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Lucian of Samosata – De Dea Syria



Type of Spiritual Experience


Atargatis was the chief goddess of northern Syria in Classical Antiquity.  Ctesias also used the name Derceto for her, and the Romans called her Dea Syriae ("Syrian goddess"). Primarily she was a goddess of fertility, but, as the baalat ("mistress") of her city and people, she was also responsible for their protection and well-being. Her chief sanctuary was at Hierapolis, modern Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, Syria. She is sometimes described as a mermaid-goddess.

A description of the experience

Lucian of Samosata – De Dea Syria

A Description of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite in Byblos, Syria

I saw a likeness of Derketo in Phoenicia, a strange sight! It is a woman for half its length, but from the thighs to the tops of the feet a fish’s tail stretches out … They consider fish something sacred and they never touch one.  They eat all other birds apart from the dove.  For them this is sacred ... well perhaps I accept the temple as a work of Semiranus, but I certainly cannot believe that the sanctuary belongs to Derketo.  For among the Egyptians, some people do not eat fish and they do not do this to honour Derketo…………

There is also a lake there, not far from the sanctuary.  In it many sacred fish of different kinds are raised.  Some of them become quite large.  These fish have names and come when they are summoned.  When I was there, there was one among them wearing gold.  On its fin rests a golden artefact.  I often saw the fish and it always had the object.  The depth of the lake is great.  I did not test it, but they say it is more than 1,200 feet deep.  In its middle stands an altar of stone.  At first glance you might think it is adrift and floating on the water and many actually believe that it is, but I think that a great pole stands beneath it and supports the altar.  It is always garlanded and has incense and each day many people, to fulfill a vow, swim out and carry garlands.

The source of the experience

Greek Mysteries

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Enacting ritual and ceremony