The Worship of Soil, Stone, and Salt in Armenia

The Worship of Soil, Stone, and Salt in ArmeniaSoil is the mother of all goods that are used by the people and every representative of the animal kingdom. In Armenia, soil is considered a motherly figure because of the similarities between it and motherhood. This was deeply reflected in the Armenian culture.

In antiquity, soil was considered a living creature endowed with magical powers. That’s why Persian king Shapur II by deceit invited Armenian king Arshak II to Ctesiphon in order to make sure of his loyalty. As advised by his priestesses, he ordered his men to bring two packs of soil and a vessel of water from Armenia.

Shapur ordered to cover the half of the royal premises with Armenian soil and water it, while the rest was to be covered with Persian soil. During the meet, Arshak felt subdued each time he stepped on the Persian soil. On the other hand, the soil of his homeland made him neglect the presence of Shapur with royal dignity. The philosophy of this legend is that everyone is strong and unbeatable only in his homeland.

The veneration of soil and water is explained by the fact that witches-soothsayers are said to have been making magical amulets with the help of the soil. Although Christian clerks have been violently opposing the cult of soil, they used it as well. With soil taken from the shrine-graves of Christian clerks, they have not only attempted to heal people and animals but also cure infertility in women.

The worship of stone is as old as the cult of soil in Armenia. The reasons for the veneration of stone were most probably its abundance and its fire-creating abilities. Sparks occurring during the processing of stones with metals or other stones were, in the opinion of ancient people, a testimony to its alive essence.

Another reason for worship of stone was volcanoes. A multitude of cave paintings contain images of those natural rocky structures. The frightening phenomena relating to stone and its useful properties caused the ancient people to believe in evil and good spirits living in the stones. And ancient people disguised those spirits as humane figures and settled them in caves in the form of paintings.

Scholars think that from these animistic views emerged the idea that stones are sanctuaries of the souls of dead people. Professor Samuelyan thinks that that’s how the tradition of installing stones and later gravestones and khachkars on graves occurred.

Stone was also believed to be endowed with maternal features. That’s why the majority of the stone-monuments dedicated to fertility depict petrified women.

Another object of a cult was salt due to its crucial role in the diet. The animistic worship of salt is testified by the note of Hovhannes Mandakuni, in which he reproaches those using salt in the creation of magical amulets.

According to some accounts, the cult of salt was connected with fertility as well. Salt has been inseparable from goddess Anahit – both patronized mothers and children. This connection is evident because salt has been stored in vessels with images of Anahit on them. Most probably, ancient Armenians considered salt as the gift of goddess Anahit. They have been scattering salt on newborns and used it to purify their homes.

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