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.

For the feast, I like to make fresh sourdough flatbread to go with a spiced olive oil for dipping, falafel or potato latkes fried in olive oil, French beignets, fruit or savory fritters, or nearly anything fried; plus many other Middle Eastern foods like shawarma, hummus, and tabouli.

Garlic Dipping Oil for Bread

  • ¼ c olive oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. marjoram
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Put all ingredients in a bowl and stir. Serve with bread for dipping. Serves about two hungry people, so if you have more people, you will have to make a double batch. If you have any leftovers, whisk in a teaspoon of lemon juice and use it as a salad dressing. The garlic is protective and health-promoting. The marjoram is an herb which symbolizes purification—some scholars postulate that it was the “hyssop” of ancient days.

Za’atar Dipping Oil for Bread

  • ¼ c olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp. Za’atar spice blend

Follow the instructions for the Garlic Dipping Oil for Bread above. Za’atar spice blend can be found at Whole Foods in the spice aisle, or it can be found at Middle Eastern food markets. The main ingredient in many za’atar blends is thyme: the ancient Egyptians believed that thyme promoted courage.

Myrrh Anointing Oil (Shamnu Morru)

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 7 drops of essential oil of myrrh or a pinch of powdered myrrh.

Blend ingredients together and store in a dark glass vial in a cool, dark place. Use this oil as an offering to Baʻlu Haddu for protection. Alternatively, you can use it to anoint yourself during prayer, or to anoint the doorposts of your home, or to anoint divination tools. Do not eat this oil, make sure you are not allergic to myrrh, and do not use around sensitive areas of the body.

Ancient prayers for protection on this day included the safety and wellbeing of the city-state against intruders and followed with an offering of a male goat or male sheep. If you choose to make an offering of oil for protection, wash your hands first. Pour out your olive oil libation into a clean bowl and place it on a surface that is raised up from the floor or ground: do not set it on the floor or ground, and make sure it is a place where kids and family pets will not disturb it. Make a prayer over the offering such as: “O Baʻlu Haddu, storm god of the Canaanites, if you prevent an intruder in my home, if you weaken him and nullify his harm and his harmful intentions, an offering I will make.” If you wish, you can make this prayer larger to include safety of your family, town, or community. In addition to the oil offering, make an offering of mutton, beef, or chicken (not pork!), and leave it out for a day on a plate near the oil. If you happen (gods forbid) to have a thwarted burglary or threat in the year, be sure to follow up with a thank you to Baʻlu Haddu and another offering of mutton, beef, or chicken.

‘Ashuru Shamni shamkhu le-kumu, a joyful ‘Ashuru Shamni to you all.

In honor of the holiday, I have posted this blog entry simultaneously on my blog Baal's Cedar at Witches and Pagans Magazine.

Today is

The 8th day of the month of Khiyyaru, in Shanatu 85. This means that the new moon was eight days ago, and it began the month of Khiyyaru. The Canaanite city of Ugarit was rediscovered 85 years ago. Our next holiday, 'Ashuru Shamnu, the Festival of Oil, starts this evening.

Image Credits

Photo of a statue of Baʻlu Haddu from the city of Ugarit (Ras Shamra), 14-12th century BCE. The statue demonstrates "smiting pose" with legs striding and hand raised up to strike: this is usually protective pose. The upraised arm often carries a weapon such as a spear, sword, or mace.  Photo taken by Jastrow, and released into public domain. Accessed at Wikimedia Commons. Deity statue is on display at the Louvre.

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