From Sichuan, China: Share the Night With You. Image Source (12 August 2015) © Xiaoshan Huang via TWAN. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use.
Bombings in Lahore, Pakistan and Brussels were intended to disrupt Easter. Terror cells responsible for the Belgian bombings planned to kill Easter worshippers in churches in the UK and across Europe. There is an unconfirmed rumour on the Internet that ISIS crucified a Catholic priest, Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, on Good Friday in Yemen. In response to news like this, I always used to take personal comfort in astronomy and beautiful photos like the ones from The World at Night at the top and bottom of this post, because astronomy gives the biggest, most objective perspective on these questions. Unfortunately, astronomy is a secular study of the universe which drags us back into religious map of the human mind.
Atheist and neo-Pagan critics argue that Easter is a celebration of the Spring Equinox. Image Source: Ex-Christian.net.
According to the concept of 'astrotheology,' astronomy provides the source material for today's major religions. Literary scholars who study religion as a body of mythology, folklore, and esoteric and psychological knowledge, agree that Christianity borrows from many pre-existing creeds and cultures. Atheists claim that Christianity was an adapted Middle Eastern sun cult, combined with a Hebraic revision of ancient Egyptian mythology (eight of the Ten Commandments are taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead), and a modified ancient Greek human sacrifice story.
Jesus's life and miracles parallel those associated with other holy figures - especially Horus, Zoroaster, Mithra, Dionysus, Serapis, Krishna, Attis, Prometheus and Buddha - and their ages and dates around sacred acts correspond with pagan proto-astronomy as well as modern astronomy. Starting in 2007, Peter Joseph's conspiratorial Zeitgeist films discussed these correspondences at length. The Christian holy day of the week is Sun-day. Pope Francis will make his acting debut in a 2016 feature film, Beyond the Sun, from Ambi Pictures.
Several theories explore how Jesus is actually a god of the Sun. Image Source: Stellar House Publishing.
Image Source: End Times Prophecy.
"Pope Francis holding above his head the Catholic monstrance which contains the eucharist that is worshipped." Image Source: End Times Prophecy.
Egyptian sources became part of Christianity via Hebraic adaptations. Image Source: Selfuni.
Thus, if you understand numerology and how certain turns of phrase and figures correspond to astronomical bodies and events, then holy texts start to read like big books about proto-astronomy. Holy texts were life-giving, because they described how celestial events played out on earth, at solstices and equinoxes, or celebrated the seasonal flooding of major rivers, related to the moon.
Some commentators claim that the Islamic star and crescent derives from older worship of Venus and the moon. Image Source: Alejandro Moreno de Carlos via Stocksy.
For Muslims, what is less welcome is the theory that Allah was repurposed from an ancient moon, war or rain god. Accepted scholarship links the very early history of the Muslim crescent to worship of the Mesopotamian male moon god, Sin and the Venusian star to the Mesopotamian goddess of love, war and sex, Ishtar. The combination of the two obviously implies two gods mating in union, symbolizing the power of the moon, mobilized through principles of fertility. A third solar aspect is sometimes added as their child, the sun god, Shamash. Wiki:
"Both in early and in late inscriptions Shamash is designated as the 'offspring of Nanna [also known as Sin]' ... ; i.e. of the Moon-god, and since, in an enumeration of the pantheon, Sin generally takes precedence of Shamash, it is in relationship, presumably, to the Moon-god that the Sun-god appears as the dependent power. Such a supposition would accord with the prominence acquired by the Moon in the calendar and in astrological calculations, as well as with the fact that the Moon-cult belongs to the nomadic and therefore earlier stage of civilization, whereas the Sun-god rises to full importance only after the agricultural stage has been reached."
Stele of Ur-Nammu (circa 2097-2080 BCE). Ur-Nammu was king of Ur (in what is now Iraq) from 2047-2030 BCE; his legal code is the oldest known surviving legal code in the world. On the stele above, the sun god, Shamash, is placed within the crescent of the moon god, Nanna or Sin. Image Source: The Ancient Near East.
Later candidates for this theory include the moon god Hubal, perhaps combined with local Venusian or lunar goddesses. A Persian chronicle from 915 CE suggests that Hubal blessed the future father of Muhammad. Wiki:
Despite this positive note, Hubal is now associated with idol worship in Islamic theology:"A tale recorded by Ibn Al-Kalbi has Muhammad's grandfather Abdul Mutallib vowing to sacrifice one of his ten children. He consulted the arrows of Hubal to find out which child he should chose. The arrows pointed to his son Abd-Allah, the future father of Muhammad. However, he was saved when 100 camels were sacrificed in his place. According to Tabari, Abdul Mutallib later also brought the infant Muhammad himself before the image."
"In 2001, Osama bin Laden called America the modern Hubal. He referred to allies of America as 'hypocrites' who 'all stood behind the head of global unbelief, the Hubal of the modern age, America and its supporters.'"In Arabic, ʾIlāh means 'god' and ʾIlāhah means 'goddess.' The blasphemous rumour that Allah is a polytheistic composite appears all over the Internet and was apparently started by anti-Islamic fundamentalist Christians. Wiki:
"Allah as Moon-God is a claim put forth by some critics of Islam that the Islamic name for God, Allah, derives from a pagan Moon god in local Arabic mythology. The implication is that 'Allah' is a different God from the Judeo-Christian deity and that Muslims are worshipping a 'false god'. The claim is most associated with the Christian apologist author Robert Morey, whose book The moon-god Allah in the archeology of the Middle East is a widely cited source of the idea that Allah is a moon-god. ... The use of a lunar calendar and the prevalence of crescent moon imagery in Islam is said to be the result of this origination. ... Islamic scholars have rejected these claims, one even calling them 'insulting'. ... [However, t]he word Allah certainly predates Islam. As Arthur Jeffrey states,
'The name Allah, as the Quran itself is witness, was well known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Indeed, both it and its feminine form, Allat, are found not infrequently among the theophorous names in inscriptions from North Arabia.'"
A trinity of goddesses once dominated worship in Mecca; their associations with sun, moon and Venus (the morning or evening star) change according to the interpretation. This is a "Neo-pagan interpretation of the Three Gharaniq of pre-Islamic tradition: Allāt, Al-'Uzzā and Manāt." Image Source: Drew Nemeton via Wiki.
In these disputed theories, Hubal was a moon god, married to a sun goddess, who produced three goddess daughters, divine guardians of Mecca. In some interpretations, Hubal is the son of one of goddess trinity. Allāt, pre-Islamic goddess of the Underworld and perhaps lunar goddess of North Arabia, was one of the three chief goddesses of Mecca, and was once widely worshipped. Her temple was demolished at Palmyra by Abu Sufyan in 630 CE at the order of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
It is difficult to trace these pre-Islamic pagan legacies, and equally easy for Muslims to deny them, due to the persistent radical Muslim penchant for destroying pre-Islamic artefacts and archaeological sites, carried out in the name of anti-idolatry. Of the other two goddesses of Mecca, Manāt inspired huge pilgrimages to that sacred city before Islam existed; she was associated with fate and war victories. One story from M. J. Akbar interprets the work of Persian poet Farrukhi Sistani (980-1037 or 1038 CE), to assert that all images of Manāt were destroyed, except one. An idol effigy of Manāt was spirited away to Somnath Temple in Gujarat, India, a place long associated with moon worship. Supposedly as a result of this rumour, Under Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030 CE), Muslims attacked and plundered Somnath Temple in 1024 CE to destroy the last image of this Arabian goddess.
The temples of the third deity, al-'Uzzā, a goddess of Venus and war, were also destroyed in 630 CE on Muhammad's orders. Wiki:
Al-‘Uzzá's ritual symbol was a cube, a symbol familiar in today's Kaaba, which is central in modern Islamic observance. To add to the astronomical and astrotheological dimensions, the Kaaba has as its cornerstone a meteorite or pseudo-meteorite, the Black Stone, reputed to have sacred powers. The pre-Islamic Kaaba shrine contained 360 idols, one for each day of the year, but the sanctuary was dominated by Hubal. As far as the cube and astrotheology are concerned, Muslim advocates are happy to consider historic Arabian triumphs in the fields of geometry and astronomy, but rarely consider that early successes in these fields may once have had religious, spiritual or ritualistic connotations. Incidentally, Friday, named in English for the old Norse-German goddess Frigg, is the day of Muslim religious observance, and was traditionally associated with worship of the goddess Venus."Shortly after the Conquest of Mecca, Muhammad began aiming at eliminating the last idols reminiscent of pre-Islamic practices. He sent Khalid ibn Al-Walid during Ramadan 630 AD (8 AH) to a place called Nakhlah, where the goddess al-‘Uzzá was worshipped by the tribes of Quraish and Kinanah. The shrine's custodians were from Banu Shaiban. Al-‘Uzzá was considered the most important goddess in the region. ...Khalid once again rode to Nakhla, and this time he found the real temple of al-‘Uzzá. The custodian of the temple of al-‘Uzzá had fled for his life, but before forsaking his goddess he had hung a sword around her neck in the hope that she might be able to defend herself. As Khalid entered the temple, he was faced by an unusual naked dark woman who stood in his way and wailed. Khalid did not stop to decide whether this woman might be there to seduce him or to protect the idol, so he drew his sword in the name of Allah and with one powerful stroke the woman was cut in two. He then smashed the idol, and returning to Mecca, gave the Prophet an account of what he had seen and done. Then the Prophet said, 'Yes, that was al-‘Uzzá; and never again shall she be worshipped in your land.'"
If the sun god was female in the pre-Islamic Middle East, and the antithetical creed of Christianity is widely associated with sun worship, then this association might have fed tensions around the position of women in Islam. Older connotations associated (feminine) sun worship with agricultural societies as opposed to (masculine) nomadic, lunar-based ones. Pro-Islamic proponents dismiss the triad of Sun-Moon-Venus in Arabian mythology. One 2006 dismissal of Morey, with elaborations on archaeological finds and local deities, is here. The authors, M. S. M. Saifullah, Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi and ‘Abdullah David, claim that this divine-trinity rumour started with Danish scholar Ditlef Nielsen (1874-1979), and Morey elaborated upon it.
14th century illustration of the Battle of Homs in 1299: "Depiction of a Mamluk flag with a star and crescent symbol (14th-century illustration from a manuscript of the History of the Tatars)." Image Source: Wiki. (BNF Nouvelle acquisition française 886, fol. 31v. This image is a scan of reproduction published in Claude Mutafian, Le royaume arménien de Cilicie, XIIe ‑ XIVe siècle, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 1993.)
Despite these refutations, Venus and the moon do historically correspond to the star and crescent symbols synonymous with Islam and Islamic countries. Serious scholars of pre-Islamic Mecca confirm that there were indeed three goddesses worshipped in the city, along with Hubal worshipped at Mecca's pre-Islamic Kaaba; and scholars agree that these deities had an impact on Muslim worship and were precursors of Allah.
Nevertheless, and despite these scholarly acknowledgements, anti-Islamic Websites which propagate this idea are not really scholarly or reputable. The more modern assessment, from its 19th century antiquarian roots to the present day, is a Christian one. And as with the solar interpretation of Christianity above, there is a troubling departure from scholarly studies of mythology, archaeology, anthropology and theology to online astrotheological conspiracy theories. The scholarly studies read forward historically and do not indulge in anachronism. The latter conspiracy theories read history backwards, emphasizing the priorities of the present day, and constitute a separate trend in Millennial, Web-based myth-making. An anti-fundamentalist-Christian, anti-conspiracy site with a view sympathetic to modern Islam, Loonwatch, debunked the Allah-as-moon-god online conspiracy theory in five parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
"The image of the lunar crescent is often represented in Islamic art and is a standard feature (often combined with a star) on the national flag of many Islamic countries. Young lunar crescent with the planet Venus captured with a telephoto lens shortly after sunset on 17 January 1991 [= 2 Rajab 1411 AH]." Image Source: Wim Holwerda via University of Utrecht.
Further currents in this Millennial online mythos speculate that the Jewish faith derives from worship of the god and planet Saturn, observed on Saturday. Sometimes this Saturn worship is associated with belief in Satan, and sometimes with worship of Venus, to add anti-Jewish and anti-Islamic dimensions of anti-Semitism, or even Millennial Luciferianism, to the story. Explore the Jews-worship-Saturn angle online, and the anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Illuminati conspiracy theories become downright terrifying. There is a crazy radical anti-Illuminati variant that Allah was a moon god and that Islam was invented by the Roman Catholic Church so that the Pope could achieve world domination and wipe out 'true Christians,' along with the Jews.
On the Internet, post-Christian, pro-pagan rumours are loosely connected to New Age, neo-Pagan and neo-Druidic cults. These sub-cultures have frayed edges and overlap with deeper sub-cultures which are much less friendly. For example, neo-Druidism appears in benign versions in renewed Celtic nationalism and pan-Celticism. But some adherents follow darker forms, linked to racial supremacist groups and neo-Nazis. This was the charge against a young supporter of Donald Trump in mid-March 2016, who had a Celtic cross tattooed on her right hand and the number '88' on her left hand. Web-based analyses of religious symbols are intuitively intriguing. Spiritual community-building on the Internet makes virtual reality into a hotbed of new societies. But when you add quasi-political conspiracy theories, religious analyses and New Age chat can lead to neo-vökisch groups. On the Internet, real scholarship is entangled with virtual myth-making, and it is not always easy to distinguish who is saying what or where the discussion is going.
"In a starry night of New Mexico, the Milky Way rises over Indian Cliff Dwellings in Bandelier National Monument where pueblo Indian homes and other structures date from 1150 to 1600 AD are preserved." Image Source (22 May 2015) © Wally Pacholka/Astropics.com via TWAN. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use.
The online explosion of religiosity and spirituality in our nominally secular rationalist age is further discussed in the Awaken the Amnesiacs series on this blog.