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The Black Stone - the Omphalos of the Goddess

Bob Trubshaw

Long-suffering readers of Mercian Mysteries will know of my obsession with 'omphali' - the sacred centres which each civilisation seems to create or adopt. Many of these involve stones - the Lia F il (Stone of Destiny) at Tara or the various 'king stones' (such as Kingston upon Thames) where medieval English kings were crowned. Our monarchs still sit on, or at least above, the Stone of Scone for their coronation. But some of these sacred stones have special interest - they are (or are said to be) black. Such Black Stones also tend to have the legend that they have fallen from the stars. Clearly, meteorites the size of these large boulders would explode into tiny fragments on impact, and also leave a substantial crater. The literal truth is not important; rather the symbolism of such stones being a link between this world and the heavens is an integral aspect of the Cosmic Axis which is invoked by all sacred centres.

Perhaps the best-known Black Stone, and now by far the most revered, is the Ka'bah at Mecca. Ka'bah means 'cube' and this describes the shape of the black stone structure on a marble base which stands in the centre court of the Great Mosque, Masjidul Haram, at the centre of Mecca. It stands about 50 feet high by about 35 feet wide. Set into the eastern corner is the sacred stone, covered by an elaborately embroidered black drape. As any non-moslem in the temple would be slain on sight, and photography is generally prohibited, this stone is shrouded is mystery. However, Rufus Camphausen has succeeded in tracking down three accounts of the pilgrimage to Mecca, two of which do contain photographs [1-3]. What these reveal is a polished black stone of which less than two feet is visible, set in a large, solid silver mount. The whole resembles - quite deliberately, for reasons which will emerge - the vulva of the goddess. That moslems now refer to it as the Hand of Allah does not diminish the urge for all those who complete the pilgrimage to Mecca to touch or kiss this sacred object.

The Black Stone has long since been broken and the silver band holds together the fragments. Tradition holds that it was a meteorite and the stone was white in colour when it first landed and then blackened. The faithful attribute this change in colour to the belief that the stone absorbs the sins of the pilgrims, but it is consistent with known meteorites which are white at first but oxidise over a period of time.

'A principal sacred object in Arabian religion was the stone. . . . Such stones were thought to be the residence of a god hence the term applied to them by Byzantine Christian writers of the fifth and sixth centuries: 'baetyl', from bet'el, 'the house of god'.' [4]

'In north Arabian temples the image of the deity sometimes stood in the open air or could be sheltered in a qubbah, a vaulted niche. . . . Not to be confused with the qubbah is the word ka'bah, for a cube-shaped walled structure which . . . served as a shelter for the sacred stones.' [5]

Camphausen, in his article [6], reveals that the misogynic moslem religion has its origins in goddess worship. Allah is a revamped version of the ancient goddess Al'Lat, and it was her shrine which has continued - little changed - as the Ka'bah. The known history of Mohammed reveals that he was born around 570 CE into a tribe of the Quraysh, who not only worshipped the goddess Q're but were the sworn guardians of her shrine. By 622 Mohammed was preaching the ways of his god, Allah, and was driven out by his own tribe as a result.

The triple goddess

Pre-islamic worship of the goddess seems to be primarily associated with Al'Lat, which simply means 'goddess'. She is a triple goddess, similar to the Greek lunar deity Kore/Demeter/Hecate. Each aspect of this trinity corresponds to a phase of the moon. In the same way Al'Lat has three names known to the initiate: Q're, the crescent moon or the maiden; Al'Uzza, literally 'the strong one' who is the full moon and the mother aspect; then Al'Menat, the waning but wise goddess of fate, prophecy and divination. Islamic tradition continue to recognise these three but labels them 'daughters of Allah'.

According to Edward Rice [7] Al'Uzza was especially worshipped at the Ka'bah where she was served by seven priestesses. Her worshippers circled the holy stone seven times - once for each of the ancient seven planets - and did so in total nudity. Near the Ka'bah is the ever-flowing well, Zamzam, which cools the throats of the countless millions of pilgrims.

In an oasis of always-flowing water, the Black Stone in its mount became an unmatched image of the goddess as giver of life. Only in the Indian continent do such physical symbols for the male and female generative powers - the lingam and yoni - continue to be worshipped with their original fervour.

It is easy to imagine that in pre-moslem times the goddess's temple at Mecca was pre-eminent - whether to celebrate life, ask protection, pray for offspring. Legend tells how Abraham, unable to produce children by his wife Sarah, came here to make love to his slave Hagar. Later, when Hagar came back to give birth, she could find no water and Abraham created the holy well of Zamzam to save the life of his first son.

When Mohammed wanted to surplant Al'Lut with Allah, this was the one Temple he must conquer. Although Mohammed did conquer the Ka'bah, little else changed. The faithful still circle the Holy of Holies seven times (although, I hasten to add, now fully clothed). The priests of the sacred shrine are still known as Beni Shaybah or 'Sons of the Old Woman' - Shaybah being, of course, the famous Queen Sheeba of Solomon's times.

Sheeba appears under the guise of Lilith in the Near East and as Hagar ('the Egyptian') in the Hebrew mythology of the Old Testament. So, rewriting the legend given above, Abraham begot his son, Ishmael - the ancestor of all Arab peoples - by the goddess on the Black Stone of the Ka'bah.

While we are tracing names, Q're (or Qure), the maiden aspect of Al'Lut, seems certain to be the origin of the Greek Kore. Camphausen suggests that the holy Koran (qur'an in Arabic) is the 'Word of Qure'. Even moslems admit that the work existed before the time of Mohammed. Legend said it was copied form a divine prototype that appeared in heaven at the beginning of time, or the Mother of the Book [8]. Al'Uzza, the mother aspect of Al'Lut, may give us the pre-dynastic Egyptian snake goddess Ua Zit, who develops into Isis.

Archaeo-astronomy

Returning to the geomantic significance of the Ka'bah, Professor Hawkins has argued that it is exceedingly accurately aligned on two heavenly phenomena. These are the cycles of the moon and the rising of Canopus, the brightest star after Sirius. In a thirteenth-century Arabic manuscript by Mohammed ibn Abi Bakr Al Farisi it is stated that the alignment is set up for the setting crescent moon - an ancient symbol of the virgin-goddess which still appears in the national flags of many islamic nations. In some flags - Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia and Turkey - the crescent is accompanied by a star, perhaps representing Canopus.

The Egyptian city known as Canopus seems also have been a goddess temple, as the Greek historian Strabo (63BCE-21CE) considered the place to be notorious for wild sexual activities. Such references typically refer to temples where sacred 'prostitution' or ritual promiscuity were part of the worship; invariably sacred objects depicting the genitals of either god and/or goddess were venerated. Such sacred promiscuity continued to be part of the Pilgrimage to Mecca, at least for some moslems. The Shi'ites from Persia were allowed to form temporary 'marriages' for the period of the pilgrimage. Any children born as a result were regarded as divine or as saints - a custom with worldwide parallels (English surnames such as Goodman, Jackson or Robinson perhaps derive from similar sacred unions with god in the form of Green Men characters such as Jack o'the Green or Robin Greenwood; I would also suggest that the original sense of 'godparent' and 'godchild' has similar origins.)

Black stone at Paphos (8k)

Aniconic black stone once venerated at the Temple of Aphrodite, near Paphos, Cyprus. From photograph by Bob Trubshaw.

More Black Stones

Deities of other cultures known to have been associated with stones include Aphrodite at Paphos, Cybele at Pessinus and later Rome, Astarte at Byblos and the famous Artemis/Diana of Ephesus. The latter's most ancient sculpture was, it is said, carved from a black meteorite.

The earliest form of Cybele's name may have been Kubaba or Kumbaba which suggests Humbaba, who was the guardian of the forest in the Epic of Gilgamesh (the world's oldest recorded myth from Assyria of c.2500BCE and, as scholars reveal more of the text, increasingly the source of most of the major mythological themes of later civilisations [9]) [10]. The origin of Kubaba may have been kube or kuba meaning (guess what) - 'cube'. The earliest reference we have to a goddess worshipped as a cube-shaped stone is from neolithic Anatolia [11]. Alternatively, 'Kubaba' may mean a hollow vessel or cave - which would still be a supreme image of the goddess. The ideograms for Kubaba in the Hittite alphabet are a lozenge or cube, a double-headed axe, a dove, a vase and a door or gate - all images of the goddess in neolithic Europe.

The stone associated with Cybele's worship was, originally, probably at Pessinus but perhaps at Pergamum or on Mount Ida. What is certain is that in 204 BCE it was taken to Rome, where Cybele became 'Mother' to the Romans. The ecstatic rites of her worship were alien to the Roman temperament, but nevertheless animated the streets of their city during the annual procession of the goddess's statue. Alongside Isis, Cybele retained prominence in the heart of the Empire until the fifth century CE; the stone was then lost. Her cult prospered throughout the Empire and it is said that every town or village remained true to the worship of Cybele [12].

The home of Aphrodite was at Paphos on Cyprus. Various Classical writers describe the rituals which went on her in her honour - these seem to include the practice which is now known by the disdainful term of 'sacred prostitution'. In any event, the tapering black stone which was the object of verneration at this Temple still survives, even if it now placed inside the site musuem [13].

Also on Cyprus is another highly venerated islamic site - the third most important after Mecca and Medina - the Hala Sultan Tekke. This, too, has a black rock, said to have fallen as a meteorite as part of the tritholon over the shrine. The shrine is to a woman - the aunt and foster mother of Prophet Mohammed [14]. Could this, like Mecca, have been originally a goddess shrine? Unfortunately no other clues are forthcoming.

Another site stated to have a Black Stone was at Petra, but I have been unable to discover where this was or who was worshipped there - could any readers who know please write in!

To add a little local flavour, numerous standing stones in the British Isles are reputed to have fallen from the stars. The now-lost Star Stone marked the meeting of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire; an also-vanished stone at Grimston, Leicestershire, was also said to have such an origin. However, whether or not such stones were ever associated with goddess worship we will never know.

It would take far too long to discuss to what extent the cult of the goddess's Black Stone may have been perpetrated as Solomon's bride in the Song of Songs, who is 'black but beautiful' or to come to terms with the black images of Demeter, Artemis and Isis who have their direct continuation in the Black Virgins of Europe - patrons of the troubadours, the gnostics and the alchemists, as well as the present Pope. Those who wish to follow such ideas would do well to read The myth of the goddess [15] which, in a sober but inspirational manner, re-evaluates how the feminine deity has remained with us throughout history.

Further information on these topics appears in a follow-up article by Alby Stone Goddess of the Black Stone.

References

[1] Richard Burton, A personal narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah, London 1856.
[2] Hussein Yoshio Hirashima, The road to holy Mecca, Kodansha (Japan), 1972.
[3] Anon., Pilgrimage to Mecca, Sud-Editions (Tunis) 1978 and East-West Publications (London) 1980.
[4] Encyclopedia Brittanica.
[5] ibid.
[6] Rufus C. Camphausen, 'The Ka'bah at Mecca', Bres (Holland) No.139, 1989. My thanks to Rufus for bringing this article to my attention; this article of mine is in large part a synopsis of his longer work. See also 'From behind a veil', Flora Green, in The cauldron No.61 (reprinted from The Merrymount messenger Winter 1991).
[7] E. Rice, Easter definitions, Doubleday, 1978 (cited in Camphausen).
[8] Barbara G. Walker, The crone, Harper & Row, 1985 (cited in Camphausen).
[9] See Robert Temple's recent translation He who saw everything, Rider, 1991.
[10] Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The myth of the goddess, Penguin, 1991.
[11] Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, trans. A.M.H. Lemmers, Thames and Hudson, 1977 (cited in Baring and Cashford, op. cit.).
[12] ibid.
[13] 'Aphrodite's island', Penny Drayton, Wood & water, Vol.2, No.41, Jan 1993.
[14] ibid.
[15] Baring and Cashford, op. cit.

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.14 February 1993.


On a return trip from an archaeological dig in Saudi I visited Petra. This was in 1982. By chance on a hike noticed a small white mosque on hill or mountain top. Investigated to find what was Aaron's mosque with his tomb allegedly below. A Bedouin guard dressed arabic dress with a bandellero, gun and dagger let us in to a small room (after a small donation) with a couple of tapestries some candles and a little furniture. There was also a black rock set into a wall covered by a green cloth. This rock was about a foot oblong black and looked like obsidian, having some depth to its appearance. As it was set into the wall I don't know the thickness. He would not let us down the stairs into the actual tomb. The gentleman said in what we could communicate with limited language skills that it was a shard from the stone of Mecca – one of two (the other being somewhere in the east?). Don't know if that is true.

Billy Dickinson April 2010


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