Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Asherah Rising


A relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) showing an Asherah Tree with male figures holding anointing oils.  

 For many years I've made  "tree of life" images.  I'm not sure where I got the image from originally, but the Tree, and images of women with roots and branches, have been an inner iconography for as long as I can remember.   In early lithographs I made often a  woman within the Tree, or the Tree was a backdrop to everything else in the painting (not unlike the Web motif I also became fascinated by in my later "Spider Woman"  Project).  In my 1993 "Lovers" card from my Rainbow Bridge Oracle, or the 1986 lithograph below I called  "Axis Mundi".  The "Tree" is ubiquitious for me, and it's taken me a while to notice that.

The large painting I called "Gaia" (1986) for my MFA program (it was 9 feet long) showed the Goddess as a Trinity, and the barren Tree behind them.  I only was able to show that painting once, and it was destroyed eventually.  Large paintings don't last very long I'm afraid, especially when they come off the frame. That painting is still important to me, especially the confrontational gaze of the Trinity:   I wanted them to confront the viewer with the loss, destruction and disrespect our civilization has wrought on the Tree of Life.

Which was also Asherah, the Great Mother.  The Great Mother who was banished from the Bible and banished from what became the religious underpinnings of western civilization as the Patriarchs of Jerusalem erased the Feminine to create the first monotheistic  religion (that we know of).  Yawah became the sole God, male and "a jealous God who would have no other".  The Goddesses, along with sundry other regional Gods,  became "the great abomination" to those who were the "Chosen" of Yaweh.   Later this concept  evolved into Christianity and Islam.  And the Goddess continued to be written out of religion, although She kept making Her appearance here and there.  It is not easy to completely eliminate the divinity of half the human race, although the his-story of  Western religion demonstrates a long and continuing effort, sometimes by negation, as in turning Asherah into "abomination", or sometimes by mythological co-option.  It is interesting, for example,  that the ancient and ubiquitous Trinity, the 3-part Goddess such as Persephone/Demeter/Hecate,  which represented the cycles of nature as embodied withing the Great Mother, was later absorbed into Christianity as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  In fact, this Trinity may be very ancient indeed, and may also even preceed the Hindu Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva Trinity (Creator/Sustainer/Destroyer).

A whole lot of co-option and re-mything goes on as religions evolve!  Especially, it seems,  if theologians are determined to get rid of the Goddess all together.

As I began to explore clay sculpture and leather sculpture later in life, I found myself fascinated with torsos that  became the Goddess, emerging from the trees, sustaining, the Mother within the Tree, breasts and belly. 

So, the Mother who was a Tree called to me, as I believe She has called to many.  As the great evolutionary Crisis of our time -  ecological destruction and the possibilities of nuclear war - have arrived,  so must the Great Mother arise from the depths of humanity's collective unconscious and it's layered Mythos. 

Her time has come, and She is speaking, loud and clear.  

It was a few years back that I finally learned about  Asherah, the ancient Canaanite and early Hebrew Goddess associated with pre-monotheistic Judaism.  She likely has much earlier origins as well.  As  Asherah  was often represented as a tree, the ubiquitous  "Asherah poles" (ashirim)  associated with Her worship in early (pre-monotheistic) tribal  Judaism were possibly made of wood, and possibly they were taken from sacred trees dedicated to Asherah, as there is Biblical mention of groves.  These (presumably wooden) icons may have been household icons dedicated to Asherah, and were believed to invoke prosperity and fertility.  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 itself, 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" and sometimes also called the  "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 artistic and spiritual vocabulary for more years than I remember,  with  Asherah had I not had a kind of visionary experience during a healing session in the early Fall of  2017 with an alternative  healer. 

Not unlike Reiki practitioners she worked with me for over an hour, helping me to enter into an altered state of consciousness.  As I closed my eyes, the session began with a vivid inner appearance of a white dove.  But it was not a literal kind of bird, it was more like a sacred emblem or symbol, 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 Sophia,  like Asherah, was eventually removed from monotheistic theology.

The healer, after the session was over, told me that she saw a Goddess form present during the healing.   The healer, who was 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 at the time, not until I later looked it up on the Internet.  And then (of course!) I discovered the Hebrew Goddess  "Asherah". 

At that time,  I felt this had to do with my passage into old age.  Rites of passage, in my experience, are never easy or comfortable, cozy or predictable.  They are thresholds. I like to think I was  given a Blessing as I entered into the last part of my life. I reflect as well that at that time I was working to heal and release old wounds, familial wounds that were arising for examination. 

It occurs to me now as then that it is not 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 including  the long reach of ancestors, going back, and 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.  As always,  I am grateful to be graced at any time in my life with these Visitations of the transcendant and ineffable. 

"Asherah"  by David Hostetler

Asherah poles (from Wikipedia)

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] 

Asherah, detail from an ivory box from Mīna al-Bayḍā near Ras Shamra
 (Ugarit), Syria, c. 1300 BCE; in the Louvre, Paris

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)]. 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 and creators of monotheism, which came to have 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, objects that represented a Goddess identified with the form of a tree.  

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 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" - they may have been other objects meant to represent the Goddess in addition to the trees.

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 his book (forward by Merlin Stone)  The Hebrew Goddess.

1 comment:

Lauren Raine said...

Thank you Lyr! That is certainly true, and I had no idea how ancient the symbol of the dove is. I enjoyed reading the link you kindly sent.