, / divine Zaphon, / in the sanctuary, in the mountain / of my inheritance, / in the pleasant place, in the / hill of my victory.” (Baal’s speech when calling for Anat to come visit him, from the tablet, recounted / translated on page 120)
- “I will remove war from the earth, / I will set love in the ground, / I will pour peace into the heart of the earth, / tranquility into the heart of the fields.” (The promise of Anat, from the tablet, recounted / translated on page 121)
- “Wherever you go, Sun, / wherever you go, may El protect you, / may you be protected, Sun…” (blessing from Anat for Shapshu, when she begins her search for Baal, from the tablet, recounted / translated on page 150).
- “Sun will have power over the divine dead known as the Rephaim, and Kothar-wa-Hasis will use his magic to protect against the power of the cosmic sea and its beasts.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 152).
- “Sun rules the divine ones; / Your company are the gods, / see, the dead are your company, / Kothar your magician, and / Hasis your diviner.” (From the tablet, recounted / translated on page 152).
My Interpretation / Thoughts / UPG:
- As noted by Coogan & Smith, the similarities between this cycle and the Enuma Elish of Mesopotamia are striking. Marduk and Baal have many overlapping traits; Tiamat and Yammu, deities of the Sea, oppose Marduk and Baal respectively. Baal’s name means “Rider on the Clouds” and Marduk’s name means “Son of the Storm.”
- The parallels between Anat and Baal as divine sister and brother reminds me of Artemis and Apollo.
- Baal’s temple / palace definitely feels like a predecessor of the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, planned by David and built by Solomon, a sacred location in Judaism (Coogan & Smith comment on this as well). Cedar is even referenced in the Bible, in relation to the temple of Yahweh.
- It is up for debate, it seems, as to whether Anat is a daughter of El…Baal does not seem to be a son of El, he is a son of Dagan, and Anat is always described as Baal’s sister…my personal gut feeling is to recognize Baal and Anat, not as children of El, but as children of Dagan (who was both warrior and apparently a “lord of the land”). Dagan seems to have aspects of both Baal and Anat, which makes him a more fitting father figure. In many ways, though, all of the gods are “children of El”, simply due to his role as the “divine father.”
- Cedar, bricks, ore, fire, silver, gold, and lapis lazuli are all incredibly important components of Baal’s temple; could these be used in modern times to make a small household altar or shrine to Baal?
- The similarities between the grinding and preparing of a wheat harvest to how Anat “destroys” Death (beats him into submission, more like) makes me think wheat / grain would be an appropriate offering associated with the underworld, and the dead in general. The connection between this story and the overall harvest / cycles of life and death in nature feel especially important to my practice, as I am quite seasonally influenced.
- I really feel drawn to Kothar-wa-Hasis as divine magician and craftsman. He also reminds me of Ptah, the Egyptian god. Both gods hail from Memphis in Egypt, and both gods are creators. I’ve always loved this aspect of Ptah: “Ptah is mummiform, not because he has funerary associations, but to symbolize his participation in the state of changeless perfection with which mummification is associated.” (Henadology)
- The differences between a Mediterranean climate and my own home climate (Mid-Atlantic North America) are tricky; it doesn’t seem viable for me to follow a seasonal cycle that perfectly aligns with the Baal cycle. That being said, I grew up Jewish, and the Jewish calendar is far more aligned with the climate of Israel than of anywhere in North America, and it always seemed to work out, regardless. Perhaps I can make ANE polytheism work too.
- Seven seems to be a sacred number
- Anat seems to be associated strongly with vultures
- Three minor goddesses of note (wives or lovers or attendants of Baal?):
- Piday – Goddess of light
- Tallay – Goddess of rain
- Arsay – Goddess of “the land” / “earthy one” / “maid of the wide world” (also associated with the underworld?)
- It should be noted that Death is a child of El, just like many of the other gods. Death is not unnatural, or un-godly. Death is even described as beloved of El, a “darling of El.”
- The Sun (Shapshu) being able to ward off Death makes me think of seasonal affective disorder, and how much the sun affects our mental health. Even sunny winter days feel like more hopeful days.
THE LOVELY GODS
Part of this myth seems to be the story of the birth of specific gods called The Lovely Gods; the other part of the myth is very prescriptive, a text about how specific rituals should be carried out (guidelines more so than a narrative). There are nine parts to the ritual section, which comes first on the tablets:
- The Lovely Gods, as they are called, are invited to a feast.
- Death (Mot) is mentioned, enthroned as a king, with royal scepters denoting his power. Then Death is seen as destroyed – a vine, pruned, tied, and trimmed is described – and so Death is cut back and negated.
- Instructions for the performance of a song (much of this section is lost)
- More information about the song (much of this section is lost); there is also a description of cooking: “coriander in milk” and “mint in curd.” These are apparently to be used in a sauce for meat, served during feasts and potentially given as offerings.
- A mythic allusion to the hunt of the goddess Rahmay, which may have been another name for Anat. It certainly seems like Anat is being described here, as she hunts for wild game. The desert is described as both lacking in food (hot, dry, sparse) but also providing food at the same time (the wild game).
- The dwellings of the gods are mentioned (much of this section is lost); “thus the ritual brings together both the destructive divine forces represented by The Lovely Gods and the beneficial deities.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 157)
- Lapis lazuli is mentioned, as are the colors red and crimson (much of this section is lost).
- A reiteration of the invitation to The Lovely Gods (to attend a feast?); It also mentioned royal officials, described as arriving with sacrifices.
- A reiteration of the song from earlier, also mentioning singers (much of this section is lost).
The mythic narrative of the second part begins with El’s courtship of two of his wives. The wives bear El a pair of divine children: Dawn (Shahar) and Dusk (Shalim). El does not appear here as the wise father figure and king as in the other myths; he is younger, in his prime, suggesting that this is the very beginning of the universe. After the birth of Dawn and Dusk, beings called the Lovely Gods are apparently created / born / brought into existence. These destructive deities feed on all life, with “one lip to heaven and one to earth.” Unlike Dawn and Dusk, they are constantly ravenous (not unlike Death in the Baal cycle, potentially connecting them to Death in some way). As a result of their destructive appetite, El commands the Lovely Gods to go to the desert for seven years. The Lovely Gods grow even more desperately hungry over those seven years, and eventually ask for entry into “the cultivated land” or “the sown” (farmland, essentially). Their request is granted and they partake in a great feast (presumably with all the other deities). “The feast is a moment when destructive and beneficial deities meet without conflict.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 159)
- “It [this myth] celebrates both the destruction of death and the incorporation of destructive divine forces from the desert into the sown, the realm of life. The text is thus a sort of first fruits celebration of agricultural fertility, situated in the late summer or early autumn during what has been called “the fall interchange period” between the dry and rainy seasons…at the time of the autumn equinox.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 159)
- “Lapis lazuli, red, crimson are the singers…” (from the tablets, recounted / translated on page 162)
- “For seven years complete, / eight cycles’ duration, / the lovely gods roamed about / the open country.” (from the tablets, recounted / translated on page 165)
My Interpretation / Thoughts / UPG:
- “Coriander in milk” and “mint in curd” seem like viable offerings for the gods, especially the Lovely Gods, or gods of destruction / death (though perhaps adopted for modern times…coriander milk tea? Mint tea or mint milk tea?
- Another mention of lapiz lazuli; seems like this would make an excellent component to a shrine.
- Another mention of the number seven,
- Seems like autumn equinox was an especially holy time for the Canaanites. This is not the first mention of this time of year being important, and being related to the underworld.
El’S DRINKING PARTY
El throws a grand party, in which there is a lot of drinking and feasting on wild game. The goddesses Astarte and Anat feed meat to the Moon (called Yarih), who is in the form of a dog. El himself gets extremely intoxicated, to the point of being “dead drunk.” Two other deities must help get El home. On the way home, El is confronted by the god Habayu / Resheph, who comes to El and either soils him or causes El to soil himself. Finally, Anat and Astarte go hunting to find ingredients for a hangover cure for El. The goddesses eventually return with the ingredients. The cure for a hangover is prescribed at the end of the text, which includes dog hair being placed on the head of the sufferer. A plant or possible dung (the translation is unclear) is mentioned after that, with the instructions to mix it with fresh olive oil and then apply it to the skin or ingest it, perhaps in order to calm the stomach (or to induce vomiting).
- “The myth draws on traditional settings for drinking, which in Ugaritic is called the mrzh. At Ugarit, the mrzh was an association of elite males, which according to one legal text could be held in the home of one of its leading figures. Comparative evidence suggests that it may also have been held in a room in a shrine or temple.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 167)
- “One interpretation (for the Moon being fed, in his dog form) is that the mrzh is a funerary feast that renders Moon this way because the moon god was thought to be in the underworld by day. However, funerals were likely only one of the several functions when the mrzh took place, and Moon’s role in the underworld lacks evidence.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 168).
- “The specter of a figure with horns and a tail may be a percursor of much later images of the devil.” (Coogan & Smith commentary regarding Habayu, page 169)
- “The description of the olive oil as “fresh” suggests the late summer or early fall as the time of year in which the myth is set. This also fits the drinking, since “new wine” was made with grapes harvested at this time of year.” (Coogan & Smith commentary, page 169)
My Interpretation / Thoughts / UPG:
- Several underworld / Death-related beings have been touched on thus far:
- Death (Mot), the primary death god; a beloved child of El, adversary of the Sun (Shapshu), Anat, and Baal.
- The Rephaim, divine heroic ancestors (maybe all human ancestors, to some degree? Focuses on heroes, kings, and warriors)
- The Lovely Gods, forces of destruction (that oppose forces of creation)
- Resheph (or Habayu), a horned / tailed god (not unlike a devil), also associated with destruction, plague / illness, death, and the underworld.
- Arsay, minor land / earth goddess also associated with the underworld
- Horon, a minor god of the underworld, perhaps a son of Astarte
- Interesting for there to be an entire myth documented about drunkenness; reminiscent of the ecstatic rituals of Dionysos, and the focus on wine, drinking, and ritual all being related to one another.
- Another myth set during the late summer / early fall season. Interesting that so many stories were documented during this time. It was truly a season for celebration.
- Could a modern mrzh be held? For what occasions? Could women participate?
- Perhaps alcohol (especially wine) would make a good offering for El
- Interesting to me that in Canaanite mythos, the moon is male and the sun is female. This seems to be reversed in many other ancient cultures (Greek, Roman, etc.). Egypt was the same way – moon was male, sun female and male (multiple sun deities). Must be an ANE thing?
Deities / Figures of Note
The following Deities / figures, mentioned throughout the myths (and the book as a whole), feel important to me, though I am not yet sure which I might explore in more detail or include in my own hearth practice:
- Anat – The “violent goddess”, associated with the hunt and war; Baal’s sister; avenges Baal by defeating Death; a maiden (unmarried, a virgin); also called “the mistress of the peoples”; a very earthy goddess
- Asherah (also called Athirat) – El’s wife, mother of the gods, associated with the sea
- Astarte – A goddess of love, but also the hunt / war (like Anat). Also closely related to Baal.
- Athtar the Awesome – The deified morning star and a son of Asherah; he is eventually made a ruler of earth
- Baal – Storm god, “rider on the clouds”, he provides the essential rains that bring the harvest; a great warrior; son of Dagan (not El); the new king of the gods; also called Hadad (“the thunderer”)
- Dagan – Baal’s father (also Anat’s father?); his name means “rainy one”, but he is also associated with grain. An important deity in Ugarit, despite playing a minor role in the recovered myths.
- Death (Mot) – God of death, ruler of the underworld, also a king, adversary of Baal and Anat, beloved of El
- El – Original king of the gods, father of the gods, principal deity; “the bull” and “the father of time” and “the kind, the compassionate”
- Kotharat – Goddesses of conception and childbirth, also called “radiant daughters of the crescent moon.”
- Kothar-was-Hasis – The craftsman of the gods, a magician, skillful and wise. He builds dwellings and forges divine weapons. Called “the skillful one”, “the son of Sea”, and “the son of the Assembly.”
- The Lovely Gods – Destructive pair of deities that are children of El; potentially worth offering to, so that they do not bring their destructive powers into one’s home
- Resheph – God of plague and death; also called Habayu
- Sea (Yammu) – The god of the sea and the rivers, one of Baal’s adversaries, also a beloved of El
- Shapshu (The Sun) – “The God’s Torch” and “The Great Light”, she commonly serves on orders of El, and by night she visits the underworld, and she has great power over Death
- Shataqat – The expeller of disease / the divine healer
- Yarih (The Moon) – Child of El and Asherah, a prince of the gods, patron of Abiluma, sometimes appears in the form of a dog
Heroes / Human Figures
- Danel – Warrior / King
- Aqhat – Warrior son of Danel; goes through a life & death cycle
- Pugat – Daughter of Danel; avenges her brother’s death
- Kirta – A great king of Hubur, a renowned hero, “the gracious one” and “the lad of El”
- The Rephaim – the deified dead in the underworld, often mentioned as heroes, kings, and leaders.