The Tree Trunk Cult
Asherah, and its plural form, Asherim, from the Hebrew word pronounced ash-ay-raw, refers to a pagan goddess, also known as Astarte to the Canaanites and Ishtar to the Assyrians and Babylonians. The common symbols of the cult were tree trunks with all of their branches removed and images carved into them. These standing tree trunks were the reason that some versions of the Holy Bible translate the actual original word of the Holy Scriptures, Asherah or Asherim, as grove or groves e.g. for 2 Chronicles 15:16, from the RSV and KJV:
"Even Maacah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron." (Revised Standard Version)
"And also concerning Maachah the mother of Asa the king, he removed her from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove: and Asa cut down her idol, and stamped it, and burnt it at the brook Kidron." (King James Version)
Idols In The Groves
As the Scriptures above describe, the Israelites, from ordinary people to royalty, were greatly corrupted by the cult of Asherah (Jerusalem's Valley Of Kidron, referred to in the verses above, is shown in the photograph). The Lord commanded them not violate The Second Commandment, but they stubbornly and foolishly often did it anyway (just as millions of people still do today, some even in Christ's Name - see the Fact Finder question below), despite the efforts of righteous people and God's true prophets to rid the people, who claimed to be God's people (see I Did It My Way...), of it.
"You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of The Lord [see YHVH, Adonai, Jehovah, LORD] your God which you shall make. And you shall not set up a pillar, which The Lord your God hates." (Deuteronomy 16:21-22 RSV)
"That night The Lord said to him, "Take your father's bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to The Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down." So Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as The Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered upon the altar which had been built." (Judges 6:25-28 RSV)
"And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of The Lord more than all that were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke The Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." (1 Kings 16:30-33 RSV)
Fact Finder: What is The Second Commandment?
See also The Second Commandment