Esoteric Goddesses

250px-Statuette_Goddess_Louvre_AO20127One of the nice things about the internet is that you can indulge your unorthodox interests and nobody will much care (except, of course, the US government). The other day, while reading about monsters, I found a fellow WordPress site, EsoterX. More specifically, I found a blog post on Ashtaroth. Those who have more than a passing interest in my background know that I spent a few years of my life writing about the goddess Asherah. Asherah and Ashtaroth are sometimes easily confused by anyone not reading about them in the original languages, but I settled on Asherah because we simply don’t have much textual information on Ashtaroth. Ashtaroth has gone by a number of names over time: Athtart, Astarte, and, as I just learned from EsoterX, Lord Treasurer of Hell. I won’t try to repeat the clever observations of EsoterX, but I can’t help myself add my own two shekels’ worth.

Ashtaroth is clearly one of the bad girls of the Hebrew Bible. She tempts the upright astray, and she seems to have been a perennial favorite among the less-than-orthodox Israelites. The Bible doesn’t take much care to flesh her out fully, and she appears only in minor roles in the Ugaritic texts. Some in the ancient world easily associated her with Ishtar, and their names do seem to bear some kind of relationship. Ashtaroth is connected to the planet Venus, as was the latter goddess Aphrodite—named, appropriately enough by the Romans, as Venus. Ashtaroth was also a militaristic goddess associated with horses. That girl got around.

Unfortunately, in the literature that survives from the earliest period, we are left with only the sketchiest of outlines of this once important goddess. Many of the Semitic deities have been revived in popular mythology of the modern age, and Ashtaroth, with her sexy, yet belligerent nature, is always appealing to the puerile imagination of pubescent boys. She was taken with great seriousness long ago, however, although her origins are lost to history and her attributes have become general enough to fit just about any old generic goddess. I’m glad to see that EsoterX has given her a shout-out and has traced a brief history of the goddess through the ages. Maybe someday we’ll find some accurate information on her early days. If we do, will somebody please give me a poke? I will probably be busy reading EsoterX.


Biblical Science Fiction

1950s science fiction films are perhaps the most parsimonious celluloid genre. Standard Saturday afternoon fare in my childhood, I still have a soft spot for the unapologetic self-confidence of these movies with their painted backdrops and hokey effects. The messages are frequently self righteous and often biblical. So yesterday as I treated myself to a viewing of The Mole People, I went on instant alert as the biblical references began right away for an audience that would have known the Bible well enough to take it all in. Set in “Asia,” the archaeologists are digging for Sumerian artifacts when then discover a stone tablet “below the great flood level.” That makes it at least 5,000 years old, the assembled academics declare. A diffident Dr. Roger Bentley tells his fellow excavators, “in archaeology all things are possible!” When a young boy of the indigenous population discovers an oil lamp shaped like a boat, the archaeologists note, “the flood’s been proven to be a historical fact.” The boat is a model of Noah’s ark, the Sumerian version. The scene of the expedition climbing Mount Kuitara includes footage from the 1955 Fernand Navarra trek up Mount Ararat during which a wooden beam was found, reputedly from Noah’s ark.

If you can stomach the bogus Sumerian you’ll learn that ancient Mesopotamians also survived the flood, a kind of “children of Cain” motif. These Ishtar-worshiping pagans are practitioners of a kind of social Darwinism, killing off their own kind when resources in their underground world become strained. Their great underground civilization parallels that of ancient heathenism while more advanced civilization on the surface of the globe has the benefit of an enlightened Christian worldview. Even the Sumerians whipping the actual mole-men is reminiscent of the Egyptians whipping the Hebrews in the Ten Commandments (released the same year).

Fast forward fifty years. We now live in a technologically advanced civilization where the myths of ancient people have little place. Science provides logical explanations for most of what we encounter in the world around us. Yet there are still otherwise intelligent people seeking Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat. The past is impossible to escape. The Sumerians in the film (whose walls are inexplicably decorated by Egyptian artwork and hieroglyphics) represent those who hold onto a confused religion that has become a form of terrorism in the eyes of the more advanced archaeologists. Perhaps the paradigm has shifted, and those who use religion today to gain political power and personal gain have become the self-righteous Sumerians of The Mole People.


The Lady or the Lion

Ancient West Asian society utilizes a striking image that causes no end of confusion — the lady and the lion. Although not always identified, the lady generally appears to have been a goddess. Pairing a female figure with the most ferocious predator known in that society ripples with significance; there can be no question that the cultures involved were patriarchal, a fact of life in that part of the world at that time. If it was a man’s world, why depict the glorious lion with the feminine? Because we fear what we cannot control?

The infamous cult stand from Taanach

The infamous cult stand from Taanach

Ostensibly the rationale for this correlation may be traced back to Ishtar, the goddess sine pari of ancient Mesopotamia. The exact reason for her leonine associations is unknown yet she is among the fiercest females connected to warfare and strife in the ancient world. Her lion companions ranged over the realms of the Levant where other goddesses also assimilated her imagery. Curiously, one goddess who has no specifically leonine attributes is Asherah, the consort of the god most high, El. In Egypt the fierce goddess associated with war was Sekmet, often portrayed with a curiously male lion head.

Min, Qedeshet, and Resheph — a ménage à trios?

Min, Qedeshet, and Resheph — a ménage à trios?

In an earlier post I suggested that the biblical prophet Amos may have known that lionesses generally make the kill. Could it not be that although most women were locked out of public power structures in the ancient world they still may have retained the utmost respect and reverence of the populace? Long before male monarchs claimed titles such as “Lionheart” even gods would tremble before an enraged goddess. Morphed through time and continued patriarchal culture, the connection once again recurs in Frank Stockton’s The Lady or the Tiger where the metaphor has lost its teeth and the lady is no longer the source of destruction, but of male desire. Has the male prerogative once again usurped feminine independence? If only Ishtar or Sekmet could have been behind door number three!

Behind door number 3

Behind door number 3