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Tag: Ritual

Lenzi: A Fault Line Where Legend and History Collides

“If this were the only instance of apkallū in a ritual context, this difference in genre would be of little consequence. But, in fact, it is not.

The seven apkallū are mentioned, for example, in anti-witchcraft incantations in Maqlû II 124,36 V 110,37 VII 49,38 VIII 38 (though without names). (Note that the next line…has “the wisdom, the ingenuity of Ea they spoke.”)

They also occur in a medical incantation in LKA 146 that gives a mythological account of Ea communicating poultices to humans.

(W. G. Lambert, “The Twenty-one ‘Poultices,’” Anatolian Studies 30 (1980), 77-83. See also, e.g., Bīt rimki (Rykle Borger, “Das Dritte ‘Haus’ der Serie Bīt Rimki [VR 50-51, Schollmeyer HGS Nr.1],” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 21 [1967], 11:25 + a); the rituals treated by Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits; and the (overlapping) attestations noted by J. J. A. van Dijk, La Sagesse Sumero-Accadienne, Commentationes Orientales 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1953), 20, n.56.)

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.<br />  Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.<br />  In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.<br />  As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.<br />  Interestingly in this case, the bracelets are atypical, and only one rosette insignia can potentially be discerned. This sort of specificity must be deliberate. What it portends, however, remains speculative.

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.
Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.
In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.
As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.
Interestingly in this case, the bracelets are atypical, and only one rosette insignia can potentially be discerned. This sort of specificity must be deliberate. What it portends, however, remains speculative.

From such evidence Sanders has argued that the seven apkallū are restricted to myths (they are found in Erra I 162 and Gilgamesh I 21 and XI 326 (called muntalkū)) and rituals during the Neo-Assyrian period (and earlier), and this fact, in his opinion, speaks against their use in a scholarly genealogy before the Seleucid era.

(He writes, “[t]he human sages, ummânu, appear for the first time in Neo-Assyrian king lists, and in the bīt mēseri fragments of the Neo-Assyrian period the superhuman apkallū are for the first time listed by name and correlated with legendary and historical kings.

While Mesopotamian kings remain on the throne, the apkallū remain confined to myth and ritual. In the Seleucid period, after the loss of native kingship, the apkallū enter history. . . .

Evidence of a historically developing identification between the Mesopotamian ritual practitioner and the apkallū in general and Adapa in particular finally emerges in Seleucid Uruk” (Sanders, “Writing, Ritual, and Apocalypse,” 144-45).

In this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone, holding his banduddu bucket in his other hand. This ummânū wears bracelets with a different design, as rosettes are not apparent. In this case, the design appears to consist of concentric circles.  This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress, but in this case the headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. The detail on this bas relief is unusually good, revealing details about the earrings that are blurry in most other examples.  Bracelets are also apparent on the upper arms, and the banduddu bucket reveals cross-hatching detail which rarely appears on other depictions.  The realistic portrayal of fine detail on the fingernails, the toenails, and the tassels are singular. In no other example does the embroidery on the garment stand out as well.  The fine detail on the wings and the braided hair is exceptional, and this ummânū appears to be wearing a medallion or other object at his sternum, a detail not noted elsewhere.  From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

In this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone, holding his banduddu bucket in his other hand.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a different design, as rosettes are not apparent. In this case, the design appears to consist of concentric circles.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress, but in this case the headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
The detail on this bas relief is unusually good, revealing details about the earrings that are blurry in most other examples.
Bracelets are also apparent on the upper arms, and the banduddu bucket reveals cross-hatching detail which rarely appears in other depictions.
The realistic portrayal of fine detail on the fingernails, the toenails, and the tassels is singular. In no other example does the embroidery on the garment stand out so well.
The fine detail on the wings and the braided hair is exceptional, and this ummânū appears to be wearing a medallion or other object at his sternum, a detail not noted elsewhere.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

Sanders’ objection reminds us of the need for sensitivity to genre in adducing evidence, something few others have taken seriously when discussing the issue of scholarly genealogy.

There is, however, other non-ritual evidence that both alleviates the problem he raises and provides more support for the earlier apkallūummânū association suggested by the Bīt mēseri material.

A textual variant between the only two manuscripts of the Akkadian literary composition “Advice to a Prince,” which is clearly a non-ritual text, supports the close association of the apkallū and ummânū in the early first millennium. A comparison of the two tablets at lines 4 and 5 reveals our variant of interest.

(In the standard edition of the text, Lambert expresses the opinion that the text is from Babylon and should be dated to roughly 1000 to 700 BCE. He also notes, “(t)he text is written on a tablet from the libraries of Assurbanipal [i.e., DT 1], and no duplicate has yet been found” (W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960; reprinted, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996], 110, 111).

Steven Cole has recently published a duplicate to DT 1 (Nippur IV. The Early Neo-Babylonian Governor’s Archive from Nippur, Oriental Institute Publications 114 [Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1996], no. 128 [= OIP 114 128]); the tablet was found among a cache from Nippur.)

(If) he does not listen to his sage, his days will be short.

(If ) he does not listen to (his) scholar, his land will rebel against him.

In the standard edition based on DT 1 (the Ninevite version), Lambert took the ME in NUN.ME-šú as a plural marker and read the word as rubû, “princes, nobles.” (Babylonian Wisdom Literature, 112-13.)

This is understandable in light of line 10 which sets NUN.ME alongside DI.KUD.ME (dayyānū, “judges”).

In the orthography of the latter term ME must indicate plurality. But Reiner has noted that DT 1 typically uses MES to express the plural (line 10’s DI.KUD.ME being the one indisputable exception); thus, it seemed likely to her that NUN.ME in both lines 4 and 10 should be read apkallū (singular.) (See Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages,’” Orientalia 30 (1961), 9 and n.1.)”

Alan Lenzi, The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian ScholarshipJANER 8.2, Brill, Leiden, 2008. pp. 146-8.

Nakamura: Clay Pit Ritual

“The crafting of clay figurines begins similarly, but what is notable here is the portrayal of the ritual scene that evokes a distinct sensory landscape in the enactment of certain requisite and standardized actions:

when you make the statues, creatures of Apsû,

in the morning at sunrise you shall go to the clay pit and consecrate the

clay pit; with censer, torch and holy water you shall [purify] the clay pit,

seven grains of silver, seven grains of gold, carnelian, hulā [lu-stone]

you shall throw into the clay pit, then prepare the setting for Šamaš,

set up a censer with juniper wood, pour out first class beer, kn[eel down,]

stand up, and recite the incantation Clay pit, clay pit.

Incantation: Clay pit, clay pit, you are the clay pit of Anu and Enlil,

the clay pit of Ea, lord of the deep, the clay pit of the great gods;

you have made the lord for lordship, you have made the king for kingship,

you have made the prince for future days;

your pieces of silver are given to you, you have received them;

your gift you have received, and so, in the morning before Šamaš, I

pinch off

the clay NN son of NN; may it be profitable, may what I do prosper.

(Text I, lines 144-57, Wiggermann 1992).

The appeal to the senses during this ceremony is striking. (Notably, this ceremony recalls certain aspects of the pīt pî (“washing of the mouth”) ritual that “enlivened” statues and images such that they could smell, drink, and eat like the deities that came to indwell in them.)

The scent of the censer, heat of the torch, luster of the metals, flavor of the beer, and sound of spoken words together invite and gather the human, natural, and divine worlds to a feast of sensory correspondence.

This demonstration accomplishes a sort of dazzling synthesis that deregulates the faculties — of imagination, outer sense, inner sense, reason, and understanding (Deleuze 1998:33) — and seeks communion through the apprehension of the world.

The result effectively gathers and binds spirit with matter to forge a unity of being as divergence or noncoincidence. It is a matter of “capturing and befriending” insensible forces by embracing the strife in which the perceptible and imperceptible, sensuous and non-sensuous belong to each other.

Through this performance, the clay pit as divine material is reenacted in a demonstrative process of making sense, and the sensual or aesthetic enactment of a certain understanding of the world discloses power in the process of re-forming meaning: “in the process of mimetic reenactment, we reach behind the already formed figurines of meaning, back to the dynamics, force and energy of their formation (Menke 1998:97-8).”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 29-30.

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.

Carolyn Nakamura on the Figurines

Mastering Matters: Magical Sense and Apoptropaic Figurine Worlds of Neo-Assyria

Introduction: Magical Figures from the Past

“When contemplating certain deposits unearthed during the excavations at Nimrud in the 1950s, Max Mallowan remarked, “this magical practice had an immensely long survival, as witness the nursery rhyme:

Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.” (1966:226)

Mallowan’s commentary, rather typical of his time, concerned the discovery of numerous brick boxes encasing figurines made of sun-dried clay, found buried underneath the corners, thresholds, and central spaces of room floors, possibly where a bed once stood.

Excavations during the late 1800s to mid 1900s located such deposits in residences, palaces, and temples at important political and religious capitals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, including Nimrud, Assur, Nineveh, Khorsabad and at Ur in Babylonia under Assyrian rule; they first appeared during the reign of Shalmaneser III and generally persisted up through the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun (ca. 858–612 B.C.).

One can imagine an excavator’s delight in finding such deposits, and there was apparently considerable competition and excitement surrounding their discovery and unveiling (Oates and Oates 2001:253–254).

But, locating such boxes did not always promise the discovery of figurines. Numerous “empty” brick boxes contained nothing more than a thick layer of sandy material, possibly remnants of decomposed organic matter such as wood or food.

Deposits from Ur contained offerings of animal bones, remnants of grain and a pottery sherd along with the clay figures (Woolley 1926:692). And at Assur, some of the buried boxes entombed miniature bronze weapons (Rittig 1977).

But perhaps the most curious finds were the figurines of “warrior” men, mythological fish- and bird-apkallū sages, human-beast hybrids, horned snakes, and other fantastical beings (Figure 2.1).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Generally, such deposits comprised one, two, or seven figurines standing “at attention” in boxes facing in toward the center of the room.

These deposits, not simply buried but concealed and contained, amounted to the discovery within a discovery, the revelation of an ancient secret or desire that had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Other archaeological findings, however, had already anticipated these discoveries: ancient texts preserved instructions for an apotropaic ritual involving the burial of clay and wood figurines under room floors quite in the manner described above (Gurney 1935; Smith 1926; Wiggermann 1992).

The name of one text explicitly pronounced its purpose: šēp lemutti ina bīt amēli parāsu, “to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house” (Wiggermann 1992:1); and the first twenty lines named the “enemy” to be almost any evil imaginable, from spirits, gods, and ancestors to disease, misfortune, Fate, and Death.

The text guided a priest-exorcist through a choreography of very specific and often protracted ceremonies involving various objects, gestures, substances, and locations, leading up to the final installation of the magically protective figures entombed underground.

Notably, another related text fragment, KAR 298, specifically detailed the making, function, character, number, and placement of the figurines (Smith 1926). The archaeological evidence proved to be remarkably consistent with these texts in terms of form and details of surface treatment, and to some extent, position and grouping of the figures.

So the Neo-Assyrians themselves revealed the secret of the figurine deposits: they were magically powerful deposits that protected the individual and his house from sickness and evil. The protective figures served to “watch,” “pray,” and “bear souls away,” as it were.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 18-19.

Green Identifies the Lahmu and the Ugallu

“Returning to the apotropaic ritual, after the fish-apkallē the text prescribes various kinds of wooden figures which cannot be identified among actual figurines, although some types may, as Dr. Reade suggested, be represented in Assyrian sculpture.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or "Great lion."

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or “Great lion.”

These wooden figures end, however, with those of the ugallu, “Great-lion,” of which clay examples do exist. The human-leonine figure of Plate XId, centre, is commonly portrayed in glyptic art from the Akkadian period onwards and in seventh-century Assyrian sculpture.

He has been identified by Karl Frank and, with reservations, Ursula Calmeyer, as an utukku-demon (K. Frank, MAOG 14 (1941), idem, Babylonische Beschwörungsreliefs (Leipzig, 1908) … Notice already a figurine of the type used to illustrate the edition of Utukkū Lemnūtu of R.C. Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia and Assyria II (London, 1904)), but this view has been challenged by Dessa Rittig (Rittig, 108).

She is unable, however, to offer an alternative identification. Woolley once appears to interpret the creature as the ugallu, but elsewhere in the same paper as the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” apparently incorrectly identifying the two. Dr. Reade has suggested alternative identifications as the ugallu or the lahmu.

An ugallu, or "Great lion," ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

An ugallu, or “Great lion,” ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

But the latter creature, as we shall see, appears to have a different identity, and the identification of this human-leonine figure as the ugallu is apparently confirmed by the Nimrud fictile examples (Plate XIa). The inscription (Plate XIb) corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the "inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual."

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the “inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.”

The type must probably be distinguished from the whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt, of which a single example occurs in the Nimrud series (Plate XIIa).

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a "whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion's pelt," from the Nimrud series.

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a “whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt,” from the Nimrud series.

The type, as R.S. Ellis has shown, is also distinguished on the palace reliefs (Plate XIIc).

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or "Great lion." Plate XIIc.

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or “Great lion.” Plate XIIc.

Perhaps yet another distinctive type is the Janus-figure of Plate XIIb, having both human and leonine faces, but with no parallels known to me. The identification of both types is unclear.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine "Janus-faced," with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine “Janus-faced,” with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

The next passage of the ritual prescribes clay figures of the lahmu, inscribed and coated in gypsum, with “water painted on them in black wash.” The type of figure to which this passage refers, though not the reading of the Akkadian name, has been well recognized, since plaques from Aššur, inscribed as in the ritual, depict the figure in close conformity to his representation on the monumental reliefs (Plate XId, left).

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left.

The Nimrud “heroes” are in the main heavily bearded and bewigged men without the distinctive six spiral tresses (Plate XIIIa), but they are nevertheless often inscribed, in the same fashion, and so quite likely represent the same personage.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.  ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.
ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Most interesting, perhaps, is a Burnt Palace example on which much of the gypsum coating and painted water survive (Plate XIIIb), as on some similar figures from Ur.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

Figurines of a human deity with one arm raised in the air in similar fashion to the ugallu (Plate XIc) have not been found at Nimrud, but the identification of the ugallu from Nimrud figurines allows a possible identification of this personage also.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

A common line-up at doorways in the North Palace at Nineveh involves a trio of this god, the ugallu and the lahmu (Plate XId). In the ritual text, moreover, the passages prescribing figurines of the ugallu and lahmu occur together, preceded by a prescription for figures of the “House god” who makes a gesture with his right hand and carries a weapon in his left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left. He speculates that the "House god" appears at far right. Plate XId.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left. The lahmu can be distinguished by his idiosyncratic six curled tresses. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right. Plate XId.

It is possible, therefore, although it cannot be proved, that the three figures of these doorway reliefs are enumerated in the same order in this ritual.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 90-2.

Figurines Excavated from the Burnt Palace and Fort Shalmaneser

The most expansive text prescribing the types of figurines is the Aššur ritual KAR, no. 298. After defining the purpose of the ritual as to avert evil from the house, the text begins to prescribe the types of figures to be fashioned and buried at set locations.

BM 124573, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. Plate Xa.  This fish apkallū appears to have his right hand raised in the gesture of blessing with the mullilu cone, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand.

BM 124573, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. Plate Xa.
This fish apkallū appears to have his right hand raised in the gesture of blessing with the mullilu cone, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand.

It begins with a long passage prescribing wooden figures of seven apkallē “Sages,” from seven Babylonian cities. No such actual figurines appear to exist, nor should we expect any if the prescription were faithfully followed, since timber figurines would have perished.

A bird-apkallū of the Nisroc kind, plate IXb. The figure is too worn to discern what is held in the right hand, while the left hand holds what appears to be a banduddu bucket.

A bird-apkallū of the Nisroc kind, plate IXb. The figure is too worn to discern what is held in the right hand, while the left hand holds what appears to be a banduddu bucket.

The next passage, however, prescribes apkallū figures with the faces and wings of birds. These are the bird-headed figures (Plate IXb), found appropriately in groups of seven. As well as in the Burnt Palace, a group of such figures was found in Fort Shalmaneser in a late seventh-century context; the excavator believed that the figures were redeposited ninth-century pieces, but they are rather different in style (ND 9518, figures in the round rather than flat-backed plaques) and may in fact date closer to the period suggested by their findspot.

Fish-Apkallū figure, Plate Xb. ND 4118, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie.

Fish-Apkallū figure, Plate Xb. ND 4118, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie.

A group of figures of the same type was found by George Smith in the so-called “S.E. Palace,” perhaps a part of the same building as Palace “AB;” the pieces are close in style to the Burnt Palace examples and may date to the late ninth century.

ND 4123 (IM 59291), Plate Xc, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq. Photograph: David A. Loggie.

ND 4123 (IM 59291), Plate Xc, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq. Photograph: David A. Loggie.

The ritual goes on to prescribe a set of seven figures of the apkallē cloaked in the skin of a fish. This type is represented by septenary groups of fish-garbed human figures which vary somewhat from deposit to deposit.

The usual type from the Burnt Palace, thin and fairly flat, sometimes has a fish-head and, on the reverse, a dorsal fin (Plate Xb), but often has no very obvious fish elements, so that the pieces must be identified  from others in the same deposit or by comparison with those in other deposits.

Also from the Burnt Palace come some more obvious human-piscine figures of heavy solid clay (Plate Xc). Six examples of this subtype were found, together with a seventh, “leader” (?), figure of the same being but of a very different style: a tall but flat fish-garbed man, the scales and tail indicated on the back by incised cross-hatching and diagonal lines.

ND 7903B. Courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate Xd.

ND 7903B. Courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate Xd.

Over thirty figurines and metal figurine accoutrements were found not buried in boxes but loose in the fill of one of the so-called “barracks-rooms” of Fort Shalmaneser. They would seem to be remnants from disturbed deposits, but evidently reused, since the fish-cloaked figures, of incongruous styles, were nevertheless seven in number.

It is possible, therefore, that the room was a kind of sick-bay, decked out with these prophylactic images. Plate Xd shows one of the types found, rather crudely made but with the line of the fish-cloak evident enough.

It is interesting to note, in this context, that when one of the legs is exposed and set forward on figurines of this type, it is the left one, perhaps foreshadowing an Islamic custom of entering a holy place with the right foot first, but the haunts of the jinn leading with the left.

The fish-cloaked figure is known in Mesopotamian art from the Kassite period, and despite a dearth of extant sculpture was not an uncommon figure in the Neo-Assyrian palace or temple (Plate Xa).”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 88-90.

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.

Origins of the Sacred Marriage Rite

“In the Old Babylonian period, the daughters of kings and rulers were appointed as high priestesses of the Moon-God or of the Goddess Ishtar.

The en or entu priestesses were the counterparts of male high priests. They wore distinctive clothing, a cap with raised rim, a folded garment, jewelry, and a staff, the same insignia and garments worn by the ruler.

They lived inside the sacred shrine, had charge of temple management and affairs, performed ritual and ceremonial functions, and were usually unmarried. The nin-dingir priestess in ancient Sumer had a similar role.

Assyriologists believe that it is this class of women who annually participated in the Sacred Marriage, impersonating or representing the goddess. The basis for the ritual of the Sacred Marriage was the belief that fertility of the land and of people depended on the celebration of the sexual power of the fertility goddess.

It is likely that this rite originated in the Sumerian city of Uruk, which was dedicated to the Goddess Inanna, earlier than 3000 B.C.

The Sacred Marriage was that of the Goddess Inanna and either the high priest, representing the god, or the king, identified with the God Dumuzi. In one typical poem, the encounter is initiated by the goddess, who expresses her eagerness for union with her lover. After their union, the land blossoms forth:

“Plants rose high by his side,

Grains rose high by his side… .”

The goddess, happy and satisfied, promises to bless the house of her husband, the shepherd / king:

“My husband, the goodly store house, the holy stall,

I Inanna, will preserve you for,

I will watch over your house of life.”

The annual symbolic reenactment of this mythical union was a public celebration considered essential to the well-being of the community. It was the occasion of a joyous celebration, which may have involved sexual activity on the part of the worshipers in and around the temple grounds.

It is important for us to understand that contemporaries regarded this occasion as sacred, as mythically significant for the well-being of the community, and that they regarded the king and the priestess with reverence and honored them for performing this “sacred” service.

The Sacred Marriage was performed in the temples of various fertility goddesses for nearly two thousand years. The young God-lover or son of the goddess was known as Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, Baal, and Osiris in various languages.

In some of these rituals, the sacred union was preceded by the death of the young god, symbolizing a season of drought or infertility which ended only by his resurrection through his union with the goddess. It was she who could make him alive, who could make him king, and who could empower him to make the land fertile.

Rich sexual imagery with its joyous worship of sexuality and fertility permeated poetry and myth and found expression in statuary and sculpture. Rites similar to the Sacred Marriage also flourished in classical Greece and pre-Christian Rome.”

Gerda Lerner, “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Signs, 1986, pp. 239-40.

The Ea-Rite of Exorcism by Water

“We have already had occasion in discussing the views held of Ea, the water-god, [3] and of Nusku (with various other designations), [4] the fire-god, to point out that water and fire constitute the two chief elements in the symbolical rites for exorcising the demons. The Ea-ritual involved washing or sprinkling the body of the victim with water that is to be taken from the Euphrates or Tigris as the sacred streams, or from some bubbling source coming directly out of the earth.

So we read: [5]

“With pure, clear water,
With bright, shining water,
Seven times and again seven times,
Sprinkle, purify, cleanse !
May the evil Rabisyu depart !
May he step to one side !
May the good Shedu, the good Lamassu, remain in my body!
By heaven, be ye forsworn,
By earth, be ye forsworn.”

An image is frequently made of the demon or of the sorcerer or sorceress, placed on a little boat and sent over the waters to the accompaniment of formulas, voicing the hope that as the image passes along the evil spirit may depart. The little boat is made to capsize and the image is drowned, or it is directly thrown into the water and thus again the hoped for release is dramatically reproduced.

The variations in the rites are naturally endless. It is merely a further modification of the Ea ritual if we find elsewhere directions to surround the bed on which the sick man lies with some kind of porridge made of water and barley, to symbolize the isolation of the individual, and with this isolation to secure his release from the torturing demons.”

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

Tammuz

“Among the gods of Babylonia none achieved wider and more enduring fame than Tammuz, who was loved by Ishtar, the amorous Queen of Heaven–the beautiful youth who died and was mourned for and came to life again. He does not figure by his popular name in any of the city pantheons, but from the earliest times of which we have knowledge until the passing of Babylonian civilization, he played a prominent part in the religious life of the people.

Tammuz, like Osiris of Egypt, was an agricultural deity, and as the Babylonian harvest was the gift of the rivers, it is probable that one of his several forms was Dumu-zi-abzu, “Tammuz of the Abyss.” He was also “the child,” “the heroic lord,” “the sentinel,” “the healer,” and the patriarch who reigned over the early Babylonians for a considerable period.

“Tammuz of the Abyss” was one of the members of the family of Ea, god of the Deep, whose other sons, in addition to Merodach, were Nira, an obscure deity; Ki-gulla, “world destroyer,” Burnunta-sa, “broad ear,” and Bara and Baragulla, probably “revealers” or “oracles.” In addition there was a daughter, Khi-dimme-azaga, “child of the renowned spirit”. She may have been identical with Belit-sheri, who is referred to in the Sumerian hymns as the sister of Tammuz.

This family group was probably formed by symbolizing the attributes of Ea and his spouse Damkina. Tammuz, in his character as a patriarch, may have been regarded as a hostage from the gods: the human form of Ea, who instructed mankind, like King Osiris, how to grow corn and cultivate fruit trees. As the youth who perished annually, he was the corn spirit. He is referred to in the Bible by his Babylonian name.

When Ezekiel detailed the various idolatrous practices of the Israelites, which included the worship of the sun and “every form of creeping things and abominable beasts”–a suggestion of the composite monsters of Babylonia–he was brought “to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house, which was towards the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”

The weeping ceremony was connected with agricultural rites. Corn deities were weeping deities, they shed fertilizing tears; and the sowers simulated the sorrow of divine mourners when they cast seed in the soil “to die,” so that it might spring up as corn. This ancient custom, like many others, contributed to the poetic imagery of the Bible. “They that sow in tears,” David sang, “shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

In Egypt the priestesses who acted the parts of Isis and Nepthys, mourned for the slain corn god Osiris.

Gods and men before the face of the gods are weeping for

thee at the same time, when they behold me!…

All thy sister goddesses are at thy side and behind thy couch,

Calling upon thee with weeping–yet thou are prostrate upon thy bed!…

Live before us, desiring to behold thee.

It was believed to be essential that human beings should share the universal sorrow caused by the death of a god. If they remained unsympathetic, the deities would punish them as enemies. Worshippers of nature gods, therefore, based their ceremonial practices on natural phenomena.

“The dread of the worshippers that the neglect of the usual ritual would be followed by disaster, is particularly intelligible,” writes Professor Robertson Smith, “if they regarded the necessary operations of agriculture as involving the violent extinction of a particle of divine life.”

By observing their ritual, the worshippers won the sympathy and co-operation of deities, or exercised a magical control over nature.”

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

No New Thing

“We have now seen that the Ritual which, as we have postulated, lies, in a fragmentary and distorted condition, at the root of our existing Grail romances, possessed elements capable of assimilation with a religious system which the great bulk of its modern adherents would unhesitatingly declare to be its very antithesis.

That Christianity might have borrowed from previously existing cults certain outward signs and symbols, might have accommodated itself to already existing Fasts and Feasts, may be, perforce has had to be, more or less grudgingly admitted; that such a rapprochement should have gone further, that it should even have been inherent in the very nature of the Faith, that, to some of the deepest thinkers of old, Christianity should have been held for no new thing but a fulfilment of the promise enshrined in the Mysteries from the beginning of the world, will to many be a strange and startling thought.

Yet so it was, and I firmly believe that it is only in the recognition of this one-time claim of essential kinship between Christianity and the Pagan Mysteries that we shall find the key to the Secret of the Grail.

And here at the outset I would ask those readers who are inclined to turn with feelings of contemptuous impatience from what they deem an unprofitable discussion of idle speculations which have little or nothing to do with a problem they hold to be one of purely literary interest, to be solved by literary comparison and criticism, and by no other method, to withhold their verdict till they have carefully examined the evidence I am about to bring forward, evidence which has never so far been examined in this connection, but which if I am not greatly mistaken provides us with clear and unmistakable proof of the actual existence of a ritual in all points analogous to that indicated by the Grail romances.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920, pp. 141-2.

Role of Chastity in Fertility Rites

“But the poems selected by Professor von Schroeder for discussion offer us a further, and more curious, parallel with the Grail romances.

In Section VIII. of the work referred to the author discusses the story of Rishyaçriñga, as the Mahâbhârata names the hero; here we find a young Brahmin brought up by his father, Vibhândaka, in a lonely forest hermitage 3 absolutely ignorant of the outside world, and even of the very existence of beings other than his father and himself. He has never seen a woman, and does not know that such a creature exists.

A drought falls upon a neighbouring kingdom, and the inhabitants are reduced to great straits for lack of food. The King, seeking to know by what means the sufferings of his people may be relieved, learns that so long as Rishyaçriñga continues chaste so long will the drought endure.

An old woman, who has a fair daughter of irregular life, undertakes the seduction of the hero. The King has a ship, or raft (both versions are given), fitted out with all possible luxury, and an apparent Hermit’s cell erected upon it.

The old woman, her daughter and companions, embark; and the river carries them to a point not far from the young Brahmin’s hermitage.

Taking advantage of the absence of his father, the girl visits Rishyaçriñga in his forest cell, giving him to understand that she is a Hermit, like himself, which the boy, in his innocence, believes. He is so fascinated by her appearance and caresses that, on her leaving him, he, deep in thought of the lovely visitor, forgets, for the first time, his religious duties.

On his father’s return he innocently relates what has happened, and the father warns him that fiends in this fair disguise strive to tempt hermits to their undoing. The next time the father is absent the temptress, watching her opportunity, returns, and persuades the boy to accompany her to her ‘Hermitage’ which she assures him, is far more beautiful than his own.

So soon as Rishyaçriñga is safely on board the ship sails, the lad is carried to the capital of the rainless land, the King gives him his daughter as wife, and so soon as the marriage is consummated the spell is broken, and rain falls in abundance.

Professor von Schroeder points out that there is little doubt that, in certain earlier versions of the tale, the King’s daughter herself played the rôle of temptress.

There is no doubt that a ceremonial ‘marriage’ very frequently formed a part of the ‘Fertility’ ritual, and was supposed to be specially efficacious in bringing about the effect desired 1.

The practice subsists in Indian ritual to this hour, and the surviving traces in European Folk-custom have been noted in full by Mannhardt in his exhaustive work on Wald und Feld-Kulte; its existence in Classic times is well known, and it is certainly one of the living Folk-customs for which a well-attested chain of descent can be cited.

Professor von Schroeder remarks that the efficacy of the rite appears to be enhanced by the previous strict observance of the rule of chastity by the officiant 2.

What, however, is of more immediate interest for our purpose is the fact that the Rishyaçriñga story does, in effect, possess certain curious points of contact with the Grail tradition.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 27-9.

What is the Holy Grail?

“Some years ago, when fresh from the study of Sir J. G. Frazer’s epoch-making work, The Golden Bough, I was struck by the resemblance existing between certain features of the Grail story, and characteristic details of the Nature Cults described.

The more closely I analysed the tale, the more striking became the resemblance, and I finally asked myself whether it were not possible that in this mysterious legend–mysterious alike in its character, its sudden appearance, the importance apparently assigned to it, followed by as sudden and complete a disappearancewe might not have the confused record of a ritual, once popular, later surviving under conditions of strict secrecy? (Underlined emphasis in original).

This would fully account for the atmosphere of awe and reverence which even under distinctly non-Christian conditions never fails to surround the Grail, It may act simply as a feeding vessel, It is none the less toute sainte cose; and also for the presence in the tale of distinctly popular, and Folk-lore, elements. Such an interpretation would also explain features irreconcilable with orthodox Christianity, which had caused some scholars to postulate a heterodox origin for the legend, and thus explain its curiously complete disappearance as a literary theme.

In the first volume of my Perceval studies, published in 1906, I hinted at this possible solution of the problem, a solution worked out more fully in a paper read before the Folk-lore Society in December of the same year, and published in Volume XVIII. of the Journal of the Society. By the time my second volume of studies was ready for publication in 1909, further evidence had come into my hands; I was then certain that I was upon the right path, and I felt justified in laying before the public the outlines of a theory of evolution, alike of the legend, and of the literature, to the main principles of which I adhere to-day.

But certain links were missing in the chain of evidence, and the work was not complete. No inconsiderable part of the information at my disposal depended upon personal testimony, the testimony of those who knew of the continued existence of such a ritual, and had actually been initiated into its mysteries–and for such evidence the student of the letter has little respect. He worships the written word; for the oral, living, tradition from which the word derives force and vitality he has little use. Therefore the written word had to be found.

It has taken me some nine or ten years longer to complete the evidence, but the chain is at last linked up, and we can now prove by printed texts the parallels existing between each and every feature of the Grail story and the recorded symbolism of the Mystery cults.

Further, we can show that between these Mystery cults and Christianity there existed at one time a close and intimate union, such a union as of itself involved the practical assimilation of the central rite, in each case a ‘Eucharistic’ Feast, in which the worshippers partook of the Food of Life from the sacred vessels.

In face of the proofs which will be found in these pages I do not think any fair-minded critic will be inclined to dispute any longer the origin of the ‘Holy’ Grail; after all it is as august and ancient an origin as the most tenacious upholder of Its Christian character could desire.

But I should wish it clearly to be understood that the aim of these studies is, as indicated in the title, to determine the origin of the Grail, not to discuss the provenance and interrelation of the different versions. I do not believe this latter task can be satisfactorily achieved unless and until we are of one accord as to the character of the subject matter.

When we have made up our minds as to what the Grail really was, and what it stood for, we shall be able to analyse the romances; to decide which of them contains more, which less, of the original matter, and to group them accordingly.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 3-5.

Eschatological Elevation of the Soul After Death

“The Bahir’s idea of the sefiroth appears in Isaac’s writings in a fully crystallized form. In his commentary on the Yesirah 4:3, the verse 1 Chronicles 29:11 is used for the first time as a biblical reference for the names and the sequence of the seven lower sefiroth, especially the first five among them: “Yours, Lord, are the greatness (gedullah), might (geburah), splendor (tif’ereth), triumph (nesah), and majesty (hod)—yes all (kol) that is in heaven and on earth; to You, Lord, belong kingship (mamlakhah) and preeminence above all.”

From here come the designations not yet used in the Bahir, of gedullah for hesed, tif’ereth for ‘emeth, and hod. Isaac himself for the most part uses the names hesed and pahad (as in the Bahir) instead of gedullah and geburah. The name tif’ereth, however, is already familiar to him.

Whereas the word kol, occurring in the aforementioned verse, already served in the Bahir as an epithet designating the “Righteous,” Isaac uses for this sefirah the noun “Righteous” and the epithet “Foundation of the world.” For the last sefirah, on the other hand, he employs almost exclusively an epithet still not familiar to the Bahir, although it is undoubtedly alluded to there.

This epithet is ‘atarah, a synonym for kether, which designates the lowest of the ten “crowns.” Like the Bahir, he names the first three sefiroth kether or mahshabah, hokhmah and binah.

In his commentary on Yesirah, Isaac mentions many of these sefiroth in the framework of fixed schemata, but this does not always enable us to comprehend the sequence of the sefiroth within them. What is strange is that in point of fact the structure of the sefiroth beyond the supreme three only interests him in detail when it is a question of prayer mysticism, or the interpretation of certain ritual commandments. They have their importance as stages of the contemplative ascent or of the eschatological elevation of the soul, after death, to even higher spheres.

But never are any coherent thoughts presented concerning their function and structure. This is particularly the case for the potencies of tif’ereth, yesod and ‘atarah, which play an especially important role in the evolution of the doctrine of the sefiroth. In contrast to this lack of interest in detail, one discerns in Isaac a more pronounced interest in the totality of the spiritual potencies expressed in language and, in a more general manner, in spiritual entities.

Having said that, the terminological differences between concepts like sefiroth, middoth, letters (of the alphabet) and hawwayoth (literally: essences) are by no means always clear, and their interpretation is often fraught with difficulties.

However, these difficulties are closely related to what is truly new in Isaac’s Kabbalah. Indeed, from the historical point of view their interest lies in the combination of the world of ideas of the Bahir and the entirely new elements that erupt, inspired by gnostic ideas, into the oldest form of the Kabbalah as represented by the Bahir.

This combination reflects speculative interests whose origin is no longer essentially determined by Gnosticism but rather by Neoplatonism and a language mysticism generated by the latter. Isaac is visibly struggling with new thoughts for which he is as yet unable to find clear and definitive expression. The awkwardness of his new terminology militates against the supposition that this lack of clarity, which often makes it so difficult to penetrate his meaning, is intentional.

His new terminology seems to be derived from philosophy, although we cannot identify its philosophical sources in the Hebrew tradition. The special importance of Isaac’s commentary on the Yesirah lies in the attempt to read into the old texts the new, speculative thoughts of a contemplative mystic. But we are no less surprised by the boldness with which he presents far-reaching ideas in his other cosmological fragments and in his remarks concerning the mystical theory of sacrifice. The particular manner in which Isaac applies his ideas to the task of man, to the connection between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds, and to eschatological matters merits closer consideration.

The path of the mystic, described by Isaac at the beginning of his commentary on the Yesirah, is (as Isaac of Acre already recognized in his paraphrase of several of these passages in his own commentary) that of systematically uncovering the divine—by means of reflective contemplation and within the innermost depths of such contemplation. Isaac postulates three stages in the mystery of the deity and its unfolding in creation and revelation.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 263-5.

Conjuring Shaddiel

“In the middle of the thirteenth century there lived in Narbonne an old kabbalist, also a disciple of Eleazar of Worms, “of whose teacher it was attested [that is, by the people of Narbonne, and not only by the former student himself] that Elijah, may his memory be blessed, revealed himself to him every Day of Atonement.”

Whether this teacher was the Eleazar just named or some other Provençal kabbalist is not clear. But the identity of the teacher is of less importance for us than the information concerning the date when the prophet Elijah regularly appeared to him. In the Talmud such an appearance of Elijah on the Day of Atonement is mentioned, to my knowledge, only once in passing ( Yoma 19b) and not as something that is repeated periodically. This revelation, whose supreme value is thrown into sharp relief by the fact of its occurrence on the most sacred day of the year, was certainly attained only after spiritual preparation and special concentration.

We possess two texts that give an exact description of the magic rituals for conjuring up the archon who is in charge of the mysteries of the Torah. These rituals take place precisely during the night of the Day of Atonement. The first of these texts is a responsum attributed to two fictitious Babylonian geonim of the eleventh century that appears to have been composed in Provence around 1200 in an artificial Aramaic.

We are given here, among other things, an utterly fantastic report concerning a very peculiar procedure that the scholars of earlier times supposedly followed on that night in order to conjure up “Shaddiel, the great king of the demons (shedim) who rule in the air,” thereby to acquire possession and knowledge of “all the mysteries of heaven.”

This mixture of angelology and demonology is very strange. It seems to me impossible that this ritual, transferred in this instance to Babylonia, was ever really practiced. But it does indicate the mood of the group from which it stems.

The second part likewise contains theurgic instructions, but these, we may assume, describe a ritual that was actually performed. These directions constitute only one link in a long chain of incantations given since very early times for conjuring up the “archons of the Torah.”

At the end of the “Greater Hekhaloth” there is a text, Sar Torah, that is also found independently and has the same aim. We possess several other conjurations of this kind that originated in the Orient and passed, in part, into the manuscripts of the German Hasidim. This text too, which similarly prescribes the eve and the night of the Day of Atonement as the time for the performance of these rituals, certainly originated in materials that came from Babylonia through Italy to France.

But the content, half conjuration and half prayer, leaves no doubt that in its extant form it was edited in France. The text contains a long list of things that one of these perushim wished to learn from the archon of the Torah. He desires that his heart be opened to the study of the Torah, with special emphasis on the various types of gematria and number-mysticism and on the comprehension of various talmudic disciplines—such as cosmogony, the Merkabah, the divine glory, the kabhod—as well as many other specific subjects of the talmudic tradition that the author considered worth knowing.

There is nothing to indicate the author’s acquaintance with the Kabbalah; his area of interest coincides, regarding theosophical matters as well, with that of the German and French Hasidim. At the same time, we learn that in those circles too one hoped for revelations concerning the exoteric and esoteric Torah during the night of the Day of Atonement. We have before us, therefore, the sort of prayer that Jacob the Nazirite might have recited had he wished to prepare himself for a revelation of this kind.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 240-2.

Fear of Oblivion

“On the insides of the wooden coffins of the XIIth dynasty, about B.C. 2500, are painted whole series of objects which, in still earlier times, were actually placed in the tombs with the mummy; but little by little men ceased to provide the numerous articles connected with the sepulture of the dead which the old ritual prescribed, and they trusted to the texts and formulæ which they painted on the coffin to turn pictures into substances, and besides the pillow they placed little else in the tomb.

About a thousand years later, when the religious texts which formed the Book of the Dead were written upon papyri instead of coffins, a large number of illustrations or vignettes were added to them; to many of these special importance was attached, and the following are worthy of note.

It will be remembered that the CXXVth Chapter of the Book of the Dead contains the so-called “Negative Confession” which is recited in the Hall of Maâti, and a number of names of gods and beings, the knowledge of which is most important for the welfare of the deceased.

At the end of the Chapter we find the following statement:—

“This chapter shall be said by the deceased after he hath been cleansed and purified, and when he is arrayed in apparel, and is shod with white leather sandals, and his eyes have been painted with antimony, and his body hath been anointed with ânti unguent, and when he hath made offerings of oxen, and birds, and incense, and cakes, and ale, and garden herbs.

And behold, thou shalt paint a picture of what shall happen in the Hall of Maâti upon a new tile moulded from earth, upon which neither a pig nor any other animal hath trodden. And if thou writest upon it this chapter the deceased shall flourish; and his children shall flourish; and his name shall never fall into oblivion; and bread, and cakes, and sweetmeats, and wine, and meat shall be given unto him at the altar of the great god; and he shall not be turned back at any door in the underworld; and he shall be brought in along with the Kings of the North and South; and he shall be in the following of Osiris always and for ever.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 108-9.

Sacred and Ritual Copulation

“We would take the copulation of goats with women in an Egyptian temple (reported by Herodotus) on a sacred, ritual level.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp. xxxviii. (James Hillman, “An Essay on Pan.”)