Astarte (also Ashtart, Ashtoreth) In ancient Phoenicia, the great Goddess of fertility, motherhood and war. She is the counterpart to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and is one of the oldest Middle Eastern aspects of the Goddess, dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Tammuz is identified as her son/consort, as he is with Ishtar. According to myth, Astarte descended to earth as a fiery star, landing near Byblos in a lake at Alphaca, the site where the original Tammuz is said to have died.
The Phoenicians portrayed Astarte with cow horns, representing fertility. Ancient Assyrians and Babylonians portrayed her caressing a child. She was associated with the moon and called the Mother of the Universe, giver of all life on Earth. She was ruler of all spirits of the dead, who lived in heaven in bodies of light and were visible on earth as stars. Her other counterparts are Isis and Hathor of Egypt, Kali of India and Aphrodite and Demeter of Greece.
The first recorded mention of Astarte’s name dates back to 1478 B.C.E., but her cult was already well established by then. The cult of Astarte spread westward from Phoenicia into ancient Greece, Rome and as far as the British Isles. The goddess was worshiped with sexual rituals that were condemned by the prophets of the Old Testament. Sacrifices made to her included firstborn children and newborn animals.
Christians turned Astarte into a male Demon, Astaroth.
Lady of Heaven; Mother of the Blessed
Also known as: Ashtarte. (The final e in Astarte may or may not be pronounced.)
Astarte was worshipped by Canaanites, Egyptians, Hebrews, Philistines, and Phoenicians, but exactly who is she? It can be very difficult to distinguish between West Semitic spirits because of their tradition of addressing spirits by both a personal name and an honorific. Thus Ba’al, meaning “master,” is the title for a spirit named Hadd. Elath, literarily “Lady,” is a title for the spirit named Asherah. Astarte means “the womb,” “the conceiving womb,” or “full womb” and is a title for the goddess Anat, but it may also be a title for other goddesses associated with fertility or possibly a name for a completely independent spirit. All of the following may be true:
• Astarte is a title for Anat.
• Astarte is the title of the Cypriot goddess whose Greek name is Aphrodite.
• Astarte is the title for a completely independent spirit, perhaps Anat’s sister.
Documents from the thirteenth century BCE indicate the Egyptians considered Anat and Astarte to be two allied war goddesses. In a twelfth-century BCE hieratic papyrus, the goddess Neith ordered that Set be given Anat and Astarte as wives. Rameses III called Anat and Astarte “his shields.” Among the triad of Semitic sex/love/war goddesses worshipped in Egypt, Astarte was the favorite (over Anat and Kadesh). She had her own priests and prophets.
Jews used the title Astarte to indicate Anat. Astarte is mentioned nine times in the Jewish Bible. It is now unknown exactly how the Phoenicians comprehended her identity, which is unfortunate as they are most closely associated with her—the ones, as traders and master navigators, who carried her veneration (and statues) to their colonies in Europe, Africa, and islands in between. By the fourth century BCE, kings of the Phoenician city-state Sidon served as priests of Astarte; their wives were her priestesses.
Astarte is a spirit of abundance, prosperity, love, sex, and war. When the Philistines defeated Israelite King Saul, they placed his captured armor in Astarte’s temple as tribute and thanks. Erotic temple rites and sacred prostitution were central to her veneration. She guards women’s reproductive health.
Astarte may be Anat, Aphrodite, and/or Tanit. Any information pertaining to them may pertain to her as well.
Manifestations: A beautiful, sexy woman sometimes depicted with a Hathor-style hairdo. Alternatively, she is horned.
Iconography: A nude woman holding lilies or sometimes wearing a Philistine helmet. A Phoenician statuette uncovered near Granada, Spain, dating to the seventh or sixth centuries BCE, depicts Astarte enthroned, flanked by sphinxes. She holds a bowl beneath her breasts, which are pierced so that milk placed in the statuette flowed from her breasts into the bowl.
Plants: Lilies, coriander
Sacred places: Groves, hilltops, and caves; she had important temples in Beirut, Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, Malta, Cytherea, and Eryx (now Mount Erice, Sicily).
Offerings: Lilies, roses, sweet cakes, honey. Ornament your body with henna or honey. Her traditional Phoenician offerings included clothing stained with menstrual blood. Cake molds in the shape of horned Astarte dating from the seventeenth century BCE have been found near Nahariah, Israel. Raphael Patai, author of The Hebrew Goddess, suggests that these molds were used to form goddess-shaped cakes either to be burned on an altar or eaten by celebrants (perhaps an ancient precursor of the Catholic host).
- Aisha Qandisha
From the 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.