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Tag: Magic

Eco: The Kircherian Ideology

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), Egyptian pyramids by Gioseffo Petrucci, Prodromo apologetico alli studi chiercheriani, Amsterdam, 1677, reprinted from Sphinx Mystagoga, a selection of images related to Athanasius Kircher in the Stanford University Archives, curated by Michael John Gorman, 2001. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“It would be idle to hold Kircher responsible for his inability to understand the nature of hieroglyphic writing, for which in his time nobody had the key. Yet his ideology magnified his errors.

“Nothing can explain the duplicity of the research of Kircher better than the engraving which opens the Obeliscus Pamphilius: in this cohabit both the illuminated image of Philomatià to whom Hermes explains every mystery and the disquieting gesture of Harpocrates who turns away the profane, hidden by the shadow of the cartouche.” (Rivosecchi 1982: 57).

The hieroglyphic configurations had become a sort of machine for the inducing of hallucinations which then could be interpreted in any possible way.

Rivosecchi (1982: 52) suggests that Kircher exploited this very possibility in order to discuss freely a large number of potentially dangerous themes–from astrology to alchemy and magic–disguising his own opinions as those of an immemorial tradition, one in which, moreover, Kircher treated prefigurations of Christianity.

In the midst of this hermeneutic bulimia, however, there glimmers the exquisitely baroque temperament of Kircher at play, delighting in his taste for the great theater of mirrors and lights, for the surprising museographic collection (and one has only to think of that extraordinary Wunderkammer which was the museum of the Jesuit Collegio Romano).

Only his sensitivity to the incredible and the monstrous can explain the dedication to the Emperor Ferdinand III that opens the third volume of Oedipus:

“I unfold before your eyes, O Most Sacred Caesar, the polymorphous reign of Morpheus Hieroglyphicus. I tell of a theater in which an immense variety of monsters are disposed, and not the nude monsters of nature, but adorned by the enigmatic Chimeras of the most ancient of wisdoms so that here I trust sagacious wits will draw out immeasurable treasures for the sciences as well as no small advantage for letters.

Here there is the Dog of Bubasti, the Lion Saiticus, the Goat Mendesius, here there is the Crocodile, horrible in the yawning of its jaws, yet from whose uncovered gullet there emerges the occult meanings of divinity, of nature, and of the spirit of Ancient Wisdom espied through the vaporous play of images.

Here there are the Dipsodes thirsting for blood, the virulent Asp, the astute Icneumon, the cruel Hippopotami, the monstrous Dragons, the toad of swollen belly, the snail of twisted shell, the hairy caterpillar and the innumerable other specters which all show the admirably ordered chain which extends itself into the depths of nature’s sanctuaries.

Here is presented a thousand species of exotic things in many and varied images, transformed by metamorphosis, converted into human figures, and restored once more to themselves again in a dance of the human and the savage intertwined, and all in accordance with the artifices of the divine; and finally, there appears the divinity itself which, to say with Porphyry, scours the entire universe, ordering it with all things in a monstrous connubium; where now, sublime in its variegated face, it raises its canine cervix to reveal itself as Cenocephalus, now as the wicked Ibis, now as the Sparrow-hawk wrapped in a beaky mask.

[ . . . ] now, delighting in its virgin aspect, under the shell of the Scarab it lies concealed as the sting of the Scorpion [these descriptions carry on for four more pages] in this pantomorphic theater of nature  unfolded before our gaze, under the allegorical veil of occult meanings.”

This is the same spirit which informed the medieval taste for encyclopedias and for libri monstruorum, a genre which reappears from the Renaissance onwards under the “scientific” guise of the medical studies of Ambroise Paré, the naturalist works of Ulisse Aldrovandi, the collection of monsters of Fortunio Liceti, the Physica curiosa of Gaspar Schott.

Here it is combined, with a quality of frenzied dissymmetry that is almost Borrominian, recalling the aesthetic ideals presiding over the construction of the hydraulic grottos and mythological rocailles in the gardens of the period.

Beyond this, however, Rivosecchi has put his finger on another facet of the Kircherian ideology. In a universe placed under the sign of an ancient and powerful solar deity, the myth of Osiris had become an allegory of the troubled search for stability in the world still emerging from the aftermath of the Thirty Years War, in which Kircher was directly involved.

In this sense, we might read the dedications to Ferdinand III, which stand out at the beginning of each volume of the Oedipus, in the same light as the appeals of Postel to the French monarchy to restore harmony a century before, or as the analogous appeals of Bruno, or as Campanella’s celebration of a solar monarchy, prelude to the reign of Louis XIV, or as the calls for a golden century which we will discuss in the chapter on the Rosicrucians.

Like all the utopian visionaries of his age, the Jesuit Kircher dreamed of the recomposition of a lacerated Europe under a stable monarchy. As a good German, moreover, he repeated the gesture of Dante and turned to the Germanic, Holy Roman emperor.

Once again, as in the case of Lull, though in ways so different as to void the analogy, it was the search for a perfect language that became the instrument whereby a new harmony, not only in Europe, but across the entire planet, was to be established.

The knowledge of exotic languages, aimed not so much at recovering their original perfection, but rather at showing to the Jesuit missionaries “the method of bearing the doctrine of Christ to those cut off from it by diabolic malice” (preface to China, but also Oedipus, I, I, 396-8).

In the last of Kircher’s works, the Turris Babel, the story of the confusion of tongues is once again evoked, this time in an attempt to compose “a grandiose universal history, embracing all diversities, in a unified project of assimilation to Christian doctrine. [ . . . ]

The peoples of all the world, dispersed after the confusion, are to be called back together from the Tower of the Jesuits for a new linguistic and ideological reunification.” (Scolari 1983: 6).

In fact, hungry for mystery and fascinated by exotic languages though he was, Kircher felt no real need to discover a perfect language to reunite the world in harmony; his own Latin, spoken with the clear accents of the Counter-Reformation, seemed a vehicle perfectly adequate to transport as much gospel truth as was required in order to bring the various peoples together.

Kircher never entertained the thought that any of the languages he considered, not even the sacred languages of hieroglyphics and kabbalistic permutations, should ever again be spoken. He found in the ruins of these antique and venerated languages a garden of private delight; but he never conceived of them as living anew.

At most he toyed with the idea of preserving these languages as sacred emblems, accessible only to the elect, and in order to show their fecund impenetrability he needed elephantine commentaries.

In every one of his books, he showed himself as a baroque scholar in a baroque world; he troubled more over the execution of his tables of illustrations than over the writing (which is often wooden and repetitive).

Kircher was, in fact, incapable of thinking other than in images (cf. Rivosecchi 1982: 114). Perhaps his most lasting achievement, and certainly his most popular book, was the Ars magna lucis et umbrae of 1646.

Here he explored the visible in all its nooks and crannies, drawing from his exploration a series of scientifically valid intuitions which even faintly anticipate the invention of the techniques of photography and the cinema.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 162-5.

Eco: Kircher’s Chinese

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), schema of the Egyptian cosmos, Oedipus Aegyptiacus, tom. 2, vol. 1, p. 418. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

“In an earlier chapter, we saw the suggestion made that Chinese might be the language of Adam. Kircher lived in a period of exciting discoveries in the Orient. The Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, and, later, French conquered the route to the Indies, the Sunda seas, the way to China and to Japan.

But even more than by merchants, these pathways were traversed by Jesuits, following in the footsteps of Matteo Ricci who, a century before, had brought European culture to the Chinese, and returned to give Europe a deeper understanding of China.

With the publication of the Historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reino de la China by Juan Gonzales de Mendoza in 1585, there appeared in print in Europe characters in Chinese script.

In 1615 there finally appeared Ricci’s De christiana expeditione apud Sinas ab Societate Ieus suscepta, in which he explained that in Chinese, there existed as many characters as there were words. He insisted as well on the international character of the Chinese script, which, he wrote, was readily understood not only by the Chinese, but also by the Japanese, the Koreans, the Cochin-Chinese and by the Formosans.

We shall see that this was a discovery that would initiate the search for a real character from Bacon onwards. Already in 1627, in France, Jean Douet published a Proposition présentée au roy, d’une escriture universelle, admirable pour ses effects, très-utile à tous les hommes de la terre, in which Chinese was offered as a model for an international language.

At the same time, there had begun to appear information about the pictographic writings of Amerindians. Attempts at interpretation had yielded contradictory results; and this was discussed in works such as the Historia natural y moral de las Indias by José de Acosta in 1570, and the Relaciòn de las cosas de Yucatàn by Diego de Landa, written in the sixteenth century, although appearing only in the eighteenth; in 1609 there also appeared the Comentarios reales que tratan del origine de los Yncas by Garcilaso de la Vega.

An observation often repeated by these early observers was that contact with the indigenous natives was at first carried out by means of gestures. This awoke an interest in gesture’s potential as a universal language.

The universality of gestures and the universality of images turned out to be related themes (the first treatise on this subject was Giovanni Bonifacio‘s L’arte de’ cenni of 1616; on this topic in general, see Knox 1990).

The reports of his Jesuit brothers gave Kircher an incomparable source of ethnographic and linguistic information (see Simone 1990 on “Jesuit or Vatican linguistics”).

In his Oedipus, Kircher was especially interested in the diffusion of Chinese. He took up the same arguments, in a more elliptical form, in his China monumentis quà sacris quà profanis, nec non variis naturae et artis spectaculis, aliarum rerum memorabilis argumentis illustrata of 1667.

This latter work was more in the nature of a treatise in ethnography and cultural anthropology which, with its splendid and sometimes documented illustrations, collected all the reports that arrived from the missionaries of the Company, and described every aspect of Chinese life, culture and nature.

Only the sixth and last part of the work was dedicated to the alphabet.

Kircher presumed that the mysteries of hieroglyphic writing had been introduced to the Chinese by Noah’s son Ham. In the Arca Noe of 1675 (pp. 210ff) he identified Ham with Zoroaster, the inventor of magic.

But, unlike Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese characters were not for Kircher a puzzle. Chinese was a writing system still in use, and the key to its understanding had already been revealed. How could such a comprehensible language be sacred and a vehicle for occult mysteries?

Kircher realized that Chinese characters were originally iconic and only later had grown extremely stylized over time, so as to lose their original similarity with things. He reconstructed after  his own fancy what he took to be the designs of fish and birds that had formed the starting points for current ideograms.

Kircher also realized that these ideograms did not express either letters or syllables, but referred to concepts. He noted that in order to translate our dictionary into their idiom we would need as many different characters as we had words (Oedipus, III, 11).

This led him to reflect on the amount of memory that was necessary for a Chinese scholar to know and remember all these characters.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 158-60.

Eco: Kircher’s Egyptology

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Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), frontispiece to Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, Rome, Scheus, 1646. Compendium Naturalis says that this allegorical engraving was executed on copper by Petrus Miotte Burgundus. Multiple copies are posted on the internet, including an eBook courtesy of GoogleBooks, one at the Max Planck Institute, one at the Herzog August Bibliothek, and one at Brigham Young University among many others. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“When Kircher set out to decipher hieroglyphics in the seventeenth century, there was no Rosetta stone to guide him. This helps explain his initial, mistaken, assumption that every hieroglyph was an ideogram.

Understandable as it may have been, this was an assumption which doomed his enterprise at the outset. Notwithstanding its eventual failure, however, Kircher is still the father of Egyptology, though in the same way that Ptolemy is the father of astronomy, in spite of the fact that his main hypothesis was wrong.

In a vain attempt to demonstrate his hypothesis, Kircher amassed observational material and transcribed documents, turning the attention of the scientific world to the problem of hieroglyphs. Kircher did not base his work on Horapollo’s fantastic bestiary; instead, he studied and made copies of the royal hieroglyphic inscriptions.

His reconstructions, reproduced in sumptuous tables, have an artistic fascination all of their own. Into these reconstructions Kircher poured elements of his own fantasy, frequently reportraying the stylized hieroglyphs in curvaceous baroque forms.

Lacking the opportunity for direct observation, even Champollion used Kircher’s reconstructions for his study of the obelisk standing in Rome’s Piazza Navona, and although he complained of the lack of precision of many of the reproductions, he was still able to draw from them interesting and exact conclusions.

Already in 1636, in his Prodromus Coptus sive Aegyptiacus (to which was added, in 1643, a Lingua Aegyptiaca restituta), Kircher had come to understand the relation between the Coptic language and, on the one hand, Egyptian, and, on the other, Greek.

It was here that he first broached the possibility that all religions, even those of the Far East, were nothing more than more or less degenerated versions of the original Hermetic mysteries.

There were more than a dozen obelisks scattered about Rome, and restoration work on some of them had taken place from as early as the time of Sixtus V. In 1644, Innocent X was elected pope. His Pamphili family palace was in Piazza Navona, and the pope commissioned Bernini to execute for him the vast fountain of the four rivers, which remains there today.

On top of this fountain was to be placed the obelisk of Domitian, whose restoration Kircher was invited to superintend.

As the crowning achievement of this restoration, Kircher published, in 1650, his Obeliscus Pamphilius, followed, in 1652-4, by the four volumes of his Oedipus Aegyptiacus. This latter was an all-inclusive study of the history, religion, art, politics, grammar, mathematics, mechanics, medicine, alchemy, magic and theology of ancient Egypt, compared with all other eastern cultures, from Chinese ideograms to the Hebrew kabbala to the language of the brahmins of India.

The volumes are a typographical tour de force that demanded the cutting of new characters for the printing of the numerous exotic, oriental alphabets. It opened with, among other things, a series of dedications to the emperor in Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Hungarian, Czech, Illirian, Turkish, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Chaldean, Samaritan, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Persian, Indian and Chinese.

Still, the conclusions were the same as those of the earlier book (and would still be the same in the Obelisci Aegyptiaci nuper inter Isaei Romani rudera effosii interpretatio hieroglyphica of 1666 and in the Sphinx mystagoga of 1676).

At times, Kircher seemed to approach the intuition that certain of the hieroglyphs had a phonetic value. He even constructed a rather fanciful alphabet of 21 hieroglyphs, from whose forms he derives, through progressive abstractions, the letters of the Greek alphabet.

Kircher, for example, took the figure of the ibis bending its head until it rests between its two feet as the prototype of the capitalized Greek alpha, A. He arrived at this conclusion by reflecting on the fact that the meaning of the hieroglyphic for the ibis was “Bonus Daemon;” this, in Greek, would have been Agathos Daimon.

But the hieroglyph had passed into Greek through the mediation of Coptic, thanks to which the first sounds of a given word were progressively identified with the form of the original hieroglyph.

At the same time, the legs of the ibis, spread apart and resting on the ground, expressed the sea, or, more precisely, the only form in which the ancient Egyptians were acquainted with the sea–the Nile.

The word delta has remained unaltered in its passage into Greek, and this is why the Greek letter delta (Δ) has retained the form of a triangle.

It was this conviction that, in the end, hieroglyphs all showed something about the natural world that prevented Kircher from ever finding the right track. He thought that only later civilizations established that short-circuit between image and sound, which on the contrary characterized hieroglyphic writing from its early stages.

He was unable, finally, to keep the distinction between a sound and the corresponding alphabetic letter; thus his initial intuitions served to explain the generation of later phonetic alphabets, rather than to understand the phonetical nature of hieroglyphs.

Behind these errors, however, lies the fact that, for Kircher, the decipherment of hieroglyphs was conceived as merely the introduction to the much greater task–an explanation of their mystic significance.

Kircher never doubted that hieroglyphs had originated with Hermes Trismegistus–even though several decades before, Isaac Casaubon had proved that the entire Corpus Hermeticum could not be earlier than the first centuries of the common era.

Kircher, whose learning was truly exceptional, must have known about this. Yet he deliberately ignored the argument, preferring rather to exhibit a blind faith in his Hermetic axioms, or at least to continue to indulge his taste for all that was strange or prodigious.

Out of this passion for the occult came those attempts at decipherment which now amuse Egyptologists. On page 557 of his Obeliscus Pamphylius, figures 20-4 reproduce the images of a cartouche to which Kircher gives the following reading: “the originator of all fecundity and vegetation is Osiris whose generative power bears from heaven to his kingdom the Sacred Mophtha.”

This same image was deciphered by Champollion (Lettre à Dacier, 29), who used Kircher’s own reproductions, as “ΑΟΤΚΡΤΛ (Autocrat or Emperor) sun of the son and sovereign of the crown, ΚΗΣΡΣ ΤΜΗΤΕΝΣ ΣΒΣΤΣ (Caesar Domitian Augustus).”

The difference is, to say the least, notable, especially as regards the mysterious Mophtha, figured as a lion, over which Kircher expended pages and pages of mystic exegesis listing its numerous properties, while for Champollion the lion simply stands for the Greek letter lambda.

In the same way, on page 187 of the third volume of the Oedipus there is a long analysis of a cartouche that appeared on the Lateran obelisk. Kircher reads here a long argument concerning the necessity of attracting the benefits of the divine Osiris and of the Nile by means of sacred ceremonies activating the Chain of Genies, tied to the signs of the zodiac.

Egyptologists today read it as simply the name of the pharaoh Apries.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 154-8.

Eco: Lullian Kabbalism, 2

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Jan Amos Komensky, or Johann (John) Amos Comenius (1592-1670), from Opera didactica omnia, Amsterdam, 1657. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“Numerology, magic geometry, music, astrology and Lullism were all thrown together in a series of pseudo-Lullian alchemistic works that now began to intrude onto the scene. Besides, it was a simple matter to inscribe kabbalistic terms onto circular seals, which the magical and alchemical tradition had made popular.

It was Agrippa who first envisioned the possibility of taking from the kabbala and from Lull the technique of combination in order to go beyond the medieval image of a finite cosmos and construct the image of an open expanding cosmos, or of different possible worlds.

In his In artem brevis R. Lulli (appearing in the editio princeps of the writings of Lull published in Strasbourg in 1598), Agrippa assembled what seems, at first sight, a reasonably faithful and representative anthology from the Ars magna.

On closer inspection, however, one sees that the number of combinations deriving from Lull’s fourth figure has increased enormously because Agrippa has allowed repetitions.

Agrippa was more interested in the ability of the art to supply him with a large number of combinations than in its dialectic and demonstrative properties. Consequently, he proposed to allow the sequences permitted by his art to proliferate indiscriminately to include subjects, predicates, rules and relations.

Subjects were multiplied by distributing them, each according to its own species, properties and accidents, by allowing them free play with terms that are similar or opposite, and by referring each to its respective causes, actions, passions and relations.

All that is necessary is to place whatever idea one intends to consider in the center of the circle, as Lull did with the letter A, and calculate its possible concatenations with all other ideas.

Add to this that, for Agrippa, it was permissible to add many other figures containing terms extraneous to Lull’s original scheme, mixing them up with Lull’s original terms: the possibilities for combination become almost limitless (Carreras y Artau 1939: 220-1).

Valerio de Valeriis seems to want the same in his Aureum opus (1589), when he says that the Ars “teaches further and further how to multiply concepts, arguments, or any other complex unto infinity, tam pro parte vera quam falsa, mixing up roots with roots, roots with forms, trees with trees, the rules with all these other things, and very many other things as well” (“De totius operis divisione“).

Authors such as these still seem to oscillate, unable to decide whether the Ars constitutes a logic of discovery or a rhetoric which, albeit of ample range, still serves merely to organize a knowledge that it has not itself generated.

This is evident in the Clavis universalis artis lullianae by Alsted (1609). Alsted is an author, important in the story of the dream of a universal encyclopedia, who even inspired the work of Comenius, but who still–though he lingered to point out the kabbalist elements in Lull’s work–wished to bend the art of combination into a tightly articulated system of knowledge, a tangle of suggestions that are, at once, Aristotelian, Ramist and Lullian (cf. Carreras y Artau 1939: II, 239-49; Tega 1984: I, 1).

Before the wheels of Lull could begin to turn and grind out perfect languages, it was first necessary to feel the thrill of an infinity of worlds, and (as we shall see) of all of the languages, even those that had yet to be invented.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 130-2.

Eco: Lullian Kabbalism

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Unknown artist, Roma 1493, depicting the city of Rome as it appeared in that year. This woodcut was published in Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), Schedelsche Weltchronik, Nürnberg, 1493, on folio lvii verso and lviii recto. Known in English as the Nuremberg Chronicle, or Schedel’s World Chronicle, the work commissioned by Sebald Schreyer (1446-1520) and Sebastian Kammermeister (1446-1503) was lushly illustrated with the first depictions of many cities. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“We have now reached a point where we must collect what seem the various membra disiecta of the traditions we have been examining and see how they combined to produce a Lullian revival.

We can begin with Pico della Mirandola: he cited Lull in his Apologia of 1487. Pico, of course, would have been aware that there existed analogies between the permutational techniques of Lull and the temurah (which he called “revolutio alphabetaria“).

He was acute enough, however, to realize that they were two different things. In the Quaestio Sexta of the Apologia, where Pico proved that no science demonstrates the divinity of Christ better than magic and the kabbala, he distinguished two doctrines which might be termed kabbalist only in a figurative (transumptive) sense: one was the supreme natural magic; the other was the hokmat ha-zeruf of Abulafia that Pico termed an “ars combinandi,” adding that “apud nostros dicitur ars Raymundi licet forte diverso modo procedat” (“it is commonly designated as the art of Raymond, although it proceeds by a different method”).

Despite Pico’s scruples, a confusion between Lull and the kabbala was, by now, inevitable. It is from this time that the pathetic attempts of the Christian kabbalists to give Lull a kabbalistic reading begin.

In the 1598 edition of Lull’s works there appeared, under Lull’s name, a short text entitled De auditu kabbalistico: this was nothing other than Lull’s Ars brevis into which had been inserted a number of kabbalistic references.

It was supposedly first published in Venice in 1518 as an opusculum Raimundicum. Thorndike (1923-58: v, 325) has discovered the text, however, in manuscript form, in the Vatican Library, with a different title and with an attribution to Petrus de Maynardis.

The manuscript is undated, but, according to Thorndike, its calligraphy dates it to the fifteenth century. The most likely supposition is that it is a composition from the end of that century in which the suggestions first made by Pico were taken up and mechanically applied (Scholem et al. 1979: 40-1).

In the following century, the eccentric though sharp-witted Tommaso Garzoni di Bagnacavallo saw through the imposture. In his Piazza universale du tutte le arti (1589: 253), he wrote:

“The science of Raymond, known to very few, might be described with the term, very improper in itself, of Cabbala. About this, there is a notion common to all scholars, indeed, to the whole world, that in the Cabbala can be found teachings concerning everything [ . . . ] and for this reason one finds in print a little booklet ascribed to him [Lull] (though on this matter people beyond the Alps write many lies) bearing the title De Auditu Cabalistico. This is nothing but a brief summary of the Arte Magna as abbreviated, doubtlessly by Lull himself, into the Arte Breve.”

Still, the association persisted. Among various examples, we might cite Pierre Morestel, who published an Artis kabbalisticae, sive sapientiae diviniae academia in 1621, no more than a modest compilation from the De auditu.

Except for the title, and the initial identification of the Ars of Lull with the kabbala, there was nothing kabbalistic in it. Yet Morestel still thought it appropriate to include the preposterous etymology for the word kabbala taken from De auditu: “cum sit nomen compositum ex duabus dictionibus, videlicet abba et ala. Abba enim arabice idem quod pater latine, et ala arabice idem est quod Deus meus” (“as this name is composed of two terms, that is abba and ala. Abba is an Arabic word meaning Latin pater; ala is also Arabic, and means Deus meus“).

For this reason, kabbala means “Jesus Christ.”

The cliché of Lull the kabbalist reappears with only minimum variation throughout the writings of the Christian kabbalists. Gabriel Naudé, in his Apologie pour tous les grands hommes qui ont esté accuséz de magie (1625), energetically rebutted the charge that the poor Catalan mystic engaged in the black arts.

None the less, French (1972: 49) has observed that by the late Renaissance, the letters from B to K, used by Lull, had become associated with Hebrew letters, which for the kabbalists were names of angels or of divine attributes.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 128-30.

(Editorial Note: wallowing in the bibliography of Raimon Llull is not for the meek. I encountered many culs-de-sac and could not find digital versions of many of the works mentioned by Eco in this segment. If you have URLs to works which are not linked in this excerpt from Eco, please share them using the comment feature. Thank you.)

Eco: Kabbalism & Lullism in the Steganographies

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Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), Polygraphiae libri sex, Basel, 1518. Courtesy of the Shakespeare Folger Library as file number 060224. Joseph H. Peterson at the Esoteric Archives digitized a copy of the complimentary work on steganography held by the British Library in 1997. That work is listed as Trithemius, Steganographic: Ars per occultam Scripturam animi sui voluntatem absentibus aperiendi certu, 4to, Darmst. 1621. London, British Library. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.   

“A peculiar mixture of kabbalism and neo-Lullism arose in the search for secret writings–steganographies. The progenitor of this search, which was to engender innumerable contributions between humanism and the baroque, was the prolific Abbot Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516).

Trithemius made no references to Lull in his works, relying instead on kabbalistic tradition, advising his followers, for instance, that before attempting to decipher a passage in secret writing they should invoke the names of angels such as Pamersiel, Padiel, Camuel and Aseltel.

On a first reading, these seem no more than mnemonic aids that can help either in deciphering or in ciphering messages in which, for example, only the initial letters of words, or only the initial letters of even-numbered words (and so on according to different sets of rules), are to be considered.

Thus Trithemius elaborated texts such as “Camuel Busarchia, menaton enatiel, meran sayr abasremon.” Trithemius, however, played his game of kabbala and steganography with a great deal of ambiguity. His Poligraphia seems simply a manual for encipherment, but with his posthumous Steganographia (1606 edition) the matter had become more complex.

Many have observed (cf. Walker 1958: 86-90, or Clulee 1988: 137) that if, in the first two books of this last work, we can interpret Trithemius‘ kabbalist references in purely metaphorical terms, in the third book there are clear descriptions of magic rituals.

Angels, evoked through images modeled in wax, are subjected to requests and invocations, or the adept must write his own name on his forehead with ink mixed with the juice of a rose, etc.

In reality, true steganography would develop as a technique of composing messages in cipher for political or military ends. It is hardly by chance that this was a technique that emerged during the period of conflict between emerging national states and flourished under the absolutist monarchies.

Still, even in this period, a dash of kabbalism gave the technique an increased spice.

It is possible that Trithemius‘ use of concentric circles rotating freely within each other owed nothing to Lull: Trithemius employed this device not, as in Lull, to make discoveries, but simply to generate or (decipher) cryptograms.

Every circle contains the letters of the alphabet; if one rotates the inner wheel so as to make the inner A correspond, let us say, to the outer C, the inner B will be enciphered as D, the inner C as E and so on (see also our ch. 9).

It seems probable that Trithemius was conversant enough with the kabbala to know certain techniques of temurah, by which words or phrases might be rewritten, substituting for the original letters the letters of the alphabet in reverse (Z for A, Y for B, X for C, etc.).

This technique was called the “atbash sequence;” it permitted, for example, the tetragrammaton YHWH to be rewritten as MSPS. Pico cited this example in one of his Conclusiones (cf. Wirzubski 1989: 43).

But although Trithemius did not cite him, Lull was cited by successive steganographers. The Traité des chiffres by Vigenère (1587) not only made specific references to Lullian themes, but also connected them as well to the factorial calculations first mentioned in the Sefer Yezirah.

However, Vigenère simply follows in the footsteps of Trithemius, and, afterwards, of Giambattista Della Porta (with his 1563 edition of De furtivis literarum notis, amplified in subsequent editions): he constructed tables containing 400 pairs generated by 20 letters; these he combined in triples to produce what he was pleased to call a “mer d’infini chiffrements à guise d’un autre Archipel tout parsemé d’isles . . . un embrouillement plus malaisé à s’en depestrer de tous les labrinthes de Crete ou d’Egypte” (pp. 193-4), a sea of infinite cryptograms like a new Archipelago all scattered with isles, an imbroglio harder to escape from than all the labyrinths of Crete and Egypt.

The fact that these tables were accompanied by lists of mysterious alphabets, some invented, some drawn from Middle Eastern scripts, and all presented with an air of secrecy, helped keep alive the occult legend of Lull the kabbalist.

There is another reason why steganography was propelling a Lullism that went far beyond Lull himself. The steganographers had little interest in the content (or the truths) expressed by their combinations.

Steganography was not a technique designed to discover truth: it was a device by which elements of a given expression-substance (letters, numbers or symbols of any type) might be correlated randomly (in increasingly differing ways so as to render their decipherment more arduous) with the elements of another expression-substance.

It was, in short, merely a technique in which one symbol replaced another. This encouraged formalism: steganographers sought ever more complex combinatory stratagems, but all that mattered was engendering new expressions through an increasingly mind-boggling number of purely syntactic operations. The letters were dealt with as unbound variables.

By 1624, in his Cryptometrices et cryptographie libri IX, Gustavus Selenus was designing a wheel of 25 concentric volvelles, each of them presenting 24 pairs of letters. After this, he displays a series of tables that record around 30,000 triples. From here, the combinatory possibilities become astronomical.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 126-8.

Eco: Kabbalism and Lullism in Modern Culture

Marsilio_Ficino

Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), a bust published in “Marsilio Ficino and Renaissance Neoplatonism,” by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, on Rosicrucian.org. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Hebrew was not the only beneficiary of the passion for archaic wisdom that gripped scholars from the end of the Middle Ages onwards. The dawn of the modern era also saw a revival of interest in Greek thought and in the Greek’s fascination with Egypt and its mysterious hieroglyphic script (see ch. 7).

Greek texts were rediscovered and enthusiastically assigned an antiquity they did not, in fact, possess. They included the Orphic Hymns, attributed to Orpheus, but, in fact, written probably between the second and third centuries AD; the Chaldean Oracles, also written in the second century, but attributed to Zoroaster; and, above all, the Corpus Hermeticum.

This was a compilation acquired in 1460 for Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence, and immediately rushed to Marsilio Ficino so that he might translate it.

This last compilation, as was later shown, was the least archaic of all. In 1614, by using stylistic evidence and by comparing the innumerable contradictions among the documents, Isaac Casaubon, in his De rebus sacris et ecclesiasticis, showed that it was a collection of texts by different authors, all writing in late Hellenistic times under the influences of Egyptian spirituality.

None of this was apparent in 1460, however. Ficino took the texts to be archaic, directly written by the mythical Hermes or Mercurius Trismegistus.

Ficino was struck to discover that his account of the creation of the universe resembled that of Genesis, yet–he said–we should not be amazed, because Mercurius could be none other than Moses himself (Theologica platonica, 8, 1).

This enormous historical error, as Yates says, was destined to have surprising results (1964: 18-9).

The Hermetic tradition provided a magico-astrological  account of the cosmos. Celestial bodies exercise their power and influence over earthly things, and by knowing the planetary laws one can not only predict these influences, but also manipulate them.

There exists a relation of sympathy between the universal macrocosm and the human microcosm, a latticework of forces which it is possible to harness through astral magic.

Astral magic was practiced through words and other signs, because there is a language by which human beings can command the stars. Such miracles can be performed through “talismans,” that is, images which might guarantee safe recovery, health or physical prowess.

In his De vita coelitus comparanda, Ficino provided a wealth of details concerning how such talismans were to be worn; how certain plants linked by sympathy to certain stars were to be consumed; how magical ceremonies were to be celebrated with the proper perfumes, garments and songs.

Talismanic magic works because the bond which unites the occult virtues of earthly things and the celestial bodies which instilled them is expressed by signatures, that is, formal aspects of material things that recall certain features (properties or powers) of the corresponding heavenly bodies.

God himself has rendered the sympathies between macrocosm and microcosm perceptible by stamping a mark, a sort of seal, onto each object of this world (cf. Thorndike 1923-58; Foucault 1966; Couliano 1984; Bianchi 1987).

In a text that can stand as the foundation for such a doctrine of signatures, Paracelsus declared that:

“The ars signata teaches the way in which the true and genuine names must be assigned to all things, the same names that Adam, the Protoplastus, knew in the complete and perfect way [ . . . ] which show, at the same time, the virtue, the power, and the property of this or that thing. [ . . . ]

This is the signator who signs the horns of the stag with branches so that his age may be known: the stag having as many years as his horns have branches. [ . . . ] This is the signator who covers the tongue of a sick sow with excrescences, so that her impurity may be known; if the tongue is impure so the whole body is impure.

This is the signator who tints the clouds with divers colors, whereby it is possible to forecast the changes of the heavens. (De natura rerum, I, 10, “De signatura rerum“).”

Even the Middle Ages were aware that “habent corpora omnia ad invisibilia bona simulitudinem” (Richard of Saint Victor, Benjamin Major, PL, 196, 90): all bodies possess qualities which give them similarities with invisible goods.

In consequence, every creature of the universe was an image, a mirror reflecting our terrestrial and supernatural destinies. Nevertheless, it did not occur to the Middle Ages that these images might speak in a perfect language.

They required interpretation, explication and comment; they needed to be enclosed in a rational didactic framework where they could be elucidated, deciphered, in order to make clear the mystical affinities between a symbol and its content.

For Renaissance Platonism, by contrast, the relation between the images and the ideas to which they referred was considered so intuitively direct that the very distinction between a symbol and its meaning disappeared (see Gombrich 1972: “Icones Symbolicae,” v).

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 117-9.

Eco: The Concordia Universalis of Nicholas of Cusa

Tafel18

Meister des Marienlebens, Kreuzigung, Passionsalter aus Bernkastel-Kues, 1460. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“The seductive potentiality of Lull’s appeal to the principle of universal concord is revealed by the resumption of his project, two centuries later, by Nicholas of Cusa. Nicholas is famous as the figure who revived Plato during the years between the crisis of scholasticism and the beginning of the Renaissance.

Nicholas also propounded the idea of an infinitely open universe, whose centre was everywhere and whose circumference nowhere. As an infinite being, God transcended all limits and overcame every opposition.

As the diameter of a circle increased, its curvature diminished; so at its limit its circumference became a straight line of infinite length.

Likewise, in God all opposites coincide. If the universe had a centre, it would be limited by another universe. But in the universe, God is both centre and circumference. Thus the earth could not be the centre of the universe.

This was the starting point for a vision of the plurality of worlds, of a reality founded on mathematical principles, which can be submitted to continuous investigation, where the world, if not infinite in a strict sense, was at least capable of assuming an infinite number of guises.

The thought of Nicholas is rich in cosmological metaphors (or models) founded upon the image of the circle and the wheel (De docta ignorantia, II, 11), in which the names of the divine attributes (explicitly borrowed from Lull) form a circle where each supports and confirms the others (I, 21).

The influence of Lull is even more explicitly revealed when Nicholas notes that the names by which the Greeks, Latins, Germans, Turks and Saracens designate the divinity are either all in fundamental accord, or derive from the Hebrew tetragrammaton (see the sermon Dies sanctificatus).

The ideas of Lull had spread to the Veneto towards the close of the fourteenth century. Nicholas probably came into contact with them in Padua. Their diffusion was, in part, a reaction against a scholastic Aristotelianism now in crisis; yet the diffusion also reflected the feverish cultural atmosphere generated by close contacts with the East.

Just as Catalonia and Majorca had been frontier territories in contact with the Muslim and Jewish worlds at the time of Lull, so the Venetian Republic had opened itself to the world of Byzantium and of the Arab countries two centuries later. The emerging currents of Venetian humanism were inspired by a new curiosity and respect for other cultures (cf. Lohr 1988).

It was thus appropriate that in this atmosphere there should have reemerged the thought of a figure whose preaching, whose theological speculations, and whose research on universal language were all conceived with the aim of building an intellectual and religious bridge between the European West and the East.

Lull believed that true authority could not be based on a rigid unity, but rather on the tension between various centers. It was the laws of Moses, the revelations of Christ and the preaching of Mohammed that, taken together, might produce a unified result.

Lull’s doctrine acted as a mystical and philosophical stimulus and seemed an imaginative and poetic alternative to the encyclopedia of Aristotelian scholasticism, but it provided a political inspiration as well.

The works of a writer who had dared to put his doctrine into the vernacular proved congenial to humanists who, on the one hand, had begun to celebrate the dignity of their own native tongues, but, on the other hand, wondered how it was possible to establish a rational discussion which broke the boundaries of national traditions, a philosophy which could reanimate the body of encyclopedic scholasticism by injecting the leaven of exotic new doctrines, expressed in languages still entirely unknown.

In his De pace fidei, Nicholas opened a polemical dialogue with the Muslims. He asked himself Lull’s question: how might the truth of Christian revelation be demonstrated to followers of the two other monotheistic religions?

Perhaps, Nicholas mused, it was a mistake to translate the persons of the Trinity as “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Ghost.” Perhaps they should have been given more philosophical names (better understandable by other cultures).

In his ecumenical fervor, Nicholas even went so far as to propose to the Jews and the Muslims that, if they would accept the Gospels, he would see that all Christians received circumcision. It was a proposal, as he confessed at the end, whose practical realization might present certain difficulties. (De pace fidei, XVI, 60).

Nicholas retained from Lull the spirit of universal peace as well as his metaphysical vision. Yet before the thrilling potential of Nicholas’s own vision of an infinity of worlds could be translated into a new and different version of the art of combination, new ideas would have to fertilize the humanist and Renaissance world.

The rediscovery of the art of combination would have to wait for the rediscovery of Hebrew, for Christian kabbalism, for the spread of Hermeticism, and for a new and positive reassessment of magic.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 69-72.

 

Eco: Dante and Abulafia, 2

1280px-Bartolomeu_Velho_1568

Bartolomeu Velho (d.1568), Figure of the Heavenly Bodies, an illuminated illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric conception of the Universe, from Cosmographia, 1568. Held in the Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Paris. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“Yet could Dante have known the theories of Abulafia?

Abulafia visited Italy on several occasions: he was in Rome in 1260; he remained on the peninsula until 1271, when he returned to Barcelona; he returned to Rome in 1280 with the project of converting the pope.

He journeyed afterwards to Sicily, where we lose trace of him somewhere near the end of the 1290s. His ideas incontestably exercised an influence on contemporary Italian Jewish thought. We have a record of a debate in 1290 between Hillel of Verona (who had probably met Abulafia twenty years earlier) and Zerakhya of Barcelona, who arrived in Italy at the beginning of the 1270s (cf. Genot-Bismuth 1988: II).

Hillel, who had contacts in the world of Bologna intellectuals, had written to Zerakhya to ask him the question first posed by Herodotus: in what language would a child speak if it were brought up with no linguistic stimuli?

Hillel maintained that such a child would naturally speak Hebrew, because Hebrew was humanity’s original natural language. Hillel either did not know, or else disregarded, the fact that Abulafia was of a different opinion. Not so with Zerakhya.

He sarcastically remarked that Hillel had been taken in by the siren song of the “uncircumcised” of Bologna. The first sounds emitted by a child without linguistic education, he asserted, would resemble the barking of dogs. It was madness to maintain that the sacred language could be naturally bestowed on human beings.

Humanity possessed a linguistic potential, but it was a potential that could be activated only through education of the vocal organs. This, however, required instruction.

At this point, Zerakhya brought forward a proof that we shall find in a number of post-Renaissance Christian authors (for example, in the In Biblia polyglotta prolegomena by Walton in 1673, or the De sacra philosophia of 1652 by Vallesio): had there been the primordial gift of an original sacred language, then all human beings, regardless of their native tongue, would have the innate ability to speak it.

The existence of such a debate is enough to show, without needing to invent a meeting between Dante and Abulafia, that Abulafia’s ideas were subject to discussion in Italy, especially in the Bolognese intellectual circles which influenced Dante, and from which, according to Maria Corti, he absorbed his notion of the forma locutionis.

Nor does the Bologna debate constitute the only point of encounter between Dante and Jewish thought.

Genot-Bismuth has given us a vivid picture of the close of the thirteenth century in which we will later find a Yehuda Romano giving a series of lectures on the Divine Comedy for his co-religionists, a Lionello di Ser Daniele who did likewise using a Divine Comedy transliterated into Hebrew script, not to mention the surprising personage of Immanuel da Roma, who, in his own poetic compositions, seemed to launch an attack on Dante’s ideals almost aspiring to produce a sort of counter-Comedy in Hebrew.

Naturally this only establishes the influence of Dante on Italian Jewish culture, not the other way around. Yet Genot-Bismuth is able to show opposing influences as well, even to the point of suggesting that Dante’s theory of the four senses of scripture, found in his Epistula, XIII (cf. Eco 1985), had a Jewish origin.

Such a hypothesis may be too bold: there were any number of Christian sources from which Dante might have drawn this doctrine. What seems less daring, and, in fact, entirely plausible, is the suggestion that, in Bologna, Dante would have heard echoes of the debate between Hillel and Zerakhya.

One could say that in DVE he appears still close to the position of the former (or of his Christian inspirers, as Zerakhya reproaches him), while in Paradise he turns towards the positions of the latter, that is, the position of Abulafia (even though, when writing DVE, he already had the opportunity to know both theses).

However, it is not necessary to document direct links (even though Genot-Bismuth finds the presence of Jewish influences in certain passages of the De regimine principium of Giles of Rome), but rather to demonstrate the existence of a cultural climate in which ideas could circulate and within which a formal and informal debate between the church and the synagogue might ensue (cf. Calimani 1987: viii).

We should remember that, before the Renaissance, a Christian thinker would scarcely wish to admit publicly that he drew on Hebrew doctrine.

Like heretics, the Jewish community belonged to a category of outcasts that–as Le Goff shrewdly observes–the Middle Ages officially despised but at the same time admired; regarding them with an admixture of attraction and fear, keeping them at a distance, but making sure that the distance was fixed near enough so they would always remain close at hand.

“What was termed charity in their regard more resembled the game that cats play with mice” (Le Goff 1964:373).

Before the kabbala was rehabilitated by humanist culture, Christianity knew little of it. It was often simply regarded as a branch of the black arts. Even so, as Gorni has pointed out (1990: vii), in the Divine Comedy, Dante seems to share a great deal of knowledge about magic and divinatory practices (astrology, chiromancy, physiognomy, geomancy, pyromancy, hydromancy and, not least, the black arts of magic themselves).

In one way or another, Dante seems to have been informed about an excluded and underground culture in which, at least according to vulgar opinion, the kabbala somehow belonged.

In this way, it becomes ever more plausible that, even if it does not derive directly from the theories of the Modistae, Dante’s forma locutionis is not a language but the universal matrix for all language.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 49-52.

Kvanvig: Limitations of Human Wisdom and the Loss of Eternal Life

“As we have seen, the fragments B and D then continue the story in different ways, although there is one common trait before they diverge: in both places Adapa is offered, and accepts “garment and oil” (Amarna fragment B rev. 60-5; Nineveh fragment D rev. 1-3).

We think Izre’el is right here pointing out that there is a difference between the “food and water” that Ea denied Adapa, and the “garment and oil” that he allowed Adapa in his instruction before Adapa went to heaven.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

“Food and water” symbolize eternal life, while “garment and oil” symbolize wisdom.

(Izre’el refers here to clothes as the distinctive marker of human civilization, as seen for instance in the myth about the creation of Enkidu, Schlomo Izre’el, Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death, Eisenbrauns, 2001, pp. 122-3.)

Thus, according to both versions, the wisdom Adapa already has is confirmed in heaven. Then Adapa, according to fragment B, returns to the earth and his wisdom is confirmed, but he has lost the possibility for eternal life.

Fragment D continues:

Adapa, from the foundation of heaven to the summit of heaven,

looked at it all and saw his (Anu’s) awesomeness.

At that time Anu estab[lished] Adapa as watcher.

He established his freedom from Ea.

[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever:

[ … ] Adapa, seed of humankind,

[ … ] he broke the South Wind’s wing triumphantly,

(and) ascended to heaven, —so be it forever!

(Nineveh fragment D rev. 7-14).

The scene is a scene of inauguration. Immediately before, as we have seen, Adapa is given a new garment and is anointed. In light of what comes next, this is in D not only a confirmation of the wisdom Adapa already has; it is the preparation for introducing Adapa to the highest office any human was given.

Adapa, belonging to primeval time, and being the chosen one of Ea, already had a wisdom that superseded ordinary human wisdom, according to Fragment A. His broad understanding did, however, not include insight in the heavenly domain.

In our text Adapa is first equipped with the proper attire for the inauguration and then comes a description of the new insight he is given. Now his eyes are opened to the whole spectrum of divine understanding. If he previously only had insight into earthly matters, he now got what he was missing, full insight into the whole of Anu’s domain: “Adapa, from the foundation of heaven to the summit of heaven, looked at it all and saw his (Anu’s) awesomeness.”

Against the background of this new perception of the whole coherence, the proclamation of Adapa’s new status is given. He is inaugurated into massartu, “the office of being a watcher.” The expression has two contexts. On the one hand it refers to the cosmic order, which he now has received full insight into; on the other hand it refers to his magical competence, which is clear from the references dealing with illness that follow the inauguration.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.  Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.  The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.
Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.
The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art.

There is no contradiction between these two competences; the one who has insight into the hidden divine realm is also the one who is capable of fighting the evil demons causing misery on earth.

The sentence, “[An]u se[t] a decree to make glorious his lordship forever,” can be interpreted in two ways. The bēlūssu, “his lordship,” can refer to Anu; through this act Anu establishes his lordship. This seems a bit odd, since nowhere in the myth is Anu’s lordship challenged. It seems more likely that the pronoun refers to Adapa. The lordship refers to Adapa’s role as watcher, since he broke the South Wind’s wing so triumphantly.

This is the version of the myth lying behind the first apkallu in Bīt Mēseri. The name of this apkallu is U-an, “the light of An.” This is simply a naming according to what takes place in the inauguration.

He was the one who could complete “the plans of heaven and earth,” because he was the heavenly watcher who had seen everything, from the foundation to the summit of heaven. On the other hand, the seven apkallus occur in a special setting in Bīt Mēseri; the apkallus were invoked to protect human beings from diseases caused by demons.

In a similar context, the incantation series “to block the foot of evil into a man’s house” (cf. below), the apkallus are repeatedly called massarū; they are the watchers of health and life. As already stated, there is no contradiction here, because the insight in the divine real is the precondition for fighting demons.

Thus we have reached the conclusion that the different versions of the Adapa Myth are reflected in two ways in Bīt Mēseri. The apkallu who went up to and down from heaven is the Adapa from fragment B; the apkallu who had the name “Light of An” was the Adapa from fragment D. This explains the curious twin roles between the first and seventh apkallu. It also explains the double name Uandapa, simply expressing this is the first Adapa, named Uan.

And it is to be noted that even though we must assume that this quibbling with versions, roles, and names was Assyrian, it is through the name Uan that the first apkallu is known both in Berossos and in the Uruk list in the Babylonian environment.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 126-9.

Nakamura: Magic Enchants Us with the Possible Made Real

Conclusion

“An obscure memory of cosmic perturbations in the distant past and the dim thought of future catastrophes form the very basis of human thought, speech and images.”

M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World

“This obscure memory and dim thought of humankind vividly inhabited Neo-Assyrian mythologies, religious values, and social practices.

In Mesopotamian thought, dichotomies did not provide a fundamental way of organizing experience. Rational thought was neither dominant nor lacking in their system of knowledge; the medical use of plants, social ordinances and laws, city planning, and other cultural forms certainly exhibited strains of deductive reasoning.

But Mesopotamian thought also embraced the various shadows, symmetries, torsions, syncopations, ruptures, and reversals that punctuate the rich texture of human experience.

Two Kusarikku, or "bull-men," holding a sacred palm tree surmounted by the eight-pointed star of Ištar.  Note the horned headdresses, indicative of divinity.  From Eshnunna (Tell Asmar near Baghdad,Iraq). Early 2nd millennium BCE. Louvre, AO 12446

Two Kusarikku, or “bull-men,” holding a sacred palm tree surmounted by the eight-pointed star of Ištar.
Note the horned headdresses, indicative of divinity.
From Eshnunna (Tell Asmar near Baghdad,Iraq). Early 2nd millennium BCE.
Louvre, AO 12446

Magic traces a mode of thinking that is layered, reticular, and corporeal, rather than linear and abstract, and this mode provided the ground for Mesopotamian social and religious life in both its logical and sensory depth. Magic, then and now, enchants us not with the truth, but with the possible made real.

Neo-Assyrian magical figurine work conjures and materializes a primordial secret: if apotropaic magic names that which wards off and turns away evil, then evil is nothing other than the insidious reality that humans themselves create their own creators and make their own world.

But the exposure of this secret, which would seem to threaten the very dissolution of the religious belief and tradition at the core of Assyrian social life, instead serves to preserve these beliefs and traditions (cf. Taussig 1999).

In this way, the apotropaic device recalls that perverse disposition of the supplement: “a terrifying menace, the supplement is also the first and surest protection against that very menace” (Derrida 1974:153).

A pantheon.

A pantheon.

Figurine deposits secure the protection of the present by giving a future to the mythological past, a past in which the gods and spirits ground the condition for human social life.

This mimetic production does not reproduce the same, but discloses a new life through the figures of repetition, transfiguration, and burial; as such, it constitutes the processual enactment of a memorial gesture whereby a particular Neo-Assyrian mythohistory preserves its future in the material memory of itself.

The gods and spirits, like the dead, become our guardians, “we give them a future so that they may give us a past. We help them live on so they may help us go forward” (Harrison 2003:158).

As an art of doing, magic capitalizes on this strife between meaning and matter, life and death, past and future, and in it, grounds the authority of a desired social order.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 38-9.

Nakamura: The Figurines as Magical Objects

The Hybrid

“The magical power of the āšipu also allows him to identify certain mythological and supernatural beings appropriate for the task of protection; these are ancient sages (apkallū), warrior deities and monsters, associated with civilized knowledge and the formidable forces of life, death, peace, and destruction of divine will and rule (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993).

These figures take on different protective attributes depending on the nature of the represented being; the apkallū act as purifiers and exorcists to expel and ward off evil forces, while monsters, gods, and dogs tend to the defense of the house from demonic intruders (Wiggermann 1992:96–97).

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation –Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to – or identical with- ‘Lahamu’ one of Tiamat’s Creatures in that epic. http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

All of these figures find some association either with the underworld or the freshwater ocean under the earth (apsû) which was the domain of Enki, the god associated with wisdom, magic, incantation, and the arts and crafts of civilization (Black and Green 1992:75), and notably, all but the lahmu portray composite human–animal physiognomies (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.  1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).  2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Figure 2.2. Apotropaic figures with associated features.
1. Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992:65).
2. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial; it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992:155–156), and may also represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995:165; Russell 1991:184, fn. 27)

Such forms manifest a communion of things generally held to be opposed to each other. The blending of humans and animals in this context might capitalize on the tension between Mesopotamian conceptions of a structured, civilized human world and a chaotic, untamed natural world (Bottéro 1992).

Hybrids materialize a unity of self and other, human and animal as a strange being that is at once knowable and controllable and unknowable and incontrollable.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.  The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

Fish-man known as a Kulullû. Terracotta figurine (8th-7th BCE) in the Louvre collection, Nr. 3337.
The Kulullû is distinct from the fish-Apkallū. They are not the same.

As beings in-between, hybrids embody potential, transition, and similarity in difference. Such liminality is often associated with dangerous power, a power that obeys the apotropaic economy of the supplement, since it terrifies and yet provides the surest protection against that terror (Derrida 1974:154).

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

Another depiction of the Kulullû, or fish-man.

By miming such beings in clay figurines, the āšipu brings forth their active life and force in petrified form. Capitalizing on the apotropaic logic of defense, this gesture captures self-defeating force and suspends it in space, material, and time.

Many of the figurine types are depicted in movement with hands gesturing and a foot forward to suggest forward movement. Following Susan Stewart (1984:54), I submit that the force of animated life does not diminish when arrested in the fixity and exteriority of the figurine, but rather, is captured as a moment of hesitation always on the verge of forceful action.

The apotropaic figurine is a magical object — what Michael Taussig calls a “time–space compaction of the mimetic process” — doubled over since its form and matter, creation and presentation capture certain inherent energies that humans desire to control.

The magical object, which encounters the unknown by presenting its form and image “releases a force capable of vanquishing it, or even befriending it” (Deleuze 2003:52). But as ritual texts and archaeological deposits confirm, it was not just the images themselves that rendered power, but something in the process of their creation.

While such apotropaic figures appear in grand scale and idealized form on wall reliefs flanking entrances of kingly palaces purifying all who passed through the gates, the figures standing guard in floor deposits performed an additional task.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 34-6.

Nakamura: An Idiom of Protection Arises in the Material Enactment of Memory

Mastering Matters

“In the material register, Neo-Assyrian figurine assemblages present a physical gesture of miniaturization, hybrid form, and concealment. I have intimated that such material gestures disclose a magic technology as a symbolic and sensual logic that conspires with and against conventional value-producing forms.

The question now becomes one of how this material reality presents protection. I would suggest that in the context of apotropaic performance, a material economy that produces a miniature, hybrid, and hidden reality anchors and accomplishes an experience of human mastery.

Furthermore, this suite of gestures skillfully sustains the belief in divine power and order through a cunning reversal. The collision of Neo-Assyrian socioreligious beliefs with this material making engenders a force that cannot be contained or mastered by narrative closure.

This resistance to such mastery, in effect, secures magic’s very power. Magic does not seek the restoration of balance or the resolution of contradiction (Taussig 1993:126), rather it renders such contradiction immaterial, and in doing so, masters the system which defines the conditions of its disclosure.

The slippage between meaning and matter, belief and practice, enshrouds magic in secrecy that is at once opaque and transparent. As both contingent and autonomous, the magical object secretes indeterminacy into the structure that conceives it, holds it at a distance and thereby masters it.

Artifacts congeal processes of making — the simultaneous forging of objects, selves, relations, cultures, and worlds — in a gesture of becoming. To make is to transform, and such transformation derives from the human enactment of both the self and the world.

If we accept Bakhtin’s idea that to be means to communicate, then figurines are self-creating works that specifically address communications among various beings, human, animal, divine, and supernatural.

They provide the material site for the human action of creation which moves back on the human creators themselves (Scarry 1985:310), and this reverse process acts in complicit as much as disruptive, subversive, and obfuscating ways.

Notably then, the process of material creation discloses a certain “mimetic excess” (cf. Taussig 1993) whereby reproduction amounts to metamorphosis, self-amplification to self-effacement, and divergence to unity.

Bird-apkallū, with hands on their chests, and banduddu buckets in their left hands.

Bird-apkallū, with hands on their chests, and banduddu buckets in their left hands.

The Neo-Assyrians crafted protective figurines as clay or stone copies of various mythological and supernatural beings. Their form as miniature, portable, durable, free-standing, three-dimensional objects confronts humans within a distinct relationship; namely, this material choreography reproduces powerful beings in a reality that assumes an anthropocentric universe for its absolute sense of scale (following Stewart 1984:56).

The materiality of the figurine thereby discloses the authority of humans over the copy, and hence over the original. Here, the production and reception of the copy itself becomes a “dramatic form of (social) experience” (Jenson 2001:23), namely, that of human mastery.

Whether deity, double, ancestor, spirit, or animal, the “original” comes to inhabit a material reality of human design. As petrified and choreographed “life,” the figurine recreates the human as master in this relation, a relation whereby humans, as all-powerful giants, assert and play out their desires within the diminutive tableau of the figurine.

The specific “bundling” of material properties of the figurine provides an enduring frame and anchor for the various ways in which other subjects relate to it thereafter. As a thing, the petrified miniature object will always encounter and constitute subjects as vigorous, gigantic masters with the capacity to possess, manipulate, command, and destroy.

Through this production of figurines, Neo-Assyrian apotropaic rituals trace out complex, and even disorienting, relations between humans, deities, and various supernatural beings in space and time.

Throughout the ritual, the āšipu priest creates protective beings in a perpetual mode of dedication to important deities who are the “creators” of humankind. I have previously argued that these acts of dedication constitute a giving that takes back (Nakamura 2004); here, dedication is a demand for protection, a dialectic of giving that gives back more in return.

Protection then arises from the “mimetic slippage” that exacts a brash assertion of human mastery over divine power, masked through a posed reality of servitude. Apotropaic rituals enact a radical synthesis of material work and belief that configures a force capable of surmounting contradiction.

The durable material gestures of miniaturized scale, hybrid form, and concealment inscribe the subterranean landscape, effectively preserving a desired past for the future. In this way, an idiom of protection arises in the material enactment of memory.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 31-3.

Nakamura: The Common Terrain Shared by Myth and Iconography

“After this “enlivening,” the āšipu then molds this clay into various figures of power and protection, in effect reenacting the divine creation of humans from the clay of the apsû, the primordial underground freshwater ocean.

(Similar narratives of the creation of humankind reiterate a trope of the divine formation of being from clay. In the Atrahasis epic (Tablet I, lines 210–213) humankind is born from the mixing of primordial clay and the blood of a slain god, and in Enki and Ninmah (lines 24–26) humankind is made from this clay only.)

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic Babylonian, about 17th century BC From Sippar, southern Iraq A version of the Flood story The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods. This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil's sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans. Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh. T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988) S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991) W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

Cuneiform tablet with the Atrahasis Epic
Babylonian, about 17th century BC
From Sippar, southern Iraq
A version of the Flood story
The story outlines the structure of the universe according to Babylonian beliefs. Heaven is ruled by the god Anu, the earth by Enlil and the subterranean sweet water by Enki. The text then explains how the minor gods work in the fields but then rebel. As a result, humans are made from clay, saliva and divine blood to act as servants of the gods.
This does not prove a perfect solution, as the humans reproduce and their noise disturbs Enlil’s sleep. He decides to destroy them with plague, famine, drought and finally a flood. However, each time Enki instructs one of the humans, Atrahasis, to survive the disasters. The god gives Atrahasis seven days warning of the flood, and he builds a boat, loads it with his possessions, animals and birds. He is subsequently saved while the rest of humankind is destroyed. However, the gods are unhappy as they no longer receive the offerings they used to. There is a gap in the text at this point but it does end with Atrahasis making an offering and Enlil accepting the existence and usefulness of humans.
Copies of this story have survived from the seventeenth to the seventh century BC showing that it was copied and re-copied over the centuries. This is the most complete version. There are clear similarities between this Flood story and others known in Mesopotamian literature, for example, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1991)
W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atra-hasis (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/c/cuneiform_the_atrahasis_epic.aspx

And this mimetic act doubles back, for at the end of the incantation the āšipu invokes the creative utterance of Enki (Ea) and incants himself into the picture; here he blurs his position as both mime and mimed other: “in this way, as both chanter and person chanted about, as demonstrator and demonstrated, he creates the bridge between the original and copy that brings a new force, the third force of magical power, to intervene in the human world” (Taussig 1993:106).

(One creation myth (of many) also poses Enki (Ea) as taking on the organization of the entire universe and accomplishes this feat solely in the creative power of his word (Black and Green 1992:54)).

And it is the āšipu’s body that provides the ligature of this bond:

O Ea, King of the Deep, to see…

I, the magician am thy slave.

March thou on my right hand,

Be present on my left;

Add thy pure spell unto mine,

Add thy pure voice unto mine,

Vouchsafe (to me) pure words,

Make fortunate the utterance of my mouth,

Ordain that my decisions be happy,

Let me be blessed wherever I tread,

Let the man who I (now) touch be blessed.

(Utukki Limnuti, III/VII:260 ff. Thompson 1903-04:27-9, added emphasis).

It is bodily sense — initiated by the āšipu’s voice, movement, and touch — that forges a correspondence between the natural and the divine.

Through the mimetic faculty, magical craft and performance invites a direct and sensuous relation with the open world capable of recuperating a pre-organized state of sensation and perception.

This visceral presentation of the self-becoming-other and spirit-becoming-substance, reproduces the original fold of being that encompasses divine, human, and natural worlds. The Mesopotamian world was indeed enchanted, and humans, always already engaged in such a world, needed only to feel or sense in order to retrieve such unity.

I have dwelled upon the bodily aspects of practice — namely, those gestures of relating and transforming through incantation, touch, and movement — to underscore magic as a technique, as a knowing and producing that choreographs a dis/re-organization of worldly relations.

Magical performance amounts to a mimetic demonstration of vital correspondences between ideas, essences, and things in the processual enactment of an ideal made real. The affective force of such bodily techniques arises from the kinetic communication and experience of the performance; but how are we to make sense of the power or force of ideal protection made real through the burial of miniature figurine deposits?

Most commonly, scholarship has approached this ritual practice and material assemblage by considering certain symbolic and conceptual linkages to Neo-Assyrian ritual, religion, and culture, for instance, the common terrain shared by myth and iconography (see Green 1983; 1993; Wiggermann 1992; 1993).

While such critical analyses get at important aspects and processes of ancient intellection, they ultimately fail to consider the devastatingly material logic of magic that often subverts (only to reinforce) such discursive productions of meaning. To redress this imbalance, I presently examine this concrete logic and how it discloses apotropaic power.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 30-1.

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.

Nakamura: Magic as Mimesis in Mesopotamia

“Merleau-Ponty’s (1968) notion of intertwining or chiasm between interior and exterior experience might provide a helpful ontological frame here.

This bare movement of perception posits the emergence of various social worlds from the sensuous interchange between interior and exterior phenomena, namely, nodes of self-organization (perception) and the “chaos” of indeterminacy (being).

There exists a necessary separation and continuum between the former and the latter as the very condition for perception, such that perceptual faith becomes a “strange attractor in the circulation of sense, in the interweaving of perceptual and material systems” (Mazis 1999:233).

And Merleau-Ponty (1968) conceives of the bare notion of flesh as providing the substrate or condition for this movement. Flesh posits a world of indeterminate being connected by an essential openness to becoming completed by the world, things, others, qualities and interrelations (Grosz 1999:151).

Such transactions are never “completed” per se, but rather engage in continuous exchange, in an ongoing process of becoming. This unity, therefore, conditions perception as “a communication or communion, the taking up or completion by us of some extraneous intention or, . . . the complete expression outside ourselves of our perceptual powers and coition, so to speak, of our body with things” (Merleau-Ponty 1962).

The notion of an original unity seems to inhabit a Mesopotamian worldview in which dreams, visions, abnormal events, internal organs, and entrails provided an “empirical” basis for reality. In this reality, interior events and natural and social phenomena were intimately and specifically related.

One could argue that this worldview maintained a certain interpenetration or continuity between the interiority of the mind and the exteriority of the world. This notion is supported in the polysemic and polyphonic character of the Mesopotamian writing systems.

According to Asher-Grève and Asher (1998:39), the Sumerian language and vocabulary offers no evidence for the radical bifurcation of mind and body that is so fundamental to Western intellectual thought.

They find support for this notion in the Sumerian word, Šà, a holistic term that denotes the mind, body, and heart; the body and heart are the seat of the will, “it thinks, feels, has power over the limbs and is open to the influence of the deities” (1998:39).

Moreover, they see the body as providing a fundamental point of reference in early Mesopotamia; Sumerians see the body as the total being, confirmed by the absence of a distinct Sumerian word for brain/mind (1998:40).

In later times, ancient scribes and scholars exploited the flexibility of the Akkadian language evidenced in plays and puns on words (see Alster 2002). It is notable that the formation and development of the cuneiform script (created by Mesopotamians for Sumerian and adapted also to Akkadian), always allowed for a number of permutations and ambiguities to intervene, on the level of things indicated as well as on the level of signifying words (Bottéro 1992:94).

This capacity for linguistic signs and phonemes to hold multiple and freely interchangeable values reveals an indeterminacy built into what Bottéro calls the concrete and polysemic character of a “script of things” (Bottéro 1992:100). In other words, linguistic thought also supports a material logic of correspondence.

Although Mesopotamians certainly made distinctions between various concrete and intangible phenomena — the supernatural and natural worlds were connected through a notion of divinity, but were not seen as the same — perhaps it was the potential for their connection or conflation that was significant in the context of magic.

The reorientation of classical mind–matter, subject–object divisions within a relation of continuity and mutual implication sets up an ontological frame that might better approach an ancient Neo-Assyrian worldview (following Meskell 1999; 2002; 2004).

Such a frame not only situates magic in a pre-discursive world of relations, but also grounds it in an aesthetics that discloses a powerful process of enacting correspondence.

It should come as no surprise, then, to find mimetic work as a principle technique of magic, since the recovery of the world in its pre-differentiated unity provides the condition for the mimetic process of getting into the skin of an other (cf. Taussig 1993), that way of making which is the occasion of magic.

If this unity becomes obscured by the habitual, purifying movements of social process, then magic seeks its recovery in secrecy, through the concrete work of mimesis.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 26-7.

Nakamura: Magic Produces Wonder

The Sensuous Metaphysics of Magic: Mutual Constitution and Correspondence

“The representation of a wish is, eo ipso, the representation of its fulfillment. Magic, however, brings a wish to life; it manifests a wish.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough (Miles and Rhees 1971)

“Implicit in Wittgenstein’s aphorism that magic “manifests a wish” is the notion that magic requires concrete demonstration: the fulfillment of the wish made real.

At first glance, magic as both the manifestation of a wish and its fulfillment seems to pose a contradiction in this act of making real. But magic is an exchange that seeks synthesis, and such exchange, “as in any other form of communication, surmounts the contradiction inherent in it” (Levi-Strauss 1987:58).

Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) surmised, “to be means to communicate” (287). And the movement of such exchange presumes a sensuous intimacy between the outside world and ourselves: “to be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sovereign territory, he is wholly and always on the boundary; looking inside himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another” (Bakhtin 1984:287).

This is the human orientation of being amidst the constant flux of the world that provokes our fear as much as desire, and discloses the condition for a way of knowing directly and sensuously.

Giambattista Vico (1999[1744] ), a forward-thinking but marginalized philosopher of his time, implicated bodily sense in a critique of the Cartesian principle of Cogito; in response to the reductive logic of geometric certainty, he formulated the axiom: man can only know what he himself has made — “verum et factum convertuntur” — and to make is to transform oneself by becoming other (Vico 1999[1744]:160).

The implication of this premise posits that human knowledge cannot be exhausted by rationality; it is also sensory and imaginative. Although Vico’s project poses three progressive historical eras of man: the first ruled by the senses, the second by imagination, and the third by reflective reason, we now recognize that all three modalities of knowledge exist throughout human history albeit at different scales and intensities.

From this perspective, magic, which embraces bodily imitation and play, is better viewed as a poetic reinterpretation of the concrete reality of human action rather than the discovery of an objective reality that presumes to regulate it (Böhm 1995:117).

Indeed it is our sensory faculties and not our rational faculties that better apprehend certain complexities of the magical realm: we know when we feel.

In encounters with magic, we apprehend the apparent trickery of bodies, substances, and things. Our reaction to such events often betrays delight, horror, fear, disgust, attraction, and fascination simultaneously, and such disorientation is desired.

Magic produces wonder, and in doing so returns us to a state of apprehending the world that short-circuits those automatic processes of intellection that discipline the senses. And wonder is central to a mode of understanding that is “capable of grasping what, in ourselves and in others precedes and exceeds reason” (Pettigrew 1999:66).

Bodily sense is key here, since it can know something more than words express. The “trick” of magic, then, lies in attaining the unknown by disorganizing all the senses; in effect, it acts to deregulate relationships that are rigorously regulated by normative cultural forms.

The aesthetic experience of magic seeks the recovery of correspondences between people, things, and places in their pre-differentiated unity, a unity that becomes obscured through “habitual modes of perception” (Harrison 1993:180).

In this way, magic aims at the perceptual movements that continually render meaning rather than at meaning itself. In this intercalary register of experience, magic presumes a certain direct engagement with the world; specifically, it recalls a pre-differentiated world as an open possibility of interrelations constantly in flux.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 24-6.

Nakamura: More on Magic and Archeology

Magic Presents More Than It Represents

“The magical object is nothing less than confounding; like Marx’s table, it is “an apparition of a strange creature: at the same time Life, Thing, Beast, Object, Commodity, Automaton — in a word, specter” (Derrida 1994:152). Like that other odd Table-thing, the magical object presents:

the contradiction of automatic autonomy, mechanical freedom, technical life. Like every thing, from the moment it comes onto the stage of a market, the table resembles a prosthesis of itself.

Autonomy and automatism, but automatism of this wooden table that spontaneously puts itself into motion, to be sure, and seems thus to animate, animalize, spiritualize, spiritize itself, but while remaining an artifactual body, a sort of automaton, a puppet, a stiff and mechanical doll whose dance obeys the technical rigidity of a program. (Derrida 1994:153)

Derrida’s lucid description of the commodity provides an uncanny account of the magical object and its tendency toward unintelligibility. This opacity or resistance to meaning seems to extend from some perverse quality of thingness that precedes and exceeds reason and defies any empirical or semantic basis.

While a magical work gathers meaning from the specific context of its production, it also produces a material intervention in the world that asserts a new force — like mana — that “always and everywhere, . . . somewhat like algebraic symbols, occurs to represent an indeterminate value of signification, in itself devoid of meaning and thus susceptible of receiving any meaning at all” (Levi-Strauss 1987:55).

The condition of such opacity finds its origin not in a peculiar mental state as Levi-Strauss would have it, but in the promiscuous materiality of the work — the way in which it accommodates every relation it enters into, becoming spirit, idol, toy, or clay fabric G4 — such that it seems to defer and proliferate meaning.

There is something unsettling in the way things simply survive, through and beyond meaningful human signification, by continual deferral and deference. This is the strange life of things, animated and constrained by invisible relations and yet defiantly autonomous in their discrete physicality.

The allure of the thing lies in the way in which it can never be completed, never be fully or perfectly discovered; and it is always set in motion, propelled by human relations. In this way, the thing always exceeds its own narration.

And such authority in contingency, indeterminacy, and excess reveals an extra-semantic function of the magical object as the disclosure of powerful force in encounters of meaning and matter, life and death.

In this way, the magical object does not merely represent. It presents. This presentation, as not a reproducing or inventing but a capturing (Deleuze 2003:48), conjures a force that exceeds the totality of the complex relations and ideas that produce it.

Specifically, the magical event renders that which is not given over to meaning. Rather it vacillates between processes of signifier formation and the bare material potential of the world that is “superabundant beyond all understanding” (Menke 1998:69).

In seeking the concrete, magic captures the intractable power of things that is forever inaccessible to human mastery: things in their capacity for such excess and autonomy present a possibility — if not a guarantee — of life in death since pure matter, as an energy unbounded and unqualified by organic life, asserts the force of an existence that can never be destroyed, only conserved.

The obligation of death provides the very ground of life (Harrison 2003:70). And magic, as an event that disrupts the consensus (and what more final consensus can there be than death?), finds power in the bare possibility of presenting life as death, and meaning as matter.

This is the power of a radical materialism that lies beyond rational or linguistic analysis and suspends an “irresolvable dialectic,” a state of indeterminacy in the play between meaning and matter. These human–thing transactions trace an economy of the present in the sense that they do not seek a reconciliation of opposites, but rather a preserving of disjunction (Spivak 1974:xlii).

Within this ongoing movement, magic finds kinship with art and memory, unleashing a force as inscrutable to reason as it is captivating in our desire to control it.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 22-4.

Nakamura–Rimbaud’s Derangement of All the Senses, Magic, and Archeology

“Curiously, archaeological research has not fully exploited the evocative cooperation between text, iconography, material, and deposition in this apotropaic practice. Rather, it has been the art historical and Assyriological traditions that have provided the most thorough deliberations on the ritual.

Iconographic analyses present detailed visual descriptions of the figurines (Klengel-Brandt 1968; Rittig 1977; Van Buren 1931), and trace out a visual typology of apotropaic images (Green 1993; Wiggermann 1993), while textual analysis investigates the symbolic logic of apotropaic prescription and the mythological identities of the figures (Wiggermann 1992).

Two long-awaited volumes no doubt will provide further analyses of particular site assemblages (Green forthcoming) and the apotropaic figurines in general (Ellis forthcoming). Despite the richness of textual and archaeological data, an anthropological perspective is distinctly lacking; however, such research would considerably enrich our views of this remarkable ancient practice.

Regrettably, studies of previously excavated materials have not exploited the diverse range of approaches afforded by modern social sciences. While previously excavated sites and materials admittedly do not often lend themselves to the analytical and interpretive techniques most favored by archaeologists, such data should not be omitted from modern reconsideration and inquiry simply because they present a special challenge for substantive interpretation (see Meskell 1999).

There is, in fact, adequate data to perform detailed contextual and spatial analyses of the apotropaic practice at certain Neo-Assyrian sites. Furthermore, I would argue that conventional interpretations in archaeology — still oriented toward explanation and meaning — fail to get at the most compelling aspects of ancient magic, exactly that which makes it magical.

Magic surely presents something beyond the reach of representational or functional interpretations and thus demands a different perspective. What is required is an evocation of magic that aims directly at the caesura between meaning and matter and delves into the shadowy processes of materializing experience, belief, and value.

Perhaps it is not surprising that archaeology, with only material traces of human activity to work with, has left the critical study of magic to other disciplines. It is revealing that “magic” is generally invoked as an explanation for those slippery things, processes, and occurrences that our rational and linguistic varieties of logic can’t quite master.

From this vantage, magic has become something more suitable for explaining than for being explained. But as Mauss (1972) decisively observed in A General Theory of Magic, magic is as much a way of doing as a way of thinking.

We should consider, then, not a logic but an aesthetics of magical practice, as a particular way of making sense (Gosden 2001). And this way of doing engages a radical materiality that not only enacts the mutual constitution of subjects and objects, but provides the condition for such discursive practices.

A consideration of materiality vis-à-vis magic, then, does not presume and continue the anthropological pursuit of finding meaning in matter, the well-rehearsed terrain of discovering how various cultures construct and inscribe meaning in their artifacts.

What is magical or forceful in certain artifacts evades such fixed and flattened analyses since processes of abstraction do not account for the “untranscended materiality” or “plastic power” of the object that derives from the thing’s materialness itself (Pels 1998:101).

Impoverished attempts to discover the meaning or social context of a magical artifact, as it were, fall short not only because of an opacity of things, but also because our habituated ways of apprehending and constructing meaning threaten a veritable non-recognition of the things themselves.

This purifying analytical gaze effectively eviscerates matter of its very materiality — its innate capacity to continuously engage and enter into new relations. But recovering a recognition of things simply requires embracing the thingness of matter, namely, that insistent sensuousness of things that compels a confrontation with humans.

This move does not return us to problematic theories of materialism, but rather engages a notion of materiality as a dialectic and supplemental aesthetic of relating to.

Humans mime the animate in the inanimate, and the ideal in the real, to create and transform the world around them, only to be created and transformed right back. Such is the reality of matter: it “strikes back” (Pels 1998:91).

Within this framework I suggest that apotropaic figurine magic encompasses a process that enacts both a distinct mode of perception and a material event that renders a protected reality.

This discussion converges specifically on two aspects of magic: first, how magic capitalizes on a tension between the social construction of meaning and the radical autonomy of matter, and second, how magical perception, in the way of poetic action, masters the unknown by recovering and performing a “derangement of all the senses.” (Rimbaud 1967:302 and Deleuze 1993).

From such a viewpoint, Mesopotamian magic neither constitutes nor opposes a “rational” mode of knowing the world, but rather moves alongside in tandem, as counterpoint in a polyphonic system of knowledge. From this perspective, magic engages a sensuous metaphysics and grounds the possibility of a distinct socio-religious worldview.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 19-22.

Lahmu, “The Hairy One,” is Not Apkallu

“The Babylonian scientific and religious texts reveal the names of over three thousand gods and demons, members of local and national pantheons. Most, if not all, play a part in cult or magic, and must have been represented in some form.

Gods and demons, cult and magic, are the main subjects of Babylonian art, but generally texts and art cannot be combined. Captions and parallelism between text and representations on boundary stones and other monuments allowed the identification of a number of divine symbols; the Lamaštu ritual texts matching the Lamaštu amulets allowed the identification of the demons Lamaštu and Pazuzu, and of objects playing a part in the ritual.

Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away. Lamashtu's principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman's stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease. Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld. H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995) J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols (London, The British Museum Press, 1992) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx

Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu
From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC
A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children
This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away.
Lamashtu’s principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman’s stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease.
Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld.
H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/amulet_with_figure_of_lamashtu.aspx

(The Lamaštu amulets have been collected by Walter Farber, “Lamaštu,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RlA) 6/V-VI, 1983, p. 441; see also his discussion in E. Rochberg-Halton ed., Language, Literature, and History, Fs E. Reiner, 1987, p. 85ff), and Walter Farber, Lamaštu: An Edition of the Canonical Series of Lamaštu Incantations and Rituals and Related Texts from the Second and First Millennia BC, Eisenbrauns, 2014.)

Two texts, the “Göttertypentext” and the “Unterweltsvision,” describe the visual appearance of a number of supernatural beings, but both are atypical and can be used only with extreme caution. More promising was a group of texts containing descriptions of prophylactic figures, gods and demons, but efforts to combine the described figures with the actually excavated ones were hampered by the fragmentary state of preservation of K 2987B+ (below text I) and bīt mēseri (below text III).

(E. Köcher, Der Babylonische Göttertypentext, Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung (MIO), vol. 1, 1953, p. 57ff.; Wolfram von Soden, “Die Unterweltsvision eines assyrischen Kronprinzen,” ZA 43 (1936) 1ff. See also K. Frank, MAOG 14/2, 1941, p. 23ff. (discussions of figures), and the new edition of Alasdair Livingstone in State Archives of Assyria (SSA) Vol. IIIHelsinki, 1989, pp. 68-76.)

Thus texts and art remained largely seperated. Philology retired and the explanation of Mesopotamian art was left to archaeologists and art historians. The conviction gained ground that this state of affairs was necessary rather than accidental: there was indeed but a loose connection between the imaginary world of the texts and that of the objects.

Scribes and artists expressed different theologies on the basis of a less specified common culture. Observations by the famous German assyriologist B. Landsberger supported this theory. Landsberger adduced arguments to indentify the naked hero and the bull man, two traditional figures of art, with the apkallu, “sage,” and the GUD.DUMU.dUTU, the “Bull-Son-of-the-Sun.”

Lahmu is an Akkadian deity, the mythological first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. With his sister Lahamu, they were the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the father of the sky and the mother of the earth, who begat the first gods. Lahmu is depicted as a snake, or as a bearded man with six hair curls. For the Sumerians, Lahmu was “the muddy one,” and this title was ever after given to the gatekeeper of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. As gatekeeper, he is termed Lahmu the Hairy, or sometimes “the Hairy One.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lahmu

Lahmu is an Akkadian deity, the mythological first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. With his sister Lahamu, they were the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the father of the sky and the mother of the earth, who begat the first gods. Lahmu is depicted as a snake, or as a bearded man with six hair curls. For the Sumerians, Lahmu was “the muddy one,” and this title was ever after given to the gatekeeper of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. As gatekeeper, he is termed Lahmu the Hairy, or sometimes “the Hairy One.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lahmu

Landsberger’s identifications and conclusions, however, cannot be upheld. His identification of the naked hero as apkallu was based on a sign miscopied by E. Eberling and a fragmentary duplicate from London. Collation and new duplicates revealed the true name of the naked hero: lahmu, “the hairy one” (JEOL 27 p.91). History and connotation of “lahmu” perfectly match the history of the naked hero, and there is no longer any reason to suspect separate origins.

Landsberger’s equation GUD.DUMU.dUTU = bull man was based on etymology and the justified expectation that the bull man under some name occurs in the texts. The equation could be proved only now (below VII.C. 6), and it is evident that GUD.DUMU.d UTU is a logographic spelling of kusarikku, “bison,” a term well known throughout Babylonia in various other spellings. Again the history of “kusarikku” matches the history of the bull man, and again there is no reason to suspect separate origins.

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation –Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to – or identical with- ‘Lahamu’ one of Tiamat’s Creatures in that epic. http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

Lahmu, “Hairy,” is a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Apsu and Tiamat. He and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.” In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation –Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to – or identical with- ‘Lahamu’ one of Tiamat’s Creatures in that epic.
http://foundfact.com/portfolio-view/lahmu/#!prettyPhoto
http://foundfact.com/library/beings-people-and-gods/page/6/#!prettyPhoto

(Since lahmu, “the hairy one,” names the naked hero (hero with six curls) after his visual appearance, art must have played a part in the early formation of the supernatural world. In the case of “(mythological) Bison,” the artistic expression (bull-man) is secondary.)

Since a separation of texts and art cannot be maintained in the case of these two most prominent figures (others could be added), the theory of independent origins and development loses its supporting argument. The observed gap between art and texts is accidental, not necessary.”

F.A.M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, STYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, pp. xi-xii.

Spence on Babylonian Religion and Magic

“LIKE other primitive races the peoples of Chaldea scarcely discriminated at all between religion and magic. One difference between the priest and the sorcerer was that the one employed magic for religious purposes whilst the other used it for his own ends.

The literature of Chaldea—especially its religious literature—teems with references to magic, and in its spells and incantations we see the prototypes of those employed by the magicians of medieval Europe.

Indeed so closely do some of the Assyrian incantations and magical practices resemble those of the European sorcerers of the Middle Ages and of primitive peoples of the present day that it is difficult to convince oneself that they are of independent origin.

In Chaldea as in ancient Egypt the crude and vague magical practices of primeval times received form and developed into accepted ritual, just as early religious ideas evolved into dogmas under the stress of theological controversy and opinion.

As there were men who would dispute upon religious questions, so were there persons who would discuss matters magical. This is not to say that the terms ‘religion’ and ‘magic’ possessed any well-defined boundaries for them.

Nor is it at all clear that they do for us in this twentieth century. They overlap; and it has long been the belief of the writer that their relations are but represented by two circles which intersect one another and the areas of which partially coincide.

The writer has outlined his opinions regarding the origin of magic in an earlier volume of this series, and has little to add to what he then wrote, except that he desires to lay stress upon the identification of early religion and magic.

It is only when they begin to evolve, to branch out, that the two systems present differences. If there is any one circumstance which accentuates the difference more than another it is that the ethical element does not enter into magic in the same manner as it does into religion.

That Chaldean magic was the precursor of European mediaeval magic as apart from popular sorcery and witchcraft is instanced not only by the similarity between the systems but by the introduction into mediaeval magic of the names of Babylonian and Assyrian gods and magicians.

Again and again is Babylon appealed to even more frequently than Egypt, and we meet constantly with the names of Beelzebub, Ishtar (as Astarte), Baal, and Moloch, whilst the names of demons, obviously of Babylonian origin, are encountered in almost every work on the subject.

Frequent allusions are also made to the ‘wise men’ and necromancers of Babylon, and to the ‘star-gazers’ of Chaldea. The conclusion is irresistible that ceremonial magic, as practised in the Middle Ages, owed much to that of Babylon.

Our information regarding Chaldean magic is much more complete than that which we possess concerning the magic of ancient Egypt.

Hundreds of spells, incantations, and omen-inscriptions have been recovered, and these not only enlighten us regarding the class of priests who practised magic, but they tell us of the several varieties of demons, ghosts, and evil spirits; they minutely describe the Babylonian witch and wizard, and they picture for us many magical ceremonies, besides informing us of the names of scores of plants and flowers possessing magical properties, of magical substances, jewels, amulets, and the like.

Also they speak of sortilege or the divination of the future, of the drawing of magical circles, of the exorcism of evil spirits, and the casting out of demons.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 257-9.

Lenormant on the Great Babylonian Work on Magic

“The great work on magic, many copies of which had been executed by the scribes of Ashurbanipal, according to the pattern placed centuries since in the library of the famous school for priests at Erech in Chaldea, was composed of three different books.

We know the title of one of the three, “The Wicked Spirits,” for we find at the end of each of the tablets, which come from it and which have been preserved entire, “Tablet No. __ of the Wicked Spirits.”

As the title shows, it was filled exclusively with formulae of conjurations and imprecations, which were designed to repulse demons and other wicked spirits, to avert their fatal action, and to shelter the invoker from their attacks.

Portions of a second book exist, and, judging from what remains of it, it would seem to be formed of a collection of these incantations, to which was attributed the power of curing various maladies.

Lastly, the third book contained Hymns to certain gods. A supernatural and mysterious power was attributed to the chanting of these hymns, which are, however, of a very different character from the regular liturgical prayers of the official religion, a few of which have been preserved to us.

It is curious to notice that the three parts composing thus the great work on magic, of which Sir Henry Rawlinson has found the remains, correspond exactly to the three classes of Chaldean doctors, which Daniel (ii, 2; v. II) enumerates, together with the astrologers and divines (Kasdim and Gazrim), that is, the Khartumim or conjurors, the Chakamim or physicians, and the Asaphim or theosophists.”

François Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, “The Magic and Sorcery of the Chaldeans,” Chapter I, 1878, pp. 13-4. Originally published as La Magie Chez Les Chaldeens, 1847.

The Tree of Life = The Tree of Knowledge

“But the cedar was something more than a world-tree. It was employed, as we have seen, in incantations and magic rites which were intended to restore strength and life to the human frame. It was thus essentially “a tree of life,” and the prototype and original of those conventional trees of Iife with which the walls of the Assyrian paiaces were adorned.

Stone relief from the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II. Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, 870–860 BC. This Assyrian relief is from the throne room of the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC) at Nimrud in northern Iraq. It was originally positioned behind the king’s throne. Ashurnasirpal appears twice, shown from two sides, dressed in ritual robes and holding a mace symbolising his authority. The figure of the king on the right makes a gesture of worship to a god in a winged disk in the top centre of the relief.  The source of the king’s power may be Ashur, the national god, or Shamash, the god of the sun and justice.  He holds a ring in one hand, an ancient Mesopotamian symbol of god-given kingship. The figure of the king on the left appears to gesture towards a Sacred Tree in the centre. This balanced combination of steams and foliage is a symbol of fertility and abundance given by the gods. Behind the king, on either side of the relief, is a winged protective spirit who blesses and purifies Ashurnasirpal using a cone-shaped object to sprinkle liquid from a ritual bucket. The relief thus summarises visually the main ideas of Assyrian kingship; he is the source of abundance provided by the gods. Ancient visitors approaching the enthroned king would have thus seen three royal figures, the living king facing them, and, on either side of him, two carved images showing Ashurnasirpal’s relationship with the gods.  Emerging from behind the king himself would be the Sacred-Tree. There was another almost identical relief opposite the main door of the throne room, and similar scenes occupied prominent positions in other Assyrian palaces. They were also embroidered on the royal clothes. J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983) Excavated by Austen Henry Layard, 1845-7 ME 124531, Room 7-8: Assyria: Nimrud http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/s/stone_throne_room_relief.aspx

Stone relief from the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II.
Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, 870–860 BC.
This Assyrian relief is from the throne room of the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC) at Nimrud in northern Iraq. It was originally positioned behind the king’s throne.
Ashurnasirpal appears twice, shown from two sides, dressed in ritual robes and holding a mace symbolising his authority. The figure of the king on the right makes a gesture of worship to a god in a winged disk in the top centre of the relief.
The source of the king’s power may be Ashur, the national god, or Shamash, the god of the sun and justice.
He holds a ring in one hand, an ancient Mesopotamian symbol of god-given kingship. The figure of the king on the left appears to gesture towards a Sacred Tree in the centre. This balanced combination of steams and foliage is a symbol of fertility and abundance given by the gods.
Behind the king, on either side of the relief, is a winged protective spirit who blesses and purifies Ashurnasirpal using a cone-shaped object to sprinkle liquid from a ritual bucket. The relief thus summarises visually the main ideas of Assyrian kingship; he is the source of abundance provided by the gods.
Ancient visitors approaching the enthroned king would have thus seen three royal figures, the living king facing them, and, on either side of him, two carved images showing Ashurnasirpal’s relationship with the gods.
Emerging from behind the king himself would be the Sacred-Tree.
There was another almost identical relief opposite the main door of the throne room, and similar scenes occupied prominent positions in other Assyrian palaces. They were also embroidered on the royal clothes.
J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)
Excavated by Austen Henry Layard, 1845-7
ME 124531, Room 7-8: Assyria: Nimrud
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/s/stone_throne_room_relief.aspx

 Those who have visited the Assyrian collection of the British Museum will remember the curious form which it generally assumes, as well as the figures of the two cherubs which kneel or stand before it on either side. At times they are purely human; at other times they have the head of a hawk and hold a cone–the fruit of the cedar–over the tree by whose side they stand.

Alabaster relief from Nimroud, in the Louvre.  http://world-mysteries.com/mpl.htm

Alabaster relief from Nimroud, in the Louvre. The cone, or “fruit of the cedar,” is in the right hand of the eagle figure.
http://world-mysteries.com/mpl.htm

It is possible that, as time went on, another tree became confounded with the original tree of life. The palm was from the earliest period characteristic of Babylonia; and while its fruit seemed to be the stay and support of life, the wine made from it made “glad the heart of man.”

Date-wine was largely used, not only in Babylonian medicine, but in the religious and magical ceremonies of Babylonia as well. It is not at all improbable, therefore, that the later Babylonian tree of life, with its strange conventional form, was an amalgamation of two actual trees, the cedar and the palm.

Donald A. MacKenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, p. 340. http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/mba/img/34000.jpg

Donald A. MacKenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, p. 340.
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/mba/img/34000.jpg

It is even possible that while one of them, the cedar, was primarily the sacred tree of Eridu, the other was originally the sacred tree of some other locality of Chaldea.

What gives some colour to this last suggestion is, that in later Babylonian belief the tree of life and the tree of knowledge were one and the same.

The text which describes the initiation of a soothsayer associates the cedar with “the treasures of Anu, Bel and Ea, the tablets of the gods, the delivering of the oracle of heaven and earth.” It was upon the heart or core of the cedar, too, that the name of Ea, the god of wisdom, was inscribed.

And it was wisdom rather than life, the knowledge of the secrets of heaven and the magical arts that benefit or injure, which the priesthood of Babylonia and the gods they worshipped kept jealously guarded.

Only the initiated were allowed to taste of its fruit. In this respect, consequently, there was a marked difference between the belief of the Babylonians and the account which we find in the earlier chapters of Genesis.”

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. 241-2.

The World Tree of Eridu

“But the primitive home of Tammuz had been in that “garden” of Edin, or Eden, which Babylonian tradition placed in the immediate vicinity of Eridu. The fragment of an old bilingual hymn has been preserved, which begins in the following way :

1. “(In) Eridu a stalk grew over-shadowing; in a holy place did it become green;

2. its root ([sur]sum) was of white crystal which stretched towards the deep;

3. (before) Ea was its course in Eridu, teeming with fertility;

4. its seat was the (central) place of the earth;

5. its foliage was the couch of Zikum (the primeval) mother.

6. Into the heart of its holy house which spread its shade like a forest hath no man entered.

7. (There is the home) of the mighty mother who passes across the sky.

8. (In) the midst of it was Tammuz.

10. (There is the shrine) of the two (gods).”

The description reminds us of the famous Ygg-drasil of Norse mythology, the world-tree whose roots descend into the world of death, while its branches rise into Asgard, the heaven of the gods.

The Babylonian poet evidently imagined his tree also to be a world-tree, whose roots stretched downwards into the abysmal deep, where Ea presided, nourishing the earth with the springs and streams that forced their way upwards from it to the surface of the ground.

Its seat was the earth itself, which stood midway between the deep below and Zikum, the primordial heavens, above, who rested as it were upon the overshadowing branches of the mighty “stem.” Within it, it would seem, was the holy house of Dav-kina, “the great mother,” and of Tammuz her son, a temple too sacred and far hidden in the recesses of the earth for mortal man to enter.

It is perhaps a reminiscence of this mystic temple that we find in the curious work on Nabathean Agriculture, composed in the fourth or fifth century by a Mandaite of Chaldea, where we are told of the temple of the sun in Babylon, in which the images of the gods from all the countries of the world gathered themselves together to weep for Tammuz.

What the tree or “stalk” was which sprang up like the bean-stalk of our old nursery tale, is indicated in the magical text to which the fragment about it has been appended. In this, Ea describes to Merodach the means whereby he is to cure a man who is possessed of the seven evil spirits.

He is first to go to “the cedar-tree, the tree that shatters the power of the incubus, upon whose core the name of Ea is recorded,” and then, with the help of “a good masal” or phylactery which is placed on the sick man’s head as he lies in bed at night, to invoke the aid of the Fire-god to expel the demons.

It is the cedar, therefore, which played the same part in Babylonian magic as the rowan ash of northern Europe, and which was believed to be under the special protection of Ea; and the parallel, therefore, between the ash Ygg-drasil of Norse mythology and the world-tree of the poet of Eridu becomes even closer than before.”

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. 237-40.

Babylonian Blood Sacrifice

“Like the other Semitic peoples the Babylonians attached great importance to the question of sacrifices. Professor Robertson Smith has put it on record in his Religion of the Semites, that sacrifice among that race was regarded as a meal shared between the worshipper and the deity. This view of sacrifice is almost world-wide among peoples in the higher stages of barbarism if not in those of savagery.

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an Assyrian intaglio illustrated in A. Rich, Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811. The sacrifice of the goat, or rather its presentation to the god, is not infrequently represented on the Assyrian bas-reliefs. HISTORY OF EGYPT, CHALDEA, SYRIA, BABYLONIA, AND ASSYRIA By G. MASPERO http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an Assyrian intaglio illustrated in A. Rich, Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811. The sacrifice of the goat, or rather its presentation to the god, is not infrequently represented on the Assyrian bas-reliefs.
HISTORY OF EGYPT, CHALDEA, SYRIA, BABYLONIA, AND ASSYRIA
By G. MASPERO
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0018

There is no source from which we can definitely discover the exact manner of Babylonian and Assyrian sacrifices. As civilization advanced what was intended for the god almost invariably went for the use of the temple. Certain parts of the animal which were not fit to eat were burned to the glory of the deity.

The blood of the animal may, however, have been regarded as more directly pleasing to the gods, and was probably poured out upon the altar. This practice is distinctly of magical origin.

The wizard believes that the dead, demons, and supernatural beings in general have a special desire for blood, and we remember Homer’s vivid description of how, when the trench was cut and the blood of the victims poured therein, the shadowy presentments of the dead flocked about it and devoured the steam arising from the sacrifice.

In some cults blood alone is offered to the gods, and perhaps the most striking instance of this is afforded by the religion of ancient Mexico, in which blood was regarded as the pabulum or food of the gods, and the body of the victim as the ceremonial corpse of the deity to be eaten by his worshippers.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 241-2.

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.

Ibn Wahshiyya in Historical Context

“The magic as displayed in Filāha coincides with the common Near Eastern patterns and is in this sense genuine: whether the exact procedures were used by the pagan population —either in the tenth century or earlier, if we agree with Fahd—is another question.

The Aramaic prayers would perhaps seem genuine, but when strongly Neoplatonic formulae occur in the invocations, one may doubt whether the peasants indeed used these prayers. It may be that the material is partly descriptive, describing the religious practices of the rural population, partly prescriptive, i.e. composed by the author, following pre-existing patterns, to invent new formulae.

It may strike many as surprising that there could have been rites like burnt offerings to Zuhal in the countryside, sqwād, of Iraq until the tenth century —if we accept a late date for the Nabatean corpus— but the evidence from Harrān makes this not unprecedented, and the magical procedures throughout history have always retained archaic religious material.

Likewise, the mere existence of Mandaeans shows the tolerance of Islam towards ultimately pagan religions. Had someone translated the Mandaean books into Arabic in the tenth century and circulated them outside the community, the texts would have been just as incongruent with the surrounding Islamic society as the books of the Nabatean corpus.

As the main texts of the Nabatean corpus purport to be translations of old manuscripts, the dating of the religious material in them, if it mirrors real procedures, is of course problematic. But in some cases, like when speaking about the lamentations over Tammūz, Ibn Wahshiyya speaks as himself, adding a translator’s note to the main text.

Thus, at least the pagan rites described in these passages were being performed in the early tenth century.

Although ignored by compilers of biographical dictionaries, Ibn Wahshiyya was much respected by those interested in magic, esoterica and the Nabatean or Sabian inheritance.

Not only was his main work, Filāha, excerpted by persons such as the author of the Arabic Picatrix (Ghāyat al-hakīm) ([pseudo]-al-Majrītī) and later writers of agricultural works —the latter, though, usually showed little interest for the religious and magical material in the work— but he was also profusely used by Maimonides in his Dalāla, from which source, together with Picatrix, the magic of the Nabateans and the Chaldaeans was transmitted into European languages.

Thus, through Ibn Wahshiyya, the magic of the Nabateans diffused throughout the civilized world, and Ibn Wahshiyya became an important link in the world history of magic and esoterica.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 47-8.

Examples of Magic in the Filāha

“The magical recipes and forms of action in Filāha are in harmony with the magic of the area since the Hellenistic period. Very prominent in the Nabatean corpus is the preparation of magical images. One of the rare occurrences of black magic in Filāha describes the preparation of an image of a man or woman, to be inscribed with his/her name, and an image of a poisonous animal, or a voracious beast, attacking him/her.

The preparation of this image leads to the instant sickness or madness of the victim (Filāha, p. 147) — the purported author, though, quickly, makes it clear that he personally would never harm anybody by magic, neither an animal nor a human being like himself.

Yet he does not dare speak openly against magicians because of their harmful power (p. 147). The same claim is repeated on p. 322, where the purported author identifies his enemies as the followers of Īshīthā, son of Ādamā.

Magical images are also used against harmful animals. Thus, Filāha, p. 414, II. 3-14, advises how to make an image against birds–in fact, this image might even work, as it is basically a scarecrow. In yet another recipe one needs blood and some soil from a burial ground, and from this dough «you make an image (sūra) with outstretched arms like a crucified man (maslūb)».

Another typical Near Eastern magical action, hanging a talisman on the doorpost, is also known to the author (Filāha, p. 582) and used to ward off harmful animals, like snakes, scorpions and wasps, as well as thieves, etc.

In some of the recipes, the magical and the medicinal aspects are often difficult to keep separate. In many cases, the preparation includes no magical actions and, whether effective from a modern point of view or not, they clearly belong to the sphere of medicine.

In other cases, different prayers and magical actions, including an astrologically selected time and place for producing the preparation, make the product magical, although one has to be aware of the importance of astrology also in «normal» medicine.

Thus, in Filāha, p. 583, there is a recipe against toothache which involves magical actions: after having prepared seven pills (bunduq) according to instructions, one takes them in his ieft hand and turning towards the moon on the twenty-fourth night of the month, takes one pill in his right hand and addresses the moon saying: «I prepared these pills as an offering (qurbān) to you so that you would cause the ache in my teeth to calm down and would strengthen my gums».

Then he must throw the pills, one by one, towards the moon. In this case, the preparation is not even consumed and its effect is solely magical, in contrast to a preparation for sexual potency, given on the same page, which falls quite clearly within the boundaries of medicine and lacks any signs of magical operations.

The purported author, Qūthāmā, also knows of popular tricksters who perform magic-like acts of entertainment. In Filāha, p. 487, he mentions a trick (hīla) of jugglers (musha ’bidhīn) who take a handful of rice and throw it into a basin full of snakes, which makes the snakes stand on their tails and dance.

This is what «the people of phantasm (khayālāt) and sleight of hand (sihr al- ‘ayn) among magicians (sahara) do». These snake charmers were obviously real performers seen by the author.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 46-7.

More on Ibn Wahshiyyah and Magic

“The magic of Ibn Washiyya consists of invocations to astral deities, magical recipes and forms of action. Most of the invocations are given only in Arabic, but a minority is also provided with the supposed Aramaic original.

The text of these is heavily corrupted, as far as the manuscripts are concerned, but in the original the Aramaic may well have been flawless; in any case, several Aramaic words and expressions may still be recognized.

The Arabic script and the inability of the later copyists to understand the foreign words make a mess of the text, as we know also happened to the romance kharjas, which were definitely originally composed by poets who knew, at least to some extent, the language they used.

The Nabatean corpus contains very many invocations to astral deities, often in connection with magical preparations. The Filāha provides a very forceful invocation to Zuhal, Saturn, in the beginning of the text (pp. 10-11).

One may draw attention to the association between Zuhal and black objects, animals, stones and plants (Filāha, p. 12), which is typical of chthonic deities, the planet Zuhal retaining his older chthonic connotations; throughout the book he is considered the god of agriculture.

The burning of fourteen black bats and an equal amount of rats —black ones I suppose— before praying to Zuhal over their ashes is to be seen as a magical preparation for an invocation for apotropaic reasons, to avoid the destructive and nefarious power of the deity.

As a Muslim, Ibn Wahshiyya naturally has to keep his distance from this prayer, but as he claims to be translating an old text, the discrepancy between his Islamic religion and the text’s paganism does not surface. On the other hand, he, as himself, the translator, vouches for the efficacy of similar prayers in many cases.

In Sumūm, fol. 22a, he comments on the language of a prayer, Aramaic in the original, and says that the prayer may also be read in his Arabic translation. In this case, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that Ibn Wahshiyya himself believes in the power of the prayer, thus actually compromising himself.

Yet in the tenth-century Būyid Iraq this was not an issue. This leads us to the question of the religious worldview of the author. In some earlier studies, the supposed piety of Ibn Wahshiyya, called a Sufi in, e.g., his Kitāb Asrār al-falak, fol. 87b, has been contrasted with the paganism of Filāha.

In a sense, the question has been wrongly posed: Ibn Wahshiyya is definitely not an orthodox Sunni scholar, but a narrow definition of Islam as Sunni orthodoxy certainly distorts the picture.

The tenth century was full of esoteric speculation, syncretism and doctrines far from the hadīth-oriented religion of the ‘ulamā’, and much of this took an Islamic garb and often especially a Sufi cloak; we are speaking of the time when al-Hallāj was executed (309/922), either for his wild utterances or, perhaps more probably, for some court intrigues.

Being a Sufi did not automatically certify orthodox beliefs. — In fact, the topic should be properly studied; in some passages of Filāha (esp. pp. 256-262), both the  supposed author and Ibn Wahshiyya, the translator, are very outspoken in their verdict against ascetism and Sufism.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 44-6.

Ibn Wahshiyya and Black Magic

“Magic has a prominent role in the Nabatean corpus, especially in Filāha and Sumūm. Following the theme of the present conference, I would like to make some comments on the relation of Ibn Wahshiyya to magic.

First of all, it should be clear that there was no ban against such material in the early tenth century. Magic, and especially its practice, was not perhaps looked on benevolently by Ihe ‘ulamā’, but in the Shiite Iraq governed by the Būyids there was not much possibility for the Sunni ‘ulamā’ to react against those interested in magic, occult sciences and esoterica.

On the other hand, the open paganism and polytheism of much of Ihe material in Filāha and the other Nabatean books would make it necessary for the author to keep his distance from the material. In Ibn Wahshiyyas’ case this presented no great problem, since he purported only to translate, not to compose the material, and the open paganism of the text could always be labelled as merely vestiges of ancient paganism.

In fact, the translator often adds clearly and strongly monotheistic notes to the text (see esp. Filāha, pp. 405-406), thus safeguarding himself from any accusations of an over close identification with the polytheistic, Nabatean system.

Ibn Wahshiyya is also very careful, especially in Filāha, to keep his distance from black magic. In his toxicological work Sumūm, a more controversial book by its very nature, he is not so prudent. He also often refuses to speak of harmful uses of a plant (e.g. Filāha, p. 184, II. 6-7) and apologizes for speaking about poisons in Sumūm, fol. 5a. This recurrent motif shows that Ibn Wahshiyya was aware of the negative response his works might attract.

For Ibn Wahshiyya, magic is a real operative force in the universe. His world view is, generally speaking, Neoplatonic, and the cult he is describing is astral, which brings with it the idea of a correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm as well as other correspondences between different phenomena.

The thoroughly magical worldview of Ibn Wahshiyya is seen in the strong magical element in Filāha, a work dealing with agriculture. In this, Filāha resembles, and has perhaps been influenced by, similar Greek works, especially the book of Bōlos Dēmokritos, where magic, agriculture and folklore are found side by side—On the other hand, one should not forget the sober and often experimental attitude of Ibn Wahshiyya towards agriculture in general: he is not an obscurantist trading with talismans and amulets, but a learned and perspicacious observer.

The Nabatean books make a clear difference between black and white magic; the former harmed people, the latter protected them. In Filāha, lbn Wahshiyya constantly avoids black magic (see e.g. pp. 383-384), although he does refer, in the words of the purported authors of the Aramaic original, to passages in the original sources which belonged to black magic (e.g. p. 477, by Sughrīth). The same prudence may also be seen in his other texts, although he does give some examples of black magic, especially in Sumūm.

In Filāha, the supposed Aramaic author claims ignorance of magic (p. 147: wa- ‘ilmu s-sihri ‘ilmun lam a ‘rid lahu wa-lā uhibbu an atakallama bimā lā ‘ilma lī bihi). In Sumūm, black magic is somewhat more prominent. Some of the poisons described in the work belong to the sphere of black magic more than to toxicology. One of these magical operations is the grotesque recipe for creating an animal, whose sight kills. Much abbreviated the recipe goes as follows:

One takes a young, monocoloured cow, sprinkles it with human blood, has sexual intercourse with it and inserts a special dough into its vagina. Finally one anoints its vagina with ox blood. The cow is kept in a dark stall and fed with a spec¡al diet. When it gives birth, the born monster, which is described in detail, is sprinkled with another powder. Seven days after its birth, it is ready to kill by sight when it smells a wad of cotton soaked with wine and becomes upset.

The creation of a calf, although in not so colourful a fashion, is well known from early Jewish mysticism. In Filāha, p. 1318, there is also a mention of ‘Ankabūthā, the chief magician, creating an anthropoid which reminds one of the Golem tradition in Kabbalistic literature.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 43-4.

Ibn Wayshiyya and Magic

“Magic has always had a role to play in Islamic society. Its use has often been condemned by religious scholars, yet the efficacy of magic has never been contested; the early tenth-century religious scholar al-Ash’arī (d. 324/936), to take but one example, wrote in his dogmatical work Ibána (p. 19): «(…) and we belíeve that there are magicians and magic in this world, and that magic is an existing entity in this world».

During the Middle Ages magic always kept this role not only among common people but also among the learned. In the tenth century the Brethren of Purity wrote extensively on magic in their Rasā’il (esp. IV:283- 335) and magical elements can easily be detected from a variety of sources, including the biography of the prophet Muhammad.

One of the learned authors who was very much interested in magic and esoterica was the early tenth-century Abū Bakr Ibn Wahshiyya (alive in 318/930), the author or translator of many «Nabatean» books, among them the famous al-Filāha an-Nabatiyya, «the Nabatean Agriculture>.

The Nabatean books (also called the Nabatean corpus in the following) of Ibn Wahshiyya claim to be translations from «ancient Syriac». Both the author and his book, mainly Filāha, have been controversial since the nineteenth century, when the corpus was first enthusiatically received in Europe as deriving from the ancient Babylonians, though subsequently exposed as a forgery.

There is no need to cover once again the history of the controversy, and it is enough to draw attention to the present situation. The majority of scholars have more or less ignored both Ibn Wahshiyya and his works, whereas a few, especially Toufic Fahd, have courageously but not always coherently defended the authenticity of Filāha, not as a remnant of ancient Babylonian literature but as an authentic Arabic translation of a fourth/fifth century AD pseudepigraphic Aramic text.

The other works of Ibn Wahshiyya have received extremely scant attention, despite their obvious importance as a source for the almost unknown rural and parochial life in Iraq.

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff
http://www.esoblogs.net/6946/ibn-wahshiyya-et-la-magie-2/

In the final analysis the question of the texts’ exact provenence must still be left open, though the lack of any signs of translation in the texts as well as the absence of similar genuine texts in Aramaic argues against their authenticity.

Nevertheless, we must make a difference between the works and their material. Whether the works of the Nabatean corpus are authentic or not, that is whether they indeed derive from complete books written in Syriac or some other form of Aramaic or not, there are features that speak in favour of the authenticity of (some of) the material in these books.

First, there are several prayers in Aramaic, in Arabic script, in, eg., Sumūm, which clearly sound Aramaic; their present corruption is most probably due to later copyists. Ibn Wahshiyya himself could hardly have composed these prayers, so they must have come to him in either written or oral form.

Second, the local setting is given accurately, which proves that Ibn Wahshiyya did know the area he was speaking about and thus there is nothing ínherently improbable in presuming that he had access to local traditions.

Third, and most importantly, much of the material has to be genuine as parallels can be found in Babylonian and Assyrian sources—I am referring to the Tammūz/Dumuzi description in particular—which proves that it cannot be a product of Muslim fiction but a report of practices in semipagan rural areas.

Some of these descriptions are more detailed and accurate in the works of Ibn Wahshiyya than in any of the other extant Muslim sources, which makes it improbable that Ibn Wahshiyya could have found them in the Arabic literature at his disposal.

Thus they must stem from a living tradition—although obviously an already dying one.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 39-41.

Nipur, City of Magic

“It is thus clear that, just as Eridu in southern Babylonia was the primitive seat of the worship of the Chaldean culture-god and of the civilisation with which his name was connected, Nipur in northern Babylonia was the original home of a very different kind of worship, which concerned itself with ghosts and demons and the various monsters of the under-world.

It was, in fact, the home of that belief in magic, and in the various spirits exorcised by the magician, which left so deep an impression upon the religion of early Babylonia, and about which I shall have to speak in a future Lecture.

The analogy of Eridu would lead us to infer, moreover, that it was not only the home of this belief, but also the source from which it made its way to other parts of the country.

In the pre-historic age, Eridu in the south and Nipur in the north would have been the two religious centres of Babylonian theology, from whence two wholly different streams of religious thought and influence spread and eventually blended.

The mixture formed what I may call the established religion of Chaldea in the pre-Semitic period. That this conclusion is not a mere inference is shown by the monuments discovered at Tel-loh.

Tel-loh was geographically nearer to Eridu than to Nipur, and its theology might therefore be expected to be more largely influenced by that of Eridu than by that of Nipur. And such, indeed, is the case.

Temples and statues are dedicated to Ea, “the king of Eridu,” and more especially to Bahu, a goddess who occupied a conspicuous place in the cosmological legends of Eridu.

But Mul-lil, the god of Nipur, appears far more frequently in the inscriptions of Tel-loh than we should have anticipated.

Nin-kharsak, “the mistress of the mountain,” and “mother of the gods,” in whom we may see a local divinity, is associated with him as wife; and Nin-girśu himself, the patron god of Tel-loh, is made his “hero” or “champion.”

So close, indeed, is the connection of the latter with Mul-lil, that the compilers of the mythological tablets, in a latter age, identified him with the “warrior” god of Nipur, Adar the son of Mul-lil.

Adar, or Ninep, or Uras--for his name has been read in these various fashions, and the true reading still remains unknown–played a conspicuous part in Babylonian, and more especially Assyrian theology.

He was regarded as emphatically the warrior and champion of the gods, and as such was naturally a favourite object of worship amongst a nation of warriors like the Assyrians. Indeed, it may be suspected that the extent to which the name of the older Bel was reverenced in Assyria was in some measure due to the favour in which his son Adar was held.

In the inscriptions of Nineveh, the title of “hero-god” (masu) is applied to him with peculiar frequency; this was the characteristic upon which the Assyrian kings more particularly loved to dwell.

In Babylonia, on the other hand, Adar was by no means so favourite a divinity. Here it was the milder and less warlike Merodach that took his place. The arts of peace, rather than those of war, found favour among the Semitic population of the southern kingdom.”

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. 150-2.

Sacred Number 7

“Seven, too, was a sacred number, whose magic virtues had descended to the Semites from their Accadian predecessors. When the Chaldaean Noah escaped from the Deluge, his first act was to build an altar and to set vessels, each containing the third of an ephah, by sevens, over a bed of reeds, pine-wood and thorns.

Seven by seven had the magic knots to be tied by the witch, seven times had the body of the sick man to be anointed with the purifying oil.

As the Sabbath of rest fell on each seventh day of the week, so the planets, like the demon messengers of Anu, were seven in number, and “the god of the number seven” received peculiar honour.”

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. 82.

Tammuz and Ishtar, Adonis and Aphrodite, Attis and Cybele, Isis and Osiris

As has been indicated already, the myth of Tammuz and Ishtar furnished the groundwork for certain myths of classic Greece and Rome.

The Phoenician Astarte (Ashtoreth), a development of Ishtar, became in time the Aphrodite of the Greeks, a deity who plays a part in the Adonis legend analogous to that of Ishtar in the Tammuz story. The name Adonis itself is derived from Adoni (‘my lord’), the word with which the Phoenician worshippers of Tammuz hailed the setting sun.

The myth of Adonis is perhaps the most nearly related of any to that of Tammuz, since its chief characters are acknowledged counterparts of those in the Babylonian legend, while the tale of Ishtar’s descent into Hades may be regarded as a sequel to the Greek story, or rather to an early Babylonian variant thereof.

Briefly outlined, the story runs as follows: Adonis was the fruit of an unnatural union between the Syrian king Theias and his daughter Smyrna (Myrrha). Theias pursued the princess, intending to take her life for the crime, but the pity of the gods turned her into a tree from which, at the end of ten months, Adonis was born. It is said that a boar rent open the tree-trunk with its tusk, and thus enabled the divine infant to see the light.

Aphrodite, charmed with the beauty of the child, gave him into the care of Persephone, who was so enamoured of her charge that she afterwards refused to give him up. The goddesses appealed to Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should spend six months of each year with Aphrodite and six with Persephone in the underworld; or, according to another version, four months were to be passed with Aphrodite and four with Persephone, while the remaining four were to be at his own disposal.

He was afterwards slain by a boar sent against him by Artemis (herself, by the way, a development of Ishtar). It may be remarked that Aphrodite, who figures, like Ishtar, as the goddess of love and beauty, is also closely associated with the nether regions, perhaps because she was identified with the Babylonian goddess in her journey to Hades in search of her spouse.

Akin to Adonis is the god Attis, who likewise, according to one version of his myth, is slain by a boar. After his death he becomes a pine-tree, and from his blood violets spring. He is beloved of Cybele, the mother-goddess, who laments his untimely end.

In the Adonis legend there is evidence of some overlapping. Persephone, or Proserpine, who here corresponds to the Allatu of the Babylonian variant, figures in another well-known myth as the prototype of Tammuz. When she is carried off to the nether-world by Pluto, her mother, Ceres, will not suffer the corn to grow while her daughter remains a prisoner. Like Ishtar in search of her spouse, the mother-goddess seeks her child with weeping and lamentation. Through the eating of a pomegranate seed, Proserpine is finally obliged to pass four (or six) months of every year with her dark captor, as his consort.

Another myth which has affinities with the tale of Tammuz and Ishtar is the Egyptian one which deals with the quest of Isis. The god Osiris is slain through the machinations of his brother Set (who, being identified elsewhere with a black hog, recalls the boar which slew Adonis and Attis), and his body, enclosed in a chest, is cast into the Nile.

Afterwards the chest is thrown up by the waves, and round it springs miraculously a tamarisk tree. Meanwhile Isis, wife and sister to Osiris, travels hither and thither in search of his remains, which in due time she finds. However, the chest is stolen from her by Set, who, taking therefrom the body of Osiris, tears the corpse into fourteen pieces, which he scatters through the land. Isis still pursues her quest, till she has found all the portions and buried them.

These tales were the mythical correlates of certain ritualistic practices designed to bring about the change of seasons, and other natural phenomena, by means of sympathetic magic. The burden of a great duty falls upon the shoulders of primitive man; with his rites and spells and magic arts he must assist the universe in its course.

His esoteric plays, typifying the mysterious fact of growth, are necessary to ensure the sprouting of the corn; his charms and incantations are essential even for the rising of the sun; lacking the guarantee of science that one season shall follow another in its proper order, he goes through an elaborate performance symbolizing the decay and revival of vegetation, believing that only thus can the natural order be maintained. Through the force of sympathetic magic he sees his puny efforts related to the mighty results which follow them.

This, then, is the origin of the ritual of the Tammuz festival, which may conceivably have had an existence prior to that of the myth itself. The representation of the death and resurrection of the god, whether in myth or ritual, had undoubtedly a seasonal significance, wherefore the date of his festival varied in the different localities.

In Babylonia it was celebrated in June, thus showing that the deity was slain by the fierce heat of the sun, burning up all the springtide vegetation. Ishtar’s sojourn in Hades would thus occupy the arid months of summer.

In other and more temperate climes winter would be regarded as the enemy of Tammuz. An interesting account of the Tammuz festival is that given by an Arabic author writing in the tenth century, and quoted by Sir James Frazer in his Golden Bough.

Tammuz (July). In the middle of this month is the festival of el-Būgāt, that is, of the weeping women, and this is the Ta-uz festival, which is celebrated in honour of the god Ta-uz. The women bewail him, because his lord slew him so cruelly, ground his bones in a mill, and then scattered them to the wind. The women (during this festival) eat nothing which has been ground in a mill, but limit their diet to steeped wheat, sweet vetches, dates, raisins, and the like.”

The material for this description was furnished by the Syrians of Harran. Of the curious legend attaching to the mourning rites more will be said later.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 131-5.

Chaldean Astronomy and Magic

“For more than two thousand years the records of Babylonian and Assyrian astronomy lay buried and forgotten under the ruins of Assyrian palaces, and all that was known of the subject came from a few passages in the Bible and in the works of Greek and Roman writers.

To the Hebrews the sorceries of Babylon were an accursed thing, and the prophet Isaiah scoffs at them in these words:

“Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47:12).

Among Greek writers Strabo (died a.d. 24) asserted that the Chaldeans were skilled in astronomy and the casting of horoscopes, and Aelian (3rd century a.d.) mentions the fact that both the Babylonians and Chaldeans enjoyed a reputation for possessing a knowledge of astronomy.

Achilles Tatius  (6th century) reports the existence of a tradition to the effect that the Egyptians mapped the heavens, and that they inscribed their knowledge on their pillars; the same tradition declared that the Chaldeans claimed the glory of this science, the foundation of which they attributed to the god Bel.

For this last belief there seems to be some evidence in a statement of Berosus, to the effect that the god Bel created the stars and sun and moon, and the five planets. Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Augustus, tells us that the Babylonian priests observed the position of certain stars in order to cast horoscopes, and that they interpreted dreams and derived omens from the movement of birds and from eclipses and earthquakes.

The general evidence of serious writers leads us to believe that astrology formed part of the religious system of the Babylonians, and it certainly exercised considerable influence over the minds of the dwellers between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

In any case, the reputation of the Chaldeans, i.e., the Babylonians and Assyrians, for possessing magical powers was so widespread, that the very name Chaldean at a comparatively early date became synonymous with magician.”

Reginald Campbell Thompson, The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, Vol. II, London, 1900. pp. xiii-xiv.

Sargon: Conquerer, Librarian

“But the first great Semitic empire in Babylonia was that founded by the famous Sargon of Akkad. As is the case with many popular heroes and monarchs whose deeds are remembered in song and story— for example, Perseus, Oedipus, Cyrus, Romulus, and our own King Arthur—the early years of Sargon were passed in obscurity.

Sargon is, in fact, one of the ‘fatal children.’ He was, legend stated, born in concealment and sent adrift, like Moses, in an ark of bulrushes on the waters of the Euphrates, whence he was rescued and brought up by one Akki, a husbandman.

But the time of his recognition at length arrived, and he received the crown of Babylonia. His foreign conquests were extensive. On four successive occasions he invaded Syria and Palestine, which he succeeded in welding into a single empire with Babylonia. Pressing his victories to the margin of the Mediterranean, he erected upon its shores statues of himself as an earnest of his conquests. He also overcame Elam and northern Mesopotamia and quelled a rebellion of some magnitude in his own dominions.

His son, Naram-Sin, claimed for himself the title of “King of the Four Zones,” and enlarged the empire left him by his father, penetrating even into Arabia. A monument unearthed by J. de Morgan at Susa depicts him triumphing over the conquered Elamites. He is seen passing his spear through the prostrate body of a warrior whose hands are upraised as if pleading for quarter. His head-dress is ornamented with the horns emblematic of divinity, for the early Babylonian kings were the direct vicegerents of the gods on earth.

The brilliance of Naram-Sin's reign is reflected in the execution of this stele, which commemorated his victory over Satuni, king of the Lullubi.  The Akkadian army is climbing the steep slopes of the Zagros Mountains, home to the Lullubi. This upward march sweeps aside all resistance. To the right of a line of trees clinging to the mountainside, defeated enemies are depicted in a posture of submission. Those who have been killed are trampled underfoot by the Akkadian soldiers or drop over the precipice. These mountain people are clad in a tunic of hide and wear their long hair tied back. The composition is dominated by the lofty figure of the king, to whom all eyes - those of the Akkadian soldiers and of their Lullubi enemies - are turned. The triumphant sovereign, shown taller than the other men in the traditional manner, leads his army in the attack on the mountain.  He is followed by standard bearers who march before helmeted soldiers carrying bows and axes. Naram-Sin tramples the bodies of his enemies, while a kneeling Lullubi tries to tear out the arrow piercing his throat. Another raises his hands to his mouth, begging the Akkadian king for mercy.  But the conqueror's gaze is directed toward the top of the mountain. Above Naram-Sin, solar disks seem to radiate their divine protection toward him, while he rises to meet them. The Akkadian sovereign wears a conical helmet with horns - a symbol traditionally the privilege of the gods - and is armed with a large bow and an axe. This victorious ascension chiseled in stone thus celebrates a sovereign who considers himself on an equal footing with the gods. In official inscriptions, Naram-Sin's name was therefore preceded with a divine determinative.  He pushed back the frontiers of the empire farther than they had ever been, from Ebla in Syria to Susa in Elam, and led his army

The brilliance of Naram-Sin’s reign is reflected in the execution of this stele, which commemorated his victory over Satuni, king of the Lullubi.
The Akkadian army is climbing the steep slopes of the Zagros Mountains, home to the Lullubi. This upward march sweeps aside all resistance. To the right of a line of trees clinging to the mountainside, defeated enemies are depicted in a posture of submission. Those who have been killed are trampled underfoot by the Akkadian soldiers or drop over the precipice. These mountain people are clad in a tunic of hide and wear their long hair tied back.
The composition is dominated by the lofty figure of the king, to whom all eyes – those of the Akkadian soldiers and of their Lullubi enemies – are turned. The triumphant sovereign, shown taller than the other men in the traditional manner, leads his army in the attack on the mountain.
He is followed by standard bearers who march before helmeted soldiers carrying bows and axes. Naram-Sin tramples the bodies of his enemies, while a kneeling Lullubi tries to tear out the arrow piercing his throat. Another raises his hands to his mouth, begging the Akkadian king for mercy.
But the conqueror’s gaze is directed toward the top of the mountain. Above Naram-Sin, solar disks seem to radiate their divine protection toward him, while he rises to meet them. The Akkadian sovereign wears a conical helmet with horns – a symbol traditionally the privilege of the gods – and is armed with a large bow and an axe.
This victorious ascension chiseled in stone thus celebrates a sovereign who considers himself on an equal footing with the gods. In official inscriptions, Naram-Sin’s name was therefore preceded with a divine determinative.
He pushed back the frontiers of the empire farther than they had ever been, from Ebla in Syria to Susa in Elam, and led his army “where no other king had gone before him.”
He now appears as a universal monarch, as proclaimed by his official title “King of the Four Regions” – namely, of the whole world.
http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/victory-stele-naram-sin

Even at this comparatively early time (c . 3800 b.c.) the resources of the country had been well exploited by its Semitic conquerors, and their absorption of the Sumerian civilization had permitted them to make very considerable progress in the enlightened arts. Some of their work in bas-relief, and even in the lesser if equally difficult craft of gem-cutting, is among the finest efforts of Babylonian art.

Nor were they deficient in more utilitarian fields. They constructed roads through the most important portions of the empire, along which a service of posts carried messages at stated intervals, the letters conveyed by these being stamped or franked by clay seals, bearing the name of Sargon.

Sargon is also famous as the first founder of a Babylonian library. This library appears to have contained works of a most surprising nature, having regard to the period at which it was instituted.

One of these was entitled The Observations of Bel, and consisted of no less than seventy-two books dealing with astronomical matters of considerable complexity; it registered and described the appearances of comets, conjunctions of the sun and moon, and the phases of the planet Venus, besides recording many eclipses. This wonderful book was long afterward translated into Greek by the Babylonian historian Berossus, and it demonstrates the great antiquity of Babylonian astronomical science even at this very early epoch.

Another famous work contained in the library of Sargon dealt with omens, the manner of casting them, and their interpretation—a very important side-issue of Babylonian magico-religious practice.

Among the conquests of this great monarch, whose splendour shines through the shadows of antiquity like the distant flash of arms on a misty day, was the fair island of Cyprus. Even imagination reels at the well-authenticated assertion that five thousand seven hundred years ago the keels of a Babylonian conqueror cut the waves of the Mediterranean and landed upon the shores of flowery Cyprus stern Semitic warriors, who, loading themselves with loot, erected statues of their royal leader and returned with their booty.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.  Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.  Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.
Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.
Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:
“Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin.”
The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.
Cyprus, plate 4300.
John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

In a Cyprian temple De Cesnola discovered, down in the lowest vaults, a haematite cylinder which described its owner as a servant of Naram-Sin, the son of Sargon, so that a certain degree of communication must have been kept up between Babylonia and the distant island, just as early Egypt and Crete were bound to each other by ties of culture and commerce.

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 16-9.

Immortality and Mortality of Mesopotamian Gods

“A further property of divinity was immortality. In narratives about divine deeds, gods were understood to be born of the intercourse of male and female parents. There is reference to their being nursed as infants but no further indication of a sense of their education, training or personal development.

Rather, as in the case of Marduk in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, the gods were born with full powers, knowing how to use weapons, understand magic words and so forth. As with Ninurta, a hero god, younger gods were expected to honour, obey and avenge slights to their parents. Having achieved a certain maturity, the gods stayed that way and did not age, though one and the same god could be portrayed as a youthful hero or as a sublime sage with magical, in preference to physical, prowess.

Gods could die, but only at the hands of other gods. Some died in battle or were executed for offences against higher gods. For example, the rebel god, Aw-ila, in the Story of the Flood (Foster 1996: 160–203 and below, pp. 184–5, 187) was executed to punish the uprising of the lesser gods against the great gods, but his spirit lingered on in the newly created human race, palpable as the human pulse. His flesh and blood were used to make the first human and his will may have given the human race its rebellious or wayward spirit.

The execution of Kingu, leader of the attacking army of gods and monsters in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, was modelled on this episode, but Kingu was there (falsely) accused of suborning Tiamat, mother of the gods, to kill her children (Foster 1996: 350–401).”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Birth and Death,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 180-1.

Mesopotamian Cosmology

“In literature and magic spells, Mesopotamians referred to the beginnings of the world. The various accounts were quite different, so there was no one story that should be considered standard or universally accepted.

The most comprehensive and ambitious of the accounts of creation, contained in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, refers to a time before the present generation of gods in which there were two waters, male and female, commingling with no distinct separation. Rather than the ‘chaos’ which it is often considered, this combination was dynamic and productive, yielding several pairs of older gods, male and female, and ultimately a much larger number of younger gods, on whom the narrative focuses.

The successive generations of gods were progressively stronger and greater than the preceding ones, suggesting that the Mesopotamians visualized a dynamic past development of their universe, culminating in a present order that was stable and unchanging (Foster 1996: 350):

When on high no name was given to heaven,

Nor below was the netherworld called by name,

Primeval Apsu was their progenitor,

And matrix-Tiamat was she who bore them all,

They were mingling their waters together,

No canebrake was intertwined nor thicket matted close.

When no gods at all had been brought forth,

None called by names, none destinies ordained,

Then were the gods formed within these two.

The Babylonian Epic of Creation ascribed to Marduk, god of Babylon, the reorganization of the cosmos into the form the Babylonians knew it, including the motions of the stars, a firmament above the earth, rivers and mountains of the earth, the phases of the moon, and so forth. Since this account dates only to the second half of the second millennium BCE and presupposes a cosmos centred on Babylon, there is no reason to assign it universal validity in Mesopotamia. The poem appears to contain a variety of earlier materials worked into a coherent narrative.

The universe was visualized as circular, with a firmament below heaven and a corresponding surface above the netherworld. Some speculative texts proposed several layers in the cosmos (Lambert 1975). In any case, heaven was so remote from earth that the land was not visible to a human observer who had risen so high, such as the mythologized king Etana, who flew up to heaven on an eagle, or the sage Adapa, who was summoned to heaven after interfering with the wind.

In later periods, heaven and netherworld were thought to be organized like urban earth, with gates, defences, and large residences for the gods containing reception areas, sleeping quarters, baths and other amenities.”

Benjamin R. Foster, “Cosmology,” John R. Hinnells, ed., A Handbook of Ancient Religions, 2007, pp. 183-4.

Ritual Sacrifice in Babylonian Exorcism

” … In addition, however, to burning the images of demons or sorcerers or throwing them into the water, a large variety of other symbolical actions are introduced in the incantation series, all falling within the category of sympathetic magic. The image is bound, hands and feet, so as not to be able to move, its eyes are pierced or filled with spittle, its tongue pulled out or tied, its mouth covered, or poison dripped into it or stuffed with dust, its body slit open [9] and the like; and thus mutilated, it is thrown into water or fire or on a dust heap.

From such rites it is not a long step to the endeavor to transfer the demon from the victim to some substitute a lamb, a pig or a bird, which appears then to have been offered up as a vicarious sacrifice for the life of the victim. [10]

“The lamb as a substitute for a man,
The lamb he gives for his life.
The head of the lamb he gives for the head of the man,
The neck of the lamb he gives for the neck of the man,
The breast of the lamb he gives for the breast of the man.”

The underlying thought is that the demon passes out into the animal which is offered to the gods, to appease their anger against the human sufferer. We are justified in drawing this conclusion from the caution expressly given [11] not to eat the animal which is declared to he taboo:

“Take a white lamb of Tammuz, [12]
Place it near the sick man,
Tear out its insides.
Place in the hand of the man,
And pronounce the incantation of Eridu.
That lamb whose insides thou hast torn out,
Cover it up as forbidden food for that man,
Consign it to the flame or throw it into the street.
That man shut up in a room and pronounce the incantation of Eridu.”

The animal has become unclean through the demon that has been transferred to it ; therefore it is not to be eaten, and while it is offered to the gods as a means of diverting their anger from the man on whom it has been visited, it is not a sacrifice in the ordinary sense. The demon may be also transferred to a bird which is caught for the purpose, slaughtered and cut up, after which the blood together with its skin and some portions of the body is burned in the fire [13] to the accompaniment of an incantation.”

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

Exorcising Babylonian Demons

“The methods of obtaining release from the demons are as various as the demons themselves, though they all rest on two motifs: the power supposed to reside in certain formulas urging the demons to leave their victim, and the performance of certain rites based on sympathetic or symbolical magic, either mimicking the hoped-for release or applying certain remedies; but always with the idea that they will drive the demon away, rather than that they will have any direct beneficial effect on the patient.

The magic formulas invariably involve the invocation addressed to some divine agent or to a group of deities. The names of the gods have a certain power, the name being, according to a widely prevalent view, part of the essence of the being.

Besides, words as such are also imbued with power: a thought naturally suggested by the command of a superior which is obeyed by the one dependent upon a chief, and reinforced by the mystery of writing as the reflex of the spoken word.

A few specimens of the formulas will not be out of place. A brief and comprehensive one that is frequently found is:

“By the name of heaven be ye forsworn, by the name of earth be ye forsworn,”

Or the exerciser appeals to all the gods as:

“By the name of the gods, I adjure you”

Or certain gods are specifically named as at the close of a rather elaborate command to the demons to leave the body: [1]

“Away, away, far away, far away,
Be ashamed, be ashamed ! Fly, fly away !
Turn about, go away, far away,
May your evil like the smoke mount to heaven ! [2]
Out of my body away,
Out of my body far away,
Out of my body in shame,
Out of my body fly away,
Out of my body turn away,
Out of my body go away.
To my body do not return,
To my body do not approach,
To my body draw not nigh,
My body do not afflict.
By Shamash, the powerful, be ye forsworn,
By Ea, the lord of the universe, be ye forsworn,
By Marduk, the chief diviner of the great gods, be ye forsworn,
By the fire-god, who consumes you, be ye forsworn,
From my body be ye restrained!”

The magic formulas with the invocation to the gods constitute, however, only half of the exorcising ritual, the other and in many respects more important half being marked by ceremonies, accompanying the formulas, which as suggested either represent dramatically and symbolically the destruction or driving out of the demons, or fall within the category of medicinal charms that are supposed to have a direct effect on the demons.”

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

Moses, Joseph, and the Jews

OF ABRAHAM AND HIS DESCENDANTS AND OF MOSES AND THE LAND OF ISRAEL.
FROM JUSTIN, OUT OF TROGUS POMPEIUS.
Book xviii. 3, 3, 5. Book xxxvi. 2, 3, 6.

“The origin of the Jews was from Damascus, a most famous city of Syria, whence also the Assyrian kings, and queen Semiramis sprang. The name of the city was given it from king Damascus, in honour of whom the Syrians consecrated the sepulchre of his wife Arathis as a temple, and regard her as a goddess worthy of the most sacred worship.

After Damascus, Azelus, 122 and then Adores, Abraham, and Israhel were their kings. But a prosperous family of ten sons made Israhel more famous than any of his ancestors. Having divided his kingdom in consequence, into ten governments, he committed them to his sons, and called the whole people Jews, from Judas, who died soon after the division, and ordered his memory to be held in veneration by them all, as his portion was shared among them.

The youngest of the brothers was Joseph, whom the others, fearing his extraordinary abilities, secretly made prisoner, and sold to some foreign merchants. Being carried by them into Egypt, and having there, by his great powers of mind, made himself master of the arts of magic, he found, in a short time, great favour with the king; for he was eminently skilled in prodigies, and was the first to establish the science of interpreting dreams.

And nothing, indeed, of divine, or human law seems to have been unknown to him; so that he foretold a famine or dearth in the land (of Egypt), some years before it happened, and all Egypt would have perished by famine, had not the king, by his advice, ordered the corn to be laid up for several years: such being the proofs of his knowledge, that his admonitions seemed to proceed, not from a mortal, but a god.

His son was Moses, whom, besides the inheritance of his father’s knowledge, the comeliness of his person also recommended. But the Egyptians, being troubled with scabies and leprosy, and moved by some oracular prediction, expelled him, with those who had the disease, out of Egypt, that the distemper might not spread among a greater number.

Becoming leader, accordingly, of the exiles, he carried off by stealth the sacred utensils of the Egyptians, who, endeavouring to recover them by force of arms, were obliged by tempests to return home; and Moses, having reached Damascus, the birth-place of his fore-fathers, took possession of Mount Sinai; on his arrival at which, after having suffered, together with his followers, from a seven days’ fast in the deserts of Arabia, he consecrated every seventh day, (according to the present custom of the nation), for a fast-day, and to be perpetually called a Sabbath, because that day had ended at once their hunger and their wanderings.

And, as they remembered that they had been driven from Egypt for fear of spreading infection, they took care, in order that they might not become odious, from the same cause, to the inhabitants of the country, to have no communication with strangers; a rule which, from having been adopted on that particular occasion, gradually became a custom and part of their religion.

After the death of Moses, his son Aruas 123 was made priest for celebrating the rites which they brought from Egypt, and soon after created king; and ever afterwards, it was a custom among the Jews to have the same chiefs both for kings and priests; and, by uniting religion with the administration of justice, it is almost incredible how powerful they became.”

―Extracted from the Philippine History of Justin, the Abbreviator of Trogus Pompeius.

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, pp. 78-81.

Giants Again, and Abraham

FROM EUPOLEMUS.
CONCERNING THE TOWER OF BABEL, AND ABRAHAM.

“The City of Babylon owes its foundation to those who were saved from the catastrophe of the Flood; these were the giants, (Heb. נפלים = fallen ones), and they built the tower which is noticed in history. But the tower being overthrown by the interposition of God, the giants were scattered over all the earth.

He says, moreover, that in the tenth generation, in the City of Babylonia, called Camarina (which, by some, is called the city Urie, and which signifies a city of the Chaldeans), there lived, the thirteenth in descent, (a man named), Abraham, a man of a noble race and superior to all others in wisdom.

Of him they relate that he was the inventor of astrology and the Chaldean magic, and that on account of his eminent piety he was esteemed by God. It is further said, that under the directions of God he removed and lived in Phoenicia, and there taught the Phoenicians the motions of the sun and moon, and all other things; for which reason he was held in great reverence by their king.” 121―Extracted from Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica, 9.

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, p. 77.

Magicians Were Poets, and Poets Were Magicians

” … The numerous incantations which were inscribed on clay tablets and treasured in libraries, do not throw much light on the progress of medical knowledge, for the genuine folk cures were regarded as of secondary importance, and were not as a rule recorded.

But these metrical compositions are of special interest, in so far as they indicate how poetry originated and achieved widespread popularity among ancient peoples. Like the religious dance, the earliest poems were used for magical purposes.

They were composed in the first place by men and women who were supposed to be inspired in the literal sense; that is, possessed by spirits. Primitive man associated “spirit” with “breath,” which was the “air of life,” and identical with wind.

The poetical magician drew in a “spirit,” and thus received inspiration, as he stood on some sacred spot on the mountain summit, amidst forest solitudes, beside a’ whispering stream, or on the sounding shore. …

Or, perhaps, the bard received inspiration by drinking magic water from the fountain called Hippocrene, or the skaldic mead which dripped from the moon.

The ancient poet did not sing for the mere love of singing: he knew nothing about “Art for Art’s sake.” His object in singing appears to have been intensely practical. The world was inhabited by countless hordes of spirits, which were believed to be ever exercising themselves to influence mankind.

The spirits caused suffering; they slew victims; they brought misfortune; they were also the source of good or “luck.” Man regarded spirits emotionally; he conjured them with emotion; he warded off their attacks with emotion; and his emotions were given rhythmical expression by means of metrical magical charms.

Poetic imagery had originally a magical significance; if the ocean was compared to a dragon, it was because it was supposed to be inhabited by a storm-causing dragon; the wind whispered because a spirit whispered in it.

Love lyrics were charms to compel the love god to wound or possess a maiden’s heart–to fill it, as an Indian charm sets forth, with “the yearning of the Apsaras (fairies);” satires conjured up evil spirits to injure a victim; and heroic narratives chanted at graves were statements made to the god of battle, so that he might award the mighty dead by transporting him to the Valhal of Odin or Swarga of Indra.

Similarly, music had magical origin as an imitation of the voices of spirits–of the piping birds who were “Fates,” of the wind high and low, of the thunder roll, of the bellowing sea. So the god Pan piped on his reed bird-like notes, Indra blew his thunder horn, Thor used his hammer like a drumstick, Neptune imitated on his “wreathed horn” the voice of the deep, the Celtic oak god Dagda twanged his windy wooden harp, and Angus, the Celtic god of spring and love, came through budding forest ways with a silvern harp which had strings of gold, echoing the tuneful birds, the purling streams, the whispering winds, and the rustling of scented fir and blossoming thorn.

Modern-day poets and singers, who voice their moods and cast the spell of their moods over readers and audiences, are the representatives of ancient magicians who believed that moods were caused by the spirits which possessed them–the rhythmical wind spirits, those harpers of the forest and songsters of ocean.”

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

Magical Practices in Ancient Babylonia

” … magic flourished like tropical fungi. Indeed, the worker of spells was held in high repute, and his operations were in most cases allowed free play.

There are only two paragraphs in the Hammurabi Code which deal with magical practices. It is set forth that if one man cursed another and the curse could not be justified, the perpetrator of it must suffer the death penalty.

Provision was also made for discovering whether a spell had been legally imposed or not. The victim was expected to plunge himself in a holy river. If the river carried him away it was held as proved that he deserved his punishment, and “the layer of the spell” was given possession of the victim’s house.

A man who could swim was deemed to be innocent; he claimed the residence of “the layer of the spell,” who was promptly put to death.

With this interesting glimpse of ancient superstition the famous Code opens, and then strikes a modern note by detailing the punishments for perjury and the unjust administration of law in the courts.

[ … ]

When a patient was wasted with disease, growing thinner and weaker and more bloodless day by day, it was believed that a merciless vampire was sucking his veins and devouring his flesh. It had therefore to be expelled by performing a magical ceremony and repeating a magical formula. The demon was either driven or enticed away.

A magician had to decide in the first place what particular demon was working evil. He then compelled its attention and obedience by detailing its attributes and methods of attack, and perhaps by naming it.

Thereafter he suggested how it should next act by releasing a raven, so that it might soar towards the clouds like that bird, or by offering up a sacrifice which it received for nourishment and as compensation.

Another popular method was to fashion a waxen figure of the patient and prevail upon the disease demon to enter it. The figure was then carried away to be thrown in the river or burned in a fire.”

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

Magical Raiment

” … Some bodies which were laid in Sumerian graves were wrapped up in reed matting, a custom which suggests that the reeds afforded protection or imparted magical powers. Magical ceremonies were performed in Babylonian reed huts.

As we have seen, Ea revealed the “purpose” of the gods, when they resolved to send a flood, by addressing the reed hut in which Pir-napishtim lay asleep. Possibly it was believed that the dead might also have visions in their dreams which would reveal the “purpose” of demons who were preparing to attack them.

In Syria it was customary to wrap the dead in a sheep skin. As priests and gods were clad in the skins of animals from which their powers were derived, it is probable that the dead were similarly supposed to receive inspiration in their skin coverings.

The Highland seer was wrapped in a bull’s skin and left all night beside a stream so as to obtain knowledge of the future. This was a form of the Taghairm ceremony, which is referred to by Scott in his Lady of the Lake.

The belief in the magical influence of sacred clothing gave origin to the priestly robes. When David desired to ascertain what Saul intended to do he said, “Bring hither the ephod.” Then he came to know that his enemy had resolved to attack Keilah.

Elisha became a prophet when he received Elijah’s mantle.”

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

Name Magic

” … In Egypt attempts like that of Isis to appropriate the power of a high god by possessing herself of his name were not mere legends told of the mythical beings of a remote past; every Egyptian magician aspired to wield like powers by similar means.

For it was believed that he who possessed the true name possessed the very being of god or man, and could force even a deity to obey him as a slave obeys his master. Thus the art of the magician consisted in obtaining from the gods a revelation of their sacred names, and he left no stone unturned to accomplish his end. When once a god in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness had imparted to the wizard the wondrous lore, the deity had no choice but to submit humbly to the man or pay the penalty of his contumacy.

The belief in the magic virtue of divine names was shared by the Romans. When they sat down before a city, the priests addressed the guardian deity of the place in a set form of prayer or incantation, inviting him to abandon the beleaguered city and come over to the Romans, who would treat him as well as or better than he had ever been treated in his old home.

Hence the name of the guardian deity of Rome was kept a profound secret, lest the enemies of the republic might lure him away, even as the Romans themselves had induced many gods to desert, like rats, the falling fortunes of cities that had sheltered them in happier days.

Nay, the real name, not merely of its guardian deity, but of the city itself, was wrapt in mystery and might never be uttered, not even in the sacred rites. A certain Valerius Soranus, who dared to divulge the priceless secret, was put to death or came to a bad end.

In like manner, it seems, the ancient Assyrians were forbidden to mention the mystic names of their cities; and down to modern times the Cheremiss of the Caucasus keep the names of their communal villages secret from motives of superstition.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 1922, Tabooed Words, np.

The Diabolical Mass of Saint Sécaire

” … Again, Gascon peasants believe that to revenge themselves on their enemies bad men will sometimes induce a priest to say a mass called the Mass of Saint Sécaire. Very few priests know this mass, and three-fourths of those who do know it would not say it for love or money. None but wicked priests dare to perform the gruesome ceremony, and you may be quite sure that they will have a very heavy account to render for it at the last day. No curate or bishop, not even the archbishop of Auch, can pardon them; that right belongs to the pope of Rome alone.

The Mass of Saint Sécaire may be said only in a ruined or deserted church, where owls mope and hoot, where bats flit in the gloaming, where gypsies lodge of nights, and where toads squat under the desecrated altar. Thither the bad priest comes by night with his light o’ love, and at the first stroke of eleven he begins to mumble the mass backwards, and ends just as the clocks are knelling the midnight hour. His leman acts as clerk. The host he blesses is black and has three points; he consecrates no wine, but instead he drinks the water of a well into which the body of an unbaptized infant has been flung. He makes the sign of the cross, but it is on the ground and with his left foot.

And many other things he does which no good Christian could look upon without being struck blind and deaf and dumb for the rest of his life. But the man for whom the mass is said withers away little by little, and nobody can say what is the matter with him; even the doctors can make nothing of it. They do not know that he is slowly dying of the Mass of Saint Sécaire.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Magic and Religion, 1922, np.

The Torah is the Name

“In a more mystical sense, it is true, the ‘asiluth represents the name or the names of God, as has been shown in the preceding chapter. This theosophic conception was preserved in Gerona. Creation can subsist only to the extent that the name of God is engraved in it.

The revelation of the name is the actual revelation, and the Torah is not merely a conglomeration of the names of God, but, in its very essence, nothing but this one name itself. This doctrine, which transmuted an originally magical tradition into a strictly mystical one, was clearly expressed for the first time in Gerona, and from there reached the author of the Zohar.

Light-mysticism for the emanation and language-mysticism for the divine name remain the two principal means by which the world of the sefiroth could be described.

For Nahmanides, the ten sefiroth are the “inwardness” of the letters. The beginning and the end of the Torah together form, according to a mystical pun, the “heart,” heart of creation of creation; in terms of gematria, the traditional mysticism of numbers the numerical value of the word (thirty-two) also indicates the thirty-two paths of wisdom active in it.

This “heart” is nothing other than the “will” of God itself, which maintains the creation as long as it acts in it. For it becomes the Nothing, the Nothing (the inversion of the same two letters), as soon as the will reverses its direction and brings all things back to their original essentiality, “like someone who draws in his breath.”

But this return of all things to their proprietor is also their return to the mystical pure Nothingness. The primordial beginning of creation consisted in the emergence of hokhmah from the infinite plenitude of the “supreme crown” or the will, in an act of limitation, simsum, in which the all-embracing divine kabhod was restricted.

This restriction of the light at first produced a darkness, into which there flowed the clear light of hokhmah. We thus find in Nahmanides the oldest form of the doctrine of a self-contraction of God at creation, which, however, is not a contraction of the ‘en-sof itself, as taught by later kabbalists, but of the first sefirah.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 448-9.

Magical Conformity of the Will in the Kawwanah

“This brief text gives a very precise and valuable description of what takes place in the kawwanah. The completeness and precision of expression are unrivaled in the literature of the Kabbalah; we doubtless owe these qualities to the fact that the author wished to describe the magic of the kawwanah—but at the same time also described, to a great extent, its mystical nature.

The relationship between these two attitudes of prayer emerges here, in fact, with a rare clarity and penetration. The mystical conformity of the will is visibly transformed into a magical one, the roots of which, it must not be forgotten, reach back further than the Kabbalah.

The magical nuance in the conformity of the will is already adumbrated in the famous dictum in the Mishnah tractate known as The Sayings of the Fathers. Rabban Gamaliel, the son of Yehudah ha-Nasi, used to say: “Make His will as your will in order that He make your will as His will. Abolish your will before His will, in order that He abolish the will of others before your will.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 416.

Mystical Spelling of the Divine Name

“In the writings of the ‘Iyyun circle, the sefiroth undergo a transformation: each one, indeed even each of the thirty-two paths of the Sophia, becomes an autonomous world in which the theosophist immerses himself.

In fact, even the mystical spelling of the divine name with twenty-four points, which Pseudo-Hai transmits here and which no doubt goes back to Oriental sources of Jewish magic, is interpreted in this manner.

The spelling obviously imitates the magical alphabet and characters as they are frequently found in amulets and that, in Jewish magic, are encountered, for example, in the old “alphabets of the angels.”

They appear below:

angelic_alphabet

The twenty-four points or stars of this script correspond, according to the author, to the twenty-four books of the biblical canon, which are perhaps woven from this “hidden name.”

The author instructs the initiate that each of these points in and of itself represents an entire world. This use of the term “worlds” for different levels of being is undoubtedly Neoplatonic. It first penetrated into kabbalistic literature in the ‘Iyyun circle.

As we have seen, Isaac the Blind speaks of the “world of separation” below the sefiroth, but it seems he still did not take the step of considering the sefiroth themselves as just so many worlds. The upper world is henceforth no longer that of the separate intelligences, as it was for the philosophers and in Isaac’s fragments on cosmogony, but the world of the divine emanations itself. In the “Book of the Unity” of Pseudo-Hammai it is said that before Creation all the powers were intertwined and hidden in God,

“ … until there came the time of the will of the first Acting One, and they emerged from potentiality to spiritual reality, and the emanation of the upper world emanated to that of the tenth fundamental stone which is called, in the language of the sages of the mysteries, the “condensed light,” ‘or ‘abh. On account of its condensation they also name it “mixed darkness,” for all the powers of the flames are mixed in it, but are also differentiated in it, and it is the foundation of all the spiritual and corporeal worlds . . . and the last seal of all the [other] seals [emanated in the higher sefiroth].”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 328-30.