Dea Syria, “the Syrian goddess” (Rome); Derceto, “whale of Der” (Philistine)



Fish swimming in the Euphrates discovered an unusual egg floating on the river. They nudged it to shore with their noses. Once on dry land, the egg hatched and Atargatis emerged, in mermaid form.

Atargatis is intensely proud of her mermaid form. Atargatis is no little mermaid longing for legs: when she bore a daughter in the shape of a human, Atargatis was so surprised and dismayed that she killed her lover, the baby’s father. Transporting her newborn daughter, Semiramis, to the wilderness, she left her in the care of doves who fed and attended the baby. Some versions of this legend state that Atargatis then threw herself into a lake, transforming herself into the Great Fish Mother and since that time prefers to communicate with humans through fish.

Atargatis was widely venerated. Her primary shrine was a magnificent temple in Hierapolis, Syria, northeast of Aleppo near the Euphrates. It was the largest, richest temple in Syria and eventually plundered by Romans. Under her Philistine name, Derceto, she had a temple in Ashkelon, now modern Israel. Atargatis counted ancient Israelites among her devotees. She had sacred fish ponds in Crete and Cyprus and a small temple on the sacred island of Delos. There is much conjecture that the temple in Petra, now modern Jordan, belonged to her.

Syrian auxiliaries in the Roman army carried veneration of Atargatis throughout Europe, especially Spain. Inscriptions dedicated to her have been found in Northumberland and Yorkshire. She was a great favourite of Roman Emperor Nero.

Atargatis is petitioned for abundance, health, protection, fertility, safety, and virtually anything else one desires. Devotees traditionally refrain from eating doves and any kind of fish, including shellfish.


Atargatis wears a dolphin crown.


A scepter topped with a dove


Doves, snakes, fish, whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures. Atargatis’ sanctuaries featured sacred trees full of doves and ponds filled with sacred fish. Their gills and lips were pierced and they were decorated with gold ornaments. Fish function as Atargatis’ oracle and were hand-fed by her priestesses and priests.

Place: Syria, where she was sometimes the most prominent and beloved deity


Votive offerings of gold and silver fish. Maintain an ornamental pond filled with beautiful, healthy fish. Feed pigeons: they’re doves, too. Contributing to the safety of sea creatures and their watery homes should gain her favour.


  • Al-Uzza
  • Aphrodite
  • Asteria
  • Mari (2)
  • Mermaids
  • Semiramis


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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