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Perfumed Dawn: Canaanite Magic Experiences a Revival

This article was written by Tess Dawson
posted under Pagan

The sands of time cannot erase the ancient ways of the Middle East. Generations of selective history and the destruction of sacred sites cannot destroy them. Elusive, like shimmering heat from a sun-warmed mudbrick, the magic endures. Cast your eyes over the ruins glittering in the golden sun and embrace their foundation. The sun set on the Canaanite culture many years ago, but even as the Canaanites measured each new day with the dying light, so we have come through that night and into the next dawn.

I came to Canaanite magic and religion in 1998; after a long, dark night of the soul and a prayer, I heard a name of a Canaanite goddess whispered in my mind. I had never heard this name before, and after some research I learned she existed as a Canaanite goddess. At that point in my life, I had never heard of Canaanite religion. I'll wager you haven't heard of it yet either, so allow me to bridge that distance.

Canaan: Distant But Familiar
The Canaanite culture lasted from about 2500 BCE (4,500 years ago) to about 1200 BCE (3,200 years ago). At the beginning of the Iron Age (1000 BCE, or 3,000 years ago) elements of Canaanite culture passed into Phoenician and Israelite cultures. Although the Phoenicians retained the Canaanites' polytheism, the Israelites became increasingly monotheistic. However disparate both cultures—the Phoenicians and the Israelites—are, they still present later evolutions of Canaanite culture. (Evolution indicates change over time; it doesn't necessarily signify "improvement" any more than it would signify "degeneration.") The Phoenicians themselves created the Carthaginian daughter culture, which also colonized far and wide, even including Spain (Phoenician culture influenced much of Andalucía). The Canaanites based their economy primarily on trade and on transforming raw materials into goods and art. Canaanite magic and religion has its basis in primary documents found from the Bronze Age city of Ugarit: scholars have translated some 1,200 tablets from their Ugaritic cuneiform.

Cleopatra VII, the same Cleopatra who seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, scented her barge's sails with a lily perfume, susinum, made in Egypt and Phoenicia. Master perfumers created susinum from macerated lilies steeped in balanos oil and caressed by open air, frost, and the light of sun and moon. Both the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians were known for their purple dye—a color so prized, like fine jewelry, that only kings and the very wealthy could afford it.

Canaanite elements have become widespread and have blended seamlessly in our culture. The town name of "Salem" comes from the Canaanite god Shalimu, god of evening, sunset, completion, and peace. Another town name, Bethel, means "house of the god El." El is the Hebrew name for the earlier Canaanite god ʼIlu. Names like Tamara ("date palm") and Nathaniel ("gift of El") also trace to Canaanite culture. The word Phoenix, a personal name, a city name, and the name of a magnificent firebird, traces its roots to the very word "Phoenicia." The commonly-spoken word hallelujah means, "praise to Yah." Yah is another name for Yammu the Canaanite sea god. You can substitute other divine names, too, like "hallelu-'athtartu" for "hail the goddess 'Athtartu." Even the basic blueprints of many churches and synagogues owe a cultural debt to the Canaanites and their temples.

Charshu: Canaanite Magic
Charshu works on a fundamentally different paradigm from other magical systems. A charash, a Canaanite mage, doesn't use an impersonal "energy" to work magic. Instead, the magic relies on the charash's own soul, the soul of a deity, or the combination of both. Napshu, soul, isn't an impersonal resource ripe for harvesting like grain or harnessing like hydroelectricity. As a person, I'm sure you care very much about your own soul; the deities also care for theirs as much. As such, charshu is rooted in ethical actions and behaviors; in becoming a better person and earning the respect of your community, you heighten your ability to do charshu.

Unlike other magic, Canaanite magic does not seek to control or cajole the deities to do the magician's own bidding. Instead, we honor the deities and seek to deepen our relationships with them. Some of these deities include:

  • The ʼIluma is our word for "pantheon." The word means "gods" in Ugaritic.
  • ʼIlu has great wisdom and flowing beard. As the respected father of most of the ʼIluma, ʼIlu leads them. In the later language of Hebrew, his name is El. The Ugaritic word ʼilu means "god," and ʼIlu's name means God. While another god (such as Yamu) is an ʼilu, a god, ʼIlu is God.
  • ʼAthiratu leads the ʼIluma with her husband ʼIlu, and she, too, has great wisdom. She is a mother of many of the deities of the ʼIluma, but she is not an "earth mother." She takes charge of chores traditionally assumed by women, and travels by donkeyback—a method of travel reserved only for kings and queens. If you make a promise to her, you must keep it within seven years. Her epithet, ʼilatu, means "goddess."
  • Ba'lu Haddu's name means "Lord Thunderer." The title Ba'lu (or Ba'al in Hebrew) means "lord." Many deities share this title; however, when the title is used on its own it usually refers to the storm god Ba'lu Haddu (Ba'al Hadad). He champions humanity and he brings the rains that ensure the crops that humanity needs for survival. The ancient Ugaritic texts detail battles Ba'lu Haddu has with Yammu (the god of flooding, chaos, and sea) and Motu (the god of death, drought, and sterility).
  • 'Anatu, Ba'lu Haddu’s right-hand-woman in battle, poises between childhood and adulthood. Although turbulent and bloody, she remains loyal to her friends. Her unmarried status and her lack of sexual relations make her able, in an ancient culture, to take on the traditional male role of warrior. She wears a battle-kilt of severed hands.
  • Dagnu, also called Dagan, oversees the growth of grain. He is the father of Ba'lu Haddu.
  • Choranu, also known as Horan, presides over the rites of magic, protective magic, and exorcism.
  • Kotharu-wa-Khasisu's realm includes the smooth working of technology, modern innovation, and music.
  • Litanu, also known as Lotan or Litan, serves Yamu the sea god. Although technically not a god, this gigantic, twisty serpent found his way into the Bible as Leviathan.
  • Nikkalu-wa-Ibbu, wife of the moon god Yarikhu, cares for the fruiting orchards and wife of the moon god Yarikhu.
  • Shapshu, the sun goddess, often acts as ʼIlu's messenger. She also sees the rapi’uma, the deceased, to their afterlife.
  • Rashpu, also called Rashap, Reshef, or Resheph, supervises war, plagues, healing, and protection. The Egyptians also worshiped this Canaanite god, and in Egyptian iconography he often holds an ankh.
  • Shachru and Shalimu are the twin gods of dawn and dusk, respectively.

Charshu distinguishes two basic kinds of magic: acceptable and unacceptable. Acceptable magic includes magic done for beneficial purposes, as well as many forms of protective magic, both defensive and offensive. Unacceptable magic includes magic done solely for one's own benefit for underlying motives such as greed or self-serving purposes. Unacceptable magic in ancient times could cause a person to run afoul of the law. If an act is deemed unlawful, such as stealing money from your friends, then using magic to cause your friends a loss in finance or your gain in finance at their loss would be against the law. Some curses are appropriate, especially in matters of defense. Acceptable ancient magic primarily concerned itself with healing, conception, birth, abundance, financial stability, cleansing, and protection.

Acts of ancient magic involved reciting phrases, inscribing phrases, shaking sacred woods (reed, tamarisk, and fruit-bearing stalks of date palm branches), wearing amulets, drinking some items, or applying items to the body like a poultice. We still use many of these techniques today.

In Canaanite thought, the body runs on a different system as well: a charash doesn't use the Indian chakra system commonly used in New Age practices. There are different power centers on the body, and represent different aspects of the self and one's interaction with the world. For instance, napshu has an attachment to the throat. The heart generates thought, and emotions such as love center on the liver.

The art of the charash is to understand and work with her or his own napshu, soul, and to work with that of the deities to bring about change. In order to do this, the charash must lead a goodly life, keep free of profaning influences, earn respect in the community, and honor the deities. In doing so, a charash maximizes the ability to make powerful magic.

Foreseeing the Road Ahead
Divination in the Canaanite tradition aids us in divining the deities' will, figuring out the best time to do magic, to work out the best action to take, or to understand what unfolds in your life or in your community. These ancient forms of divination didn't include tarot, and often a charash will use means other than tarot today. Forms of ancient divination include lunar omens, examining lungs and livers of animals offered to the deities, dream interpretation, and interpreting the births of malformed animals.

Not many of us see malformed animals on a daily basis unless we work at farms or zoos, so as a modern convention we use a system of cards describing malformations and their omens. Since the portents indicated by this form of divination tend to be dire, one only uses this system for severe situations. For less dire inquiries, we scry, draw lots, roll dice, and use a system of numerology based in Near Eastern lore, or use the Phoenician letters in a manner similar to Norse runes. Most of the Phoenician letters have an ancient history of associations with objects such as fish, teeth, sprout, human head, water, snake, and so on. For instance, our letter ʼa, ʼalp, used to be drawn as the head and horns of a bull, and the letter symbolizes leadership.

In The Horned Altar: Rediscovering and Rekindling Canaanite Magic, you can learn more about the deities, words of power, blessings, curses, Phoenician letters, divination, numerology, sacred times and places, ethics, symbols, the body, amulets, and recipes, and how you can make these techniques useful in your life.

Your Day in the Modern Canaanite Life
Think about your day today as you approach the dusk. There are many things that you did today, and still many more that you did not do. You did the best you could with the skills and resources you have, and in learning from today you will do better with the next day.

As an exercise in Canaanite thought, mark the end of your day with the dusk and imagine that with this day's end comes a new day. Your new day starts with the soft lavender hues of the setting sun and the young god Shalimu's blessing. Shalimu's name means peace, wholeness, wellbeing, and completion; in Canaanite literature, dusk is a metaphor for death, the death of the old day and the coming birth of a new one. As you watch the sun go down, take a moment and rinse your hands and face in rosewater. (You can find rosewater in the ethnic food aisles at grocery stores.)

Even as you spend your dark hours with rest and recuperation, you will have a period of dreaming. Invite ʼIlu, the reigning god of the ʼIluma, and Yarikhu, the moon god, to guide your star-kissed visions. During that period of dreaming, you have the opportunity to listen to the ancient deities and receive messages from them about your life, your interaction with other people in your life, and your relationship with the deities.

As the molten reds of the morning greet you, use what you learned yesterday and what you experienced in your dreams. Shachru's name means daybreak, a dispelling away of night, and a concept of a place from which something rises. In Canaanite literature, dawn symbolizes birth. In your morning routine, rinse again with rosewater. When you embrace Shachru, you invite a dispelling away of what once was for what is now. As you enter the day, invite ʼAthiratu, goddess of wisdom and head of the ʼIluma, and Shapshu, the sun goddess, to bless and guide your day. In this simple exercise of mindfulness, you have begun to think like a Canaanite.

What I love most about charshu—Canaanite magic—is that it differs from other systems and involves a distinct pattern of thought. Canaanite magic embraces ancient Near Eastern culture rooted in the power of the soul, and is a system anyone can use.

Tess Dawson
Tess Dawson (New England) is one of the foremost authorities in the field of Canaanite mysticism and spiritual practices. A devotee as well as scholar of the tradition, Dawson leads the largest online Canaanite polytheist group, teaches workshops on the...  Read more


The Horned Altar
The Horned Altar
Rediscovering & Rekindling Canaanite Magic
Tess Dawson
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