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The ancient Arabians performed many rituals including eating ritual meals, playing music, singing, using lotions, ablution, incense burning and performing divination. To perform a ritual first one has to prepare a sacred space, prepare the participant(s) by allowing them to relax and calm down.


What happens in a ritual is up to those who plan it but we do have some clues as to what rituals were performed in ancient Arabia. A particularly ancient and long-lived form of ritual is the banquet (mrzh’), a celebration attended by a select group of people in honour of a particular deity or deities. It is attested as early as the 13th century BC in a Ugaritic text which describes the preparations taken by a high priest for his guests; the slaughtering of animals and the provision of wine. Israelite prophets frequently condemned this ritual claiming it has a tendency towards hedonism, excess and its association with pagan gods. Amos 6:4-6 You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

It was a common event in Petra and Palmyra, its participants called ‘children of the banquet’ or, at Petra, ‘companions of the banquet’. The event was dedicated to a deity and involved eating and drinking. According to Strabo: The Nabateans … prepare common meals together in groups of thirteen persons,; and they have two girl-singers for each banquet. The king holds many drinking-bouts in magnificent style, but no one drinks more than eleven cupfuls, each time using a different golden cup. The king is so democratic that, in addition to serving himself, he sometimes even serves the rest himself in his turn. The host was titled ‘chief of the banquet’, or ‘symposiarch’ in Greek. It was a rotating post and a great responsibility, since one served the gods and the people. The host would oversee all the preparations and supply the wine out of their pocket. The banquets were generally held in a designated room within or near the temple precincts, which would be equipped with long benches for the guests to recline. Archaeologists have found these rooms, but the ones in Petra are smaller than the ones in Palmyra.

In South Arabia the banquet there was hosted by the Sabaean ruler and was linked to the ‘pact of union’, a ceremony that served to bind together the diverse tribes of the Sabaean federation and to guarantee the security of the sanctuaries under their common guardianship. The pact was concluded under the deity ʿAṯtar since He was above all the local and tribal gods, and it was in His honour that the banquet was staged, and it's likely that the costs were covered by His temple. Whoever hosts such a banquet will have to consider the time of the year, the purpose of the gathering, how many people will be there, whether it's indoors or outdoors, and what they want from the ritual. Modern practitioners probably won't be able to hold such banquets and since most are solitary practitioners one could just have a ritual meal and perhaps do a ritual inspired by the neo-Pagan tradition.

See also