Sunday, May 31, 2020

Cannabis Used to "Stimulate Ecstasy" Found at Ancient Shrine - To The Goddess Asherah?

Two altars found at the Arad shrine on display at The Israel Museum. 
An altar at a Judahite shrine dating to the 8th century B.C. was used to burn cannabis for ecstatic effect, researchers Eran Arie, Baruch Rosen and Dvory Namdar report. The discovery was made by performing a chemical analysis of residue found on the smaller of two limestone altars found at the entrance to the "Holy of Holies"(the inner sanctum) at the Arad shrine in Southern Israel. The second, larger altar was used to burn frankincense, a widely traded incense that was highly valued at the time (as was, presumably, cannabis). Fifty similar altars have been found in the southern Levant.

The shrine as discovered in 1963.
"It seems feasible to suggest that the use of cannabis on the Arad altar had a deliberate psychoactive role," the researchers state, writing in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. "The frequent use of hallucinogenic materials for cultic purposes in the Ancient Near East and beyond is well known and goes back as early as prehistoric periods (e.g., Rudgley 1995; Merlin 2003; Guerra-Doce 2015*)....These psychoactive ingredients were destined to stimulate ecstasy as part of cultic ceremonies. As shown in this study, 8th century Judah may now be added to the places where these rituals took place." This is some 200 years after the fabled Temple of Solomon with its many incense burners.

The discovery lends credence to Polish anthropologist Dr. Sula Benet's 1936 doctoral thesis ''Hashish in Folk Customs and Beliefs,'' which theorized that the biblical incense kaneh bosm, meaning "aromatic cane" was cannabis, mistranslated as "calamus" in the modern bibles. "Taking into account the matriarchal element of Semitic culture, one is led to believe, that Asia Minor was the original point of expansion for both the society based on the Matriarchal circle and the mass use of hashish," Benet wrote.

Ke(d)eshet, the Egyptian goddess related to Asherah,
standing on a lion. (British Museum.)
"Previous scholars have theorized that the two altars were devoted to two deities who were worshipped at the shrine, possibly a divine couple," Arie, Rosen and Namdarwrite. In other shrines where two incense altars were found together, "the same conclusion about multiple deities worshipped has been drawn."

Shards of pottery with the name "Yahweh" have been found at the shrine; his consort was the Goddess Asherah, to whom incense was burned, described (and decried) in the Hebrew Scriptures. "Inscriptions from two locations in southern Palestine seem to indicate that she was also worshiped as the consort of Yahweh." (Britannica.com) Pictorial evidence has also been found.

William G. Dever, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies, Arizona State University and author of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel makes a strong case for Asherah worship not only at "village shrines" but at state-sanctioned ones at his 2014 Tenenbaum Lecture. Finding representations of females at shrines throughout the region, Dever has concluded that Asherah, also known as "The Lion Lady" and "The Queen of Heaven" is a key figure. A lady between two lions is depicted on a ceremonial object used to offer sacrifices of food or drink, or burn incense, at one shrine, and the Arad shrine housed a small statue of a lion.

The cannabis at the shrine was likely imported as hashish, possibly via the same trade expeditions as frankincense, which Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt recorded in the 15th century BCE. Either could have been among the spices the Queen of Sheba brought to King Solomon.

Jeremiah 6:20 says, "For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba, and the kaneh bosm from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” In Jeremiah 44, the women tell the prophet they will continue to burn incense to the Queen of Heaven.

The Temple of Artemis, as it stood in 350 BCE
Around the same time that the Arad shrine stood, so did the Temple of Artemis, a Greek temple that was declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Located in Ephesus (in present-day Turkey), some say the Amazon women worshipped there. Among its ruins was an ivory carving of the Tree of Life, a manifestation of Asherah.

The temple was destroyed in 356 BCE by a man named Herostratus in an act of arson, a crime considered so heinous it prompted the creation of an ineffective damnatio memoriae law forbidding anyone to mention his name, and ultimately making "Herostratus" a metonym for someone who commits a crime in order to become famous. According to legend, the fire that destroyed the temple was set on the day Alexander the Great was born, 21 July 356 BC. It was rebuilt, but by 401 AD it again had been ruined or destroyed.

Aphrodite, the Greek version of Astarte,
defaced by a Christian cross.
National Archaeology Museum in Athens.
The persecution of pagans under the Roman Emperor Theodosius I began in 381, when he pioneered the criminalization of magistrates who did not enforce anti-pagan laws, and destroyed pagan temples. Between 389 and 391 he issued decrees that banned visits to the temples, abolished the remaining pagan holidays, extinguished the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum and disbanded the Vestal Virgins. As with most other pagan temples, the sanctuary of Artemis in Ephesus was closed during the reign of Emperor Theodosius.

Emperor Nero took works from the Temple “on loan” and the sanctuary was sacked in 268 A.D. by the Goths. Tradition has it that the archbishop of Constantinople encouraged the local mob to destroy the building in 401, and some of the columns of the temple were reused in building Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Helene Perdicoyianni-Paleologou). St. Augustine encouraged his congregation in Carthage to smash all symbols of paganism as a proclamation from God.

Little by little, we piece together our ancient herstory, how it embraced cannabis, and how it was repressed.

*Eliza Guerra-Doce wrote: Hemp is a dioecious plant, that is, male and female flowers are found in different plants. The main psychoactive compound is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which occurs most abundantly in the female plants (Schultes and Hofmann 1980). The presence of burnt seeds in Pazyryk proves that the Scythians were aware of this, and consequently, they burnt female plants. In 1993, a similar kurgan containing the preserved body of a young woman, known as the Siberian Ice Maiden, was discovered on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains, and more specifically in “The Pasture of Heaven,” an area used as a burial ground for many centuries. Among the grave goods of this Scythian lady, a small stone dish with burnt seeds was found, but in this case they turned out to be coriander. This is a strong-smelling plant that was probably burnt to cover odors (Polosmak and O’Rear 1994).

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