Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Goddess of the Week

Al-'Uzza is a Goddess Who was held in high esteem by the pre-Islamic Arabs, especially those of the Quraysh tribe of the area around Mecca, who counted in their number one Mohammed, who would found the religion known as Islam. Her name means 'the Mighty One', and She was worshiped as a baetyl, or block of stone (carved or uncarved) in that area. She is closely associated with the Arabian Goddesses al-Lat (whose name means 'Goddess') and Manat ('Fate'); sometimes They are all called the daughters of al-Lah ('God').

According to the Kitab Al-Asnam, or Book of Idols, by Hisham Ibn-al-Kalbi (c. the 9th century CE) in Mecca the Quraysh would ritually circle the Ka'aba (a holy place long before the advent of Islam) and chant:

By Allat and al-'Uzza,
And Manat, the third idol besides.
Verily they are the most exalted females
Whose intercession is to be sought

Al-'Uzza was also an important Goddess to the Arabs up in Petra in modern Jordan; She may have been the main Goddess worshiped there. She is known to have had a major temple in that city, though which one is not known; the Greeks identified Her with their Aphrodite Ourania.

The relief on the little round tholos (temple-like structure) of the Khasneh in Petra is likely al-'Uzza; though it is much defaced, it shows a Goddess robed in the Greek style carrying a cornucopia and a patera. She is thought to be syncretized with both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Tykhe, their Goddess of good fortune; in the Roman world the equivalent Goddess would be Fortuna. (The Romans incidentally linked Isis with Fortuna, worshiping Them in one as Isis-Fortuna.) Tykhe was also considered a protective Goddess of individual cities; though it is hard to make out, the Goddess in relief on the Khasneh may also wear Tykhe's turret crown as city guardian. This may mean She was considered the protective Goddess of Petra, one Who looks after the good fortune of the city.

At al-'Uzza's shrine in the Hurad valley not far from Mecca, visitors could receive oracles, presumably from the Goddess. She also had three acacia trees holy to Her there, which were cut down at Mohammed's command; according to legend, when the last was slated to be cut, an 'Abyssinian woman with disheveled hair' was found there in much distress. Mohammed's minion killed Her on the spot; the Prophet later remarked, 'That was al-'Uzza. But she is no more. ... Verily she shall never be worshipped again.' Well. I beg to differ.

Al-'Uzza is linked somewhat tenuously to the planet Venus as the morning star; I assume this is through the association the Greeks had with their Aphrodite Ourania, Aphrodite of the Heavens.

Calm and the level gaze, that small but bright Star of truth held in the corner of the eye; that's what I'm getting for the week ahead, the week that includes Christmas, not generally a calm one for most of us in the western world. There is a solidity, now, though, if you can tap into it; in some ways the low point of the year, the low point of the sun's cycle, that darkest, longest, night, is the most grounded time. This is the time of calm, and night, and the dark, and the sun going down down down into the dark, and then standing still for a moment as we all hold our breaths. Try to remember that, I think, in this busy busy week. That calmness is there, inherent to this time.

She says:

Fix your gaze on the light, on that little point, that Star; keep me in your sight. You need not always follow, but know I am there.

I am ally, friend, protectress, Powerful One. I guard, I prosper you, I amend you. I make you whole. I am pieces, myself. I am the scrub-tree in the desert, old and tough and beautiful beyond thought. I watch, I wait, I endure. I am still here. I am thorns and dry bark and fragrant bloom. I teach patience and strength. I win because I will wait.

I am the dry riverbed, the rain gleaned in the rock-cut channels. I am almost as old as Time; I am the uncut Stone.

Ask me; I hear you and I will answer. I am still the Mighty One.

What do you think?


There is quite a good article here on al-'Uzza (though it could use a bit of proofreading).

The Kitab Al-Asnam, or Book of Idols, by Hisham Ibn-al-Kalbi (737-819CE), English translation here. Be warned: though it's just the straight-up text from the 1952 translation by Nabih Amin Faris and appears perfectly reputable (I've seen the Book of Idols text linked from educational sites, for instance), the rest of the site is an evangelical Christian one. I'd advise not backing up into the main site of that one unless you've a stronger stomach than I do.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I have a friend on the Goddess Path who was born Muslim. She told me that the Black Stone meteorite in the Ka'aba was originally sacred to the Goddess. I love learning about the Divine Feminine antecedents of Islam. Thanks for this post!

Thalia said...

Have you seen a picture of the Black Stone? It's set in a silver frame, sort of oval with a point at the bottom and top. Hmmm.... Now what does that shape remind me of?

Debra She Who Seeks said...

No, I've never seen a picture of it. Yowza, vesica piscis!

Unknown said...

This was beautiful and everything I've been needing to hear after a very stressful period. Thank you so much.

As someone whose mother's side of the family is Muslim, I find pre-Islamic Goddesses of the Middle East and Central Asia fascinating and very dear to my heart.

kwannon said...

thank you for posting this; i'm fascinated by pre-Islamic goddess and will check out the sources you posted at the end. :)