Anatolia’s (Modern Turkey) Underworld
An Extraordinary Concentration of Demonic Powers
Adventurers in Turkey soon discover that its land is a spectacular “open museum.” Past civilizations have left behind a rich treasure of ancient remains: pottery, marble columns, old aqueducts, and countless artifacts. Some of these physical treasures have been collected and displayed in numerous museums. Most, however, remain buried under the dirt and debris accumulated over the centuries. The remnants on the earth’s surface are only the tip of the iceberg—a mere fraction of what lies beneath the surface of Anatolia. What can be seen with human eyes provides but a small glimpse of Anatolia’s real significance.
The Extraordinary Spiritual Convergence
The average tourist in Turkey subjectively feels the extraordinary convergence of the spiritual realm but rarely acknowledges or understands it. Indeed, even long-time residents are often unaware of the active spiritual underworld nurtured throughout millennia by fervent acts of devotion, festivals, and occult rituals. So what is the real meaning beneath the numerous mosques, loud calls to prayer, and official line that Turkey is an Islamic land? The purpose of this chapter is to delve beneath the surface in order to discover the deep realities of Anatolia’s spiritual underworld.
When the Goddess Ruled
A revolution in human development emerged in Anatolia during the Neolithic Age (8000-3500 BC). Thousands of years ago, prehistoric groups wandered throughout the land—hunting, gathering food, and leaving their signature in the form of ritual cave paintings and animal cult figurines. Eventually these wanderers settled in agricultural villages. Some of these villages grew into fortified towns in centralized states and even into extensive empires. It was through this growing settlement process that the land of Anatolia came to possess an extraordinary concentration of active demonic powers.
Çatal Hüyük and Goddess Worship
The world’s most impressive example of prehistoric civilization is found in the ruins of Çatal Hüyük, located approximately 30 miles southeast of the modern city of Konya in central Turkey. Çatal Hüyük was founded in the ninth millennium BC and lasted for over 1000 years. Like most of prehistoric Anatolia, Çatal Hüyük’s religion was goddess worship. The great mother goddess was portrayed through numerous shrines and small statues. She was often heavyset and usually in the process of giving birth. She represented the primary source of life—fertility, seasonal renewal, and everything having to do with life–and death.
It is believed that female priestesses—rather than male priests—performed the diverse rituals of this prehistoric place of some 7000 residents. The goddess figurines are often half-human and half-animal. They are sometimes shown seated between leopards, which served as arm rests while the goddess gave birth to an animal. Throughout the rest of Anatolian history, goddess worship continued under various names: Cybele, Hecate, Hebat, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Demeter to name a few, but each of these goddesses always symbolized Anatolia’s earliest devotion to the spirits of nature and fertility.
A Land of Gods and Goddesses
In the middle of the third millennium BC, a people group called the Hatti entered Anatolia from the east. They established their capital at Kanesh, which is located between the modern Turkish cities of Kayseri and Sivas. Eventually the Hatti culture (2600-1900 BC) spread so broadly that Anatolia itself became known as the “Land of the Hatti.”
Through written records left behind by Assyrian merchants living and working in the land of Anatolia, we learn that the land of the Hatti was permeated from one end to the other with gods and goddesses. Everything that seemed beyond human control—wild animals, fire, planets, storms, and mountains—was turned into a god or goddess to be worshiped and appeased. Each town and region had its own special deity, religious center, and ritual practices. Anatolia became well populated—indeed, thoroughly polluted—with major and minor gods of every form, shape, and origin, ranging from the mother goddess Hepat to the weather god Teshub.
Deity Saturation and Abraham
In the midst of this deity saturation in Anatolia, Abraham’s family migrated from the city of Ur to Harran. Harran is located south of the modern Turkish city of Şanlıurfa and was a center for the worship of the moon god Sin. From here, God called Abraham to leave Harran and go to the land of Israel. It was during this time that God gave Abraham the redemptive promise that through him “all peoples on earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God’s promise was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Christ) and is rooted in Jesus’ great commission to go make disciples among every people group (ethne) of the world (Matthew 28:16-20).
A Great Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses
As larger towns and cities were built at the beginning of the second millennium BC, Anatolia’s spiritual dominion became more entrenched and concentrated under the influence of the Indo-European Hittites (2000-1200 BC). The Hittites are mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 15:20. After establishing their initial capital at Kanesh, the Hittites began to expand their influence throughout the land of Anatolia. The Hittite kingdom eventually moved its capital to the elaborate city of Hattusa (modern Boğazkale) near the Black Sea province of Çorum. It emerged—along with Egypt—as one of the great powers in the Middle East. The Hittites flourished in Anatolia during the period of the Patriarchs, Israel’s exodus from Egypt, and her journey to the Promised Land.
The primary reason for the increasing concentration of spiritual powers within Hittite civilization was the practice of absorbing and unifying the numerous Anatolian gods and goddesses rather than destroying them. The Hittite civilization was polytheistic at its core. One unearthed document speaks about the “thousand gods” of the Hittite kingdom. In fact, the Hittites were not satisfied with Anatolian deities only. They also captured the cult images of foreign gods and transferred them to their capital for continued worship.
The Hittites allowed local communities to continue to worship their local deities. However, their kings actively grouped these numerous gods and goddesses into a national pantheon located in the capital city of Hattusa. In so doing, the kings assumed that they could guarantee divine protection and prosperity for their kingdom. The national Hittite pantheon of gods is portrayed in its final form today at the rock sanctuary of Yazılıkaya, located about two miles (3 km) from Boğazkale. The mother goddess Hebat leads the procession of deities. The Hittite kings were deified after death and, during their reigns, served as high priests. They were responsible for preserving the religious devotion and fervency of the temples and worship centers throughout their kingdom. The kings were also expected to attend the many religious festivals held in honor of the gods throughout the year.
The Hittites maintained thousands of temples and places of worship. Each temple was often the home to several gods. Each was presided over by servant priests whose daily task was to wash the gods, provide them with food and drink, and entertain them with dancing and music. It was believed that through this daily routine, the gods could be appeased and flattered. If this routine was interrupted, the Hittites feared the deities’ wrath.
The lives of the Hittite people were overshadowed by magic. Their documents are devoted to the many methods and rituals used to drive out disease, bring physical healing, dispel evil spirits from houses, overcome failing crops, and curse enemies. An abundance of amulets—objects worn or carried for magical purposes—has also been discovered at Hittite sites. The presence of magic has continued up to the present day in the spiritual practices of many Turkish people.
Kingdoms from the Rubble
The Hittite kingdom was invaded and scattered around 1200 BC. As a result, the next few centuries in Anatolia were a time of dispersion and reconfiguration. Out of the rubble, several smaller independent kingdoms emerged. They continued the spiritual culture of various gods and goddesses from 1200 to 547 BC. In eastern Anatolia, a people of diverse origins established the Urartian Kingdom on the shores of Lake Van. In western Anatolia, the Lydian Kingdom was founded at the city of Sardis. The Phrygian people ruled Anatolia’s western central plateau. During this historic upheaval, the Phrygians’ worship of the goddess Cybele spread throughout the land. Eventually Rome championed Cybele as the Great Mother of the gods.
The Greco-Roman Adaptation
In the 500s BC, Cyrus the Great led the Persians (547-334 BC) to victory over the Assyrians before sweeping westward and taking control of the land of Anatolia. However, in 334 BC, Alexander the Great emerged out of Macedonia like a roaring lion, crossed the Hellespont (Dardanelles) waterway, and defeated the Persians. Within a few years, he had conquered the entire Middle East from Greece to India.
As a result, the spiritual heritage of the land of Anatolia was absorbed and assimilated into Hellenistic culture. The Greek gods—Zeus, Artemis, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Athena, Hermes, Ares, Aphrodite, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, and others—ultimately held full sway throughout Anatolia. Adapting to Anatolia’s spiritual underworld, Greek temples were built atop the many holy sites that covered the land.
At the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC in Babylon, Alexander’s vast empire was divided among his generals in an outbreak of civil wars. As a result, several small kingdoms emerged and flourished between 300 and 200 BC.
The Celts or Gauls came out of Macedonia into Anatolia and established the Galatian Kingdom. Mithridates I became king of Pontus and established the Pontic Kingdom that extended into Cappadocia in central Anatolia. A leader named Prusias founded the Bithynian Kingdom. The Armenian Kingdom, based in the city of Van in eastern Anatolia, grew. The Attalid Kingdom was ruled from the city of Pergamum. In 133 BC, King Attalus III gave his kingdom to the Roman Republic, and in 129 BC the Romans created the province of Asia with its capital at Ephesus. As the Romans took control of Anatolia in the second century BC, they creatively adopted and perpetuated the spiritual legacy of the Greeks.
Ephesians’ Artemis and Magic Galore
One of the best sources concerning the spiritual realm of Roman Anatolia is the Bible—particularly the Book of Acts and the apostle Paul’s letter of Ephesians. The Bible makes it clear that the land of Anatolia bubbled with demonic activity during the first century AD.
The demonic principalities and powers introduced at Çatal Hüyük were still spreading their fear and bondage through the worship of the Ephesian goddess Artemis. Believing Artemis had descended from heaven, countless enthusiasts idolized the goddess as Savior, Lord, and the Queen of Heaven. The blatant ornamentation of her elaborate personage boasted that she alone possessed cosmic ascendancy and power. The signs of the zodiac circling her neck declared her command over man’s astrological fate. Her chest, blanketed with possible protruding breasts, accentuated her proposed ability to bestow fertility. The columns of animals adorning her skirt announced her dominance over the menacing spirits of nature. Identified closely with the goddess Hecate, Artemis’ designation as a goddess of the underworld also revealed that her worship included overt practices of magic and sorcery. She was recognized as possessing control over the demons of the dead by holding the key of Hades, and it was common practice to invoke the name of Artemis during magical rituals to ward off feared demons.
As Acts chapter 19 and the apostle Paul’s letter of Ephesians reveal, nothing short of active spiritual warfare could liberate the masses of people entangled in Anatolia’s spiritual underworld.
Turkish Folk Islam
Guidebooks and encyclopedias tell us that Turkey is 99 percent Muslim. This official statistic needs some clarification, however. Initially the Turks from Central Asia were shamanistic; they were active worshipers of the spirits of nature. Although some Turks became Christians through the mission activities of the Nestorians, they absorbed Islam into their shamanistic practices when they came in contact with Arab Muslims. The result was a hybrid spiritualism of “Turkish Islam.” As the Turks settled in Anatolia, their popular culture was held together by the mystical practices of numerous spiritual brotherhoods and associations such as Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes religious order.
Today many travelers to Turkey are surprised by the small percentage of Turks that go to the mosques when the high minarets broadcast the call to prayer. The explanation is quite simple. A large number of the Turkish people do not practice the traditional religion of Islam as we read about it in books. At the practical level of daily living, many practice an Islamic form of spiritism that includes performing rituals on special mountaintops and at ancient trees and the holy graves of Muslim saints. Many of their holy sites have been places of worship for thousands of years. Well-researched books state that approximately 80 percent of today’s billion or so Muslims practice an animistic form of Islam. Animistic Islam has five primary spiritual power components:
Powers: The belief in many spirit beings.
Power People: Practitioners of magic and the occult.
Power Objects: The wearing of charms, amulets, fetishes or talismans with the belief that they wield supernatural power to protect or bless. For example, in Turkey you will see the “Evil Eye” almost everywhere.
Power Places: Locations or centers of spiritual power, where people go to seek blessings and powers.
Power Times: The observance of special religious feasts and festivals.
Clearly, in today’s Turkey, as in the days of the apostle Paul, “our struggle is not with “flesh and blood” (people), but against the spiritual powers of this dark world, and against the evil spiritual forces in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).