The Ancient Ugaritic Ritual-Poem of
Shahar and Shalem and the Gracious Gods


This ritual is derived from one tablet found at Ugarit, sometimes identified as Tablet 23. This single tablet is in pretty good condition, with only the final characters of a few lines obscure or missing. You can note, however, where the tablet ends. It would seem that there should be more, although a continuation has not been found. Therefore, in order to perform this in ritual, i have invented an ending. This is purely my own invention and not authentic. How it may really have concluded we don't know. You can substitute your own ending. In the first part, the opening ceremony, there actually are "stage directions," which are absent in the Myth part. For our purposes, i have added stage-directions to the Myth. In Canaanite practice the whole text may merely have been read or, more likely, chanted by a cantor in the temple after the offerings were made.

Theodor Gaster, in Thespis (see Bibliography), describes this as a more-or-less Summer Solstice ritual. At first I accepted this as a likely possibility, but have recently come to think that perhaps this ritual is a forerunner of the Jewish Shavuot, which is a wheat harvest festival 7X7 days after Pesach (Passover), the barley harvest festival. It is traditional at Shavuot to serve dairy foods and make thanks for abundance, fish featuring in some Mediterranean areas for their fertility associations (think of all those offensive jokes about female odors - perhaps there is more to them than mere nastiness). It is a happy occasion, shortly before the dry season begins. To me, this association makes more sense than one with Summer Solstice, which would already be in the perilous dry season, a time when Baal and his life sustaining moisture are pretty much absent and the parching hand of Mot in evidence. At Mid-Summer i think it is more likely that there were Ancestor Rituals, as it is a time of the apparent death of vegetation in Mediterranean regions, while Winter, although dark, is when the plant world comes back to life, for it is the rainy season and things are green again.

Qadash Kinahnu/ Sanctuary Phoenicia has performed this pretty much as it is here at a Pagan festival in the month of June. As i recall we had a cast of five, all females except for El. We did not serve minted yogurt and honey-coriander milk as directed, nor lay out cushions for the deities, although we did have an altar set up for the deities. The Celebrants, those not "acting" in the ritual, faced us in a semi-circle.

Most of the text, except what is after "We must invent the text" is from the original. But there are a few differences, either where i had to fill in something in a broken line, or expanded on an indea to make it either more clear or more poetic. I will re-edit this to indicate where i took liberties.

Another thing Gaster believes is that this is a burlesque, and we did play it as such, to some extent, and got some good laughs. I think, however, that this was not a comedy for the Canaanites, even though it is full of sexually suggestive punning. Still, i like to imagine that the deities were pleased to be remembered once more.

The Ritual Drama

Dramatis Personae
min. 5 actors + 2 propspersons
2 women on the shore (scenes 1- 5)

males: min. 3, max. 5:
El (scenes 1- 5)
Husband of 2 women (scenes 3 & 5)
Guardian of the grain (scene 6)
2 Gracious Gods (scene 6)

Actually, all men or all women or almost any mixture could play all roles

any sex: (min. 3 + participants)
Narrator/Cantor/Priest(ess) (scenes 1- 6)
2 Props-persons

If short-handed, the musicians, libators, and props-persons can all be the same 2 people, but it would be nice to have music during the offerings and spreading of the couches
Pilgrims = ritual participants

  • musical instruments
  • bread, water, and wine for libation
  • libation basin
  • copies of Mot chant ("Song of Vintage and Harvest") for participants
  • spiced yougurt & milk for 'sacrifice' and cups for participants
  • incense, incense burner, charcoal, matches
  • Athirat & Anat statues dressed in white cloth
  • 2 trays to carry in Goddess statues
  • 8 seats for Deities: El, Athirat, Baal, Anat, Kothar-wa-Khasis, Shapash, etc.
  • flowers, perfume for cushions
The Ritual Drama:
  • scroll with text for Narrator
  • cue cards for actors
  • rod & staff for El
  • large, shallow basin to scoop water from
  • tall container to scoop water into
  • archer's bow (can be mimed)
  • (mime roasting of bird)
  • cloth to be carried by 2 props-persons between kissing and birth to hide actors
  • 4 baby bundles - small pillows covered with scarves: blue & red for Dawn & Dusk; purple & gold for the Gracious Gods or can be mimed
  • basket (of bread) for Guardian
  • ewer (of wine) for Guardian
  • "Twin Praises" (end of Scene 6) for participants
  • bread for Participants
  • wine/grape juice for Participants

NOTES: Pronunciation: Shacharu = Sha-HAH-ru (the ch is gutteral) and Shalemu = Sha-LEH-mu

Deity Names: Athirat is the Ugaritic Goddess whom the Hebrews called Asherah
Rachmay may or may not be Anat, although many scholars think they are the same.

A. The Ritual

Pre-Ritual Organizing

Cast should see that Participants line up at Eastern entrance to circle. Pass out Mot Chant and Twin Praises to participants. Explain any necessary business when all are assembled.

Procession into Sacred Space around circle with music making

Narrator should be at the head of the line. After Participants form circle, the cast must continue to circle a total of 3 times. Seven would be ideal but will take too long with a large group.

I. Exordium

Narrator: I call on the Gods Gracious and Fair, the Princes, sons of the Divine Ones.
Let honor be paid to them whose dwelling is on high, and whose hands, in sand-swept tracts of wilderness, protect us.
Upon their heads a crown, upon their brows a diadem!
Eat of bread, aiy! Drink of foaming wine, aiy!
Peace unto you, and Welcome, O Melek, the King
and unto you, O Malqat, the Queen! and to all who honor our temple!

Narrator quietly blesses offerings, then two libators pour libations of wine and water, and offer bread at the altar

II. Song of the Vintage and Harvest

Full Cast and All Participants: Mot, Death-and-Rot, firm sits enthroned,
in one hand bereavement, the grief-stricken rod,
in his other, the sceptre of widowhood.
Yet, when the people prune the vine, 'tis HE they prune away;
When they come to bind the vine, HE it is that they entwine;
When they hoe the soil all 'round, beneath HIS feet they tear the ground!

Our fields are like unto the fields wherein the Divine Ones dwell,
the fields of Athirat and Rachmay, Anat the Maiden Merciful!

III. Presentation of Sacrifices

Narrator: Seven time over the fire let the stalwart ones
blend together coriander in honeyed milk, mint in yogurt;
And seven times over the basin let incense be offered.

Libators serve minted yogurt and coriander-honey milk to participants as Narrator makes incense offering, using standard incense prayer.

IV. Arrival of the Goddesses

Narrator: Now comes the Maiden Anat, and now the Goddess Athirat proceeds.
They are begirt with kittim, robes newly woven of white linen.
A courageous minstrel accompanies them,
and the people of the processional sing and dance before them.

All Members of the Cast except the Narrator, dance and make music in front of the Two who carry the statues of Athirat and Anat, wrapped in white linen, on trays. Encourage participants to clap, make music, and dance All circle at least once, then bring statues to the altar.

V. Installation of the Divine Guests

Narrator: Eight couches are spread for the gods.
They are sprinkled with flowers and perfumes seven times.
They are as glorious as lapis lazuli and carnelian,
They glow with the scarlet-purple of nobility.

As Narrator recites, 2 cast members set out eight colored cushions, then 1 other sprinkles them with flower petals and 1 other with scented waters. El - white, Athirat - deep blue; Baal - blue-green, Anat - blood red; Shapash - golden yellow, Kothar-wa-Khasis - rusty red; Shaharu & Shalemu - wine and ochre

VI. Hymn of Praise to the Gods Gracious and to the Sun

Narrator: I call on the Gracious Gods, cleavers of the day,
bright stars of morning & of evening,
who suck the teats of the breasts of Athirat!
May bright Shapash, Lady Sun, cause their tendrils to blossom
and abound with flowers and with grapes!
Peace and Welcome unto all priestesses and priests and temple guardians,
and all those who come with sacrifices of grace!

VII. Repetition of the Song of Vintage and Harvest

Full Cast and All Participants: Mot, Death-and-Rot, firm sits enthroned,
in one hand bereavement, the grief-stricken rod,
in his other, the sceptre of widowhood.
Yet, when the people prune the vine, 'tis HE they prune away;
When they come to bind the vine, HE it is that they entwine;
When they hoe the soil all 'round, beneath HIS feet they tear the ground!

Our fields are like unto the fields wherein the Divine Ones dwell,
the fields of Athirat and Rachmay, Anat the Maiden Merciful!

B. The Mythological Drama

Scene I

actors mime as narrator describes

Narrator: El goes out upon the shore of the sea,
El advances to the ocean beach.
El sees two women moving up and down,
two women filling up a basin.
Behold, one moves down, and the other moves up;
One girl cries out:
First Woman: Oh, Father, father!
Narrator: and, behold, the other cries
Second Woman: Oh, Mother, mother!
Both women together: How long-limbed is El,
how far-reaching like the sea,
look you, how his limb extends ever farther like the main!
El shows himself long-limbed,
his limb extending like the sea,
ever farther like the main!
Narrator: El takes the two women
who were moving up and down,
He takes the two women who were filling the basin,
He takes them and sets them in his house.

Scene II

Narrator: El lets his rod drop,
El has with his staff dispensed.
El reaches up and shoots heavenward,
shoots a bird from out the sky,
plucks it and sets it over coals.
Surely He intrigues the two women. And El says:

El: If the two women should cry out:
"O husband, husband, have you really lowered your rod?
"Have you dropped your staff from your hand?
"Look! we are like the birds roasting on the fire,
"like that sweet meat browning on the coals."
Then those two human women, will become El's consorts,
wives of El's eternal being!

But if the two women should cry out:
"O Father, Father, you've lowered rod for good.
"You have loosed the staff from your hand.
"What tastey birds you're roasting on the fire,
"How nicely they are browning o'er the coals."
Then those two girls will become El's daughters,
daughters of El serving El even for ever.

Narrator: And behold! the two women cried out:

The two women together (ham it up, bawdily):
"You for a husband! You for a husband!
Is your rod dropped for good?
Have you with your staff dispensed?
Know you, while that fowl you're roasting,
what are really being heated o'er those coals are
two human women eager to become El's consorts,
wives of El's eternal being!"

El embraces the two women.

Narrator: Then El stoops, their lips he kisses;
behold! their lips are sweet and tastey as pomegranates.
Propspersons carry cloth to hide action, which should be as suggestive and noisy as possible
In the kissing there is conception,
the hot embracing brings pregnancy;
The women travail and give birth...
Propspersons leave, actors mime actions Shaharu and Shalemu.

Scene III

Narrator: Now the word is brought to El:
The Actual Husband: My wives, O El, have given birth,
and, oh, what babes have they produced!
Two have been born, Shaharu and Shalemu, Dawn and Dusk!

El: Well then, pick them up, and beside Lady Shapash, the Sun,
and the fixed stars set them down!
For they are the Divine Twins, now known as Gemini,
the Morning and the Evening Stars.

Scene IV

Narrator: Once more El stoops and kisses their lips;
and behold, their lips are sweet,
Props-persons carry cloth to hide action, which should be as before
Through the kissing and conceiving,
through the hot embracing and pregnancy,
both of them are brought to labor and give birth,
Propspersons leave, actors mime actions
they gave birth to the Gracious Gods,
those who cleave the day
sucking on the teats of the breasts of the Lady.

Scene V

Narrator: Again the word is brought to El:
The Actual Husband: My wives, O El, have given birth,
and oh, what babes are they: The Gracious Gods,
who seem to bear a strange resemblence to Thyself,
the cleavers of the day, who straightaway
did suck the teats of the breasts of the Lady,
One lip down to the netherworld,
the other up to heaven stretched,
and indeed there did enter their mouths
the fowl of the heavens and fish from the depths of the sea.
From one gorging to the next they did stand, 'cleaver' beside 'cleaver',
and, right and left, things are put into their mouths,
but they cannot e'er be satisfied.
Oh, what wives have I espoused!
Oh, what sons have I begotten!

El: Prepare a sanctuary in the midst of the holy desert
Then pick them up and set them in that wilderness called Qadash,
there to dwell among the stones and the trees.

Scene VI

Narrator: Seven years did come to an end,
eight revolutions of time,
the Gracious Gods roamed through the fields,
hunted on the fringes of the desert;
At last they did come upon the watchman of the sown land,
and they did cry to that man guarding the stored grain:

Gracious God One: O watchman, watchman!
Gracious God Two: O guardian, guardian!
Both Gracious Gods: Open up your store!

Narrator: Then he did open a breach for them,
and they did enter, saying:
Both Gracious Gods: If you have bread there in your basket,
then give it to us that we may eat;
if there is wine there in your jug,
then give it to us that we may drink.

Narrator: And the watchman of the sown land did answer:
Watchman: In my basket are but loaves to sate my hunger;
in my jug wine for only a casual sip or two.

Narrator: Yet They took them and devoured them.
What had been a quarter loaf dwindled to an ounce;
a quart of wine diminished to a cup.
The basket that was full of loaves now held but crumbs;
his ewer, too, that first was full of wine     soon showed nothing but the dregs.

The Rest Is Lost
We Must Invent the Text

Narrator: The rest of the sacred tablets are lost
Now We must invent the text.

Narrator: The Gracious Gods do thank the man a-storing;
to him the Gracious Gods show favor:

Both Gracious Gods:
'Tho your loaves were few, your wine was meager,
We through your generosity were sated;
Our voracious appetites appeased;
thus was but little made to serve as plenty.
Henceforth We'll guard the vineyards and the fields,
The Gracious Gods do share with you Their blessings.
We are your benefactors, who on earth
see that you neither hunger nor you thirst.
While labor of your bodies and your hands
coaxes from the soil the fruitful plants,
'Tis blessings from The Deities give life to all;
Without Us you would falter and would perish."

C. Sacred Meal

Full Cast Together:
Now let us thank and praise You, Gracious Gods;
Let us to You make homage for Your favors.
Shaharu and Shalemu, hear our prayers.

Full Cast and all Participants Together:
Our praises to you, Morning Star and Evening.
As Twin Stars in June the growing vines You guard,
That grapes may give refreshing wines in Autumn.
So, too, You Twain our harvests oversee,
That from our fields and orchards let us be
nourished, as were You, in times gone by
by that granary guardian generous.

All praise to You, the Gracious Gods, the Twins,
- - Stars of Morning and of Evening,
Who grant us ever bread and drink.
All praise to You, the Gracious Gods of Summer,
Shaharu and Shalemu, guard our fields,
Paired protectors of our harvest blessed.

May we know Your aid and generosity,
May we be favored ever by Your goodness,
And sated be in body and in spirit.

Full Cast together blesses juice and bread:
May the children of the Divine Ones eat of the bread of honor;
May we drink of the wine of favor;
May the rest of our lives be as sweet as what we taste here.

Pass bread and wine/fruit juice to all Participants.

When all have partaken, Full Cast says together:
The abode of the gods
is the shelter of their children.
We are the children of the gods.

Encourage participants to repeat three times. If suitable, thank all Deities using usual method.

D. Exeunt Omnes

Procession of Cast out of circle playing music.

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