Recently I became inspired by a fellow polytheist’s dedication to what he calls “Athletic Cult.”
I discovered rock climbing about a year and a half ago now, and it has become a central part of my life; I would say it has truly become one of my greatest passions. Up until mid-March 2020, when my city shut down all gyms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was training in rock climbing 4 times a week at my local climbing gym and consistently “sending” (completing) climbs in the V4-V6 range (here is a guide to all of the climbing “grades”, which are the levels of difficulty – basically, I was kicking ass as an intermediate climber and trying to get closer to becoming an advanced climber). When the quarantine began, my partner and I built a mini climbing wall in our basement, and I tried to train as much as I could at home with my hangboard (I also continued with some of the general physical fitness activities I’d been doing my whole adult life, like going on runs and doing body-weight tabata workouts). When my climbing gym re-opened August 1st with new COVID protocols (mask-wearing mandate, reservations, limited capacity, social distancing, improved ventilation), I eagerly returned to my favorite hobby. I soon discovered that my efforts to maintain my climbing abilities during the quarantine were mostly successful, though I did lose some endurance / overall strength. I can still send V4-V6 problems, but not as many in a single session, and not as quickly as before. However, I know that with renewed dedication to climbing 3-4 times a week, I’ll be able to get back to where I was in March (and, I’ll be more mentally prepared for the types of losses I might experience should gyms close again in the Fall/Winter, and I’ll have a better idea of how to train more intelligently at home).
With the re-opening of gyms and a better understanding of what pandemic physical fitness might look like going forward, I felt like it was the perfect time to become more seriously invested in merging the spiritual and the physical in terms of athleticism in general (something I had been considering pre-pandemic, but had not pursued yet). Giving cult to a specific Deity for the purpose of blessing my athletic pursuits week over week seemed like a wonderful way to supplement my physical and mental dedication to climbing (even when the pandemic ends, too).
In any case, there is historical precedence for this sort of thing, as well. The ancient Greeks, for example, were known for holding elaborate athletic contests in honor of and to appeal to their gods and heroes. Athletic competitions in ancient Greece were full of ritualistic activities such as sacrifices, offerings, prayers, etc. (Sources for this: A Companion to Sport and Spectacle in Greek and Roman Antiquity by Paul Christesen and Donald G. Kyle and The Role of Religion in Greek Sport essay by Sarah C. Murray, both of which I discovered through reading the Nertobessus website).
In terms of Levantine athletic cult, I have not been able to find much to go off of (with the research I’ve been able to do so far), besides perhaps some hints of it within the cult of Melqart (also Melkarth or Melicarthus), Who was an important Phoenician god and the patron deity of the city of Tyre. From the 4th century BCE, the Greeks identified / syncretized Melqart with their own divine hero Hercules, who has obvious and well known connections to physical strength, athleticism, and courage. I thought about giving cult to Melqart at first, but it didn’t really feel right to me as I experimented with it. The rest of my current religious activities in recent months have centered around learning more about the worship of the Bronze Age Canaanite gods of Ugarit, as well as worshiping the Kemetic gods of ancient Egypt through the Kemetic Orthodoxy (I began the KO Beginner Class a few weeks ago, which I plan to write about in a separate blog post). Therefore, as I started to consider athletic cult, I really felt like I wanted to pick a deity Who would have been worshiped at Ugarit and in Egypt. I also, perhaps because of my own identification as a female athlete, felt like I wanted that deity to be a goddess (or at least present primarily as a woman in human interpretation, since gender is a human construct, not a divine one).
Anat immediately came to mind for me once I had figured all of the above out. She was worshiped by the Canaanites and the Egyptians (She was introduced into Egypt as a result of immigration and royal patronage) as a vicious warrior, a fierce protector, and a master of the spear / lance, shield, and bow. She seemed perfect to pray to for athletic prowess, mental fortitude (in overcoming fears that can arise while climbing, such as the fear of taking a bad fall), and overall strength. She takes zero shits (to put it plainly) in the mythology of the Canaanites, and that badass energy is something I definitely want to feel more regularly (though don’t worry, if I suffer insults from a man, I won’t physically murder them – something She was known to do!)
I searched around for some specific known hymns to Anat to use for athletic cult, and found one documented / translated in N. Wyatt’s article Religious Texts From Ugarit (KTU 1.13: A Hymn to Anat, page 169):
This is obviously not the most ideal prayer to speak in modern times, especially given the archaic themes and all the parts of it that are missing (due to the fact that it was translated from ancient stone tablets with imperfections / damaged sections), however, it is a great base to work off of in terms of writing a more modern hymn. Therefore, I decided to write my own modern hymn to Anat (with a Hebrew title), with the intent of preserving as much of the original hymn as possible (note: my version is also informed by Wyatt’s commentary in regards to the translation of the above text):
Mizmor L’Anat: Hymn to Anat
From the moment of Your birth,
You were a slayer of men.
Come – fly with Your falcons – to the mountain of Inbub,
Your holy mountain,
carrying the severed heads of Your enemy warriors attached to Your girdle.
Lo, come to Your dwelling, to the highest point in the heavens,
and run towards the stars,
There, warriors shall continue to fall like poplars before You;
like the trunks of ash trees, they will fall before You,
and they will be laid out upon the altar above the stars,
though the silver image of Your spear is more beautiful than any star.
Then may You, the beloved of the Powerful One, wash Yourself,
and go up to the dwelling of El the Bull, Your Father,
where Your great deeds will be celebrated by all.
May El hear You, oh fierce One,
May El understand You, oh beloved of the Powerful One,
because You are the One Who destroys all evil
while clothed in a glorious light.
May You be sent strength by celestial messengers
and may Your first born son be blessed a prince.
Voracious are You, beloved of Ba’al,
Anat the ravenous, unable to be controlled,
She Who has power over Her own body.
With the above modern artistic interpretation of Anat that I digitally painted (using Procreate for iPad), plus the hymn to Anat that I wrote above, I should be able to begin my athletic cult in earnest. Baruch Anat! Dua Anat!