Qadash Kinahnu, A Canaanite Phoenician Temple

Basic Ritual Needs

Modified 24 December 2007

What do you need to perform a Canaanite ritual? Basically, nothing more than yourself and your good heart. It always helps to feed to Deities a little - bread, oil, and juice will do (but They do prefer wine). But if you really want to feel a sense of Canaan, here are some suggestions to enliven your ritual.


White linen is the most traditional color and fiber, especially with maroon-red, red-purple, or indigo or cobalt blue stripes, but any NATURAL fiber in white is appropriate. For warmth, you can wear a T-tunic under a sleeveless over-tunic and a sleeveless front-opening robe over that. For additional warmth, if necessary, wear loose-fitting long pants, either narrow ankled African or full-legged gathered-ankled belly-dance style. For ritual use, relatively undecorated tunics are prefered, except perhaps for the Kohanim and Kohanat. If you cannot find striped linen (and I couldn't), it is quite typical to sew bands of colored cloth or woven ribbon in an appropriate design down the front and back at the shoulder. Folkwear Patterns has several useful ethnic designs, especially the Middle Eastern, North African, Turkish, and Indian ones.

For daily wear, Canaanite and Phoenician men tied a ribbon headband around their hair, encircling the head above the ears. Women generally wore their hair pulled back and coifed in some way. For ritual, the head should be covered by a cloth, held in place by the headband for the men; women can cover their hair with a large loose cloth or scarf. Middle Eastern head cloths, often from Syria or Palestine, usually of white embroidered or woven with black, blue, purple or red, and the headband to anchor them, are available in many cities at import shops (in the U.S. at least).

Wear sandals or go barefoot. Gillies, lace-up Scottish folk-dancing slippers, for example, while not Middle Eastern, look very ancient and authentic. Naturally climate and terrain will have some influence. Safety and comfort should take precedence over authenticity.

and lots of it, on both men and women. Wear beads, bells, and many necklaces at one time - they even wore neckbands rather like Celtic/German torcs; bracelets and bangles up the arms; dangly earrings - and Phoenician men wore them, too.

in the colors of a particular deity would be nice, if you are dedicated to one, or enacting a myth. For cold weather or very dramatic productions, the Medieval and modern Middle Eastern/North African men's garment known as an Abba is the thing. It is a large rectangle, sewn up the sides with openings at the top of the side seam for your arms, and completely open in the center front. A front-opening poncho is a tolerable substitute.


Try to eat foods typical of the region. You actually have a lot of latitude here, since the Mediterranean climate, naturally, extends from Spain and Morocco, through Southern France, Algeria, Italy, Egypt, Greece, parts of Turkey, to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and even Persia. It also includes places like California and Mexico.

Unfortunately, we don't have any recipes from the ancient Levant. There are, however, three culinary tablets that have been discovered so far, all written in Akkadian. Although they were found together, and are all dated to southern Babylonia around 1600 BCE (the middle of the Old Babylonian period - and close in time to the heyday of Ugarit), they differ from each other in general physical appearance and script. All three are in the Yale University Babylonian Collection.

They have been translated and analyzed by Jean Bottéro, the most scholarly version in French, Textes culinaires Mésopotamiens (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), and another version translated into English, The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). Note that these ancient recipes are quite unlike modern recipes (which format was only developed in the mid-19th century and even now not universally adopted around the world), not always giving quantities and only sketchily outlining the cooking techniques involved.

I think it's great fun to experiment with old historical recipes, and you might find it fun as well. If you are more timid, there are some worked-out ancient Mesopotamian recipes on the Internet.

Below i list some common types of offerings, sometimes noting ancient vs. modern foods. Naturally, as a modern celebrant, you can include any you prefer or can easily find.


  • Grains from the region were most typically barley, spelt, and wheat. The offerings can take the form of sheaves or bundles of grain-grasses, bowls of whole grains, jars of flour, and flat breads, crackers, or loaves of bread. Jewish Challah (also called egg twist in the U.S.), and pita (pocket bread), matzoh, or Persian or Armenian (lavosh) flat breads are good. Ak-Mak and Euphrates Biscuits brand crackers (in the U.S.) are also suitable. Tabouleh, a salad of cracked wheat with parsley, mint, and green onion, is delicious (tomatoes didn't come into the region until the 18th century CE).
  • Lentils and pulses such as dried peas, garbanzos (chick peas), black-eyed peas, field peas, and favas are hearty and wholesome. Most other beans were unknown in the region until the 18th century CE, as they are from the New World.
  • Fruits can be dried or fresh, and include dates, figs, melons, citron, apricots, peaches, plums, pomegranates, grapes, raisins, and dried currants (which come from tiny grapes called raisins of Corinth, since fresh currants (Ribes) cannot be dried). Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits were not known in the ancient Levant - lemons came in during the early Muslim period, as did bitter oranges (aka Seville oranges). Sweet oranges, limes, and grapefruits are even more recent.
  • Nuts of the region include almonds, walnuts, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts/filberts, and pine nuts. Pecans, peanuts, macadamias, and Brazil nuts were not known in the ancient Levant.
  • Among the root vegetables they ate in the ancient times were members of the onion family and turnips. Modern recipes for beets and carrots. Leafy greens, such as beet greens, chard, purslane, and spinach are also suitable.
  • Other foods include seeds such as sesame and poppy, green herbs such as parsley, mint, coriander greens, fennel, spices both local such as cumin, coriander, anise, and imported such as cinnamon, edible flowers - i don't know which they used in the ancient Levant, but one can often find packs of edible flowers in the supermarket or farmer's market which i am sure would be appreciated - etc.

The offerings don't have to be as they come straight from nature. Nut and seed cookies (called "cakes" in older literature), nut and seed butters, etc. are delicious, as is hummos bi-tahini, a dip made of sesame butter and mashed chick peas, seasoned with mint and garlic, and in modern times with red pepper (unknown in the region until the 18th century CE) and lemon juice (unknown in the region until around the 8th or 9th century CE - in older times sour grape juice, aka verjus, was used).


  • Olives and oils, especially sesame and olive oils. Pour small amounts in the libation dish.
  • Honey (sugar was not known until the Muslim period)
  • Dairy products such as yogurt (curdled milk, as it is often translated in the myths, and which sounds unappetizing, is probably yogurt, or something like cottage cheese) and feta & other soft fresh cheeses.
  • And, of course, animals. In the past, live animals were sacrificed. This is a common practice throughout the pagan world, and until the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the Jews also sacrificed animals in their temple. It is still practiced today by some pagan religions. Even hunting is a form of sacrifice - if you hunt, take a cue from the Native American Indians and praise and thank the animal. I am by no means suggesting that you sacrifice animals for rituals. Meat from animals someone else has butchered will do just fine today, if you are not vegetarian. If you do raise animals for your own table, then what better way to dispatch them than to send a part of their essence to the deities, so that they die in a sacred manner.
  • If you are vegetarian, non-animal offerings are sufficient. And in ancient times, an animal was very expensive, and not everyone could spare one. Acceptable offerings included containers of flour, oil, honey, etc., as listed above. And for modern pagan vegetarians, a vegetable-based high-protein meat-substitute, such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc., while not indigenous to the ancient Levant, is perfectly honorable.


  • Grape and other fruit wine, mead, beer & ale, in other words, fermented liquids, were typical.
  • If you prefer not to have alcoholic drinks, juices are fine. Try to avoid those with added sugar or high fructose corn sweetener and those that are artificially sweetened. Pure juice is so much tastier and healthier.
  • Fresh milk, as mentioned above, is typical liquid offering.
  • Pure fresh spring water is also a good beverage offering.

The alcoholic grain-based brews of the old days had rather more body than those of today: they were often not light clear drinks, but contained a bit of the grain and were less alcoholic than what we purchase today. Wines were a speciality of the Phoenicians. The Egyptians at that time frequently imported wine from the Levant. Even the Greeks couldn't offer vintages to compare with the Phoenicians until much later.

At the table, most folks drank their wine mixed with water, quite frequently half and half. So the opportunity to drink pure wine at a ritual could be a special occasion. This is one reason why getting drunk was so special. The state of inebriation was originally considered a spiritual state, in which deities could talk or act through the person in that condition. Many scholars believe that Dionysos was originally from the Middle East, home of wine and ecstatic worship.

I am not suggesting that one must get drunk at rituals. More important are your health and safety.

We have conducted rituals in which prients and priestesses have achieved trance states without the use of additional substances.


Percussion is Number One for getting people in the mood to celebrate. Various sorts are appropriate: cymbals, tingshah (small Tibetan cymbals), zils (aka finger cymbals), sistra (you can find directions for making a sistrum on the Internet), tambourines, frame drums, doumbek/ darabouka (hour-glass drums), etc.

If you are musically gifted, you could include lyres (harp, psaltery, lute, even guitar, mandolin, or banjo), flutes (recorders, pennywhistles, pan-pipes), reeds (zurna/sharunai/shenai - now often replaced by the clarinet), even small bagpipes (Irish, Bulgarian, Moroccan, etc.), and horns (the Jewish ram's-horn shofar is perfect, but I use a small metal Nepali horn).

See my music page for some recording suggestions


A number of altars are traditional in the temple setting, although they are not all necessary for small home-based ritual work. Set up your main altar and adjust any others according to the space available.

    This is the main altar and should be in the North, where the chief deities' sacred mountain home is. On it place your DEITY FIGURES, a LIBATION DISH, a bottle or jar of ANOINTING OIL, a container of SACRED EARTH, and a small STANDING STONE. The altar can be covered with a white cloth, although it is nice to have a stone surface for the top. You can use a slate or sandstone paving slab or a marble pastry surface.

    This can be a lower surface in front of the Main Altar. It is the place to put food offerings, and, if roomy enough, feast foods, if possible. Alternatively, the Sacrificial Altar can be a cloth spread on the ground in front of the Central Altar when needed.

    Arrange the Fire Altar on the East side of the Main Altar, the direction of the rising sun. This is the place for LAMPS (such as a menorah with seven planetary candles or a large ceramic oil lamp), FIRE BRAZIER, CHARCOAL, CENSER, INCENSE (& matches).

    This is located on the West side of the Main Altar, as the Mediterranean Sea is west of the Levant. If there is a large body of water near you in a different direction, you may wish to reorient the altars somewhat. Here you put the JUG of SCENTED WATER, BASIN, TOWEL, and ASPERGILLUM (a small bundle of fresh herbs) for purification. This would also be an appropriate place to put a vase of FLOWERS.
    NOTE: You can combine Altars 1, 3, and 4 if you have a large enough central altar. Alternately, you could have the large central altar in the East, with the Fire and Water altars flanking it.
    Covered with RED CLOTH, these can be small individual tables for the major deities invoked, or a single altar surface. CUSHIONS can be set by each table with DECORATIONS (such as scarves, ribbons, flowers, etc.) held in reserve to be arranged during the ritual. The Deity Altars need only be small decorative pillows large enough to hold the deity images used.

    In the West set up the Ancestor Altar. This is the direction toward which the Dead set sail in the Canaanite system, just as it is the direction in which the sun sets each evening. It should be covered with a BLUE-GREEN CLOTH on which are WHITE CANDLES, a BOWL OF CLEAR CLEAN WATER, several (small) PLAIN STONE(S), and a LIBATION DISH. The Ancestor Altar is nice to have, but optional except for ceremonies for the Dead, which occur at mid-Summer and mid-Winter. Of course, the Ancestors appreciate offerings at other times, too.

    In some parts of Canaan, the family burial vault was directly below the floor of the house. Tubes extended from the living quarters into the vault to facilitate pouring libations for the Dead. In other places, caves were shaped into rectangular vaults for the sarcophigi of important Dead. These were not difficult to access and it is likely that family members went there to make offerings. And in some places, there were cemetaries where the Dead were buried in large clay jars. The graves were marked with carved gravestones.
    NOTE: The above colors for the Deity and Ancestor Altar cloths were told to me by a university professor specializing in Mesopotamian rites for the Dead who i met at an academic symposium on magic and ritual in the Ancient Near East.

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updated 23 December 2007
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