Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Twilight Shades: Hauntings from a Modern Canaanite Perspective

18 [Ugaru] (month), Shanatu (year) 84
I avoid smacking poltergeists with a flaking, aged copy of Gideon’s Bible; I shall not flash tarot cards or fumigate with sage. I won’t show up in black robes with cross or pentacle. There’s slim chance that I will ever say you’re plagued with demons or make ambiguous comments about “energy.” While many people rely on crucifixes or crystals, some situations defy understanding from within Christian, Western culture, or New Age perspectives. Knowing different spiritual models increases understanding, efficacy, and protection when confronted with the mysterious unseen world. My perspective and my tools are in keeping with a different religion.
                I practice a religion called Natib Qadish, which means “sacred path” in Ugaritic, a Canaanite language. As a polytheistic religion, Natib Qadish honors the many individual deities of Canaan. In over thirteen years’ research and experience in this religion, I have become a kahinatu and I’ve received initiation into a Lebanese prayer tradition for clearing the Evil Eye. I am a leader in the emerging Near Eastern and Middle Eastern polytheist religious movements

                Ancient Canaan encompassed parts of modern-day Syria, all of Lebanon, a tip of Jordan, Israel, and into Gaza. The Canaanites never had a cohesive nation, nor did they have one language. They shared languages that were related to each other, for instance like how English and German are related. The geographic territory contained many city-states with their own autonomy, but often subject to foreign powers such as the Hittites or Hurrians in the north, the Assyrians to the east, and the Egyptians to the south. The Canaanite culture thrived around three thousand five hundred years ago. Much of what we know about Canaanite religion comes from the city-state of Ugarit in the south of modern-day Syria: by 1929 archaeologists had unearthed a cache of cuneiform documents about religious practices.  Natib Qadish connects ancient Canaanite religion with the modern day; our information comes from these Ugaritic texts, from archaeological record, and from comparative studies with other cultures, especially Mesopotamian and early Near Eastern Jewish traditions.
                Because I practice this religion, my view on haunting differs from prevailing Christian, New Age, or modern Western cultural perspectives.

The Human Spirit
The word napshu embodies many concepts at once: soul, spirit, appetite, throat, vitality, passion, strength, charisma. A person’s napshu is connected to the throat. The Canaanites referred to the transition from life to death as the “twilight of life.” When a person dies, it releases like vapor from the nostrils. The spirit of the deceased—the napshu separated from the corpse—is usually called a rapiʼu.
                Rapi’u (singular), or rapi’ūma (plural), refers to a peacefully resting “spirit” of a person who has died. This Ugaritic word translates as “healer,” indicating this being’s role. Usually these ancestors rest in the Betu Khapthati, the House of Freedom, provided their bodies have had proper burial rites: in Canaanite legend, a man even collected his son’s remains from the vultures who had fed on the corpse. The departed’s survivors must also remember him and make offerings in his honor. These rapi’ūma have abilities and knowledge that the living do not possess and if they are treated appropriately, the living can consult them in times of need.
                There are other words for the departed, which in antiquity were associated with rapi’u. These are:
  • Zhilu (zhilūma, plural) in Ugaritic: shade, shadow, spirit
  • Ruachu (ruachūma, plural) in Ugaritic: wind, spirit, breath
  •  Etsemmu (etsemmū, plural) in Akkadian: ghost, spirit, wandering spirit
  •  ʼOb (ʼobīm, plural) in Hebrew: ghost, spirit of the dead, ancestral spirit

Although the terms interrelate, in Natib Qadish, we usually refer to a peaceful spirit as a rapiʼu, and a wandering spirit as a zhilu, ruachu, or etsemmu. In a general sense, I may use any of the above as “ghost,” however in modern parlance sometimes I will use zhilu for a spirit manifesting as a passing shadow—sometimes these beings are referred to as “shades.” Other times, I like using ruachu for one encountered as a temperature change, or etsemmu or ʼob for spirit.
                Under certain circumstances, a rapi’u can become restless and cause problems.

What Causes Unrest
  • Improper burial rites
  • Inappropriate or disturbed gravesite
  • Lack of offerings
  • Being forgotten
  • Violent death, especially drowning or immolation
  • Unfinished business, injustice, addiction, suicide
  • Being cursed
  • Dying because of misdeed or divine judgment
A visit from a  zhiluruachu, or etsemmu, or ʼob indicates a need for proper action so that the spirit can rest. If action is neglected, the restless one can become troublesome, much like the Chinese “hungry ghost.”

Other Spirits
Human spirits do not cause all hauntings. Sometimes hauntings result from bad magic or supernatural beings.

The Eye and Bad Sorcery
A haunting can result from simple ill-wishes to a formal curse. To this end, I take rumors of old curses seriously. The ancient Canaanites had magic which would redirect magically-inflicted harm.
                The Eye, ‘enu in Ugaritic, or known in Western culture as the Evil Eye, brings misfortune. A person can make the Eye unconsciously by looking upon another with envy; alternatively a witch or sorcerer can create the Eye intentionally. Once created, the ‘enu can take on a life—albeit not a consciousness—of its own without the aid of the person who caused it. A person can avert the Eye through amulets, phrases, gestures, and blessings. Places, objects, or people can all be affected by the ‘enu.

  • Palm of hand  (Kappu, Hand of Fatima, Khamsa, Hamsa, Hand of Miriam) - Middle East
  • Blue glass eyes and eye shapes - Middle East, Mediterranean
  • Blue or Red colors - Middle East and Southern Europe
  • Triangles – Middle East and Southern Europe
  • Sacred Images – Middle East and Southern Europe
  • Animal Horns – Southern Europe, Middle East
  • Vulva, Phallus – Mesopotamia, Ancient Rome
  • Written holy names - Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe
  • ‘Enuna halakat, “The Eye goes away” - Ugaritic (a Canaanite language)
  • Tabarak-Allah, “Blessings of Allah” - Arabic
  • B’li ayin ha-raʻ,  “Without the evil eye” - Hebrew, Sephardic pronunciation
  • Kein eina ha-ra,  or shortened to kennahara or kaynahorah - Yiddish
  • Prayer or divine name - Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe
  • Pointing index and pinky fingers, with thumb pressing other fingers toward palm: a gesture made popular by musician Dio - Europe, especially Italy
  • Spitting or imitating spitting, especially three times - Jewish, Greek, Ethiopian
  •  The “fig” or “fica” gesture: in a closed fist, place thumb between index and second fingers. This gesture implies sexual intercourse. -  Italian, Roman
  • Avoiding or downplaying compliments; stating a warding phrase or blessing after a compliment; or spitting three times after making a compliment – Mediterranean, Middle East
  • Drawing or gesturing sacred protective symbols: the Canaanite letter cho, which symbolizes a fence, or the letter shin which signifies a composite bow. Also the cross for Christians, or the Magen David for Jews. - Mediterranean, Europe, Middle East
The Eye causes exhaustion, dizziness, weakness, bad luck, and even illness. Mystical techniques can diagnose an affliction with the ‘enu, and there are certain prayers for getting rid of it: traditionally these are administered by an initiated person. Some of these methods above can also prevent or ameliorate curses and hauntings.

Non-human Entities
Supernatural non-human beings can be good or evil, and sometimes good deities can send evil beings if a person had done something inappropriate: this is similar to Greek tales of the Furies harassing a wrongdoer. Some entities can cause illness or chaotic weather patterns.  
                However, a few entities are troublesome without having been sent by the divine. We know the Canaanites warded against Lamashtu, who originates in Mesopotamian lore. Lamashtu became known as Lilith the evil demon in later times. Lamashtu causes sexual problems, harms pregnant women and babies, and torments unmarried men. She loiters in arches, near places of illicit sex, and in some willow or poplar trees. Pazuzu often appears as a protector against Lamashtu: Mesopotamian pregnant woman often wore his image and his image has even been found at the Canaanite site of Megiddo. You will know the image of Pazuzu from his inaccurate characterization in the movie The Exorcist, the original 1973 production: in the beginning of the film, an archaeologist unearths a statuette of him. Although often indifferent to humanity, and sometimes outright evil, Pazuzu can also protect people against plague, bad luck, and the west wind. Another Mesopotamian supernatural being, a gallu, was often but not always evil. The gallū typically run in packs and lurk in the wilderness.

Separate from human spirits or supernatural beings, a location may have a power of its own. Certain locations in Canaan accumulated spiritual power, especially after being treated as sacred over time. Ambiance can be beneficial or detrimental, created through repeated goodness and attention or tragedy and neglect. A place of contempt, disregard, and filth takes on a poor, draining ambiance; while clean, respected and revered places become good and empowered. Jewish tradition warns against visiting ruins, wilderness, places of ill-repute and wrongdoing, or abandoned locations especially at night, because the places attract evil spirits and crime.

Spirit Possession
Disincarnate human spirits or supernatural beings can possess the living. Disgruntled dead can enter a living person through the ear, according to Mesopotamian lore. This can occur when a spirit is angry or weakened from mistreatment, or because it has a need to fulfill. This possessing spirit can bring torment, illness, injury, or bad luck to its host until the spirit’s plight is remedied. In Jewish lore, a dybbuk (Yiddish) is a human spirit that possesses the living so it can fulfill a craving, finish business, or stave off judgment in the afterlife. They exit a person through a pinky or little toe, sometimes causing a drop of blood to appear.
                Rarely a supernatural being can possess a person: this act can be benevolent or troublesome. A person may find herself guided by a benevolent supernatural being in a difficult situation. In a troublesome possession, a person may become ill or exhibit unusual behavior. Prayers, rites, and music can drive out a malevolent spirit.

Avoid ruins, lonely places, wilderness, places of ill-repute, or places that feel wrong—especially if you are alone or it is night. If you visit a haunted place, bring offerings and pray for the spirits’ wellbeing. Remember the spirits by name, if possible. Wear protective amulets, pray and make offerings to your deities for protection.
                Good spiritual maintenance can prevent problems. Bless, cleanse, and ward your home, land, and yourself, and maintain a good relationship with the divine, your ancestors, and your community. Cleanse, bless, and ward thresholds, window sills, corners, cracks, closets, mirrors, bathrooms, and places where substances, signals or information come into the home (mailboxes, phones, radios, televisions, computers, water taps, and electrical boxes). On the property outside, mind areas that are darker, remote, lonely, or overgrown. Make offerings to the local spirits: incense, bread, salt, meat, olive oil, fruit, and wine. 
                The Mesopotamians believed conversing with zhilūma and supernatural beings was dangerous, so unless you have knowledge, resources, and skilled assistance, limit your interaction with spirits. If you suspect a zhilu, the Eye, or a supernatural being, educate yourself and get assistance from spiritual counselors, priests, and professional psychological support. If the situation is violent or untenable, remove yourself and your family until it is resolved.

If you have an immediate problem, there are several actions you can take:
  • Play music: both supernatural beings and human spirits are comforted or distracted by music
  • Sound a bell or a horn: loud, piercing sounds drive away or distract some entities. Use a brass or copper bell; or a horn made from an animal’s horn. Wear small bells, put secured bells on children or pets.
  • Draw a circle around an area with flour—preferably whole wheat if you have it. The circle works as long as it is complete and you are inside it. The boundary will still function for those inside even if a person chooses to walk outside by stepping over the boundary, however the boundary’s outline must remain undisturbed.
  • Burn myrrh, cedar incense, or lotus. Myrrh is holy and cleansing. Cedar represents the god Baʻlu Haddi in his role as protector. The goddess ‘Athtartu is protective, but also helpful for emotional situations that require calm and equanimity: use lotus for her presence.
  •  Shake a bundle of tamarisk, date palm stalk, and reed: this is an ancient Canaanite method of cleansing
  •  Anoint items or places, especially doorposts, thresholds, sills, and corners with olive oil: this action cleanses and blesses.
  • Add amulets, images of the divine, written holy names or verses, crosses, mezuzot, or other religious symbols, especially ones that have been blessed.
  • Gather fresh oregano, mint, or marjoram, dip herbs in rose water and shake them in the area: also a cleansing rite.
  • Wear amulets and keep holy texts nearby.
  • Be a good person. Donate to charity, and make regular offerings to the deities or a religious organization.
  • Care for the local spirits and your ancestors: this will remedy problems and circumvent future issues.
  • Call in a priest or a specialist to cleanse, bless, and protect the home. Just a cleansing or just a blessing is seldom enough. Also call in a priest or holy person to ensure the proper rest of local spirits and your ancestors. Sometimes this can take many visits: it's not always a one-shot cure.
  • Contact a priest or specialist if you think you’re afflicted with the Eye.
  • Go to a public place or take an alternate route. If you suspect that a spirit follows you, go to a public location before returning home. In Mesopotamian lore, a person would visit a tavern: however stay alert and avoid drunkenness. Alternatively, you can take a convoluted route home, especially one with many stops on the way. Reconvening at a 24-hour diner is a good way to end paranormal investigations. 
Christianity and Judaism have their roots in ancient Canaanite and Mesopotamian religion; most of us have a spiritual inheritance that hearkens back into Canaan. I practice older ways, but remnants of them still exist in Jewish and Christian customs today. I am delighted to offer a different perspective because diversity enhances our understanding of each other and the unseen world around us. If you have questions, please consult the resources below or ask me.

Yishlam le-kumu, peace and wellbeing to you.
Tess Dawson

Reading List
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. University of Texas Press, TX, USA, 1992.
Dawson, Tess. Whisper of Stone: Natib Qadish, Modern Canaanite Religion. O-Books, UK, 2009.
-----Editor. Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East. Bibliotheca Alexandrina, USA, 2011.
-----The Horned Altar: Rediscovering and Rekindling Canaanite Magic. Llewellyn Worldwide, Woodbury, MN, USA. Due for release summer 2013.
Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, USA, 2002.
Parker, Simon B., ed. Translated by Mark Smith, et al. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Society of Biblical Literature, USA, 1997.
Nakhai, Beth Alpert. Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel. The American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, MA, USA, 2001.
Jack Sasson et al., eds. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, USA, 1995.
Tubb, Jonathan N. Canaanites. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, USA, 1998.
Van der Toorn, Karel; Bob Becking; and Pieter W. Van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. E.J. Brill Leiden, The Netherlands, 1995.

Web Resources
Siren, Chris.Canaanite/Ugaritic Mythology FAQ, ver. 1.2.

Photo Credits: Photo is my own and taken in early spring this year. Please do not reproduce or redistribute without permission and credit.

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