A reading from the book of Jeremiah

"Then all the men that knew that their wives sacrificed to other gods: and all the women of whom there stood by a great multitude, and all the people of them that dwelt in the land of Egypt in Phatures, answered Jeremias, saying: 'As for the word which thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken to thee: But we will certainly do every word that shall proceed out of our own mouth, to sacrifice to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to her, as we and our fathers have done, our kings, and our princes in the cities of Juda, and in the streets of Jerusalem: and we were filled with bread, and it was well with us, and we saw no evil.  But since we left off to offer sacrifice to the queen of heaven, and to pour out frank offerings to her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword, and by famine.  And if we offer sacrifice to the queen of heaven, and pour out drink offerings to her: did we make cakes to worship her, to pour out drink offerings to her, without our husbands?'"

--Jeremiah 44:15-19 (Douay-Rheims translation)

Who is this queen of heaven, and why did the women offer her cakes?


  1. I assume it was Asherah. I'm not an expert on sacrifice, so I can't say anything specific about the cakes, but it strikes me as an apt offering in an agricultural society.

  2. Aha! Yes, it was Asherah. Interestingly, there were women who offered Mary cakes, too....

  3. I hadn't heard of that. Is this what you mean: "Finally, in the late fourth century Epiphanius takes up the ministry of women when at the end of his collection of heresies he comes to the Collyridians, a sect of Thracian origin whose women had the curious custom of offering cakes to the Virgin Mary." http://www.womenpriests.org/related/hardy.asp

  4. Curious, indeed. I looked up the only thing that came to mind: hot cross buns. This is what I found.

    "Hot cross buns are a rather old English tradition, dating back to the Saxons who marked buns with a cross in honor of the goddess Eostre, the goddess of light, whose day of celebration eventually became Easter."


    Apparently the Asherah cakes were impressed with images of the goddess, or made in her shape. Of course, all of this would have to be "sourced," footnoted, etc., but it is interesting nonetheless.

  5. Wonderful! You know what this means, don't you? Cookies impressed with the image of Our Lady are a must!

  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GingerbreadPeople.JPG (The one on the left. Sorry. :-)) Seriously, though, here is a recursive analogy, if I might put it that way. A human child is embedded in its mother's womb in such a way that the child's survival is dependent on the mother and the mother's survival. There is a symbiosis which affects them both materially. If Jesus was fully God and fully human being, which is what Christians assert, then he was fully dependent on his mother as a human being for at least some portion of his life. If the choice of the mother was not random, and the early church seemed to think it wasn't, then Mary was distinguished in some way ("blessed art thou among women"). The recursive analogy, if I might put it this way, is that Mary, the Mother of God ("Our Lady", the Theotokos) is in turn symbiotically dependent for her own survival on the cultures that receive and nurture her; these are, in a sense, her own "matrix." She cannot survive (i.e., be understood), except as she is naturalized in these contexts (just as Jesus was born a Jew, addressing people within that context: he didn't come down to earth as a space alien with a teaching). That her veneration then picks up something pre-existing from those contexts is both natural and to be expected: she is being (re-)birthed yet again, according to the understanding of the humans receiving her, just as Jesus was understood in his lifetime as a rabbi. So yes, cakes for the Lady, and maybe gingerbread Ladies for us, if only because we need to lead ourselves back to our ancestors, both literal and psychological (and since psyche is cradled by physis, then more importantly to our own fundamental nature).

    Anyway, I like gingerbread. :-)

  7. I love gingerbread! And I like the way that you have described Mary as matrix and her need for a matrix. What I am interested in in how the earliest Chrisitans had access to that matrix. I link in the post to a forthcoming book by Margaret Barker that (to judge from her articles) is going to blow our understanding of Mary out of the water. I am working now on reading Barker's earlier work so as to get a grip on her "Temple theology," but the main argument she makes is that the early Christians weren't "making it up"--they were remembering. It is heady stuff, but I am hesitant to try to summarize it before I learn more about her sources.

  8. I looked at the website; I'll be curious to read what you end up concluding.

    For me the question has been, How do we get back behind the Aufklarung while remaining true to ourselves, the inheritors of that way of thinking? To remain authentic to the Enlightenment is to experience profound alienation from our past and from our present, not to mention our future. How do we get back to our past, to the world of our ancestors, to meaning and wholeness, without renouncing the very real gains, intellectual and societal, of the past few hundred years, without resorting to inauthentic solutions, such as we see in American politics today?

    Some years ago I pondered the question, How could our ancestors lie? How could they talk about the gods as they did when there are no gods? One day the answer came: They weren't lying; they were projecting what we today call mental or internal states of mind outward, onto nature. My classical Greek teachers tilled the soil of this way of looking at things; Jung fertilized it.

    Homer invokes the Muses. When oral tradition was alive, before writing, the experience of a bard being able to remember all of these things (and yes we know they had tricks to help them with their verse) might have been externalized and projected outwards: I, myself, do not have this capacity; you, however, do, and can help me. For Homer, the Muses remembered, because they were there (to riff a bit on your use of "remembering").

    So what am I driving at?

    The way for me to get back behind the Aufklarung, the brick wall of modernity, without sacrificing my own self in the process, becoming inauthentic, exchanging one kind of alienation for another, is to "bracket" the whole thing. Even if it is the case that the ancients projected the inner onto the outer, if it is the case that human beings are of nature, then it is also the case that the human mind, the psyche, is also of nature, regardless of how we choose to explain it (brain function or whatever). "Nature" in Greek is physis, the origin of the term "physics." The psyche is therefore "physical" in this sense. So, if it is the case that the veneration of Mary is very old (it is), and the veneration of goddesses even older (it is), then whatever was going on was perfectly "natural." It had to be, by definition. But if it is also the case that we don't fully understand what was going on, then we need to ask two things: (a) are we engaged in similar kinds of veneration today, but unconsciously, in which case we had better become conscious of it, or we are no better than our pre-Enlightenment ancestors; but if that isn't the case, then (b) what part of our nature is blocked so that we cannot participate in an authentic modern equivalent of what our ancestors did?

    What is at stake here, I think, is reparation, a repairing of our humanity. I think it is possible to do this, at least in principle, without going backwards in the sense of losing what he have gained, but at the same time to go back to reclaim what we have lost, not by punching through the brick wall of the Enlightenment, not by giving up our hard-won rationality, but to use it (it is, after all, a tool, and only a tool), to move both backwards and forwards at the same time.

    I was raised Protestant, but Hail Mary, full of grace ... it took a long time, but I am finally working my way to finding some meaning in it, or at least to holding open the possibility. My reason tells me, it held some meaning once (and still does to some). Reason gives rise to quest. For some it's the Boson-Higgs, but in this case, What is the meaning of this prayer? A modern Rational curiosity can lead us even here, I think, to ask this question, and to eschew the facile answers.


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