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A ceremonial pole symbolizes a variety of concepts in several different cultures. For example, in the Miao culture in Yunnan China. In The Evolution of the Idea of God, Grant Allen notes that Samoyeds of Siberia, and Damara of South Africa plant stakes at the graves of ancestors. According to Zelia Nuttall in The Fundamental Principles Of Old and New World Civilizations, tree and pole reverence to Anu in ancient Babylonia-Assyria may have evolved from the fire-drill and beam of the oil press, stating that it was extremely probable that the primitive employment of a fire-stick by the priesthood, for the production of "celestial fire," may have played an important role in causing the stick, and thence the pole and tree, to become the symbol of Anu.
European festivals that include poles
A maypole is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place.
The festivals may occur on May Day or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer. In some cases the maypole is a permanent feature that is only utilised during the festival, although in other cases it is erected specifically for the purpose before being taken down again.
Primarily found within the nations of Germanic Europe and the neighbouring areas which they have influenced, its origins remain unknown, although it has been speculated that it originally had some importance in the Germanic paganism of Iron Age and early Medieval cultures, and that the tradition survived Christianisation, albeit losing any original meaning that it had. It has been a recorded practice in many parts of Europe throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods, although became less popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the tradition is still observed in some parts of Europe and among European communities in North America.
Some scholars[who?] classify maypoles as symbols of the world axis (axis mundi). The fact that they were found primarily in areas of Germanic Europe, where, prior to Christianisation, Germanic paganism was followed in various forms, has led to speculation that the maypoles were in some way a continuation of a Germanic pagan tradition. One theory[by whom?] holds that they were a remnant of the Germanic reverence for sacred trees, as there is evidence for various sacred trees and wooden pillars that were venerated by the pagans across much of Germanic Europe, including Thor's Oak and the Irminsul. It is also known that, in Norse paganism, cosmological views held that the universe was a world tree, known as Yggdrasil. There is therefore speculation[by whom?] that the maypole was in some way a continuance of this tradition.
The floor of the Mære Church, Norway, was excavated in 1969, and found to contain the remains of a pagan cult structure. The nature of that structure was not clear. Lidén felt this represented the remains of a building, but a critique by Olsen (1969:26) in the same work suggested this may have be been a site for pole-related rituals. A recent review of the evidence by Walaker (Norddide 2011: 107-113) concluded that this site was similar to the site in Hove (Åsen, also in Nord-Trøndelag) and was therefore likely the site of a ceremonial pole.
Pole symbolism in Asia
China and East Asia
A jangseung or village guardian is a Korean ceremonial pole, usually made of wood. Jangseungs were traditionally placed at the edges of villages to mark for village boundaries and frighten away demons. They were also worshipped as village tutelary deities.
The Middle East
An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother-goddess Asherah, consort of El. The relation of the literary references to an asherah and archaeological finds of Judaean pillar-figurines has engendered a literature of debate.
The asherim were also cult objects related to the worship of the fertility goddess Asherah, the consort of either Ba'al or, as inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom attest, Yahweh, and thus objects of contention among competing cults. The insertion of "pole" begs the question by setting up unwarranted expectations for such a wooden object: "we are never told exactly what it was", observes John Day. Though there was certainly a movement against goddess-worship at the Jerusalem Temple in the time of King Josiah, it did not long survive his reign, as the following four kings "did what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh" (2 Kings 23:32, 37; 24:9, 19). Further exhortations came from Jeremiah. The traditional interpretation of the Biblical text is that the Israelites imported pagan elements such as the Asherah poles from the surrounding Canaanites. In light of archeological finds, however, modern scholars now theorize that the Israelite folk religion was Canaanite in its inception and always polytheistic, and it was the prophets and priests who denounced the Asherah poles who were the innovators; such theories inspire ongoing debate.
In present times in Indian subcontinent several festivals and celebrations, as in Hinglajmata Sindh, Gudi Padwa, KathiKawadi, Jatarakathi, Nandidhwaja, khambadev (Maharashtra), Nimad (Madhya Pradesh), Gogaji temple (Rajasthan) and khambeshvari (Orisa) then in Tripura and in Manipur, central poles are features in temple and festival settings.
According to Adi Parva (critical edition) of Indian epic Mahabharata a Bamboo festival named Shakrotsava was Celebrated in Chedi Kingdom. Uparichara Vasu was a king of Chedi belonging to the Puru dynasty. He was known as the friend of Indra. During his reign, Chedi kingdom introduced 'Shakrotsava' festival in his kingdom in the honor of Indra. The festival involved planting of a bamboo pole every year, in honor of Indra. The king will then pray for the expansion of his cities and kingdom. After erecting the pole, people decked it with golden cloth and scents and garlands and various ornaments. (1,63).
Burmese Kay Hotoe Boe festival
Kay Htoe Boe is a Karenni ancient dance and prayer festival, held by the men in the Kayan community in Myanmar (Burma). In the Kayan creation story, the Eugenia tree is the first tree in the world. Kay Htoe Boe poles are usually made from the Eugenia tree.
Kay Htoe Boe poles have four levels, named for the stars, sun and moon, and the fourth level is a ladder made with a long white cotton cloth.
Pacific staff gods
In the Cook Islands Cult figures called staff-gods or atua rakau from Rarotonga, apparently combine images of gods with their human descendants. They range in length between 28 inches (71 cm) and 18 feet (5.5 m) and were carried and displayed horizontally.
- Asherah pole
- Bisj pole
- Peace pole
- Trees in mythology
- Sacred groves
- Totem pole
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- Nuttall, Zelia (March 1901). The Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilizations (E-Book ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. pp. 362, 504. Retrieved 25 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0-415-15804-4, ISBN 978-0-415-15804-6, p. 119.
- Frazer, James George (1922). The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. p. Chapter 10:: Relics of Tree Worship in Modern Europe. Retrieved 28 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- 'The London quarterly review, Volumes 113-114', Theodore Foster, 1863, p. 117.
- 'The History of Religions' By Hopkins Edward Washburn, The McMillan Company 1929, p. 166.
- European paganism: the realities of cult from antiquity to the Middle Ages by Ken Dowden, Routledge, 2000, ISBN 0-415-12034-9, ISBN 978-0-415-12034-0, p. 119.
- 'Nart sagas from the Caucasus: myths and legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs' by John Colarusso, Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-691-02647-5, ISBN 978-0-691-02647-3, p. 102.
- 'The early history and antiquities of Freemasonry: as connected with ancient Norse guilds, and the oriental and mediæval building fraternities' by George Franklin Fort, Bradley, 1881, p. 361.
- Lidén, Hans-Emil. 1969. From Pagan Sanctuary to Christian Church, the Excavation of Mære Church in Trøndelag. Norwegian Archaeological Review. (1969) 2, pp. 3–32.
- Walaker Nordeide, Sæbjorg. 2011. The Viking Age As a Period of Religious Transformation: The Christianization of Norway from AD 560 to 1150/1200. ISBN 2503534805, Brepols Publishers.
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- Sarah Iles Johnston, ed. Religions of the Ancient World, (Belnap Press, Harvard) 2004, p. 418; the book-length scholarly treatment is W.L. Reed, The Asherah in the Old Testament (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press) 1949; the connection of the pillar figurines with Asherah was made by Raphael Patai in The Hebrew Goddess (1967)
- Summarized and sharply criticized in Raz Kletter's The Judean Pillar-Figurines and the Archaeology of Asherah (Oxford: Tempus Reparatum), 1996; Kletter gives a catalogue of material remains but his conclusions were not well received in the scholarly press
- W.G. Dever, "Asherah, Consort of Yahweh? New Evidence from Kuntillet ʿAjrûd" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research,1984; D.N. Freedman, "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah", The Biblical Archaeologist, 1987; Morton Smith, "God Male and Female in the Old Testament: Yahweh and his Asherah" Theological Studies, 1987; J.M. Hadley "The Khirbet el-Qom Inscription", Vetus Testamentum, 1987
- John Day, "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature" Journal of Biblical Literature 105.3 (September 1986:385-408) p 401; asherim are discussed pp 401-04.
- William G. Dever, Did God have a wife?: Archaeology and folk religion in ancient Israel, 2005, esp. pp
- Shmuel Ahituv (2006), Did God have a wife?, Biblical Archaeology Review, Book Review
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- Adi Parva (critical edition) of Indian epic Mahabharata 1.63
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- A world history of art by Hugh Honour & John Fleming (2005)