Page 1

Body, Mind & Spirit / Magick Studies

Raw. Real. Ancient. And nearly forgotten. To practice Canaanite magic is to honor a spiritual ancestry that, until now, was beyond our understanding. Reawakening the beliefs of an ancient religion, The Horned Altar reveals how to transform the Canaanites’ rich culture of myth and ritual into a modern magical practice. Explore Canaanite secrets that were recorded on cuneiform tablets over three thousand years ago. Discover how to forge relationships with deities and how to revitalize your passions. Learn the truth about a civilization unfairly portrayed as the blood-soaked villains of the Bible. Contemplate the deities of Canaan and the alphabets of the era; make a Babylonian demon protection bowl; and cast spells for healing, love, and protection. Feel the call of the ancient deities and connect to a spiritual ancestry that is older and deeper than anything you’ve ever experienced.

Tess Dawson is one of the foremost authorities in the field of Canaanite mysticism and religion. A devotee and scholar of the Natib Qadish tradition, Dawson leads the largest online Canaanite polytheist group, teaches workshops, and serves as a leader in the Near and Middle Eastern polytheist communities. She has written for Witches & Pagans, PanGaia, SageWoman, Circle, Pentacle, The Beltane Papers, and several anthologies. Visit her online at

$22.99 US / $26.50 CAN ISBN 978-0-7387-3157-5 • Twitter:@LlewellynBooks



about the author

With over fourteen years of experience, research, and leadership, Tess Dawson has galvanized the Near Eastern and Middle Eastern polytheist religious communities. She is one of the foremost authorities in the field of revived Canaanite religion and mysticism. Dawson blogs with the popular magazine Witches & Pagans, and has written for numerous periodicals. She lives in New England. Please visit her online at


HORNED ALTAR Rediscovering & Rekindling Canaanite Magic


Llewellyn Publications Woodbury, Minnesota

The Horned Altar: Rediscovering & Rekindling Canaanite Magic © 2013 by Tess Dawson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Llewellyn Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. First Edition First Printing, 2013 Book design by Donna Burch Cover design and illustration by Kevin R. Brown Interior illustrations by the Llewellyn Art Department Llewellyn Publications is a registered trademark of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Dawson, Tess The horned altar : rediscovering & rekindling Canaanite magic / Tess Dawson. — First Edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-7387-3157-5 1. Gods, Canaanite. 2. Canaanites—Religion. I. Title. BL1670.D38 2013 299'.26—dc23 2012047466 Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business transactions between our authors and the public. All mail addressed to the author is forwarded, but the publisher cannot, unless specifically instructed by the author, give out an address or phone number. Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific location will continue to be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to authors’ websites and other sources. Llewellyn Publications A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. 2143 Wooddale Drive Woodbury, MN 55125-2989 Printed in the United States of America

other books by this author

Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East (editor) Whisper of Stone: Natib Qadish, Modern Canaanite Religion

In honor of the Gracious Deities of ancient Canaan; may there be wreaths upon your heads, crowns atop your brows. And to the new generation of people who revive and keep the deities’ ways.


Introduction . . . 1

Book I: Rediscover Chapter 1: Foundation . . . 11 Chapter 2: Magic Theory and Ethics . . . 19 Chapter 3: The Deities . . . 31 Chapter 4: Sacred Timekeeping and Sacred Geography . . . 69 Chapter 5: The Body . . . 81 Chapter 6: Alphabets . . . 93 Chapter 7: Prayer, Blessing, and Curse . . . 129 Chapter 8: Divination and Symbolism . . . 139

Book II: Rekindle Chapter 9: Care and Feeding of the Deities . . . 165 Chapter 10: Virtues, Ethics, and Creating Magic . . . 177 Chapter 11: Modern Divination . . . 191 Chapter 12: Sacred Time and Sacred Place . . . 215 Chapter 13: Magic Words . . . 237 Chapter 14: Spells, Amulets, and Recipes . . . 257 Resources . . . 277 Appendix I: Pronunciation Guide . . . 285 Appendix II: Glossary . . . 289 Appendix III: Lists . . . 295 Index . . . 301


Mediterranean Sea





Adana U

gar it

Mitanni Yamkhad Carc hem ish h AlalakAleppo Elba Orontes River

Qadesh Damascus Hazor Megiddo

Canaan Beirut Byblos Sidon Tyre



Tigr is


Rive r



hra te




ive r



Sumer Nippur



Myrrh incense coils its smoke around you as you lift your arms heavenward. Your soul surges through you and merges with the vital power of the deities. The symbols you’ve painted with henna upon your hands glow in the flame that dances on the wick of the terra cotta oil lamp. You channel the power into each syllable as you intone the ancient words and press the symbols upon the wet slab of clay. By rolling your personal seal across the tablet, you set the magic. Raw, real, ancient, but forgotten. Themes of Canaanite magic have quietly diffused from archaic times into other magical systems such as Qabalah and ceremonial magic, and the religions of Christianity and Judaism. In the process these themes have been garbled, misunderstood, or reconfigured, and the original context has been lost. Canaanite magic in its oldest form is usually a type of theurgy, a magic that calls upon the deities for intervention. As such, Canaanite magic does not work with “energy,” an impersonal resource to be tapped


2 introduction

at will and channeled indiscriminately. An act of magic instead calls upon a person’s soul, the soul of a deity, or both. Most magical systems available today are based primarily on medieval magic or popular thought—Qabalah and Hermetic magic have traces of ancient Canaanite, Babylonian, and Egyptian themes, but these magical systems came into use much later. With ancient Canaanite magic we go back to cuneiform tablets from the Bronze Age for source material. This magic has been tried, tested, and proven by ancient peoples who thought it worked well enough to write it down and preserve it for generations; so much so that a modern Lebanese prayer that averts the evil eye parallels a prayer written down by a Canaanite scribe over three thousand years ago. Canaanite magic calls to those of us drawn to magic, polytheistic religion, and ancient culture. All of us surrounded by Christianity and Judaism have a cultural inheritance and a spiritual ancestry to Canaan. The ancient ways, quiet and unacknowledged, suffuse us with every inhalation. The basic floor plan of church and synagogue are based on the structure of Canaanite temples. The poetry of the Bible itself is copied from Canaanite text. The Canaanites even had a cure for a hangover that included hair of the dog. Many of us who practice this magic have a direct connection to Canaan through Christianity or Judaism, from our past or current religious practices, or the Jewish or Christian practices of our families and ancestors. In this instance, it is rewarding to gain a deeper understanding through exploring the polytheistic roots and magic that engendered these monotheistic religions. Canaanite magic also appeals to people who can trace their ancestry to the Near or Middle East, the Mediterranean, or North Africa. Perhaps you find yourself inspired, mystified, and enchanted by cultures of the Near East, Middle East, and Mediterranean; or you find yourself pouring through the mysteries of the ages as written down in history. Many who study Canaanite magic practice an ancient religion in some form: a qadish, a practitioner of Natib Qadish, modern Canaanite polytheistic religion; or a Punic, Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylo-


nian, Egyptian, Greco-Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Hittite, Hurrian, or Minoan reconstructionist or revivalist. If you’ve already researched modern magic, maybe you’ve grown disillusioned with New Age concepts of magic, which seem more like affirmations, self-help, and popular psychology; you believe that popular culture mistranslates and misapprehends ancient concepts. Or maybe you feel disenchanted with the methods, precepts, and beliefs and you think that they don’t work for you. Whether or not this is your first encounter with magic or you’ve read a little already, you’re in a good position to learn Canaanite magic. Since this magic works on a different theory than many magical systems available today, prior reading on magic is unnecessary. Whichever reason draws you to this book, welcome. The Horned Altar will share with you how magic worked for the ancient Canaanites and their neighbors—not modern New Age lore—while bringing these concepts into modern practices. There is a lot of leeway in many of these practices, but the Canaanite magician would be wise to remember that he or she shouldn’t just do everything that “feels right”: there are specific forces, themes, and symbolism involved in this form of magic. Tradition, primary sources, and a better understanding of ancient culture grant a deeper connection to the forces involved in Canaanite magic, and thus empower the magic. Ancient ways combined with research, homework, and practice make the difference. Some of these ancient techniques are not tidy or politically correct for our times, but they are an accurate reflection of ancient practices in an era when lines blurred between magic and science and people had a closer connection with each other and the natural world that surrounded them. By focusing on the 3,200-year-old primary texts the Canaanites wrote themselves and incorporating some of what we know of their neighbors, this system of magic is more true to ancient form. This magic works closely with the deities and culture of Canaan, and as such we’ll be exploring the Canaanite

4 introduction

pantheon, literature, and culture, so that we can better understand the Canaanites’ view of how magic works. “Book I: Rediscover” will encompass Canaanite magic and as such will detail what we know of the Canaanites and their practices, with supplemental information from their neighbors in the Near and Middle East and North Africa and from Judaism. “Book II: Rekindle” will build upon the knowledge previously presented, bringing these ancient themes into modern practice and making these practices accessible for the average layperson as opposed to a Bronze Age priest with the collective wealth and support of temple and city. The title of this book, The Horned Altar, references artifacts from Canaan, typically dating to the very early Iron Age, circa 1000–900 BCE. These altars are square stone altars with stone “horns” or points upraised on each of the four corners of the altars’ top surface. The Canaanites used these altars in rites to honor the ancient deities and gain their boon in everyday life. By making an offering on the horned altar, a priest could attract the beneficent attention of the deities who would empower the prayers and magic that the priest would weave for his community. Thus, the horned altar is a symbol of a connection, a beneficial relationship with the deities. The Beersheba altar was large enough for animal sacrifice, but the Megiddo altar, at 67.5 cm (26 ½ inches) high by 29.5 cm (11½ inches) wide, was large enough only for smaller offerings such as incense, wine, grain, flour, olive oil, or a cut of meat. Other horned altars found in early Iron Age Ekron are also too small for large offerings. Rumors speculate that the horned altar of Megiddo was built under the direction of Solomon, the legendary king and mage of early Israel. In this book you will find references to the religion of Natib Qadish. Natib Qadish is a revived Canaanite religion that relies mostly on Bronze Age Canaanite material and the texts found in the city of Ugarit from modern-day Syria. There have been various movements of Canaanite revival before and alongside Natib Qadish; some of them focus more on Canaanite-Israelite material and incorporate Jewish culture, and others focus more on Canaanite-Phoenician material and


include Greek texts about Phoenician religion. The Jewish philosophical movement Ohavei Falcha (Hebrew for “Lovers of the Soil”), in the late 1800s, revived some Canaanite themes and influenced a later movement, Am Ha’Aretz (“People of the Land” in Hebrew), also called Amcha. Amcha incorporates Canaanite ideas, draws heavily from Israelite and Jewish themes, and focuses on nature. The Ordo Templi Astartes (OTA), a magical lodge in California, began in the 1970s and incorporated some Canaanite themes into Hermetic rituals, tinkering the themes to fit Hermetic philosophy; however, the OTA does not make use of actual magical texts found in Canaan or the ancient and classical Near East. In the mid-1990s, a woman in California with Jewish heritage, Lilinah Biti-Anat, began the first explorations into Canaanite-Phoenician revival and started an online group called LevantPagan. It was during this time that she started a small practicing group and an extensive website, Qadash Kinahnu, which is still online today. In 1998 I had an experience with a goddess whom I had never heard of. I discovered that she originated in the Canaanite pantheon, and from that day on I searched for ways to honor the Canaanite deities. I cherish Lilinah’s website; it got me started. I have since gone in a direction that focuses on Bronze Age material and a festival calendar that relies more on the extant texts from the city of Ugarit. I started Coffee in Canaan chat groups in Chicago in 2002 and opened the CanaanitePaganism group online—the group is still active today. In 2003, with input from friends on the CanaanitePaganism group, I coined the term Natib Qadish from the Ugaritic language; natib means “path,” qadish means “sacred.” There is no word for “religion” in Ugaritic—the oldest and best known Canaanite language—so we use natibu qadishu, or Natib Qadish. Natib Qadish is independent from and does not incorporate elements of Ohavei Falcha, Amcha, or OTA. Natib Qadish is, first of all, deity-centered, with a secondary emphasis on community, and with nature as a third theme. As such, descriptors like “earth-centered” or “nature-based” are inaccurate, because they place emphasis on the tertiary theme instead of the primary theme.

6 introduction

In 2006 I had an article on Natib Qadish published in PanGaia magazine—it was the first widespread article on Canaanite religion; and in 2009 my extensive handbook on the religion, Whisper of Stone, was published by O-Books. Over the years, I have shared the Canaanite religion and ancient ways through research, extensive networking, writing, and serving as a leader in the Canaanite and Near Eastern polytheistic communities. I’ve had the privilege of networking beyond Canaanite religion into Mesopotamian religion (Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians), as well as with people who respect the deities of the Hurrian, Hittite, Nabatean, Palmyran, Phrygian, Etruscan, and Carthaginian religions and more from the Mediterranean, Near East, Middle East, and North Africa. Natib Qadish is a form of Canaanite religion. Although some call my religion a reconstructionist religion—and I do not negate that word—I prefer the term revivalist. By looking to historical research, a reconstructionist tries to “reconstruct” an old religion that has gone out of use. The critique is that if a reconstructionist cannot perfectly re-create a religion, she is hindered from ever practicing the religion and she will not take action: she is frozen out of concern for doing something wrong. The other critique of reconstructionism is that a reconstructionist does not include modern inspiration or rejects all things modern. This isn’t my experience with “recons” (reconstructionists): most are thoughtful and include modern innovation— within reason and within keeping of the ancient themes and values. However, it is for these reasons—that we can never completely and perfectly reconstruct ancient religion, and that this is a futile goal— that I, and other Canaanite co-religionists like Lilinah Biti-Anat, prefer the term revivalist. Natib Qadish seeks to honor the Canaanite deities as well as revive Canaanite religion and bring it into the modern day, while doing our best to ensure our new traditions are distinguished from old ones and that our new traditions are in keeping with Canaanite culture and values. All the while, we try to remain as historically accurate as possible and as feasible.


I am gratified to see that more and more people are learning about Natib Qadish, Canaanite polytheism, and Canaanite magic, and that these ways even now are spreading back into the places where they originated. We are a small movement right now—we mostly meet online because we are spread throughout the world. People come to Natib Qadish for many reasons: the call of the deities; a wish to deepen their relationships to the deities; a love of ancient culture or a dissatisfaction with other religions; a desire to add deeper traditions to their spiritual practices; a need to add mysticism to Christian or Jewish practices; respect for ancestors; a spiritual ancestry originating in the Near East as Christianity or Judaism; they live in the Near East today and wish to honor the deities indigenous to the area; or a deep respect of truly ancient ways. Others are getting to know the wealth and depth of tradition. Keep in mind that you do not have to consider yourself an adherent of Natib Qadish to practice Canaanite magic or honor Canaanite ways. I came to these ways because of an experience I had over a decade ago. I had been raised Christian, and although I hold a great deal of respect for Christianity, I had become increasingly uncomfortable with it. I turned to Wicca and eclectic Paganism for a short time, since these ways were the nearest to how I felt, yet I soon felt dissatisfied with these ways, too. I didn’t have the strong personal relationship with the divine that I needed. I was growing increasingly agnostic, and I turned in prayer to a divine realm I did not know, asking, “Is anyone out there? Does anyone care?” I heard in my mind an answer to my question, “I hear, I care.” I didn’t know if this was just a part of myself offering comfort, so I decided to test what I was hearing: I asked for a name. Mentally, I heard next, “Aaa-sheeerahhh.” I looked up the name and was surprised to find out that this was the name of an actual goddess, Asherah (’Athiratu), whom I had never heard of before, and who belonged to a pantheon I hadn’t known about. From then on, I embarked on a journey of discovering, searching for knowledge about this goddess and others in her pantheon. I soon

8 introduction

grew to feel that Wicca and Wiccan-esque eclectic Paganism, which are largely Northern European–flavored, were not the best formats for me to honor my connection to these ancient Canaanite deities; and thus, after many years of research, dedication, and practice, I founded Natib Qadish. Even now, I continue to learn and practice Canaanite religion, and I serve the growing community through networking and educating. As we grow we will be able to meet in greater numbers face to face and once again call aloud the sacred names of our deities. I’ve put together this instructional manual to make Canaanite magic more accessible to a broader audience that is interested in starting a new spiritual practice or deepening their practices on the basis of ages-old methods and bringing a new understanding of ancient magical theory.

book i

Rediscover In this part of the book, we will concentrate primarily on the historic practices of the ancient Canaanites and their neighbors. We will touch on history, explore Canaanite culture and how the Canaanites lived, examine their lore and deities, discuss their ethics, understand how they viewed the human body, and look into their divination and magical practices.

chapter one


The Canaanite culture thrived in the Late Bronze Age, roughly 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE (3,500 to 3,200 years ago). It is this time period that I will emphasize, with occasional inclusions from later times and neighboring cultures where there are gaps in the Canaanite record or where comparison enhances knowledge. Much of the information presented here is based on primary sources written by the Canaanites and scholars’ theories regarding this information. Scholars have conflicting theories about history, and as our technology changes, our understanding of the past also changes. Although history appears as if it were written in stone, it is more aptly thought of as written in shifting sands. What we think are “facts� are sometimes overturned by new observations and developments in fields such as chronology and dating techniques, archaeology, sonar imaging, paleoethnobotany, genetics, epigraphy, and more. I have compiled information from many sources and I have chosen the theories that


12 foundation

I found sound and sensible, and I use newer translations of primary documents that were originally written by the Canaanites themselves. Some of these newer translations and theories contradict information that is “common knowledge” today. Much of what is common knowledge about the Canaanites originates not from firsthand Canaanite sources but from the Bible and later from classical sources meant to discredit the Canaanite culture or to entertain an audience and encourage travel. Religious treatises and travel brochures make terrible sources for history. Many older scholarly sources and erroneous translations of Canaanite texts are more widely available than recent research: of these older texts, often copyright has expired and they are public domain so it is easier to get them. I suggest that if you are inclined to read more about the Canaanites, consider a modern source but also keep in mind that even some modern sources are based upon older and discredited scholarship or theories that were popular in Victorian times but have lost credibility today. As for “common knowledge”: just because everyone once knew that the earth is flat doesn’t make it true back then or now. If you are at all in doubt, peruse my sources at the end of this book, for they will help further your understanding of Canaanite culture. Canaan occupies a unique place in the study of history; scholars have more information available for Canaanite studies than for Celtic religion, but there is a good deal less than what Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Mesopotamian students have available. Celtic-based religions are hard-pressed to claim primary sources, since much of their early religion was maintained through oral tradition and only recorded by secondhand sources written by outsiders like Tacitus the Roman or later by Christian monks. Much of Canaanite religion can be understood from primary documents—cuneiform clay tablets that the Canaanites themselves wrote between around 1500 BCE and 1200 BCE. Archaeologists have uncovered over two thousand Canaanite cuneiform tablets at the city of Ugarit.


what is canaan?

Scholars define Canaan in a multitude of different ways: temporally, geographically, and even biblically. To confuse matters, scholars often do not agree on specifics when it comes to defining Canaan. Here is the definition we’ll be working with: Canaan encompasses the area of land upon the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. This area includes Lebanon, coastal Syria, the western tip of Jordan, and all of Israel with the occupied territories and the disputed territories through to the Sinai Peninsula. The time period we’ll focus on is the Late Bronze Age, so from about 1500 BCE to about 1200 BCE, or roughly 3,500 to 3,200 years ago. Where necessary we will examine magical practices outside these tight geographical and temporal definitions. Time and culture flow, so setting up a hard and fast boundary on these ephemeral concepts is like holding water in your hands. historical canaan

If you know of the Canaanites, chances are you have heard of them from the Bible or from movies. In the Bible, the Canaanites were the evil contrast to the holy Israelites. This separation between Israelites and Canaanites is artificial, since most of the Israelites had Canaanite ancestry and in the beginning the Israelites themselves held polytheistic beliefs. Biblical authors vilified the Canaanites to build their version of correct religion. The Bible tells of how the holy Israelites slaughtered all the Canaanites. In fact, it is likely that the cities the Israelites “conquered” were already abandoned from Egyptian foreign policies and population strategies: the Egyptians strengthened strategic cities, and allowed non-strategic cities to languish. Conflict between polytheism and monotheism likely broke into violence, but it was less likely that these were full-scale wars and more likely that these were local neighbor-on-neighbor disputes or community crackdowns. Biblical authors included this tale of Canaanite genocide to make themselves appear stronger than they really were in their early history.

14 foundation

Many people think of the Canaanites as the image of Cecil B. DeMille’s movie The Ten Commandments, with people dancing wildly around a golden calf; however, this is a product of Hollywood in combination with biblical, Greek and Roman–era, and early scholarly biases. The reason for misunderstanding Canaanite culture is that scholars could only depend on biblical or Greek literature for evidence until primary sources came to light in 1929. Even with the discovery of the tablets of the city-state of Ugarit (modern-day Ras Shamra on the Syrian coast of the Mediterranean Sea), scholars often continued to use biased biblical narrative in Canaanite studies; and popular theories of the time—such as Romanticism, Jungian theories, and the Myth and Ritual school of thought that stems from James G. Frazer and his popular work The Golden Bough—heavily colored early interpretations and understanding. Modern scholars edge away from Romanticism, and usually focus more on primary texts, archaeological records, and neighboring civilizations to gain a fuller picture of the Canaanites. Much of the information we have about Canaan comes from the ancient city-state of Ugarit, which thrived well over three thousand years ago (circa 1500–1200 BCE). The cuneiform tablets from Ugarit demonstrate one of the first alphabets in the world and provide most of the Canaanites’ rich mythology, ritual, magic, and even music. The tablets include stories of Ba‘lu Haddu and his battles with Yamu the sea god and Motu the god of death, as well as the legend of King Kirtu; the tragedy of the young man Aqhat; the marriage of moon god Yarikhu to Nikkalu, goddess of orchards; and tales of the rapi’uma, spirits of the deceased. The rapi’uma are disembodied, vaporous beings that reside in the underworld in a place called the Betu Khupthati (the House of Freedom). The ancient corpus also includes ritual texts, offering lists, incantations, and divinations. Canaan was composed of many city-states, and each city-state with its surrounding countryside acted as its own independent nation, so “Canaan” refers to a region instead of coherent nation or country. Several empires competed to win influence over the


area, and many Canaanite city-states either chose to or were forced to side with empires like the Hurrians, the Hittites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. Canaan’s best advantage was also its disadvantage when it came to interest from foreign powers: its strategic location. City-states on the coast of the Mediterranean had easy access by sea to much of the ancient world: mariners could reach Cyprus, Crete, and Egypt by sea, and later Greece and Rome. Overland trade routes from Canaan spanned north to the land of the Hittites and the Hurrians, or east over the mountains and desert to the Mesopotamian empires, like those of the Babylonians and the Assyrians. Traveling south through the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula, a trade caravan could reach Egypt. Canaan sat at the crossroads, and foreign empires eyed the area for its wealth and as a land buffer between themselves and neighboring empires. The Stone Age Natufian culture and migrating populations generated the later Bronze Age Canaanite culture. Urban Canaanite civilization sprang up around four to five thousand years ago, but our best sources of information on Canaanite culture and religion come from around 3,500 years ago. The Canaanite culture died out about three thousand years ago, but two daughter cultures, the polytheistic Phoenicians and the monotheistic Israelites, inherited elements of Canaanite culture. Remember that the Israelites came from the Canaanites, not the other way around. What became Israelite monotheism is a combination of Mesopotamian and Egyptian beliefs as much as it is Canaanite. Often, the “Canaanite� religious practices portrayed in the Bible are just as likely polytheistic Israelite, Babylonian, and Egyptian practices, or practices misremembered after several hundred years and intentional perversion by the biblical writers. Ancient Canaanite religion is no more Jewish than Celtic practices are Catholic. However, just as Western European polytheistic elements appear in popular Christian veneration today, such as Christmas trees and Easter bunnies, similarly some polytheistic Canaanite elements appear in Judaism and Christianity.

16 foundation source material

The city-state of Ugarit lies on the northern edge of what some scholars define as “Canaan.” The citizens of Ugarit referred to others living south of them as Canaanite, but not themselves. Scholars, however, have reached a consensus that Ugarit largely reflects Canaanite culture. Around March 1928, a farmer accidentally stumbled upon a tomb near Ras Shamra, Syria. This find happened to be the city of Ugarit. Under the direction of René Dussaud, Claude Schaeffer began excavations on April 2, 1929, and by May 14 of the same year Schaeffer had uncovered the first cuneiform tablets. From the cache of texts in Ugarit, we have gained primary sources about Canaanite life, culture, religion, and magic. Scholars have already translated and published over 1,500 texts. I have read several different translations of many of these literary, ritual, and magical texts; please consult the resources at the end of the book if you would like to read these texts. Scribes wrote these ancient texts by pressing a wedge-shaped stylus to wet clay tablets: this method of writing is called cuneiform. The clay tablets were then fired in a kiln or dried in the sun. Scribes also kept texts on papyrus, but damp climactic conditions caused the disintegration of papyrus so we are left with the tablets. Many of these tablets are broken, fragmentary, out of order, or have suffered scars upon their surfaces, so some of our information from these texts is incomplete. To make matters more difficult, scholars still struggle to understand Ugaritic, the language of Ugarit, and must compare the language with other Semitic languages such as Arabic, Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Ethiopic, and Syriac. In filling out any gaps in information, I look to historical texts written by scholars about the Canaanite culture and neighboring cultures during the Bronze Age, and occasionally up through the classical era of the Greeks and Romans, especially with regard to archaeological finds of amulets. Other sources include the Gezer Calendar, a tablet outlining months and seasonal cycles from the Iron Age in the southern edge of


Canaan; the El Amarna letters, detailing diplomatic relations between Canaanite city-states and Egypt during the Late Bronze Age; and a few partial inscriptions in Canaanite languages scattered through the area without enough to reconstruct other Canaanite languages or religion. Of the scattered inscriptions, two important ones come to mind: those of Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom—two Iron Age inscriptions that mention the goddess Asherah, and one of which bears the palmof-hand symbol. Despite the gaps in information, we are left with primary accounts, and plenty more information about Canaanite religion than the secondary, late accounts left to scholars of Norse and Celtic religions. activity

Do a search of “Canaan” and “Canaanite” on the Internet or in the library. Jot down notes on what you find interesting. journal questions

1. What preconceptions, if any, do you have about the Canaanites, Canaanite religion, and Canaanite magic? 2. In what ways do you think your preconceptions may differ from history, and for what reasons? 3. What would you like to learn from this text?

chapter two

Magic Theory and Ethics

Canaanite magic and prayer depend on an element called napshu. Napshu, an Ugaritic word, signifies soul, essence, will, throat, appetite, vitality, animating force, power, and charisma. Recorded prayers and incantations indicate that Canaanite magic is the combination of words, divine involvement, and action to bring about change:

î ž

Divinity’s will and vitality (napshu) + personal will and vitality (napshu) + words + action = change.

î ž

A magician strives to find a complementary means in addition to practical, physical acts to effect change. In Canaanite magic, the needed change is often helped along through divine intervention, appropriate words, and a symbolic magical activity. This process can be described as a concentrated form of prayer. 19


magic theory and ethics

The cache of documents found in the city of Ugarit from excavations begun in 1929 includes fragmentary texts of incantations for improved health as well as wards against poisonous animals and the evil eye. Divination texts include observations of dreams, lunar colors, organs from animals sacrificed for food and offerings, and malformed animal fetuses. The texts also include prayers, curses, and incantations. Spells in Ugaritic texts include elements of reciting verbal (usually poetic) formulae, completing appropriate actions, and often calling on divine intervention. The verbal formulae are usually poetic, and the actions prescribed in the text are symbolic but also practical, such as taking herbal remedies stated outright in healing spells. In a general sense, certain words or names plus certain activities equal a magical act. Some spells include activities like shaking certain kinds of wood or eating and drinking particular items. Canaanite magicworkers performed magic for protection, healing, cleansing, abundance, sexual fertility, and divination. Unlike some magical systems like the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), Canaanite magic shows no evidence of a magician coercing or commanding the deities. The Canaanites believed magic worked through personal and divine agency—the abilities or powers were not simply an abstract, indiscriminate force used as the magician sees fit. An ancient Canaanite magician sought to focus and direct his napshu, often in conjunction with a deity’s napshu. In a blessing a deity gives in ancient text, he declares that “by my napshu, you are blessed.” A blessing is a form of magic, for it brings about change through complementary means. The same is true when a magician performs magic: it requires the magician’s own napshu, and often also includes a deity’s. Thus it would have been expedient for a magician to ensure that his own napshu was strong, and even more practical if he would gain a deity’s favor and align his personal will with the deity’s. A magician can keep his napshu strong by honoring and serving the deities, living a goodly life, helping community, being a law-abiding citizen, keeping himself free of profaning influences, and atoning for misdeeds.

magic theory and ethics


types of magic

There were two basic types of Canaanite magic: magic sanctioned by the official religion of the local city-state, and magic that was not sanctioned by the official religion. Most of our texts concern officially sanctioned magic, for it is this form of magic that the priests wrote down. Official magic was automatically considered lawful because priests performed this magic in the temple or official setting under the auspices of the government, and for the benefit of the citystate. This could be magic either benign or baneful in nature. If necessary, priests would cast baneful spells on empires warring against their city-state. Laws and social mores allowed for aggressive magic for the benefit of community. The texts say little of the second kind of magic, but a few incantations have endured. Priests (professionals) in their spare time could perform magic for hire outside the temple as would a few people who picked up magical skills (layperson, non-professional). This magic, outside temple influence, is unofficial magic. Benign acts of unofficial magic were acceptable; however, baneful acts of unofficial magic could venture into the category of unlawful if the act violated ethics, social mores, and applicable laws.

Official Magic (Temple-Affiliated, Temple-Sanctioned, Acceptable) Priests (professionals) Beneficial Magic Lawful

Baneful Magic Aggressive Magic Lawful


magic theory and ethics

Unofficial Magic (Unaffiliated with Temple, Outside of Temple Auspices) Non-professional Laypeople, or Freelance Priests Baneful Magic

Beneficial Magic

Aggressive Magic Usually Lawful

Sometimes Lawful

Malicious Magic Often Unlawful

Aggressive magic includes justice, vengeance, or protection; and in many circumstances it was entirely appropriate and lawful. Malicious magic is magic done for personal gain at the expense of another, or magic for causing harm for the sake of hate, jealousy, or pettiness—not out of justice, vengeance, or protection. Unlawful magic was considered shameful and was labeled as a form of “witchcraft” or “sorcery.” Acceptable magic was magic for the good of one’s community, with ultimate good in mind, for defense of oneself and one’s community, and in keeping with personal and civil ethics. The priests of city-state temples would perform magic, especially on behalf of the city’s well-being or in accordance with the needs of the ruling dynasty. Priests would meet the needs of private citizens in an official capacity at the temple complex or outside the temple as freelance magicians for hire. In addition to priests who worked outside the temple, layperson magicians also provided services for public hire. While both official and unofficial forms of magic relied on the deities, unofficial magic made freer use of just the magician’s napshu, without enlisting the aid of a deity. Unofficial baneful magic—some aggressive magic and usually malicious magic—could merit legal action for acts that violated laws or community standards. This type of magic was considered

magic theory and ethics


“witchcraft,” in the negative sense of the word. In the Mesopotamian world, some “witches” or “sorcerers” were put to death. Men or women could perform witchcraft or sorcery, yet the negative terminology is slightly more often applied to women. There were fewer opportunities for women to practice magic in an official capacity, so women would act more in an unofficial capacity, in which some forms of magic were held suspect. However, it was the type of magic that could get a person into trouble—far more so than the gender of the practitioner. The context and the intent of the magic decide the difference between acceptable, lawful magic and unacceptable, unlawful magic. If a physical act was against the law, a magical act that would accomplish similar results was also unlawful: stealing livestock was against the law, therefore making magic to steal, control, or harm a neighbor’s livestock would also break the law. The average person sometimes muttered curses for vengeance, justice, or protection; this was generally no more illegal than saying “damn it” is today. Any malicious magic designed for personal greed, aggrandizement, or harm for the sake of enjoyment, turpitude, mischief, or suffering without cause constituted unlawful magic. Most of the magic presented here and most of the magic you will be doing as a private citizen for yourself and your close community falls under the heading of unofficial benevolent magic. A text from Ugarit demonstrates acceptable baneful-aggressive magic: it uses preemptive, offensive (as opposed to defensive) magic to protect a man from poisonous animals and sorcery. Since this incantation was written on a tablet, we know that the practitioner was a professional (a priest) because mostly only priests and upper government officials knew how to read and write. Because the scribe was a priest, the incantation could have been used in an official capacity (within temple authority) or on an unofficial (freelance, outside temple authority) basis. The incantation states that the priest would shake pieces of sacred wood—probably date-palm stalk, reed, and tamarisk—to ward against snakes and scorpions. The incantation also


magic theory and ethics

wards against rash‘u, dabibu, and kashpu, all of which are words for “witches” or “sorcerers,” malicious magicians. The practitioner calls for the magical words of these witches or sorcerers to fall from their lips and into the ground where their words will do no harm to Urtenu, the man for whom this magic was cast. This incantation relies purely on the strength of the caster’s own napshu, since it does not involve calling upon a deity. In a similar setting, another incantation—this one for healing impotency—calls upon the god Choranu to cast out the dabibuma (plural of dabibu) and kashpuma (plural of kashpu), to help effect a cure. A different example of the same genre sends the Eye—the evil eye of jealousy, greed, maliciousness, or bad magic—back to the people, witches, and sorcerers who caused it. This incantation against the Eye is a form of baneful-aggressive lawful magic that, like our first example, relies only on the napshu of the priest or practitioner who casts it. A healing spell that demonstrates an official, beneficial, lawful magic calls upon Ba‘lu Haddu, the storm god, and Ditanu, a deified common royal ancestor, to cure an ailing child of the royal family. The incantation speaks of Ditanu telling those who would heal the child to put a leather bottle of myrrh in the temples of Ba‘lu Haddu, the storm god, and Choranu, the god of exorcism and protective magic. The magical text instructs the homeowner to remove dogs and fish from the house, which also implies a removal of items connected to fish and dogs, possibly including food products made of fish. terminology

Here are a few terms for magic and magicians used in ancient times. Take a look at the concepts embodied by or associated with these words:

Words for Unlawful Magic • Kathapu or kashapu: These are two variations of the same Ugaritic word, which is translated in English as “sorcerer”—the feminine term is kathpatu or kashaptu. This term refers to mali-

magic theory and ethics


cious magicians; it is related to the Hebrew word kishuf (“sorcery”) and the Akkadian word kashapu (“sorcerer”). Dabibu is seen together with kathapu in the same incantation to heal the man of impotency. Kashpu, “sorcerer” or “sorcery,” is surrounded by words like dabibu and rash‘u. • Bothayu, Bothatu: These Ugaritic words are usually translated into English as “witch, sorcerer”—the first word is masculine, the second is feminine. Bothayu and bothatu translate literally as “shameful man” and “shameful woman.” • Dabibu or Dabibatu: This Ugaritic word means “tormentor” and “speaker of evil”—the first is masculine, the second is feminine. In an Ugaritic incantation for healing and cleansing of venom, this word is used in conjunction with another term that translates as “evil man,” and with the previously mentioned term for “tormentor.” The term finds use again in association with kashapu in an incantation against impotency. • Kesem: A Hebrew word that has a negative connotation and is typically translated into English as “witchcraft.” • Rash‘u: An Ugaritic word that indicates “evil man.” It is also an adjective that means “evil” and indicates malicious magic, “sorcery,” or “witchcraft.” Words you may want to avoid in English: sorcerer, sorcery, witch, witchcraft, and wizard. These words have held a negative connotation in English for a long time, and they are the words used most frequently to translate the Ugaritic and Hebrew terms for unacceptable magic and its practitioners.

Words for Lawful Magic • Charashu: This Ugaritic word is related to the Akkadian word ershu, meaning “wise.” The word means “craftsmanship,” as in reference to shipwrights, builders, makers, craftsmen, and magic-workers. It summarizes the connection between magic,


magic theory and ethics

skill, knowledge, and technology. In English, this word translates as “craftsperson,” “maker,” “builder,” or “creator.” The feminine form of this word is charashatu. I use the word charash in a general sense to indicate a modern Canaanite magician, and charshu for Canaanite magic. •M  ilachashu: This Ugaritic word is related to the Hebrew words melachesh (“[snake] charmer”) and lachash, and the Akkadian word lachashu (“charmer, whisperer”). The word is related to a root that means “to whisper.” This word often translates as “whisperer,” “whisperer of charms,” “charmer,” “cantor,” or even “conjurer,” though I would avoid the latter for its negative connotations in English. The feminine form of this word is milachashatu. • Sapiru: This is the Ugaritic word for “scribe.” It works well for a magician who specializes in magic of the written word and incantation. The feminine form of this word is sapiratu. A written text is a sipru. Typically a person who did magic had no general title such as “magician.” Clergy would bear titles; however, the title would reflect the clergy member’s role in community and religious matters, and would not directly refer to magic—a priestly role encompasses magical activity as well as many other activities including administrative work. Only if a person were inducted into the priesthood could he call himself a priest, and there were various classes and types of priests, such as a kahinu (general term for a priest or the top caste of priests), a qadishu (cantors, reciters, musicians, likely subject to the kahinu-priests), or a tha‘ayu (priests who specialized in certain offerings). A magician with skills in a certain type of magic sometimes bore a title indicating his specialty: omen-reader, dream interpreter, healer, exorcist, or diviner. From examining ancient texts and the Ugaritic language, I’ve concluded that instead of using a title, a person would refer to the activity itself: less “I am a magician” or “I am an omen-reader,” and more “I read omens” or “I write incantations.”

magic theory and ethics


Although the Canaanites did not often use specific titles for magic practitioners, here are a few modern English words in keeping with Canaanite concepts: theurgist (a magician who uses magic through divine intervention), charmer, incantor, enchanter, enchantress, sage, mage, technician, craftsperson, maker, magician, adept, or even neophyte or novice. ethics

Sin is a dirty word in some spiritual communities: mention it and people’s ears fill with magically manifested cotton balls, or worse, people become aggressive, argumentative, and desperately uncomfortable. Many people shy away from exploring the concept because of previous Christian associations. In Western culture today, sin has come to mean disobedience to a god, usually the god of dominant majority monotheistic religions, or disobedience to the authority of the church. Worse, sometimes sin has taken on concepts of slavery, death, or an unrelenting, harrowing, inescapable guilt. Sometimes it leads people to consider the oppressive thoughts of original sin, a concept that does not exist in Canaanite lore. Let us leave these ideas behind while we explore this concept. The Canaanite concept of sin implied that the order of the universe had gotten out of alignment: someone tweaked nature or community the wrong way, or a person had committed a baneful act. The Canaanite concept differs in nuance from the modern Christian idea of disobedience to the church. Khats’a—sin, transgression, or misdeed—results from cause and effect: you commit a wrongdoing, and entropy results. Although punishment can follow from committing a misdeed, any ill affects usually come of natural cycles. Correcting the wrongdoing or performing certain activities restores balance, exorcises the pollution, and restores “beauty.” The Canaanites believed that sin tarnishes beauty and goodness, and causes imbalance in the individual and the community. A deity could punish a worshipper for wrongdoing or disobedience, but it was infrequent: ’Athiratu waited seven years for King Kirtu to fulfill his vow to her.


magic theory and ethics

According to Gregorio del Olmo Lete, a scholar of Canaanite culture and texts, the Canaanites had three major categories of misdeed: wrongdoing in regard to culture, wrongdoing in regard to general norms and standards, and wrongdoing in ritual acts. Misdeed in cultural practices included observing foreign customs offensive to local customs, or offending local social customs when traveling abroad. It includes acts that deliberately incite a negative confrontation from a community by flaunting spiritual customs that differ from local customs—in modern terms, think of someone in a Christian town who wears a large inverted pentagram to upset people. The second category, misdeeds in general norms and standards, includes wrongdoings that violate what most people consider “good.” These transgressions involve breaking laws, as well as violent acts, cowardly acts, and acts of civil negligence. Acts of civil negligence encompass neglect or disregard of another’s well-being. Modern examples also include dog bites, auto collisions, medical malpractice, defective products, exposure to toxic chemicals, slips and falls because of poor property management, and so on. Most acts of misdeed fall into one of the two categories discussed above. We know from looking at Canaanite legal codes that the ancients did not allow murder unless the act was committed for defense or during war. Robbery and theft were illegal. The ancients condemned sexual violations such as incest, adultery, and rape of both men and women. Magic that would bring about unwarranted harm or any acts otherwise labeled as wrong were also subject to the law. The final category, transgressions in a ritual setting, is more difficult to define. In ancient times, these misdeeds included performing a ritual wrongly, whether by accident or intent. Ritual wrongdoing included holding ritual for inappropriate reasons, ritual for unwarranted harm to others, or ritual deceit such as making a vow and having no intent to honor it. The Canaanites had sacred procedures designed to clear a person of sin and restore beauty and rectitude. One such practice was an offering, such as the sacrifice of two rams and a donkey to clear a

magic theory and ethics


community of khats’a—a mushru, “rectitude” rite. For cleansing an individual person of khats’a, a priest could anoint the person with olive oil or the person could take pilgrimages to holy places and make offerings. The prayer below comes from a ritual of communal cleansing.

May the dwellers within Ugarit’s fortified walls flourish And...flourish [breaks in text] And...flourish [breaks in text] If misdeed has been committed According to [the word of the] mouth of the Qatzien According to the mouth of the Dadmayan According to the mouth of the Hurrian According to the mouth of the Hittite According to the mouth of the Cypriot According to the mouth of your people who have had their wealth stolen According to the mouth of the people you have “saddled” [that is, dominated] According to the mouth of the neighboring prince And if you have committed misdeed In your nose [nostrils flared with wrath] And in the wretched shortcomings of your napshu [throat/soul] And in the transgressions that you transgress And if misdeed has been committed In making the dabchu-offering, And in making the tha‘yu-offering, The dabchu-offering is now made. May it be successful in reaching the father of the sons of ’Ilu [that is, ’Ilu himself] May it be successful in reaching the residence of the Assembly of the Sons of ’Ilu. Of Thukamuna-wa-Shunama, the son of ’Ilu. Here is the [male] sheep/goat.


magic theory and ethics

The prayer is repeated with the offering of another ram, and repeated again with a donkey offering. This is my own translation, and it is a shortened form of the original text. To read a different translation and to see the rest of the text, read Dennis Pardee’s translation of Text RS 1.002 in Ritual and Cult at Ugarit, pages 81–83. The text originates in Ugarit, circa 1200 BCE.

Thukamuna-wa-Shunama is the youngest of ’Ilu and ’Athiratu’s sons. He is honored at this ceremony, but we know little more than his name and that he guided ’Ilu home after ’Ilu had become inebriated at a marzichu, a drinking and feasting rite. Scholars believe that the cleansing rite took place at a certain time of year, even though the name of the month on this tablet is missing. activity

Take a few moments to relax and breathe. Consider your own ethics and their commonalities with or differences from Canaanite views. Recall recent moments when you have witnessed activities that are ethical or unethical, and contemplate how the Canaanites may have viewed those actions. Imagine different hypothetical situations where a person would use magic, and contemplate whether or not the act is lawful. journal questions

1. What are your opinions regarding what is acceptable or unacceptable magic and behavior? 2. In what ways do your opinions on ethics coincide with Canaanite ethics? 3. What are your thoughts about the concepts of napshu and khats’a?

The Horned Altar, by Tess Dawson  
The Horned Altar, by Tess Dawson  

Rediscover a magic that is raw and real, but nearly forgotten—the magic and mysticism of Canaan. Anyone with a connection to Christianity or...