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Category: Witches

Priests and Priestesses in Babylonia

“AT an early period in Babylonian history the priesthood and kingship were blended in one office, and it is not until after several centuries from the beginnings of Babylonian history as we know it that the two offices were separated.

Indeed, long afterward the monarchs of Babylonia and Assyria appear to have taken especial pleasure in styling themselves the priests of such and such a deity, and in all likelihood they personally officiated at the altars of the gods on occasions of high religious sanctity.

The priesthood in general was called shangu, which may mean ‘ sacrificer,’ and there is little doubt that at first, as among other peoples, the Babylonian priest was practically a medicine-man. It was his business to secure people from the attacks of the evil demons who caused disease and the wiles of witches, and to forecast the future and discover the will and intentions of the gods.

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows.  Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth is elevated with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders.  The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.  The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder.  The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.  At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced. All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns.  At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, "Scribe."  Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.  http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

From left, Storm God Ninurta, with bows and arrows.
Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth is elevated with wings and spears and maces on her shoulders.
The tree of life sprouts to her right, our left.
The Sun God Shamash rises from the mountain Kur in the center, with rays of light on his shoulder.
The God of Water and Wisdom, Enki/Ea battles the bird-god Imdugud/Anzu, with depictions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and fish coursing from his shoulders.
At far right is the deified vizier Usmu, the two-faced. All gods wear conical hats with four pairs of horns.
At far left is the word Adda in Accadian cuneiform, “Scribe.”
Accordingly this cylinder seal is known as the Seal of Adda, Akkadian period, 2350-2100 BCE. British Library.
http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/787375

It is quite clear how such an official as this came to be known as the ‘sacrificer,’ for it would seem that the best way to find favour with the gods was to make offerings to them through an accredited intermediary. Indeed the early priesthood of Babylonia appears to have been as much magical as religious, and we read of the makhkhu, or soothsayer, the mushelu, or necromancer, the asipu, or sorcerer, and the mashmashu, or charmer, whose especial functions are probably outlined in their several titles.

But as civilization proceeded and theological opinion took shape, religious ceremonial began to take the place of what was little better than sorcery. It has been said that magic is an attempt to force the hands of the gods, to overawe them, whereas religion is an appeal to their protective instincts.

Now when the feeling began to obtain that there was such a quality as justice in the universe, and when the idea of just gods had an acceptance among the people through the instruction of thinking theologians, the more vulgar practices of the sorcerer-priests fell out of favour with the upper classes, if not with the populace, and a more imposing ceremonial took the place of mere incantation.

Besides, being founded on the idea of mercy as opposed to mere power, religion has invariably recommended itself, politically speaking, to the class of mind which makes for immediate and practical progress as apart from that which seeks to encourage mere speculation.

As the ritual grew the necessity for new branches of the priesthood was discovered. At the head of the priestly organization was the shangan-makhu, and each class of priests had its chief as well. The priests were a caste, — that is, it is probable that the right to enter the priesthood was vested in certain families, but many young men were educated by the priests who did not in after life exercise their functions, but who became scribes or lawyers.

As in the case of most primitive religions, the day of the priest was carefully subdivided. It was made up of three watches, and the night was divided into a similar number of watches. Three relays of priests thus officiated through the day and three through the night.

Iraq, Akkadian Period Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C. Black stone 4.2 cm H, 2.5 cm W Purchased in New York, 1947 Oriental Institute Museum A27903 This cylinder seal was dedicated to the goddess, Ninishkun, who is interceding on the owner's behalf with the great goddess Ishtar. Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders are a reference to her martial qualities. https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Iraq, Akkadian Period
Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C.
Black stone
4.2 cm H, 2.5 cm W
Purchased in New York, 1947
Oriental Institute Museum A27903
This cylinder seal was dedicated to the goddess, Ninishkun, who is interceding on the owner’s behalf with the great goddess Ishtar. Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders are a reference to her martial qualities.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Priestesses were also known in Babylonia, and many references are made in the texts to the ‘sacred women.’ Some of these were exorcisers, and others, like the Greek pythonesses, presided at oracular shrines. The cult of Ishtar in especial had many attendant priestesses, and these were of several classes.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 239-41.

More on Wax Figurines in Magic

The art of making such figures King James I. attributes to the “Divell,” and says in describing the things which witches are able to “effectuate by the power of their master (the following words are put into the mouth of Epistemon in Dæmonologie, in Forme of one Dialogue, London, 1603, Second Booke, Chap. V. pp. 44, 45)”:—

“To some others at these times hee teacheth, how to make pictures of waxe or clay: That by the roasting thereof, the persons that they beare the name of, may be continually melted or dried away by continuall sicknesse. . . .

They can bewitch and take the life of men or women, by roasting of the pictures, as I spake of before, which likewise is verie possible to their Maister to performe, for although (as I said before) that instrument of waxe have no vertue in that turne doing, yet may hee not very well, even by the same measure that his conjured slaves, melts that waxe at the fire, may hee not, I say at these same times, subtily, as a sprite, so weaken and scatter the spirites of life of the patient, as may make him on the one part, for faintnesse, so sweate it out the humour of his bodie: And on the other parte, for the not concurrence of these spirites, which causes his digestion, so debilitate his stomacke, that this humour radicall continually sweating out on the one part, and no new good sucke being put in the place thereof, for lacke of digestion on the other, he at last shall vanish away, even as his picture will die at the fire?

And that knavish and cunning workeman, by troubling him, onely at sometimes, makes a proportion, so neere betwixt the working of the one and the other, that both shall end as it were at one time.”

Thus we have seen that the belief in the efficacy of wax figures is at least six thousand years old, and judging from passages in the works of modern writers its existence is not unknown in our own country at the present time.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 100-2.

The Forbidden

“There shall not be found among you any one who maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire (a reference to worship of Moloch, which incorporates infant sacrifice), or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.”

–Deuteronomy 18:10

The Origin of Witches

“Plutarch placed his story about the death of Pan in a discussion about why the oracles had become defunct in the late antique world so pervaded by Christianity. With the death of Pan, the maidens who spoke out the natural truths were no more either, for the death of Pan means as well the death of the nymphs. And, as Pan turned into a Christian devil, so the nymphs became witches and prophecy, sorcery. Pan’s messages in the body became calls from the devil, and any nymph who evoked such calls could be nothing but a witch.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp. li. (James Hillman, “An Essay on Pan.”)

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