Fertility scenes in Rock Art
Fertility scenes in the Negev Desert Rock Art
The lack of water in the desert facilitated its dwellers to promote fertility rituals, see Sacred Marriage, imitating nature rejuvenation where earth and water played a major role. In our region, the Negev Desert they adopted from Egyptian myths, especially from the role of Osiris the Egyptian god of the underworld, Nile flood, and fertility. The fertility rites re-enacted, symbolically, sexual acts as reproductive processes of man, animals, and land. Spreading semen over land or water was a ceremonial act practiced in the ancient world to promote land fertility. The rock art presented here are a derivation of the Egyptian ritual incorporating the custom and the myth.
The Egyptian myth tells that Osiris killed by his brother Set who fancied the throne. Set chopped Osiris into fourteen pieces and threw them into the Nile River. Isis, Osiris wife, and sister, wandered the world and collected Osiris’ body pieces and put him back together inserting his semen into her body giving birth to Horus. Thus, Osiris became the god of the afterlife, the underworld, the dead, and the god of resurrection and regeneration. His death represented the yearly Egyptian drought, while his miraculous rebirth represented the Nile Valley flooding that yielded the agriculture magic in Egypt. To assure fertility Pharaoh performed a ceremony, which involved masturbating at the riverbank and spreading his semen throughout the Nile River’s waters to fertilize the river shores soil, a symbolic act of life cycle and fertility.
Osiris and Isis Celestial gods
The ancients Egyptians mapped the stars in different seasons and Osiris and Isis have been clearly identified in the sky scene represented by the Orion and Canis Major constellations as shown in Fig2.
In the Negev Desert rock art, they portrayed as an ibex followed by a dog a direct copy of Orion and Canis Major constellation. The constellations rise in wintertime announced the fertile season arrival in Negev Desert that prompted this ritual. In Egypt’s Pyramid Texts it is written: “Your sister Isis comes to you [Osiris] rejoicing for love of you. You have placed her on your phallus and your seed issues into her….”.
The sniffing dog scene in Negev Rock Art
Dogs navigate the world via their sensitive nose glands and their action of sniffing the crotch of humans or animals is their way of gathering information. Their sensitive nose can even detect ovulation, a state of fertility, in animals and people. Even today, Australian farmers using the dog’s ability to detect ovulating cows.
Fig4 illustrates the sniffing dog scene derived from the sky image representing, in the Negev Desert, the Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis. The myth crossed from Egypt to Negev Desert, therefore, the symbols of Osiris and Isis changed to the widespread representation of the ibex and the dog. The ibex and the dog symbolizing the appearance of Orion (Osiris) and Canis Major (Isis) in the winter considered the desert fertile season. By sniffing the ibex the dog symbolically entices the ibex to ejaculate sperm, notice the ibex phallus and the spray of semen underneath, an action that fertilizes the land. As described in the myth this action emulates Isis reviving Osiris with their appearance in the winter sky. Above them, you can see the formation of rainstorms and clouds as illustrated by the patches and dots.
This engraving visually records an imaginative ritual for desert generations to induce land fertility in concert with the stars’ appearance above. The adaptation of the dog behavior further intensified the earthly drama that made it real and easy to imagine. The Egyptian myth addition with the physical appearance of Osiris (Orion) in the winter sky, announcing the coming rains, made the fertility scene alive and even more believable.
More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.
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Ardakani ( 2016) An Evaluation of the Historical Importance of Fertility and Its Reflection in Ancient Mythology
BOTICA (2013) Weather, Agriculture, and religion in the Ancient Near East and in the Old Testament