Home Sociology Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism
This chapter has examined the recent emergence Canaanite Reconstructionism in the Israeli Pagan community. As modern-day Israel is situated on much of the land which was once home to various polytheistic Canaanite tribes and city states, we might have assumed that Canaanite Reconstructionism would form a major denomination among those forming the small and fragile Israeli Pagan community. Such an assumption, however, is starkly misplaced, and very few Israeli Pagans actually make Canaanite Reconstructionism their primary concern (or even consciously try to adapt Canaanite elements into their eclectic spiritual path). The Israeli Pagan community is still relatively young in comparison with Pagan communities in Britain and North America. Save for one original Hebrew book, published in 2006 by a Reclaiming-oriented Israeli Pagan, the only books available for the budding Israeli Pagan during the late 1990s and the 2000s were written in English, and focus mainly on the Celtic deities of the British Isles from a Wiccanate perspective, as well as on other European pantheons. This serves as a good example of how Pagans’ global proclivity for reading books related to their spiritual path, already noted by other researchers,27 can affect the practices of Pagan communities locally. Furthermore, the geographically close Greek and Egyptian pantheons have a far richer surviving documentation, as well as local manifestations such as the Temple of Pan in the Banias in Northern Israel and the Shrine of Hathor in the southern Timna Valley.
As the local Israeli community matures and gains confidence, it seems that the tendency to focus on “home-grown” local deities is growing. It also seems that an Israeli Pagan’s prior background as an observant Orthodox Jew might have relevance to that person’s proclivity to feel “at home” addressing Anat, Ba’al or Asherah. For secular Jews in Israel (the most common former religious identification among Israeli Pagans), who are continuously exposed to Bible lessons almost from the start of their journey through the country’s official education system, the Old Testament’s archaic language and the magnitude of the secular-religious divide in Israeli identity politics causes most to feel alienated from and antagonized by this text in many ways throughout their adult lives. This may explain why Canaanite deities mentioned in the Bible and featured in the Ugaritic texts hold no appeal to Israeli Pagans hailing from secular Jewish background, and who may even be deterred from showing interest in Canaanite Reconstructionism. At the same time, an Israeli Pagan hailing from an observant Orthodox background might find in the Ugaritic texts a familiar ring.
While some modern Western European nations, such as Britain, Ireland or Iceland have embraced their Celtic or Nordic past (Gierek 2011; Strmiska and Sigurvinsson 2005: 163-164, 168, 170) and utilized figures such as the Druids as focal points for the kindling of patriotic sentiments (Hutton 2009), the situation in modern Israeli society is completely reversed. Israeli Jews—whether secular or religious—are not brought up to feel any sort of kinship with the tribes and nations which inhabited the historical land of Canaan. On the contrary, the extinction of the Canaanites by the Israelites is celebrated in Bible lessons administered in the country’s formal education system as a triumph of Jewish monotheism over idolatry, witchcraft and paganism (Sand 2012). As a further complication, many secular Jews in Israel would also understand the labels “pagan” and “idolatry” as pejorative terms in regard to observant Orthodox Jews who pray at the Wailing Wall or visit the tombs of Jewish sages. Furthermore, while a cultural and ideological movement dubbed “Canaanism” by its detractors did climax during the 1940s in British Mandate Palestine, it was considered incompatible with mainstream Zionism and declined after the founding of the state of Israel.
Following a recent visit to Israel, Ronald Hutton, the celebrated historian of modern Pagan Witchcraft, noted that “Israeli Pagans are clearly at present in a double bind, whereby if they follow non-Israeli traditions such as Wicca and Druidry, they are accused of importing alien beliefs, while if they revive aspects of the ancient native religion, they are accused of bringing back the ancient evil against which true religion originally defined itself” (Hutton 2013). That said, my participant-observation, particularly at annual IPC festivals, shows that in recent years Canaanite deities are beginning to take center stage at main rituals. Furthermore, an effort is clearly being made to infuse the generic Wiccanate ritual structure with both references to the local seasonal change and elements derived from the Ugaritic texts, thus indigenizing a universalist, Wiccanate tradition and injecting it with local cultural content in a “glocal” manner. I suggest that in the years to come we might see this process intensify as Israel’s
Pagan community grows in numbers—allowing the formation of specifically Canaanite “covens” and ritual groups—and confidence.28
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