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Goddesses of the Ancient Near East
(archived articles)
Johanna Stuckey — Professor Emerita, York University

The Levant
Atargatis, the “Syrian Goddess” (Canaan)
Beltane 2009, Vol 8-3
"In his account of the Syrian cult center Hieropolis, Greek writer Lucian called its goddess “Hera.” However, he added that the natives gave her (and her consort) “another name”. That was almost certainly a form of Atargatis, life-giving divinity associated with rivers and springs, motherly protector of humans and animals. Atargatis often served as tutelary or protector deity of urban centers — the providence or luck of the place (Semitic Gad, Greek Tyche, Latin Fortuna). Especially on coins, she often wore the “mural crown” with battlements (crenellations) as representation of the town she cared for."

Sacred Repositories and Goddess Figurines (Israel)
Beltane 2008, Vol 7-3
"What seems quite certain is that female pillar figurines “are missing, or extremely rare,” in the few public buildings from the period which can be clearly identified as sacred, that is, belonging to the official religion (Kletter 1996: 62). The conclusion must be that the little statues were worshiped in domestic contexts, that is, in folk or popular religion. Perhaps, then, the sites where we find the pillar figurines functioned for ordinary folk as their sacred repositories."

The "Holy One" (Canaan)
Lammas 2007, Vol 6-4
"A number of Egyptian relief plaques from this period depict a fully frontally nude goddess usually standing on a lion and sometimes posed between the Canaanite warrior god Reshep(h), an Underworld deity, and the Egyptian fertility god, ithyphallic Min. The Egyptians called her Qedeshet or Qudshu."

A Canaanite Goddess Shrine at Nahariyya in Israel (Canaan)
Beltane 2006, Vol 5-3
"Whoever she was — and I myself tend to think she was Asherah - her shrine presents us with information on the practices of ancient goddess worship in the Bronze Age in the land of Canaan."

Asherah and the God of the Early Israelites (Canaan)
Lammas 2004, Vol 3-4
"Unquestionably, 'the asherahs' were usually wooden; they stood upright, often beside altars, along with stone pillars. However, in at least eight instances, they are described as carved. Thus, far from being merely wooden 'cult poles,' they were probably quite large carved images. As was the case with cult statues in other areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, 'the asherahs' almost certainly would have been 'animated' ritually. Thus they did not just represent the goddess, but actually were worshipped as Asherah herself. Further, according to the Bible, a statue of Asherah stood in the Solomonic temple in Jerusalem for about two-thirds of its existence. Asherah 'must, then, have been a legitimate part of the cult of Yahweh'."

Asherah, Supreme Goddess of the Ancient Levant (Canaan)
Beltane 2004, Vol 3-3
"Thus, it seems that, in the Bronze Age Levant, tree was all but synonymous with goddess. Not only do pendants depict goddesses with trees growing up from their vulvic triangles and seals and other artifacts show trees, complete with browsing animals, next to goddesses, but one of the most beautiful objects from Ugarit presents a goddess as a tree. On a fragment of a carved ivory lid of a small box, a goddess takes the position normally held by the sacred tree and feeds goat-like animals that lean forward and upward to take the vegetation out of her hands."

Astarte (Canaan)
Imbolc 2004, Vol 3-2
"Known in the ancient Levant as Ashtart and in the Hebrew Bible as Ashtereth, the beautiful Astarte may owe many of her characteristics to Mesopotamian Ishtar, as the similarity in their names proclaims. Like Ishtar, Astarte seems to have had strong connections with both war and love/sexuality. In historical times, she received offerings in ancient Ugarit in Syria; her name appears forty-six times in texts from that city. One of her main centers was Byblos, where she was identified with Egyptian goddesses Hathor and Isis. In the second millennium BCE, Astarte was, like Anat, a war goddess of the Egyptians. Large numbers of ancient Israelites revered her, and versions of her name occur at least nine times in the Hebrew Bible. She was also an important deity of the Phoenician towns of Tyre and Sidon, whence she and her veneration spread with Phoenician merchants throughout the Mediterranean"

Anat, Warrior Virgin of the Ancient Levant (Canaan)
Samhain 2003, Vol 3-1
"Young and impetuous Anat was one of the great goddesses of the ancient Levant, the area now occupied by Israel, Transjordan, and Syria. In mythic poems from the ancient city of Ugarit on the coast of Syria, she had a very active role, but the other important source for the polytheistic religion of the area, the Hebrew Bible, almost ignores her. Anat may once have been worshipped throughout the Levant, although she was probably more important in the north than in the south. However, by the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BCE), to judge from Ugarit, her cult seems to have begun to die out even in the north, as her attributes and functions were slowly taken over by other great goddesses."

Mesopotamia
Spirit Possession and the Goddess Ishtar in Ancient Mesopotamia
Samhain 2008, Vol 8-1
"In ancient Mesopotamia, attested examples of possession normally involved oracles or prophesies by religious functionaries — many of them women, many devotees of Inanna’s Semitic counterpart, Ishtar."

Ancient Grain Goddesses of the Eastern Mediterranean
Lammas 2008, Vol 7-4
"Surprisingly, the great Sumerian goddess Nissaba, whose name was used in written material to denote “grain,” was the much-valued scribe of the gods. She was the goddess of writing, accounting, and surveying and, more important, patron of scribes and scribal wisdom."

Shaushka and 'Ain Dara: A Goddess and Her Temple
Imbolc 2008, Vol 7-2
"Curiosity about a wonderful ancient temple and its deity led me to discover a goddess entirely new to me: the "Queen of Nineveh" Shaushka. Such are the excitement and reward of goddess research!"

Ninshatapada, Scribe and Poet, Princess and Priestess
Samhain 2007, Vol 7-1
"To be a scribe was to be the cream of the cream. Few men, and even fewer women, achieved that height. A person needed both the connections to get admitted to a scribal school and determination to survive long, hard, and expensive years of rigorous training. Despite her elite status, Nin-shata-pada still had to overcome the limitations imposed on her sex."

Goddess, Whore, or Both? Kilili, the "Woman at the Window"
Imbolc 2007, Vol 6-2
"Was the beautiful, enigmatic "Woman at the Window" a goddess, a prostitute, or both?"

Nin-kasi: Mesopotamian Goddess of Beer
Samhain 2006, Vol 6-1
"Well-known and worshipped by ordinary people, Nin-kasi was also venerated officially, not only at Nippur but also at the great city of Ur and other cities. Libations of beer, her sacred substance and herself, were poured out to the gods, and jars of beer were placed before their altars for them to drink. Beer was certainly used by prophets at the northern Mesopotamian city of Mari, now in Syria, to trigger states of ecstasy in which they would prophesy."

"Going to the Dogs": Healing Goddesses of Mesopotamia
Imbolc 2006, Vol 5-2
"The alter ego of healing goddesses was the dog. In iconography, such goddesses and dogs go together, and the dog alone can represent them. Why these goddesses were associated with dogs is unclear. Perhaps the ancients noted that dogs' licking of their wounds promoted healing. Possibly, as some have suggested, dog saliva contains medicinal elements."

"Sacred Prostitutes"
Samhain 2005, Vol 5-1
"'Tragically,' says one contemporary scholar, 'scholarship suffered from scholars being unable to imagine any cultic role for women in antiquity that did not involve sexual intercourse. However, recent scholars are fast setting the record straight. Even if ancient priestesses were involved in ritual sex, even if they received offerings for their temples, they were not prostitutes but devotees worshipping their deity'."

"Inanna and the Huluppu Tree": One Way of Demoting a Great Goddess
Lammas 2005, Vol 4-4
"As a result of her control of fecundity and her centrality in the 'Sacred Marriage,'Inanna kept her high standing among the Sumerian deities even as society increased in male-dominance). The poem 'Inanna and the Huluppu Tree'gives a mythic explanation of how the throne and the bed used in the 'Sacred Marriage'came into existence and, in the process, records a drastic demotion in Inanna's status."

Inanna's Descent to the Underworld
Beltane 2005, Vol 4-3
"As I interpret it, 'The Descent of Inanna' is a possible patriarchalization of a pre-patriarchal story of a deity connected with fertility who disappears and returns, a story that affirms the cyclicity of the round of life and death. Farming cultures understand the cycle and accept it. Beginning her descent, Inanna anticipated problems; maybe she suspected that things had changed. One of the main changes, I suggest, was that Ereshkigal, probably originally Inanna's underworld aspect, had now taken on a personality of her own. And she was not particularly welcoming to her counterpart from the great above."

Goddess Inanna and the Sacred Marriage
Imbolc 2005, Vol 4-2
"A man could achieve authority in Inanna's temple community at Uruk as either her "trusted servant" or her consort or both. Indeed, traditionally, the ruler of Uruk and its goddess co-habited in the gipar. The 'Sacred Marriage,'which at first conferred authority temporarily on one man, eventually provided religious sanction for male exercise of power."

Goddess Inanna, Goddess of Infinite Variety
Samhain 2004, Vol 4-1
"The great American scholar of Sumer and things Sumerian, Samuel Noah Kramer, described Inanna as '...the ambitious, aggressive and demanding goddess of love ...'. In historic times, she certainly was goddess of love and sexuality, but she also held and could bestow the mes, the attributes of civilization Thus, she ruled over many areas of culture. According to Thorkild Jacobsen, these included 'the storehouse', 'the rains', 'war', 'Morning and Evening Stars', and what he calls 'harlotry,' prostitution."

Miscellaneous
The Goddess Meenakshi and Her Temple at Madurai (India)
Imbolc 2009, Vol 8-2
"Early in the morning, from my seat in our tour bus, I saw the edge of the first huge tower (gopuram) of the great Meenakshi temple and realized that one of my long-time ambitions was about to be satisfied: I was soon going to walk through a functioning goddess temple!"

Goddesses and Demons: Some Thoughts (Bali, Mesopotamia, the Levant)
Beltane 2007, Vol 6-3
"When I was a tourist in Bali some years ago, I met Rangda for the first time and have been fascinated with her ever since. All eyes focused on Rangda as she emerged from the inner part of the temple about a third of the way through the Barong dance, an exciting Balinese ritual drama. The dance I attended at a village temple was shortened for tourists, but that did not change Rangda's charisma. There was no doubt that she was power: electrifying, dangerous, and otherworldly."

Of Omegas and Rhombs: Goddess Symbols in Ancient Mesopotamia and the Levant (Mesopotamia, the Levant)
Lammas 2006, Vol 5-4
"Ancient Mesopotamia boasted many goddesses whose main, but not only function was birthing. They were regularly identified with each other. Dingir-Makh "Exalted Deity" was the Sumerian birth goddess par excellence. Other Sumerian birth goddesses included Nin-khursag "Lady of the Mountainous Areas," Nin-makh "Exalted Lady," Nin-tu "Lady of Birth," Nin-mena "Lady of the Crown," and Nin-sikila "Pure Lady." Dingir-makh's Babylonian equivalent was Belet-ili "Lady of the Gods." The name of Erua, also a Babylonian birth goddess, possibly originated from the Semitic Akkadian word eru "to be pregnant." The Assyrians adopted Erua as Sheru'a. Sumerians addressed the birth goddess as Ama, while Babylonians called her Mama, 'Mother'."

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