The civilization of Babylonia and Assyria

Its remains, language, history, religion, commerce, law, art, and literature

by Morris Jastrow | 1915 | 168,585 words

This work attempts to present a study of the unprecedented civilizations that flourished in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley many thousands of years ago. Spreading northward into present-day Turkey and Iran, the land known by the Greeks as Mesopotamia flourished until just before the Christian era....

The methods of obtaining release from the demons are as various as the demons themselves, though they all rest on two motifs the power supposed to reside in certain formulas urging the demons to leave their victim, and the performance of certain rites based on sympathetic or symbolical magic, either mimicking the hoped-for release or applying certain remedies; but always with the idea that they will drive the demon away, rather than that they will have any direct beneficial effect on the patient.

The magic formulas invariably involve the invocation addressed to some divine agent or to a group of deities. The names of the gods have a certain power, the name being, according to a widely prevalent view, part of the essence of the being. Besides, words as such are also imbued with power a thought naturally suggested by the command of a superior which is obeyed by the one dependent upon a chief, and reinforced by the mystery of writing as the reflex of the spoken word.

A few specimens of the formulas will not be out of place. A brief and comprehensive one that is frequently found is

"By the name of heaven be ye forsworn, by the name of earth be ye forsworn,"

Or the exerciser appeals to all the gods as

"By the name of the gods, I adjure you"

or certain gods are specifically named as at the close of a rather elaborate command to the demons to leave the body [1]

"Away, away, far away, far away,
Be ashamed, be ashamed ! Fly, fly away !
Turn about, go away, far away,
May your evil like the smoke mount to heaven ! [2]
Out of my body away,
Out of my body far away,
Out of my body in shame,
Out of my body fly away,
Out of my body turn away,
Out of my body go away.
To my body do not return,
To my body do not approach,
To my body draw not nigh,
My body do not afflict.
By Shamash, the powerful, be ye forsworn,
By Ea, the lord of the universe, be ye forsworn,
By Marduk, the chief diviner of the great gods, be ye forsworn,
By the fire-god, who consumes you, be ye forsworn,
From my body be ye restrained!"

The magic formulas with the invocation to the gods constitute, however, only half of the exorcising ritual, the other and in many respects more important half being marked by ceremonies, accompanying the formulas, which as suggested either represent dramatically and symbolically the destruction or driving out of the demons, or fall within the category of medicinal charms that are supposed to have a direct effect on the demons.

We have already had occasion in discussing the views held of Ea, the water-god, [3] and of Nusku (with various other designations), [4] the fire-god, to point out that water and fire constitute the two chief elements in the symbolical rites for exorcising the demons. The Ea-ritual involved washing or sprinkling the body of the victim with water that is to be taken from the Euphrates or Tigris as the sacred streams, or from some bubbling source coming directly out of the earth.

So we read: [5]

"With pure, clear water,
With bright, shining water,
Seven times and again seven times,
Sprinkle, purify, cleanse !
May the evil Rabisyu depart !
May he step to one side !
May the good Shedu, the good Lamassu, remain in my body!
By heaven, be ye forsworn,
By earth, be ye forsworn."

An image is frequently made of the demon or of the sorcerer or sorceress, placed on a little boat and sent over the waters to the accompaniment of formulas, voicing the hope that as the image passes along the evil spirit may depart. The little boat is made to capsize and the image is drowned, or it is directly thrown into the water and thus again the hoped for release is dramatically reproduced.

The variations in the rites are naturally endless. It is merely a further modification of the Ea ritual if we find elsewhere directions to surround the bed on which the sick man lies with some kind of porridge made of water and barley, to symbolize the isolation of the individual, and with this isolation to secure his release from the torturing demons.

As the Ea ritual revolves around the use of water, in all kinds of variations, so the Nusku ritual is primarily concerned with the use of fire as a means of exorcising the demons, or of destroying the sorcerer and sorceress. The most direct method was to make an image of the demon and burn it, in the hope that the imitation might bring about the reality. [6]

"I raise the torch, their images I burn,
The images of the Utukku, Shedu, Eabisu, Etimmu,
Of Labartu, Labasu, Akhkhazu,
Of Lilu, Lilit and maid of Lilu,
And all evil that seizes men.
Tremble, melt and dissolve,
Your smoke rise to heaven,
Your limbs may the sun-god destroy.
Your strength may Marduk, the chief exerciser, the son of Ea, restrain!"

Or for the sorcerer and sorceress: [7]

"On this day step forward to my judgment,
Suppress the uproar, overpower evil,
As these images flutter, melt and disappear
So may the sorcerer and sorceress flutter, melt and disappear!"

The images were made of various materials such as pitch, clay, dough and bronze. A variation of this fire ritual consisted in taking substances such as onions, dates, palm cones, bits of wool, and seeds, and throwing them into the fire to the accompaniment again of magic formulas. A single specimen of such an incantation will suffice. [8]

"As the onion is peeled and thrown into the fire,
Consumed in the flaming fire,
In a garden will never again be planted,
In furrow and ditch will never be imbedded,
Its root will never again stick in the ground,
Its stalk never grow, never see the light of the sun,
Will never come on the table of a god or king,
So may the curse, ban, pain and torture,
Sickness, aches, misdeed, sin, wrong, transgression,
The sickness in my body, in my flesh, in my muscles,
Be peeled as this onion,
This day be burned in the flaming fire.
May the ban be removed, may I see the light!"

Similar formulas are prescribed for the other substances.

In addition, however, to burning the images of demons or sorcerers or throwing them into the water, a large variety of other symbolical actions are introduced in the incantation series, all falling within the category of sympathetic magic. The image is bound, hands and feet, so as not to be able to move, its eyes are pierced or filled with spittle, its tongue pulled out or tied, its mouth covered, or poison dripped into it or stuffed with dust, its body slit open [9] and the like; and thus mutilated, it is thrown into water or fire or on a dust heap.

From such rites it is not a long step to the endeavor to transfer the demon from the victim to some substitute a lamb, a pig or a bird, which appears then to have been offered up as a vicarious sacrifice for the life of the victim. [10]

"The lamb as a substitute for a man,
The lamb he gives for his life.
The head of the lamb he gives for the head of the man,
The neck of the lamb he gives for the neck of the man,
The breast of the lamb he gives for the breast of the man."

The underlying thought is that the demon passes out into the animal which is offered to the gods, to appease their anger against the human sufferer. We are justified in drawing this conclusion from the caution expressly given [11] not to eat the animal which is declared to he taboo:

"Take a white lamb of Tammuz, [12]
Place it near the sick man,
Tear out its insides.
Place in the hand of the man,
And pronounce the incantation of Eridu.
That lamb whose insides thou hast torn out,
Cover it up as forbidden food for that man,
Consign it to the flame or throw it into the street.
That man shut up in a room and pronounce the incantation of Eridu."

The animal has become unclean through the demon that has been transferred to it ; therefore it is not to be eaten, and while it is offered to .the gods as a means of diverting their anger from the man on whom it has been visited, it is not a sacrifice in the ordinary sense. The demon may be also transferred to a bird which is caught for the purpose, slaughtered and cut up, after which the blood together with its skin and some portions of the body is burned in the fire [13] to the accompaniment of an incantation.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Maklu series (ed. Tallqvist, Tablet V, 166-184).

2.

The line assumes, as an accompanying rite, the burning of images of the demons.

3.

Above, p. 211.

4.

Above, p. 226, seq.

5.

Haupt, Akkadische und Sumerische Kedschrifttexte (Leipzig, 1892), p. 90, col III, 1-13.

6.

Maklu, Tablet 1, 135-143.

7.

Maklu, Tablet II, 132-135.

8.

Shurpu-series (ed. Zimmern), Tablet V-VI, 60-72.

9.

See e.g., Maklu-series, Tablet III, 89-103 and Tablet VII, 97-107.

10.

Gun. Texts, xvii, PI. 37, Tablet 2Z, 15-22.

11.

Cun. Texts, xvii, PI. 10, 73-11, 87.

12.

I.e., born in the month of Tammuz the spring season.

13.

See Cun. Texts, Part xxiii, PI. 49, 3-6.

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