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Basamum: the Healing God and the Plant

Updated on December 5, 2016
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

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Basamum is a mystery to modern scholars. There’s virtually no relics bearing his image or any temple ruins dedicated to him. Also, very little has been recorded about this ancient god of pre-Islamic Arabia. Simply put, he is a god lost to time.

The push toward Islam in the region eradicated (or intertwined) the belief system Basamum came from. All that’s left are a few scant and incomplete tales, and a belief that he had something to do with a special plant

Basamum and the Healing Bush

The balsam bush thrives in one of the harshest environment on Earth. But the nomadic Bedouin tribes of this land were well aware of its ability to heal. Many took advantage of this plant and put them to good use. So revered it was, that many believed the balsam bush was a gift from the gods. Thus, it’s no surprise that ancestors of these tribes believed the god Basamum was behind it.

Basamum came from a bygone era on the arid peninsula. He was the god of healing. His greatest accomplishment was not only healing people but healing animals as well, in particular, livestock and beasts of burdens. For a people who made their living by herding livestock, and relied heavily on horses and camels, this god’s ability to heal all living things was looked upon with reverence.

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Miracle through Balsam Bush

His healing powers came in the form of the balsam bush that grew in the area. Balsam often refers to a term used for various scented plant products. Its name has been used for a wide variety of trees and shrubs from the around the world. Most of these plants have been used for medicinal purposes. In most cases, they contain oily or gummy oleoresin. Oleoresin is a mixture of resin and essential oils that form in the plants naturally (Lately, it has been produced synthetically).

This mixture often contains benzoic acid or cinnamic acid. These acids are often found in food products as preservatives. Also, they are found in drugs used to combat germs or infections.

The ancient people of Arabia obviously didn’t know what these plants contained. All they knew was that it had therapeutic qualities that can only come from a god.

Eventually, the birth and the rapid expansion of Islam in the region would eventually wipe out almost any reference to the ancient gods including Basamum

Curing Wild Goats

Basamum belonged to the pre-Islamic mythology of the region. His name also appears among the Semitic people’s mythology. Not much of Basamum has survived the test of time. In fact, one story seems to be all that left of this god. The story centered on his ability to cure two wild goats.

It's not clear how Basamum cured the goats. One only speculate that he gave them the balsam bush the snack on.

So What Happened to Basamum’s Universe?

Much of this ancient belief - that Basamum once belonged to - has vanished. However, some of it did survive in the form of the stories told in “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” Stories about genies, ghouls, magic lamps, flying carpets, and three wishes were once a part of this polytheistic religion.

Also, around the year 622 A.D., the Kaaba of Mecca (which currently holds the holiest artifact of Islam – the Black Stone) was once covered in symbols representing the myriad of demons, djinn (Genie), demigods and other assorted creatures which represented this ancient belief. Among those symbols was Basamum.

Eventually, the birth and the rapid expansion of Islam in the region would eventually wipe out almost any reference to the ancient gods including Basamum.

There’s not much information available on the ancient healing god. All that remains are the plants that bear his name. Yet, the plants flourish, as well as its reputation of healing the infirmed.

Some more digging eventually produced a little more information on this particular deity. However, it was still minuscule, at best. Even the story of the “Two Goats” was never fleshed out in the documents I found.

Extra: Ancient Gods are Hard to Find

Several years ago, I started writing about gods and deities from ancient cultures that most people may not have heard of. I was interested in myths and folktales from around the world and wanted to know how they influenced the cultural beliefs, customs, and (most importantly) story-telling during ancient and modern times.

This turned into a daunting – sometimes frustrating – task. As it stands, Internet information on Basamum can be found; however, at best much of it are one to two sentences in length. Even Wikipedia was not immune to this. The page had two sentences on it. The page also had a paragraph requesting readers to contribute any information about this elusive god.

Nearly every site I visited had the same blurb. At best it would state something similar to the following: “Basamum was a pre-Islamic god from Arabia that had the power to heal people and goats (some state livestock). His name may have come from the balsam plant that was known to have healing powers.”

Some more digging eventually produced a little more information on this particular deity. However, it was still minuscule, at best. Even the story of the “Two Goats” was never fleshed out in the documents I found.

This was not the only time I had problems finding information on a deity of ancient lore. Even from well-documented and records myths, some deities were elusive (in some cases, they may have had two or three lines mentioned about them in the original recorded text).

At best I can only surmise that the Golden Age of Islam played a major part in this God’s disappearance. Most of the world’s dominant religions have spread through various means such as war and conquest. In order to subdue the people within conquered lands the religious leaders, albeit Islam or Christianity, found ways to intermingle the people’s religion with theirs or vilified the former deities and spread the news of the “true” God (that being the conquerors).

Another reason is that Basamum was part of the Bedouin tribes’ oral tradition. The stories and myth surrounding these people’s beliefs were never written down and mostly lost to time.

Why it Matters?

Deities – especially the Gods from polytheistic social groups – were good ways to learn about social thinking and norms throughout the world. The gods may represent their hopes and fears, or how they formulate their knowledge of the world around them. The Bedouin nomads of the Southern Arabian Desert held Basamum in high esteem because he was believed to be a natural healer.

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Work References

“Basamum (retrieved 2010)”: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basamum

“Basamum (2010)”: Encyclopedia Mythica: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/basamum.html

Michael, Sean Smith: “Gods, Goddess, and Mythology: Arabian Mythology”: (retrieved 2010): Wisdom of the Heart Church: http://www.ucmeta.org/Pages/Articles/Mythology/Gods-Goddesses-Mythology.php#Arabian-Mythology

© 2016 Dean Traylor

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    • Felisa Daskeo profile image

      Felisa Daskeo 

      2 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      This is an interesting read. It's always good to learn new things from other cultures around the world. This is my first time to read about this God. Thanks for sharing.

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