Tanit on Ibiza

by Monica Sjöö

Before her death in 2005, Monica Sjöö had been working on a book “Seeking Tanit: African/Semitic Great Goddess and Her people”. This was to be her last great work, in which she explored the origins and mysteries of the African Goddess. She passed the manuscript of this book to her friend and GA! editor Cheryl Straffon to publish and disseminate more widely. In this second of two extracts from the book, Monica looks at the traces of Tanit on the island of Ibiza.

Ibiza is a sucess story and the island is proud of its African, Phoenician, Arab and Catalonian heritage. While Phoenician Gadir/Cadiz fell to the Romans in 206 BCE, and the rest of Spain was being devastated by Rome in 200-19 BCE, Ibiza escaped destruction and plunder, but at a price, as it was robbed of its wealth and had to pay an enormous ransom for its freedom.

I visited Ibiza in February 1998 and stayed a week with a friend there. She was housesitting a beautiful old farm building, with arab style arches and an outdoor womblike bread oven, high up on a mountain, surrounded by pine forests as far as one could see. The island was indeed called Pitiuses by the Greeks, which means ‘Land of the pines’. The Catalans, who conquered the island in 1235 and ruled it in a very liberal and enlightened way, called it Eivissa, which means the same thing.

Ibiza was a great centre of mystery and healing, dedicated to Tanit. Tanit wears the cadeceus of the healers, and the elderly and sick of Carthage came to the island to be cured or die. They wished to be buried on Ibiza, the island of the Resurrection, and the signs of Tanit are abundant in Ibiza’s punic shaft graves or Hypogea (House of the Mother) dug out of the rock. There were 3000 Hypogea, with 6 coffins in each, used during a thousand years from c.645 BCE, in the necropolis, the City of the Dead at Puig des Moulins.

This lies on the slopes of the hill where the capital Eivissa is situated. The hill of Eivissa, like the hill of Byrsa on which Carthage was built, was the Holy Mountain that rose from the primeval waters. It was the breast and Venus mound of the Goddess Tanit.

Painted ostrich eggs and conical stones were put in the graves as symbols of resurrection. No grave stones or stelae, and no ‘Tophets’ (Tanit’s mortuary shrines) were found on Ibiza, but 600 small clay statuettes of Tanit were discovered at a cave sanctuary on the high mountain of Sant Vincent on northern Ibiza. The statuettes are bell-shaped torsos of Tanit, and She is portrayed variously as young, mature and aged, and She wears high headdresses and a mantle or cloak on which the cadeceus is sometimes found. They are housed in the Museum of Archaeology at Eivissa.

Mariano Plannels writes in the Magic Guide through Ibiza and Formentera that the nature of Tanit’s ‘cult’ is unknown, but that it was “the most magical cult of the Mediterranean”, but that it might also have had “blood-thirsty rites”. Another deity, the African dwarf God Bes, who was a protector of women in childbirth, was also important on Ibiza, and He had an important sanctuary there. The Carthagenians even called the island Ibosim (Island of Bes) which makes me think that women also came to Ibiza to give birth.

There had been a megalithic culture already c1800 BCE on the Balearic islands, and people would have arrived there in coracles, boats made of skin stretched over a wicker-frame. Ibiza was in a strategic position on the shipping lanes in the western Mediterranean. It was very important to Carthage, and when the Phoenicians first came there they made a settlement by the sea.

"Tanit on Ibiza" - Monica Sjöö (1999)

“Tanit on Ibiza” – Monica Sjöö (1999)

 Red-tinted water appeared one day and flowed to a hill. The people took this as a sign from Tanit, the water Her sacred menstrual flow, and they built Eivissa on that hill. The essence and spirit of the Goddess were believed to dwell in the waters, and omens for the future were spoken by underground springs, that miraculously sprang forth from the womb of Mother Earth. The new city was born with Her blessing.

Tanit is the mother of the waters in all its forms, and there are many wells and fountains with medicinal waters on Ibiza. There was singing and dancing by the fountains and outlets of rivers at certain times of the year. There are many sources of water in the pine-covered hills. Tanit, like Isht’art, brings life, fertility, purification, healing, breath and magnetic flow – and also death and resurrection. She was of the stars, and the Romans called Her Juno Celeste.

It seems that there are powerful occult forces in the land itself on Ibiza, an island in a volcanic zone, full of magnetic energies, faultlines and telluric earth powers. Spirits, ghosts and trolls are ‘seen’ by those who have the sight.

I can well believe this because I visited, or rather was in the presence of, the craggy pyramid-shaped high magnetic rock Es Vedra, in the sea near Sant Miguel. It is hypnotic and powerfully eerie, and known for its UFO sightings and even visions of Mary. Sirens sing there and carry the souls of the dead in their arms. The Magic Guide says that Tanit appears as a robed radiant Goddess with folded wings “gifted with nameless esoteric forces”, and that Ibiza conceals many secrets. Sacred sexuality was practiced by both women and men who served in Her temples.

Old women, in traditional costumes and wearing gold jewellery, used to appear at dances held in the church squares, and spectacular punic ritual dances were performed. There are still Punic remains in architecture, magic beliefs and dances on Ibiza. Magic dances were performed for Tanit on the threshing floors, and by wells, fountains and waterwheels, everywhere where water gushes out from Mother Earth. Musicians used drums, castanets made from juniper, and flutes from oleander.

I met the American architect Ralf Blakstad, who has Norwegian ancestry and has lived on Ibiza for many years. He has made himself an office within a large temple that he has built to Tanit. It also functions as a shrine to his beautiful wife, who died too young from cancer on Ibiiza. He took me to some of Tanit’s holy wells that I otherwise would never have found. Blakstad thinks that the very unique architecture of the Ibizan farms dates back to the rectilinear houses of the Neolithic in the Near East and to Punic/Arabic and Egyptian influences.

Ibiza was rich and there were olive groves, vineyards, wheat and fig trees. Eivissa’s economy was one of fishing, agriculture and forestry, and there were lead mines and the all important salt flats. To me, Ibiza is the island where Tanit became a reality to me and a presence in my life, where I was introduced to Her mysteries through illness and then recovery. Tanit is an African-Semitic Persephone who protects the dead and the dying, is a healer, and grants rebirth to all beings. Tanit in Ibiza was the Goddess of regeneration, metamorphosis and spiritual resurrection.