Dagon the God of Earth and Agriculture

Notorious to the Hebrews as the patron god of the Philistines, Dagon is the god of earth in Canaanite mythology. Insofar as the deity takes care of the crops, Dagon was a fertility god. This god of fertility fathered no less than the king of gods, Baal Hadad. How powerful and widespread was the worship of the earth god Dagon?

An image of Dagon, the god of earth and agriculture

The Birth of Dagon

In Levantine mythology, Dagon, also known as Dagan, is the son of El by his wife, Asherah. The Heaven (El) and the Abyss (Asherah) in a divine union  bore seventy gods and goddesses at once. Dagon, the god of earth, was among this litter of deities. Indeed, the earth god was among the Elohim, the children of God, many of whom married humans and bore the Nephilim (Genesis 6).

The Power of Dagon

Dagon, after he discovered corn and the plough, was called Zeus Arotrios.

— Philos of Byblos

The name Arotrios, by which Dagon was also called, means “plowman,” as well as “of agriculture.” The name Dagon, Siton in Greek, is an archaic word for “Grain.” Indeed, Dagon the plowman is the god of grain, the god of agriculture for that matter. Dagon is god of fertility, and was the deity who allowed the corn to grow, bid the wheat to flourish, and took care of vegetation on earth. In the field lies the power of the god of earth. The fertility god made the earth fertile and fruitful.

The Philistines and Canaanites were accordingly grateful, since they were able to bring food to the table, thanks to the grace of the god of fertility.

The Abode of Dagon

The rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god.

— Judges 16:23, NIV

Dagon was not worshipped by the Philistines alone. Beside the Philistine cities of Ashdod and Gaza where temples of Dagon stood, Dagon also reigned in Ebla, in Ugarit, in Phoenicia, as well as in Mesopotamia. Though this god is of the earth, this did not stop Dagon from fathering a storm god. How did the god of earth beget a rain god?

Dagon portrayed as a fish god

The Children of Dagon

Baal returns to the throne of his kingship, Dagon’s son to the seat of his sovereignty.

— Baal Cycle

In Canaanite mythology, two powerful children were born to Dagon: Baal the god of rain and Anath the goddess of war. Do you find it curious how the god of earth fathers a sky god? There is one common denominator between Dagon and Baal that explains how the earth god could have sired the god of clouds: both are fertility gods.

As if it was not enough that the god of the earth takes care of the corn and wheat fields, Dagon sends his dearly begotten son to the clouds, that there may be a god of fertility who takes care of vegetation from the sky, sending much needed rain over the fields. Who did Dagon father his children by?

The Wife of Dagon

Stone tablets dug up in the ancient city of Ebla in northern Syria recorded Dagon’s consort by the name Belatu. However, the name Belatu only means “the Lady,” not exactly a goddess’ proper name. What was the real name of the wife of the god of earth?

Ishara was an important goddess in the pantheon of Ebla, and was assigned to the god of earth as consort. However, Ishara may just be another name for Asherah, the wife of no less than the supreme God El. That wouldn’t be surprising in Ebla, where the god of fertility was the head of the pantheon, and who may therefore take El’s wife for his own as a result of the confusion between him and the father of gods. Still, this is inconsistent in the wider Canaanite mythology, where the earth god’s wife would also be his father’s.

On the other hand, Sumerian texts points to the goddess Shala as the god of farming’s wife. Shala is a goddess of grain: a perfect match for the god of agriculture. Unfortunately, while Dagon’s son marries the love goddess Astarte in Canaanite mythology, other texts in Sumer pair Hadad with none other than the goddess Shala, giving way to the irony that Dagon’s wife might also be his son’s.

Sad to say, surviving literature about Dagon is very limited. If we can’t be sure whether it was Shala or Ishara that was the fertility god’s wife, we may just have to settle with the knowledge that the god of grain’s queen was called Belatu, the Lady.

An erroneous depiction of Dagon as a merman

The Appearance of Dagon

It is commonly admitted that the name Dagon is a diminutive form, hence a term of endearment, derived from the Semitic root dag, and means, accordingly, “little fish.” The name, therefore, indicates a fish-shaped god.

— Catholic Encyclopedia

Some sources, including the Catholic Encyclopedia1, say that Dagon is a merman, or that half of his body is that of a man, while the other half is fish. This belief stemmed from the interpretation that the name Dagon is related to the Hebrew word for fish, dag, and means “little fish.”

On the contrary, it is not commonly admitted that the name Dagon means “little fish.” The god of fertility was a Phoenician god, so putting a foreign Hebrew word in place of the native Phoenician name to explain the god’s origin and makeup would be, not only inaccurate, but altogether false. The image of a sea-dwelling merman in itself would be quite contradictory to the persona of a plough-wielding god of agriculture who administers the fields.

On the other hand, it is clear from the account of Phoenician history recorded by Philo of Byblos that the word in question is just that: the Phoenician Dagon (Dagan in Hebrew), which Philo even translated to Greek — Siton. All these words mean, not “little fish,” but “Grain.”

Dagon the Earth God

Indeed, Dagon is the god of grain. Dagon is the god of fertility. Dagon of Phoenician and Canaanite mythology is the ever beneficent god of earth and agriculture.

Do you think of Dagon as a god or a demon?

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  1. Accessed February 27, 2018
Published March 23, 2014