Combines Greek Hera Aphrodite and Artemis
Moon-goddess, Venus goddess
Represented by female figure with crescent
Honored as female principle in conjunction with Baal the male principle
Seat of worship was Aphek
The female deity whose place corresponded to t hat of Baal in the Phoenician Pantheon, and who was in a certain sense his companion and counterpart, was Ashtoreth or Astarte. As Baal was the embodi ment of the generative principle in nature, so was Ashtoreth of the receptive and productive principle. She was the great nature-goddess, the Magna Mater, regent of the stars, queen of heaven, giver of life, and source of woman’s fecun dity.1 Just as Baal had a solar, so had she a lunar aspect, being pictured with horns upon her head repre sentative of the lunar cres cent.2 Hence, as early as the time of Moses, there was a city on the eastern side of Jordan, named after her, Ashtoreth-Karnaim,3 or ’ Astarte of the two horns.’ Her images are of many forms. Most commonly she appears as a naked female, with long hair, sometimes gathered into tresses, and with her two hands sup porting her two breasts.4 Occasionally she is a mo ther, seated in a comfort able chair, and nursing her babe.5 Now and then she is draped, and holds a dove to her breast, or else she takes an attitude of com mand, with the right hand raised, as if to bespeak attention. 6 Sometimes, on the contrary, her figure has that modest and retiring attitude which has caused it to be described by a distinguished archaeologist 1 as ’ the Phoenician proto type of the Venus de Medici.’ The Greeks and Romans, who identified Baal determinately with their Zeus or Jupiter, found it very much more difficult to fix on any single goddess in their Pantheon as the correspondent of Astarte. Now they made her Hera or Juno, now Aphrodite or Venus, now Athene, now Artemis, now Selene, now Rhea or Cybele. But her aphrodisiac character was certainly the one in which she most frequently appeared. She was the goddess of the sexual passion, rarely, however, represented with the chaste and modest attributes of the Grecian Aphrodite-Urania, far more commonly with those coarser and more repulsive ones which characterise Aphrodite Pandemos.2 Her temples were numerous, though perhaps not quite so numerous as those of Baal. The most famous were those at Sidon, Aphaca, Ashtoreth-Karnaim, Paphos, Pessinus, and Carthage. At Sidon the kings were sometimes her high-priests ; 3 and her name is found as a frequent element in Phoenician personal names, royal and other: e.g. — Astartus, Abdastartus, Dekeastartus, Am-ashtoreth, Bodostor, Bostor, &c.
In the worship of Astarte the prostitution of women, and of effeminate men, played the same part that child murder did in the worship of Baal. ‘This practice,’ says Dr. Dollinger,s ’ so widely spread in the world of old, the delusion that no service more acceptable could be rendered a deity than that of unchastity, was deeply rooted in the Asiatic mind. Where the deity was in idea sexual, or where two deities in chief, one a male and the other a female, stood in juxtaposition, there the sexual relation appeared as founded upon the essence of the deity itself, and the instinct and its satisfaction as that in men which most corresponded with the deity. Thus lust itself became a service of the gods ; and, as the fundamental idea of sacrifice is that of the immediate or substitutive surrender of a man’s self to the deity, so the woman could do the goddess no better service than by prostitution. Hence it was the custom [in some places] that a maiden before her marriage should prostitute herself once in the temple of the goddess ; 1 and this was regarded as the same in kind with the offering of the first-fruits of the field.’ Lucian, a heathen and an eye-witness, tells us2 — ’ I saw at Byblus the grand temple of the Byblian Venus, in which are accomplished the orgies relating to Adonis ; and I learnt the nature of the orgies. For the Byblians say that the wounding of Adonis by the boar took place in their country ; and, in memory of the accident, they year by year beat their breasts, and utter lamentations, and go through the orgies, and hold a great mourning throughout all the land. When the weeping is ended, first of all, they make to Adonis the offerings usually made to a corpse ; after which, on the next day, they feign that he has come to life again, and hold a procession [of his image] in the open air. But previously they shave their heads, like the Egyptians when an Apis dies ; and if any woman refuse to do so, she must sell her beauty during one day to all who like. Only strangers, however, are permitted to make the purchase, and the money paid is expended on a sacrifice which is offered to the goddess.’ ’ In this way,’ as Dr. Dollinger goes on to say, ’ they went so far at last as to contemplate even the abominations of unnatural lust as a homage rendered to the deity, and to exalt it into a regular cultus. The worship of the goddess [Ashtoreth] at Aphaca in the Lebanon was specially notorious in this respect.’ 1 Here, accord ing to Eusebius. was, so late as the time of Constantine the Great, a temple in which the old Phoenician rites were still retained. ’ This,’ he says, ’ was a grove and a sacred enclosure, not situated, as most temples are, in the midst of a city, and of market places, and of broad streets, but far away from either road or path, on the rocky slopes of Libanus. It was dedicated to a shameful goddess, the goddess Aphrodite. A school of wickedness was this place for all such profligate persons as had ruined their bodies by excessive luxury. The men there were soft and womanish — men no longer ; the dignity of their sex they rejected ; with impure lust they thought to honour the deity. Criminal intercourse with women, secret pollutions, disgraceful and nameless deeds, were practised in the temple, where there was no restraining law, and no guardian to preserve decency.’ 2 One fruit of this system was the extraordinary institution of the Galli. The Galli were men, who made themselves as much like women as they could, and offered themselves for purposes of unnatural lust to either sex. Their existence may be traced in Israel and Judah,3 as well as in Syria and Phoenicia.4 At great festivals, under the influence of a strong excitement, amid the din of flutes and drums and wild songs, a number of the male devotees would snatch up swords or knives, which lay ready for the purpose, throw off their garments, and coming forward with a loud shout, proceed to castrate themselves openly. They would then run through the streets of the city, with the mutilated parts in their hands, and throw them into the houses of the inhabitants, who were bound in such case to provide the thrower with all the apparel and other gear needful for a woman.1 This apparel they thenceforth wore, and were recog nised as attached to the worship of Astarte, entitled to reside in her temples, and authorised to take part in her ceremonies. They joined with the priests and the sacred women at festival times in frenzied dances and other wild orgies, shouting, and cutting them selves on the arms, and submitting to be flogged one by another.2 At other seasons they ’ wandered from place to place, taking with them a veiled image or symbol of their goddess, and clad in women’s apparel of many colours, and with their faces and eyes painted in female fashion, armed with swords and scourges, they threw themselves by . a wild dance into bac chanalian ecstasy, in which their long hair was drag gled through the mud. Thev bit their own arms, and then hacked themselves with their swords, or scourged themselves in penance for a sin supposed to have been committed against the goddess. In these scenes, got up to aid the collection of money, by long practice they contrived to cut themselves so adroitly as not to inflict on themselves any very serious wounds.’ 1 It is difficult to estimate the corrupting effect upon practice and upon morals of a religious system which embraced within it so many sensual and degrading elements. Where impurity is made an essential part of religion, there the very fountain of life is poisoned, and that which should have been ’ a savour of life unto life’ — -a cleansing and regenerating influence — becomes ’ a savour of death unto death ’ — an influence leading on to the worst forms of moral degradation. Phoenician religion worked itself out, and showed its true character, in the first three centuries after our era, at Aphaca, at Hierapolis, and at Antioch, where, in the time of Julian, even a Libanius confessed that the great festival of the year consisted only in the perpetration of all that was impure and shameless, and the renunciation of every lingering spark of decency.2 A vivid conception of another world, and of the reality of a life after death, especially if connected with a belief in future rewards and punishments, might have done much, or at any rate something, to counteract the effect upon morals and conduct of the degrading tenets and practices connected with the Astarte worship ; but, so far as appears, the Phoeni cians had a very faint and dim conception of the life to come, and neither hoped for happiness nor feared misery in it . Their care for the preservation of their bodies after death,3 and the provision which in some cases they are seen to have made for them,1 imply a belief that death was not the end of everything, and a few vague expressions in inscriptions upon tombs point to a similar conviction ; s but the life of the other world seems to have been regarded as something imperfect and precarious 3 — a sort of shadowy exis tence in a gloomy Sheol, where was neither pleasure nor pain, neither suffering nor enjoyment, but only quietness and rest. The thought of it did not occupy men’s minds, or exercise any perceptible influence over their conduct. It was a last home, whereto all must go, acquiesced in, but neither hoped for nor dreaded. A Phoenician’s feelings on the subject were probably very much those expressed by Job in his lament : — 4 ’ Why died I not from the womb ’? Why gave I not up the ghost at my birth ? Why did the knees prevent me ? or why the breasts that I should suck ? For now should I have lain still and been quiet ; I should have slept, and then should I have been at rest : I should have been with the kings and councillors of the earth, Who rebuilt for themselves the cities that were desolate. I should have been with the princes that had much gold, And that filled their houses with silver . . . There they that are wicked cease from troubling, There they that are weary sink to rest ; There the prisoners are in quiet together, And hear no longer the voice of the oppressor : There are both the great and small, and the servant is freed from his master.