Priestessing Tanit in Sardinia

by Rita de Martis

Tanit was the protectress of the Phoenician settlement Carthage, in North Africa. She was moreover worshipped as a fertility Goddess and as the Goddess of heaven. She is compared to Ashtarte (Ashtarte/Ishtar). The name Tanit means “she-snake”, and it derives from tan, a Phoenician word meaning snake and conjugated in the female form. Actually it is not certain that the name “Tanit” derives from the Phoenician language. There is possibly a relationship with the Egyptian word tanetu, a name used for Hathor, a Goddess related to Astarte. Her temple in Carthage was called the Altar of the Heavenly Virgin. Greeks and Romans referred to it as the “moon temple”. One of the titles of Tanit found on the stones in Carthage was ‘Face of Baäl’. Other titles were ‘Queen of the stars and “The female judge”. Her priestesses were famous astrologists, as famous as the renowned Sybil of Cuma.

Square weight bearing the sign of Tanit, 5th - 2nd centuries BCE, Phoenician kingdom of Arados

Tanit was schematically depicted with the so called Tanit-symbol a triangle that symbolizes her dress, with a horizontal line on top depicting her arms, and a circle on it symbolizing her head with a horizontal sickle, representing the full moon. Barbara Walker indicates that the Egyptian Goddess Ka (soul) was also depicted with arms stretched toward the sky. The ka is the soul of the Earth that re-enters the body (ba) of the dead. The Goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, Venus and Juno were represented in the same way. Barbara Walker points out moreover that Tanit was symbolized by a vertical line from which two waves departed. This was called caduceus but it is actually a tree of life embraced by two snakes.

Tanit symbols

The son and/or husband of Tanit was Baäl-Hammon, the god of sunset and dawn, often depicted with a horned head, that of a ram. Hammon can be probably compared to the Egyptian oracle god Amon (‘The hidden one’); many details of the rituals coincide. This god was revered as the sun in Karnac with the name of Amon-Ra.

Tanit’s symbols are the pomegranate, the wheat spike and grapes. Her sacred animals are the dove and the snake. She is often accompanied by dolphins and fish. Tanit is moreover the protectress of the Phoenician and Carthaginian seamen. The cult of Tanit is subsequent to the cult of Baal-Hammon. These gods enjoyed a long popularity. When Carthage became a Roman province named Africa this cult passed from the Carthaginians to the Romans and continued to exist also when Christianity took hold. In the year 421 the army was ordered to close the temple of Tanit.


My name is Rita De Martis, my resonating name is Manthissa (the Greek word for a woman who knows oracles and herbs) I was born in 1958, the daughter of two full-blooded Sardinians. My grandfather, my father’s father, lived and worked for a long time in North Africa where he learned a lot about the “medicines” from real medicine men. He exchanged his knowledge with local medicine men and made a strong alliance with them. He made his own remedies, perfumes and medicinal tea (including Ayahuasca). My grandmother, my father’s mother, knew the old Sardinian traditions and applied them to diagnose diseases in young children. My aunt from my father’s lineage was Pierina Moretti, the famous writer and researcher about Matriarchal Sardinian traditions.

Tanit symbols

My mother’s lineage was one of scholars, people who studied everything they could. My grandmother used to cross the almost inaccessible Sardinian mountains on a donkey to heal the people. Later she studied medicine at the university to prove to the people she was not a charlatan. Then she was able to ask her patients if they preferred her to act as the medicine woman or as a doctor. She would then take out her pouch with stones and throw them on the table. By doing this she could see how long a person needed to recover, and how long the medicines had to be taken. My grand mother Antonietta was always present at childbirths and since her death she regularly appears at the side of women of the family to calm them down when they give birth. She passed her heritage to her daughter who passed it on to my mother, according to the purest Sardinian matriarchal tradition.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, initiated me in a playful way since the age of two in the laws of psychometry and theosophy. After his death, when I was five years old, my mother Mirella compelled me to study astrology, palmistry, tarot, numerology, crystal ball readings and runes only to ask me to throw everything away once I felt confident enough with it all. As a very young child I gave unasked consultations and those were not always well accepted in the very catholic Rome. For this reason I often had to change school because I was considered weird.

When I was twelve years old I got acquainted with grandfather Peyote, and further on I learned how to use other sacred plants of the Sardinian traditions, like Mandrake (Mandragora) etc. I used to hold small ceremonies with good friends, especially with healing purposes but also to get clarity over the path that awaited us. The “Plants University”, the teachings that plants offer from time immemorial, is effective and long-lasting. When I was 16 years old I had my own radio programme. I used to tell people, listening to their voices, what they had eaten and then judged if that was good for them.

Once I received my diploma as Elementary School Teacher, I started my university studies at the Psychology Faculty of the University of Padua. In 1979 I got married with a Dutch man and I moved to The Netherlands. Here I became a member of the Theosophical Association for a period of time and I gave lessons on the colour theories and on the aura vibrations. In 1985 I started receiving teachings on Tibetan Buddhism according to the Sakya school by the Lama Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa.

In all these years I have always held ceremonies based on the Sardinian traditions to an extremely limited number of persons. I have been performing them on a pure Matriarchal base, with the specific goal to support women, to accompany their progress from one status to another:

  1. The passage from baby to child (at the age of seven – the detachment of the child aura from that of his/her mother)
  2. Puberty
  3. Being a woman and a mother
  4. Menopause and wisdom

The teaching of the four wind directions apply to all this. The Sardinian flag depicts this, with four men with a blindfold, who have a blind faith in the four wind directions, the four spirits. The oldest Sardinian flag depicted a tree with seven branches, the seven light rays, nine leaves per branch, (the primary numbers) and three roots, the three aspects of the healing process: bodily, spiritual and mental. This flag is the most esoteric version and can be found in spiritual circles. The elements of our tradition are wheat, stones, fire, water and air.

Janas cave in Sardinia

Our rituals take place in caves, Grotte de janas, (Janas’ caves). Janas were and are the fairies or healers, wise women, a bridge between heaven and earth. Other ritual places were the caves of the giants where a peculiar healing electromagnetism can be experienced. Once Sardinia used to be inhabited by giants and to date bone of skeletons of 4-5 metres in height can still be found there. Nothing is done with these bones and the farmers keep them at home in a secure place. In the same way many bronze figurines have been found, which were used during rituals. My aunt, Pierina Moretti, was a fervent archeologist and writer on these subjects.

In our culture the sacred plants are never used in combination with one another. No Marihuana is ever used, neither before or after the ceremony, also we consider it a medicinal plant. There are therefore ceremonies with grandfather cactus, with the sacred children, the mushrooms, and with grandmother Yage (Ayahuasca) and, of course, thanks to a alliance with the Red Path from South America, the sacred tobacco. The sacred pipe is smoked, a shorter one compared to the one used by the Native Americans. Smudging is carried out as well as purifications, with several handmade scents and blue water. The plants are exclusively used in a ceremonial context.

Ten years ago I started the Manthissa Foundation to protect our traditional work. Traditionally we use male and female scents. On the altar we have not only stones but also scents for each wind direction. From time immemorial the rituals were meant exclusively for women. In ancient times special ceremonies were held by the priestesses with and for the warriors. They were men who had a special task to accomplish, and were allowed to attend a special ceremony.

Still nowadays priestesses have to be healthy in order to hold a ritual and they have to be menopausal if they wish to pass on our tradition. 95% of the sabiadoras (wise people) are women and 5% men. Those men always have something special in their appearance, and are always initiated by women. Moreover menstruating women cannot take part in our ceremonies.

Now that I am an elder myself, I have to spread my tradition without fear. I often ask Great Spirit to give me the strength to serve other people, every day, so they can find (once again) their right course.