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Nakamura: The Common Terrain Shared by Myth and Iconography

“After this “enlivening,” the āšipu then molds this clay into various figures of power and protection, in effect reenacting the divine creation of humans from the clay of the apsû, the primordial underground freshwater ocean.

(Similar narratives of the creation of humankind reiterate a trope of the divine formation of being from clay. In the Atrahasis epic (Tablet I, lines 210–213) humankind is born from the mixing of primordial clay and the blood of a slain god, and in Enki and Ninmah (lines 24–26) humankind is made from this clay only.)

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic Babylonian, about 17th century BC From Sippar, southern Iraq A version of the Flood story The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil's sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans. Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988) S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991) W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic
Babylonian, about 17th century BC
From Sippar, southern Iraq
A version of the Flood story
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.
This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)
W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

And this mimetic act doubles back, for at the end of the incantation the āšipu invokes the creative utterance of Enki (Ea) and incants himself into the picture; here he blurs his position as both mime and mimed other: “in this way, as both chanter and person chanted about, as demonstrator and demonstrated, he creates the bridge between the original and copy that brings a new force, the third force of magical power, to intervene in the human world” (Taussig 1993:106).

(One creation myth (of many) also poses Enki (Ea) as taking on the organization of the entire universe and accomplishes this feat solely in the creative power of his word (Black and Green 1992:54)).

And it is the āšipu’s body that provides the ligature of this bond:

O Ea, King of the Deep, to see…

I, the magician am thy slave.

March thou on my right hand,

Be present on my left;

Add thy pure spell unto mine,

Add thy pure voice unto mine,

Vouchsafe (to me) pure words,

Make fortunate the utterance of my mouth,

Ordain that my decisions be happy,

Let me be blessed wherever I tread,

Let the man who I (now) touch be blessed.

(Utukki Limnuti, III/VII:260 ff. Thompson 1903-04:27-9, added emphasis).

It is bodily sense — initiated by the āšipu’s voice, movement, and touch — that forges a correspondence between the natural and the divine.

Through the mimetic faculty, magical craft and performance invites a direct and sensuous relation with the open world capable of recuperating a pre-organized state of sensation and perception.

This visceral presentation of the self-becoming-other and spirit-becoming-substance, reproduces the original fold of being that encompasses divine, human, and natural worlds. The Mesopotamian world was indeed enchanted, and humans, always already engaged in such a world, needed only to feel or sense in order to retrieve such unity.

I have dwelled upon the bodily aspects of practice — namely, those gestures of relating and transforming through incantation, touch, and movement — to underscore magic as a technique, as a knowing and producing that choreographs a dis/re-organization of worldly relations.

Magical performance amounts to a mimetic demonstration of vital correspondences between ideas, essences, and things in the processual enactment of an ideal made real. The affective force of such bodily techniques arises from the kinetic communication and experience of the performance; but how are we to make sense of the power or force of ideal protection made real through the burial of miniature figurine deposits?

Most commonly, scholarship has approached this ritual practice and material assemblage by considering certain symbolic and conceptual linkages to Neo-Assyrian ritual, religion, and culture, for instance, the common terrain shared by myth and iconography (see Green 1983; 1993; Wiggermann 1992; 1993).

While such critical analyses get at important aspects and processes of ancient intellection, they ultimately fail to consider the devastatingly material logic of magic that often subverts (only to reinforce) such discursive productions of meaning. To redress this imbalance, I presently examine this concrete logic and how it discloses apotropaic power.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 30-1.

Nakamura: Clay Pit Ritual

“The crafting of clay figurines begins similarly, but what is notable here is the portrayal of the ritual scene that evokes a distinct sensory landscape in the enactment of certain requisite and standardized actions:

when you make the statues, creatures of Apsû,

in the morning at sunrise you shall go to the clay pit and consecrate the

clay pit; with censer, torch and holy water you shall [purify] the clay pit,

seven grains of silver, seven grains of gold, carnelian, hulā [lu-stone]

you shall throw into the clay pit, then prepare the setting for Šamaš,

set up a censer with juniper wood, pour out first class beer, kn[eel down,]

stand up, and recite the incantation Clay pit, clay pit.

Incantation: Clay pit, clay pit, you are the clay pit of Anu and Enlil,

the clay pit of Ea, lord of the deep, the clay pit of the great gods;

you have made the lord for lordship, you have made the king for kingship,

you have made the prince for future days;

your pieces of silver are given to you, you have received them;

your gift you have received, and so, in the morning before Šamaš, I

pinch off

the clay NN son of NN; may it be profitable, may what I do prosper.

(Text I, lines 144-57, Wiggermann 1992).

The appeal to the senses during this ceremony is striking. (Notably, this ceremony recalls certain aspects of the pīt pî (“washing of the mouth”) ritual that “enlivened” statues and images such that they could smell, drink, and eat like the deities that came to indwell in them.)

The scent of the censer, heat of the torch, luster of the metals, flavor of the beer, and sound of spoken words together invite and gather the human, natural, and divine worlds to a feast of sensory correspondence.

This demonstration accomplishes a sort of dazzling synthesis that deregulates the faculties — of imagination, outer sense, inner sense, reason, and understanding (Deleuze 1998:33) — and seeks communion through the apprehension of the world.

The result effectively gathers and binds spirit with matter to forge a unity of being as divergence or noncoincidence. It is a matter of “capturing and befriending” insensible forces by embracing the strife in which the perceptible and imperceptible, sensuous and non-sensuous belong to each other.

Through this performance, the clay pit as divine material is reenacted in a demonstrative process of making sense, and the sensual or aesthetic enactment of a certain understanding of the world discloses power in the process of re-forming meaning: “in the process of mimetic reenactment, we reach behind the already formed figurines of meaning, back to the dynamics, force and energy of their formation (Menke 1998:97-8).”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 29-30.

Nakamura: Magic’s Perception and Performance

Bodily Sense: Magic’s Perception and Performance

Mimesis asserts a gesture of expression that “retrieves the world and remakes it” (Merleau-Ponty 1973:78), and I am interested in how the Neo-Assyrian figurine deposits, as such gestures, retrieve and remake a protected world.

Figurines, as miniature bodily forms petrified in clay or stone, are distinct works of wonder; in the way of poetic disclosure, they project an idealized past and more desirable future. Figurines fascinate as they confront our gaze with something familiar in the unfamiliar, real in the counterfeit.

It is not only the object’s form or physicality that we identify and relate to, but something of the mimetic gesture: the faculty to create and explore ourselves, to encounter and become other (Taussig 1993:xiii).

Anterior to the organized knowledge of reflection, there is mimesis: this age-old and rather profound faculty that stands somewhere at the beginning of play, the beginning of language, and the beginning of self-making (Benjamin 1979).

With mimesis, we already have a sense that reality, at some level, is simply a matter of relations. Walter Benjamin conceived of the mimetic faculty as producing “magical correspondences” between persons and things, objects and essences: “a child not only plays at being a grocer or a teacher, but also at being a windmill or a train” (1979:65).

Relations forged through miming reveal remarkable correspondences between the material and immaterial; the copy assumes the power of the original, and a wish is “made real” in the material fabric of the world (Frazer 1957:55; Taussig 1993:47).

The elegance of the mimetic process lies in the way in which it always renders an imperfect copy, and it is this very intervention of imperfection that locates and captures creative force.

If Neo-Assyrian apotropaic magic reenacts a circulation of sense — a reorientation of perceptual and material systems — to disclose the protection of space and being in time, how might we consider a notion of protection constituted in the material gesture of placing numerous figurine deposits under Neo-Assyrian room floors?

Furthermore, what can we make of acts of burial, concealment, and containment in this context? Here, texts and archaeological materials considered together portray a remarkably detailed practice in the choreography of various mimetic acts.

Turning to the texts, we find they recount the exemplary life of these objects from creation to deposition. The ritual production of apotropaic figurines involved certain meaningful places, materials and gestures: one text instructs a practitioner, a high-ranking state āšipu (priest-exorcist) to go to the woods at sunrise to consecrate a cornel tree, recite the incantation “Evil [spirit] in the broad steppe” and then return to the city to make the figurines from the consecrated wood (see Text 1, 28– 44 in Wiggermann 1992).

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 28-9.

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