Sail, Pray, Steer Aspects of the Sacred Beliefs and Ritual Practices of Phoenician Seafarers

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Aaron Brody


Ancient seafarers faced dangers and fears posed by the sea and hazards of sailing.  Accordingly, specialized sacred beliefs and ritual practices developed among Phoenician mariners – the focus of this study – which were a subset of terrestrial religion. Sailors honored deities whose maritime, celestial, or meteorological attributes could either benefit or devastate a voyage. While on land, these divine patrons were worshipped in harbor temples and promontory shrines. While at sea, divine protection came from the ships themselves, which were considered to be imbued with a spirit of a deity; the vessels also contained sacred spaces that allowed for continued contact with the divine. Mariners performed religious
ceremonies to enlist and ensure divine protection and success for their voyages. Maritime features were also part of the funerary practices and mortuary rituals of seafarers. These specialized sacred beliefs and ritual practices were generated by the liminality of the deep and the unique uncertainties and perils at sea, and aided in Phoenician maritime exploration, commercial exchanges, and settlement that eventually spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic coasts of Iberia and Morocco.

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