ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī: reconstructing a Canaanite religion

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“Pagan” is most commonly used in our interconnected religious communities as an umbrella term for any of the religions that either seek to revive a pre-Christian religion, or belong in the New Religious Movement category, such as Wicca. The religions under this umbrella are often more varied than they are similar and Ōraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is no exception. ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī, which translates as “path of the ancients,” is in the Canaanite family of religions and seeks to revive the practice of the Israelites of the 15th through 9th centuries BCE.  Back then, it was primarily a tribal religion with centralized religious spaces and large festivals focused around a reconstructed lunisolar calendar. The practice also included a strong sense of household and familial tradition, including ancestor veneration, personal prayer, blessings over food, and family events.

ryan dial
The Wild Hunt
spoke to Ryan Dial, who is an ʼAlūp̄, or High Priest, for Ancient Path Assembly in Atlanta about this religion and how it is currently practiced.

The Wild Hunt: I realize it’s probably complex, but can you explain a bit about ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī?

Ryan Dial:  ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is a revivalist faith, which is similar to polytheistic reconstructions in many ways in that we utilize archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, etc. with academic conjecture to revive an ancient faith system, but unlike recons, we don’t necessarily shy away from unverified personal gnosis (UPG) and we seek to update and move forward beyond simple reconstruction. More specifically, we are a religion within the larger category of Canaanite Reconstructionism/Revivalism, which includes reconstructions of Phoenician, Moabite, Amonite, Judahite, Edomite, and Israelite religions, itself, genealogically speaking, a sub-category of the Northwestern Semitic religious family [Amorite and Ugaritic religions] which is, in turn, a sub-category of the Northern Semitic religious family [Akkadian and Eblaite religions]. All of that is in the modern nations of Israel, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Like many recons and revivalists, not all of our practitioners consider themselves “Pagan.” That tends to be a loaded term, unfortunately, and carries with it many connotations both from the outside world and from within the greater Pagan community. As such, I consider myself an ʼŌrēḥa, first and foremost, and depending on the audience, I may or may not also identify as a Pagan.

TWH: What part of the world did this religion originate from and is it similar to Judaism?

RD:  ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is a revival of ancient Israelite religion. This is not the religion of the Bible, which was Judahite, but the religion of the northern Kingdom of Israel and its citystate and tribal predecessors. The Israelites were a confederation of Canaanite tribes.

We reconstruct primarily from the 15th through the 9th centuries BCE. The Israelites were conquered by Assyria during the 720s BCE. Prior to this, Judahite religion had already diverged and begun to become monotheistic. With the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in the 720s, many Israelites fled south and added unique religious elements to the largely monotheistic Judahite national faith. Some of these survived in the Bible as Judahite religion slowly evolved into Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries CE, but by and large, Israelite religion had ended by that point. Some have shown survival of some elements of Israelite religion into the later religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Neoplatonism, thanks to the works of Iamblichus, who was himself of Canaanite stock.

We honor the Canaanite pantheon, which has roughly 150 deities of several “families,” much like the Aesir and Vanir in Germanic religions or the Asuras and Devas in Indo-Iranian religions. We’re monolatrous-panentheists with a emanationist slant. That is to say, while we believe in many gods, we believe that they, like all things in existence, including ourselves, are emanations of a singular divine force which we call Yǝhōwāh (lit. “Existence”). Additionally, while we support the idea that the gods of other peoples exist in some form, we believe that they, too, are emanations of Yǝhōwāh, though only our gods, the ʼĔlōhē͡ī-Kənaʻan, the “Godhead of Canaan,” should be worshiped by members of our faith. The theology is a bit more complicated than that, so think of this as a simplification.

9th Century BCE map showing the Kingdom of Israel [creative commons]

9th Century BCE map showing the Kingdom of Israel [Public Domain]

TWH:  What are the main ethics in your religion and how does it shape your daily life?

RD: Personally, I think the observance of Šeḇaʻ hāʼĪmărōṯ, “The Seven Teachings,” is by far the most important. They are seven philosophical teachings that form the core of our faith system, and as such, all practitioners, regardless of level, are expected to keep them. …

  1. Yəhōwāh is one and all things are unity.
    All that exists is part of the divine and, therefore, forms a singular existence. A human, an animal, a plant, and dirt are all part of a unity and there is no separation between them. We must recognize the divine in all things, in all people, and within ourselves.
  1. All actions will have consequences.
    We are all responsible for our actions, regardless of the circumstances, and nothing can absolve us of that responsibility. The choices we make are up to us, and every choice has consequences, many far-reaching and incapable of being predicted.
  1. Will governs actions.
    It is intent, the force of will, that governs our actions. Through proper intent, we can commit to a life of proper action. Approaching the world with selfish, individualist intent will most assuredly result in actions with negative consequences for all affected.
  1. Speak support, practice harmony, and in all things, be at peace.
    Our actions should always strive to create harmony, peace, and beauty in this world. We should strive to teach others through our example, not our words.
  1. Generosity, humility, calm, and joy are the path to wellbeing.
    Through generosity, we can aid our world. Through humility, we can be content with ourselves and with others. Through calm, we can maintain proper intent and see the world for its beauty. And through joy, we can spread wellbeing to those who need it most. Through these concepts, we can learn to love ourselves and others.We should be careful to guard ourselves against their opposites: greed, jealousy, anger, and self-loathing. It is through the concept of greed that the illusion of possession arises, and through the illusion of possession, we are prone to jealousy, anger, and self-loathing.
  1. One who is merciful, compassionate, and kind to the smallest creatures joins to Yəhōwāh.
    We should always seek mercy, compassion, and kindness, whenever possible. From the insect in our home to the poverty-stricken on the street, we should strive to honor the divine within all. We should always seek to aid those in need and prevent malevolence, cruelty, and hostility to all of creation.
  1. Love others freely and with deep passion.
    Without crass individualism and selfish concepts of ownership, we can freely love one another. We should seek to love others purely, with our whole soul, and love them for the unique expressions of the divine that they are. In all of our relationships, we should be devoted wholly and love them as the entirety of existence.

TWH: Could you explain what a religious observance might look like and why explain how it is still relevant today?

RD:  One of our more important holidays is Ḥaḡ haMaṣōṯ, a week-long festival celebrating the beginning of the barley harvest. It begins with the Pesaḥ ritual, a protection ceremony which originally secured the gods’ protection over the barley while it was being harvested and stored. During the ritual, we make an offering of barley into a sacred flame. This offering is followed by a week of feasting and merriment, with song and dance and firelit stories. We reenact these rituals with a modern twist, asking for protection over our livelihoods, our modern subsistence methods.

Ḥaḡ haMaṣōt ritual, observed by firelight [courtesy photo]

Ḥaḡ haMaṣōt ritual, observed by firelight [courtesy photo]

TWH: How did you learn of this religion? And how long have you been a part of it?

RD:  I began this path as an Orthodox Jew, actually. I wasn’t raised in a religious home, but I came to Orthodox Judaism on my own in college while looking for some of those “big question” answers. My pursuits began in Kabbalah and moved into Chasidism and eventually the religion of my more recent ancestors, Sephardi Judaism. I began a path that led to me seeking to join the rabbinate.

During this same time, I was studying cultural anthropology and anthropology of religion at Emory University, focusing on the early phases of Near Eastern religion. Over time, my intellectual pursuits and my religious pursuits came into conflict, and I found myself leaving the rabbinical path and, ultimately, Judaism altogether. My draw was always to the ancient Near East — it felt like home to me — so I said to myself, “There must be something to this, to the religion of the ancient Canaanites, that draws me in. If I am so in love with their faith, why not practice it in the modern era?” From there, I began seeking out groups that were doing what I was doing. I’ve now been on this path for almost 3 years. It’s an evolving religion, tied in so closely with academic research and archaeological discovery, but we’ve stabilized over those 3 years and have really come into our own as a living faith.

TWH:  Do you know how many people practice your faith and are there groups who meet in person?

RD: ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī is a communal faith, a tribal religion formed from an intentional tribe bound not by blood but by choice. As such, meeting in person is rather necessary for our practice. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we have individuals with varying levels of interest and practice quite literally across the world, but our central home is Atlanta, GA [Ancient Path Assembly Atlanta], where our physical group currently meets. As with most Pagan groups, it’s hard to get a good number on just how many members and interested parties we actually have. Rituals tend to stay small, most likely due to their rapid frequency and non-western calendar, we don’t move rituals to the weekend. I know of two other extant groups that identify as somewhere within the Canaanite sphere — Natib Qadish and Am HaAretz, AMHA or the Primitive Hebrew Assembly, though, again, it is hard to get a definite number on the total size of the Canaanite polytheist community.

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If you’d like to learn more about ʼŌraḥ Qaḏǝmōnī or the Ancient Path Assembly Atlanta you can check out their website or go to their Facebook discussion group.