Sources of Berber Mythology
List of Berber Goddesses & Gods
Mythology Books & Resources
Sources of Documented Berber Mythology:
A considerable amount of the traditional lore of the matriarchal Berbers is still based on the worship of the Ancestors and the Dead. Most of the Berbers’ ancestral doctrines also form an integral part of the jinn lore. Westermarck had pointed out that many of the Berber religious and mythological principles were practiced mostly by Berber women under the disguise of Tomb Worship, where women regularly visit the tombs and perform various rituals in association with the ancient ancestors and the dead, such as receiving sacred prophecy through dreams obtained by sleeping in tombs of holy ancestors. This current practice, according to Herodotus, goes back to the ancient Libyan Nasamon Berbers, and it may even go back much farther in time since sacred traditions are indeed carried forward from previous generations. The ancient Libyan Nasamons took oath at the graves of persons who were reputed for justice and transparency. In addition to tomb-worship, complete traditions from the Berbers’ previous mythology remain alive in various traditions and festivals. Saharan prehistoric art, Berber jewellery, Berber folklore and music have all preserved other fragmented elements of Berber belief and mythology. In addition to that, we also have Egyptian and Greek mythologies as a documented source, in which various references to Libyan mythology were preserved for generations to come, such as the worship of Amon, Ament, Antaeus, Bast, Nit, Poseidon and Shu.
List of Berber Mythological Goddesses & Gods:
The Berber Pantheon:
Afri, Afrika: a Berber goddess of fortune and fertility
Ancestors: a relationship similar to that existing between the totem and the worshipper
Ashaman: God: among the ancient Berber Canary Islanders
Atlas: Libyan Mountain-God
Auliswa: worshipped at Pomaria (Tlemcen)
Awessu: Sea-God (?)
Bacax: (cf. Bacchus: Grape-God): dedications found in a grotto of Taia near Calama (Guelma)
Froarangan: Canarian God of men
Genius of Africa (genius Africae): a female spirit
Guraya: name of a saint in Kabylie
Gurzil: Libyan Sun-God, also god of war, in Syrtes (Sirte)
Idir: name of a divinity; also found in Baliddir
Iguc: god of the rain, among the Berghwata of Morocco (cf. Yakush)
Illu: Tuareg god
Jnoun: the Jinn
Libya: Goddess of Libya
Lilu: synonymous with rain water
Mastinam: Libyan god associated with Jupiter
[Medusa]: Gorgon Sisters: Serpent-goddess
Moreyba: Canary Berber goddess of Women
Nanna Tala: Nafousah Mountain (Libya) Spring-Goddess
[Poseidon]: Libyan Sea-god
Shaheded: a Libyan goddess
Sinifere: a war god among the Luguata, identified with Mars
Tannit: the Libyan Goddess of Weaving, worshipped by the Phoenicians as Tanit
There is no doubt that the Athena of Herodotus, whom the Amazon worshipped around Lake Tritonis, was none other than the Libyan Goddess Tannit, as shown by the two spears she carries in various depictions, and sometimes by the weaving shuttle.
Libyan Tannit stone
The Libyan Goddess Tannit (Neith)
at Assaraya Alhamra Museum, Tripoli, Libya.
The Arabic text, displayed under the stone, describes the above symbol of Tannit:
Description of the Goddess Tannit in Arabic from the National Museum in Tripoli
Temehu.com’s translation of the Arabic text at the Museum: “The Goddess Tannit. Tannit is regarded as one of the most famous and important Punic goddesses in Tripolitania. She is the wife of the Punic god Bal Hamon. She was the goddess of sowing, harvest and fertility, and a sky goddess essentially associated with the moon. Her symbol, known as the symbol of Tannit, is a triangle representing the human body, surmounted by a circle representing the head, and separated by a horizontal line which represents the hands. The worship of the goddess Tannit emerged after the 5th century BC. She appears to be of Libyan origin. This piece is from the 2nd century BC. ” [End of translation.]
headless Goddess Athena
Neith (Athena), Tolmeita Musium, Cyrenaica, Libya.
A commanding statue of the Goddess Athena, the Libyan Goddess Neith, the Egyptian Nit.
The Libyan Amazons:
According to several historical records, the Libyan birthplace of the Goddess Neith was also the traditional homeland of the warrior women known as the Libyan Amazons, in the western parts of Libya, particularly around the legendary Lake Tritonis (southern Tunisia today). The etymology of the name “Amazon” is still undecided, with European enthusiasts deriving the name from Greek Muse, and Berberists linking it with Amazigh and Tamezyant.
The purely matriarchal world of the Amazons was ruled by women warrior-priestesses, in which they followed a manner of life unlike those that which prevailed among other races at the time or those that followed. There were a number of fake tales about removing one of their breasts in order to be able to shoot better (using the arrow & bow) and about abandoning their sons, without presenting any evidence; leading to careful mythographers to suggest that these were no more than mere patriarchal allegations to discredit matriarchy; and hence the whole existence of the Amazons itself was dismissed as “myth”.
The Libyan Gorgon Medusa, who often led the Libyans of Lake Tritonis in battle, against her enemies, was said to have once been a beautiful maiden until Poseidon lay with her and incurred the enmity of the goddess Athena, who turned Medusa’s lovely hair into serpents and made her face so hideous that a glimpse of it would instantly turn man into stone. Jealous Athena helped brave Perseus, who was coming from Argos with an army, to behead Medusa; and the drops of blood that fell from Medusa’s severed head onto the Libyan sand were transformed into snakes.
marble relief of Libyan Amazons
A sarcophagus fragment showing the Libyan Amazons in action.
It was found in Wadi (Valley) Khamish, west of Tolmeita, Cyrenaica, Libya. From the 2nd century AD.
In Greek mythology, Antaeus was said to be a Libyan giant, son of Poseidon and mother-earth Gaia, and the husband of Tinga, a name often linked with Tangier in Morocco. According to Oric Bates, the above painting was not then recognised as a representation of Libyan Antaeus, who was depicted with typical Berber characters, such as the aquiline nose, dark long hair (projecting over the brow), strongly marked supra-orbital ridges, and the pointed beard. The savage-like teeth were meant to stress the nature of Antaeus, in contrast to the usual soft profile given to Greek characters. The above reproduction (drawn by Oric Bates) does not show the hair detail of Heracles, which he says is darker than the hair of Antaeus. The story goes that during the fight between Antaeus and Heracles, Antaeus draws his energy from the earth on which he stands, and so to defeat him Heracles lifted Antaeus from the ground and held him high above it as to deprive him of recharging his strength, until Antaeus lost all his energy and thus the flame of his life was starved of its motherly source.
Libyan god of the Laguatans on the Syrtes (Sirte), one of the nomadic tribes of Tripolitania. He was said to be the son of the Berber Siwan God Ammon. The Laguatans personified Gurzil in a magical bull (taurus), which they let loose in battle, and thus he was associated with “War”. This same god is taken by Dihya (the Berber Kahina of the Auras Mountains) in her battles against the Arabs of the 7th Century.
The Goddess “Libya” had three sons by the Libyan Sea-God Poseidon: Belus, Agenor and Lelex. King Belus ruled at Chemmis or Chamesis of Leo Africanus, Agenor migrated to Cana’an (the Middle East), and Lelex became king of Megara. The myth relates an interesting “deception tale” in which Danaus was sent to rule Libya where he had fifty daughters, and Aegyptus, who had fifty sons, ruled over Egypt.
King Belus, who ruled at Chemmis, was the son of the Goddess Libya by Poseidon, and the twin brother of Agenor and Lelex. His wife Anchinoe, daughter of the Nile-god, Nilus, bore him the twins Aegyptus and Danaus and a third son Cepheus, and one daughter: Lamia, the Libyan Snake-goddess. See Robert Graves (The Greek Myths: I, 200 – 202.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Greeks obtained their knowledge of the Sea-God Poseidon from the Libyans (meaning the Berbers), whose cult was in high repute among the coastwise Libyans, and was especially worshipped about Lake Tritonis; while Plato says Poseidon was the chief God of Atlantis; arguably located near the Atlas Mountain in North Africa. Poseidon’s son Triton was also worshipped around the Lake, and, according to Ibid, his female counterpart “Tritonis” bore the Goddess “Athena”. Poseidon’s wife, Libya, was made the daughter of Zeus’s son Epaphus, the divine bull, the Libyan Gurzil.
Awessu was originally a sea ceremony held in the town of Zuwarah, in west Libya, during the period between the end of July and the beginning of August – a name which some linguists mistakenly see as the source of the name Awessu itself. The name could have been a name of a sea deity of some sort, since the associated rite is clearly a religious ceremony to attract the good and banish the bad. The Berbers of Zuwarah take into the sea before sunrise, during the hot summer mornings, purify themselves and their animals too, their wool garments and blankets, obtain the blessing of the sea, and release some of the accumulated sins into the salt. Then they leave the sea and feast by the beach for the remaining of the day. The rite was practiced until the 1980s, after which it began to slowly disappear after the Libyan government and government scholars declared it a pagan festival during which people take to the sea beneath the full moon (of Berber St. Augustine – one of the founding theologians of Christian thought). The festival nowadays is no more than a commercial festivity and musical propaganda, as was the fate of so many feats the Berbers created at the dawn of time. By all means the festival of Awessu is still alive today, not in Libya, but in nearby Tunisia where the inhabitants of Sousa (cf. Awessu) take to the sacred sea only once a year: in the Awessu day, the only magical day of the whole year where the sea takes the shape of a black mirror reflecting the dazzling stars of the Sky.
Libyan Mythology Books & Resources:
Il Berbero Nefusi di Fassato, by Francesco Beguinot, Roma: a collection of Libyan Berber myths and tales in Berber, with Italian translation.
Kitab as-Siar, by ash-Shamakhi, Cairo.
Essai sur la religion des Libyens, by L. Bertholon (in Revue Tunisienne), 1909.
Triton und Euphemos, by Vater, St. Petersburg, 1849.
L’Afrique Chretienne, by H. Leclercq, 1904: vol. I (paganism).
Poesies Populaires de la Kabylie du Jurjura: Texte Kabyle et Traduction, by Louis Adolphe Hanoteau, 1867.
Les Religions de l’Afrique Antique, by Gilbert Charles-Picard, 1954.
Spirit Possession And Personhood Among The Kel Ewey Tuareg, by Susan J. Rasmussen.
Folklore Twareg, by F. Nicolas, (Bull. Inst. Fr. d’Afrique Noire, t. 6, p. 463, 1944).
Poesies Touaregues, by Charles Eugene de Foucauld, ed. Andre basset, 1925.
Hoggar: Chants, Fables, Legends, by Angele Maraval Berthoin, 1954.
Ritual And Belief In Morocco, by Westermarck.
Moorish Literature, the Colonial Press, introduction by Rene Basset: Berber ballads, Poems and Popular Tales.
The Folklore of Morocco, by Francoise Legey, translated from French by Lucy Hotz.
An Anthology of Tashelhiyt Berber Folktales, by Harry Stroomer, 2001.
Amthal wa-Hikayat Amazighiyah Muarrabah, by Muhammad Mistawi, 1985.
Chants Berberes de Kabylie, by Jean Amrouche, 1947.
The Unwritten Song, by Willard R. Trask, vol. 1:
Merrakech, by Edmond Doutte, 1905.
Magie et religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, by E. Doutte, 1909.
Antiguedades de las Islas Afortunadas, by Viana, 1883.
The History of the Canary Islands, by Glas, 1764.
The Guanches of Tenerife, by Alonso de Espinosa.
L’Ennair chez les Beni Snous, by Destaing, Algiers, 1905.
Les fetes saisonnieres chez les Beni Snous, Algiers, 1907.
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. ii, 1909: a study of Berber religion and mythology, by R. Basset.
Loqman Berbere, by R. Basset, Paris, 1890.
Les Sanctuaires du Djebel Nefousa, by R. Basset, Paris, 1897.
Recherches sur la religion des Berbers, by R. Basset,1910.
The Eastern Libyans, by Oric Bates, 1914.
A Desert God, by Oric Bates, (in CSJ, vol. iv. No. 51).
Siwan Superstitions, by Oric Bates, (in CSJ, vol. v. No. 55). [CSJ: Cairo Scientific Journal.
The Golden Bough, by J.G. Frazer: an enjoyable 12 volumes to read.
Folk and fairy-tales, by P.C. Asbjornsen, trans. By H. L. Braekstad, New York, 1883.
Die Religion der afrikanischen Naturvolker, by W. Schneider,1891.
Berber Nesmenser, Zuwarah, Libya.