Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Experiencing Athiratu

How to hold the roar of a lion in something as fragile and ephemeral as words? Not even spoken words, but words that pass swiftly and last even more temporally amidst the fragile inter-web? And yet this is my work today, describing to you how I experience the goddess Athiratu, and knowing that I must inevitably fail to capture her magnificence.

So many times in the past when scholars have bothered to dust off her tales, to unearth her narratives, they have simplified her personality into that of simply a "fertility goddess" and have managed to confuse her with her daughters, 'Anatu and 'Athtartu. And they've even gotten 'Anatu and 'Athtartu a bit convoluted, especially when it comes to Late Bronze Age Canaanite material. Athiratu is a goddess of order, wisdom, queenship, duty, motherhood and lineage.

But let's be honest. You didn't come here for a dusty lecture of someone else's academic opinion--you can get that yourself by visiting a library. You came here for a breath of sweet air, a spark of insight. I'll do my best to provide.

When I experience her, her voice varies from feeling as if it is jiggling the fragile bones of my inner ear to that of a soft breeze. A sound of a warm wind rustling through the tops of date palm trees. Her presence, her voice, is regal.

When I experience the force of her personality, she is the definition of a queen. I would describe her as matronly, business-like, in charge, dominant without being domineering, compassionate, strong, and honest--sometimes brutally honest. She hasn't time to mince words, although she will be as civil and as tactful as her duties will allow. Sometimes she will drop the small-talk and niceties to a bare minimum while still maintaining her decorum. She is the goddess who cares enough about you to tell you what you don't want to hear. Although she is mother to much of the Iluma (the Canaanite pantheon) she is not a "mommy"-type. If you fall, she may not kiss your skinned knee, but she will help you to your feet. Athiratu won't give you a trophy for mere participation. As a tough-as-nails ancient queen mother, she may seem stern and distant sometimes, but she will go to the ends of the earth to keep you whole. She is the kind of wisdom and compassion to allow you to learn for yourself and to nudge you where necessary or where asked, and her advice is wise, prudent, and timely. She is a loving goddess, in powerful unfettered since of the word "love"--not in the sense of insipid Valentine's cards, not in trite phrases, not in agreement simply to avoid conflict and maintain harmony, not in simpering sweetness.

The force of her reality is such that it can make a person feel laid bare, and that can bring someone not ready to face that reality into a state of fear, extreme discomfort, or even anger. And she doesn't really care if that makes you uncomfortable: sometimes that discomfort is part of her "teaching experience." For that matter, her presence has the capacity to do that to someone who is ready and capable of experiencing her. Also, in a day and an age where most of us aren't used to honoring monarchs, it can be doubly difficult for some people to approach her.

Athiratu doesn't appreciate disrespectful behavior or swear words. There are a few times when she may consider allowing a certain amount of this sort of behavior but only among those of equal or nearly equal rank whom she personally likes. Profanity is only allowable if in a witty and appropriate context. So, kids, get out that swear box, because you're going to need it. With her, it's more a matter of decorum and appropriate behavior for appropriate situations. At the same time, she has no qualms about representations of phalli.

She likes feasts, and honors community efforts. There are few things better than when people come together to nourish one another.

In her role, she oversees the cosmos to the most minute detail and she takes her duties very seriously. Although she has a love of finery, she will get her hands dirty and do what is necessary. Her essence is practical, far-seeing, and wise. Earn her appreciation and on rare occasion she will lobby other Powers on your behalf. She is slow to anger, but she can become angry if provoked or forgotten over time--this isn't just my experience, this is also borne out in Ugaritic texts where she curses a king for having reneged on a vow to her for seven years standing. But she becomes very aggravated when something interferes with her work. Aid her in her work, and she will aid you in yours.

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown..."

And here is a little more about honoring her.

Today is
20 Niqalu, Shanatu 86
It is the twentieth day of Niqalu in the Canaanite-Ugaritic calendar. It is the 86th year since the rediscovery of the city-state of Ugarit, a place from which we have gained much of our Late Bronze Age primary texts.

Image Notes
This is the crown of Queen Puabi of Ur, a Sumerian kingdom. The crown dates to about 2600 BCE. Although the Sumerians are a different culture than the Canaanites, they often share artistic motifs and inspiration. Photo is said to originate from the University of Tennessee and is in public domain. 

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