This text excerpted below is illuminating on the processes of evolution, synthesis of theologies, cosmogonies that permeated the Mesopotamian/Middle Eastern/Anatolian/Persian cradles of civilization or cultural spheres:
“It is believed that the religious tradition which ascribes cosmic origins to a female principle originated among early sedentary-agricultural peoples settled into relatively large tribal units. The cosmic principle of the early sedentary-agricultural peoples, identified as the material creatrix in nature, and specifically with the earth on which the farmer depended for his living, was worshiped as the Earth Mother Goddess, or otherwise in maritime societies (the Phoenicians, for instance), as the “goddess of the Sea,” for water was taken as representative of the amniotic fluid-matrix of origin.
Steatopygous female figurines with swollen breasts, prominent bellies and pubic mounds go back to prehistoric cultures.
The Father-God or Father-Spirit worshiping cultures, however, were commonly nomadic-pastoralist or hunting groups and mountain peoples generally organized is smaller clannish units.
The tendency of nomadic tribes to worship a male creator deity rather than a creatrix goddess is widely attested to. Ancient nomadic desert and mountain peoples such as the ancient Hittites had strong and prominent sky deities. The Semitic nomadic-pastoralist ancestors of the Hebrews (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were also worshipers of nameless sky-atmospheric deities with the generic identity El (Arabic: Al-lah), who, in the case of the Hebrew clans, later acquired the name JEHOVAH/YEHOWAH (YHWH) after theological identification of their tribal El-deity with the deity of nomadic Canaanite brass-smith clans known as the Kenites.
The cross-cultural ethnographic evidence is commonly taken to indicate that in the transition from late Neolithic to early Historic times, a pattern in which nomadic-pastoralist and hunting peoples settled among sedentary farming societies and intermingled, either peacefully or by conquest, stimulated the emergence of early Historic civilization and the syncretistic merging of the cult of “father deities” with the cult of “mother deities,” as represented, for instance, in the pan-Mediterranean tradition of the Mother-Goddess and her male consort, who might either be a “husband” or a “son” of the Mother Goddess.
A sky-atmospheric deity in contrast to an earth-mother-goddess material creatrix principle is an abstract principle to his devotees who may tend, understandably, to avoid graven-image portraiture or representations of the deity: Thus, Moses would lecture the Hebrews (Exodus 4:15): “Take heed, therefore…for you saw no manner of similitude on the day Jehovah spake unto you in Horeb…lest you corrupt yourselves and make graven images in the similitude of anything…in the likeness of male or female…”
In connection with the tendency of abstractization of masculine sky deities, was the concept of abstract spirit-body metaphysical duality. In the fusion of the complementary schools of thought, and emergence of concepts of divine androgyny, the Great Mother deity was often a “virgin goddess” who had a fatherless son, representing the male principle. Thus, in Canaanite religious traditions, the Mother Goddess, or Asherah, was the mother of the gods (“lady of seas”).
Spirits infuse material forms to impart life, fecundity and fertility, thus, the Asherah of a male abstract principle or deity was a female figurine often stylized in a phallic symbolic form and thought of as infused with the fecundating essential presence of the masculinized abstract or spiritual principle in nature. The Asherah is typically shown with an emphasis on secondary sexual characteristics indicating the fecundating infusion of her being with masculinized and abstractized spiritual principle.
Early man noticed that trees are very long-lived and that when cut down the stumps have remarkable powers of self-regeneration (Daniel 4:11ff.). Early historic tree cults were, thus, generally resurrection cults of the dead. In Historic times, however, the most commonly used medium for these figurines was wood, a convention which goes back to the antique tradition of association of trees with the regenerative powers of nature. Evergreen trees were symbols of immortality and resurrection (the Christmas Holly tree, for instance) and the tree goddess was the patron goddess of spirits in afterlife.
Among the early dynastic Egyptians, for instance, there was an early form of the Canaanite Asherah cult with a tree goddess to whom a grove of evergreen trees was dedicated in cemeteries [Philpot at p. 8 says that the asherah it was either a living tree or a tree-like post but never a grove], and to which offerings of fruits, cakes and drinks were made regularly on behalf of the dead.
The evolution of the Baal-Asherah cult of Canaanite traditions from the early historic tree goddess cult explains the frequent association of Ancient Israelite Baal-Asherah cultic tradition with evergreen tree groves (see Deuteronomy 16:21: “Thous shalt not plant thee a grove of trees near the the altar of Yahweh thy God…neither shalt thou set up an image…”).
There is abundant evidence in the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures that the Baal-Asherah cults of the Canaanites were, at the core, “spirit possession” cults with a metaphysical dualistic philosophy in which the medium-devotee of the masculinized spirit deity sought mystical union with deity through magical rituals in which the idea of spirit possession as penetrative or invasive act was enacted in masochistic rituals involving the use of penetrative or stabbing and cutting implements (1 Kings 18:28; “And they–the Baalists–cried aloud and cut themselves with knives and lancets in their usual manner till blood gushed profusely”) and in sado-masochistic rituals of violently penetrative sex–both heterosexual and homosexual: see Judges 19:24-30; Genesis 19:4ff.
Thus, the male deity, coupled in an androgynous complex with the Asherah Goddess, in the Baal-Asherah cult, was very often a wildly violent war god represented by a stabbing or cutting weapon-implement (the most commonly used being the double-axe) or simply by a penile or phallic symbol seen also as a stabbing-penetrative “implement” in sadistic ritual penetrative sex.
We can explore the masochistic ritual signification of the Asherah phallic pole or figurine in the cognate mysteries of the fiery West African Yoruba sky-god of war, lightning bolts and thunder, Sango (Afro-Candomble/Lucumi: Xango). The Ose is the Yoruba equivalent of the Asherah pole in the cultic traditions of the Sango deity. Like the Asherah figurines of the Ancient Near East, the Ose is typically “graven,” that is, carved from wood (specifically “Ayan” wood: Distemonanthus benthamianus) and its form is essentially a double-axe phallic symbol representing the lightning-thunder bolts of Sango (Edun ara i.e. twin bolts: compare depictions of the Hittite Sutekh, in his form of Tarku, holding on to wriggling flahses of lightning, and grasping at a trident or double-axe; compare also the Babylonian Rammon or Rimmon–2 Kings 5:18–bearing a double axe and wriggling flashes of lightning). However, as in the phallic Asherah poles signifying the power of “penetrative” possession by masculinized spirit deity, Sango’s double-axe Ose, at closer examination, is a stylized carving of a typically serene faced woman (the Asherah goddess in Yoruba-Candomble tradition is YEWA
These same processes also affected the ancient formulations of world cosmogony and emergent core body of deities as well as regional mythical or tutelary giants that make up the Japanese pantheon of gods in the cultural heritage of the Japanese archipelago.