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Kvanvig: Five Specialties of Sages Communicating with the Divine

“There is no doubt that these assertions by the kings are tendentious; and one can discuss how wise the kings in reality were. They needed high competence in practical affairs; this is a matter of fact. They administered empires, warfare, economy, building of temples, palaces; this is not done without a high degree of skill.

(Cf. R.F.G. Sweet, “The Sage in Mesopotamian Palaces and Royal Courts,” in J.G. Gammie and L.G. Perdue, eds., The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, Winona Lake, 1990, pp. 99-107, 99f.)

Nevertheless, the kings boast of knowledge of a higher order, a knowledge that shares in the divine wisdom, either represented through the gods themselves, or through the apkallus. This at least included knowledge about reading and writing.

(Click to zoom in). <br /> A king depicted with the sacred tree and his ummanu standing behind him with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket.<br />  Some analysts consider the cone blessing gesture to be fertilization or pollination of the stylized date palm.<br />  It is interesting to note that the depictions of the king mirror one another, but with differences.<br />  In both, symbols of sovereignty are grasped in their left hands. A scepter or mace, in either case. The other hand, the right hand, plucks or blesses the tree.<br />  The winged conveyance hovers above the tree. Note that the kings wear indistinct caps, while the ummanus wear horned crowns indicative of divinity. Also, the ummanu have wings.<br />  From the Northwest palace at Nimrud. Held in the collection of the British Museum, BM 6657.

(Click to zoom in).
A king depicted with the sacred tree and his ummanu standing behind him with mullilu cone and banduddu bucket.
Some analysts consider the cone blessing gesture to be fertilization or pollination of the stylized date palm.
It is interesting to note that the depictions of the king mirror one another, but with differences.
In both, symbols of sovereignty are grasped in their left hands. A scepter or mace, in either case. The other hand, the right hand, plucks or blesses the tree.
The winged conveyance hovers above the tree. Note that the kings wear indistinct caps, while the ummanus wear horned crowns indicative of divinity. Also, the ummanu have wings.
From the Northwest palace at Nimrud. Held in the collection of the British Museum, BM 6657.

As far as we know, only three kings claim to have been literate in two thousand years of Mesopotamian history: Šulgi, Lipit-Ištar, and Ashurbanipal.

(Sweet, “The Sage in Akkadian Literature,” p. 65.)

The kings claimed obviously to share in this higher degree of wisdom, not only because of personal reasons, but because of the royal ideology according to which they ruled.

The wisdom they needed was not only insight into how to rule a country, but insight into the divine realm, to read the signs of the gods, to appease the gods when necessary, and to secure divine assistance to conquer demonic attacks.

To secure this kind of wisdom the king associated with a body of experts professionalized in various fields of this higher form of wisdom that demanded communication with the divine. This is the ideology of the pairing of kings and sages / scholars in Berossos and more extensively in the Uruk tablet.

In order to rule, a king needed a scholar at his side. In a chronographic composition from about 640 BCE, listing the kings of Assyria and Babylon together, the kings are listed together with one or two ummanus.

(Cf. S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. Part II: Commentary and Appendices, vol. 5/2, AOAT, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1983, pp. 448-9.)

An ummanu. In this case, the ummanu wears a headband with a rosette, rather than the usual horned tiara indicative of divinity, or semi-divinity. This must be an apkallu, an umu-apkallu, as it has wings, an indicator of supernatural status.

An ummanu. In this case, the ummanu wears a headband with a rosette, rather than the usual horned tiara indicative of divinity, or semi-divinity. This must be an apkallu, an umu-apkallu, as it has wings, an indicator of supernatural status.

Here we are in the historical reality lying behind the imagination of parallel kings and apkallus in antediluvian time. Historically, there existed ummanus of such a high rank that they were included in a list of rulers.

Due to the finding of numerous letters from the Assyrian royal court between the kings and these experts, we have gained profound insight into the duties of the experts. S. Parpola, who edited the letters, found that there are five special fields of expertise:

  1. “Scribe” (tupšarru)–expert in the art of interpreting celestial, terrestrial and teratological portents, and establishing the calendar and the ominous significance of days and months.
  2. “Haruspex” (bārû)–expert in the art of prognosticating the future, primarily by studying the exta of sheep sacrificed to oracle gods.
  3. “Exorcist” (āšipu)–expert in the art of manipulating supernatural forces (such as illness-causing demons) by magical means.
  4. “Physician” (asû)–expert in the art of curing diseases by means of drugs and other physical remedies.
  5. “Chanters” (kalû)–experts in the art of soothing angered gods (and thus averting calamities) by means of elaborate chants and lamentations.

Based on this correspondence, Parpola found that the experts could be divided into two groups, forming an “inner” and an “outer” circle in relation to the king.

During the reign of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal there were 16 men forming the “inner circle.” They were quite generally designated with the title rab, “chief:” rab tupšarrī, rab bārê, rab āšipī, etc.

An umu-apkallu at far left, with horned tiara indicative of divinity. The mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are in their customary places, rosette bracelets are displayed, and this ummanu is winged.<br />  This frieze is unusual for the fine detail lavished on the fringe and tassels of the garments. The sandals are portrayed with uncommon precision. <br />  On the right side, an ambiguous figure, perhaps a lesser order of ummanu, a specialist sage in service to the king. Beardless, the figure could be a eunuch, raising a royal mace or scepter surmounted with a rosette in its right hand. Could this be a woman at court? The facial characteristics are intriguing, the figure appears to wear a long fringed skirt rather than the robe portrayed on the apkallu at left, and appears to bear both a sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. Perhaps this is the arms bearer of the king, holding the royal scepter for his convenience.<br />  From the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, in the collection of the British Museum.<br />  BM 6642.

An umu-apkallu at far left, with horned tiara indicative of divinity. The mullilu cone and banduddu bucket are in their customary places, rosette bracelets are displayed, and this ummanu is winged.
This frieze is unusual for the fine detail lavished on the fringe and tassels of the garments. The sandals are portrayed with uncommon precision.
On the right side, an ambiguous figure, perhaps a lesser order of ummanu, a specialist sage in service to the king. Beardless, the figure could be a eunuch, raising a royal mace or scepter surmounted with a rosette in its right hand. Could this be a woman at court? The facial characteristics are intriguing, the figure appears to wear a long fringed skirt rather than the robe portrayed on the apkallu at left, and appears to bear both a sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. Perhaps this is the arms bearer of the king, holding the royal scepter for his convenience.
From the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, in the collection of the British Museum.
BM 6642.

The examination of their names and position demonstrated that they were high ranking men, and that only these few select “wise men” could be engaged in any sort of “regular” correspondence with the king.

Among the members of the “inner circle” there were several instances of family ties, giving the impression that these important court offices of scholarly advisors were in the hand of a few privileged families, “a veritable scholarly “mafia,” which monopolized these offices from generation to generation.”

The men of the “inner circle” did not reside in the palace area but in their own houses situated in downtown Nineveh. Occasionally they could leave their houses for visits to the palace and the king.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 141-3.

Kvanvig: The Bīt Mēseri Ritual

“The study of F.A.M. Wiggermann on protective spirits has contributed considerably to the understanding of the apkallus in Bīt Mēseri.

(Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits; Wiggermann deals with Bīt Mēseri especially on p. 105f. The connection between the apkallus and prophylactic rituals was already noticed by Oliver Robert Gurney, “Babylonian Prophylactic Figures and their Rituals,” Annals of Archeology and Anthropology 22, Liverpool University Press, 1935, pp. 35-96.)

Bird-Apkallū statuettes in characteristic poses, right hands on their breasts, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Bird-Apkallū statuettes in characteristic poses, right hands on their breasts, banduddu buckets in their left hands.

In Bīt Mēseri it is clear that there is already a sick man in the house. The ritual prescribes both how paintings of protective figures and small statues of them should be placed in the room of the sick man, and what incantations should be used. The ritual should be performed by the āšipu, the magician or exorcist operating against evil spirits causing diseases.

Three kinds of apkallus are also represented in Bīt Mēseri: ūmu-apkallus, fish-apkallus, and bird-apkallus. The designation ūmu can mean both “light” and “day;” Wiggermann opts for the second solution; they are “day-apkallus.”

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings. The so-called purādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

Fish-Apkallū statuettes of the type that were buried in the foundations of buildings.
The so-called purādu-fish apkallū were the seven antediluvian sages of Sumeria.

The fish-apkallus and the bird-apkallus are bīnūt apsê, “creatures of apsû.” They have divine origin.

Nothing similar is said about the day-apkallus. They seem to be of human descent. Nevertheless, Wiggermann considers them to have their origin from the antediluvian period as well.

The instructions concerning the invocation of the apkallus are introduced in the following way in Bit Meseri:

“To the seven figures of carp apkallus, painted with gypsum and black paste that are drawn at the side of the bedroom at the wall.

To the seven figures of apkallus of consecrated cornel; they stand in the gate of the bedroom nearest the sick man at the head of the bed.

To the seven figures of apkallus of tamarisk, kneeling, that stand at the foot of the bed.”

Thus, protective spirits surrounded the sick man. The first group is fish-apkallus, which is explicitly mentioned; the second is day-apkallus, on the basis of the material used; most likely the third is the bird-apkallus.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu's waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

This well-preserved bas relief retains incredible detail. The daggers carried in the Umu-Apkallu’s waistband are clear, as is the rosette styling on his wristbands. The earrings are more distinct than most other examples, and the headdress appears to be of the horned-tiara type. The umu-apkallu appears to wear bracelets on his upper arms. Tassels are apparent on the fringes of his robe, as well as behind the neck.

The list of seven and the subsequent four apkallus that we have been dealing with come after the first invocation. We therefore notice that these apkallus are fish-apkallus, which also is apparent in the description of them in the list. There is, however, an incongruity between the invocation and the list.

The invocation deals with seven apkallus; the list has in total eleven. This seems to indicate that the list is adapted into the ritual from another source.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, p. 131.

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.

On the Banduddu, or Bucket

Apkallu Attributes

“–banduddû, “bucket”.

Banduddû unquestionably denotes the bucket held by many figures of the reliefs, cf. Frank LSS III/3 671, Zimmern ZA 35 151, Smith JRAS 1926 70913, Hrouda Kulturgeschichte 77, Madhloom Chronology 109ff., Kolbe Reliefprogramme Type IIA, VI, IIB, IIC.

The object is attested also in the hands of clay figures: Rittig Kleinplastik 70ff. (bird-apkallu), 80ff. (fish-apkallu), 98f. (kusarikku). Two buckets from Babylon belonged to unknown figures of wood. The actual figures always carry the bucket with their left hand; the texts prescribe the banduddû for the left hand when another object is held in the right hand.

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed "genies," as they were long described, are now known to be apkallu, "bird-apkallu," mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

In Neo-Assyrian art these bird-headed “genies,” as they were long described, are now known to be apkallu, “bird-apkallu,” mixed-feature exorcists and creatures of protection created by the god Ea. They traditionally served as advisors to kings. Their association with sacred trees, as they are often portrayed, remains somewhat perplexing. The banduddu (bucket) and mullilu (tree cone) are clearly depicted, in a format which is repeated in Neo-Assyrian art.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanpernas2/8606000868/

When a figure does not hold a second object, the hand with which to hold the banduddû is not specified (kusarikku, cf. also text V i 12′; urmahlullû, text VI Col. B:31). Only Ensimah in the divergent “Göttertypentext” (MIO 176 v 21) holds the banduddû in his right hand.

The banduddû bucket is not to be confused with the “flowing vase”, called hegallu, “abundance”, in Akkadian (MIO 1 106 vi 8). In rituals the banduddû was filled with water (cf. CAD : the exorcist imitates Marduk, who, on the advise of Ea, takes water from the “mouth of the twin rivers”, casts his spell over it, and sprinkles it over the sick man: VAS 171i 21ff. (OB) reads: gi ba-an-dug-dug gi a-1á gliš-GAMI -m a šu u m-ti-en / í d ka – min – na a …

Ishtar at far left, with weaponry on her back, knife in hand. She is acknowledging the greeting of a worshipper, with an animal sacrifice in hand.  I am unsure about the divinity portrayed in the center, she is a goddess, the horned headdress confirms it, and she appears to hold the hegallu, a flowing vase, which is synonymous with "abundance." My scholarship is yet too meager to hazard a guess about the remaining figures depicted.

Ishtar at far left, with weaponry on her back, knife in hand. She is acknowledging the greeting of a worshipper, with an animal sacrifice in hand.
I am unsure about the divinity portrayed in the center, she is a goddess, the horned headdress confirms it, and she appears to hold the hegallu, a flowing vase, which is synonymous with “abundance.”
My scholarship is yet too meager to hazard a guess about the remaining figures depicted.

What follows is barely readable, but the section ends with: (26′) a ù – m u – e – s ù. In the translation the broken lines have been restored after the late parallels KAR 91 Rev. 1ff. and CT 17 26 64ff. (bilingual): “take the bucket, the hoisting device with the wooden bail, bring water from the mouth of the twin rivers (cf. Falkenstein ZA 45 32 ad CT 17 26 65), over that water cast your holy spell, purify it with your holy incantation, and sprinkle that water over the man, the son of his god”.

The effect of sprinkling the holy water is the “release”(ptr) of the threatened man (cf. Šurpu VIII 41; K 8005+ 33, quoted by Zimmern BBR 157m and CAD B 79b). The connection between “banduddû” and “release” (ptr) may have been reinforced by etymological speculation (dug = patāru).

The gi b a – a n – dug – dug was originally a reed (determinative GI) container (b a – a n, cf. Oppenheim Eames 10, Steinkeller OrNS 51 359) used to carry liquids (VAS 17 1 i 21′, cf. Civil Studies Oppenheim 87); as such it was coated with bitumen: d ug, “to caulk” ((Oppenheim Eames 85, Falkenstein NSGU 3 110).

A b a – a n- dug – dug could be made of metal as well (cf. CAD B 79b). The Neo-Assyrian bucket was occasionally still decorated with an imitation of basket-work design, but in fact apparently made of metal (cf. Madhloom Chronology 110f., Stearns AfOB 15 2544).”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p. 66.

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