Astarte is the goddess of love and beauty in Canaanite mythology. Known in the Bible by the name Ashtoreth, Astarte is the queen of heaven. Idols made in her honor were called astaroth (plural of Ashtoreth). The goddess of beauty wedded Baal Hadad, the god of storms, who later became the supreme deity of Canaan. Who is Astarte? How did this fertility goddess become so important that she and her consort replaced the supreme god El and his wife?
The Birth of Astarte
Known as Ashtart in Phoenician, Astarte (Greek) was among the litter of seventy deities the great mother Asherah bore by the supreme God El. Yes, the goddess of love and beauty is one of the Elohim, the children of God.
Unlike the goddess Anath, with whom she is often compared, Ashtoreth is a deity predisposed toward peace, love and life, and disinclined from bloodshed and death: an inner beauty that would earn the sky goddess supremacy among the people of Canaan. How beautiful was the goddess of the heavens?
Goddess of Beauty
Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as a mark of royalty; and in travelling round the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.
— Philo of Byblos
Astarte was an extremely beautiful goddess to the Phoenicians. Ashtoreth was identified with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, if not herself Aphrodite, her cult having been imported from Phoenicia to Greece, as claimed by the historian Herodotus.
The goddess of love keeps the head of a bull on her crown as a sign of royalty, as does her father El and consort Baal Hadad, who are themselves called “the Bull.” At times Astaroth are depicted simply as wearing horns on her lovely head. True to her name, the goddess of beauty appreciates beauty when she find it, possibly all the dainty stuff, including little trinkets. The beauty goddess picked up a fallen star and set it in a holy place in Tyre. Was it perhaps a shame to the queen of the heavens for such a beautiful thing as a star to fall from heaven? Was that where the goddess of fertility lived too?
The Queen of Heaven
We will certainly perform every word that has gone out of our mouth, to burn incense to the queen of the sky, and to pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem.
— Jeremiah 44:17
The ancients of Judah and Israel praised Ashtoreth by the title Queen of Heaven. Where does the queen of the sky live? In the sky of course, in her abode in heaven, although the goddess of love does have temples and sacred places right on earth — in Sidon, Byblos and Tyre to name a few.
Visiting these places from time to time, the queen of heaven travels the world in her chariot. Needless to say, the goddess of heaven may well be capable of flight: the sky is the abode of the goddess of beauty, after all. What other powers does the goddess of sky wield?
Goddess of Love
At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.
— Jeremiah 44:17-18, NIV
Astarte is the goddess of beauty and love. How much power does the goddess of love have? Enormous, more so when the people who worship the goddess embody her divine qualities.
Astaroth is, not just the goddess of the sky, but also the queen of Baal Hadad, the god of rain. Either by her own power or by persuading her husband to exert his, the love goddess can invoke rainfall and bring fertility to crops, thereby providing for her people and preventing famine from besetting her faithful. Moreover, the goddess of fertility wards off famine by an even stronger weapon, one that is more moral than supernatural.
Astarte is the goddess of love, bringing passion and fertility to couples. More important, Astarte’s love is, not the mere romantic or carnal love of her equivalent in Greek Mythology, Aphrodite, but love that is genuine caring, free of violence and war. Followers of Astaroth don’t go to war. As a result, the people of Ashtoreth suffer no harm, not perishing by the sword, nor experiencing famine in the wake of much fighting. The worshipers of the fertility goddess live in peace, tending to crops instead of warfare to sustain a peaceful, quiet life. How caring and peaceful is the love goddess herself?
The Compassion of Astarte
By name, Astarte rebukes: “Shame, O Aliyan Baal. Shame, O Rider of the Clouds! For Prince Yam was our captive. For Judge River was our captive.”
— Baal Cycle
Astarte’s darling, Baal the thunder god, is not as even-tempered as his lover. Baal Hadad and Yamm, the god of the sea, are bitter rivals. Baal would have smashed the messengers of Yamm were it not for Ashtoreth, who grabbed the storm god’s hand crying, “How can you smite the messengers of Yam, the emissaries of Judge Nahar? They have merely brought the words of Yam-Nahar, words of their lord and master.”
Baal’s sister, Anath the goddess of war, had grabbed the sky god’s other hand, holding the belligerent god back as well. The goddess of love’s breaking the fight did not have to be an exhortation to abjure violence, as it was to observe the propriety even in war of not shooting the messenger. However, Astarte’s conduct in the actual battle between Baal Hadad and Yamm proved otherwise.
The sea god was none other the great Leviathan, the seven-headed serpent. Baal not only soundly defeated the giant serpent; the god of storms finished the enormous sea creature, breaking its heads to pieces (Psalm 74:14) — for which Astarte rebuked the triumphant god. The sea serpent’s death was unnecessary, Ashtoreth points out. It was enough that they hold the god Yamm captive; there was no need to end the ocean god’s life. The goddess of beauty feels compassion even for such a vicious sea monster as the Leviathan. What did the fertility goddess feel for Baal Hadad?
The Love of Astarte
They abandoned Yahweh, and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.
— Judges 2:13
The supremacy of El, as well as his consort Asherah, slowly faded away in favor of the partnership between two other sky deities. The god of storms, Baal Hadad and Ashtoreth, the queen of heaven, tied the knot. The two were romantically entwined in a lasting heavenly marriage that brought down rain and grew crops. The love of Astarte helped keep the anger and passion of her thunder god of a husband in check.
Names of Astarte
- Hebrew: Ashtoreth, plural Astaroth
- Ugaritic: Athtart
- Phoenician: Ashtart
- Babylonian: Ishtar
- Old German: Ostara
- Old English: Ēostre, Ēastre
- English: Easter
- Hellenized: Astarte
- Greek: Aphrodite
Goddess of Fertility
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month,” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre.
— Saint Bede the Venerable
Did you know where the name of Easter, the Christian festival held in April, came from? Easter originated from the Old English Ēastre, which in turn came from the Old German Ostara. Ēastre or Ostara was the name of the German goddess of spring. Indeed, Easter was originally celebrated in honor of the fertility goddess.
Do you notice the similarity in sound: Easter, Ēastre, Ishtar, Ostara, Astarte and Aphrodite. Albeit worshiped in different places by different peoples, these goddesses are similar in their character and function. Like Ēastre, Astarte is a goddess of fertility, who inspires the rebirth of new life, and brings fruitfulness to the earth.
Worship of Astarte
Don’t you see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of the sky.
— Jeremiah 7:17-18
The Bible describes in detail the sacred worship of the Queen of Heaven: a rather amusing practice and family-oriented activity. Worshipers of Astaroth engage the interest of their children by asking the good lads and lass to get some firewood. As the women knead the dough, the fathers kindle the fire. Onto the fire goes the fully kneaded dough to make cakes impressed with the image of Ashtoreth. The faithfuls then burn incense to the goddess of beauty. May the incense’s fragrance reach the great goddess of fertility, they pray. Besides offering their cakes, her worshipers do not forget to pour out drinks for the goddess of love and beauty.
What do you think of the people who worshiped Astarte? Do you find their practice abhorrent or interesting? What do you think of Astarte, a goddess or a demon?