Sunday, September 3, 2017

Asherah and the Tree of Life

A relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) showing an Asherah Tree with male figures holding anointing oils.  The winged figure over the tree is interesting, suggesting to some the "winged Isis", or a precursor to the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Christian "trinity".



 One of the great things about making art, one discovers, is that it's a way of "writing down" one's inner "iconography".  Most of the time, it's a way of just beginning to see (literally) what that iconography of the inner self actually is.  And then the conversation can begin, because the language is being  translated............

For many years I've made  "tree of life" images.  I'm not sure where I got the image from originally.   In early lithographs there was always a woman within the tree form, or the Tree was a backdrop to everything else in the painting (not unlike the Web motif I also became fascinated by in later "Spider Woman"  pieces).  In my 1993 "Lovers" card from the Tarot, or the 1986 lithograph "Axis Mundi" the "tree" is ubiquitious, and later I started making sculptural  torsos, the Mother within the Tree. 

Recently I had reason to learn about  Asherah, the ancient Mother Goddess associated with the early Hebrews and early (pre-monotheistic) Judaism, with  the neighboring  Canaanites, and even earlier origins.  I have not studied this Goddess much, being only vaguely aware of the name.  Asherah  was often represented as a tree, among them the ubiquitous  "Asherah poles" (ashirim)  associated with Her worship in early (pre-monotheistic) Judaism. *** There is evidence that these wooden icons, and possibly, actual trees intentionally planted as icons or shrines)  were meant to be representations of Asherah.  Asherah is  sometimes  referred to as the wife of Yahweh,  whose name became something that could not be uttered, only represented as "the Lord".  The Asherah poles, and eventually the name of Asherah, were banned from worship as Judaism became monotheistic and established the sole deity as male.

Interestingly, with the early advent of Gnostic Christianity, Asherah is perhaps re-born in the form of Sophia, the feminine face of deity, often called the "mother" or sometimes "wife" of Yaweh.  The emblem for Sophia was often a dove.   

I never would have associated the Tree of Life archetype,  which has been a part of my spiritual vocabulary for more years than I remember,  with  Asherah had I not investigated just recently  because of a visionary experience during a healing session.  

I had some energy work done last week with an alternative  healer. Not unlike Reiki practitioners, although her system had a different name, she worked with me for over an hour, helping me to enter into an altered state of consciousness, kind of like a meditation, while she, in channelling energy to work with me, also entered into an open, meditative  state.   As I closed my eyes, the session began for me with the appearance of a white dove that visually manifested right  before my (closed) eyes.  But not a literal kind of bird, more like a sacred emblem, what one might see in a church.   I immediately thought of the "Dove of Sophia",  which is of course associated with  Peace to this day. And as a Christian icon representing the Holy Spirit, it may very well be that the origins of the Dove go all the way back to Gnosticism and Sophia. 

Who, like Asherah, was removed from patriarchal monotheistic theology, Her symbols often co-opted to support the later mythos of a strictly male deity without a wife, mother, or, for that matter, a daughter either.

The healer, after the session was over, told me that she clearly saw a Goddess form present during the healing.  She said that the Lady put  a kind of crown or headpiece on my head that was "light filled", and she also cast a kind of  "net of stars" over me (which perhaps means protection (?)     The healer, who is not much familiar with Goddess archetypes,  said that the name she got was "Ashara".  She also mentioned that somehow trees or wood were associated.  I couldn't think of what that meant, until I looked it up on the Internet later, and then (of course!) discovered the Hebrew Goddess  "Asherah".   

I've felt  this year is about healing for me,  healing the family karma which means understanding  familial wounds and changing them into (hopefully) wisdom instead of re-action.  I think this year, with so much chaos and divisiveness in the world as well, has been about the  difficult and disturbing rite of passage of becoming a Saga, an old woman.  A hopeful thought is that, perhaps, this is what is also going on a bit collectively.  Rites of passage, in my experience, are never particularly easy or comfortable, cozy or even predictable.  They are thresholds.

And how is it possible to talk of healing the wounds that are "personal" without seeing that they are also interwoven with what is universal?  Familial abuse is about social abuse as well as the long reach of ancestors, going back, going forward.  Roots.  And beyond that....... the Tree of Life, the roots beneath,  the leaves above.   All things woven.  

Visions, like dreams, have multiple layers of meaning, and like dreams, exist outside of time.  In my experience Spirit communicates in visionary, symbolic, mythic ways.  This visioning was a blessing for me, and something I will continue to contemplate and ask to understand.  


"Asherah" (Artist unknown)

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 *** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah_pole

Asherah pole

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An "Asherah pole" is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother-goddess Asherah, consort of El. The relation of the literary references to an asherah and archaeological finds of Judaean pillar-figurines has engendered a literature of debate.  The asherim were  objects related to the worship of the fertility goddess Asherah, the consort of either Ba'al or, as inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom attest, Yahweh, and thus objects of contention among competing cults. 

In translations that render the Hebrew asherim into English as "Asherah poles," the insertion of "pole" begs the question by setting up unwarranted expectations for such a wooden object: "we are never told exactly what it was", observes John Day.[4] 

Though there was certainly a movement against goddess-worship at the Jerusalem Temple in the time of King Josiah, (2 Chronicles 34:3) it did not long survive his reign, as the following four kings "did what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh" (2 Kings 23:32, 37; 24:9, 19)[citation needed]. Further exhortations came from Jeremiah. The traditional interpretation of the Biblical text is that the Israelites imported pagan elements such as the Asherah poles from the surrounding Canaanites. In light of archeological finds, however, modern scholars now theorize that the Israelite folk religion was Canaanite in its inception and always polytheistic, and it was the prophets and priests who denounced the Asherah poles who were the innovators (of monotheism with an exclusive male god).

Asherim are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, the Books of Kings, the second Book of Chronicles, and the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. The term often appears as merely אשרה, (Asherah) referred to as "groves" in the King James Version, which follows the Septuagint rendering as ἄλσος, pl. ἄλση, and the Vulgate lucus, and "poles" in the New Revised Standard Version; no word that may be translated as "poles" appears in the text. Scholars have indicated, however, that the plural use of the term (English "Asherahs", translating Hebrew Asherim or Asherot) provides ample evidence that reference is being made to objects of worship rather than a transcendent figure.

The Hebrew Bible suggests that the poles were made of wood. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Judges, God is recorded as instructing the Israelite judge Gideon to cut down an Asherah pole that was next to an altar to Baal. The wood was to be used for a burnt offering.

Deuteronomy 16:21 states that YHWH (rendered as "the Lord") hated Asherim whether rendered as poles: "Do not set up any [wooden] Asherah [pole] beside the altar you build to the Lord your God" or as living trees: "You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God which you shall make". That Asherahs were not always living trees is shown in 1 Kings 14:23: "their asherim, beside every luxuriant tree".  However, the record indicates that the Jewish people often departed from this ideal. For example, King Manasseh placed an Asherah pole in the Holy Temple (2 Kings 21:7). King Josiah's reforms in the late 7th century BC included the destruction of many Asherah poles (2 Kings 23:14).

Exodus 34:13 states: "Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherim [Asherah poles]."  Some biblical archaeologists have suggested that until the 6th century BC the Israelite peoples had household shrines, or at least figurines, of Asherah, which are strikingly common in the archaeological remains.

Raphael Patai identified the pillar figurines with Asherah in The Hebrew Goddess.

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