Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Ashuru Shamni, Festival of Oil

8 Khiyyaru (month), Shanatu 85 (year)

This evening marks the holiday of ‘Ashuru Shamni, the festival of olive oil. An ancient text from the Canaanite city of Ugarit in the Late Bronze Age, about 1200 BCE (3200 years ago), details how priests made an offering of the Oil of Peace to the protective god Baʻlu Haddu (Baʻal Hadad). Let's take a look at both ancient and modern festivities at this season--including recipes!

In Ugaritic the Oil of Peace is called shamnu shalami. Priests would pray for protection of their city as they made the olive oil offering. This event took place seven days after the new moon that follows the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Our holidays begin on each holiday’s eve. Our holiday calendar is called the Shanatu Qadishtu, the "sacred year."

As a modern practice, in honor of this day I share a feast of foods which feature olive oil, I make fresh anointing oils, and I make an offering of oil to Baʻlu Haddu for protection.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jesus's Ass: A Canaanite's View of J.C.

I was in the middle of a book review when a hoard of somber people walked in procession next door. Even the little sparrows all sat for a moment—a small flock of them, seated in the diamond-spaces of the chain link fence, the industrial veil separating my living space from that of the dead. It’s a humid, overcast day in the summer. I had contemplated opening up the house and shutting off the air conditioning because I am a cold-blooded cheapskate and I like warm weather far better than cold. But I’m glad I didn’t open the windows because I wouldn’t have wanted to intrude on their service. There were a lot of people there, many more people show up as they feel the loss more keenly of a life cut too short and I wonder if this is the story outside my window.

I live near a cemetery. I love it because I think cemeteries are beautiful--beautiful in form, beautiful in function. They serve as a poignant reminder of life’s value. This real estate location has difficult moments, but they are the trade-off for the quiet, the beauty, and the experience. I see the whole process: the preliminary examination of the site, the grave digging, then the procession and the graveside rite. Afterwards for a month, people will stop by and pay their respects to the newly deceased—a person, who according to my tradition, has joined the ranks of the rapiuma: the shades of the dead, the ancestral spirits who can aid the living.

During these somber moments, I will leave my desk, stand quietly in my home and look out the windows as the people gather, and I will make a swift prayer for them and for their loved one. Usually, I add to the prayer something like, “If they would be willing to accept my prayer.” I know full well that the people and the loved one they bury are likely Christian, and I know full well that some of them would not accept my prayer.

But this time as I prayed and looked out window, I sensed a being near me with a hand on my right arm. In my mind, I got a sense of “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure they accept,” followed with a sense of approval which implied “If I agree with it and they honor me, then they will of course accept.” I think he may well have been Jesus the Carpenter from Nazareth, whom I spent many Sundays stuck in stuffy churches learning about.