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Tag: Magical Texts

Babylonian Astrology

“With the Semitic domination of Sargon of Accad, however, Babylonian astronomy entered upon a new phase. To him, tradition ascribed the compilation of the standard work on Babylonian astronomy and astrology called the Observations of Bel, and afterwards translated into Greek by Berossos (Editorial note: a book by Johannes Haubold, et al, The World of Berossos, 2013, which presents material presented at an academic conference in 2010, can be downloaded in its entirety. Our gratitude is owed to Harrassowitz Verlag of Wiesbaden. A faster and shorter resource is Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, 1975, which is synopsized in the ensuing three posts).

But the edition of the work which we possess presupposes a much later date. Aries, and not Taurus, marks the beginning of the year, and the text contains references to political and geographical facts, some of which are probably not much older than the age of Assur-bani-pal. This is explained by the nature of the work. It was not so much a treatise on astronomy, as on the pseudo-science that had been evolved out of the observations of astronomy.

The Chaldean priests had grasped but imperfectly the idea of causation; their fundamental assumption was “post hoc, ergo propter hoc;” when two events had been noticed to happen one after the other, the first was the cause of the second. Hence their anxiety to record the phenomena of the heavens and the occurrences that took place after each; if a war with Elam had followed an eclipse of the sun on a particular day, it was assumed that a recurrence of the eclipse on the same day would be followed by a recurrence of a war with Elam.

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.  The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.  Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London. http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

Assyrian star planisphere found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (Aššur-bāni-apli – reigned 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh.
The function of this unique 13-cm diameter clay tablet, in which the principal constellations are positioned in eight sectors, is disputed. The texts and drawings appear to be astro-magical in nature.
Kuyunjik Collection, British Museum, K 8538 [= CT 33, 10]. London.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl.htm

In this way a science of astrology was created whose students could foretell the future by observing the signs of the sky.

It is obvious that a work whose object was to connect astronomical observations with current events must have been constantly undergoing alteration and growth. New observations would from time to time be introduced into it, sometimes causing confusion or even omissions in the text. There are instances in which we can detect the presence of observations placed side by side, though belonging to very different periods, or of older records which have been supplemented by the calculations of a later age.

In their present form, therefore, the Observations of Bel have to be used with caution if we would argue from them to the beliefs and practices of early Babylonia.

But the astrological science, or pseudo-science, which underlies the whole work, shows that even in its earliest form it was a product of the Semitic epoch. Between the attitude of mind presupposed by this pseudo-science, and the attitude of mind presupposed by the magical texts and Shamanistic cult of Sumerian Chaldea, there lies an impassable gulf.

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.  http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.  Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including: http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

This illustration is from a page on Babylonian astronomy hosted by the science faculty of the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University.
http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babybibl_fixedstars.htm
A dedicated work assessing the influences of Chaldean astrology on later Greek and Roman knowledge can be found in Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, 1912.
Full text available for download at several locations on the net, including:
http://theosnet.net/dzyan/miscpubs/Astrology_and_Religion.pdf

According to the latter, events are brought about by the agency of the innumerable spirits of earth and air, and can be controlled by the spells and exorcisms of the sorcerer; according to the astrologer of Sargon’s court, they are natural occurrences, caused and determined by other natural occurrences which can be discovered and noted by the observer. Out of the astrologer the astronomer could be born; between science and sorcery there can be only an eternal feud.

It does not follow, however, that the pre-Semitic population of Chaldea took no notice of the phenomena of the sky. Unusual phenomena, such as an eclipse, must necessarily excite the attention of superstitious and half-civilized tribes; and the formation of a calendar, the invention of the Zodiac, and the naming of the principal constellations, show that a rudimentary astronomy was already in existence.

Indeed, the Observations of Bel not only contain technical terms of Accadian origin, but embody notices of phenomena like eclipses which presuppose a long period of earlier observations.

Unless such observations had existed, even the first compilation of the work would have been impossible. It was astrology, not the rudiments of astronomy, for which the Semites of Babylonia can claim the entire credit.”

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. 398-400.

Conflation of Languages

“The beliefs which produced the magical texts must still have been active, although the hymn belongs to a late period of Babylonian history; the old doctrine of an inexorable fate, even if degraded into a belief in the witch’s art, still existed along with the worship of a god who restored the dead to life and was supreme in mercy to those that were in trouble.

We have only to turn to our modern newspapers to discover how slowly such primeval beliefs die out, and how long they may linger among the uneducated and superstitious by the side of the most exalted faiths and the mightiest triumphs of inductive science.

The fact that one text is magical, while another contains a hymn to the deity, does not of itself prove the relative ages of the two documents. Then, thirdly, it has become increasingly manifest that a good many of the so-called Accadian texts are not Accadian in their origin.

As I pointed out several years ago, the old Accado-Sumerian language was learned by the Semitic Babylonians as Latin was learned by the mediaeval monks, and for much the same reasons. It was the language of the oldest sacred texts; it was also the early language of law; and both priests and lawyers were accordingly interested in its preservation and use.

What happened to Latin in the Middle Ages had already happened to Accadian in Babylonia. The monks spoke and wrote in a language which was Latin indeed, but which had lost its classical purity; monkish Latin was full of modern words and idioms, and its grammar was not always scrupulously accurate.

On the other hand, it contributed multitudes of words, and even forms of expression, to the languages of every-day life that were spoken around it, and the words were frequently modified to suit the pronunciation and genius of the languages that borrowed them, just as the modern words which monkish Latin had itself adopted were furnished with classical terminations and construed in a classical fashion.

The case was precisely the same in ancient Chaldea. Here, too, there was a monkish Accadian, both spoken and written, some of which would have shocked the Accadian speakers of an earlier age. The literati of the court of Sargon of Accad had been partly Accadian, partly Semitic; the Accadian scribes wrote and spoke Semitic, the Semitic scribes wrote and spoke Accadian.

The result was necessarily a large amount of lending and borrowing upon both sides, and the growth of an artificial literary language which maintained its ground for centuries. The way for the rise of this artificial dialect had already been prepared by the long contact there had been between the two chief languages of primitive Chaldea.

When two languages thus exist side by side–like Welsh, for example, by the side of English–they will borrow one from another, the language of superior culture and organisation being that which exerts the greatest influence.

The pupils will imitate the speech of their masters in art and science even if, as in the case of Greece and Rome, the masters in art and science are the subjects in political power.”

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. 322-3.

Babylonian Magical Incantations

“The relation between the magical texts and the hymns of ancient Babylonia is now, therefore, clear. In many cases, at least, the hymns formed part of the magical texts; they were the mystical incantations around the recitation of which the rites prescribed in the texts were intended to revolve.

The magical text was not complete without the repetition of a form of words as well as a direct appeal to the names of certain supernatural beings; and the form of words was in many instances furnished by hymns to the gods or analogous kinds of composition.

It is not only the magical texts, however, in which we find the hymns embedded and prefaced by the significant word siptu, “incantation.” They are still more numerous in the ritual texts–in the texts, that is to say, which describe the religious ceremonies the Babylonian was called upon to perform.

These ceremonies had for the most part the same end and object as the magical texts; they were not so much a communion with the deities of heaven, as an attempt to compel them by particular rites and words to relieve the worshipper from trouble, or to bestow upon him some benefit.

Divine worship, in short, was a performance rather than an act of devotion, and upon the correctness of the performance depended entirely its efficacy. The mispronunciation of a single word, the omission to tie a knot at the right moment, would invalidate the whole ceremony and render its repetition necessary.

The ritual, therefore, was a sort of acted magic, and it is consequently not surprising that the hymns should play the same part in it as they did in the incantations of the magical texts.

It follows from all this that many of the magical texts are, like the ritual texts, later than many of the hymns. The fact must necessarily introduce some modification into Lenormant’s theory of the origin of the sacred books of Chaldaea.

In the second place, not only the hymns, but even the magical texts are at times composed in Semitic Babylonian only. There is no trace of an Accadian original of any kind whatever. And not only is this the case, but these purely Semitic hymns occasionally glide into what is neither more nor less than unadulterated magic.”

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. 319-20.

On Assyrian Curses

“Closely connected with the mystical importance thus assigned to names was the awe and dread with which the curse or excommunication was regarded. Once uttered with the appropriate ceremonies, the binding of knots and the invocation of divine names, it was a spell which even the gods were powerless to resist.

In Assyrian it was called the mamit, in Accadian the śabba, and was naturally considered to be divine. In Accadian, Mami had been a goddess; the borrowed Assyrian deity, therefore, assumed the Semitic feminine termination.

In the tenth book of the Epic of Gisdhubar (Epic of Gilgamesh), the goddess Mam-metu, as her name is there spelt, is called “the maker of fate” who “has fixed the destinies” of mankind, “along with” the spirits of the earth; “she has established death and life, but the days of death are unknown.”

Mamit thus bore a striking resemblance to the Fate of the Romans and the Atê of the Greeks. Like Atê, her operations were usually conceived of as evil. Just as Namtar, the plague-demon, was also the personification of doom and destiny, so too Mamit was emphatically the concrete curse.

If she established life as well as death, it was only because the term of life is fixed by death; death, and not life, was the real sphere of her work. Hence the mamit was known among the Accadians as the (nam)-eríma or “hostile doom;” and though Anu, as we have seen, might as the pole-star be called “the mamit of heaven,” it is in no friendly guise that the mamit is presented to us in the magical texts.

It was, in fact, like the power of excommunication in the Middle Ages, the most terrible weapon that could be used by the priestly exorcist. For the power of invoking the aid of the goddess Mamit by pronouncing the curse was completely in his hands.

All that was needed was the performance of certain rites and the repetition of certain words. Armed with the magic wand, he could lay the terrible excommunication on the head of his enemy, and cause it to issue forth from the body of his friend.

“Let the mamit come forth that I may see the light,” is one of the petitions we meet with in the tablets; and Tiglath-Pileser I states that after his conquest of the kings of Nahri he “freed them, prisoners and bound as they were, in the presence of the Sun-god (his) lord, and made them swear to be his servants from henceforth and for ever, under pain of the curse (mamit) of (his) great gods.”

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. 305-7.

Hypocephalus

Now the cow is, of course, Isis-Hathor, and both the words and the picture refer to some event in the life of Râ, or Horus. It is quite evident that the words of power, or charm, uttered by Isis-Hathor delivered the god out of some trouble, and the idea is that as it delivered the god, and was of benefit to him, even so will it deliver the deceased and be of benefit to him. The words of power read:—

“O Amen, O Amen, who art in heaven, turn thy face upon the dead body of thy son, and make him sound and strong in the underworld.”

And again we are warned that the words are “a great mystery” and that “the eye of no man whatsoever must see it, for it is a thing of abomination for [every man] to know it. Hide it, therefore; the Book of the lady of the hidden temple is its name.”

An examination of mummies of the late period shews that the Egyptians did actually draw a figure of the cow upon papyrus and lay it under the head of the deceased, and that the cow is only one figure among a number of others which were drawn on the same papyrus.

With the figures magical texts were inscribed and in course of time, when the papyrus had been mounted upon linen, it superseded the gold figure of the cow which was fastened to the neck of the deceased, and became, strictly speaking an amulet, though its usual name among archaeologists is “hypocephalus.” The figure on the opposite page well illustrates the object. It will be noticed that the hypocephalus is round; this is due to the fact that it represents the pupil of the Eye of Horus, which from time immemorial in Egypt was regarded as the source of all generative power, and of reproduction and life.

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Hypocephalus

Hypocephalus or object placed under the head.

 Hypocephalus or object placed under the head 
of the deceased Shai-enen to keep warmth in the body.

The first group of gods are:—

Nehebka offering to Horus his Eye, a goddess with the Eye of Horus for a head, the cow of Isis-Hathor described above, the four children of Horus, two lions, a member of the human body, the pylon of heads of Khnemu the god of reproduction, and Horus-Râ.

In the second are the boat of the Sun being poled along by Horus, and the boat of the Moon, with Harpocrates in the bow. In the other scenes we have the god Khepera in his boat, Horus in his boat, and Horus-Sept in his boat.

The god with two faces represents the double aspect of the sun in setting and rising, and the god with the rams’ heads, who is being adored by apes, is a mystical form of Khnemu, one of the great gods of reproduction, who in still later times became the being whose name under the form of Khnumis or Khnoubis occupied such an important position among the magical names which were in use among the Gnostics.

The two following prayers from the hypocephalus will illustrate the words of power addressed to Amen, i.e., the Hidden One, quoted above:—

1. “I am the Hidden One in the hidden place. I am a perfect spirit among the companions of Râ, and I have gone in and come forth among the perfect souls. I am the mighty Soul of saffron-coloured form.

“I have come forth from the underworld at pleasure. I have come. I have come forth from the Eye of Horus. I have come forth from the underworld with Râ from the House of the Great Aged One in Heliopolis.

“I am one of the spirits who come forth from the underworld: grant thou unto me the things which my body needeth, and heaven for my soul, and a hidden place for my mummy.”

2. “May the god, who himself is hidden, and whose face is concealed, who shineth upon the world in his forms of existence, and in the underworld, grant that my soul may live for ever!

“May the great god in his disk give his rays in the underworld of Heliopolis! Grant thou unto me an entrance and an exit in the underworld without let or hindrance.”

Chapter CLXIII. of the Book of the Dead was written to prevent the body of a man mouldering away in the underworld, and to deliver him from the souls which were so unfortunate as to be shut in the various places thereof, but in order to make it thoroughly efficacious it was ordered to be recited over three pictures:

(1) a serpent with legs, having a disk and two horns upon its head;

(2) an utchat, (see above, p. 55) or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of a divine soul, and having plumes and a back like a hawk”;

(3) an utchat, or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which there shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of the goddess Neith, and having plumes and a back like a hawk.”

If these things be done for the deceased “he shall not be turned back at any gate of the underworld, he shall eat, and drink, and perform the natural functions of his body as he did when he was upon earth; and none shall rise up to cry out against him; and he shall be protected from the hands of the enemy for ever and ever.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 292).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 115-21.

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