The History and Significance of the Goddess Al Uzza

Like her sister, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza (also known as El ‘Ozza) is not a goddess that the general public is aware of once they first read her name. However, Al-Uzza is a goddess that had a great impact in the pre-Islamic Arabia location.

Al-Uzza was regarded as one of the three daughters of the supreme god, Allah. Worshipped in the form of a black stone, which was inscribed with a mark or indentation called the ‘Impression of Aphrodite’, she was indentified with the morning star (Cotterell & Storm, p.262) and the consort of Dushares.

The goddess was closely associated with water and springs; one fountain has been associated with her. A “votive fountain in the form of a lion carved into a rock face. Water transported down from the rocky summit via a deeply cut channel, poured out through an opening in the lion’s mouth into a basin below” (Bedal, p.230).

Al-Uzza seems to be the great mother goddess in the mythology from Petra (where she was considered a goddess of the city) as reflected in a late source from Epiphanius of Salamis. The Nabataeans venerated their deities in betyls (aniconic stone slabs) and Al-Uzza is mentioned on a great many of them.  A votive inscription on the face of a rock on a stepped path to Jabal al- Khubth, reads “These are the betyls of Al-‘Uzza and of the Lord of the House, made by Wahballahi, the caravan-leader, son of Zaidan” (Wenning, p.80).From this inscription, we can clearly read that Al-Uzza was the main goddess at Petra. The “Lord of the House” is understood by most scholars as a title of Dushara, the main deity of Petra and the tutelary deity of the Nabataean tribe and its royal dynasty.

Archaeologists have found evidence that human sacrifice was offered to Al-Uzza (Cotterell & Storm, p.262) as she formed the centre of a sacrificial cult.

It has been said that the prophet Muhammad showed particular reverence for this goddess and that he took the sacred Black Stone of Islam and placed it on the ka’aba, the shrine in Mecca. The cult of Al-Uzza was served by priestesses who, even after the arrival of Islam, were the guardians of the shrine and were still called the “Sons of the Old Woman” (Cotterell & Storm).

Bibliography:

Bedal, Leigh-Anne (2002) Desert Oasis: Water Consumption and Display in the Nabataean Capital, Near Eastern Archaeology, The American Schools of Oriental Research.

Cotterell, Arthur & Storm, Rachel (1999) The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hermes House, Anness Publishing House.

Wenning, Robert (2001) The Betyls of Petra, Bulletin of the Schools of Oriental Research, The American Schools of Oriental Research.

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