Ashera was an old-school Semitic fertility goddess worshipped by the Phoenicians and other pagans...the Canaanites probably threw up a few altars now and again. She is the consort of El in the Ugaritic texts.

Asherah poles, like simple totems, are upright wooden objects that were considered sacred symbols of the goddess.

see also Astarte or Ashtoreth

The fictitious virus in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, sci-fi in nature because it has both genetic (physical) and memetic (neurolinguistic) properties.

“Do not plant an Asherah, making for yourself any tree next to an altar for YHVH
Your God. And do not build an altar that is hateful to YHVH Your God.”

Deuteronomy 17:21-22

“Do not plant…for yourself any tree.” This instruction is given in order to incriminate the idol worshipper from the moment that he plants the tree, and even though he hasn’t actively worshipped it yet, he is violating a prohibition by planting it.
-- Rashi, Deut. 17:21

“If he planted it for its own sake, it is forbidden; if not for its own sake - it is permitted.”
-- Mishnah, Avodah Zara 3:10

It’s always interesting to pore over the Old Testament for references to gods other than YHVH, that is, Jehovah, the ostensibly one and only god of the ostensibly monotheistic ancient Israelites. The vehemence with which the Biblical authors decry the worship of said gods is usually directly proportional to the threat to YHVH that they posed. In fact not only did the pre-Babylonian exile era Israelites worship Asherah, but at varying times their monarchs worshipped her as well. The Biblical authors commonly refer to Asherah as a foreign goddess- Moses’s original warning in Deuteronomy related to the Israelites’ imminent entry into the new land of Canaan. But by the time of the divided monarchies of Judah and Israel (ca. 930-722 B.C.E.), popular perception had incorporated Ashera into a pantheon of lesser gods. Hebrew inscriptions found at Kuntillet Ajrud and at Khirbet el-Qôm refer to Asherah in conjunction with YHVH, and there has been speculation as to whether she was ever understood to be his consort.

Though an Asherah totem was classically a wooden pole, the Old Testament repeatedly refers to it as etz, a tree, instead of maateh, a staff. In fact the King James Bible repeatedly mistranslates Asherah, a name whose literal meaning is "She who walks in the sea", as “of the grove”, discarding some obvious grammar considerations in the process. Even the Talmudic halachists gave consideration to how observant Jews might avoid worshipping the long outdated fertility goddess Astarte, whose Hebrew name Asherah also refers to the trees which were sanctified to her. The fact that an Asherah was an actual tree engendered halachic allowances such as the “nullification” of such an idol. According to the Mishna, a Jew is allowed to use and benefit from a tree originally worshipped as an Asherah, if he can get an ex-idol worshipper to derisively trim or prune the tree, even to take “a stick or staff from it, even a leaf” (A.Z. 3:10).

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