Note that I said deity-names when used in their entirety. The problem is that we often do not use divine names in their entirety, and thus we’re missing some of the context. There’s a deep-seated omission that many of us engage in, even though we usually don’t know we’re doing it. It is a bad habit, a behavioral holdover, from living in cultures that reduce the deities out of existence—to two gods, one god, or no god. When we don’t use full names which detail these contexts and relationships, we’re missing information and we run the risk of not knowing exactly who it is we’re working with—even though we know we’re not working with two, one, or no gods, we end up still accidentally reducing to a few what are really many more.
You see, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…which isn’t exactly a secret. The only reason it seems secret is because it is not well-known, and it is not well-known because we’ve lost this information over the generations of non-polytheistic cultures. The “secret” is this: even if a deity appears to share a similar name, or even part of the same name, it doesn’t guarantee that the deity is exactly the same as another who has part of the same name. Sometimes you are dealing with the same deity, but it is a deity who is engaging in a different relationship or a different context… but sometimes you’re not dealing with the same deity. Because we’ve grown up the way we have in non-polytheistic cultures though, we more often assume that they’re the same, and thus we’re still in danger of applying reductionist thinking. When we use a deity’s full name, we allow the space for these matters to resolve, and we allow breathing room in case the deity is an entirely different one than the one that we may have accidentally conflated him/her with. Basically it would be helpful if we assume a deity is different unless we know otherwise even if we think names are the same or similar. There are rules and standards that apply to this, and it doesn’t mean that “anything goes.” Please see my post here for further information on this matter.
We should take the approach of “assuming different and separate until otherwise known,” instead of the approach of “assume it’s the same god unless otherwise known.” This assumption of “the same,” and an instilled, unconscious habit of reductionist thinking has overridden our conscious thought processes and often we may not realize that we’re operating from this assumption. This approach, couched in this unacknowledged assumption of “few,” stems from our having been born into a context broken by countless generations of non-polytheistic mindsets. Being mindful of a full name and using it are ways that we can take the approach of “assuming different and separate—and many!--until otherwise known.”
What looks like same deity-name but with different epithets may be different deities entirely from one another, or the names may reflect the same deity holding a different office, and/or holding different relationships and contexts. Either way—same deity or different deity—that difference should be acknowledged and worked with instead of glossed over, reduced, or ignored. Either way, you’ve got nothing to lose when you acknowledge the different relationships by being conscious of specifics through calling deities by their full names. Prudence, and deference to the individuality and the majesty of the many, many deities, urges that we consciously assume many deities, instead of unconsciously assuming fewer deities.
Think of it this way, maybe you end up going to a social event where you don’t know anybody. To meet people and know who they are, and for them to know who you are, there are a few standard questions that get asked: what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do for a living? When you answer these questions, the stranger begins to know you as, for instance, Judith Reiner, who is an architect from Pennsylvania. Maybe Stan the stranger realizes that you are the same Judith Reiner, the architect from Pennsylvania, who he’s heard all about from Cami, a friend you share in common. Your relationship with Stan will not be the same relationship as what you have with Cami—maybe Cami hates winter sports but watches birds, however you and Stan find a shared love of skiing. Maybe you end up becoming ski buddies with Stan, but that is something you would never do with Cami. You become Judith Reiner Ski Buddy but also Judith Reiner Bird Watching Pal, but never do these two roles or relationships overlap. You are the same person in two different relationships, and those relationships are important because they have different expectations and needs, and because you exercise a different part of who-you-are in these roles with these friends. Or…in a completely different situation, maybe you share the name Judith Reiner in common with a person Stan the stranger knows, but Stan realizes that he knows of a different Judith Reiner, from Ohio, who is a professor of mathematics—where again, the relationships matter and must be taken into consideration.
The thing is, Stan the stranger begins to know you better and can begin to form some kind of individual relationship with you, whether you’re the “same” Judith Reiner he’s heard all about, or whether you’re a different person who happened to have a similar name …and vice versa when you learn that Stan is a particular person, from a particular family, from a particular place, and who does a particular job.
Also, you never go to a party assuming every person named Rick is exactly the same as every other person named Rick who is also in the same room, or that these guys named Rick are the same as every other guy named Rick that you’ve ever known about. Apply this sensible advice to the deities: get to know the full name, with epithet, with further context added like locale and/or job and/or relationships.
How This Relates to Canaanite Deities
I bring this up in the context of Canaanite polytheism because it keenly applies here to our deities. There are many instances where people tend to assume that two or more deities are the same deity when they’re not. Were we to use the full name of the deity-in-question, we could begin to understand these matters better and to relate to these beings as individuals. However, where they are not individuals—where different names might apply to the same deity—we can still open up our understanding to how they interact differently in the contexts of different relationships. The matter gets complicated for Canaanite deities because sometimes what we think is a name is actually a title or only part of a name. We need to be more specific than just using a title or part of a name: we need to keep in mind the entire context, especially so that we know one deity from another with similar titles, similar names, or similar spheres-of-influence; and also so that we understand the different roles and relationships one deity may have. The context of these relationships is a key component of who that deity is, and when we miss these things, we’re missing out in having better relationships with the deities and a better understanding of the deities, and a better understanding of how we relate to them.
In looking at texts from the city of Ugarit around 1200 BCE, we see a hint at these matters, of deities who demonstrate the same name or similar names, but who have different epithets. To see this, we must look closely and we must know what to watch for. In these 3200 year old texts we find long lists and mentions of deities with similar names who are situated in different contexts, or they are acknowledged in different ways with separate offerings, sometimes even at different times of the day or of the night, or at different times during the lunar month or the solar year.
For instance, there’s an Ugaritic text which mentions a few divine names sharing a name-title-designation of ‘Anatu. When I speak here of ‘Anatu, there are places in the ancient texts where no further designation or epithet is given, but I will call her ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) because this young warrior goddess has tales, contexts, and relationships particular to her in that city and in that time. The people of Ugarit had no need to specify “ ‘Anatu (of Ugarit)” because it went without saying that the ‘Anatu specific to Ugarit was the main ‘Anatu honored there; in other words, they do not specify context there because that context was assumed and already known. However, at times in the ancient offering and ritual texts, sometimes they will specify ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), as well as other ‘Anatus to whom they are making offering.
Some of these ‘Anatus may very well be the same Lady, but some of these may be entirely different. Three come to mind: ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), ‘Anatu the Mutilated, and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu. We know ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) from epic tales written in Ugarit. We don’t have any further information specifically on ‘Anatu the Mutilated—we don’t know her story, we don’t know who she is and how she is related to ‘Anatu (of Ugarit). We don’t know if she’s a different goddess altogether, or if she is just representing ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) in a different context and a different set of relations. As for ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu, I think it is likely that this is the same as ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), but participating in a different role and a different set of relationships. We know that an ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) is Baʽlu Haddu’s comrade-in-arms and this particular epithet, ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu, denotes some relationship she has with Baʽlu Haddu’s holy and sacred mountain. Yet in this instance we can proceed on the notion that she is probably the same as ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) while holding open the possibility that she is a different goddess, and while acknowledging the different contexts and relationships she holds when she is called ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu. When ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu comes through, she will demonstrate a different part of her personality than ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) did….just as in our human illustration how Judith Reiner will act differently and do different things when she is Judith the Birdwatcher with her friend Cami, or Judith the Ski Buddy with her new friend Stan.
It does no harm to be more specific through using full names like ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu whether the ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu are the same goddess but in a different contextual relationships; or if ‘Anatu (of Ugarit) and ‘Anatu of Mount Tzapunu are two entirely different goddesses altogether.
In another example, we have ‘Athtartu (of Ugarit), ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians, and ‘Athtartu of the Steppe Lands. This could get quite confusing when a person considers that the name ‘Athtartu is related to the name Astarte and that scholars treat multiple Astartes as the same one goddess everywhere…and it worsens when they conflate Ishtars with Astartes. Think the matter can’t get worse? The name “Astarte” gets downgraded into a word that is used, biblically, as a generic term for any goddess. ‘Athtartu (of Ugarit) and ‘Athartu of the Hurrians are different goddesses—the Hurrians were a neighboring people to the north of Ugarit, and the name “ ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians” could refer to a Hurrian goddess, like a Shaushka, or another Hurrian goddess. A person from Ugarit who honors ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians is invoking a specific foreign Hurrian goddess within the context of this Hurrian goddess’s relationship to the city of Ugarit, a place foreign to her. When he calls to ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians, he is calling to her in the context of Ugaritan religion and Ugaritan relationships to the deities, not as a person from the city of Mitanni in the context of Hurrian religion or Hurrian relationships to Hurrian deities. ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians is a foreign goddess and is not to be confused for the local ‘Athartu (of Ugarit). It would be sort of like if I lived in Toledo and I had a friend named Amy (of Toledo), but I met a totally different new person in New York City who reminds me a lot of Amy from Toledo…and I just start thinking of the new person as “That ‘Amy’ of NYC” until I get to know her better.
As to the staggering matter of “baal”…oh my. There are many baʽals noted in the Ugaritic offerings lists, and so many more throughout the Near East that it usually makes folks’ eyes cross. There is even a note of Ugaritic offerings made to a class of gods known collectively as “ The Baʽals” (in Ugaritic, the Baʽaluma). At least with the title baʽal (baʽlu in Ugaritic), most scholars know that sometimes you aren’t talking about the same god. Often, but not always, scholars try to be a bit more specific when referring to a baʽal. But, the casual reader and the newcomer don’t know this and often fall into a trap of assuming all Baʽals are “the storm god”—as if there were only one baʽal and only one Near Eastern storm god. The word baʽal is not a name, it is a title, and it means “lord”—and there are many Near Eastern deities, not one deity alone, who count meteorology within their spheres of influence. Using a full name is vital.
If you see Baʽal (Baʽlu), with no further descriptor, mentioned in context of Ugaritic text, it is likely that it refers to Baʽlu Ugaritu (Baʽal Ugarit) or Baʽlu Haddu (Baʽal Hadad). Baʽlu Haddu and Baʽlu Ugaritu may well be the same god, but the different names refer to different relationships. As Baʽlu Haddu he is primarily Lord Thunderer, a well-known weather god whose adventures are detailed in Ugaritic epic poetry. As Baʽlu of Ugarit, he is primarily in charge of caring for the city of Ugarit and the locale. There are overlapping roles here, but the different names refer to different priorities and different obligations, thus it is useful to be specific when acknowledging him. In other words, if you lived in Ugarit and wanted to pray for protection over the city, it would be more advantageous to make your offering to Baʽlu Ugaritu first and foremost. You could make offering to Baʽlu Haddu, that would be helpful, too, but it might be of more help to call on Baʽlu Ugaritu first.
Remember above Judith Reiner who was the ski buddy, but who was also the birdwatcher, depending on which friend she was with? It would be silly for Judith to show up at her bird-watching friend’s house dressed in her ski gear and ready to hit the slopes, and thus it would be unlikely for Judith’s bird-watching friend to ask for her to show up with skis and helmet instead of with binoculars and notebook. As Baʽlu Ugaritu, the god is in a position better to protect the city and the specific locale; as Baʽlu Haddu, he is in a better situation to care for matters of weather and proper rainfall. One role can fit inside the other sometimes: Baʽlu Haddu as a weather god sees to proper rainfall thus making Ugarit, and many more locales, prosperous with abundant crops. However, Baʽlu Ugaritu, in role of caretaker of Ugarit, generally cannot extend further than those boundaries of Ugarit and its locale. (Terms and conditions can apply: if a foreign king living in a neighboring city wanted good relations with the city of Ugarit, he might well make offerings to Baʽlu Ugaritu.)
These relationships and knowing them, their differences, how they interact, where they overlap, where one relationship holds another within it, and where relationships cannot hold other relationships within them, are vital to know and navigate. When we use the full names of the deities—names which include context and relationships—we we begin consciously observing these matters and understanding them better.
Sometimes contexts shift—like people appointed to office, transferring offices, or retiring from office. Perhaps the Lord of Ugarit, Baʽlu Ugaritu, is no longer the same god: perhaps Baʽlu Haddu, no longer has this relationship with the city of Ugarit and thus no longer serves this function, or holds this office. When this matter is in play, if we were to call upon Baʽlu Haddu when we need Baʽlu Ugaritu, and the Baʽlu Ugaritu is no longer Baʽlu Haddu, we could wind up calling on the wrong god. Think of it this way, if something happens to where Judith can no longer be a skiing buddy—perhaps she broke her leg—Stan would find another partner on the slopes and it would be silly for him to call Judith-of-the-Broken-Leg, who is no longer Judith-who-is-Stan’s-Ski-Buddy, when he is going on a ski trip.
Baʽlu Haddu (Lord Thunderer) could in theory also be holding the office of Baʽlu Ugaritu (Lord of Ugarit) as well as the office of Baʽlu Tzapunu (Lord of Mount Tzapunu). If this is so, then Baʽlu Haddu is capable of working through the smaller office of Lord of Mount Tzapunu, and of caring for that specific locale. The office of Lord of Mount Tzapunu and the office of Lord of Ugarit are not the same office, even if the same god could hold both offices. Lord Thunderer functioning as Lord of Mount Tzapunu concerns himself specifically with that mountain, the locale, and the meteorological phenomenon around it. As Lord of the city of Ugarit, he would then be more concerned with the goings-on of that locale and that city. If a different god managed to take on the office of Baʽlu Tzapunu, he would then be a Baʽal Tzapunu, a Lord of Mount Tzapunu. Sometimes these are roles, offices, which different gods can assume and fulfill. When we are being more specific by describing the deities and using their full names, we are more likely to understand these things and to begin to understand how these different gods and different roles relate to one another, and to have clearer relationships.
Think of it this way: Martinique currently holds office as president of the PTA, but she could also be elected to the office of mayor of her town. Although the jobs may occasionally overlap, Martinque’s PTA job and mayoral job are two totally different jobs with two totally different sets of needs, concerns, relationships, and contexts. In a city council meeting, you would not call her “president” because she is not fulfilling the role as president of the PTA at that time—you would call her mayor. She cannot do the same things as mayor as she can as president of the PTA, and vice versa. Although her job as mayor may encompass looking after the school board and thus the PTA, her job as PTA president does not encompass her position as mayor and looking after the city as a whole.
If it helps, visualize a set of measuring spoons: Martinique’s job as president of the PTA is like teaspoon, and her job as mayor is like a tablespoon. The teaspoon fits inside the tablespoon because the tablespoon is large enough and can encompass the smaller spoon, but it doesn’t work in reverse order. A teaspoon isn’t big enough to hold a tablespoon. These things sometimes can nest in one another, and unless you are specific about these roles, relationships, and contexts, and unless you pay attention to them and make note of them, you cannot learn how these matters interact. Baʽlu Haddu may also hold the office of Baʽlu Tzapunu, the Lord God of Mount Tzapunu, but the office of Lord of Tzapunu is not large enough to hold Baʽlu Haddu’s broader roles, relationships, and contexts. That tablespoon won’t fit into a teaspoon. Each job has specific boundaries to consider, and even if boundaries are sometimes fluid or you have trouble seeing them (like a clear plastic set of measuring spoons), that doesn’t mean that the boundaries aren’t there.
The mountain called Tzapunu is also called Kasios (in Greek) and Casius (in Latin). It is also well to note that Baʽlu Tzapunu, the Lord of Mount Tzapunu, is also later known as Zeus Kasios, in Greek to the Greeks, and Jupiter Casius in Latin to the Romans. So, Baʽlu Tzapunu, Lord of Mount Tzapunu, is also Zeus Kasios, a Zeus of Mount Kasios, and Jupiter Casius, a Jupiter of Mount Casius. It would be further wise to note that the ancient Ugaritans were not familiar with Zeus Kasios or Jupiter Casius since the names reference relationships with the Greeks and the Romans, and the names came into more widespread use after Ugarit was abandoned. Remember Amy of Toledo, and “That ‘Amy’ of NYC”—this is what happens when the Greeks refer to Baʽlu Tzapunu as Zeus Kasios. The Greeks are not confusing Baʽlu Tzapunu and Zeus Kasios with, for instance, Zeus Olympios or Zeus Meilichios of Athens. By calling him Zeus Kasios, they’re actually opening space within their own purview to see the god of Mount Tzapunu in how he wishes to reveal himself to them specifically as Greeks, in a new relationship, their relationship with this specific mountain god.
Ugaritic texts make mention to still more baʽals including Baʽal Aleppo (Baʽlu Khalbu), who is a very different god from an entirely different town, different land, different contexts, and different people. He is not Baʽlu Haddu, nor is he Baʽlu Tzapunu, nor is he Baʽlu Ugarit, and holds none of these roles, offices, or relationships, even though he is honored alongside of Baʽlu Haddu, Baʽlu Ugaritu, and Baʽlu Tzapunu. The people of Ugarit honored Baʽal Aleppo, a god from the far-neighboring town of Aleppo, even though they honored him as foreigners paying homage from a distance.
So, as we’ve observed, what looks like same deity-names but with different epithets may be different deities entirely from one another, and/or the names may reflect the same deity holding a different office, holding a different relationships, or holding different contexts. Either way—same deity or different deity—that difference should be acknowledged and worked with instead of glossed over, reduced, or ignored. Either way, we should hold space for those differences. Either way, you’ve got nothing to lose when you acknowledge these differences. Either way it helps to be conscious of specifics and to increase others’ awareness of these differences through the action of calling deities by full names which reference these relationships.
It’s not just a “baal,” it’s Baʽlu Haddu, or Baʽlu Ugaritu, or Baʽlu Tzapunu, or Baʽal Aleppo, or another one entirely—remember to which baʽal you’re referring. It’s not just an ‘Athtartu—or an“Astarte”—it’s ‘Athartu (of Ugarit), or ‘Athtartu of the Steppe Lands, or ‘Athtartu of the Hurrians, or another one entirely. It’s not just an ‘Anatu, it’s ‘Anatu (of Ugarit), or ‘Anatu the Mutilated, or ‘Anatu Tzapunu, or another one entirely. Furthermore, it’s not just a Shapshu: it could be Shapshu (of Ugarit) or Shapshu of the Corpse. It’s not just a Yarikhu, it could be the Yarikhu of Ugarit, or it could be the Kassite Yarikhu, who is the moon god of Kassi, a moon god foreign to Ugarit but still honored in Ugarit. It’s not just an ilu or an “El”—the word ilu means “god”—it’s Ilu (of Ugarit), Ilu-ibi (who may be the father of Ilu of Ugarit), or Ilu-Beti the god who oversees the Ugaritic ruling house. If you don’t know much about the further context, just put an indefinite article before the name, like an ‘Anatu, or an Ilu, or a Shapshu. You can always follow it up with citing a specific locale if you know it, and/or a specific time period (ancient or modern), and/or a specific relationship or context like a relationship to another deity, to people, to an activity, and so on--ancient or modern--if you know it.
This is not something I have done in the past, but it is something I intend to do moving forward so that these matters are clearer. I hope that you all will consider doing something similar in referencing not just a shortened name of a deity but instead taking the time and effort to use the full names of deities, names which include context. We’ve nothing to lose by using deities’ full names, and we have a chance at greater understanding, and better relations with the deities, if we do. It’s like learning to read—you have to invest some time and effort to do so, but once you do, you end up with a skill that will give you knowledge and wisdom for life.
...And, if you haven't already, please take the time and read through the sister-post to this one, over at Polytheist.com.
Image Notes: Photograph of Measuring Spoons by Tor Svensson, used through CC-GNU.