Berber mythology

Berber mythology

Berber beliefs or Amazigh beliefs are the beliefs of the indigenous Berber people of North Africa (not to be confused with the Ancient Egyptians or the Nubians). These beliefs were influenced primarily by the beliefs of the Berbers Egyptian neighbors, as well as by other people who lived in the area, such as Phoenicians, Jews, Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans.

Beliefs concerning death

Berber beliefs concerning death changed over time, as evidenced by differing burial customs and tomb types.

Funerary practices

Archaeological research on pre-historic tombs in Northwestern Africa shows that the body of the dead were painted with red ochre. While this practice was known to the Ibero-maurussians, this culture seems to have been primarily a Capsian culture. The dead were also sometimes buried with shells of ostrich eggs, jewelry, and weapons. Bodies were sometimes placed on one side and folder, while others where buried in a fetal position. [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and the death.” "El-Haraka"]

Unlike the Berbers, the Guanches mummified the dead. Additionally, Fabrizio Mori discovered a Libyan mummy older than any comparable Ancient Egyptian mummy in 1958 [ [ mystery of the Black Mummy] ] .

Cult of the dead

The authors of the book "The Berbers" stated that the cult of the death was one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Berbers in antiquity [Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. 1996. "The Berbers". Oxford: Blackwell, p. 35] . Pomponius Mela reported that the Augelae (Modern Awjila in Libya) considered the spirits of their ancestors to be gods. They swore by them and consulted them. After making requests, they slept in their tombs to await responses in dreams. [Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress p. 35]

Herodotus (484 BC–ca.425 BC) noted the same practice among the Nasamones who inhabited the deserts around Siwa and Augila. He wrote:

[..] They swear by the men among themselves who are reported to have been the most righteous and brave, by these, I say, laying hands upon their tombs; and they divine by visiting the sepulchral mounds of their ancestors and lying down to sleep upon them after having prayed; and whatsoever thing the man sees in his dream, this he accepts. [ [ Herodotus, "Histories", Book 4, 170] ]

The worship of saints still exists among the modern Berbers in the form of Maraboutism, which is wide spread in northwest Africa, especially in Morocco. The Berbers worshipped their kings, too. [James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 4 - p. 512] The tombs of the Numidian kings are among the most notable monuments left by the Classical Berbers.

Ancient Berber Tombs

The tombs of the early Berbers and their ancestors indicate that the Berbers and their ancestors (the Ibero-maurussians and Capsians) believed in life after death. The prehistoric men of northwest Africa buried bodies in little holes. When they realized that bodies buried in unsecured holes were dug up by wild animals, they began to bury them in deeper ones. Later, they buried the dead in caves, tumuli, tombs in rocks, mounds, and other types of tombs. [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and the death.” "El-Haraka"]

These tombs evolved from primitive structures to much more elaborate ones, such as the pyramidal tombs spread throughout Northern Africa. The honor of being buried in such a tomb appears to have been reserved for those who were most important to their communities.

These pyramid tombs have attracted the attention of some scholars, such as Mohammed Chafik who wrote a book discussing the history of several of the tombs that have survived into modern times. He tried to relate the pyramidal Berber tombs with the great Egyptian pyramids on the basis of the etymological and historical data [ [] ar icon, Chafik, Mohammed. "Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides" ] .] . The best known Berber pyramids are the 19-meter pre-Roman Numidian pyramid of Medracen and the 30-meter ancient Mauretanian pyramid [Chafik, Mohammed. "Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides ] . The Mauretanian pyramid is also known as "the tomb of Christian woman" [Chafik, Mohammed. "Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides ] .

Megalithic Culture

Rocks were considered to be holy by many prehistoric peoples, including the Berbers. Saint Augustine mentioned that the polytheistic Africans worshipped the rocks [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and rocks.” "El-Haraka"] . Apuleius stated as well that rocks were worshipped in the second century A.D. [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and rocks.” "El-Haraka"] . The megalithic culture may have been part of a cult of the dead or of star-worship [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and rocks.” "El-Haraka"] .

There are prehistoric megalithic constructs in several North-western African sites, although they have not been studied thoroughly.The Phoenicians had also their megalithic sites, which they called "Bethel" (House of God). The Mogador monument on the Atlantic coast is sometimes believed to be of Phoenician origin. [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and rocks.” "El-Haraka"]

The monument of Mzora (also spelled as Msoura) is the best known megalithic monument in northwest Africa. It is composed of a circle of megaliths surrounding a tumulus. The highest megalith is longer than 5 meters. According to legend, it is the sepulchre of the mythic Libyan king "Antaeus" [ [] Tertre de M'zora fr icon] . Another megalithic monument was discovered in 1926 to south of Casablanca. The monument was engraved with funerary inscriptions in the Libyco-Berber script known as Tifinagh [Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and rocks.” "El-Haraka"] .

olar and lunar worship

The moon is called "Ayyur" in the Berber language, a name shared with the Berber moon god. [Camps, Gabriel. ]

Herodotus mentioned that the ancient Berbers (known to him as Libyans) worshipped the moon and sun and sacrificed to them. He reported:

They begin with the ear of the victim, which they cut off and throw over their house: this done, they kill the animal by twisting the neck. They sacrifice to the Sun and Moon, but not to any other god. This worship is common to all the Libyans. [ [ Herodotus,"Histories", book IV, 168–198] .]

Tullius Cicero (105-43 BCE) also reported the same cult in "On the Republic (Scipio's Dream)":

When I (Scipio) was introduced to him, the old man (Massinissa, king of Numidia) embraced me, shed tears, and then, looking up to heaven, exclaimed I thank thee, O supreme Sun, and you also, you other celestial beings, that before I departed from this life I behold in my kingdom, and in my palace, Publius Cornelius Scipio ..." [ [ M. Tullius Cicero (105-43 BCE): from On the Republic (Scipio's Dream)] .] .

There were some Latin inscriptions found in Northwest Africa dedicated to the sun-god. An example is the inscription found in Souk Ahras (The birthplace of Saint Augustine: Tagaste in Algeria) written as: Solo Deo Invicto [James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 4 p. 508.] .
Samuel the Confessor appears to have suffered from the sun-worshiping Berbers who tried unsuccessfully to obligate him worshiping the sun.

In addition, Thor Heyerdahl believed that the Tenerifian pyramids were built by the sun-worshiping Berbers who brought this culture from the Mediterranean to the Canary Islands. The Guanches worshipped a god called Achaman to whom animal sacrifices and libations were made in caves and whose physical manifestation was thought to be the sun [Christian Williams, Mini Rough Guide Tenerife Including LA Gomera.] . This Canarian deity may be related to the god Amon.

The Guanches worshipped a sun-god in Las Palmas, too. It was given the name "Magec" as well as the name "Amen", which seems to have meant "Lord". In Awelimmiden Tuareg, the name "Amanai" is believed to have the meaning of "God". The Ancient Libyans may have worshipped the setting sun, which was impersonated by Amon, who was represented by the ram's horns [James Hastings.] .

The sun was worshipped besides the mountains (eg: Atlas) [Herodotus: Histories] , rocks, caves, and rivers. [Read also: [ Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News: Number systems and calendars of the Berber population of Grand Canary and Tenerife by Jose Barrios Garca] .]

Egyptian-Berber beliefs

The Ancient Egyptians were the neighbours of the Berbers. They may even have had an ancient common central saharan origin. Therefore, it is sometimes supposed that some deities were originally worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians, and the Ancient Libyans (Berbers) as well. The Egyptian-Berber deities can be distinguished according to their origin.

Egyptian deities

The Eastern ancient Berbers worshipped Isis and Set. That was reported by Herodotus when saying:

Cow's flesh, however, none of these tribes (Libyan Tribes) ever taste, but abstain from it for the same reason as the Egyptians, neither do they any of them breed swine. Even at Cyrene, the women think it wrong to eat the flesh of the cow, honoring in this Isis, the Egyptian goddess, whom they worship both with fasts and festivals. The Barcaean women abstain, not from cow's flesh only, but also from the flesh of swine. [Herodotus: The Histories.]

Those Berbers supposedly didn't eat the swine's flesh, because it was associated with "Set", while they didn't eat the cow's flesh, because it was associated with Isis [Mohammed Mustapha Bazma, The Libyan influence on the Egyptian and Greek civilizations and their influence on the Libyan civilization.] .

Osiris was among the Egyptian deities who were venetrated in Libya. However, Dr. Budge (in addition to a few other scholars) believed that Osiris was originally a Libyan god saying of him that "Everything which the texts of all periods recorded concerning him goes to show that he was an indigenous god of North-east Africa, and that his home and origin were possibly Libyan." [Cited by Lewice Spence in "Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends p. 64" ]

Berber deities

The Egyptians considered some Egyptian deities to have had a Libyan origin, such as Neith who has been considered, by Egyptians, to have emigrated from Libya to establish in the Nile Delta. Some legends tell that Neith was born around Lake Tritons (In modern Tunisia).

It is also notable that some Egyptian deities were depicted with Berber (ancient Libyan) characters, such as "Ament" who was depicted with two feathers which were the normal ornaments of the Ancient Libyans as they were depicted by the Ancient Egyptians.

Amun as a common deity

The most remarkable common god between them was Amun. This god is hard to attribute to only one pantheon. Although the most modern sources ignored the existence of Amun in the Berber mythology, he was maybe the greatest ancient Berber god [H. Basset, Les influences puniques chez les Berbères, pp 367-368] . He was honored by the Ancient Greeks in Cyrenaica, and was united with the Phoenician god Baal due to Libyan influence [Mohammed Chafik, Revue Tifinagh...] . Some depictions of the ram across North Africa belong to the lythic period which is situated between 9600 BC and 7500 BC.
The most famous Amun's temple in Ancient Libya was the temple at the oasis of Siwa. The name of the ancient Berber tribes: "Garamantes" and "Nasamonians" are believed by some scholars to be related to the name "Amon". [Helene Hagan, The Shining Ones: An Etymological Essay on the Amazigh Roots of the Egyptian civilization, p. 42.]

Phoenician-Berber beliefs

The Phoenicians were originally a Semitic people that once inhabited the coasts of modern Lebanon. They were seafarers and they founded Carthage in 814 BC. They later gave birth to the so-called "Punic culture" which had its roots in the Berber and Phoenician cultures. Some scholars distinguish the relationships between the Phoenicians and the Berbers in two phases:

Before the Battle of Himera (480 BC)

When the Phoenicians established in Northwest Africa, they stayed in the coastal regions to avoid wars with the Berbers. They maintained their deities which they brought from their homelands. The early Carthaginians had two important deities, "Baal" and "Astarte".

After the Battle of Himera

Carthage began to ally with the Berber tribes after the battle of Himera, in which the Carthaginians were defeated by the Greeks. In addition to political changes, the Carthaginians imported some of the Berber deities.

Baal was the primary god worshipped in Carthage. Later, Baal was united with the Libyan god Amon to become Baal-Hammon. Depictions of this deity are found in several sites across northwest Africa. The goddess Astarte was replaced by a native goddess, "Tanit", which is thought to be of Berber origin. The name itself, "Tanit", has a Berber (Tamazight) linguistic structure. Feminine names begin and end with "T" in the Berber language. Some scholars believe that the Egyptian goddess Neith was related to the Libyan goddess Tanit (Ta-neith). There are also Numidian and Phoenician names that apparently contain roots from the god "Baal", such as "Adherbal" and "Hannibal".

Greek-Berber beliefs

The well-known connections between the ancient Berbers and the ancient Greeks were in Cyrenaica where the Greeks had established colonies. The Greeks influenced the eastern Berber pantheon, but they were also influenced by the Berber culture and beliefs. Generally, the Libyan-Greek relationships knew two different periods. In the first period, the Greeks had peaceful relationships with the Libyans. Later, there existed wars between them. These social relationships were mirrored in their beliefs.

Before the battle of Irassa (570 BC)

The first notable appearance of the Libyan influence on the Cyrenaican-Greek beliefs is the name "Cyrenaica" itself. This name was originally the name of a legendary (mythic) Berber woman warrior who was known as "Cyre". Cyre was ,according to the legend, a couragious lion-hunting woman. She gave her name to the city "Cyrenaica". The emigrating Greeks made her as their protector besides their Greek god Apollo [K. Freeman Greek city state- N.Y. 1983, p. 210.] . The Greeks of Cyrenaica seemed also to have adopted some Berber customs and intermarried with the Berber women. Herodotus (Book IV 120) reported that the Libyans taught the Greeks how to yoke four horses to a chariot. The Cyrenaican Greeks built temples for the Libyan god Amon instead of their original god Zeus. They later identified their supreme god Zeus with the Libyan Amon [Oric Bates, The Eastern Libyans.] . Some of them continued worshipping Amon himself.Amon's cult was so widespread among the Greeks that even Alexander the Great decided to be declared as the son of Zeus in the Siwan temple by the Libyan priests of Amon. [Mohammed Chafik, revue Tifinagh...]

The ancient historians mentioned that some Greek deities were of Libyan origin. The daughter of Zeus Athena was considered by some ancient historians, like Herodotus, to have been of Libyan origin. Those ancient historians stated that she was originally honored by the Berbers around Lake Tritonis where she has been born from the god Poseidon and Lake Tritonis, according to the Libyan legend. Herodotus wrote that the Aegis and the clothes of Athena are typical for Libyan woman.

Herodotus stated also that Poseidon (an important Greek sea god) was adopted from the Libyans by the Greeks. He emphasized that no other people worshipped Poseidon from early times than the Libyans who spread his cult:

[..] these I think received their naming from the Pelasgians, except Poseidon; but about this god the Hellenes learnt from the Libyans, for no people except the Libyans have had the name of Poseidon from the first and have paid honour to this god always. [ [ Herodotus Book 2: Euterpe 50]

Some other Greek deities were related to Libya. The goddess Lamia was believed to have originated in Libya, like Medusa and the Gorgons. The Greeks seem also to have met the god Triton in Libya. The Greeks may have believed that the Hesperides was situated in modern Morocco. Some scholars situate it in Tangier where Antaios lived, according to some myths. The Hesperides were believed to be the daughters of Atlas a god that is associated with the Atlas mountains by Herodotus. The Atlas mountain was worshipped by the Berbers.

After the Battle of Irassa

The Greeks and the Libyans began to break their harmony in the period of the Battus II [the word "Battus" is believed to be originally a Berber word meaning "King" in the Berber language] . Battus II began secretly to invite other Greek groups to Libya. The Libyans considered that as a danger that has to be stopped. The Berbers began to fight against the Greeks, sometimes in alliance with the Egyptians and other times with the Carthaginians. Nevertheless, the Greeks were the victors.Some historians believe that the myth of Antaios was a reflection of those wars between the Libyans and Greeks [Oric Bates. The Eastern Libyans, Franc Cass Co. p. 260] . The legend tells that he was the undefeatable protector of the Libyans. He was the son of the god Poseidon and Gaia. He was the husband of the Berber goddess Tinjis. He used to protect the lands of the Berbers until he was slain by the Greek hero Heracles who married Tingis and fathered the son Sufax (Berber-Greek son). Some Libyan kings, like Juba I, claimed to be the descendants of Sufax. While some sources described him as the king of Irassa, Plutarch reported that the Libyans buried Antaios in Tangier:

In this city (Tangier) the Libyans say that Antaeus is buried; and Sertorius had his tomb dug open, the great size of which made him disbelieve the Barbarians...(Plutarch, The Parallel Lives) [ [*.html Plutarch, The Parallel Lives: The Life of Sertorius] .]
In the Greek iconography, Antaeus was clearly distinguished from the Greek appearance. He was depicted with long hair and beard that was typical for the Eastern Libyans.

Roman-Berber beliefs

The Romans allied firstly with the Numidians against Carthage. They defeated it in 146BCE. But later, they annexed Numidia to the Roman Empire.

Before Romanization

The Berbers fought against the Romans and Byzantines. They had war deities such as Gurzil and Ifri.They honored the war goddess Ifri or "Ifru" who was considered to be the protector of her worshipers and was depicted on the Berber coins, and seemed to have been an influential goddess in North Africa. Pliny the Elder mentioned that nobody in Africa decided to do anything before prior invocation of "Africa" (The Latin name of Ifri). This goddess was represented in diverse ways on Numidian coins from the first century BCE. When the Romans conquered Northwest Africa, it appeared on the coins of the Roman states in North Africa.

Gurzil was a bull-shaped war god who is identified with the son of Ammon. He was taken by the Berbers to their battles against the Romans. Corippus mentioned that the chef Laguatan's (Or Luwata as it was known to the Arabs) "Iarna" took his god "Gurzil" into his battle against the Byzantines. Iarna was a Moorish rule and a high priest of Gurzil. He was killed by the Bayzanintines. After the Moors where defeated he fled with the "sacred image" of Gurzil. But he was caught and killed and the image destroyed [John Morris, Arnold Hugh Martin Jones, John Robert: The prosopography of the later Roman Empire p. 612] .
There was among the ruins of Ghirza in Libya a temple, which may have been dedicated to Gurzil, and the name of the town itself may even be related to his name.

Roman influence

When Northwest Africa was annexed to the Roman Empire, the Berber began to worship the Roman deities like Jupiter who was known as Mastiman. Jupiter was also identified with the Libyan Ammon [Mohammed Chafik, Revue Tifinagh.]
Another feared god was Saturn. He communicated with believers in dreams, and Northwestern Africans venerated him with human sacrifices, as mentioned by Tertullian. He wrote that the children were openly sacrificed to Saturn in Africa. The historians believe he was closer to the Baal-Hammon cult than that of the Roman Saturn. [A History of Christianity in Africa: from antiquity to the present, Elizabeth Allo isishei p. 36]

When a native Libyan called Septimus Severus became Emperor, the cult of Tanit was introduced to Rome.

References and notes

ee also

* Berber pantheon
* Marabout

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