Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Barbara Walker: August, Azazel


Roman month of the oracular Juno Augusta. Oracles were augustae in the semi-matriarchal "republican" period. The term was later applied to male priests, then to emperors. An "august" man was one filled with the spirit of the Goddess. Augur, the old name for a seer, meant "increaser," once referring to the mother-priestess. The first emperor Augustus took his title from the Great Mother of the Gods, presumed incarnate in his wife Livia Augusta. Their house stood opposite the temple of the Great Mother, whom Augustus honored as the national Goddess.
Churchmen repeatedly tried to obliterate the Goddess's connections with her harvest month. It was officially claimed that August had been named for St. Augustine - "prophetically" of course, since the name had been given to the month centuries before Augustine was born.5[1, p. 79-80]
Here, her source - Pomeroy Brewster's Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church, 1904 - does essentially say what she says it says, viz. that August was given that name centuries before the birth of Augustine. However, most people would probably accept that without a source - her source does not say that any official claims that August was named for St. Augustine ever have existed, and of these statements, that is definitely the one that needs backing up. Google's scanning and subsequent OCR is slightly damaged, alas:

The eighth was August, being rich arrayed
In garment all ofgold, down to the ground :
Yet rode he not, but led a lovelv maid
Forth by the lily hand, the which was crowned
With ears of corn, and full her hand was found.
— Spenser,
the old Roman Kalendars August bore the name of Sextilis 
le sbcth month and it contained but twenty-nine days. Julius 
ar in reforming the Kalendar, added a day to it ; but when 
ustine conferred upon it his own name he took a day from 
nary and added it thus making the thirty-one days now 
rded it.
[2, p. 348, google's OCR]

The non-OCR versions available have some similar problems, as the leftmost part is missing for this particular page. "sbcth" should properly be sixth, though, and is visible in the scanned version. I figure the author had a slip of mind - or used a now obsolete name for Augustus (?), c.f. from the same book:
But when Augustus to honour 
his own month increased the days of August to thirty-one he took 
the day from Februare leaving that month in ordinary years but 
twenty-eight days.
[2, p. 87, google's OCR]
(Which, by the way, seems to be a generally discredited claim too, as the month lengths apparently were changed at some other time. However, it is not my task to provide sources for such things here. Just pointing the interested reader to go find out for themselves.)


"God's Messenger," the deity who received sacrificial goats on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, New Year). Azazel was not originally Hebraic, but Syrian.1[1, p. 80]
As a source she gives Cumont, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism [at 1, p. 80-81]. Cumont says:
There were, for instance, Baltis, an "Our Lady" from Osroene beyond the Euphrates; Aziz,  the "strong god" of Edessa, who was identified with the star Lucifer; Malakbel, the "Lord's messenger," patron of the soldiers from Palmyra, who appeared with several companions at Rome, in Numidia and in Dacia.[3, p. 113]
In reading this text, she manages to misidentify which God is the Lord's messenger - Malakbel is (and to anyone familiar with Hebrew, the cognates to Hebrew should be obvious), not Aziz. Aziz is a word meaning strong - she does get the geographical origin of Aziz right, as Edessa is in Assyria. In fact, it's not surprising that a word signifying strength appear in names of supernatural beings (however, the etymology of Azazel does seem somewhat unclear, and he is not a popular topic in the Old Testament, although he did appear in later works a bit. An honest scholar would mention that there is quite a bit of unknowns regarding Azazel). Anyways, no matter - later Hebrew mystics and writers did develop Azazel, and they may very well have adapted the Syrian Aziz into their doctrines even if he was not part of the original Azazel-concept (which I do not deny anyway, as it indeed is possible). The problem here is misrepresenting what a source says, as the source does not say anything along the lines of what Walker makes it out to say, and she apparently also fails to read the rest of the text properly, explaining the 'Lord's messenger' blunder. Burden of proof clearly rests on her shoulders regarding claims such as these - "it is possible" does not make it so.

In addition, Yom Kippur is not the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is (although there does, actually, exist three other Jewish New Years - 1st Elul, 1st Shevat and 1st Nisan - for different purposes, and potentially other ones as well.)

[1] Walker, Barbara, Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
[2] Brewster, Pomery - Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church, 1904, available on
[3] Cumont, Franz; Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, 1911

---- some general musings ----


Antichrist, Antinomianism, Apex, Apostles, Apple, Arianism, Ark. A few more after that, and the letter 'A' will be complete. How about that. This leads to a secondary issue: how does one quantify the number of claims made in a text? A primary observation could be that all claims are not equal in significance, and another observation is that it is easier to spot that something is a claim if it also is wrong, and thus there is a notable likelihood that the ratio of incorrect claims to correct claims will get skewed by a flaw in the method.

Of course, I only point out mistakes that have passed through this simple algorithm:

  • I find something that look suspicious.
  • I try to obtain the source for the statement. If that source appears credible, and it disagrees with the statement, bingo.
  • If the statement correctly represents the source, I see if the source appears credible. I may obtain sources that contradict it to show that it's not a closed case. 
Anyways, the first step there is kind of important - how many mistakes pass by without me noticing them? May be any number!

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