Purim Fertility Worship

Purim is a pre-spring (before Passover) full-moon festival. Purim shares a history and holiday themes with many cultures and religions from ancient Babylonia to modern times.

Why pre-spring?

One of the ancient explanations for crops dying in winter and then miraculously coming to life in the spring is that after Persephone was abducted to the Underworld, her mother Demeter (the goddess of all that grows) would not stop crying. Halfway between the winter's beginning and spring's beginning- a time in February- Demeter's nursemaid, Baubo, decided to help her by making Demeter laugh. Demeter's laugh transformed the Earth and brought on spring.

There are several "laughing" pre-spring holidays that remain today, including Carnival/Mardi Gras and of course, Purim.

Susan Schnur writes that Groundhogs day on February 2- the six-week "hinge" between winter and spring is "an ancient weather divination day" from the Pennsylvania Dutch. Punxsutawney Phil either sees his shadow or doesn't, predicting whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. This season "Imbolc/Candlemas" is "an age-old time of taking omens for the coming season" which included reading dice, tea leaves, and casting lots. The word "Purim" means "lots" referring to Haman's casting lots to know which day and month to murder the Jews of Shushan.

Groundhogs, as seen in pre-historic cave art, are ancient symbols of the deities of regeneration.

Speaking of regeneration: There is an ancient concept of the parthenogenetic goddess which means one who creates life out of herself. This later surfaces as the Christian idea of Immaculate Conception. Ancient petroglyphs and amulets often symbolize this concept as a triangle with dots, or seeds, inside.

We'll get back to that symbol in a moment.

(ז) וַיְהִ֨י אֹמֵ֜ן אֶת־הֲדַסָּ֗ה הִ֤יא אֶסְתֵּר֙

(7) [Mordechai] was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther.

"Hadassah" is the feminine form of the Hebrew word "Hadas," meaning "myrtle." "Hadas" is found several times in the Tanach.

But the origin of "Esther" is unclear. Most likely it is a foreign (non-Hebrew) word. The following are two of the possibilities accepted by scholars:

1. Esther, according to the Talmud, is the gentile name of Hadassah. Hadassah referred to the "star-Venus."

2. The name Esther comes from the Babylonian goddess named Ishtar. In fact, there is an argument that Esther and Mordecai, names that are atypical of biblical language, are associated with the Babylonian gods, "Ishtar" and "Marduk" who are also cousins in the Babylonian tradition.

Ancient Israelite women worshipped Ishtar baking small cakes in her image. There is archeological evidence found in Mari, a site in northwest Mesopotamia, where several clay molds in the image of a nude female figure were found.

Is there evidence of this practice in our holy texts?

We see a reference to this in Jeremiah as cakes and offerings to the Queen of Heaven:

(יח) הַבָּנִ֞ים מְלַקְּטִ֣ים עֵצִ֗ים וְהָֽאָבוֹת֙ מְבַעֲרִ֣ים אֶת־הָאֵ֔שׁ וְהַנָּשִׁ֖ים לָשׁ֣וֹת בָּצֵ֑ק לַעֲשׂ֨וֹת כַּוָּנִ֜ים לִמְלֶ֣כֶת הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וְהַסֵּ֤ךְ נְסָכִים֙ לֵאלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים לְמַ֖עַן הַכְעִסֵֽנִי׃

(18) The children gather sticks, the fathers build the fire, and the mothers knead dough, to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven, and they pour libations to other gods, to vex Me.

(טו) וַיַּעֲנ֣וּ אֶֽת־יִרְמְיָ֗הוּ כָּל־הָאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הַיֹּֽדְעִים֙ כִּֽי־מְקַטְּר֤וֹת נְשֵׁיהֶם֙ לֵאלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים וְכָל־הַנָּשִׁ֥ים הָעֹמְד֖וֹת קָהָ֣ל גָּד֑וֹל וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם הַיֹּשְׁבִ֥ים בְּאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֖יִם בְּפַתְר֥וֹס לֵאמֹֽר׃ (טז) הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֥רְתָּ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ שֹׁמְעִ֖ים אֵלֶֽיךָ׃ (יז) כִּ֩י עָשֹׂ֨ה נַעֲשֶׂ֜ה אֶֽת־כָּל־הַדָּבָ֣ר ׀ אֲשֶׁר־יָצָ֣א מִפִּ֗ינוּ לְקַטֵּ֞ר לִמְלֶ֣כֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם֮ וְהַסֵּֽיךְ־לָ֣הּ נְסָכִים֒ כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשִׂ֜ינוּ אֲנַ֤חְנוּ וַאֲבֹתֵ֙ינוּ֙ מְלָכֵ֣ינוּ וְשָׂרֵ֔ינוּ בְּעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וּבְחֻצ֖וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וַנִּֽשְׂבַּֽע־לֶ֙חֶם֙ וַנִּֽהְיֶ֣ה טוֹבִ֔ים וְרָעָ֖ה לֹ֥א רָאִֽינוּ׃ (יח) וּמִן־אָ֡ז חָדַ֜לְנוּ לְקַטֵּ֨ר לִמְלֶ֧כֶת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהַסֵּֽךְ־לָ֥הּ נְסָכִ֖ים חָסַ֣רְנוּ כֹ֑ל וּבַחֶ֥רֶב וּבָרָעָ֖ב תָּֽמְנוּ׃ (יט) וְכִֽי־אֲנַ֤חְנוּ מְקַטְּרִים֙ לִמְלֶ֣כֶת הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּלְהַסֵּ֥ךְ לָ֖הּ נְסָכִ֑ים הֲמִֽבַּלְעֲדֵ֣י אֲנָשֵׁ֗ינוּ עָשִׂ֨ינוּ לָ֤הּ כַּוָּנִים֙ לְהַ֣עֲצִבָ֔ה וְהַסֵּ֥ךְ לָ֖הּ נְסָכִֽים׃ (פ)

(15) Thereupon they answered Jeremiah—all the men who knew that their wives made offerings to other gods; all the women present, a large gathering [...] (16) “We will not listen to you in the matter about which you spoke to us in the name of the LORD. (17) On the contrary, we will do everything that we have vowed—to make offerings to the Queen of Heaven לִמְלֶ֣כֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם֮ and to pour libations to her, as we used to do, we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem. [...] (19) And when we make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pour libations to her, is it without our husbands’ approval that we have made cakes in her likeness and poured libations to her?”

As well as this glimpse into the Abraham and Sarah fertility journey:

(ו) וַיְמַהֵ֧ר אַבְרָהָ֛ם הָאֹ֖הֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מַהֲרִ֞י שְׁלֹ֤שׁ סְאִים֙ קֶ֣מַח סֹ֔לֶת ל֖וּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂ֥י עֻגֽוֹת׃ (ז) וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיִּקַּ֨ח בֶּן־בָּקָ֜ר רַ֤ךְ וָטוֹב֙ וַיִּתֵּ֣ן אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וַיְמַהֵ֖ר לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת אֹתֽוֹ׃ (ח) וַיִּקַּ֨ח חֶמְאָ֜ה וְחָלָ֗ב וּבֶן־הַבָּקָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וַיִּתֵּ֖ן לִפְנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהֽוּא־עֹמֵ֧ד עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם תַּ֥חַת הָעֵ֖ץ וַיֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ (ט) וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵׄלָׄ֔יׄוׄ אַיֵּ֖ה שָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתֶּ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּ֥ה בָאֹֽהֶל׃ (י) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר שׁ֣וֹב אָשׁ֤וּב אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ כָּעֵ֣ת חַיָּ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־בֵ֖ן לְשָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתֶּ֑ךָ וְשָׂרָ֥ה שֹׁמַ֛עַת פֶּ֥תַח הָאֹ֖הֶל וְה֥וּא אַחֲרָֽיו׃

(6) Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick, three seahs of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!” (7) Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it. (8) He took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree as they ate. (9) They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he replied, “There, in the tent.” (10) Then one said, “I will return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son!” Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent, which was behind him.

Bread is the "fruit of Demeter" (the first goddess mentioned above connected to the rebirth of spring) and all the great fertility goddesses. On the subject of ancient women and bread making Lesley Hazelton writes:

"For bread has an awesome relationship to Gaia, earth, in whose 'womb' the seed is planted to multiply, grow, and become a life-giving element. In the sacred mystery of bread, every woman could view herself as possessing a portion of the creative power of the gods, for in every act of intercourse, conception, and birth, the sowing of the seeds, the miracle of life and death, is repeated." (203)

Baking "bread goddesses" was another ancient fertility rite that is still observed by Jews worldwide. In Morocco some traditions include baking small breads filled with hard-boiled eggs. In Egypt there is a tradition of filling deep-fried pastries with nuts and oozing honey. There is also a tradition of eating figs and pomegranates.

Hamantaschen are a modern version of Isthar fertility cakes which arose in 18th century Europe invented by German bakers.

Hamantaschen are a pre-spring fertility celebration, a "womb triangle" with seeds (originally black poppy seeds) inside. The color black is also an old European symbol of fertility and Mother Earth.

Poppy seeds, "mun," were used in the traditional "haMUNtashen." The origin of the word hamantaschen comes from "mun" and "tashcen" meaning "poppy pockets."

"Mahn" of course sounds like "Haman" which lends itself easily to the rabbis retroactively explaining the treat as related to the villian of our story.

Sources Used:

From Prehistoric Cave Art to Your Cookie Pan: Tracing the Hamantasch Herstory, Susan Schnur, Lilith Magazine


The Book of Esther and the "Enuma Elish," Adam Silverstein, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


This Vagina Goddess Is The Best Ancient Symbol You've Never Heard Of, Lynn Peril


Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother, Lesley Hazleton, Bloomsbury Publishing

The Meaning of the Name Esther, A.S. Yahuda, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland


Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader, ed. Alice Bach, "And the Women Knead Dough" The Worship of the Queen of Heaven in Sixth-Century Judah," Susan Ackerman, Routledge

Yes, There's a Reason Hamantaschen Look Like Vaginas, Arielle Kaplan, alma.