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Butterfly and Eye.
In Search of
the Coffee Goddess
For some time now we have been beginning every morning by sitting down with a cup of Coffee, a pipe load of Tobacco and a chillum with Pot to be enjoyed as part of our morning ritual. While we have long known the Goddess of Marijuana and the sacramental values of Tobacco, the Coffee has basically just been there, though it was, of course, appreciated for its energizing and mind clearing qualities.
Recently I realized that the qualities of Coffee give it sacramental status so I decided to learn what I could about the Coffee Goddess. The first thing I did was to Google “Coffee Goddess“, from which I came up with several sites. Most gave Her name as being Caffeina or, by the Greek spelling, Kaffeina.
To me it seems that Caffeina/Kaffeina would more likely be the spirit which manifests itself in the various caffeine producing plants. The Coffee Goddess shares qualities with the other manifestations but also has qualities which are Her own.
Coffee histories generally begin with the legend of a goat herder of about 750 CE although the use of Coffee actually long precedes the legendary accounts. It is reported that Coffee beans have been found in petrified feces from about 8,000 years ago; about the time that agriculture was beginning.
It is believed that Coffee bark, leaves and berries were eaten by people throughout the Neolithic period. They also are said to have made a cold infusion of Coffee.
Since Coffee originally grew in the same area in which the human race developed we can assume that Coffee was not only eaten by the very earliest humans but also by our pre-human ancestors. This gives Coffee a connection with our most distant ancestors as well as with the original paradise.
Kaffeina is frequently referred to as the Goddess of Awakening; what greater awakening is there than the awakening of the human race?
In the early days of the human race, people were animists; i.e., to them everything was as alive and aware as they were. A lot of people believe that animism was the first source of religious thought.
After time they came to see one spirit which was associated with a particular kind of plant or animal or place. Plants with psychoactive properties, or that displayed strong medicinal value, were considered as having an especially strong spirit.
Besides containing caffeine, all parts of the Coffee tree also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals and the fruit is very high in antioxidants. Coffee has a variety of medicinal uses besides the obvious stimulant and appetite suppressant qualities, therefore Coffee would have been considered as having a strong spirit.
When people began hunting they would certainly have found Coffee to be a great aid in helping them to remain awake and alert as well as for staving off hunger through long periods of watching and waiting. The spirit of Coffee would have been seen as an aid to hunters and possibly eventually personified as a huntress.
Street Directory states that "African tribes crushed the ripe cherries from wild coffee trees, mixed them with animal fat, and rolled them into round balls. These ‘coffee balls’ were served at their war parties." From this I would say that some primitive people may have seen Coffee as a warrior goddess.
That site continues "It has been reported that the balls were eaten by warriors, farmers and merchants faced with hard work or long journeys (Wild 2005) by which they were able to overcome the problems of hunger and exhaustion." She would therefore have been a Goddess of farmers and merchants as well as anyone who put in long hours of hard work
. This would make Her a goddess of the downtrodden, a giving sustainer and a goddess of commerce.
Certainly it must have been an aid to homemakers as well; ask any modern mom, the Coffee Goddess would be a goddess of motherhood. The connection between Coffee, femininity and motherhood will be made more obvious shortly.
In looking for a goddess who may have been the Coffee Goddess, the best place to look would be Ethiopia, where Coffee first grew and humans are believed to have developed.
This is also where the earliest signs of religious thought have been found. Unfortunately very little is known of early Ethiopian religion, at least as far as I have been able to learn.
The Oromo of Ethiopia are believed to have lived in the area pretty much since people first evolved and to have been eating Coffee since time immemorial. According to oral traditions, early Oromo ate food processed with coffee berries. They also mixed the mashed beans with animal fat and formed it into small balls which they carried for subsistence on long journeys as also for the other reasons mentioned above. And they made a cold infusion.
Many still follow their ancient religion. Well, to some extent. There appears to have been a great deal of influence by Christian and Muslim invaders.
It is said that their God (influence?) cried when His favorite human died and that Coffee plants grew from His tears. All other plants, they say, grow from raindrops but Coffee grows from the tears of their God. At the very least this shows a great respect for the Coffee Spirit.
Oromo also say the Coffee bean is symbolic of a vagina and that when opened it produces human life. This associates Coffee with a female as well as possibly with the Creator Goddess.
Coffee holds a position of high importance in all Oromo religious ceremonies. They have a daily Coffee Ceremony which is somewhat elaborate and, in some ways, reminiscent of the Zen Tea Ceremony. Women play a central role in every Coffee Ceremony.
Oromo have a Goddess they call Atete, though I have found very little information about Her.
Sage Woman calls Her an earth mother goddess and states that She "presided over creation, midwifery, healing, intuition, death and renewal."
Source Memory says that She holds the “power of life, abundance, fortune and wealth”.
It is thought that Atete preceded the God and, in fact, was originally the Earth Mother Goddess or perhaps even the Sky Womb Goddess. She has retained her position as a goddess though it is likely that she has been demoted to a lesser position than She originally occupied in relation to the now supreme male God. Much the same occurred with many other Creator Mother Goddesses.
She mainly seems to be considered now as a goddess of fertility which, of course, relates to the symbolism they see in the Coffee bean. She is also a goddess of childbirth, motherhood and the homemaking arts.
Coffee plays a central role in the ceremonies of Her feast days. The women chant as they make and consume the Coffee. They enter a deep trance and speak as oracles of what they call the zar, the spirit of the shamanic tradition which is passed from mother to daughter. Here we see Coffee’s connection to mystic experience and to magick.
Whenever a man is physically and/or verbally abusive of a woman who is pregnant or has recently given birth, the women gather to protest the offender. As part of their protest ritual they invoke Atete. While these Atete protests currently occur only in reaction to men's breaking of taboos around pregnancy and birth, in the past women held greater power in Oromo society and Atete protests were used to a greater extent.
Whether Atete was originally the Coffee Tree Spirit is impossible for me to say but it is obvious that She has a very close relationship with Coffee. All of the evidence seems to point to Her being the Coffee Goddess. I will proceed on the assumption that She is.
But the search for a Coffee Goddess may not end there. While Atete, by whatever name She was called in the remote past, may have been the original Coffee Goddess, Her archetype can be traced through many cultures.
Oromo say that Isis is Atete, but I will return to that shortly.
OUT OF AFRICA
It is thought that the first modern humans to leave Africa did so about 75,000 years ago. They are believed to have come from or, at least traveled through, the Ethiopian area. Having done so it is unlikely that they were not familiar with Coffee. From Ethiopia they traveled through the Arabian peninsula.
Some believe humans may have migrated out earlier as recent finds in the UAE are believed to be a human settlement of about 125,000 years ago.
Since people carried Coffee beans on long journeys it is certainly conceivable that at least many of them carried a supply. However that supply would have soon run out. Whether trade occurred is unknown. Although such things as Frankincense and gold from the same area were traded throughout Mesopotamia and Egypt in later times there is no absolute archaeological evidence that Coffee was known outside of northeastern Africa.
The earliest representations of the Great Mother of Mesopotamia have what some have described as "Coffee bean eyes". Some say that the eyes represent date seeds.
In Mesopotamia there were several Mother Goddesses who share many characteristics with Atete. It is possible that some of those early goddesses were directly "descended" from or, at the least, heavily influenced by Atete. Or, of course, it could be the other way around.
I believe it more likely that Atete was originally the spirit of the Coffee tree. A more abstract concept such as that of a Great Mother Goddess would have occurred later. In time Atete would have been merged with the Mother Goddess, quite possibly prior to the migration out of Africa.
These following are some of the Mother Goddesses of Mesopotamia.
Namma was believed to be the mother of the first Sumerian gods and the world who gave birth without a husband or consort. She was a goddess of wisdom, intelligence, crafts, magick, healing, creation, fertility and art.
It is said that Namma became Inanna, Sumerian goddess of love, beauty, sexual desire, fertility, knowledge, wisdom and war.
Sherida is said to have been goddess of sexiness and wisdom as well as being a playful and energetic outgoing adventurer. Like the others She was originally the Supreme Mother of all.
When the Akkadians moved into Mesopotamia they adopted Sherida and blended her with their goddess Aya, a Mother Creator, goddess of the rising sun and goddess of sex and youth. One of her roles was the witnessing of transactions such as field or house rentals and temple loans. As such She was a goddess of commerce. As goddess of the dawn She was invoked at all new beginnings.
Aya was later merged into Ishtar, the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, sex, and power.
And Ishtar became Astarte, the Aramean goddess of fertility, sexuality, and war.
Astarte was known by a variety of different titles, which included the Great Mother Goddess. It is written of Her that, "She was the Mother of the Sun, Daughter of the Moon, Ruler of the Stars and Keeper of the Earth. In the beginning, Astarte was the whole."
Any of these Mesopotamian goddesses, as well as several others, could be associated with the Coffee Goddess.
Egyptian culture began in southern Egypt, perhaps in the Sudan. Many believe that Egyptian culture began in Ethiopia.
Trade between Egypt and Ethiopia occurred on a fairly large basis with Ethiopia exporting mainly gold and Frankincense to Egypt. There is no evidence of Coffee ever being in ancient Egypt yet there are goddesses who share similarities with Atete and with the Mother Goddesses of Mesopotamia.
On the eastern side of Ethiopia, north through Eritrea and Sudan live a nomadic people known as the Beja who are believed to be descended from the original Egyptians and Kushites.
The Beja perform a Coffee Ceremony which is similar to that performed by the Oromo with the exception that among the Beja the ceremony is performed by men.
Although most Beja have been converted to Islam or Christianity they have blended their new religion with their indigenous beliefs and practices. Unfortunately, all that I have found about their indigenous religion is that they are "animists", which of course means that they see intelligent spiritual life in all things and divinity in powerful plants, animals and special places, presumably including Coffee.
They believe themselves to be descendants of Sekhmet and her human consort and say that they formerly worshiped Isis. Recall, Oromo say that Isis is Atete.
Isis was originally a Creator Mother Goddess. The Book of the Dead calls her "She who gives birth to heaven and earth..."
She is the goddess of fertility, motherhood, marriage, childbirth, magic, medicine and rebirth who was called the Mother of Life, but was also known as the Crone of Death.
Isis is the protectress of women and children in particular and the downtrodden in general. She spent time among her people, teaching women the homemaking arts while teaching all Her people the skills of reading and agriculture .
This does sound a lot like Atete. Here are some other Egyptian Goddesses with similar attributes.
Hathor is considered by some to be "the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived." She was considered the goddess of feminine love, fertility, childbirth and motherhood as well as of music, dance and joy.
Nekhbet was a protector of young children and expectant mothers. The Pyramid Texts refer to her as "Mother of Mothers, who has existed from the beginning, and is Creator of this World"
When I began this search for the Coffee Goddess my first thought was that, being north of Ethiopia, Egypt would be the best place to look for Her. The first likely possibility I came up with was Neith. The more I have learned of the Coffee Goddess the more likely this seems.
Neith is another who was originally the Goddess of Creation and thought to have been self-begotten. She is not only associated with the original creation but with the creation of each day as well.
As it is with Mother Goddesses in general Neith was a Goddess of fertility, a protectress of women and a teacher of domestic arts and medicine. She was a mother goddess who created birth and a funerary goddess who cared for the souls of the dead.
As I originally speculated the Coffee Goddess would very early have been a huntress and a warrior, Neith is thought to have originally been a huntress and later, though still early, a warrior.>/I>
She was also a goddess of mystic knowledge and of wisdom and was frequently called the "Opener of the Way".
MORE RECENT TIMES
There are some who believe that mention of Coffee is found in the Bible and in Homer. The red porridge for which Esau traded his birthright does seem to be a possibility (Genesis 25:29-34). Some believe that the roasted grain which Abigail gave to David (1 Samuel 25:18) was actually Coffee and some believe that Homer's nepenthe was Coffee. But there is no proof of any of these.
According to the legend I mentioned earlier Coffee was discovered when a goatherd noticed that his goats were dancing and playing after eating the Coffee berries. Trying some himself he soon noticed the energizing effects. He then introduced the beans to the monks at a nearby Sufi monastery. The monks found the Coffee beans to be an aid to study and meditation.
Coffee use then reportedly spread through Muslim, especially Sufi, monasteries, tying its use immediately to religion, or more properly, to mystical religion
Of course it is more likely the early Muslims were introduced to Coffee by the indigenous peoples.
The first Coffee houses were established in Arabia during the second millennium. It didn't take long for the mainstream religious leaders to begin fighting against Coffee houses as they became places for people to talk, listen to music, play games and, most importantly, exchange ideas.
In 1511, about 50 years after the first coffee house was established in Mecca, Governor Khayr Bey banned the drink, fearing its influence promoted energized discussions and debates that could lead to opposition to his rule.
In 1570 the mufti in Constantinople was persuaded by conservative religious zealots to declare that Coffee is forbidden by the Koran. But Coffee consumption continued anyway.
Coffee use then spread to Europe where Coffee houses opened and soon again became places where people gathered to listen to music and poetry recitals and to discuss philosophy, science, religion and politics.
In Venice about 1600 the local conservative clergy beseeched Pope Clement VIII to outlaw Coffee, claiming it to be Satan's brew. The Pope tasted it and then proclaimed that such a delicious drink should not be exclusive property of the infidel. He then blessed Coffee to make it holy. According to legend anyway.
In 1650 the first Coffee house in England was established near Oxford university. It was frequented not only by students but also by professors and other intellectuals such as Robert Boyle. They formed a Coffee club which eventually became the Royal Society, England's world-renowned scientific think-tank.
In 1675 King Charles II outlawed Coffee houses, writing in his proclamation: "...for that in such houses …divers, false, malicious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of His Majesty’s Government, and to the disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm.”
The Cafe Procope in Paris served as a meeting place for intellectuals including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Voltaire. The Boston Tea Party was planned at a Coffee shop while the original letter proposing the American Union was written at a New York Coffee shop.
In the 1950s Beatniks gathered at Coffee houses to discuss and debate ideas and to listen to poetry and music. They laid the foundation for the countercultural revolution of the 1960s.
From their first establishment, Coffee houses have been a gathering place for intellectuals, artists and other innovators. Ideas coming out of Coffee houses were frequently at odds with established religion and political systems. From this we can say that the Coffee Goddess inspires innovative thought and opposes the status quo. She is obviously Progressive.
She also inspires creativity and creative ideas. Some say She opens the gateway that the Muses might enter.
I would point out here that there is an anti-establishment movement today which is, at the same time, anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-information and anti-art. That is not so much anti-establishment as it is anti-progress.
The Coffee Goddess has been with the human race since before the beginning. She is connected with the original paradise and with the awakening of the human race. In this She represents evolution; progression, if I may.
She would have been an aid to hunters who had to remain awake and alert while yet retaining the energy to attack and subdue their prey.
To gatherers who worked long hours, not just gathering the food but likely preparing it also, She would have been a goddess of energy, sustenance and the homemaking arts.
The people of Ethiopia at some time began to view the Coffee bean as representing a vagina. As such it came to represent the source of creation and fertility; the Goddess of birth as well as possibly the Great Mother Goddess.
Warriors ate Coffee so She would likely have been seen as a warrior goddess, by some anyway. Others would have used her to remain awake and alert so that they were not attacked by surprise. To them She would have been a protector.
People who traveled long distances carried Coffee for sustenance and energy. Coffee would have been a protector of travelers and of trade.
Coffee is revered by the original inhabitants of Ethiopia and holds a place in all their religious ritual. They use it for mystical and magickal purposes.
When Coffee was introduced to western society it went immediately to religious purposes. And not just religious but mystical religion; i.e., outside the mainstream. It was a Goddess who gave them energy for their studies and meditations. OK, to them it wasn't a goddess. It cleared their head and helped them to think.
The first Coffee houses were places to discuss religion and philosophy and other higher thought. She is a goddess of wisdom and knowledge. She inspires innovative thought outside the mainstream. And for this reason Coffee houses were frequently targeted by the conservative mainstream establishment.
Coffee houses have continued to be a source of progressive thought. She remains a goddess of growth and evolution. And of revolution. She is a warrior goddess who fights for what is right.
Coffee houses have always included musical acts and poetry recitals. Drawing and painting are not what we would call performance arts so there are not people on stage painting. However you will frequently see people in a Coffee shop drawing on a sketch pad. The Coffee Goddess is an inspiration to artists of all kinds.
As a supporter of social evolution She supports protests and protesters.
She has also remained a goddess of commerce as Lloyd's of London, the London stock exchange and the New York stock exchange all began in Coffee houses. I don't personally believe that She supports greedy commerce however as She has always been a comforter of the downtrodden and an aid to the worker.
SOME PERSONAL NOTES
It is possible to consider Kaffeina as a Goddess in Her own right or She may also be associated with goddesses of most, if not every, Pagan tradition.
Regardless of which branch of Paganism a person follows there is likely a goddess whose attributes fit with those of the Coffee Goddess.
Although the Coffee Goddess fits most closely with the Great Mother Goddess, we do not personally make that association. We have the Marijuana Goddess, the Virgin Mary Jane, in that position.
To us the Coffee Goddess is the energy of creation, the firstborn of the Virgin Mother Goddess. She was created of “Life’s longing for Itself”. In the beginning was Desire and Desire was with Goddess and Desire was Goddess, if I may
. This is how I understand Sage Woman saying that Atete “presided over creation”. She made creation possible through Her being the goddess of sex, fertility and birth.
In Her role of presiding over “death and rebirth” as well as on several other points and in keeping with my preference for Greek Paganism, I associate the Coffee Goddess with Kora/Persephone.
In the Wiccan Trinity we associate Her with the Maiden.
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