Atargatis – The Heavenly Goddess of Syria

The origin of the goddess Atargatis

The beautiful heavenly goddess Atargatis is revered as the goddess of divination, fate, and astrology. Her greatest gift to humankind as a deity was to develop civilization by teaching people about social and religious practices and blessing people with ideas for inventing things that would help humanity.

Atargatis is the main Syrian goddess, known as “The Great Mother” in this sense, she was the goddess of earth and water, two of the most important elements in the ancient world. This majestic goddess was also worshipped as a fertility goddess and the goddess of love, which encompasses all things in heaven and earth.

This goddess is represented in the beautiful form of a full-breasted woman with long flowing hair parted in the middle and a magnificent glittering fishtail. As she swam in the sparkling waters, the sunlight would gently kiss the scales on her tail, and they glistened and sparkled in the sun. 

Temples dedicated to Atargatis in the ancient city of Ascalon, Syria, are where her ritual ceremonies took place. Ascalon was later named Hieropolis by the Greeks and was one of the most important ancient cities. Ascalon was located on the azure blue Mediterranean coastline. 

According to Herodotus, a famous Greek philosopher and scribe, her temple in Ascalon were the oldest in the known world. He elaborates by saying that the temple of Atargatis was the inspiration for the temple of Aphrodite on the Greek island of Cyprus. 

Magnificent temples of the goddess Atargatis

Myths of The Goddess Atargatis date back to 2000 BCE. Found in Lucian texts was written confirmation of the goddess and her temples. He said these temples were the most majestic he saw during his travels to the world.

Lucian described the temples in detail, saying they were richly decorated and had doors and ceilings of gold. Inside the temple was a majestic statue of the goddess Atargatis made of gold. She sat on two lions holding a scepter in one hand and a distaff in the other.

Around her waist was a girdle or magic belt that made her irresistible to man and gods when she was near. In the form of a tower, her crown had a large red stone in the center that lit up the room, with rays emanating from behind it, making the golden statue a sight to behold. Atargatis’ body is covered with jewels and gems from around the world. Lucian states in his texts that her eyes always looked directly into your soul wherever you stood in the temple room,

The sacred lake of Atargatis

In Ascalon, a sacred blue lake in azure not too far from the temple consisted of a large variety of fish that swam freely. Lucian says some of the fish had magnificent jewels on their dorsal fins. These fish knew their names and, when called, would come to the edge of the lake to be stroked by the city’s people.

An island in the center of the Lake had a lavishly decorated altar. The citizens were allowed to swim to offer sacrifices to the Heavenly Goddess. These fish were sacred and not eaten except for special occasions. These occasions were called theophany and referred to the ritual eating of the goddess Atargatis as a heavenly sacrament. 

Archaeologists uncovered coins with depictions of the mother goddess Atargatis of Ascalon dating to the 1st century BCE (Before the Common Era), similarly showing the goddess as Aphrodite of Aphrodisias and Diana of Ephesus. The body of the goddess is a rectangular column, and his arms are at right angles to her sides. The dress worn by the goddess has a texture reminiscent of barley grains, and a representation of the magic girdle can be seen around her waist. She wears a veil that flows to the floor and holds a flower in one hand and an ear of corn in the other, symbolizing fertility, growth, and the eternal cycle of life. 

Worshipping the Heavenly goddess

Priests of Atargatis were known to work themselves and her worshippers into a frenzy with dancing, song, and music made by rattles and tunes of the flute. These priests are believed to have performed ritual acts of self-castration and mutilation during these sessions. 

Atargatis worship spread across the Mediterranean by enslaved Syrians after being captured by Greeks, conquering their rich fertile lands. Derketo, an adaptation of her name by the Greeks, who considered her the chief Goddess of the Syrians, had a temple dedicated to her in Ephesus on the Anatolian (Turkish) coastline.

Enslaved people and mercenaries that conquered Sicily spread the worship of the goddess Atargatis. As the Romans knew her, Dea Syria was the equivalent of their goddess Venus. The worship of Atargatis as part of the Roman pantheon had an important role as she was seen as a wife to Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology and father of the gods). A majestic shrine dedicated to her was located in the grove of Furrina, situated on the right bank of the Tiber River. The ancient Roman road, Via Portuensis, which was the road leading from Rome to the port city of Ostia, also had a shrine dedicated to the goddess Dea Syria (Atargatis). As the Roman Empire expanded and conquered much of the Mediterranean and Europe, Dea Syria worship was practiced by people in the new lands. The Gauls, today France, also adopted the worship of the goddess of Syria, and by the late Roman times, she was known as the Great Mother Goddess and equivalent to the goddess Rhea and the goddess Cybele. Rhea was the Mother Goddess and goddess of fertility in Greek mythology. Cybele was the Anatolian Mother Goddess and Goddess of the earth and fertility.

Atargatis’ place among the goddesses

The magnificent and majestic goddess Atargatis, relatively unknown in modern times, was one of the greatest goddesses of ancient times. Worshipped across Syria, Anatolia, Greece, Italy, and even France, the Mother Goddess of Syria plays a major part in the origins of the mermaid myths and legends.

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