Nakamura: Clay Pit Ritual

by Esteban

“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.