Posts Tagged ‘Ishtar’
Get outside this Tuesday and witness one of the most marvelous, magickal astronomical events of your lifetime!
Every eighty or so years, the orbits of the earth, the sun, and the planet Venus line up so that those of us here can view Venus sailing across the fiery depths of our central star. It happens as a paired event, so eight years ago you had a chance to watch the first half and over the 5th and 6th of June this week(depending on your location) you have a chance to watch this second, final half. Sadly, given the length of time between the sets, it is unlikely that the majority of the current world population alive to see the event today will live to see the next one in 2117 CE.
But why is this magickally significant? As a major, visible alignment of some very unlikely celestial orbits: transits are remarkable for the beauty of their phenomena and for the implications of the movement of their solar dance, both culturally and astrologically. And in this case, where it is a confluence between the sun, Venus, and the earth, there are a plethora of positive magickal symbolisms which can be extracted from their opportune meeting. And in 2012, the so-called year of the apocalypse: the more positive meanings that can be extruded to counterbalance the negative, the better!
‘Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus.’
Popularized as a book title in the late twentieth century, this phrase already explicitly explained something most people inherently recognized about Venus: its femininity. From time immemorial, man and womankind has looked up at the planet Venus, burning brightly as the morning ‘star’ and associated it with womanhood and with love. The ancient Mesopotamians associated it with Inanna and Ishtar, their queenly goddesses of fertility and feminine wiles. The Greeks and Romans associated it with their goddesses Aphrodite and Venus, the latter of whom it gets its name directly of. The planet Venus is, indeed, the only feminine planet in our solar system ~ the rest of the planets are named after male mythological figures. Other than the singular stunning exception of Venus, only the moons of our planets reference female figures. Later associations between the morning ‘star’, a.k.a Venus rising and the association with dark forces like the Christian devil, were later attempts to villanize the sanctity of the brightly lit planet for earlier pagan cultures.
As a representative of feminine ideas of fertility and growth, its transit across the sun, as viewable from earth, has widespread implications of abundance and innovation for those on earth. Indeed, many of the previous known transits of Venus have occurred at peak times during the late Renaissance and Enlightenment. The last series of transits occurred just around the time various marvelous things were being invented, like the telephone. Unfortunately, the phenomena has only been seriously noted for its last four transits (i.e. since the invention of the telescope), though it has been passing us by all along and would have been potentially noticeable under certain circumstances. Any earlier mentions of it have yet to be reconciled with the historic event. However a lack of a historic record does not mean that the superstition and mythical meaning of the event went unremarked upon. It merely means that the modern world has not been able to hold on to this information.
It may also signal a high point in lovability. And may represent the need for mankind to focus in on preserving the own environment and womb of our friendly mother earth.
Whether you watch to support its myriad of magickal messages, or merely just to witness this most astounding of natural events (carefully though! Don’t ever look directly at the sun!): do try to catch a glimpse of this rare celestial phenomena!
For more general information, as well as where and when to try to catch the transit, and how best to watch it, check out the Transit of Venus website devoted to the event.
For more information on the astrological meaning of the transit and its historical confluences, check astrologist Alison Chester-Lambert’s excellent blog out on the topic.
For more information on the science of the transit, including an explanation of the orbits which results in its rarity, check out the BBC’s video on the topic and look forward to the eventual digital premiere of their documentary Horizon: The Transit of Venus.
Caption for top photo: Botticelli’s 1486 painting The Birth of Venus depicts Venus rising fully grown from the sea, just as the morning star, the planet Venus, rises from the sea at the distant horizon.
I recently underwent the mild trauma of my first bee sting. According to medieval French superstition, this means a stranger or a guest is en route. According to various ancient Mediterranean and Eastern European rituals, I ought to keep the poor little bumblebee. As the first bee I’ve personally encountered this year, he will bring me prosperity for the coming spring.
Bees, and the honey they so cleverly create, are sublimely steeped in magick and sacred ritual. From the dawn of time to the present, throughout religious turmoil, changing geopolitical borders, steps forward and steps back in morality and human behavior, bees and honey have been a mainstay of human society. Perhaps even more so than our canine companions, bees are man’s best friend (despite the occasional sting).
Though the relationship between man and bees is suspected to have begun earlier, the first appearance of bees in the archaeological record is in an Epipaleotlithic rock art depiction of a figure climbing a ladder to collect honey from a cluster of encircling bees in the Spider caves or Cuevas de la Araῆa, which date to approximately 8,000 years ago. So ancient is human involvement with bees, that the word for mead a( drink made from their honey), is so old that its base roots in proto-Indo European dialects affected its usage in a myriad of later tongues: from ancient Greek, to Sanskrit (where it is still used as madhu), to Chinese dialects and Old English, etc…The latter of which is where we get the current term of ‘mead.’
As the only natural sweetener humans of the Old World encountered until the Age of Exploration (circa 14th century AD, less than 700 years ago), when they discovered the wonders of sugar cane; honey had an early significance among the foods of the forest and later, the town. Typically, that significance falls into the sacred category. Honey appears prominently in early mythology, both as a physical offering of the gods and as something consumed by them. In ancient Babylonia, vows were sworn to the god of honey. Protection spells against evil magick made to the sorcerer-gods Ishtar and Marduk were sealed with gifts of honey. The Greek god Zeus, patriarch of his pantheon, was raised on the honey of sacred bees kept in the Cypriot cave he was raised in. The later Norse gods drank only magickal mead in their mythical Halls, as did the glorious dead they invited to join them there. In the ancient RigVeda, honey and soma are said to drip from the sacred fig tree which stands at the center of the universe. In other words, honey permeates world mythology, coating it in delicious sticky sweetness.
Human use of honey for ritual purposes is also significantly prevalent: from ancient times up until the modern day. Ancient texts and epigraphic evidence describe honey as a frequent offering to a variety of deities and spirits. It was either left out in a cup before an altar, poured on the ground as a libation, or burned. The Iliad describes its use as a funerary gift for the fallen warrior Patroclus. The Odyssey features it in Circe and Odysseyus’ necromantic ritual to ask advice of the spirit-seer Teiresias. The ancient Phoenicians would smear honey onto standing stones and burn it at their altars. The latter of which was later forboden by the Old Testament (Leviticus 2:11), indicating its former widespread use among the ancient Israelites and their attempt to cease such pagan rituals within their new, more monotheistic religion. The controversial use of honey within monotheistic rituals continued (almost begging the question ~ what is it about honey and bees that is so delightfully pagan the Church would consider it dangerous?), despite the initial covenant between God and Abraham featuring the promise of a land filled with milk and honey (Exodus 33:3). The Christian Synod of Auxere in 585 AD forbade the mixing of wine and honey (wine only!) for consecrated beverages. The Synod of 692 forbade the offering of milk and honey at saintly altars. The witch trials of the Burning Times occasionally centered around the magickal theft of honey by presumed witches who were charged both with the theft by demonic means and the use of the stolen honey for nefarious Sabbaths. Ironically, however, the art of beekeeping was most well developed in the Catholic monasteries of the early Medieval period.
Honey (and therefore bees) are particularly associated with happiness and sensuality of love and life. Honey was wildly popular in the ancient world as an aphrodisiac. The famous first doctor Hippocrates advocated the taking of milk and honey to induce love and ecstasy. The making and gifting of honeycakes, particularly in Eastern European traditions, was associated with rituals of courtship and romance. Conveniently, the use of honey, as advocated by the Kama Sutra, has resurfaced in the modern world; returning to its rightful place in erotic magicks. The prevalence of the term ‘honeymoon’ is a further continuing reflection of the associations between honey and the sacred act of sex and bond of marriage. With the exception of certain sub-Saharan tribes, honey has prevalently been considered a particularly suitable wedding gift and a particularly beneficial substance to be consumed at weddings, particularly by the bride and groom. The threshold of the honeymoon suite or first home of a couple is likewise best smeared with an offering of honey to encourage prosperity. Certain areas of Germany still perpetuate the ancient practice of decorating local beehives in honor of a wedding, so that the bees which created the honey for the wedding feast might also partake in the festivities.
On the flip side, honey has often been associated with death. The earlier discussed passages of the Iliad and Odyssey aptly reflect ancient usages of honey in death rituals: namely as offerings to the deceased and in death-involved magick. Funerary and spirit gifts were made of honey, logically, to literally sweeten the deal and the afterlife beyond. Honey was often used to bathe the dead prior to burning or burial. This is especially evident in ancient Egypt, where a ritual honey bath was a part of the expensive mummification process. The deceased are still offered a teaspoon of honey in some modern Hindu funerary rituals, often so that their language might be sweet and powerful in the next stage of existence.
The medicinal uses of honey, as a curative (i.e. to prevent death and discomfort, thereby increasing the likelihood of love and life ~ all of which it is associated with), are also noted in both ancient and modern sources. Its properties as an antiseptic for wounds made it a particularly powerful magickal curative in ancient poultices and medications, evidence for which is outlined from Egyptian magickal-medico texts onwards. The soothing nature of its consumption eases sore throats. Its quick metabolic dispersal rate makes it easy to digest and transfers a considerable amount of comparative energy to the consumer. Recent studies also indicate that consumption of local honey may ease certain allergies via an increased familiarity with the pollens used to create the honey.
Be it for medicinal or magickal purposes, honey is a potent ingredient. As one of the most natural and sacred of binding agents, it can be employed to increase the strength of any concoction. Its utility as a biological offering increases its power as an offering to the gods, and especially to localized house spirits. Spring offerings of honey are particularly effective, especially with regards to the latter creatures.
Bees, as the architects of honey and as creative industrial creatures in their own right, are also due considerable respect. Indeed, the bee, perhaps alone among insects, has been offered its own respected role within mankind’s understanding of ecology. The bee’s complex social formations and patterns of organization have long been lauded: from New Testament references to the honeycomb up through the social theorists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Though rarely revered as deities in their own right, the bee as a provider of sweet goods to humans has been recognized from the designation of the Lower Kingdom of Egypt as the Land of the Bees, to modern usage of the bees image on consumer goods (like the Honey Nut Cheerios Bumble Bee). Though typically adverse to insects, the bumble is one of the odd exemptions: perhaps simply because there is something innately magickal to them which resonates with the magickal within all of us.
Prayer and song are elements of religious culture which anthropologists assume were some of the key early features of the world’s first religions thousands of years ago. The spoken or sung verbalization of a wish, a cry for help, a thank you and other types of prayer formalizes the supplicant’s desire ~ pushing it out from them and into the wider cosmos. It is a beautiful expression which bridges the gap between human and divine.
With the advent of writing in ancient Mesopotamia, these prayers began to be written down ~ their power deriving now as much from the vocalization of the desire as from the act of being written. Early writing was considered sacred. The knowledge of being able to read and write was a powerful skill; one which was possessed by the rare few; in fact, initially only priests, royal administrators, their scribes, and occasionally the royals themselves were capable of writing and reading. It was used as much for organizing the newly expanding Empires of the world as it was for magickal purposes. Over time, it would filter down to the merchants and beyond, sifting down through the ages until the invention of the printing press in China in the sixth century AD and the later, more prominent Western discovery of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century, and the wider spread of literacy that ensued because of these discoveries. But in ancient Mesopotamia, the power of the written prayer was myriad, and was used to call upon the gods for a vast array of purposes.
The following prayer, or hymn, to the goddess Ishtar is from approximately 1600 BCE, during the first Dynasty of Babylon. It was written in cuneiform on behalf of the King Ammiditana, and survived the ages, to be deciphered by the archaeologists of the early twentieth century and ultimately read by you, dear reader, at the beginning of the twenty-first.