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)
Will Roscoe's article "Priests of the Goddess" compares the Graeco-Roman gallus, the Mesopotamian gala (and similar cultic performers), and the Indian and Pakistani hijra.

They have several things in common:

  • they are priests of a goddess (or goddesses)
  • they're organised into groups, and employed by temples
  • they dance, sing, and play instruments
  • they are reputed to be homosexual and/or sex workers
  • they have an alternative "third" gender
  • and they have magical powers.

    It's those two last features I'm particularly interested in.

    The galli, singular gallus, "were originally temple personnel in the cities of central Anatolia", worshippers of the goddess Cybele, whose cult eventually spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world. The hijra are devotees of the goddess Bahuchara Mata; like the galli, they tell fortunes and can "utter fearful curses". (Lifting their sari to show their scars "doom[s] the viewer to calamity".) Their tradition may date back as far as "the early first millennium". The galli were called the "third sex" and the "middle kind"; the hijra are called "third gender", "not-male", and "woman-man" (Cf UR.SAL, "man-woman", ie assinnu.)

    As Roscoe points out, while the gala et al were said to be "gender transformed" by Inanna/Ishtar, we don't know whether this was a physical transformation. Interestingly, though many hijra are ritually castrated, many postpone this and some never go through with it; it's not an absolute requirement of the job. Roscoe points out that the same may have been true for the galli.

    This may have reflected an understanding of sex and/or gender which isn't reduced to the genitals, but has to do with cultural traits such as dress, behaviour, and profession. The galli wore "partly female and partly galli-specific dress", the hijra formerly mixed male and female clothing but now wear women's clothes; the gala sang in emesal, the woman's dialect, the kurgarru and assinnu "portrayed the goddess in ritual, by wearing masks and cross-dressing", the saĝ-ur-saĝ mixed male and female dress. Roscoe suggests that "since homosexual practices were, for the receptive partner, considered androgynizing, the sexual activity of galli served to overdetermine their status as androgynes". (p 205)

    "Why is gender transgression so often attributed with religious meaning?" ponders Roscoe. Nanda writes that the hijras "call into question the basic social categories of gender on which Indian society is built. This makes the hijras objects of fear, abuse, ridicule, and sometimes pity. But hijras are also... conceptualized as special, sacred beings... both Indian society and Hindu mythology provide some positive, or at least accommodating, roles for such sexually ambiguous figures."

    ETA: By contrast, Piotr Michalowski's article on the Ur III period gala doesn't mention gender at all. (He does state that "Ur III ceremonial life" was based on concepts and symbols "very different from any that became before and after".) He remarks that "galas were important players in economic and religious life", involved in funerals, funerary cults, and organising official music performances, and possibly other entertainment. It's possible that men could temporarily take the role of a gala, such as at a wedding.

    ETA: More on the galli from The Gods of Ancient Rome by Robert Turcan, who states that Cybele's cult was overseen by "foreign priests (a Phrygian man and woman, as well as by galli... castrated like Attis, the companion who was both lover and son to the goddess."

    The galli left the goddess' sanctuary only on procession days. One procession is described as being accompanied by cymbals, tambourines, trumpets, and flutes, and the frenzied brandishing of weapons; the frightened onlookers showered the galli, who were dressed in multi-coloured garments, with offerings of coins and roses.

    During another procession, mourning the death of Attis, the galli whipped and cut themselves, and amongst all the shrieking, music, and dance, the new would-be galli castrated themselves with a flint. (One ancient writer cheekily referred to this as "the very day when the faithful of the Mother of the gods began to groan and feel sorry for themselves.").

    Legally, Romans could not be galli, as they could not be castrated, so the ritual of the taurobolium was substituted for officials such as the archgallus: he was completely soaked in the blood of a sacrificed bull (followed by a sacred marriage with the goddess "behind the curtain" - I hope he washed first).

    Turcan also mentions the "armed dance" and self-mutilation of the prophetic priestess of another Anatolian goddess, Ma-Bellona; and the "mendicant eunuchs of Atargatis" who similarly "slashed their arms with hatchets or swords" before prophesying.

    ETA: The tablet BM 29616 relates how Enki "upon hearing that Inanna was vexing heaven and earth with her wrath, fashioned the gala, and provided him with an assortment of chants as well as accompanying drum-like musical instruments... in order to soothe the goddess and help calm her rage." (Samuel Noah Kramer's article also notes that the "iršemma is a composition, often melancholy in nature", written in Emesal, "that was chanted by a temple singer known as the gala to the accompaniment of drum-like musical instruments.")

    ETA: More on the hijra from Serena Nanda. The basic definition of a hijra is an impotent man who renounces male sexuality through emasculation. However, there are exceptions to this, such as hijras who were raised as girls, but did not develop breasts or begin to menstruate at puberty, and a girl with intersex genitals who became a hijra. Nanda spoke to a hijra sex worker who was "skeptical" about the idea that hijras lacked sexual desire, and to a hijra in a relationship with a man; another was angered that men who had been married and had children had "joined [the hijra] community only for the sake of earning a living". Nanda says that the "hijra role" encompasses "people whom we in the West would differentiate as eunuchs, homosexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites."

    Nanda states that "wearing female attire is an essential and defining characteristic of the hijra. It is absolutely required for their performances, when asking for alms, and when they visit the temple of their goddess Bahuchara... Long hair is a must for a hijra." They also adopt (and exaggerate) female mannerisms, take female names and address each other with female kinship terms such as "sister" and "aunty". However, they also behave in ways which would be "outrageous" for women - lifting their skirts, smoking, using "coarse and abusive speech and gestures" (Cf the "bawdy speech" of the kurgarru).

    Nanda states that "Whereas Westerners feel uncomfortable with the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in such in-between categories as transvestitism, homosexuality, hermaphroditism, and transgenderism, and make strenuous attempts to resolve them, Hinduism not only accommodates such ambiguities, but also views them as meaningful and even powerful." She points to the plentiful "androgynes, impersonators of the opposite sex, and individuals who undergo sex changes" in Hindu myths, which are familiar through popular culture.

    Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Literature and the British Museum: the Promise of the Future. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 124(4) August 1980.
    Michalowski, Piotr. Love or Death? Observations on the Role of the Gala in Ur III Ceremonial Life. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 58 2006, pp 49-61.
    Nanda, Serena. "Hijras as Neither Man nor Woman". in Timothy F. Murphy (ed). Reader's guide to lesbian and gay studies. Chicago, London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.
    Roscoe, Will. Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion. History of Religions 35(3), February 1996, pp 195-230. (The author has shared a huge chunk of the article online!)
    Turcan, Robert. The Gods of Ancient Rome. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

  • ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
    Anat appears in names in the Bible: the personal name Shamgar ben Anat (in Jude) and the city name Anathoth (multiple times), probably short for "Beth-Anathoth", "House of the Great Anat".

    By the time the Hebrews arrived in Canaan, Anat's worship had largely been displaced by that of Asherah and Astarte. The Hebrews, who "did not even want to pronounce the names of these despised goddesses", tended to confuse them. OTOH, the goddess were sometimes conflated by worshippers; in Egypt Anat and Astarte were fused into 'Antart, in Syria they were worshipped as 'Anat-'Ashtart ('Attar'atta, Atargatis).

    Anat was called "the maiden Anat" (bltl 'nt), "Anat the destroyer", and "the lady", amongst other titles. She is called Baal's sister and El's daughter, but these may be honorary titles rather than actual family relationships.

    Anat was worshipped in Egypt (probably introduced there by the Hyksos), with a temple at Tanis dedicated to Anat-Anta, and a sculpture showing Anat protecting Ramses II, who styled himself "nourished by Anta" and "beloved of Anta", and named his daughter Bent-Anat ("daughter of Anat"). In Memphis Anat was called "daughter of Ptah".

    Kapelrud, Arvid S. The Violent Goddess: Anat in the Ras Shamra Texts. Universitets-forlaget, Oslo, 1969.


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