Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Accept No Substitutes: Goddess Athirat's Imagery

4 [Ugaru] (month); Shanatu 84 (year)
An ancient ivory box lid from the Canaanite city of Ugarit from around 1200  BCE (3200 years ago) shows the goddess Athiratu. Here is a picture of that very artifact:
Image of Athirat, Canaanite, city of Ugarit, circa 1200 BCE
The image above is the real thing. Notice how the goddess in the image above sits on a seat and has her feet on the ground. She holds two grain sheaves or palm branches aloft over the heads of two animals. These two animals have beards and thus they are likely goats or ibex. This is likely the goddess Athiratu. There are many seals and inscriptions from all over Canaan around this time (the Late Bronze Age) and into the Iron Age which depict a tree of life flanked by two caprids in a pose similar to this, and under that tree, the ancient artisan inscribed the word "Elat" which means "goddess," a known title associated with Athiratu.

New Age shops and magic needs suppliers are starting to sell similar images, which is great! However, they often mislabel the image as "Astarte" out of ignorance or because the name Astarte is better known in New Age and Neopagan groups, and thus the name is more marketable. If you come across a similar image carefully observe it for inaccuracies. Sometimes these images are wrought by artists who do not know much about this goddess or the surrounding imagery in this era and location. The image below is inaccurate.

Inaccurate replica of the image of Athirat , modern  day.
The grain or palm branches now appear as snakes. The animals next to her are horses, not goats or ibex, ans she stands on skulls. Skulls and death imagery are not a part of Athiratu's worship. Horses are associated with the Canaanite sun goddess Shapshu and are never associated with Athiratu. Venomous snakes are the responsibility of Choronu, the mage-god who expels toxins and venom. Trying to feed snakes to the animals, or sheltering them with snakes doesn't make sense iconographically. With the deadly snakes and a goddess standing on skulls, the image becomes a tree of death instead of the tree of life.

I have also seen "Dancing Astarte" statues which mimic the original image from the Canaanite city of Ugarit, but keep in mind that in the original image she sits, not dances, and the goddess is likely Athiratu, not Astarte. And the statue misses the tree of life imagery. 

Thus ends today's Canaanite public service announcement for the informed consumer.

Photo credits
Ugaritic Athirat: The photo is old, but both photographer and copyright are unknown to me.
Inaccurate "Athirat" image: A friend of mine brought this image to my notice on Facebook. I do not know who the photographer or the artist are, or who sells the image, despite searching thoroughly on the internet. If you know of the photographer, the artist, or the seller, please contact me so that I can ask about using the photo, give proper credit for photo and art, and perhaps educate them in hopes that a better piece will be commercially produced and made available.


  1. I found these images while online browsing, because I am currently searching for a Statue of Athirat ... but found these instead. Thought you might want to know since the incorrect image was never found.

  2. Thanks, DeAnna. I have looked at the link and the image they have of her is still inaccurate. Although the skulls are gone (which is a good thing!) the erroneous image shows her still trying to feed snakes to horses. That's just not it.

    1. Have you seen any references in which the statues are correct? I am really wanting to find a statue of her and it is proving to be extremely difficult.

    2. DeAnna, I found one once, and it was (strangely enough from my perspective) one that I was told Morning Glory Zell had created. These are difficult deities to find since they are just beginning to rise in public knowledge and popularity. I would suggest three things: if you are artistic, you can sculpt one yourself; if you know of an artist, you can commission her/him to make one for you; or you can print one off of the computer, anoint it, and use it at your shrine.

  3. Thank you for your post, I'm researching Canaanite traditions and Athirat's association with palm branches is significant, as well as goats/ibexs as opposed to horses. So annoying that this image is sometimes portrayed wrong, authentic symbolism is paramount to understanding the ancient past!