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I've just read some articles on alternative genders in non-Western cultures which each sound a note of caution, as well as providing more information on those genders. Oversimplification and misinterpretation are of course hazards of my cursory note-taking, so these warnings are relevant to my interests.
In "Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the 'Third Gender' Concept", Evan B. Towle and Lynn M. Morgan raise a number of problems with how Western popular accounts (in particular, those written by transgender people from the US) interpret alternative genders in potentially misleading ways. For instance, cultures with a "third gender" may be thought of as "primordial", as if all cultures "evolve" from more gender diverse to less gender diverse. Also, alternative genders from different cultures tend to be lumped together into a single category, into "a single, universal transsexual experience", one shared by trans Americans. "Third gender" categories may be depicted as homogenous and unchanging, and the extent to which they are accepted by their cultures may be exaggerated.
The authors ask whether the concept of a "third gender" actually protects binary gender rather than challenging it: "The existence of the 'third' category might imply - wrongly, in our view - that 'first' and 'second' categories are inviolable and unproblematic." Carolyn Epple makes the same point in her article "Coming to Terms with Navajo nádleehí" - that for there to be an alternative third gender, there must be a first and second gender which are not alternative or other. She asks: "But is it not possible that the existence of Navajo nádleehí is not in fact evidence of third genders but is instead constructed as such, given current theoretical interests?"

Moreover, adding additional genders doesn't guarantee a system in which individuals are free to express themselves. Towle and Morgan quote Anuja Agrawal re the hijra of India: "The greater the number of genders, the greater their oppressive potential as each may demand the conformity of the individual within increasingly narrower confines." A "real" hijra is a castrated man, not just a cross-dressing or effeminate one. Another researcher, Don Kulick, argues that the Brazilian travesti helps "solidify normative binary gender system, but not the Euro-American system that makes gender contingent on sex." Rather, the role in intercourse determines gender; the travestis "understand and position themselves as women". (Cf Unni Wikan's comments on the xanith.) So a "third gender" may uphold "a rigid gender system by formalizing variation."
Similarly, in "The Bow and the Burden Strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native America", Harriet Whitehead warns against confusing Western homosexual people with Native American gender-crossers, who were defined by "occupational pursuits and dress/demeanour" rather than sexuality. They occurred in some nations (such as the Yurok, the Crow, the Miami) but not others (including the Inuit, the Comanche, and the Maidu).
Discussing the cultural construction of gender, Whitehead writes: "A social gender dichotomy is present in all known societies in the sense that everywhere anatomic sexual difference observable at birth are used to start tracking the newborn into one or the other of two social role complexes." Anatomy creates the dichotomy, "but in no culture does it exhaust the ideas surrounding the two classes thus minimally constituted." Assumptions about additional differences between the sexes, along with beliefs about their "fate, temperament, spiritual power, ability, and mythical history" form a "cluster" of defining features, which vary from culture to culture, and make possible "a mixed gender or deficient gender status" - "a person of one anatomic sex assuming part or most of the attire, occupation, and social - including marital - status of the opposite sex for an indeterminate period."
A Native American gender-crosser (I'm avoiding the insulting catch-all term "berdache") might behave like a member of the "opposite" sex during childhood or adolescence, or might receive messages in dreams and/or visions telling them to do so. There were also male war captives who were given the status of "wife" in their captor's household, and made dress as women and do women's work. Whitehead also mentions a Gros Ventre warrior woman who became a Crow chief and took wives.
Whitehead discusses why "the gender-crossed status was more fully instituted for males than females"; there were "[f]emale deviations in the male role", but not a "named, stable status category". There were two reasons: one, it's easier to move down in status than it wis to move up. Two, women were more defined by their anatomy, in particular their reproductive role, while this was less significant for men and made it easier for them to gender-cross. Female gender-crossers claimed not to menstruate. They were known for the "Mohave, the Cocopa, the Zuni, the Apache, and the Navajo"; the Kaska apparently had only female-to-male gender-crossers. Some had wives.
Without taking on this "fourth gender" identity, IIUC, women might also temporarily engage in male tasks (for example out of economic need), they might be trained in male skills by a husband or father, or they might "consistently cultivat[e] male skills from an early age". Women who were successful in the male domain were honoured as if they were men. OTOH, because "[w]omen's labour was not subject to total or even very extensive appropriation by men", a gender-crosser might make himself rich and respected with his expertise in female crafts.
The male gender-crosser was "a mixed creature", a "man-woman" or "part-man, part-woman". Whitehead remarks that "Navajo, Cheyenne, and Mohave lore about the berdache's exceptional abilities as a matchmaker, love magician, or curer of venereal disease again expresses the logic that the berdache unites in himself both sexes, therefore he is in a position to facilitate the union of the sexes." He might engage in male tasks as well as female, and/or have "specialized duties" such as handling corpses, carrying provisions for war parties, and looking after the sick.
Whitehead discusses why these cultures were "permissive" towards gender-crossers. She suggests this is because of the belief that peoples' characteristics, their talents, luck, and idiosyncracies, were unpredictably assigned to them by supernatural helpers (often via visions). The gender-crosser was just one of many types of person whose nature was decreed by forces beyond human control. (Epple explains that the Navajo see an individual as the product of complex, cyclical natural processes, not "a handful of traits".)
Finally, Peter A. Jackson's chapter "Tolerant but Unaccepting: the myth of a Thai 'Gay Paradise'" does what it says on the tin, debunking the myth that Thailand is accepting of "non-normative sex/gender behaviours". Homosexuality is not illegal, nor considered immoral by the Buddhist majority, and gay-bashing rare; however, homophobic rhetoric comes from both popular and official sources, pressure to conform comes from parents and from shaming through gossip, and "cross-dressing kathoey, like Thai women, are often subject to sexual harassment and even sexual violence by heterosexually identifying males." "Tolerance," Jackson writes, "denotes a preparedness to endure, put up with, or permit to exist, but does not necessarily imply the lack of criticism or the favorable or approving attitude connoted by acceptance."
The kathoey identity includes intersex people as well as cross-dressing and transgender men, who are assumed to take non-kathoey men as their lovers; they are more accepted than male-identifying gay men, whose existence came as a shock to mainstream Thai culture in the mid-60s. In turn, kathoey who "exhibit a high standard of feminine beauty and who adopt the reserved, polite manners and speech of a genteel Thai man or woman" are more accepted than those considered "loud-mouthed, aggressive or lewd". (Perhaps this is another example of a confining, rather than freeing, "third gender".) A heterosexual man can have sex with a kathoey without losing his masculinity, assuming he takes the role of "husband".
Jackson comments on the multiple masculinities present in Thai culture, remarking that "in classical and some contemporary literature it is not unusual for the ideal Thai man to be portrayed as soft-featured, occasionally being equally sexually attractive to men." There's a class component to this as well, I think, as in a 1991 story Jackson cites in which an "ambiguous attractive" refined nobleman, a kathoey, is contrasted with a peasant with "rough manners, a dark complexion and coarse features".
It's only natural that LGBT+ people would look to other cultures for evidence of their existence and acceptance. These writers are just cautioning against imposing Western ideas onto non-Western cultures. Even my slight reading has made it clear that Western assumptions about gender and sexuality - even the concepts "gender" and "sexuality" - are not natural and universal. That profoundly challenges sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Epple, Carolyn. Coming to Terms with Navajo "nádleehí": A Critique of "berdache," "Gay," "Alternate Gender," and "Two-Spirit". American Ethnologist, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 1998), pp. 267-290.
Jackson, Peter A. "Tolerant but Unaccepting: the myth of a Thai 'Gay Paradise'." in Peter A. Jackson and Nerida M. Cook (eds). Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand. Silkworm, Chiang Mai, 1999.
Towle, Evan B. and Lynn M. Morgan. "Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the 'Third Gender' Concept". in Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (eds).The Transgender Studies Reader. New York, Routledge, 2006.
Whitehead, Harriet. "The Bow and the Burden Strap: A New Look At Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America". in Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (eds). The Transgender Studies Reader. London : Routledge, 2006.

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With the ugly possibility of a pointless postal survey on same-sex marriage in Australia, with the inevitable attendant claims that marriage has eternally and universally between one woman and one man, it seems like a good idea to revisit the fact of woman-woman marriage in traditional African societies with a few notes from the book Male Daughters, Female Husbands, a study of gender roles and relations in the Igbo town of Nnobi, Nigeria.

In Nnobi, writes Ifi Amadiume, "'male daughters', first daughters, barren women, rich widows, wives of rich men and successful female farmers and traders" all might have wives of their own. The term for woman-woman marriage was igba ohu. "Such wives, it seems, came from other towns. The 'female' husband might give the wife a (male) husband somewhere else and adopt the role of mother to her but claim her services. The wives might also stay with her, bearing children in her name."

Wives and children were a kind of wealth, for both men and women - "a question of a large workforce versus a small workforce". Women's wealth might also include animals and crops, but not land, which was passed from father to son. What to do, then, when there was no son? As with the Hittites and Hurrians, the solution was simple: give a daughter the status of a son, with a ceremony in which the father summoned "members of his patrilineage and gave them palm wine".

Generally, men owned the land and women worked it; Amadiume notes that women's access to gardens and farm land depended on men. She writes: "On the death of a husband, a wife's continued access to farmland depended on her having a son, or a 'male daughter'. On the death of a woman as wife and mother, the continuation of her matricentric household depended on the woman's son, or a 'male daughter', or respected ada, first daughter, marrying a woman to take the place of the dead wife."

This is only one of many societies in which marriage was not defined as one man and one woman, with polygamy and woman-woman marriage both well-established customs.

Amadiume, Ifi. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: gender and sex in an African society. London, Zed, 1987.

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(One of these days I would like to go back through all these jillions of links and organise them by subject. "'I would like'? I would like a trip to Europe!" - Daffy Duck)

Anat: Autonomous Goddess Of Ugarit. Presented by Ellie Wilson at the Society of Biblical Literature's annual meeting, November 1993.

Artefacts found in Pilbara cave show Aboriginal life in northern WA dates back 50,000 years (ABC, 19 May 2017) | The extraordinary science behind an Aboriginal history discovery 65,000 years in the making (SMH, 20 July 2017). "Artefacts found in Kakadu national park show that Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for a minimum of 65,000 years, 18,000 years longer than the previous estimate."

The world's oldest observatory? How Aboriginal astronomy provides clues to ancient life (Lateline, 13 October 2016) | How astronomy paved the way for terra nullius, and helped to get rid of it too (phys.org, 14 October 2016)

Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too (Smithsonian.com, 10 July 2017) | What wine did Jesus drink at the Last Supper? (phys.org, 17 April 2017) | Barley dormancy mutation suggests beer motivated early farmers (phys.org, 21 November 2016) | Revealing the science of Aboriginal fermentation (phys.org, 24 October 2016)

Late last year the Brooklyn Museum's Tumblr posted about the use of "Visible-Induced Luminescence imaging to map the presence of Egyptian blue". Meanwhile, the earliest known use of Egyptian blue has been identified in a bowl from the time of King Scorpion.

Archaeologists discover earliest monumental Egyptian hieroglyphs (phys.org, 26 June 2017)

DNA from ancient Egyptian mummies reveals their ancestry (Washington Post, 30 May 2017)

The origin of the tabby coat and other cat mysteries revealed (ABC Science, 20 June 2017) | No, Those Aren't Male Lions Mating. One Is Likely a Female. (National Geographic, 18 April 2016)

The Amazon Women: Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth? (Smithsonian Magazine, April 2014) | The kingdom of women: the society where a man is never the boss (The Guardian, 1 April 2017) The Mosuo of Tibet.
What ancient Egypt tells us about a world without religious conflict (The Guardian, 30 October 2015) The Faith After the Pharaohs exhibition at the British Museum.

Information-age math finds code in ancient Scottish symbols (Scientific American, 31 March 2010)

How we discovered that people have been cooking plants in pots for 10,000 years (phys.org, 24 January 2017)

Scientists find advanced geometry no secret to prehistoric architects in US Southwest (phys.org, 23 January 2017)

Why we'll always be obsessed with – and afraid of – monsters (Medical Xpress, 31 October 2016)

Inscription About Ancient 'Monkey Colony' Survives [Daesh] Attacks (LiveScience, 9 December 2016)

Women Are the Backbone of the Standing Rock Movement (Time, 29 November 2017)

This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits (Medical Xpress, 29 November 2016)

Pristine pressed flower among 'jaw-dropping' bronze age finds (The Guardian, 30 September 2016)

“Gay” Caveman Wasn’t Gay… (En|Gender, 7 April 2011) "... she was trans." Or third gender. Or...

Unearthing the origins of East Africa's lost civilization (CNN, 19 October 2015). Kilwa in Tanzania, part of the Azania trading society.

Gender and the Generic in Divine Acclamations (a series of Tweets from Edward Butler, 28 November 2015).

Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae
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OK, but is the Mesopotamian goddess Išḫara (apparently the name given to Ishtar on her marriage) the same as the Hittite goddess Išḫara? Why, yes:

Išḫara "was the main goddess of Ebla during the third millennium" (Kura was its main god), where she was the personal goddess of some kings. Her worship was more widespread than that of Ishtar; she had temples in the city of Ebla and throughout the kingdom. After the "first destruction" of the kingdom, however, she was replaced as main goddess and royal goddess by Ishtar, who was assimilated with Šauwuška.
Aha. "The cult of Išḫara spread from the region of Ebla as far as the Babylonia of the Akkadian period." She appears there in personal names, alongside Išḫara in a love spell, and "plays the role of Ištar" in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in Atrahasis. She had temples at Ur and Nippur, and also became part of pantheons elsewhere in Syria and in eastern Anatolia.
Išḫara has an important role in the Hurrian "Epic of Freeing", which describes her as "skillful in speaking, a goddess renowned for (her) wisdom. She "was the tutelary goddess of oath taking... This was the Išḫara the Hittites knew."

ETA: Here's Išḫara at Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East.
Yener, K. Aslihan and Harry A. Hoffner Jr. Recent developments in Hittite archaeology and history: papers in memory of Hans G. Güterbock. Winona Lake, IN, Eisenbrauns, 2002.



Jul. 26th, 2017 07:01 pm
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Two interesting snippets, from: van Wyk, Susandra J. The concealed crime of the naditu priestess in §110 of the Laws of Hammurabi. Journal for Semitics 24/1 (2015) 109-145.

"I translate MÍ.É.GAL as 'consort' or 'wife' rather than 'queen' because it is clear that the Assyrians themselves conceived of a 'queen' (šarratu) as either a goddess, or a woman (always foreign) who actually ruled, such as the queen of the Arabs mentioned in Esarhaddon's annals."

"Another emblem associated with MÍ.É.GAL as the scorpion, a motif that has been found in both official and private contexts on numerous items from the women's quarters of various palaces. The scorpion symbol is associated with Išhara (the goddess representing Ištar in her married state) and is usually found only on items related to women."
In pursuit of Išḫara the married Ishtar, I followed van Wyk's reference about the scorpions to three articles:

Herbordt, Susan. "Neo-Assyrian Royal and Administrative Seals and Their Use." in H. Waetzoldt and H. Hauptmann (eds), Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten, 39 RAI Heidelberg July 1992, HSAO 6 (1997) 279-283.

"... there is good reason to assume the scorpion to be a symbol associated with the administration of the queen -- at least in the reign of Sennacherib. A symbolic meaning of the scorpion in this context is not clear. Since late Kassite times, it was used as a symbol for the goddess Išḫara, who shows a variety of characteristics from being a goddess of love, mother goddess and goddess of extispicy to being war goddess."
(Herbordt's references are in German, alas.)

Stol, Marten and F. A. M. Wiggermann. Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting. Styx, Groningen, 2000.

This book quotes a passage from Atrahasis:

"At the moment of (their) marriage,
let Ištar rejoice in the House of ....
Nine days let there be made merry,
let them name Ištar 'Išḫara'."

And remarks: "We know from other texts that Ištar, the goddess of love, in marriage has the name Išḫara. Incantations show that she was a married goddess under this name: 'What Ištar does for Dumuzi, what Nananja does for her mate, what Išḫara does for her husband.' In a number of 'bed-scenes' we also see a scorpion; we assume that in these scenes the couple thus indicated is to be married. Her temple has the name 'House of the womb (šassuru)."

(Curse my inability to read German, or I'd be able to further pursue the references...)

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You read something over breakfast thinking, this is short, it'll only take a minute, and before you know it you're embroiled.

This short article from the year 1900 suggests that Ishtar was originally an androgynous deity before being "split" into male and female aspects. Similarly, Barton argues, Enlil and Ninlil were originally one and the same god. This intriguing idea is based on three pieces of evidence: one, in South Arabia, the goddess Athtar became the god Athtar, the deity's female aspect becoming a separate goddess, Shamsu; an inscription which Barton argues should read in part "the king of countries, the god Ishtar, the lady, the goddess Ishtar"; and an incantation in which both Enlil and Ninlil are called "mother-father". Barton also mentions Phoenician inscriptions referring to "Ashtart of the name of Baal" and "Tanit of the face of Baal".

This is appealing, but I don't quite know what to do with it. I can't find any citations of this article (which makes me wonder how I found it in the first place); apparently no-one else has built on this idea (although Barton discussed it further in his 1902 book A Sketch of Semitic Origins: Social and Religious). Connections suggest themselves: the primordial Aztec creator deity Ometeotl, both male and female, who can also appear as a male god, Ometecuhtli, and a goddess, Omecihuatl. OTOH, the Egyptian god Atum seems to have started off male and acquired female characteristics as a necessary part of being a creator.

There's also a mention of a Phoenician idol of a bearded goddess (Tanit, but with Baal's face?). I tried randomly searching for "bearded goddess" and came up with various examples, including a bearded Isis (which I will ETA), and the bearded Aphrodite / Aphroditus / Hermaphroditus, and his/her festival in which men and women swapped clothes - shades of the transvestism apparently involved in Inanna's rituals. Scholars have argued over whether Anat wore a beard. (Which I will also ETA because I can't lay hands on the photocopies right now.)

ETA: After much faffing about I found a section on Anat's beard in Neal H. Walls' book The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. There's a description of the god El mourning the slain Baal in a series of ritual actions, which includes shaving his beard and whiskers. Then Anat goes through the same series of steps. IIUC what El does, literally, is to "cut his cheeks and chin", where the word for "chin" is also used to mean "beard". So in Anat's case, she "gashed her cheeks and chin". Walls remarks: "the comparative evidence for bearded goddesses is dubious". I shall pursue this question. (Does Sekhmet's ruff count?)

ETA: Here's bearded Isis (click for larger size):

This is a plate from Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker: besonders der Griechen (Symbolism and mythology of the Ancient Peoples, Especially the Greeks) by Friedrich Creuzer. This in turn reproduces an illustration from Nachträge zu meinem Werke betitelt "Reise zum Tempel des Jupiter Ammon in der libyschen Wüste" (Supplements to my work titled "Journey to the Temple of Jupiter Ammon in the Libyan Desert) (whew!) by Heinrich Karl Minutoli. Here, alas, the trail runs out: Minutoli tells us that this is a relief in the Palazzo Grimani in Venice, and that is Graeco-Roman, but gives no further information.
Barton, George A. An Androgynous Babylonian Divinity. Journal of the American Oriental Society 21, 1900, pp. 185-187
Walls, Neal H. The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. Scholars Press, Atlanta GA, 1992.
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These figures appear on the back pillar of a magical healing statue, Turin 3031, which portrayed a man holding a Horus cippus. Only the lower part has survived.

If that's an accurate rendering of "Sekhmet the Great, beloved of Ptah", then her phallus seems to have slid down to her knees. Kákosy compares her to other lioness-headed, ithyphallic figures, from Karnak and Hibis, and also "the statue in Naples inv. 1065 back pillar right side ref V.1.", which alas I seem to have neglected to photocopy.

There are enough examples of this figure - the ithyphallic lioness-headed goddess - to say that it was definitely A Thing, a rare example of androgyny in Egyptian religion. But what did it mean to the ancients? If it's a syncretism between Mut or Sekhmet and a specific male god or gods, then why not name them? Perhaps it was comparable to pantheistic figures - showing that the deity in question had the powers of all the gods, male and female?

ETA: Figures labelled as Sekhmet appear elsewhere on the same statue - which makes sense for a goddess associated with sickiness and healing. The goddess takes various forms: holding two snakes; holding a long double-headed snake ("Sekhmet who subdues the Rebel"); as a lion-headed uraeus, presented with the wedjat by a baboon (presumably a reference to the tale of the Distant Goddess); and as a lion lying on a shrine, wearing the atef crown ("Sekhmet the Great who dwells in the City" (perhaps Thebes)).

Nefertum also makes multiple appearances, firstly to the left of Horus on the cippus, in the form of a lotus with tall plume hung with two pairs of menits. The texts on the cippus which refer to this symbol name "Horus the Saviour", who Kákosy speculates was identified with Nefertem in this case. Kákosy writes that this symbol was "a potent emblem" and says that Nefertem and his lotus often appear in magic; Horus on the papyrus, which appears on the right side of the cippus opposite Neferterm's symbol as its "counterpart", "may have been the symbol of rejuvenation and freshness of health" as well as the union of male and female (many goddesses hold a papyriform sceptre).

There are several other interesting figures, such as Sobek pulling a snake out of his mouth and two cats flanking a sistrum. "Khonsu the Great who came forth from the Nun" appears in the form of a crocodile on a pedestal with a falcon-head and sun-disc emerging from its back.

Kákosy, László. Egyptian Healing Statues in Three Museums in Italy: Turin, Florence, Naples. Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, Soprintendenza al Museo delle antichità egizie, 1999.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
This chapter by Donald B. Redford discusses the "ever-present struggle between land and sea, fair weather and storm", which "dominat[ed] the mythology of the maritime cities of the eastern Mediterranean", in the form of stories of hero vs monster - tales describing creation and providing "an archetypal rationalization of kingship". The version of the story from northern Syria, with Baal defeating Prince Sea on the coast near Mount Saphon (modern Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ / Kel Dağı), was the most influential: Greek myth placed the battle between Zeus and Typhon in the same area, Athena and Poseidon's rivalry is based on Anat and Yam's, and Marduk's defeat of Tiamat in the Enûma Elish is also drawn from the story.

Variations of the story occur further south, in cities where the worship of the goddess, called Astarte, "seems to outshine" her male consort. ("This may hark back to the Bronze Age when the cult of Asherah, the mother of the gods, as more prominent in the Levant. In the hinterland of the south, indeed, she continued to dominate as the consort of Baʿal and Yahweh.") In Byblos, "the goddess reigned supreme". She was known as "the Mistress of Byblos" - probably Astarte. Byblos also had the tale of the battle with the sea, but he "is worsted, killed and has to be revived by a loyal partner". (The story of Adonis and the Egyptian tale of the Doomed Prince, among others, show traces of this myth.) There were further variations at Sidon and Tyre.

A second storyline involves the "sexually-avaricious Sea who turns his attention to the beautiful goddess, the Baʿal's consort". Derivations include Typhon's pursuit of Aphrodite, the abduction of the Phoenician princess Europa, and Perseus' rescue of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda. Redford drily remarks: "There can be no doubt that the prospect of the innocent, voluptuous beauty ravished by the monster had an irresistable appeal to the collective subconscious of many a community in the Aegean". There are related stories of the goddess Atagatis / Derceto turning into a fish (along with her son) after being thrown or leaping into the water.

At Gaza, Anat, Astarte, Dagon, Reshef, Arsay, and Marnas were worshipped (later as their Greek incarnations, Athena, Aphrodite, Zeus, Apollo, possibly Persephone). "A Ramesside ostracon speaks of a festival of Anat of Gaza for which a 'cover' (? for a shrine?) seems to be one of the requirements". Redford links Plutarch's story of Isis and Osiris with Gaza. As Isis returns from Byblos, bad weather on the River Phaedrus provokes her to dry it up. Next, as Isis inspects Osiris' body at a "deserted spot", a prince of Byblos, Palaestinus, sneakily observes her and is struck dead by Isis' angry look. Plutarch writes: "Some say that... he fell into the sea and is honoured because of the goddess... and that the city founded by the goddess was named after him." Gaza is described with the same Greek word for "deserted spot" in Acts 8:26, and "Palaestinus" is derived from "p3-knʿn", "the town of Canaan".

(Bit more to come from this article; but now it is time for pizza!)

(OK pizza and "Game of Thrones" now complete)

Redford compares the stories from the southern Levant, which feature the water monster, the goddess, and her child, with Egyptian versions, including Astarte and the Sea (the Astarte Papyrus), the Story of the Two Brothers, and Set's hunt for Isis and Horus. "In Egypt, however, the motif has been largely separated from a maritime venue, and is now informed by the denizens and landscape of the Nile valley. The monster now takes shape as a crocodile, or serpent; the hero as ichneumon, falcon or scorpion. Horus defeats the serpent, the creator god subdues the water-monster (crocodile)." So for example, "the great battle... when Re had transformed himself into an ichneumon 46 cubits (long) to fell Apophis in his rage." (That's over 21 m fyi.)

Redford concludes by reminding us that it's impossible to draw a simple "family tree" of these stories, due to "the very general nature of the basic plot, and the mutual awareness and ease of contact enjoyed by eastern Mediterranean communities."
Redford, Donald B.. "The Sea and the Goddess". in Sarah Israelit-Groll (ed). Studies in Egyptology: presented to Miriam Lichtheim. Magness Press, Hebrew University, 1990.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
A long, copiously footnoted, often technical, and frequently filthy dirty article, "A Cloud Roams and Beautifies by Spitting Out Her Brother" discusses a Ugaritic composition called KTU 1.96. The author, Matthew S. Tarazi, discusses prevous interpretations of the hymn, and gives his own: it describes the goddess Anat, acting as the "servant-messenger" of the storm-god Baal, collecting the rainwaters and distributing them to the freshwater springs which are essential for civilisation. Here's his translation of the first 9 1/2 lines:

"A Cloud roams and beautifies by spitting out her brother —
And her brother is beautiful, how very beautiful!
May she devour his flesh without a knife,
May she drink his blood without a cup:
May she face the spring of shame.
From the spring of shame may she face the spring of the market, the spring of the assembly, the spring of the gate."

Tarazi interprets this as Anat performing fellatio on Baal to obtain his semen, which she then distributes to the underground springs and brings to the surface, fertilising ("beautifying") the land. Baal's "flesh and blood" is his "entire essence and nature", the rainwater; the "spring of shame" is Baal's penis. The market, assembly, and gate are all "components of civilized life in Ugarit", so Anat's visit "vivif[ies] these sectors of life and civilization." The title of the hymn can be less poetically interpreted as "A cloud roams and irrigates by emitting out rainwaters", fertilising the earth "so that it brings forth magnificent life, vegetation, and civilization".

The Ugaritic word 'nn means both "cloud" and "servant, messenger"; it makes perfect sense for the storm-god's servants and messengers, including in this case Anat, to be clouds.

"Shame" seems like such an odd word in such a positive context. I wonder if it's really the right translation. Tarazi points out that Anat herself might not feel ashamed, even if "she is shameful by certain social standards".

Tarazi argues that it's Baal who does the fertilising here; although she acquires his waters in an *ahem* active manner, Anat is his agent, not a fertility goddess in her own right. He believes this is a deliberate change from an older view of Anat as having the "innate capacity to fertilize the earth". ("It also accords well with iconographic images depicting her with small breasts, thus internally deficient of life-sustaining fluids." OTOH, Ishtar is depicted proferring full breasts, and yet is arguably a goddess of sexual desire rather than fertility per se*.) I guess that would fit with the image of Anat taking Baal's semen in her mouth, rather than her vagina. (This is not the same thing, but I thought of Atum, who is what Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty would call a "male androgyne", producing Shu and Tefnut by taking his semen in his hand and placing it in his mouth.)

The author discusses at some length "a literary convention wherein [poet-scribes] would pluralize a term that denotes a particular person, typically a deity, to refer to the essential manifestation of that person". (He argues in particular that the word "brother" is actually "brothers".) "... deities are construed as ultimate sources of certain constituents and phenomena of the natural world [which in turn are] construed as coming out from the body of the person of the deity himself, and embodying that deity's essential nature." The point of this convention was to show that the god and their essence were different, but intimately related. It also addresses the idea that a god can manifest simultaneously in multiple places; similarly, in the Hebrew Bible, "plural forms of deity names... can be used to refer to idols of that deity [because] an idol is construed as sharing in the very essence and nature of the god whom it represents."

* I can't remember for the life of me who made this argument.

Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy. Women, androgynes, and other mythical beasts. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Tarazi, Matthew S. A Cloud Roams and Beautifies by Spitting Out Her Brother: KTU 1.96 and its Relation to the Baal Cycle. Ugarit-Forschungen 36 2004, pp 445-509.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Egyptian hieroglyphs at Mnamon: Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean: A critical guide to electronic resources

Ancient Egypt for kids - Egyptian Crowns and Headdresses of Gods

A Very Remote Period Indeed: A blog reviewing recent archaeological publications having to do with Paleolithic archaeology, paleoanthropology, lithic technology, hunter-gatherers and archaeological theory.

Untangling an Accounting Tool and an Ancient Incan Mystery (NYT, 2 January 2016)

Diodorus Siculus describes the Assyrian king Sardanapallus (perhaps Ashurbanipal) as a transvestite / transgender bisexual and blames him for the destruction of the Assyrian Empire - although the Greek historian's account mostly sounds like a pretty ordinary war.

Ancient Egyptian herbal wines (Patrick E. McGovern, PNAS 106(18), 5 May 2009) | Archaeological team prepares 4,000-year-old Hittite meals (Slate, 8 September 2016)

Ancient 'Mad Libs' Papyri Contain Evil Spells of Sex and Subjugation (LiveScience, 20 May 2016)

Scientist debunks nomadic Aboriginal 'myth' (GA, 9 October 2007) | Waking our sleeping Indigenous languages: 'we're in the midst of a resurgence' (GA, 31 August 2016) | Indigenous Australians most ancient civilisation on Earth, DNA study confirms (GA, 21 September 2016) | World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians (ABC, 22 September 2016) | Indigenous Australians know we're the oldest living culture – it's in our Dreamtime (GA, 22 September 2016)

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity (NYT, 30 November 2009). Review of the exhibition The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.

How human sacrifice helped to enforce social inequality (Aeon, 8 June 2016)

The Exotic Animal Traffickers of Ancient Rome (The Atlantic, 30 March 2016)

Female King Ruled in Canaan, Carving Suggests (National Geographic, 10 April 2009)

Scientists use 'virtual unwrapping' to read ancient biblical scroll reduced to 'lump of charcoal' (GA, 21 September 2016)

Unearthing the origins of East Africa's lost civilization (CNN, 19 October 2015)
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Alexander Pruss' chapter "The Use of Nude Female Figurines" discusses terracotta figures from Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, including those weird-looking ones with all the holes in the head for attaching hair and earrings, and the later, more naturalistic ones which sort of wave their boobs at you. These and similar objects have long been interpreted as "fertility figurines". Pruss argues that "any link to childbirth and motherhood is completely lacking with these figurines". None are pregnant; none hold a child; the hands are not pressing milk from the breasts, but supporting them, presenting them.

"Generally, there is no reason to believe that the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia and Syria could not separate the fields of eroticism and human procreation," writes Pruss. In fact, in the ANE, fertility was more closely linked with male deities, such as Dumuzi. By contrast, the patroness of sexual desire, Inanna/Ishtar, was childless ("except for some ephemeral traditions").

That said, questions remain about who used these sexually aggressive little figures, and exactly what for (household rituals? votive offerings?).

Pruss, Alexander. "The Use of Nude Female Figurines". in S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting (eds). Sex and gender in the ancient Near East: proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2-6, 2001. Helsinki : Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002. pp 537-545.


Jul. 8th, 2016 08:59 pm
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
You learn something new every day. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Revelation 6) are typically named as Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence. However, it turns out that only Death is specifically named in the chapter. War is fairly clearly identified, but Famine and Pestilence are both guesses. The horseman I'm used to seeing called Pestilence is described thusly (KJV):
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
What struck me at once (so to speak) is that if this is Pestilence, then it's a Pestilence armed with bow and arrow - just as Sekhmet's messengers, the demons that deliver disease at her behest, are her "arrows".

Whether there's any connection between these two things is another matter entirely!

And this is how I found this out. *creeps away shamefully*
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Re the Keret Epic, Tablet C: "For instance, it can be shown conclusively that the so-called goddess Sha'taqat is a figment of the imagination; the supposed name is a finite verb and the figure referred to is the minor goddess of healing, Thatmanitu." (p 131)

Starting a cult for Sha'taqat in three, two...

Albright, William Foxwell. Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: a Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths. London, Athlone Press, 1968.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Over in Tumblr, my strange little hobby is trying to identify gods and demons in photos from Egypt. When the name is visible in hieroglyphs, of course, it's a pushover. At other times, I can only make an educated guess from other clues, because the iconography of many deities overlaps: Isis and Hathor; Amun and Khnum; Re and Ra-Horakhty; and the many lioness goddesses can look identical. I'm far less well up on the gods of the Levant, Phoenicia and Syria and Canaan and all that, but the problem of telling them apart seems to be even more pronounced, even for the experts. As Richard D. Barnett writes, "we have lost the keys for interpreting many of the bewildering variety of divine types".

So Barnett only "ventured to identify" one particular form of Phoenician goddess of the Iron Age with Anat (aka 'Anath): "a young girl, dressed in a long Egyptian woman's garment who wears either the great Egyptian triple version of the 'atef crown, called hm hm ('terrible'), or the 'atef crown on horns between two uraeus snakes". She also "wears an Isis-girdle, holds a shield and harpe and sometimes has a long dagger (or daggers) stuck in her girdle at her waist." Barnett describes this goddess as "partially transvestite": not only is she armed, but the hm hm crown is more usually seen on male gods, such as Osiris, Harpocrates, and Ba'al. This is a good match for the Anat of the Ba'al cycle, ready to avenge her brother's death, and representations of Anat from New Kingdom Egypt show her brandishing shield and weapons, as Barnett points out. (I'd add that it matches Papyrus Chester Beatty VII, in which Anat is described as "a woman acting as a warrior, clad as men and girt as women".) However, 'Ashtart (aka Astarte) was similarly depicted in Egypt: "it is clear that she and 'Anath often coalesced".

Barnett's goal is to trace the history of representations of Anat. The Iron Age in Phoenicia, 1200-500 BCE, roughly corresponds with the middle of the New Kingdom in Egypt through to the middle of the Late Period. Barnett writes that "the identification of Isis-Hathor with the Lady of Byblos goes back to the Middle Kingdom" and "the concept of 'Anath and 'Ashtart as war-goddesses is an invention of the Egyptian New Kingdom, and was not known in Phoenicia till the Iron Age." (There may be indications of it as early as the Hyksos period, however.) I guess this is a pretty good indication of the cultural exchange going on between Egypt and the Levant - iconography and gods being traded along with everything else. (Ugarit, however, predates the Iron Age, and 'Anat is pretty bloody warlike in the literature found there!)

It's also possible that 'Anath is represented in a different way - wearing Isis/Hathor's sun-and-horns headdress, flanking a god who could be Ba'al or Reshep, with a goat standing on its hindlegs on his other side. She embraces him (the god, not the goat). Apparently Anat and Hathor were identified with one another in second millennium BCE Syria. Barnett thinks it's more likely this goddess is 'Astarte. But he cautions that "Their roles and representations are in fact still at present very hard to distinguish. The distinction between the representation of the two sister goddesses is something of a mystery, which we are not yet in a position to unravel." Has it been unravelled a bit since 1978? Further investigation is indicated.

Barnett, Richard D. The Earliest Representation of 'Anath. Eretz-Israel 14 1978, pp 28-31.


Mar. 19th, 2016 06:45 pm
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
A chapter on Hittite birth rituals, discussing "binding" in sorcery and mythology:

"Here [Text F in Beckman's catalogue] the goddess IŠTAR speaks to the goddess Malliya, who speaks to the goddess Pirwa, she she in turn to Kamrusepa, who 'yoked her horses and drove to the Great River, whom she conjured by incantation'. Then all that had been bound was loosed, through the ritual agency of Kamrusepa.

This goddess is found frequently in the circle of IŠTAR (ie the Hurrian Shausuga), Malliya (a river goddess), Pirwa and Askasepa, the 'genius' of the Gateway. Pirwa, both god and goddess, honoured by songs in Nesite and Luwian, is described as the god upon a Silver Horse and depicted in the iconography of Kültepe/Kanesh with chariot and team of horses... The logographic writing IŠTAR represented a deity, at once male and female, of War and Love." (All emphases mine.)

What caught my eye here, of course, was the hints of gender ambiguity; but also - look at all those goddesses! The article goes on to describe Kamrusepa's healing a newborn child and calming the anger of "the Hattic god Telepinus".

Beckman, Gary M. Hittite birth rituals. Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz, 1983.
Pringle, Jackie. "Hittite Birth Rituals". in Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt. Images of Women in Antiquity. Croom Helm, London and Sydney, 1983.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
More about Emesal, the Sumerian "women's language" - or was it? Gordon Whittaker argues that Emesal should be understood as a literary device, not as the genderlect used by Sumerian women (in contrast with with the differences between male and female speech in other languages, including Japanese). He points out that although Emesal is used for the speech of goddesses in certain types of Sumerian compositions, "the evidence for mortal women and girls actually using Emesal still needs to be presented." Enheduanna, the "greatest known author of Sumerian cultic literature, did not write in Emesal... even when she is writing in the first person and identifying herself by name."

Whittaker also discusses the evidence for the gala-priest as eunuch - concluding "more evidence is needed". The gala uses Emesal when singing laments and so forth; some Sumerologists have suggested that he was a castrato. Whittaker counters: "no direct, or even reasonably cogent evidence has ever been proferred that the genitals of the gala suffered the fate of the pre-modern choirboy." He also notes the evidence of galas having children and passing on their profession to their sons (although they could have been adopted?) and a reference to a gala as puršum bitim "patriarch". (In Sumerian proverbs, the gala speaks Emesal "in everyday life", but this could be stereotyping and/or satire.)

The more I read about this stuff, the less certain everything becomes.

Whittaker, Gordon. "Linguistic Anthropology and the Study of Emesal as (a) Women's Language". in S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting (eds). Sex and gender in the ancient Near East: proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2-6, 2001. Helsinki, Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002.


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