Exorcising Babylonian Demons

by Esteban

“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.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.