Interpreting the symbols associated with Mecca's three chief goddesses

May 2017
1,176
Syria
#1
pre-Islamic Mecca's three chief goddesses were Allat, al-Uzza and Manat, the goddesses of war, fertility and fate respectively. Those three goddesses, thought by the Meccans to be sisters, like many other deities around the world had their unique symbolism which they were associated with. Allat's symbols, for example, included a lion with a gazelle between its legs, and a palm branch, while Manat's symbol was a waning moon, and al-Uzza's were three trees. I decided to interpret their symbols a bit by taking a closer look at them and how they corresponded with their role(s) in the Semitic pantheon.

Allat, was, akin to the Mesopotamian Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war. The lion she was associated with (Lion of Allat) had a gazelle between its legs. The fierce lion flaunting its teeth may represent Allat's role as a war deity, while the gazelle lounging comfortably and safely between its legs represent peace and Allat's (divine) protection of it. This is backed by the inscription on a Palmyrene statue of the lion on the lion's left paw in Palmyrene script reading: "Allat will bless whomever will not shed blood in her sanctuary".

As for Manat, she was associated with a waning gibbous. As we all know, in the Lunar phase, the waning gibbous comes right after the full moon, signifying the beginning of the transition of the plump and illuminated full moon's disk to the dark and invisible new moon. Seeing that Manat was a goddess of fate and death, the symbolism of the waning gibbous in the Lunar cycle may as well also be used to metaphorically refer to the nearing of the end, and in general, the aging of humans from their bright and prominent youth (full moon) to their upcoming death (new moon) and perhaps subsequent rebirth. (?)

The symbolism associated with al-Uzza included three trees, obviously alluding to fertility and prosperity as she was a fertility goddess later equated with Venus and Aphrodite.

What do you think?
 
Last edited:
Nov 2016
400
Munich
#2
Just a word to the lion symbolism. It´s pretty ancient and goes back to prehistoric times around 7,000 BCE when in Catal Hüyük (Turkey) the mother goddess was shown sitting on a throne flanked by two leopards, which can be seen as variation of the lion motif (see pic below). Most goddesses in historic times, if connected with royalty, were closely associated with lions, since these animals stand for courage, strength and protection.

Allat, an Arabic offshoot of the Babylonian Ishtar, is of course in line with that type of goddesses of which Ishtar is the most prominent. Already Ishtar´s Sumerian predecessor Inanna was associated with lions. In Persia it was the Ishtar/Sarasvati amalgam Anahita who had lions in her symbolic repertoire. In India war goddess Durga is often shown with a lion, both of them associated with Indian kingship. In the Hittite empire war goddess Sauska was often depicted with a lion. And so on, and so on.

 
Last edited:
Nov 2016
400
Munich
#3
Now some words to the connection of lion and gazelle in the Allat symbolism. Here two different traditions are combined the symbolism of which can be traced back to (1) the far-spread association of the lion with kingship, as depicted by me in the post above, and to (2) the Arabic tradition of ´hima´ what was sort of a nature reserve, where animals (among them gazelles) and plants were by moral law protected from human exploitation, so ´hima´ means ´forbidden place´. Now, the sanctuary of Allat in Palmyra (partly destroyed by ISIS fighters some years ago) was also seen as an asylum, a place of protection for refugees (but no criminals), as were all other temples of mother goddesses in the Ancient Near East. In the case of Allat, this protection was expressed by a lion (representing the power of the state) which takes care of a gazelle (representing weak or persecuted people). So, it is not the idea of a sanctuary as protection zone, but the symbolic language (gazelle = refugee) which can be traced back to the Arabic ´hima´ .
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,526
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#4
A gazelle makes me think to Ancient Egypt [but it could be a personal inclination, since I do adore and know very well that civilization]. The Arab peninsula wasn't far from the sphere of influence of the Egyptian Empire of the New Kingdom [actually Northern Arabia was really near to it].


Obviously there would be to explain the temporal jump, anyway it was just a thought.
 
May 2017
1,176
Syria
#5
A gazelle makes me think to Ancient Egypt [but it could be a personal inclination, since I do adore and know very well that civilization]. The Arab peninsula wasn't far from the sphere of influence of the Egyptian Empire of the New Kingdom [actually Northern Arabia was really near to it].


Obviously there would be to explain the temporal jump, anyway it was just a thought.
Hmm, interesting. Does the gazelle represent anything in ancient Egyptian religion?
 
Jul 2017
842
Crete
#6
Arabic is a Phoenician language which means it's culture came from them and the three
goddesses are part of the mystery religion of Dionysus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazelle

Songs of Solomon (Silenus)
Come away, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
on the spice-laden mountains.

Manat appear in the Songs of Solomon (Silenus) in Hebrew
script as בנות from μαινάδες (Maenad).
 
Last edited:
Jun 2012
7,033
Malaysia
#7
pre-Islamic Mecca's three chief goddesses were Allat, al-Uzza and Manat, the goddesses of war, fertility and fate respectively.
A kind of female trinity, I guess. Kind of a bit funny for a culture that I hv always thought of as patriarchal. Didn't the ancient Meccans hv any major male deity?
 
May 2017
1,176
Syria
#8
A kind of female trinity, I guess. Kind of a bit funny for a culture that I hv always thought of as patriarchal. Didn't the ancient Meccans hv any major male deity?
Regardless of the veneration of female deities pre-Islamic Arabia was a patriarchal society notorious for burying unwanted female daughters, which one would think extremely ironic.

As for male deities, of course, the two most significant were Dushara and Hubal. In fact Allat, al-Uzza, Manat, along with the lesser known Arsu were the only female deities native to Arabia which were venerated by the Arabs.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,183
Sydney
#9
.
there as always been a struggle between the depiction of the divine in a female or male form

Early civilizations seems to have been big on the female , while warriors culture were more male orientated .


that's just my superficial reading of it
 
Jun 2012
7,033
Malaysia
#10
Regardless of the veneration of female deities pre-Islamic Arabia was a patriarchal society notorious for burying unwanted female daughters, which one would think extremely ironic.
Now, I am tempted to contemplate, that this ancient Quraishian female trinity might hv been, somehow & in some way, inspired by the Hera-Athena-Aphrodite triumvirate of the Greek pantheon. Or perhaps something closer to home, maybe a similar triumvirate from the Assyrian pantheon, if that ever existed.
 

Similar History Discussions