Return from the underworld   العودة من العالم السفلي

Goldilocks شتيله  –  كتيلة  – صفيرا
Chiliadenus Iphionoides
Least Concern  غير مهدد بالإنقراض
MOT موت
Return from the underworld   العودة من العالم السفلي

Ba’ali Series #3  

*Ba’ali series was created following an art installation called ‘Ba’ali,’ which I made for Darat Al Fanun’s “Re-rooting” exhibition curated by Rana Beiruti that runs from March 1st to September 30th, 2022, in Amman, Jordan. Each blog post will be a standalone piece, but for those interested in getting a fuller picture of the ‘Ba’ali’ concept I am exploring, each piece can be read as part of a bigger series. I will for sure write about the 3 plants I used in the exhibition, and I will see if I have energy and there is interest. The ‘Ba’ali’ art piece was inspired by a concept we still see in our Levantine culture today: plants and trees that live off rainwater alone. Ba’al also refers to the Canaanite storm god my ancestors revered, and this exploration centers around the Canaanite myth, the Ba’al cycle. Eventually, I will share more on my blog about the actual installation itself. For those in Jordan, be sure to go see it in person, as there are many participating artists and organizations whose amazing work and research are on exhibit. 

Lately, I have been fascinated by dead trees. Watching their trunks decay back into the soil, a slow, restful state of decomposing and silence. The image of what the Canaanite deity of the underworld, Mot, represents. Mot, a word we still use in Levantine Arabic to mean death (موت), is the god of the underworld, of death, of sterility, of dryness, of the desert, of drought, of decay. Mot was not seen as evil; instead, he was feared and respected and seen as one part of the Canaanite father god Els’ divine plan for the cycles of the seasons, agriculture, and life. 

Death is one of the most effortless things in the world, yet we are literally taught to fight against this stillness, this surrender. There are different kinds of deaths, from the most literal to the most subtle, and everything in between. We live in a world so afraid of death; this archetype and reality are so repressed in our minds that we literally create the conditions for death all around us.

I recently read that in Jordan alone, over 90% of rainwater is lost to evaporation and runoff from soil erosion. Groundwater levels continue to sink and not be replenished. And temperatures continue to rise. The cause behind this mess we’re in is Mot out of balance. Drought and climate change are a result of human interference, such as colonization, capitalism, and the erasure of indigenous ways, languages, cultures, and peoples. This is Mot repressed, feared, not faced and seen for what and who he truly is.

In the story of the Ba’al Cycle, Mot is the character that humbles Ba’al and helps him step more fully into his role. Ba’als’ need to be humbled is twofold. Firstly, his defeat of the god of chaos and the sea, Yamm, has put the world out of balance. Secondly, Ba’al doesn’t invite Mot to a feast to celebrate the building of his new home, thus solidifying himself in the pantheon of gods but insulting death itself. The story goes that Mot threatens to devour Ba’al like a lamb and makes good on that promise.

Another interesting version of the story goes that Mot, wanting revenge, invites Ba’al to a meal in the underworld, a feast of mud, the food of death itself. Ba’al, unable to refuse this invitation, gets stuck in the land of no return. Interestingly, soil embodies the epitome of death and life that Mot offers us. What decays into soil becomes the fertilizer for seeds to grow and thrive. As with any other underworld journey, the promise of rebirth is only a matter of time. The metaphor of mud thus seems quite apt.

Even though Mot appears as an adversary to Ba’al, he is needed to help Ba’al remember his place in the cycle of agriculture. Life and death alternate at different times in ruling the world, attesting to the importance of all the seasons, not just Ba’als rainy and fertile season.

I chose to write on this subject first because of my fascination with the idea of ‘ba’ali’ plants. This is a term used in the Levant to refer to plants, domesticated or wild, that live off rainwater alone. For many months of the year in the Levant, these plants can survive and thrive without any water. These plants are known to be healthier and offer more phytonutrients than domesticated plants that are irrigated and dependent on human input for their survival.

The wild native plant I connected to Mot is a plant that has been speaking to me for some time now. Walking through many parts of Jordan in late spring and early summer, you will often come across a scent that is sweet and fruity. This scent called me to it, and I found it growing out of rocks. The leaves slightly resemble sage leaves, yet they tend to twist and turn and are quite thick and oily. This beauty is Goldilocks, Chiliadenus Iphionoides.

I was definitely in love with the fragrant, spicy, and somehow fruity scent and taste, the way it makes me feel when I drink it in hot water. I deeply respect plants that grow out of rocks; what an incredible feat. In the peak of the summer heat, this plant flowers in the height of the dry season, and its small yellow flowers that resemble stars come to bloom.

Goldilocks is the perfect companion to this underworld energy. This plant once came to me in a dream to tell me that it can support humans in processing what I call “the grief that has no name.” This is ancestral trauma; this is the trauma from childhood. These wounds became a part of us so early on in our lives that we forget their existence and how they affect our lives. These are the wounds that show up as personality traits and ways of being that are so ingrained we feel they will never change.

So when we link this to what is actually dying in our underworld journeys, this plant is the perfect ally to support us in letting go of old stories. These old ways keep us tied to beliefs that hurt us and keep us held down. Mots’ true nature is to help free us from our shackles and wounds. Mot is, therefore, a liberator once we learn how to work with this archetype.

I have said it in previous explorations, and this time was no different; when these archetypes come into your life, their presence will be felt and honest. When the god of the underworld comes into your life, you better be ready to be stripped of something you hold dear.

But as with all rules of underworld journeys, whatever is taken from you will be returned, just sometimes in new forms to better match the wisdom you have gained after experiencing a symbolic death and rebirth. This deity made itself present in one of the most important relationships in my life. And it ripped that relationship to threads, to nothing, to silence, to an absolute halt.

It wasn’t that the relationship died; it was those old ways of being in the relationship that no longer contributed to the growth of the two people that ended. What happens after that? If the relationship ends or is reborn, that is up for a time to tell. That is also not the point of this article; as I already said, new life is always inevitable, and how and when is just a matter of time.

While Ba’al may appear to be the hero of this journey, who saves life on earth with his power of rain, Mot and the other archetypes play an essential role. Ba’al would be nothing without them. When we explore these indigenous stories and mythologies outside of structures of individualism, power over, and competition, we can find new pathways of understanding. Outdated ideas, such as those of the hero who saves others or saves the world, no longer stand up to scrutiny. We cannot save each other. We cannot save those we love. We cannot save this earth or protect the soil. We cannot save anything but ourselves.

What I mean by saving ourselves is to learn what it means to truly love not only ourselves, not only other humans but every living thing on this earth. That doesn’t mean we master love. It doesn’t mean we love ourselves first. It means we have a working relationship with love, where we constantly identify anything that is not love, moving through that into a deeper and more profound connection with ourselves, others, and everything.

Ultimately, to truly love is to learn how to be in a relationship. In our current world paradigm, we must relearn this for all connections. It is a continuous unraveling and reweaving, a reconnecting to all life. Essentially, bringing life back into all we do, touch, and connect to.

When saved by this love, we can show up truly for others, for land, for true freedom, and for the community. Ba’al has to die in the Ba’al cycle and is stuck in the underworld. Yet it is his arrogance that passes, his disrespect of death, of the wisdom that grief, loss, and Mot offer him.

It’s interesting to note that in this mythology, Mot literally embodies death, the seed that brings forth new life, thus affirming the underworld’s promise for rebirth. When Anath, the sister of Ba’al, captures Mot, she winnows him with her fan, the same way that grain is blown using a strong wind to separate the husk from the seed. She grinds him, again like wheat and other grains, and burns him. In some versions of the story, she scatters his body across the landscape; in others, she plants him in the ground. It is through these seeds of grain that Ba’al is then reborn, making a clear connection between Ba’al and wheat, another exploration for a later time.

This is yet another clear analogy of how death is a much-needed part of the cycle of life. Each year, what springs forth with life, will eventually decay back into the earth. It will ultimately be used as fertilizer and fuel for the soil and everything nourished by that soil. This sacrifice of Mot, this embodiment of death itself, brings Ba’al and the nourishing rains back to earth.

Resurrection stories abound from my homelands, and the story of the Ba’al Cycle is no different. We have established that rebirth is effortless, but you must be patient and await the right conditions to align. This period of lingering in the underworld can feel grueling. Our instinct is to act, do, and fix, but the netherworld asks you to wait, rest, and surrender. This doesn’t mean we put our lives on hold and lay on the couch, doing nothing. Sometimes we have to go through the motions; we let go of old ways and cultivate new ways. Ideally, we also rest and make space for new life.

The only way to make it through the grief of loss that Mot brings is to hold yourself like you are your inner child. I recently listened to a podcast episode of “Hidden Brain: You 2.0: Befriending Your Inner Voice”. This episode spoke of research on the benefit of talking to yourself in the third person to address the negative self-talk many fall prey to.  

In studies with people who spoke to themselves in the first person versus those who talked to themselves in the third person, there was a big difference in how they felt when they needed to address that chattering and often mean voice in their minds. You can feel it in your body. Try saying these two statements to yourself:

  1. I got this; I can get through this.
  2.  [your name] you got this, you can do this.

How did that feel in your body? The first is comforting, yet the second feels like it comes from a dear friend or even a parent to a child.  

Exploring the realms of Mot can be a scary and, at times, complex space to venture into. Listening to an episode of the Palestine Pod with Adnan Barq, he discusses how the sentiment of people in Palestine is that they could be killed at any moment, and nobody will be held accountable. The Israeli murder machine continues to get away with murdering not only an icon like beloved journalist Shireen Abu Akleh but everyone else. 

He shared how the sentiment is that they must continue to document each other every day so that when they are gone, whether shot down or dying a slow death from the colonization of their lands, then at least there is documentation of their existence. At least on their grounds, the people left after them can celebrate and remember them. What an act of love, courage, and life amid Mot out of balance.  

The archetype of Mot is a powerful catalyst. Connecting to this energy inside us can remove obstacles from our path, anything that does not love that prevents us from accessing our authentic connections. Sometimes in the grips of Mot, it can feel impossible to surrender and allow the death of the old way. In these moments, we must find utter gentleness with ourselves.  

Plant allies such as Goldilocks can be great to support us through these times of grief and letting go. It is also vital we keep the torch of Shapash, the sun goddess who you can read about here, lit and keep an eye on the old thoughts because they will creep back in as if they are an essential part of you. It will feel that if they shift, you will literally die and crumble and cease to exist.  

At the end of the myth, Mot returns to once again challenge Ba’al. Here, it is through the wisdom, compassion, and intervention of Shapash that Mot decides to back down. Thus even Mot must be humbled and remember his place in the cycle of agriculture. He, too, is just one element in an entire system that will only work by being in the right relationship with each aspect and archetype.  


A note on references: It’s important to me to reference specific articles and people where this information comes from. It gives people credit and offers readers a chance to do further research on their own, making their own connections and insights. It is also essential for me to say that knowledge can come in ways other than academic articles, courses, and people. The natural elements have so much to teach us through observation and deep listening. So sometimes, my references are a specific tree, the wind, fire, water, soil, or an animal. Other times it is a feeling, an insight, or an intuition. Sometimes it is an experience or a dream. Part of my research process is the reclamation of these other and equally valid ways of learning, understanding, relating, and connecting to our world.  

Many of the references for this article can also be found in my previous articles on Asherah and Shapash found here:   and here: 

“Stories from Ancient Canaan” by Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith.

The Assyrian Priestess project, which can be found on Instagram @the_assyrian_priestess and on Patreon

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