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    Whisper of Stone: Modern Canaanite Religion

    3 Comments by RandallS Published on 2 Jun 2012 01:14 PM
    Title: Whisper of Stone: Modern Canaanite Religion
    Author(s): Tess Dawson
    Published 2009 by O Books
    ISBN: 1846941903
    ISBN-13: 978-1846941900
    Paperback, 413 pages
    List: $39.95
    View this Book on Amazon

    Reviewer: Mike Gleason

    First things first - this book is about a modern interpretation of an ancient religion minus some of the less acceptable aspects of the original (inequality of the sexes and slavery, among other items). As such it represents an evolution of ancient beliefs; just as the Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) and others have evolved from their early observances.

    While this is by no means a fluffy work, neither is it a scholarly tome. In fact, Ms. Dawson recommends that you read the scholarly works on your own, so you can make informed decisions about what you may believe, and how you may conduct your worship.

    One of the things which the author makes very clear is that what she is offering in this work is primarily conjecture, especially as relates to Canaanite beliefs. Scholars have disagreed about translations and details almost from the first moment of discovery of the clay tablets, and the controversy shows no signs of dying down any time soon. She combines scholarly opinions with her own personally devised beliefs, associations, and ritual forms. She emphasizes that fact that what works for her may not work for others.

    While the author acknowledged that it would be undesirable, or even impossible, to celebrate Canaanite religion as it was done anciently, she makes some assumptions that I am not sure that I am comfortable with. With the scarcity of information regarding Canaanite rituals, god forms, and priestly functions, and organization it seems highly likely to me that offense (even if unintentional) may be given to the deities involved. And these are deities who, like the orisha and lwa of the Afro-Caribbean religions, are considerably less "civilized" and forgiving of mistakes.

    Since many of the rituals refer to the king performing the ritual actions it may be taken as presumptuous for a "commoner" to perform them. In fact, the entire theme of this work appears to be that good intentions will overcome any inadequacies of knowledge or proper items.

    If a deity is accustomed to a living animal being sacrificed at its altar, with the attendant butchering and preparation for feasting (with specific spices, ritual gestures, or prayers), offerings of fruit, vegetables, or previously prepared meat may be seen as insulting.

    Furthermore, since Canaanite (like other languages in the linguistic family) was written without vowels, we are not even sure of the proper spelling (let alone pronunciation) of deity names. This can complicate matters significantly, as the deity involved may not recognize a bungled attempt at its name. Add to that the fact that there may be expectations of proper respect which may not be met (bowing from the waist is NOT the same as prostrating oneself. If a deity expects prostration and gets a simple bow, that MAY be perceived as an intended mortal insult) and the potential for unintentional offense being given skyrockets, in my opinion.

    This book is impressive for what it brings together. It is at least as impressive for what it doesn't present, but at least Ms. Dawson is honest about what is modern interpretation (most of it) and what little is actually known about the ancient Canaanite religion.

    Unfortunately, the more I read of this work, the more I could "hear" the Canaanite deities saying: "This is NOT our way. We are not pleased." As a result of years of associating with less-common pantheons, I have learned to trust that inner voice. Therefore, I would have to say that I would not recommend this book to the general reader. There are simply too many gaps in our knowledge of Canaanite religious beliefs for this work to be of any practical value for any but a specialist in ancient ceremonial methods.

    It is good as far as it goes. Unfortunately, that is not far enough and still way too far. The suggestion that vegetarian offerings may be made in place of animal offerings may be politically correct, but I seriously doubt if deities used to receiving regular offerings of sheep, ram, and oxen are going to be amenable to changing their diet for the comfort of the worshippers.

    The magickal techniques, and the rituals provided, owe a lot to modern day practices, with a salting of terms from Canaanite (and allied) literary sources. How effective this may be, I can't say; I suppose it would be dependent on the experience and intent of the individual employing them. There is nothing really exceptional in them.

    The real value of this book lies in the lists of symbols, incenses, herbs, and animals, as well as the glossaries. These put a lot of information into one easily accessible location and are easy to understand; but once again we come up against the fact that almost nothing can be stated with certainty because of the sparseness of verifiable information.

    To be honest, I am not sure if the information contained between the covers of this book is worth the price to the average reader. I can see the value for someone who is specifically interested in Near eastern, archaic, religions, but that is a fairly small segment of the reading public.

    With my reservations about proper conduct, offerings, and everything else, I would not recommend this book to newer, less experienced members of the Pagan community.

    Comparisons to other religions in the region may offer only limited value. If one compares Judaism, Christianity and Islamic beliefs (all allegedly stemming from the same source [Abraham]) you can see that the similarities are not necessarily as strong as you might expect. Such comparisons MAY offer insight, but that may reflect your expectations as much as, or more than, any true similarities.


    Legal Notes: Some description text and item pictures in this post may come from Amazon.com and are used by permission. The Cauldron is an Amazon Affiliate and purchases made through the Amazon links in this message help support The Cauldron. List Price is as of the date this review was originally written and may not be current. The reviewer may have received a free copy of this book to review.

    Discussion of this book is welcome. If you've read the book, please tell us what you think of it and why.

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    Re: Whisper of Stone: Modern Canaanite Religion

    Quote Originally Posted by RandallS View Post
    Reviewer: Mike Gleason

    Furthermore, since Canaanite (like other languages in the linguistic family) was written without vowels, we are not even sure of the proper spelling (let alone pronunciation) of deity names. This can complicate matters significantly, as the deity involved may not recognize a bungled attempt at its name. Add to that the fact that there may be expectations of proper respect which may not be met (bowing from the waist is NOT the same as prostrating oneself. If a deity expects prostration and gets a simple bow, that MAY be perceived as an intended mortal insult) and the potential for unintentional offense being given skyrockets, in my opinion.
    I have not read the book, but I wonder if this criticism could apply to any branch of paganism that works with established gods. A lot of this could apply to modern Kemeticism, and that's one of the best-documented ancient religions. Are we really sure that the European deities are more forgiving than the Canaanite ones?
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    Re: Whisper of Stone: Modern Canaanite Religion

    Quote Originally Posted by Helmsman_of_Inepu View Post
    I have not read the book, but I wonder if this criticism could apply to any branch of paganism that works with established gods. A lot of this could apply to modern Kemeticism, and that's one of the best-documented ancient religions. Are we really sure that the European deities are more forgiving than the Canaanite ones?
    Good points -- especially the last one when you consider that not all that much is known of the actual worship practices of many "popular with modern Pagans" European deities.
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    Re: Whisper of Stone: Modern Canaanite Religion

    Quote Originally Posted by RandallS View Post
    Unfortunately, the more I read of this work, the more I could "hear" the Canaanite deities saying: "This is NOT our way. We are not pleased." As a result of years of associating with less-common pantheons, I have learned to trust that inner voice. Therefore, I would have to say that I would not recommend this book to the general reader. There are simply too many gaps in our knowledge of Canaanite religious beliefs for this work to be of any practical value for any but a specialist in ancient ceremonial methods.
    And as someone who has read the book and been worshipping the Canaanite pantheon for about eight years, I have to disagree with the reviewer's inner voice. Tess's methods haven't always jived with me 100% personally, but I still have a lot of respect for the work she's done to try and put something coherent together for devotees. And I've never gotten an impression from my gods that following Natib Qadish practices is somehow offensive or ineffectual- her work is foundational to my own practices.

    My experience has been that the gods of Canaan are, as a whole, quite gracious and forgiving. It's hard to imagine a pantheon that dealt with ancient people from various locations and time periods who mixed with other cultures and created syncretic styles of worship being very rigid in their expectations of how they were perceived or honored.

    For a beginner looking into Canaanite polytheism, I think they should read a bit about the land and culture first. Definitely a good translation of the original myths to get a feel for the gods. But Whisper of Stone is a fine book to give someone a framework for how to go about honoring the gods and with experience a devotee can expand or adjust from there if they wish. For the casual observer just trying to learn about different modern polytheistic traditions, it's a good look at how some modern devotees practice.

    Anywho, that's just my $0.02 on the matter.

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