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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.

Elder and Younger Bel

The Bel of this legend, who has settled the places of the Sun and the Moon in the sky, is not the Babylonian Bel, but the older Bel of Nipur, from whom Merodach, the Bel of Babylon, had afterwards to be distinguished.

The Accadian original of the poem belongs to a very early epoch, before the rise of Babylon, when the supreme Bel of the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia was still the god whom the Accadians called Mul-lilla, “the lord of the lower world.”

This Bel or Mul-lilla fades into the background as the Semitic element in Babylonian religion became stronger and the influence of Babylon greater, though the part that he played in astronomical and cosmological lore, as well as his local cult at Nipur, kept his memory alive; while the dreaded visitants of night, the demoniac lilu and lilat or lilith, from the lower world, preserved a faint memory of the spirits of which he had once been the chief.

Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE). The figure in the relief was sometimes identified with Lilith, based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Burney_Relief_Babylon_-1800-1750.JPG

 One by one, however, the attributes that had formerly attached to the older Bel were absorbed by the younger Bel of Babylon.

It was almost as it was in Greece, where the older gods were dethroned by their own offspring; in the Babylonia of Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidos, it was the younger gods–Merodach, Sin and Samas–to whom vows were the most often made and prayer the most often ascended.

Such was the latest result of the local character of Babylonian worship: the younger gods were the gods of the younger Babylonian cities, and the god of Babylon, though he might be termed “the first-born of the gods,” was in one sense the youngest of them all.

The title, however, “first-born of the gods” was of the same nature as the other title, “prince of the world,” bestowed upon him by his grateful worshippers. It meant little else than that Babylon stood at the head of the world, and that its god must therefore be the first-born, not of one primeval deity, but of all the primeval deities acknowledged in Chaldea.

According to the earlier faith, he was the first-born of Ea only. Ea was god of the deep, both of the atmospheric deep upon which the world floats, and of that watery deep, the Okeanos of Homer, which surrounds the earth like a coiled serpent.

All streams and rivers were subject to his sway, for they flowed into that Persian Gulf which the ignorance of the primitive Chaldean imagined to be the ocean-stream itself. It was from the Persian Gulf that tradition conceived the culture and civilisation of Babylonia to have come, and Ea was therefore lord of wisdom as well as lord of the deep.

His son Merodach was the minister of his counsels, by whom the commands of wisdom were carried into practice. Merodach was thus the active side of his father Ea; to use the language of Gnosticism, he was the practical activity that emanates from wisdom.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, p. 103-4.

The Nusku Fire Rite of Exorcism

” … As the Ea ritual revolves around the use of water, in all kinds of variations, so the Nusku ritual is primarily concerned with the use of fire as a means of exorcising the demons, or of destroying the sorcerer and sorceress. The most direct method was to make an image of the demon and burn it, in the hope that the imitation might bring about the reality. [6]

“I raise the torch, their images I burn,
The images of the Utukku, Shedu, Eabisu, Etimmu,
Of Labartu, Labasu, Akhkhazu,
Of Lilu, Lilit and maid of Lilu,
And all evil that seizes men.
Tremble, melt and dissolve,
Your smoke rise to heaven,
Your limbs may the sun-god destroy.
Your strength may Marduk, the chief exerciser, the son of Ea, restrain!”

Or for the sorcerer and sorceress: [7]

“On this day step forward to my judgment,
Suppress the uproar, overpower evil,
As these images flutter, melt and disappear
So may the sorcerer and sorceress flutter, melt and disappear!”

The images were made of various materials such as pitch, clay, dough and bronze. A variation of this fire ritual consisted in taking substances such as onions, dates, palm cones, bits of wool, and seeds, and throwing them into the fire to the accompaniment again of magic formulas. A single specimen of such an incantation will suffice. [8]

“As the onion is peeled and thrown into the fire,
Consumed in the flaming fire,
In a garden will never again be planted,
In furrow and ditch will never be imbedded,
Its root will never again stick in the ground,
Its stalk never grow, never see the light of the sun,
Will never come on the table of a god or king,
So may the curse, ban, pain and torture,
Sickness, aches, misdeed, sin, wrong, transgression,
The sickness in my body, in my flesh, in my muscles,
Be peeled as this onion,
This day be burned in the flaming fire.
May the ban be removed, may I see the light!”

Similar formulas are prescribed for the other substances.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, np.

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.

Lilith

“Some of the supernatural beings resemble our elves and fairies and the Indian Rakshasas. Occasionally they appear in comely human guise; at other times they are vaguely monstrous. The best known of this class is Lilith, who, according to Hebrew tradition, preserved in the Talmud, was the demon lover of Adam. She has been immortalized by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Of Adam’s first wife Lilith, it is told

(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve)

That, ere the snake’s, her sweet tongue could deceive,

And her enchanted hair was the first gold.

And still she sits, young while the earth is old,

And, subtly of herself contemplative,

Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,

heart and body and life are in its hold.

The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where

Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent

And soft shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?

Lo! as that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went

Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent

And round his heart one strangling golden hair.

Lilith is the Babylonian Lilithu, a feminine form of Lilu, the Sumerian Lila. She resembles Surpanakha of the Ramayana, who made love to Rama and Lakshmana, and the sister of the demon Hidimva, who became enamoured of Bhima, one of the heroes of the Mahabharata, and the various fairy lovers of Europe who lured men to eternal imprisonment inside mountains, or vanished for ever when they were completely under their influence, leaving them demented.

The elfin Lilu similarly wooed young women, like the Germanic Laurin of the “Wonderful Rose Garden,” who carried away the fair lady Kunhild to his underground dwelling amidst the Tyrolese mountains, or left them haunting the place of their meetings, searching for him in vain:

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As ere beneath the waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon lover…

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honey dew hath fed

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.

Another materializing spirit of this class was Ardat Lili, who appears to have wedded human beings like the swan maidens, the mermaids, and Nereids of the European folk tales, and the goddess Ganga, who for a time was the wife of King Shantanu of the Mahabharata.

The Labartu, to whom we have referred, was a female who haunted mountains and marshes; like the fairies and hags of Europe, she stole or afflicted children, who accordingly had to wear charms round their necks for protection. Seven of these supernatural beings were reputed to be daughters of Anu, the sky god.

The Alu, a storm deity, was also a spirit which caused nightmare. It endeavoured to smother sleepers like the Scandinavian hag Mara, and similarly deprived them of power to move. In Babylonia this evil spirit might also cause sleeplessness or death by hovering near a bed. In shape it might be as horrible and repulsive as the Egyptian ghosts which caused children to die from fright or by sucking out the breath of life.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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