Anat, Kali and the Violent Femmes

“Women and men,” runs the chorus of the They Might Be Giants song of that same title, “… everywhere they go love will grow.” Women and men. Thus it has always been. The Sumerians seem to have speculated, on a broken tablet concerning the creation of humanity, that some six varieties of gender had been ordained by the gods. This story reminds me of just how dicey gender definition can be. Despite the howls of protestation from man + woman = marriage crowd, the concept of gender is actually complex and diverse. The lowly slime mold of the genus Physarum has a combination of multiple sex-controling genes mixed with several different types of sex-cells, leading to a bewildering 500 different sexes. You’ve got to wonder what the Physarum bar-scene is like! So the whole women and men combination seems a little tame by comparison.

The ancients did, however, toy with standard gender role concepts. The Ugaritic goddess Anat, sometimes described as a “tomboy,” was perceived as a literal femme fatale, joining her in the company of Ishtar and Kali as warrior women-goddesses. She was a proto-Amazon (before they laid aside their male-bashing and set up a very lucrative web-site). Anat wears the severed heads and hands of slain warriors and stomps in blood-puddles, laughing all the while. Where did the ancients derive such violent feminine images as Anat and Kali? Some sociologists suggest that these myths were intended to solidify gender roles, although they seem to confuse the violent male with the shy and retiring female stereotypes. Perhaps the Ugaritians and other ancient folk knew deep down that gender is only a vague attempt to classify something that is really far more complex than it seems. Just when gender is nailed down you find yourself in a bloody mess as Anat swats at you again and again.

Anat ready to smite Egyptians who just don't understand the Violent Femmes

Anat ready to smite Egyptians who just don't understand the Violent Femmes

Nashotah is not far from Milwaukee where the folk-punk, genre-defining band the Violent Femmes started out. In college many of my overtly Christian radical friends told tales of how the Violent Femmes were a closet Christian rock group, based on some of the religious themes in Gordon Gano’s lyrics. When I listen to their CDs, however, I hear the same old angst that has plagued humankind for ages — what does a guy have to do to impress a girl (the same question may be reversed, turned upside-down, or dis-and-re-articulated, depending on whether you are female, male, or slime mold). At Ugarit they would have understood the Violent Femmes — listen to “to the kill” and tell me it’s not so! I would suggest that Gordon and the guys aren’t as much closet Christians as closet Ugaritians, struggling with the Anats and other violent femmes of their world and trying to make sense of it all.

2 responses to “Anat, Kali and the Violent Femmes

  1. Would you mind sharing your reference source for “The Sumerians seem to have speculated, on a broken tablet concerning the creation of humanity, that some six varieties of gender had been ordained by the gods”? It would really help my research! Thank you!

    • Steve Wiggins

      Sure. My reference is Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Harper, 1961), p. 71. Kramer is a bit dated, but very readable. There are more up-to-date sources, but I just dabble at the edges of Sumer.

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