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Tag: Plague Demon

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.

On the Annunaki

“Hence it is that in a bilingual hymn the Anúnas of the lower world are called “the great gods;” while another text declares that while “the great gods are fifty in number, the gods of destiny are seven and the Anúna of heaven are five.”

Besides the five Anúnas of the heaven, there were the more famous Anúnas of the lower world, whose golden throne was placed in Hades by the side of the waters of life. They were called the Anú-na-ge, “the masters of the underworld,” a term which the Semites pronounced Anúnaki.

These Anúnaki were opposed to the Igigi or angels, the spirits of the upper air, and, the real origin of their name being forgotten, took the place of the older Anúnas.

In one of the texts I heve quoted, the Semitic translator not only renders the simple Anúnas by “Anúnaki,” he even speaks of the “Anúnaki of heaven,” which is a contradiction in terms.

Though Anunit was considered merely a local form of Istar (H.C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 1886, 49, 12), the great temple of Ulbar–if that is the right pronunciation of the word–which had been erected by Zabu about B.C. 2340, preserved her special name and cult at Sippara, from whence it passed into Assyria.

Nabonidos tells us that he restored the temple

“for Anunit, the mistress of battle, the bearer of the bow and quiver, the accomplisher of the command of Bel her father, the sweeper away of the enemy, the destroyer of the wicked, who marches before the gods, who has made (his) omens favourable at sunrise and sunset.”

In calling her the lady of battle and daughter of Bel, Nabonidos identifies her with Istar, an identification which is made even more plain a few lines further on (col. iii. 42, 48-51), where he makes her the sister of Samas and daughter of Sin.

This identity of Anunit and Istar brings Sippara into close connection with Erech, the modern Warka, the city specially consecrated to the goddess of love.

Erech, we are told in the story of the plague-demon Nerra, was “the seat of Anu and Istar, the city of the choirs of the festival-girls and consecrated maidens of Istar,” where in E-Ana, “the house of heaven,” dwelt her priests, “the festival-makers who had devoted their manhood in order that men might adore the goddess, carrying swords, carrying razors, stout dresses and flint-knives,” “who minister to cause reverence for the glory of Istar.”

Erech, too, was the city with whose fortunes the legend of Gisdhubar (Gilgamesh) was associated; it was here that he slew the bull Anu had created to avenge the slight offered by him to Istar; and it was here in Uruk śuburi, “in Erech the shepherd’s hut,” that he exercised his sovereignty.

Erech is thus connected with the great epic of the Semitic Babylonians, and it is probable that its author, Siu-liqi- unnini, was a native of the place.

However this may be, Erech appears to have been one of the centres of Semitic influence in Babylonia from a very early period. The names of the kings stamped upon its oldest bricks bear Semitic names, and the extent to which the worship of Istar as developed at Erech spread through the Semitic world points to its antiquity as a Semitic settlement.”

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. 183-.5.

Bilat, Beltis, Nin-Ki-Gal, Allat, Infernal Queen of the Underworld

“When the god of Nipur became Semitic, his character underwent a change.

As the supreme deity of the state he was necessarily a Baal, but the Semitic Baal embodied very different conceptions from those which were associated with the Accadian Mul-lil. It is true that, as I have just pointed out, his primitive attributes still clung to him, but they were superadded to other attributes which showed him to be the supreme Sun-god of Semitic worship.

That supreme Sun-god, however, revealed himself to his worshippers under two aspects; he might be either the beneficent god who gave life and light to the world, or he might be the fierce and wrathful sun of summer who scorches all nature with his heat, and sinks at night, like a ball of glowing metal, into the darkness of the under-world.

Necessarily it was rather under the latter aspect that the Mul-lil of Nipur became the Semitic Bel.

This is the Bel whose cult was carried to Assyria, and whose name is mentioned frequently in the inscriptions of Nineveh, where among other titles he bears that of “father of the gods.”

This is a title which he received, not in virtue of his primitive character, but because he had become the Semitic Bel.

He was distinguished from the younger Bel of Babylon, Bel-Merodach, as βελιτανας or βολαθην (Βêl-êthûn), (ed. note: Greek sic) “the older Baal,” when Babylon became the imperial city, and its Bel claimed to be the father and head of the Babylonian gods.

But the distinction, as might be expected, was not always observed, and the older and younger Bel are sometimes confounded together.

The confusion was rendered the more easy by the fact that the wife of the Bel of Nipur was addressed as Bilat, and thus was undistinguished in name from Beltis of Babylon.

But she was in reality, as we have seen, the queen of Hades, Nin-ki-gal as the Accadians called her, or Allat as she is named in the Semitic texts.

Allat is interpreted “the unwearied;” like the Homeric epithet of Hades, αδαμαστος, “the inflexible” divinity who ceases not to deal on all sides his fatal blows. Her proper title, however–that, at least, under which she had originally been known at Nipur–was Nin-lil, “the lady of the ghost-world.”

It is under this name that Assur-bani-pal addresses her (Trustees of the British Museum (H.C. Rawlinson), The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, ii. 66) as “the mistress of the world, whose habitation is the temple of the library” (i.e. the temple of Istar at Nineveh).

As Allat, the goddess of Hades, she was a much-dreaded and formidable figure, who is described in the legend of the Descent of Istar as inflicting upon her sister-goddess all the pains and diseases which emanated from her demoniac satellites.

The unfortunate Istar, stripped of her clothing and adornments, is held up to the scorn of the lower world; and Namtar, the plague-demon, is ordered by Allat to smite her with maladies in the eyes, in the sides, in the feet, in the heart, in the head, and, in short, in all the limbs.

Throughout the legend Namtar appears as the messenger of the infernal queen.”

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. 148-50.

The Amorous Queen of Heaven Sat as One in Darkness

“It is evident that there were various versions of the Tammuz myth in Ancient Babylonia. In one the goddess Ishtar visited Hades to search for the lover of her youth. A part of this form of the legend survives in the famous Assyrian hymn known as The Descent of Ishtar. It was first translated by the late Mr. George Smith, of the British Museum.

A box containing inscribed tablets had been sent from Assyria to London, and Mr. Smith, with characteristic patience and skill, arranged and deciphered them, giving to the world a fragment of ancient literature infused with much sublimity and imaginative power.

Ishtar is depicted descending to dismal Hades, where the souls of the dead exist in bird forms:

I spread like a bird my hands.

I descend, I descend to the house of darkness, the dwelling of the god Irkalla:

To the house out of which there is no exit,

To the road from which there is no return:

To the house from whose entrance the light is taken,

The place where dust is their nourishment and their food mud.

Its chiefs also are like birds covered with feathers;

The light is never seen, in darkness they dwell….

Over the door and bolts is scattered dust.

When the goddess reaches the gate of Hades she cries to the porter:

Keeper of the waters, open thy gate,

Open thy gate that I may enter.

If thou openest not the gate that I may enter

I will strike the door, the bolts I will shatter,

I will strike the threshold and will pass through the doors;

I will raise up the dead to devour the living,

Above the living the dead shall exceed in numbers.

The porter answers that he must first consult the Queen of Hades, here called Allatu, to whom he accordingly announces the arrival of the Queen of Heaven. Allatu’s heart is filled with anger, and makes reference to those whom Ishtar caused to perish:

Let me weep over the strong who have left their wives,

Let me weep over the handmaidens who have lost the embraces of their husbands,

Over the only son let me mourn, who ere his days are come is taken away.

Then she issues abruptly the stern decree:

Go, keeper, open the gate to her,

Bewitch her according to the ancient rules;

that is, “Deal with her as you deal with others who come here.”

As Ishtar enters through the various gates she is stripped of her ornaments and clothing. At the first gate her crown was taken off, at the second her ear-rings, at the third her necklace of precious stones, at the fourth the ornaments of her breast, at the fifth her gemmed waist-girdle, at the sixth the bracelets of her hands and feet, and at the seventh the covering robe of her body.

Ishtar asks at each gate why she is thus dealt with, and the porter answers, “Such is the command of Allatu.”

After descending for a prolonged period the Queen of Heaven at length stands naked before the Queen of Hades. Ishtar is proud and arrogant, and Allatu, desiring to punish her rival whom she cannot humble commands the plague demon, Namtar, to strike her with disease in all parts of her body. The effect of Ishtar’s fate was disastrous upon earth: growth and fertility came to an end.

Meanwhile Pap-sukal, messenger of the gods, hastened to Shamash, the sun deity, to relate what had occurred. The sun god immediately consulted his lunar father, Sin, and Ea, god of the deep. Ea then created a man lion, named Nadushu-namir, to rescue Ishtar, giving him power to pass through the seven gates of Hades. When this being delivered his message …

Allatu … struck her breast; she bit her thumb,

She turned again: a request she asked not.

In her anger she cursed the rescuer of the Queen of Heaven.

May I imprison thee in the great prison,

May the garbage of the foundations of the city be thy food,

May the drains of the city be thy drink,

May the darkness of the dungeon be thy dwelling,

May the stake be thy seat,

May hunger and thirst strike thy offspring.

She was compelled, however, to obey the high gods, and addressed Namtar, saying:

Unto Ishtar give the waters of life and bring her before me.

Thereafter the Queen of Heaven was conducted through the various gates, and at each she received her robe and the ornaments which were taken from her on entering. Namtar says:

Since thou hast not paid a ransom for thy deliverance to her (Allatu), so to her again turn back,

For Tammuz the husband of thy youth.

The glistening waters (of life) pour over him…

In splendid clothing dress him, with a ring of crystal adorn him.

Ishtar mourns for “the wound of Tammuz,” smiting her breast, and she did not ask for “the precious eye-stones, her amulets,” which were apparently to ransom Tammuz. The poem concludes with Ishtar’s wail:

O my only brother (Tammuz) thou dost not lament for me.

In the day that Tammuz adorned me, with a ring of crystal,

With a bracelet of emeralds, together with himself, he adorned me,

With himself he adorned me; may men mourners and women mourners

On a bier place him, and assemble the wake.

A Sumerian hymn to Tammuz throws light on this narrative. It sets forth that Ishtar descended to Hades to entreat him to be glad and to resume care of his flocks, but Tammuz refused or was unable to return.

His spouse unto her abode he sent back.

She then instituted the wailing ceremony:

The amorous Queen of Heaven sits as one in darkness.”

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

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