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Tag: Sacrifice

Babylonian Blood Sacrifice

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

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an Assyrian intaglio illustrated in A. Rich, Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811. The sacrifice of the goat, or rather its presentation to the god, is not infrequently represented on the Assyrian bas-reliefs. HISTORY OF EGYPT, CHALDEA, SYRIA, BABYLONIA, AND ASSYRIA By G. MASPERO

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an Assyrian intaglio illustrated in A. Rich, Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811. The sacrifice of the goat, or rather its presentation to the god, is not infrequently represented on the Assyrian bas-reliefs.

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

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

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

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

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

A Baptism in Blood

” … Such, then, appears to have been the annual solemnisation of the death and resurrection of Attis in spring.

But besides these public rites, his worship is known to have comprised certain secret or mystic ceremonies, which probably aimed at bringing the worshipper, and especially the novice, into closer communication with his god. Our information as to the nature of these mysteries and the date of their celebration is unfortunately very scanty, but they seem to have included a sacramental meal and a baptism of blood.

In the sacrament the novice became a partaker of the mysteries by eating out of a drum and drinking out of a cymbal, two instruments of music which figured prominently in the thrilling orchestra of Attis. The fast which accompanied the mourning for the dead god may perhaps have been designed to prepare the body of the communicant for the reception of the blessed sacrament by purging it of all that could defile by contact the sacred elements.

In the baptism the devotee, crowned with gold and wreathed with fillets, descended into a pit, the mouth of which was covered with a wooden grating. A bull, adorned with garlands of flowers, its forehead glittering with gold leaf, was then driven on to the grating and there stabbed to death with a consecrated spear. Its hot reeking blood poured in torrents through the apertures, and was received with devout eagerness by the worshipper on every part of his person and garments, till he emerged from the pit, drenched, dripping, and scarlet from head to foot, to receive the homage, nay the adoration, of his fellows as one who had been born again to eternal life and had washed away his sins in the blood of the bull.

For some time afterwards the fiction of a new birth was kept up by dieting him on milk like a new-born babe. The regeneration of the worshipper took place at the same time as the regeneration of his god, namely at the vernal equinox. At Rome the new birth and the remission of sins by the shedding of bull’s blood appear to have been carried out above all at the sanctuary of the Phrygian goddess on the Vatican Hill, at or near the spot where the great basilica of St. Peter’s now stands; for many inscriptions relating to the rites were found when the church was being enlarged in 1608 or 1609.

From the Vatican as a centre this barbarous system of superstition seems to have spread to other parts of the Roman empire. Inscriptions found in Gaul and Germany prove that provincial sanctuaries modelled their ritual on that of the Vatican. From the same source we learn that the testicles as well as the blood of the bull played an important part in the ceremonies. Probably they were regarded as a powerful charm to promote fertility and hasten the new birth.”

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion  (1922)
Chapter 34:: The Myth and Ritual of Attis, np.

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.

Shema’ Yisrael

“The passage occurs in connection with a statement of Rabbi Rahmai concerning the expression “twelve tribes of God” in Psalms 122:4. It follows rather abruptly on a relatively long magical text devoted to the names of God and is found in connection with the symbolism of the “source” that also appears in important passages elsewhere in the book.

Starting from the conception of God as the origin of a source that irrigates everything else, the text interprets the twelve tribes in the upper world as the channels through which the water of the source is conducted. This source is perhaps the name of God, which, through the twelve channels, indicates the thirteen attributes of the divinity, deduced by Talmudic theology from Exodus 34:6.

The discourse concerning the elements of language appears as the continuation of this section 82. The vowels have the form of points, therefore of circles; the consonants, on the other hand, are square, which is in the nature of the Hebrew script.

And just as there is a chain of analogies: God—soul—vowel—circle, so also the corresponding members of each pair should be correlated, to wit, the primordial images of the twelve tribes—bodies—consonants —square. It is difficult to separate one series of symbolism from the other. If these symbols are themselves older, then the pair vowel-consonant which figures among them must also belong to an older tradition reaching back beyond the book Kuzari. In that case the continuation of the paragraph, at first sight enigmatic, can also be interpreted in a logical and consistent manner. The text says:

“And the vowel comes along the way of the “channels” to the consonants through the scent of the sacrifice, and it descends from there, as it is frequently said: the savor is a thing which descends toward God. For [the first] YHWH [of the two four-letter divine names mentioned one after another in Exod. 34:6] descends toward [the second] YHWH, and that is the meaning of Scripture [Deut. 6:4]: “Hear 0 Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one.’”

Here, therefore, the symbolism is transferred to the magic of the sacrifice. Through the savor of the sacrifice the current of life enters from the soul, which is the source, into the attributes, which are the tribes, the consonants or the bodies. By means of a sacramental magic it is attracted toward them through the twelve channels introduced in section 82 in the form of a simile. And corresponding to this mysterious event at the hour of sacrifice, in the prayer, which mystically replaces the sacrifice, is the “unification” of the name of God in the formula of Shema’ Yisrael.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 64-5.

Opening of the Mouth

“The sprinkling of water was followed by a purification by means of incense, also contained in four vases, one for each of the four quarters of the earth.

The burning of this sweet-smelling substance assisted in opening the mouth of the deceased and in strengthening his heart.

At this stage the Sem priest dressed himself in the skin of a cow, and lying down upon a kind of couch pretended to be asleep; but he was roused up by the Am-asi priest in the presence of the Kher-heb and the Am-khent priest, and when the Sem priest had seated himself upon a seat, the four men together represented the four children of Horus, (i.e., Mestha, Hâpi, Tuamutef and Qebhsennuf) or the gods with the heads of a hawk, an ape, a jackal, and a man respectively.

The Sem priest then said, “I have seen my father in all his forms,” which the other men in turn repeat.

The meaning of this portion of the ceremony is hard to explain, but M. Maspero (op. cit., p. 168) thinks that it was intended to bring back to the body of the deceased its shadow (khaibit), which had departed from it when it died.

The preliminary purifications being ended, and the shadow having been joined to the body once more, the statue or mummy is approached by the men who represent the armed guard of Horus; and one of their number, having taken upon himself the character of Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, touches its mouth with his finger.

The Kher-heb next made ready to perform the sacrifice which was intended to commemorate the slaughter, at some very early period, of the fiends who were the friends of Set.

It seems that, the soul of Horus dwelt in an eye, and that Set nearly succeeded in devouring it; but Horus vanquished Set and saved his eye.

Set’s associates then changed themselves into the forms of animals, and birds, and fish, but they were caught, and their heads were cut off; Set, however, who was concealed in the form of a pig, contrived to escape.

The sacrifice consisted of a bull (or cow) or two, two gazelles or antelopes, and ducks.

When the bull had been slain, one of the forelegs was cut off, and the heart taken out, and offered to the statue or mummy; the Sem priest then took the bleeding leg and touched, or pretended to touch, the mouth and eyes with it four times.

The slaughtered gazelles or antelopes and ducks were simply offered before the statue. The Sem priest next said to the statue, “I have come to embrace thee, I am thy son Horus, I have pressed thy mouth; I am thy son, I love thee. . . . Thy mouth was closed, but I have set in order for thee thy mouth and thy teeth.”

The "Seb-ur" and "Tuntet" Instruments for Opening the Mouth.

The “Seb-ur” and “Tuntet” Instruments for Opening the Mouth.

He then brought two instruments, called “Seb-ur” and “Tuntet” respectively, and touched the mouth of the statue or mummy with them, whilst the Kher-heb said, “Thy mouth was closed, but I have set in order for thee thy mouth and thy teeth. I open for thee thy mouth, I open for thee thy two eyes. I have opened for thee thy mouth with the instrument of Anubis. I have opened thy mouth with the instrument of Anubis, with the iron implement with which the mouths of the gods were opened.”

“Horus, open the mouth! Horus, open the mouth! Horus hath opened the mouth of the dead, as he in times of old opened the mouth of Osiris, with the iron which came forth from Set, with the iron instrument with which he opened the mouths of the gods.”

“He hath opened thy mouth with it. The deceased shall walk and shall speak, and his body shall be with the great company of the gods in the Great House of the Aged One in Annu, and he shall receive there the ureret crown from Horus, the lord of mankind.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 193-6.

The Halls of Osiris

“In another Chapter (see Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 128) the deceased addresses seven gods, and says, “Hail, ye seven beings who make decrees, who support the Balance on the night of the judgment of the Utchat, who cut off heads, who hack necks in pieces, who take possession of hearts by violence and rend the places where hearts are fixed, who make slaughterings in the Lake of Fire, I know you, and I know your names; therefore know ye me, even as I know your names.”

The deceased, having declared that the seven gods know his name and he their names, has no further apprehension that evil will befall him.

In one portion of the kingdom of Osiris there existed seven halls or mansions through which the deceased was anxious to pass, but each of the gates was guarded by a doorkeeper, a watcher, and a herald, and it required special provision on the part of the deceased to satisfy these beings that he had a right to pass them.

In the first place, figures of the seven gates had to be made in some substance (or painted upon papyrus), as well as a figure of the deceased: the latter was made to approach each of the gates and to stand before it and to recite an address which had been specially prepared for the purpose.

Meanwhile the thigh, the head, the heart, and the hoof of a red bull were offered at each gate, as well as a very large number of miscellaneous offerings which need not be described in detail.

But all these ceremonies would not help the deceased to pass through the gates, unless be knew the names of the seven doorkeepers, and the seven watchers, and the seven heralds who guarded them.

The gods of the first gate were:—

Sekhet-hra-âsht-aru, Semetu, and Hukheru;

those of the second, Tun-hât, Seqet-hra, and Sabes;

of the third, Am-huat-ent-pehfi, Res-hra, and Uâau;

of the fourth, Khesef-hra-âsht-kheru, Res-ab, and Neteka-hra-khesef-atu;

of the fifth, Ânkh-em-fentu, Ashebu, and Tebherkehaat;

of the sixth, Akentauk-ha-kheru, An-hra, and Metes-hra-ari-she;

of the seventh, Metes-sen, Ââa-kheru, and Khesef-hra-khemiu.

And the text, which the deceased recites to the Halls collectively, begins, “Hail, ye Halls! Hail, ye who made the Halls for Osiris! Hail, ye who watch your Halls! Hail, ye who herald the affairs of the two lands for the god Osiris each day, the deceased knoweth you, and he knoweth your names.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 211).

The names having been uttered, and the addresses duly recited, the deceased went wherever he pleased in the seven Halls of Osiris.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 165-6.

The Children of Eve

“And she tied a scarlet thread on the middle of the door of [the house of] her gods, and she brought three locusts and set them in the house of her gods. And she said unto Solomon, “Come to me without breaking the scarlet thread, bend thyself and kill these locusts before me and pull out their necks”; and he did so. And she said unto him, “I will henceforward do thy will, for thou hast sacrificed to my gods and hast worshipped them.” Now he had done thus because of his oath, so that he might not break his oath which she had made him to swear, even though he knew that it was an offence (or, sin) to enter into the house of her gods.

Now God had commanded the children of Israel, saying, “Ye shall not marry strange women that ye may not be corrupted by them through their gods, and through the wickedness of their works and the sweetness of their voices; for they make soft the hearts of simple young men by the sweetness of their gentle voices, and by the beauty of their forms they destroy the wisdom of the foolish man.”

Who was wiser than Solomon? yet he was seduced by a woman. Who was more righteous than David? yet he was seduced by a woman. Who was stronger than Samson? yet he was seduced by a woman. Who was handsomer than ‘Amnon? yet he was seduced by Tamar the daughter of David his father. And Adam was the first creation of God, yet he was seduced by Eve his wife. And through that seduction death was created for every created thing. And this seduction of men by women was caused by Eve, for we are all the children of Eve.”

The Kebra Nagast, by E.A.W. Budge, [1922], pg. 104, at

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