The other night a huge owl flew across my windshield.
I didn’t know what it was at first, just a streak of brown, like a darting deer, swooping a few feet above the ground. A flying deer?
I usually don’t drive at night because I’m worried about deer. Most longtime Adirondack residents share this concern, and it’s one of the reasons you don’t see many cars on the road after sundown. Although my last motorized encounter with a deer was in the middle of a hot humid day, so go figure.
Anyway, the owl got me thinking about the many Owl’s Heads I have known. There’s Owl’s Head Keene, a short popular hike with views of the High Peaks. It looks like something out of Middle Earth from below.
The Owl’s Head in Elizabethtown is referred to as Owl Head Lookout. It’s in the Giant Wilderness Area, a large tract of state land that it’s best not to get lost in.
In Hamilton County there’s an Owl’s Head with a fire tower. Considered one of the “easier” peaks, it’s still not easy, and I climbed it one afternoon with people who were fit and people who were suffering.
The goddess Ishtar was worshipped at one time as an owl goddess. (Her sister Inanna probably started out as some sort of water bird, now extinct.) To me, the sign of the owl is a scintillating reminder of the presence of the Goddess.
Ishtar amongst the gods, extraordinary is her station.Respected is her word, it is supreme.Strong, exalted and splendid are her decrees.The gods continually cause her commands to be executed:All of them bow down before her.
March 22nd marks the 27th anniversary of my ordination as priestess of Ishtar.
Hail to the Queen of Women, Mistress of Animals, Embodiment of Righteousness, the Beautiful Light of Heaven.
I am pleased to announce that I will be teaching a longer online course through Mago Academy that will meet seven times over the course of three months. The subject will be Inanna’s descent to the underworld and her subsequent return. I have long believed that this myth deserves more scrutiny than it typically receives. While it is enjoyable at the first read, it is still a complex myth that takes some time to appreciate. More information and registration can be found here.
They stood at the edge of the Cedar Forest,marveling at the great height of the trees.They could see, before them, a well marked trailbeaten by Humbaba as he came and went.Far off they saw the Cedar Mountain,sacred to Ishtar, where the gods dwell,the slopes of it steep, and rich in cedarswith their sharp fragrance and pleasant shade.— Gilgamesh, Stephen Mitchell, trans.
Extensive cedar forests once covered Lebanon, Western Syria and parts of Turkey. Cedars in this region are known as Lebanon Cedars and are not closely related to the many other trees around the world called cedar, such as the White Cedar, which is a cypress, or the Red Cedar, which is a juniper. What trees bestowed with the name cedar seem to have in common is an aromatic wood resistant to insects and to rot. They may also have a fine resin; the Lebanon Cedar resin was exported to Ancient Egypt for embalming.It was to the great cedar forests west of Mesopotamia that the hero Gilgamesh and his partner Enkidu journeyed on what was essentially a timber raid. In order to take the trees, the giant tree guardian Humbaba, servant of the god Enlil, had to be vanquished. Humbaba is a protective deity whose image is displayed in Mesopotamian seals and wall plaques. Gilgamesh relished the thought of slaying Humbaba, at least at the onset of the journey. He did have attacks of cowardice as the confrontation grew near, yet he overcame his terror and killed the giant.With Humbaba out of the way, the heroes cut choice trees from the forest, binding the logs together to make a raft. They decided to set aside the best cedar for a giant door in Enlil’s temple — a good move, since Enlil was displeased about the slaying of his servant. Interestingly, the deity who did not seem miffed with the lumber thieves and giant murderers was Ishtar, the one whose forest had been plundered. When Gilgamesh returned to his city, she asked him to be her lover, offering him jewels, a chariot and a large cedar house.Ishtar is the Mesopotamian deity who brought prosperity, technology, music, dancing, writing and many other gifts to humanity. She is a generous goddess, unlike her father Enlil who can sometimes be stingy or destructive. She delights in helping civilization to flourish. Ishtar is usually categorized as a fertility goddess, or a goddess or sexual love, which is certainly true, but it does not capture her complete essence. She is like cedar wood, a pervasive fragrance instinctively drawn in. With her concern for providing well for her cities, she would have naturally choosen to bestow a tree with a long lasting wood ideal for building. SourcesBlack, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1992.George, Andrew, trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin Books, 1999.Jewell, Eleanor. Facts About Cedar Trees.Ketchledge, E.H. Forests and Trees of the Adirondack High Peaks Region. Lake George, NY: Adirondack Mountain Club, 1996.Mitchell, Stephen, trans. Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press, 2004.World Biomes. Lebanon Cedar.
Back when I posted the quiz on Bird Companions of the Goddess I had requests for a tree version. So here it is. This will be a bit harder, because I’ve only mentioned one of these trees on this blog. Match the tree on the left with a goddess from the right column.
Answers are here.Bonus question. Name the gods linked with these trees: Ash, Pine, Laurel. (Hint: they are also associated with the goddesses of these trees.)Continue the tree discussion in the comments.
The Iseum (space of worship) chartered through me by The Fellowship of Isis is called The Temple of the Doves. Why doves? The dove is one of the feathery creatures most beloved of the goddess, and a particular favorite of a divinity close to my heart: the goddess Ishtar.Reverence for the dove is ancient and enduring, possibly extending back to the Stone Age. According to Marija Gimbutas, “Small birds were sculpted, engraved, and painted throughout prehistory. In Minoan Crete they appear perching on shrines, pillars, and the Goddess’s head. Unfortunately, it is not possible to recognize the species of birds portrayed, except in a very few cases.” Since doves and other pigeons like to roost in large buildings, and the first building complexes were places of worship, the religious significance of the dove may have grown up around the temple. Devotees would have assumed the doves came to bring messages from the sky gods or to carry prayers back to them. These doves would not have been exclusively the subjects and messengers of any god in particular, instead serving the deity of the temple where they lived.As we move from decayed artifacts to religious writing, the sacred role of doves becomes less obscure. Sumerian hymns refer to doves as temple inhabitants and the dove plays an important role in both the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts of the Great Flood. Doves and other pigeons were commonly sacrificed in Mesopotamia, the Levant and (to a lesser extent) Egypt. Dove sacrifice was particularly important in early Judaism, and doves are the most frequently appearing birds in the Old Testament. Doves would have been sacrificial candidates due to their value (they were used for food and fertilizer) and their easy availabilty, but their temple association was probably a key component. The demand for sacrificial doves was so high that, inconceivable as it sounds, doves and other pigeons were actually bred in large numbers for the temples.Scholars believe that the dove association with the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar came late, which fits with my surmise that doves originally served many mistresses. Astarte, who is a fertility goddess like Ishtar, had an extensive cult throughout the Levant and is unquestionably linked with doves. Today it is the dove, rather than the original lion, that goddess worshippers most often associate with Ishtar. The dove’s plump, curving features, her gurgling coos and her soft, sweet melodies carry a voluptuous aura which naturally evokes this goddess of sexual love.The early Christian sects, who worshipped a feminine form of wisdom they called Sophia, linked Sophia with the white dove, also one of Aphrodite’s many animal totems. Recognition of Sophia withered under patriarchal Christianity, though her worship has been revived in some of the more liberal churches. Her dove emblem continues as the symbol of the Holy Ghost.Doves have always been close personal friends of mine. As a child, I would sit in my room listening to the mourning doves on the wires outside my window, and it felt like they were speaking to my heart. Even today, I think their music is one of the most beautiful and soothing sounds in nature.SourcesCooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.MacKenzie, Donald A. Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915. Sacred Texts.Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.More information about the pigeon family here.
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