The word 'Asherah is from the root 'ashar, to be straight, erect, or upright. From this comes the meaning, in a moral sense, to be upright, hence, to prosper or be happy. The 'Asherah was so called because it was something set upright or erect in the ground, and worshiped. The word occurs forty times, and only a careful study of each passage will give a correct view.
Compared with this, all that men may think or say about the 'Asherah is of little value. The word is always rendered grove or groves in the A.V.; and always left as a proper name in the R.V.
From a conspectus of the passages, we learn that it was either a living tree with the top cut off, and the stump or trunk fashioned into a certain shape (Deut. 16:21); or it was artificially fashioned and set erect in the ground (Isa. 17:8. 1Kings 14:15; 16:33). It was made of wood (Judg. 6:26) or stone. What the shape was is indicated in 1Kings 15:13, and 2Chron. 15:16, where in the A.V. "an idol in a grove", should be (as in the R.V.) "an abominable image for an 'Asherah". It could be "cut down" (Ex. 34:13, the first occurrence of the word); "plucked up" (Mic. 5:14); "burnt" (Deut. 12:3); or "broken in pieces" (2Chron. 34:4).
It is often coupled with mazzevoth, or stone "pillars" (R.V.) (and rendered images in A.V.), connected with Baal-worship. That it could not have been in a "grove" is clear from 2Kings 17:10, where it is forbidden to set one up "under any green tree". While it is distinguished from Ashtoreth the goddess, it is yet associated with that goddess, Ashtoreth being representative of the productive (or passive) principle of life; and Baal being representative of the generative (or active) principle.
The image which represents the Phoenician Ashtoreth of Paphos, as the sole object of worship in her temple, was an upright block of stone, anointed with oil, and covered with an embroidered cloth. Such stones are to be met with all over the Semitic world; especially in Babylonia, in Syria, Palestine and Arabia. Even the Mahommedan sacred stone (kaaba) at Mecca remains an object of reverence. The place Beth-el was so called because of its anointed stone. There was another Beth-el in Northern Israel.
Two columns of stone stood before every Phoenician temple. Those at Tyre are described by Herodotus (ii. 44); and the "pillars of the sun" are mentioned in 2Chron. 34:4. Isa. 17:8, &c. Like every form of "religion," it had to do with the "flesh;" and hence, by the law of evolution (which is seen operating only in human affairs) it soon became corrupted. Evolution is seen in the progress of man's works, because he begins from ignorance, and goes on learning by his mistakes and failures. From the moment he ends his works devolution at once sets in and deterioration begins. This is specially true in the "religious" sphere. All religions have become corrupt.
So with the 'Asherah. Originally a tree, symbolical of the "tree of life," it was an object of reverence and veneration. Then came the perversion of the earlier idea which simply honored the origin of life; and it was corrupted and debased into the organ of procreation, which was symbolized by the form and shape given to the 'Asherah. It was the Phallus image of Isa. 57:8, and the "image of the male", Ezek. 16:17. These symbols, in turn, became the incentive to all forms of impurity which were part of its libidinous worship, with the swarms of "devotees" involved in its obscene orgies.
The serpent was accepted as the symbol of the nexus, and was thus associated with the "pillar" and the "tree". Hence, it too became an object of worship. The principal factor in this form of Canaanite idolatry is that it was not a primitive conception of a religious rite, but the corruption of an earlier idea which began with honoring the origin of life. All the ancient systems of idolatry, connected with Astrology and Mythology, &c., were, in the same way, not original inventions of what was new; but the corruption of what was old, and the perversion of primitive truth.
There can be no doubt about its being, in its essence, Phallic worship pure and simple, whatever may have been its origin. This abomination was common to all the ancient nations; and relics of it are found to-day in various forms, in India and elsewhere. The menhirs of the Celtic religion are the true descendants of the 'Asherim.
At first it was created in the Canaanitish nations; and from them it spread to the others. It was the great abomination of Canaan, and that is one reason why the Canaanites, as the descendants of the Nephilim, had to be destroyed by the sword of Israel. The other reason was the origin of those nations themselves (see Ap. 23 and 25), with which it was closely connected. The first mention of the 'Asherah stamps it as being the special object of Jehovah's hatred. It is given to explain His name as "jealous"; for that is the name He takes in denouncing it. Compare His threats in 1Kings 14:15; 15:13; 16:32, 33; 2Chron. 36:14, &c. It led to Israel's banishment from the land; and subsequently to that of Judah's.
It is still preserved in veiled language in secret fraternities, Freemasonry, Theosophy (*1), and in the Roman Church; language so conceals it that probably those who use it to-day have little idea of what they are perpetuating; while the ancient symbols I O proclaim "sex as the true God of Hosts," as the Kabbala declares. A recrudescence of this is more than hinted at; and it will be better understood when "the abomination" of Antichrist shall stand once again (*2) in the Temple at Jerusalem (Matt. 24:15).
The following passages will show further the nature of this form of idolatry :-- Jer. 5:7; 7:30, 31; 19:4, 5; 37:34-35. Hos. 4:12-14. Amos 2:7-9. The word 'Asherah is noted in the margin of each passage where it occurs in The Companion Bible, but the following complete list is given to put the student in possession of the whole of the data; and thus to enable him to form his own conclusions.
(*1) See The Perfect Way, p. 2, and The Computation of 666, pp. 105-9.
(*2) Matt. 24:15; cp. Dan. 9:27; 12:11.