The Goddess and the Tree of life

Publication Year: 
2001

Image retrieved from cariferraro.com on October 13th, 2013.

Image retrieved from lessingimages.com on October 13th, 2013.

Image retrieved from wordpress.com on October 13th, 2013.

Image retrieved from crystalinks.com on October 13th, 2013.

Regardless of which sacred drug plant may have been symbolized by the apple, it was a controlled substance and eating it resulted in the “the first drug bust of pre-history” (according to drug historian M.R. Aldrich), for which Eve has borne the responsibility and blame. Some view the Eden myth as a patriarchal cover-up of suppression of the goddess religion that preceded it . (Palmer & Horowitz 1982)


Just as the god Ea-Oannes became the serpent in the Biblical account, so too was the figure of Eve as initiator a diabolosized view of women and more importantly, the Goddess in the ancient world. “Originally, Eve was not Adams wife, but his mother; she was not a human, but a goddess; and the outcome was not tragic, but triumphant—after the magic fruit was eaten, Adam himself became a god. (There is still a hint of this in the Genesis version, in which Yahweh says nervously, 'Behold, the man has become one of us [the gods], to know good and evil.') What was originally involved was probably a psychedelic sacrament, like the Eleusian festival in Athens, in which the worshipper ate certain (hallucinogenic) foods and became one with the Mother Goddess Demeter.” (Wilson 1989). The sin that the Biblical “Mother of All”, Eve, committed in initiating Adam with the forbidden fruit of knowledge can be compared to that of the Greek hero Prometheus, who disobeyed the God's and brought fire to humanity. “Like Prometheus, Eve acts on her own initiative...transforms human existence: and ...suffers as the result of her gift to humanity.” (Frymer-Kensky 1992)

This depiction of Eve as culture hero has an inner coherence and logic to it, for Eve's role in the primeval scene is the woman's role in the life of human beings, and that of the goddess of the ancient Sumerian pantheon. The goddesses are figures of culture and wisdom just as women are the first teachers of cultured existence, the transformers of raw into edible, grass into baskets, fleece and flax [and hemp] into yarn and linen then clothes, and babies into social beings. They are the mediators of nature and culture in daily life, and Eve the first woman is the first transformer who begins the change from “natural” simple human beings into cultural humanity. (Frymer-Kensky 1992)


As humanity made the transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer, into a pastoral agriculturist, much of the earlier focus on animal totems (humanities oldest religious symbols which were used to symbolically attract game), later became diverted to the image of the Great Goddess, Mother Earth and the proper worship of her so that the earth would bare its fruits. As the developing mind of humanity struggled to comprehend the patterns of order in the seemingly chaotic world around them, they perceived that all new life was given birth by the feminine. “In the presence of birth, relations occurred without pregnancy; why should not pregnancy occur without sex relations? Woman alone was the visible life bestower.” (Ashe 1976).

In paleolithic times it was natural for a woman to be pregnant, and there was no particular reason to wonder how it came about.... Man's role in procreation was not one that could be easily deduced from the pattern of every day paleolithic life, when intercourse was frequent and pregnancy commonplace, when the only calendar was the moon, and nine months in relation to life expectancy almost as long as two years today.... there is nothing in all the long millennia of the paleolithic era to prove that...[man] knew about... [his role in procreation]”. (Tannahil 1982)


This primeval concept of the female as the sole creatrix of life gave rise to the cult of the Great Mother and thus many of the most ancient surviving religious artifacts are images of the female form. Her millennia of worship and veneration lasted well into the Biblical times.

Evidence that worship of divinity in its feminine aspect had a place of importance in Canaan and Syria is given by the numerous small female statuettes with sexual characteristics emphasized which have been found by archaeologists... it is clear that the worship of the goddess fits in well with the Canaanite fertility cult, and the number of these figurines attest to the high measure of popularity which she enjoyed.” (Ringgren 1973)


It is believed that women, who acted as the gatherers in the early nomadic clan, were the first to recognize how the plants they collected propagated, and this led to the development of agriculture. “since the cultivation of plants was first undertaken by women, their importance in the social structure greatly increased, which, in turn, gave rise to a cult of Mother Earth, as well as to a mythology of the moon conceived as female.” (Patai 1967) Agriculture, and an abundant harvest, led to more settled communities, and in light of this, it is not at all surprising to find that most of the earliest civilizations were both matriarcally structured and agriculturally based, i.e, Mohenjo-Daro and Crete. (The matriarchal origin of agriculture clearly predates the later mythology attributing agriculture to Ea-Enki-Oannes-Dagon. It can be seen that in rising out of the great Mother Ocean, the amphibious phallic God took with him many of the Great Mothers attributes.)

As goddess of the food-giving plants, herbs and fruits, she numinously transforms these basic elements into intoxications and poisons. It is quite evident that the preparation and storage of food taught woman the process of fermentation and the manufacture of intoxicants, and that, as a gatherer and later preparer of herbs, plants, and fruits, she was the inventor and gaurdian of the first healing potions, medicines, and poisons.... The goddess is therefore not only the queen of the ennobled fruit of the soil but also the spirit matter of transformation that is embodied in... wine [and other intoxicants]....

In the pile dwellings of the Stone Age we already find evidence of the growing of poppies, the typical plant of the Cretan Goddess, of Demeter, Ceres and Spes.... The efficacy of the poppy as a magic potion.... is a secret of the woman... (Neumann 1955/1974)


With her primordial association with the magical poppy, it is not so surprising to find the Goddess connected with other sacred plants as well. Thus the Goddess, like Eve who was derived from her, (and Enki-Oannes who took on many of her attributes), had a long history with the image of the sacred tree, as can be seen from ancient depictions on Near Eastern Seals.

Like the tree of life, the tree of knowledge was... a symbol associated with the Goddess in earlier mythology... So were rites designed to induce in worshipers a consciousness receptive to the revelation of the divine or mystical truths—rites in which women officiated as priestesses of the Goddess. (Eisler 1987).

Hemp's origins as an agricultural crop set down its roots during the Matriarchal period, and because of this there remained strong mythological ties between hemp and the goddess that lasted throughout the OLD TESTAMENT period. In the ancient world and up to near modern times, when hemp was cultivated for fiber purposes, it required a large number of people to take part in the harvest and this led to further communal development. In “preparing fiber from the plant and during the harvest the strong odor intoxicates the workers... Since antiquity the hemp harvest has been considered as a holiday, especially for the young people.” (Benet 1975). In time, the dates that developed around the agricultural cycles were adopted by other emerging religions and changed to suit their mythologies, coming down to us in the form of many of our modern holidays, or holy-days.

As noted by Sara Benetowa (a.k.a. Sula Benet), our modern word cannabis is “derived from Semitic languages...” (Benet 1975). The Semitic people included such groups as the ancient Philistines, Canaanites, and the most well known, the Hebrews, whose own religion like their language and alphabet developed out of the preceding Canaanite culture.

The ancient Canaanites and later Hebrews paid particular reverence to a Near Eastern Goddess known by the name Ashera, whose cult was particularly focused around the cultic use of hemp. According to the bible the ancient whorshippers of Ashera, and the Great Goddess under her various manifestations, included wise Solomon and other Biblical kings as well as their wives and other daughters of Jerusalem.

”There is a classic Greek term, Cannabeizen, which means to smoke Cannabis. Cannabeizen frequently took the form of inhaling vapors from an incense burner in which these resins were mixed with other resins, such as myrrh, balsam, frankincense, and perfumes; this is the manner of the shamanistic Ashera priestesses of prereformation Jerusalem, who anointed their skins with the mixture as well as burned it.” (Emboden 1972)

Icons dedicated to her have depictions of a 'sacred-tree', or plant, most likely made as a visual reference to the hemp that her followers grew and revered, utilizing it as an entheogen but also as a food and oil source, along with using the fibers in ritual weavings. Sula Benet believed that it was here amongst the worshippers of the goddess that the cultic use of cannabis originated: “Taking into account the matriarchal element of Semitic culture, one is led to believe that Asia Minor was the original point of expansion for both the society based on the matriachal circle and the mass use of hashish.” (Benetowa, [Benet], 1936).

An ancient ivory cosmetic casket lid from the 14th century site of Minet al-beida, depicts the goddes herself in the role of the Tree of life, offering two caprids, vegetation which clearly resembles buds of cannabis, but has been erroneously described as both ears of wheat or corn. “This [depiction] seems to indicate finally the explanation of the biblical references to the 'ashera as a natural or stylized tree in the fertility cult. This was the symbol of the mother-goddess, now known from the Ras Shamra texts as Ashera, the counterpart of Mesopotamian Ishtar, or Inanna.... The tree of life...is called the ashera in the OLD TESTAMENT. (In the Authorized version, it is called 'the grove'.)”(Gray 1969).

The word that the Bible, with evident distaste, translates 'grove' was not really a grove at all, but an Asherah: the stylized multi-branched tree symbolizing the Great Goddess of Canaan... Asherah's... tree symbol was alternately the 'tree of knowledge' or 'tree of life.' In northern Babylon she was known as the Goddess of the Tree of Life, or the Divine Lady of Eden. (Walker 1988)


Barbara Walker further connects Ashera, with the ancient symbol for the tree of life, by noting that the Eagle headed figures shown in the Assyrian reliefs, are “in the act of fecundating sacred trees, such as the goddess Asherah as the Tree of Life” (Walker 1988). In light of Ashera's recognition as a symbol of the sacred tree and her cults use of cannabis (Emboden 1972), it is of interest to note that in medieval times, certain Moslem groups refered to cannabis by the name ashirah. They saw it as an endearing term for their hempen girlfriend, (Rosenthal 1971). A tradition likely carried on from the earlier association of the ancient goddess and the Tree of Life, in the form of cannabis hemp. (That the use of the word in this context, can be correlated to the ancient world usage, is very probable, as the Islamic languages developed out of preexisting Arabic dialects, and numbers of ancient words are still present in its vocabulary).

In ancient times Asherah was widely known by such titles as Progenetress of the Gods, the Mistress of Fruitfulness and Sensual Pleasure, and She Who Traverses the Sea (i.e. the Moon). Ashera was also known as “the Lady of the Serpent” and “was depicted as a woman, holding one or more serpents in her hands” (Merkur 1988). Referring to the mythology, Riane Eisler wrote: “”The fact that the serpent, an ancient prophetic or oracular symbol of the Goddess, advises Eve the prototypical woman, to disobey a male god's commands is surely not just an accident.” (Eisler 1987).

Importantly, a further Canaanite ephitet of Asherah was 'the Living One', whose Hebrew form hawwah is anglicized as Eve.... Not a goddess but a legendary woman, Eve represents a slightly different syncertism of a Canaanite Asherah in the Southern kingdom of Judah. Eve remained closely associated with a snake and with 'every tree that is pleasant to see and good for food, the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil' (Gen 1:9” (Merker 1988).


Again like her earthly conterpart Eve, who was the Mother of All Living, Ashera, was also known as the Mother of All Gods. Throughout the many centuries that this popular goddess was worshipped, her mythology combined and overlapped with that of other near Eastern goddesses, (Astarte, Anath, Astargatis, Eshitar), making it hard at times to see a historical distinction between them. The renowned Judiac Scholar Raphael Patai, in his influential book, THE HEBREW GODDESS, has done much to establish the paramount role that Ashera, and these other Goddesses played in Semitic culture. Particularly among the Hebrews, where at times they were worshipped right along side Yahweh, on occasion even being referred to as his consort. “Recently discovered tenth-century B.C.E. inscriptions from Judea invoke the blessing of Yahweh and his Asherah testifying to their combined cult” (Gaddon 1989).

Ashera's Canaanite consort was El, whose cult and Temples were later assimilated with that of Yahweh. Ashera was also associated conuptually with the aforemetnioned Dagon, and both El and Dagon are listed in ancient inscriptions as the father of the popular god Baal. This perhaps indicates a point of controversy between the cults of the to male gods that was taking place before the later theological invention of Yahweh. Interestingly, like Ashera, all three of these figures (Baal, Dagon, El) had a profound influence on the developing characteristics of Yahweh and his cult, and adding to the overlapping confusion of these deities, by the time of the later Age of kings. “Ashera was linked to both the Hebrew Yahweh and Canaanite Baal as their consort” (Gadon 1989).

Besides her association with these male gods, Ashera shared many characteristics with her two daughters, Anath and Astarte. Hebrew scholar Raphael Patai was amongst the first to note that together this trinity represented the different aspects of the Triple Goddess, i.e., Virgin-maiden-Crone. Both in the texts of the OLD TESTAMENT and “in Canaan there is a tendency for the distinctive functions of the three goddesses to fuse together' (Gray 1969). “It can be assumed that the three goddesses mentioned represent different developments of the motif of the feminine generative power as something divine and important for the continuation of life and the community” (Rinngren 1973). The ancient Semites worshipped all three of these goddesses at different times throughtout the Biblical period. In much later OLD TESTAMENT times, during the age of Prophets like Jeremiah, the Hebrew priesthood became particularly incensed with the worshipers of the Goddess, as her cult successfully competed for popularity (particularly with women and homosexuals) against the cult of Yahweh.

pp. 22-31 Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible by Chris Bennett and Neil McQueen (2001)

cariferraro, goddess, opium
astarte, goddess, cannabis
Ashera, goddess, Hebrew
Ashera, Minet al-Beida, cannabis
ShareThis