Posts Tagged ‘Phoenician’
Is your city a god or goddess?
One of my favorite things about the socio-political phrase ‘the separation of church and state’ is that it does not include pagan concepts when it separates out ‘church.’ Organized monotheistic religion is automatically cast as a bias for political motivations, while the more spiritual ethos like those practiced here are allowed a place at the table. Political iconography is full of pagan and esoteric occult elements which subtly play on the psyche of the masses to promote ideas of community and nationalism.
Just take a look at the statue of Liberty. She’s not just a pretty lady wearing a tiara and holding up a torch. She is a sculpture of the Roman goddess of Liberty. And yet she is not a museum statue, or a remnant of a bygone age. She is actively worshipped as a symbol of welcome for the huddled masses searching for the promised land of the American Dream. And for those already in the United States she is a perpetual guarding symbol of the democratic spirit she so poignantly embodies. Overall, she was an entirely apropos gift from the republic of France to the United States: the first government of the modern era to successfully practice democracy (the only previous working variant having been in 5th century BCE Athens).
The Statue of Liberty wears a stylized toga comparable to those of Republican Rome (an antique civilization the France of the past three centuries has actively idealized). She carries a tablet of laws (the political variant of the moral Ten Commandmants) and a torch of enlightenment. But most intriguing of all ~ is her crown. Her crown hearkens back to ancient traditions of city-goddesses, where the deity most associated with the city (or the personification of the city itself) would wear a divine mural crown symbolic of the city’s walls or battlements. From the creation of the first cities there has been an implicit identification of the city as an anthropomorphic divine figure ~ a protector of man analogous to the city battlements she wears on her crown. The most prominent iconographic depiction of this centers on the ancient Near East, where the Tyche city- of the Phoenician coast reigned supreme. She was a symbol of the town’s prosperity and linked to the well-being of their inhabitants, the various Tyches could be counted on to guard the fortune of her denizens.
Anthropomorphization, or the transformation of a concept or inanimate object into something human, is something man and womankind intrinsically does to make these concepts or objects relatable. We do it in a myriad of different ways, both in ancient times and modern, often without even thinking anything of it. We name our cars. We treat our domesticated pets as human children. We even cast the gods in our own image, and then justify this by saying that we were cast in his or her image and that thus it is an infinite playback loop. By granting the space we live in, i.e. the nation, the city, the street, the house, etc a personhood, we make it easier for us to relate and understand the understandable.
Why does it rain? Because the weather god is sad. Humanity, even perceived humanity, implies an understanding of culture and emotion. In casting human forms on the divine, we cast them into a society which parallels and interacts with our own and therefore can be understood as a grand godly soap opera. It makes the big scary unknowable things about the universe fathomable while still retaining some elements of their mystical mysteries.
Creating these humanistic symbols also builds a community, who, if they have nothing else in common, at the very least possess this shared iconography. Just as sports teams has associated colors, team jerseys, and a mascot ~ so too can this team building psychology be applied at wider levels of society. The personified nation, be it in the form of the statue of Liberty or the likes of the Roman Empire’s Roma, acts as a visible totem for people to follow and share.
Gradients of civic divinity can be seen throughout modern society. From the goddesses on state seals to the magickal spells implicit in state, government, and even school models. The deification of space and of concepts is happening all around you.
And so, this week I ask you to look around your world and inquire into how many wonderful gods and goddesses may be going overlooked and in need of a bit of your attention. Is your city a god? Does your school have a patron goddess? What do you anthropomorphize and why? Why is it so important that humankind does this?
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.