Embedded in The Everywhen Angels is this tale, handed down from ancient Canaan; it is told by a Romany patriarch to a gorjo boy, as his wife paints a henna tattoo on the boy’s arm.
Far away in the land of Canaan, many years ago, beyond the city of Ugarit, where they sang psalms to the creator El long before the Children of Israel came and stole not only their land but their psalms too, there stood a mountain. The mountain’s name was Zaphon, and it was the home of the great god Baal, son of Dagon, called ‘Lord of Thunder’, ‘Almighty’, ‘Rider of the Clouds’, ‘Lord over the Earth’. Some folk called Baal by the name of Hadad. Baal was never still – he could never rest – and thunder could be heard daily from Mount Zaphon, and flashes of lightning played around its summit.
From the summit of Mount Zaphon, where he ceaselessly paced to and fro, Baal could see the Mediterranean ocean, home of the god Yamm. Baal became angry. His kingdom now felt small, because he could see its boundaries. And in his anger he called out to Yamm, insulting him continually in his loud voice, hurling thunderbolts and making great winds, so that Yamm’s kingdom was constantly in turmoil, tossing this way and that in the storms and winds that Baal sent.
“Come out and fight me, Yamm, you coward!” shouted Baal, in a voice that echoed in a peal of thunder so loud it was heard beyond the southern border of Canaan. “Stop skulking in your slimy kingdom. Show yourself!”
And at last Yamm came up from the sea, his dark face rising like a tidal wave, and he set his great, green foot upon the shore, upon Baal’s kingdom. And he shouted back to Baal in a voice like the crashing of breakers against the cliffs.
“Here I stand, you blustering bully! Are you nothing but noise? I challenge you! Who’s the coward now?”
Baal saw that Yamm was indeed mighty, a great enemy, strong and fearsome. Baal himself was no coward, but he was very cunning, and so he went to Kothar, the blacksmith god, skilled in making any object a god could need. He asked Kothar to make him mighty weapons with which to fight Yamm. Kothar took all the metal that lay under the ground between Mount Zaphon in the West, and the Indus river in the East, and he worked it into a great, bronze sword. And he scooped up a huge piece of the Earth and made it into a stout shield; and the hole it left became the Sea of Galilee.
Armed with the sword and shield, Baal charged at Yamm. The battle between these two gods lasted twelve whole years, during which time there were such thunderstorms and tides as had never been seen in the Mediterranean*. Baal pushed at Yamm with his shield, and battered at him with his sword; and with every push of the shield and stroke of the sword there was a huge peal of thunder and flash of lightning. Yamm whipped Baal with waterspouts and showers of stinging rain and hail.
In the city of Ugarit, and throughout Canaan, the poor people cowered in their houses, only coming out when the two rival gods paused between rounds.
Eventually Yamm began to gain the upper hand, and roared with delight, beating Baal further and further back inland. One lash with a mighty waterspout was enough to send Baal’s shield spinning from his hand, to land on its edge in the sea, where it became the island of Cyprus.
By this time even the gods themselves had come to watch the battle, betting upon the outcome. The sun goddess, Shapash, was the only one to bet on Baal, and secretly warmed and dried him with her rays. Baal, who as you know was cunning, devised a plan to escape defeat. He waited until the sun goddess’s kindly gaze was on him and then angled his mighty, bronze sword so that it reflected the sunlight right into Yamm’s eyes. Yamm was dazzled and blinded, and Baal started to belabour him with the flat of his sword, raining blow after blow down upon the sea god, until he was beaten, and the sea became calm and still.
Now Baal had a wife who was also his sister. Do not ask me how this can be, but such things were possible with the gods of Canaan. Not only was Anath his sister and his wife, but she was forever a virgin. She was greatly loved by all the gods, and she took Baal by the hand and led him to see El, the creator, to whom all psalms were sung. There she told him that the reason Baal paced to and fro on Mount Zaphon was that he had no house to live in. If El would give permission for Baal to have a house built, then all Canaan would be a place of peace. El readily gave his permission.
Anath asked Kothar for help, calling to him sweetly, using the pet name she had for him. “O Hasis the Skilful, Hasis the Wise, make a house for my brother-husband Baal and me, in which we can live peacefully.”
Kothar built a house for Baal on top of Mount Zaphon, and Baal was pleased. For a while all Canaan was at peace, the sun shone, and the gods dozed. Even Yamm forgot his quarrel with Baal, and visited him in his house. At such times the summit of Mount Zaphon was wreathed in mist.
One day Baal invited all the gods to a great feast. Yamm was there, and El the creator as the guest of honour. Shapash and Kothar sat together, and even Yutpan the deceitful had a place. The only god not to be invited was Mot, the god of death. When he heard about the feast, he strode up Mount Zaphon in a rage, and pounded so hard on the door of Baal’s house that the food and drink was shaken off the tables.
Mot burst into the house and cursed and ranted at Baal for the insult of not inviting him. Baal was so enraged at this that he forgot he was supposed to be living a peaceful life. He sprang to his feet, seized the sword that he had used to defeat Yamm, and rushed at Mot.
Their duel was a terrible sight. Even the mighty gods fled from Mount Zaphon, as Baal and Mot reduced the lovely house to rubble in their raging. But even the mighty Baal could not defeat Death, and Mot eventually swallowed up Baal, and spat him out on the mountain top, dead and cold.
While the gods debated amongst themselves who could take Baal’s place, Anath mourned for him. Not only did she mourn as a sister and a wife, but also as a mother and a daughter would, for she was all things to Baal. She wandered through Canaan looking for Baal’s body, and when she found it, she buried it and wept over his grave. But her tears, at first cool and sorrowful, turned to drops of fire, and became a rage such as creation had never seen. She turned and ran and ran until she came to Mot, flinging herself upon him in a murderous frenzy. Struggle as he might, Mot found he was no match for Anath, because as she had mourned Baal as a sister, a wife, a mother, and a daughter, she had become four goddesses in one. In her wrath she killed Mot, ground his body to powder, and scattered it over land and sea.
Then she took the place of Baal on top of Mount Zaphon, where she ruled for many years, no longer as Anath the gentle and beloved of the gods, but as the goddess of slaughter, whom some called Ashtoreth, with a hideous aspect.
Many lives of men and women passed. One night El, the creator, dreamed a dream, in which Baal and Mot were alive and stood before him. What El dreams always comes to pass, and so when he awoke, there before him stood Baal and Mot, restored to life. He charged them solemnly each to keep to his own kingdom, and not to fight any more. They bowed low to him and gave him their promise.
When Anath saw Baal coming again to Mount Zaphon, her heart was softened, and her face became beautiful once more. She painted herself with a dye made from her sacred plant, which she called Mehendi, making the beautiful patterns on her face and limbs, which brides do to this very day in India, and in Mesopotamia, and in all parts of Arabia.
And Baal and Anath lived in peace and happiness ever after. Some say that when the One God came they faded away. Others say they still live on top of Mount Zaphon, but now as an old man and an old woman, and have retired from being gods.
But one thing I know is this: Anath’s sacred plant, Mehendi, which we call Henna, still grows.
* Yes, I know, I know!