Monday, July 22, 2019

Asherah: "If Women Rose Rooted"

"Gaia Shrine" (2003)

"Asharah" (2015)
“It’s no accident that the systematic suppression of the feminine has been accompanied down the centuries not only by the devaluation of all that is wild and instinctual in our own natures, but by the purposeful destruction of natural ecosystems. We long ago turned our backs on the planet which gives us life.” 
― Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted

I seem to be obsessed these days with ASHARAH, the ancient  "Tree of Life" motif.  Everything I've been doing for years seems to be "rooted" anyway, as I review work that goes back 10,20, even 40 years.  It is kind of amazing, look back at your journal, or in my case, my body of artwork, and you see that there is a "life theme" that has followed and defined you.  Where did it come from?  I don't actually know.  My drawings and paintings and sculptures (and yes, even my poetry) is always ENTWINED, ROOTED, WEBBED, LEAFED, BRANCHED.  Roots entangled among bodies, hands that sprout forests, trees with eyes that peep between leaves, going back to drawings I did when I was 18 or 19.  

"Kathy" (1974)

I want to explore this "discovery of myself".  Because now that I've concluded my 20 year "Masks of the Goddess Project", I am seeking a new direction, and what I am finding my dreams full of is actually a very old direction.  Source. Archetype. Hope. Entwined.

 So forgive me if I get a bit personal here................

"Gaia" (1986)

Above is the most ambitious painting I ever did, and I might add, I put the most passion into it.  It was an oil painting nine feet by 5 feet.  I only showed it once.  It was finally destroyed, as big paintings end up usually end up  being, because they get stored and carted around, unless you happen to be one of the few artists who is either famous, or independantly wealthy, which I am not.  I still love represented the Great Mother and the Great Tree, both angry, wounded, made barren by patriarchy and contemporary industrial civilization.  It almost got included in a book called "The Once and Future Goddess" by Elinor Gadon, almost except the author had gone to the publisher before she saw my painting.  

"Past Desire, Hope or Faith, I Rest in You, a Dream" (1993)

"Earth Hands" (2003)
Above is a painting I did in 1993, during the going-into-the-dark time of the Fall, when I was living in upstate New York.  So many images  with roots and branches entangled, entwined, sometimes with hands, sometimes with EYES.  At the top of this Post  is a new variation on the "Asherah" Tree Mother sculptures I've done in the past 10 years.  Below is the first clay sculpture I did in 2007 when I had a Fellowship at the Alden B. Dow Creativity Center to explore my "Spider Woman's Hands" Community Arts Project.  

Over and over and over this them of being rooted, connected, part of nature, the Tree.  So I think that is what my work now will be devoted to.  To all that is rooted, woven, to Gaia, to Asharah, to what we urgently need to reclaim and remember. 


"A man lies spread eagled on the cliff between sky and sea and land,  sand sunk, leaf-molten, blackberry crowned:  Toes, fingers, flesh reaching into the green redeeming Earth.  He is rooting himself.  He is taking himself back.  I lie down in grateful imitation, sharing this rite of re-membering."

........"On the Beach" (2001) Lauren Raine

 A garden thrives through a network of inter-dependant relationships.  Trees communicate  with each other through a vast underground weaving of roots and fungi.  The bees and other pollinators bring new life; the worms, microorganisms and  and other insects  assist in the decay process.  And the birds  assist in distributing seed as well.  We are no less part of that great Weaving.

The Black Madonna (2003)
Asharah  is a very ancient Goddess from the Middle East, with origins that are found in  Canaanite religions, certainly among the Semite tribes in the early days of the Old Testament before the imposition of a male monotheistic god (Yaweh).  It was written that in the Ark of the Covenant, among other items, was found Aaron’s  "rod that blooms".....which I suggest was originally an "Asherah Pole".  Asharah was often  represented as a tree or a rod/pole.  The  practice of carrying "Asherah poles" was apparently fairly common, until the later Patriarchs  eliminated this custom, along with the Hebrew Goddesses, as the deity became exclusively male and Goddess forms became "the great abomination".  

I take the liberty of copying a comprehensive article about Asherah by Susan Ackerman.

"Gaia Shield" (1995)


by Susan Ackerman

Asherah was one of the three great goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon. In Canaanite religion her primary role was that of mother goddess. In mythological texts from the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200 b.c.e.) city-state of Ugarit, she is called “the creatress of the gods”; her consort at Ugarit, the god El, is called “creator.” El is also referred to as father and patriarch at Ugarit, as Asherah, likewise, is called mother. Their children form the pantheon of the gods, who are said to number seventy; a Hittite myth similarly mentions the seventy-seven and eighty-eight children of Asherah. On occasion in Ugaritic myth, Asherah performs the maternal role of wet nurse. Ugaritic and other Canaanite materials further associate Asherah with lions (indicating power), serpents (representing immortality or healing), and sacred trees (signifying fertility). Thus Asherah’s children at Ugarit can be called her “pride of lions”; the goddess is called “lady of the serpent” in second-millennium b.c.e. inscriptions from the Sinai; the late-thirteenth-century b.c.e. Lachish ewer dedicated to Asherah is decorated with images of sacred trees.

The Canaanite association of Asherah with sacred trees is also found in Israelite tradition. For example, one of the Canaanite epithets of Asherah, elat, “goddess,” is etymologically identical to the Hebrew word for the terebinth tree (ela)Another word for “terebinth” (alla) and two words for “oak” (elon and allon) are also closely related. Gen 2:4b–3:24 may further suggest the association of Asherah with sacred trees, since the way that Eve, “the mother of all living” (3:20), is described in the Eden story mimics in certain respects the role of the Canaanite mother goddess Asherah. If a correspondence holds, then the trees of life and of knowledge in the Eden narrative may also reflect Asherah imagery.

Most significant, though, in demonstrating Israel’s association of Asherah with sacred trees are biblical materials that describe the asherah (singular) or asherim (plural), the cult object(s) that are associated with the goddess Asherah more than thirty times in the Hebrew Bible. These cult objects are generally described as being in the shape of a pole or stylized tree. Like a pole or tree, they can be said to be planted, stood up, or erected. Conversely, when destroyed, these cult symbols can be described as being cut down, hewn down, or uprooted; they can also be said to be burned, overturned, or broken. Both the Greek and Latin translations of the Bible, moreover, render the words asherah and asherim as “grove” or “wood.”

According to the biblical record, these sacred poles or stylized trees associated with Asherah were erected by the Israelites throughout most of their history, especially during the premonarchic (tribal) period (Judg 6:25–26, 28, 30)) and during the period of the divided monarchy, both in the northern kingdom of Israel (1Kgs 14:15; 16:33; 2 Kgs 13:6; 17:10, 16; 23:15; and parallel references in 2 Chronicles) and in Judah, in the south (1 Kgs 14:23, 15:13; 2 Kgs 18:4; 21:3, 7; 23:6, 14; and parallel references in 2 Chronicles). These sacred poles were situated in various locations. In Judges 6, a sacred pole of Asherah is said to have stood beside the altar of the Canaanite storm god, Baal. The Bible also connects sacred poles with the “high places” (open-air cult sites?) and frequently mentions that they stood “on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kgs 14:23; 2 Kgs 17:10; 18:4; 21:3; 23:13–14; 2 Chr 14:3; 17:6; 31:1; 33:3, 19; 34:3; Jer 17:2). Both of these phrases are stereotypically used by the biblical writers to describe sites of idolatrous worship, implying, as does Judges 6, that the worship of Asherah was an apostate behavior in Israel and improper for followers of YHWH.

Yet despite these and other references associating Asherah with apostasy and despite the fact that the Israelites are explicitly forbidden to erect one of Asherah’s sacred poles beside an altar of YHWH, there are multiple indications in biblical tradition that many in ancient Israel did regard Asherah’s icon as an appropriate sacred symbol within the religion of YHWH. For example, one of Asherah’s sacred poles stood in the northern kingdom's capital city of  Samaria. The sacred pole of Samaria, moreover, which was erected during the reign of King Ahab (reigned 873–852 b.c.e.) was allowed to remain standing by the reformer King Jehu in later days even though he was at pains to remove all non-Yahwistic  imagery from the land otherwise.

Archaeological discoveries from the late 1970s and early 1980s have further indicated that, at least in the opinion of some ancient Israelites, YHWH and Asherah were appropriately worshipped as a pair. From the site of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, in the eastern Sinai, come three ninth- or eighth-century b.c.e. inscriptions that mention YHWH and “his Asherah” (meaning YHWH’s companion [consort?], the goddess Asherah) or “his asherah” (meaning YHWH’s sacred pole that represents the goddess Asherah and that sits in his temple or beside his altar). An eighth-century b.c.e. inscription from Khirbet el-Qom, about twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem, contains similar language in 1 Kgs 15:13 and 2 Kgs 18:4, 21:7, and 23:6 (with parallels in 2 Chronicles) indicate that at least during certain points in the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries b.c.e., Asherah’s sacred pole was perceived as an appropriate icon to erect in Jerusalem, even in YHWH’s temple. 

Whether women, more generally, were more likely to be devotees of Asherah’s cult is unknown. There is some biblical evidence that does see women as particularly attracted to goddess cults (for example, women’s role in the cult of the queen of heaven, according to Jer 7:18 and 44:17–19, 25), and the various female figurines found in domestic contexts at multiple Israelite sites might also suggest this, assuming, as many scholars do, that women played an especially important role in family-centered religious activities. Nevertheless, the presence of Asherah’s cult in the Jerusalem temple and in the cult city of Bethel indicates that worship of the goddess was also appealing to men, given that it was an all-male clergy that officiated at these (and at every) Israelite religious site.

The presence of Asherah’s cult in Israel also raises questions about the nature of the monotheistic confession that is often assumed to be a core principle in Israelite faith. Generally speaking, biblical scholars assume that full-blown, radical, or philosophical monotheism came to Israel fairly late in its history, during the time of the exile in the sixth century b.c.e. Prior to this, we have abundant evidence that other gods and goddesses were worshipped in Israel in addition to (or sometimes instead of) YHWH. Yet even in these earlier materials, we sometimes see evidence of a phenomenon that comes to dominate in the exilic period: the impulse to assimilate the attributes of the many gods and goddesses of older polytheistic systems to the one god, YHWH. Language that speaks of God as mother, for example (as in Deut 32:18; Num 11:12–13; Isa 45:9–10, 49:15; 66:13), probably represents the assimilation of Asherah’s maternal characteristics to YHWH.

Ackerman, Susan. “The Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel.” 
Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993): 385–401.


Tamara said...

Beautiful, Lauren. A resounding "YES!" to life, the Divine Feminine / Goddess, the intertwining of our Selves with Mama Earth and with one another. THANK YOU for putting your thoughts and creative works into the world. We need more of this sensibility, interconnectedness and Love. I just finished a young adult novel I think you might enjoy called "Uprooted" by Naomi Novik. Also -- have you seen the movie Moana and the recent Wonder Woman movie? Those two pieces of filmmaking in our current culture gave me immense hope, and have stayed with me. Hooray for art that lifts us up and helps us uncover the deeper Truths of Life. xoxo

"The land carries its own memory, and a rich, earthy, planetary wisdom. The memory and wisdom of the ages. And we're made up of it. At some very deep level, each one of us participates in that wisdom borne by the land.
Because we're made of the land. Every cell in our body. There's not a bit of us that isn't created and then forged from the various places we've lived in. And so we carry within us all those ways of knowing, of being, of understanding, of imagining the world – just as the land carries them. We each carry inside us the long, age-old memory of the lands we've lived in, which have made us. Something in me carries the long, metamorphic memory of Llewissian gneiss, the cackling wisdom of Crow, the fire-filled dance of Fox in a moonlit wood.
And what treasures we can uncover, if we remember it. If we learn how to dig deep, how to stop paddling about in the shallows and penetrate beyond the superficial into those deeper, older, planetary – cosmological, even – layers of the psyche. If, to use a phrase I coined many years ago now, we choose to let ourselves fall into the land's dreaming. And so learn how to truly participate in the land's psyche. In the world psyche – the anima mundi, the world soul." -Sharon Blackie

Lauren Raine said...

Thank you Tamara, for your kind and wise words, and a perfect quote from Sharon Blackie. This is the deep truth of our being that we need to re-member, and more than re-member, we need to live it.

On the desktop of my computer is an image of an eye with a web before it, which relates to a quote by theologian Katherine Keller: "How might we live, how might we act, if we saw the World with a Webbed Vision"? She speaks in her 1989 book "From a Broken Web" of how we have utterly lost a vision of the great Web of Life. I think of this quote every day, and that is why the image comes up when I turn on the computer. And.........for days now a solitary spider has hung from the ceiling where he or she has made a web - JUST ABOVE MY KEYBOARD. The world is always talking to us, and blessing us, I do believe this.

Unknown said...

Truely... the loss of our roots is something that keeps coming up right now . Our roots bind us in connection to others.... to where we came from.... informing us about where we're going.... yes the loss of our roots/connection devastate in ways I did not understand.

Trish MacGregor said...

Great post! Perhaps "root" is your personal archetype?

Lauren Raine said...

I Think "root" and "web".........I guess it's where I should go now!