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Category: Gallu

A Babylonian Incantation

“In the hymns the mamit occupies a conspicuous place. Thus we read:

“0 curse, curse, the boundary that none can pass!

The limit of the gods (themselves) against which they may not transgress!

The limit of heaven and earth which altereth not!

The unique god against whom none may sin!

Neither god nor man can undo (it). A snare not to be passed through, which is set for evil.

Whether an evil utuk, or an evil alu, or an evil ekimmu, or an evil gallu, or an evil god, or an evil incubus, or a labartu, or a labatsu, or an akhkharu, or a lilu, or a lilat, or the maid of a lilu, or the evil plague-demon, or a disease-bringing asakku, or a bad sickness, which has set its head towards the dropping water of Ea, may the snare of Ea seize it! which has stretched its head against the wisps of Nirba (the Corn-god), may the lasso of Nirba bind it!

Against the limitation (of the curse) it has transgressed. Never may (the limitation) of the gods, the limitation of heaven and earth, depart from it. (The limitation of the great) gods it reverences not. May (the lasso of) the great gods bind it! May the great gods curse it! May they send back (the demon) to (his) home! The home of (his) habitation may they cause him to enter!

As for him who has turned to another place, to another place, a place invisible, may they bring him!

As for him who has turned into the gate of the house, the gate of a place from whence there is no exit may they cause him to enter! As for him who has stationed himself in the door and bolts, in the door and bolts may they hind him with bonds from which there is no release!

As for him who has blown (?) into the threshold and socket, who into threshold and hinge has crept, like water may they pour him out, like a cup may they shatter him, like a quarry-stone may they break him to pieces! As for him who has passed across the beam, his wings may they cut!

As for him who has thrust his neck into the chamber, may they twist his neck!”

H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, iv, 16, No. 1.

This is a fair sample of the incantations by means of which the Babylonians believed that they could free themselves from the demoniac agencies that surrounded them. The power of the mamit was such that the gods themselves could not transgress it, and the mamit was accordingly invoked to protect the mortal from the demons of plague and sickness.

But the plague itself might be regarded as a mamit or “doom” inflicted by heaven upon the guilty earth.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 307-9.

The Demons Named

” … The existence of several elaborate incantation series in Ashurbanapal’s library, prescribing a large number of formulas to be recited in connection with symbolical rites to get rid of the demons, furnishes the proof for the practical significance attached to incantations in both Babylonia and Assyria.

These series, Babylonian in origin, revert to Sumerian prototypes and represent compilations stretching over a long period, with additions intended to adapt them to conditions prevailing in Assyria.

The scribes of Ashurbanapal were not indulging in a purely academic exercise in copying the archives of Babylonian temples ; their purpose, as was also the aim of the king, was to make Nineveh the central religious authority as well as the political mistress by having in their control the accumulated experience of the past, in dealing with the religious needs and problems of their own age.

A feature which these incantation series [1] have in common is the recognition of a large number of demons, with special functions assigned in many cases to the one class or the other.

So, for example, there is a demon Labartu, represented as a horrible monster with swine sucking at her breasts, [2] who threatens the life of the mother at childbirth; a group known as Ashakku who cause varieties of wasting diseases, another demon Ti’u, whose special function was to cause diseases, manifesting themselves by headaches accompanied by fever, and so on through a long list. It will be apparent that there is no differentiation between the demon and the disease. The one is the synonym of the other, and accordingly in medical texts the demons are introduced as the designations of the diseases themselves.

The names given to the demons in many cases convey the “strength” or “size” ascribed to them, such as Utukku, Alu, Shedu, Gallu, or they embody a descriptive epithet like AkKkhazu, “seizer” (also the name of a form of jaundice); ‘Eabisu, the one lying-in-wait; Labasu, “overthrower”; Lilu and the feminine Lilitu, “night-spirit;” Etimmu, ghost or shade, suggesting an identification of some demons with the dead who return to plague the living, Namtar, “pestilence,” and more the like.

The descriptions given of them, cruel, horrible of aspect, blood-thirsty, flying through space, generally invisible though sometimes assuming human or animal shape or a mixture of the two, further illustrate the conceptions popularly held.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 241-3.

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