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THE MYSTERIES OF TANIT – 1

The Phoenicians in Spain

by Monica Sjöö

Before her death in 2005, Monica Sjöö had been working on a book “Seeking Tanit: African/Semitic Great Goddess and Her people”. This was to be her last great work, in which she explored the origins and mysteries of the African Goddess. She passed the manuscript of this book to her friend and GA! editor Cheryl Straffon to publish and disseminate more widely. In this first of 2 extracts from the book, Monica looks at the traces of Tanit in the Phoenicians of Spain.

I stayed with beloved friends in the Tipi-Rainbow Mountain Village Beneficio in May 1995 in the Alpujarra mountains near Orgiva SE of Granada. On the altar of the communal central space of Beneficio, where everyone gathered to eat and to play music on warm nights, there stood a small and very beautiful green painted replica of the torso of ‘La Dama de Elche’. My friend Eveon, who was fascinated by her, asked me to please find out who she is or was and where she was to be found. This is what set me on my search for Tanit, now ten years ago. La Dama was either Tanit herself or her priestess, though I did not know that then.

La Dama de Elche was originally found in a garden at Elche near Alicante in 1897 and was considered to be a masterpiece of Iberian sculpture. She would originally have been a fullsized seated figure and the torso is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. She wears extraordinary huge wheel or disc-shaped ear or head pieces as well as massive jewellery. [See painting by Monica on front cover] La Dama is serene, powerful and hypnotic, and it is thought that she stems from somewhere between 750 BCE-400 BCE from the Phoenician era in southern Spain.

La Dama de Baza - Monica Sjöö [2002]
La Dama de Baza – Monica Sjöö [2002]

Another such statue ‘La Dama de Baza’ was found in 1971 in a grave in the Iberian cemetary of Cerro de Sanctuario near Baza. She is 1.3 metres high, weighs 800 kilos and is carved in soft limestone. She was found in a tombchamber or vault and had been placed against the north wall. Punic amphoras, that symbolically represent Tanit, had been placed in the vault’s four corners, and were connected through funnels for libations with the surface above. Liquids were poured through there to feed the spirits of the ancestors who live on in the Spiritworld where Tanit presides.

Both La Dama de Elche and La Dama de Baza have cavities on their backs intended to receive the ashes or bones from cremations. There are also Las Damas de Cerro, de Los Santos and de Verdolay, all seated on great canopied thrones. They are funerary statues of great inherent occult powers. We know that sexual rites took place in Tanit’s tomb-shrines to enable the rebirth of loved ones, and that the Berbers slept and dreamt in the tombs of the ancestors. Menstrual blood was given to the Earth Mother, who feeds us and gives us life and takes us back into Her great womb at death, her womb-tomb full of creative, lifegiving, magnetic energies of subterranean fires and waters. There is a curse on those who dare ravage the tomb-shrines that belong to Ast’art-Tanit – inscriptions found in the graves tell us so.

Las Damas, Tanit’s priestesses, were found in southern Spain because the Phoenicians had established trading posts and towns on the Iberian peninsula probably before 1000 BCE. Spain was rich in silver, copper, tin and lead and other resources. Los Millares, a Neolithic town, had already been established in the 3rd millenium BCE in Almeria in southern Spain by a mixed African and Asian population, to exploit the rich copper and silver mines there. Traces of walls and earthworks have been found as well as houses of dry stone. Far more spectacular was the necropolis, or town of the dead, consisting of 75 tumuli or round mounds. The dead were buried in great collective tholos tombs with corbelled roofs and porthole entrances. They were painted in red ochre plaster, and, like the Hypogeum on Malta, would have given the sensation of being within the womb of the subterranean Mother. Red-painted baetyls or stones were placed outside. Red ochre was sacred to the Mother from earliest times and found in paleolithic caves.

The African ‘cult of the dead’ was held in common with the Neolithic farmers, who are believed to have migrated from Anatolia, bringing their Great Goddess Cybele with them. The ancient Great Mother presided over it all, the living and the dead. In the graves a number of plaques were found of a very abstracted Goddess, showing her owl-eyes that watch in the dark protecting the dead. There was one for each deceased person. It has been said that prehistoric Iberian graves (womb-tomb-temples) point to an ancient matriarchal society, like that of the North American Berbers. Probably Kush/Aithiopians had come to Iberia too, and peoples such as the Bush people or Twa had migrated through and into Spain from Africa in the Paleolithic era. Goods from Los Millares were exchanged with Africa and the whole of the Meditteranean world. This site was not far from where I was at Beneficio.

There was a fabled and legendary Hispano-African Old European city and culture called Tartessos, or Taschich in the Old Testament, which was founded in the Neolithic era. There was a Tartessian federacy of Iberian tribes. Tartessos, which was enormously rich in silver and gold, has never been found, but is thought to have been situated by the Guadalquivir river in the south-west, beyond Gibraltar. The Tassessians had a script, literacy and poetry. The Phoenicians, coming from Tyre, traded with them and built a city nearby called Gades or Ha-gadir (‘Hedge of stockade’) in the late 12th century BCE. Gadir, or present day Cadiz, has been called the first European city. The people of Tyre also founded colonies on the North African coast around that time, and in 800- 750 BCE they founded colonies in Adalucia, including Malaga. By the 6th century BCE there were 550 towns founded by the Phoenicians of Tyre and Carthage. Even after the fall of Tyre in the 8thC BCE, the Phoenician-Cartha-ginian world spanned Spain, North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia and Malta.

Tanit – the African Persephone and preserver of life in the Underworld, protector of the dead and giver of resurrection, who says “I am the Beginning and the End” – was the Goddess who presided over that world. The Phoenicians, whether they came from Tyre or Carthage, had a long tradition of relating in non-agressive ways with peoples where they founded trading posts, towns and colonies. They did not take slaves, like the contemporary Greeks and later Romans, but intermarried with the people of the host land. They did not carry on warfare, but traded peacefully, and therefore their religion and culture made a great impression wherever they were based, traded or just visited. It was only with the outbreak of the Punic wars with Rome in the 3rd century BCE that the Carthagenians became more warlike as they desperately tried to extract more and more silver from Spain and gold from Africa to pay for their armies of mercenary soldiers. Some of these soldiers were Celto-Iberians. Iron Age Celts had come to Spain and settled inland on the Meseta in c.800 BCE. Galacia in the north-west is to this day a Celtic enclave with what until recently were matrilinear traditions.

The Romans hated, envied and despised the Phoenician-Carthagenian traders and called them “wicked, userers, cruel, and effeminate” . Carthage stood in the way of Rome’s imperial ambitions and the Romans waited a long time to find an excuse to declare war on that city. They coveted Carthage’s wealth and the silver mines of Spain and the gold of Africa. The largest silver, tin & copper mines in the Mediterranean world were to be found in the SW of Spain, near Tartessos.

The Etruscans, an ancient and mysterious Old European people were based in Tuscany in northern Italy. Their language has never been understood but it may be that the Runic alphabet came from the Etruscans. They were Carthage’s sometime allies against Rome. The Etruscan Goddess Uni is similar to Asht’art and was celebrated in an elaborate ‘Cult of the Dead’, when the Etruscans communicated with their ancestors in their tomb/womb Temples. They had originally founded Rome, which at first was ruled by matriarchal ‘virgin-born’ kings and queens, by which I understand that they were conceived during ecstatic orgiastic rites presided over by the ancient Goddess.

The Etruscan culture was absorbed by and destroyed by Rome, when the city was taken over by the agressive and patriarchal Italian Indo-Europeans. The Phoenicians and Etruscans had together tried to keep the Mediterranean trading routes – via Sicily, Malta, Sardinia and along the Spanish coast – free from Greek pirates. But when the Greeks founded Marseilles in 600 BCE they managed to cut off the Carthagenian traders from the Mother city Tyre and from the eastern Med.

The Greeks and Romans, who were patrilinear, warred against and enslaved peoples, and despised the Carthaginians, who were matrifocal. Until recently historians have believed the slanderous stories told by Greeks and Romans alike about the Phoenicians and the “cruel” people of Carthage, who were said to sacrifice children to Tanit. The Old Testament told of how the Canaanites cruelly sacrificed small children by fire to “Moloch”. No such god existed however and MLCH simply means “sacrifice by fire”. Most ancient peoples, such as the Iranians, made fire sacrifices to their gods. Lucia Chiavola-Birnbaum writes in Dark Mother that African- Phoenician Carthage has been seen as “degenerate” not “vigorous” by European scholars because they lived at peace with the Berbers and did not war against and enslave peoples. Their artistic abilities and skills have also been belittled. In fact, the Phoenicians-Canaanites invented the alphabet, and were great architects, shipbuilders and skilled artisans.

Tanit's Mysteries [Monica Sjöö, 2002]
Tanit’s Mysteries [Monica Sjöö, 2002]

They were also great seafarers who founded towns and cities and brought cultural skills to many lands. They were furniture-makers and made delicate ivory inlays and carved great ivory screens. They made translucent glass and beautiful and precious purple textiles and much else. But they did not build megalomanic palaces and temples nor did they establish kingship and hierarchies, and they remained faithful to the Goddess and their matrifocal past. Therefore they stand condemned!

We know very little about Tanit’s mystery religion and its rituals and rites. The Romans burnt Carthage to the ground, with its libraries and sacred places, and massacred the entire population at the end of the Punic wars in 146 BCE. There was however one place in Carthegenian Spain that escaped the general destruction and plunder by the Romans, and that was Ibiza of the Balearic islands, which is where I will turn next on my search for Tanit.

Part 2 – Tanit on Ibiza will be in the next issue of GA!