Mesopotamian Apotropaic Gods and Monsters

by Esteban

“It remains, however, that art expresses theological development less clearly than the written sources. The types of art and their contexts were fixed in the third millennium, and only minor changes are allowed through time.

Most of the supernatural beings treated in this book become defeated adversaries of gods at some point in their history, but they are never represented as such in art. Other theological changes are expressed by omitting certain features or contexts, rather than by adding new ones.

The identities and histories of Mesopotamian monsters are the subject of this book. It is an expanded version of “Studies in Babylonian Demonology II,” announced in JEOL 27 90ff., dealing with the lahmu. Here the lahmu, the “hairy one,” reappears in its proper setting between the other apotropaic gods and monsters of the rituals. The expansion is due to the recovery of new textual material.

(F.A.M. Wiggermann, The Staff of Ninšubura: Studies in Babylonian Demonology II, Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux 29, 1985-6).

PazuzuDemonAssyria1stMil_2

Pazuzu: a demon-god of the underworld, sometimes invoked for beneficial ends. The inscription covering the back of his wings states: “I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issue violently from mountains, causing much havoc.” Pazuzu was particularly associated with the west wind which brought the plague. Under certain circumstances Pazuzu was a protective spirit, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who infected men with various diseases. Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake, with two pairs of wings and talons of a bird of prey. He has a scorpion’s tail and his body is covered in scales. http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090628125910/http://www.louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723696500800&baseIndex=56&bmLocale=en Bronze statuette of Pazuzu, circa 800 BC –- circa 700 BC, Louvre Museum.

The texts treated are rituals for the defence of the house against epidemic diseases, represented as an army of demonic intruders. The gates, rooms, and corners of the house are occupied by prophylactic figures of clay or wood, that the texts describe in detail. The clay figures have been found in excavations, and the importance of these texts for iconography lies in linking descriptions with archaeological fact.

Fortunately the archaeological material corresponding to our texts has been collected and discussed in two recent monographs: Dessa Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v Chr, (1977), and Dieter Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme religiös-mythologischen Charakters in neu-assyrischen Palästen, (1981). Both authors tried to match the archeological types with the figures of the ritual texts, then still fragmentary.

The main text K 2987B+ (parts of it were edited previously by O. R. Gurney, “Babylonian Prophylactic Figures and Their Ritual,” AAA 22 (1935), 42ff.) and the better preserved extracted KAR 298 are edited and collated below as text I and II, and considerable progress could be made in their reconstruction.

A third text containing similar material is bīt mēseri which has been treated here as text III.

Differing somewhat is the “Ritual for the Substitute King.” A new manuscript has been edited here as text VI.

Lamashtu demon amulet, ca. early 1st millennium B.C., Mesopotamia or Iran, Obsidian. James N. Spear Gift, 1984 Accession Number: 1984.348 Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/326961

Lamashtu demon amulet, ca. early 1st millennium B.C., Mesopotamia or Iran,
Obsidian.
James N. Spear Gift, 1984
Accession Number: 1984.348
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/326961

Although the identities and the histories of the monsters are the main subject of the present study, the information supplied by the texts on other facets of iconography could not be totally ignored. In the commentary on text II paragraphs on gods, sages, and attributes have been inserted. Here the correspondance of the texts with the archaeological material is less straightforward, and our results remain tentative.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. xii.