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Tag: The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria

Specialization of the Priesthood

” … The growth of the temple organizations along the lines above set forth naturally resulted in a differentiation of priestly functions. Besides a number of general names for priest, such as sJiangu, enu, “votary” and ummdnu (expert), with gradations of rank as indicated by the title shangu makliTihu, “high priest”, we find over thirty classes of priests recorded in the material at our disposal.

The “exerciser” (mashmashu or dsMpu) is separated from the “diviner” (baru, literally “inspector”), and these two from the “singer” (zammeru), “anointer” (pashishu), and “musician” (Ualu, lallaru, naru, etc.) and from the “snake charmers” (mushlakhkhu) , who formed a class by themselves and perhaps had other functions than the name suggests. Each of these had numerous subdivisions such as “libationist” (ramku, nisakku), “anointer” (pashishu), [5] “dream interpreter” and “oracle” (sha’ilu) and others such as urigallu, and the abkallu, abarakUu, whose exact functions still escape us. [6]

Women also took a large part as priestesses of one kind or another in the temple service [7] as singers, “howlers” (chanting the lamentations), musicians, exercisers and furnishing oracles. We find also several classes of holy women leading a secluded life in special homes which would correspond to our cloisters and nunneries, and who were regarded as constituting in a measure the harem of the god to whose service they were dedicated.

Some of these were “sacred prostitutes”, and it is in connection with this class of priestesses that rites were practised in the temples which, while probably regarded as purely symbolical to promote fertility among mankind and in the animal world, were unmistakably obscene, or at least degenerated into obscene rites.

In addition to the purely religious duties in connection with the temple service, the priests were also the scribes, the judges and the teachers of the people all three functions following naturally from the religious point of view involved in writing, in legal decisions and in knowledge in general.

The tradition once established, the priests continued to act as the official scribes in the case of the thousands upon thousands of legal and commercial documents that have come down to us from all periods, though, to be sure, in later days we occasionally come across a scribe who does not appear to have been a temple official.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 272-3.

The Rise of the Priests

” … Corresponding to the growth of the temples, we find the organization of the cult extending its scope; and with this extension, the steadily increasing power and authority of the priests. In the small beginnings of the Euphratean cities, the priestly and secular functions no doubt rested in one and the same person.

The ruler of a city or district, as we have seen, [3] was regarded as the representative of the deity. As such he stood in a special relation to the deity, acting as a mediator between the latter and the people, while upon his good standing with the god, the general welfare of the people depended. On the very ancient monument of Ur-Nina [4] we find the ruler himself offering the libation to the god, though behind him stands an attendant who is probably a priest to assist in carrying out the rite.

As early, however, as the days of Gudea (c. 2450 B.C.) the ruler himself is led into the presence of the deity through the mediation of a priest. Gudea is so depicted on seal cylinders and other monuments, and presumably therefore the marked differentiation between priest and ruler thus illustrated was at the time an established custom of long standing.

The mediatorship may, indeed, be set down as the chief prerogative of the priest in Babylonia and Assyria. With this as a starting-point, his other functions as sacrificer, as exerciser, as inspector of the liver for the purpose of ascertaining the disposition of the deity, as astrologer and as diviner in general, interpreting birth-signs, dreams, and furnishing the answer as to the meaning of all kinds of occurrences that deviated from the normal or that in any way aroused attention, may be derived.

The people could proceed as far as the inner court of the temples, where an altar stood, but beyond that the priests alone could venture, and the rulers only if accompanied by a priest who as the privileged servitor of the deity had access to the divine presence.

Intercession is thus a distinguishing function of the priest, as a corollary to his role as mediator.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 271-2.

Temples of the Cults

” … We have already indicated, in connection with the discussion of the chief figures in the pantheon, the tendency to group around the cult of the patron deity of an important centre the worship of other gods, and we have seen that this tendency goes hand in hand with the political expansion of such a centre, but that the centre is apt to retain a considerable portion at least of its religious prestige even after the political decline has set in.

The force of tradition, playing so effective a part in religion everywhere, would help to maintain rituals and practices once established, even if the conditions giving rise to such rituals and practices no longer prevailed. Confining ourselves to the larger centres and to those best known to us, like Nippur, Lagash, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Eridu, Sippar, Babylon and Borsippa in the south, and Ashur, Calah and Nineveh in the north, we note the gradual extension of the area within which the main temple stood to become a more or less extensive sacred quarter.

So in Nippur E-kur, the name of Enlil’s sanctuary, becomes such a designation to include the temples and shrines erected to the numerous deities grouped around Enlil and brought into a relationship of subserviency to their master, as his sons, daughters, servants, body-guard, ministers and officials. Similarly in Babylon, E-sagila, as the name of Marduk’s temple, grows to be a spacious quarter with numerous sanctuaries, large and small, to Nabu, Ninmakh (or Ishtar), Shamash, Ea, Nergal, Ninib to name only the most important.

The general arrangement of these temples, as we shall have occasion to see in more detail in the chapter on the architecture and art, [1] was in all cases the same, following an ancient prototype which provided an outer and an inner court of almost parallel dimensions, with a corridor leading from the inner court to the innermost smaller chamber, reserved for the priests and the rulers and in which, enclosed in a niche, the image of the.deity in whose honor the temple was erected stood.

Grouped around the three divisions was a series of rooms, varying in number according to the size and importance of the edifice, for the accommodation of the priests and for the administration of the temple, while in the case of the largest centres, special buildings were erected as store-houses for the temple possessions, stables for the animals, and dwellings for the numerous attendants and officials incident to the growing complications of the larger temple organizations. A feature of the main temple in every centre that was never lacking was a stage-tower, consisting of from two to seven stories, and placed either behind or at the side of the temple proper.” [2]

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 269-70.

Divination and Dreams

“The three systems of divination which we have analyzed all entered directly into the religious life of the people and illustrate some of the religious practises which were maintained, like the incantation rituals, throughout all periods. The longing to pierce the unknown future, to pull aside the veil which separates us from a knowledge of coming events, is so strong in man as to have all the force of an innate quality an instinct of which he himself only gradually becomes fully conscious.

It plays an unusually prominent part in the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, indeed so prominent as to justify us in asserting that by the side of the ever present fear of the demons, the significance attached to omens was the most conspicuous outward manifestation of the religious spirit of the people taken as a whole.

This conclusion is strengthened by the knowledge that we now have of other forms of divination, such as pouring a few drops of oil into a basin of water, and according to the action of the oil in forming rings and bubbles that sink and rise and the directions in which they spread, conclusions were drawn of a more or less specific character, and suggested by a more or less artificial association of ideas with the action of the oil bearing either on public affairs or on private matters, according to the questions asked of the diviners, to which they were expected to give an answer. [1]

Within the other category of involuntary divination where the sign is obtruded on your notice, falls the importance attached to dreams, the interpretation of which formed in fact one of the most important functions of the Babylonian-Assyrian priests acting as diviners. References to dreams are frequent both in the older and later inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers. [2]

A majestic figure reaching from earth to heaven appears to Ghidea in a dream ; it turns out to be the god Ningirsu. A female figure also rises up with a tablet and a stylus who is the goddess Nisaba.

The sun mounting up from the earth is explained to be the god of vegetation, Ningishzida. Various utensils and building material and an ass to carry burdens which the ruler sees in his dream leave no doubt as to the interpretation of the vision. It is the order to Gudea to build a temple according to the plan drawn on a tablet by a second male figure appearing to him, and who turns out to be the god Nin-dub. The interpretation is given to the ruler in this instance by the goddess Nina as whose son he designates himself.

Ordinarily, however, it is to a priest to whom rulers and people go to learn the meaning of dreams, in the belief that dreams are omens or signs sent by the gods as a means of indicating what is about to happen ; and even in Gudea’s case we may safely assume that the interpretation ascribed to the goddess directly was furnished to him through the mediation of the priests.

At the other end of Babylonian history, we find Nebuchadnezzar and a goddess appearing to Nabonnedos, the last king of Babylonia, in dreams to explain certain strange signs that had lately been reported. In the inscriptions of Ashurbanapal, the great king of Assyria, there are several references to dreams.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 266-7.

Chimeras in Babylonian-Assyrian Divination

” … The factor of fancy manifests itself in these handbooks of the Babylonian-Assyrian diviners in a form which is especially interesting, because of the explanation it affords for the widespread belief in antiquity in hybrid creatures such as satyrs, mermaids, fauns, harpies, sphinxes, winged serpents and the many fabulous monsters of mythology and folk-lore.

We have long lists of the young of animals having the features or parts of the body of another animal. Instead, however, of being recorded as a mere resemblance, an ewe giving birth to a lamb having a head which suggests that of a lion, or of a dog, an ass, of a fox or a gazelle, or ears or eyes which suggest those of another animal, it is stated that the ewe has given birth to a lion, dog, ass, fox gazelle, as the case may be.

In the same way, since it often happens that the face of an infant suggests a bird, a dog, a pig, a lamb, or what not, the fancied resemblance leads to the statement that a woman has given birth to the animal in question, which thus becomes an omen, the interpretation of which varies according to the ideas associated with the particular animal.

A lion suggests power and enlargement, and therefore a lamb or an infant with a lion-like face points to increase and prosperity in the land and to the growing strength of the ruler, and is also a favorable sign for the stall or house in which such a creature is born.


The Tree of Life with Assyrian King and with winged creature as guardian and fertilizer of the Tree — Symmetrically repeated.

The Tree of Life with Assyrian King and with winged creature as guardian and fertilizer of the Tree — Symmetrically repeated.

Favorable ideas, though of a different order, are associated with the lamb, pig, ox and ass, whereas with the dog as an unclean animal in the ancient as well as in the modern Orient, the association of ideas was unfavorable, and similarly with the serpent, wild cow and certain other animals, the interpretation refers to some misfortune, either of a public or private character, and occasionally of both.

This feature of a fancied resemblance between one animal and another and between an infant and some animal was the starting-point which led, through the further play of the imagination, to the belief in hybrid creatures and all kinds of monstrosities. The case of an infant being born with feet united so as to suggest the tail of a fish is actually recorded in our lists of birth-signs, and from such an anomaly to the belief in mermaids and tritons, half human and half fish, is only a small step, rendered still more credible by the representation in art which convents the resemblance to a fish tail into a real tail.

Since we have the direct proof [2] of the spread of the Babylonian-Assyrian system of divination from birth-omens, as of the two other systems above discussed, to Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, there is every reason to believe that we are justified in tracing back to this system the belief in fabulous beings of all kinds, though it may of course be admitted that there are also other factors involved.

We find this belief in Babylonia and Assyria, where we encounter in the ancient art hippocentaurs as well as bulls and eagles with human faces, and in the Assyrian art the winged monsters with human faces and the bodies of bulls or winged human figures with eagle faces. The process once begun would naturally lead to all kinds of ramifications and combinations.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 263-6.

Ritual Sacrifice in Babylonian Exorcism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nusku Fire Rite of Exorcism

” … As the Ea ritual revolves around the use of water, in all kinds of variations, so the Nusku ritual is primarily concerned with the use of fire as a means of exorcising the demons, or of destroying the sorcerer and sorceress. The most direct method was to make an image of the demon and burn it, in the hope that the imitation might bring about the reality. [6]

“I raise the torch, their images I burn,
The images of the Utukku, Shedu, Eabisu, Etimmu,
Of Labartu, Labasu, Akhkhazu,
Of Lilu, Lilit and maid of Lilu,
And all evil that seizes men.
Tremble, melt and dissolve,
Your smoke rise to heaven,
Your limbs may the sun-god destroy.
Your strength may Marduk, the chief exerciser, the son of Ea, restrain!”

Or for the sorcerer and sorceress: [7]

“On this day step forward to my judgment,
Suppress the uproar, overpower evil,
As these images flutter, melt and disappear
So may the sorcerer and sorceress flutter, melt and disappear!”

The images were made of various materials such as pitch, clay, dough and bronze. A variation of this fire ritual consisted in taking substances such as onions, dates, palm cones, bits of wool, and seeds, and throwing them into the fire to the accompaniment again of magic formulas. A single specimen of such an incantation will suffice. [8]

“As the onion is peeled and thrown into the fire,
Consumed in the flaming fire,
In a garden will never again be planted,
In furrow and ditch will never be imbedded,
Its root will never again stick in the ground,
Its stalk never grow, never see the light of the sun,
Will never come on the table of a god or king,
So may the curse, ban, pain and torture,
Sickness, aches, misdeed, sin, wrong, transgression,
The sickness in my body, in my flesh, in my muscles,
Be peeled as this onion,
This day be burned in the flaming fire.
May the ban be removed, may I see the light!”

Similar formulas are prescribed for the other substances.”

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

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.

Exorcising Babylonian Demons

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

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

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

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

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

Or the exerciser appeals to all the gods as:

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

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

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

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

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

The Seven Babylonian Demons

“A group of seven frequently occurring in the texts and depicted on monuments [3]  is described as follows: [4]

“Seven, they are they seven,
In the deep they are seven,
Settling in heaven they are seven.
In a section of the deep they were nurtured;
Neither male nor female are they,
Destructive whirlwinds are they,
They have no wife, they produce no offspring.
Mercy and pity they know not,
Prayer and petition they hear not,
Horses raised in the mountains [5] are they.
Hostile to Ea [6] are they,
Throne bearers of the gods are they,
To hem the way they set themselves up in the streets.
Evil are they, evil are they,
Seven are they, they are seven, twice seven are they.”

Their universality as well as their function in seizing hold of their victims, taking up their seat in any part of the human body, is emphasized in another description.

More specific is the description of the demon Ti’u, the demon of head troubles and of fevers. [7]

“The head disease roams in the wilderness, raging like the wind,
Flaming like lightning, tearing along above and below,
Crushing him who fears not his god like a reed,
Cutting his sinews like a khinu-reed,
Maiming the limbs of him who has not a protecting goddess,
Glittering like a star of heaven, flowing like water,
Besetting a man like a whirlwind, driving him like a storm ;
Killing that man,
Piercing another as in a cramp, [8]
So that he is slashed like one whose heart has been torn out,
Burning like one thrown into the fire, [9]
Like a wild ass whose eyes are clouded, [10]
Attacking his life, in league with death,
So is Ti’u, who is like a heavy storm whose course no one can follow,
Whose final goal no one knows.”

Elsewhere the invisibility of the demons is dwelled upon. Of the Ashakku it is said [11] that, sweeping along like a storm, driving through the streets and highways

“He stands at the side of a man, without anyone seeing him,
He sits at the side of a man, without anyone seeing him,
He enters a house, without anyone seeing his form,
He leaves a house, without anyone observing him.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 243-4.

The Demons Named

” … The existence of several elaborate incantation series in Ashurbanapal’s library, prescribing a large number of formulas to be recited in connection with symbolical rites to get rid of the demons, furnishes the proof for the practical significance attached to incantations in both Babylonia and Assyria.

These series, Babylonian in origin, revert to Sumerian prototypes and represent compilations stretching over a long period, with additions intended to adapt them to conditions prevailing in Assyria.

The scribes of Ashurbanapal were not indulging in a purely academic exercise in copying the archives of Babylonian temples ; their purpose, as was also the aim of the king, was to make Nineveh the central religious authority as well as the political mistress by having in their control the accumulated experience of the past, in dealing with the religious needs and problems of their own age.

A feature which these incantation series [1] have in common is the recognition of a large number of demons, with special functions assigned in many cases to the one class or the other.

So, for example, there is a demon Labartu, represented as a horrible monster with swine sucking at her breasts, [2] who threatens the life of the mother at childbirth; a group known as Ashakku who cause varieties of wasting diseases, another demon Ti’u, whose special function was to cause diseases, manifesting themselves by headaches accompanied by fever, and so on through a long list. It will be apparent that there is no differentiation between the demon and the disease. The one is the synonym of the other, and accordingly in medical texts the demons are introduced as the designations of the diseases themselves.

The names given to the demons in many cases convey the “strength” or “size” ascribed to them, such as Utukku, Alu, Shedu, Gallu, or they embody a descriptive epithet like AkKkhazu, “seizer” (also the name of a form of jaundice); ‘Eabisu, the one lying-in-wait; Labasu, “overthrower”; Lilu and the feminine Lilitu, “night-spirit;” Etimmu, ghost or shade, suggesting an identification of some demons with the dead who return to plague the living, Namtar, “pestilence,” and more the like.

The descriptions given of them, cruel, horrible of aspect, blood-thirsty, flying through space, generally invisible though sometimes assuming human or animal shape or a mixture of the two, further illustrate the conceptions popularly held.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 241-3.

Assyro-Babylonian Demonology

“From this point of view it is therefore significant to find the large place taken in the practice of the religion by incantation rituals and divination practices. It is inconceivable that the hymns and the incantations should be the product of the same order of thought, and as we proceed in our study of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria the evidence increases for the thesis that the incantation texts, growing by accumulation from age to age, represent the older products which are retained by the side of compositions expressive of more advanced thought.

The power appealed to to furnish relief must be addressed, and naturally the priests will endeavor to embody in this address the conceptions of the god or goddess that have been developed as a result of their speculations and attempts at systematization. The technical term shiptu for “incantation” is therefore attached to the hymns as a further indication that they form an ingredient part of this subdivision of the religious literature.

Taking up the incantations proper, we find the basic idea to be the theory that sickness and all forms of bodily suffering are due to the activity of demons that have either of their own accord entered the body of the victim, or that have been induced to do so through the power exercised by a special class of sorcerers or sorceresses who are able to bewitch one with the aid of the demons. This theory of ailments of the flesh is of course the one commonly held among people in a primitive stage of culture, and which is carried over to the higher phases.

That aches and fevers should be ascribed to the activity of demoniac forces within one is a natural corollary to the animistic conception controlling the religion of Babylonia and Assyria, and which ascribes life to everything that manifests power. A cramp, a throbbing of the head, a shooting pain, a burning fever naturally give the impression that something to speak indefinitely is inside of you producing the symptoms; and modern science curiously enough with its germ theory to account for so many diseases comes to the aid of the primitive notion of demoniac possession.

To secure relief, it was therefore necessary to get rid of the demon to exorcise the mischievous being. It was also natural to conclude that the demons, ordinarily invisible, lurking in the corners, gliding through doors, hiding in out of the way places to pounce upon their victims unawares, should be under the control of the gods as whose messengers they thus acted. The presence of a demon in the body was therefore a form of punishment sent by a deity, angered because of some sin committed.

But besides the gods, certain individuals were supposed to have the power over the demons to superinduce them to lay hold of their victims.

Giants and dwarfs, the crippled and deformed, persons with a strange expression in their eyes, inasmuch as they represented deviations from the normal, were regarded as imbued with such power, and curiously enough women were more commonly singled out than men, perhaps because of the mysterious function of the female in harboring the new life in her womb. As a survival from this point of view, we find the witch far down into the Middle Ages a commoner figure than the sorcerer, and in fact surviving the belief in the latter.

In whatever way the demon may have found his way into the victim, the appeal had to be made to a god or goddess to drive him out; nor was the theory that the demon represented the punishment sent by an angered deity affected by the power ascribed to certain individuals to bewitch individuals, for it was also in this case because the deity was offended that the sorcerer or sorceress could exercise his or her power. With the good will and favor of the gods assured, one was secure from demons and sorcerers alike.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 239-41.


” … Both phases of the goddess, as the gracious mother and as the grim Amazon, are dwelt upon in one of the finest specimens of the religious literature of Babylonia in which a penitent sufferer, bowed down with sickness and misfortune, implores Ishtar to grant relief. [3] The hymn is addressed to the goddess of Uruk but she has become the general mother-goddess and is instead of Nana addressed as Ishtar. Ishtar is here identified with the planet Venus and assigned to a place therefore in the heavens.

As such she is called “the daughter of Sin,” the moon-god. She is thus the daughter of Anu, of Enlil and of Sin at one and the same time, a further indication that such epithets merely symbolize a relationship to various gods, according to the traits assigned to her. The composition, too long to quote entirely, begins:

“I pray to thee, mistress of mistresses, goddess of goddesses,
Ishtar, queen of all habitations, guide of mankind,
Irnini [4] praised be thou, greatest among the Igigi [5]
Powerful art thou, ruler art thou, exalted is thy name,
Thou art the light of heaven and earth, mighty daughter of Sin,
Thou directest the weapons, arrangest the battle array,
Thou givest commands, decked with the crown of rulership,
lady, resplendent is thy greatness, supreme over all gods.

Where is thy name not! Where is thy command not!
Where are images of thee not made! Where are thy shrines not erected!
Where art thou not great? Where not supreme!
Anu, Enlil and Ea have raised thee to mighty rulership among the gods,
Have raised thee aloft and exalted thy station among all the Igigi.
At the mention of thy name, heaven and earth quake,
The gods tremble, the Anunnaki quake.
To thy awe-inspiring name mankind gives heed,
Great and exalted art thou!
All dark-headed ones, [6] living beings, mankind pay homage to thy power.

I moan like a dove night and day,
I am depressed and weep bitterly,
With woe and pain my liver is in anguish.
What have I done, my god and my goddess — I ?
As though I did not reverence my god and my goddess, am I treated.

I experience, my mistress, dark days, sad months, years of misfortune.”

As the planet Venus, the movements of Ishtar in the heavens form a basis for divining what the future has in store. [7] The prominent part taken by the observation of Venus-Ishtar in Babylonian-Assyrian astrology is reflected in many of the hymns to her. The influence of the priestly speculations in thus combining the popular animistic conceptions of the gods and goddesses with points of view derived from the projection of the gods on to the starry heavens is one of the features of the religion of Babylonia and Assyria.

Ishtar under one name or the other becomes a favorite subject for myths symbolizing the change of seasons, her period of glory when the earth is in full bloom being the summer followed by the rainy and winter months when nature decays, and which was pictured as due to the imprisonment of the goddess in the nether world. She takes her place in popular tales, half legendary and half mythical, and we have a number of compositions [8] further illustrating how the popular myths and tales were embodied into the cult.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 234-6.

Mother Goddess of Love, Goddess of War

” … The oldest cult of the mother goddess, so far as our material goes, appears indeed to have been in Uruk where she is known as Nana, but we may be quite sure that the cult was never limited to one place. The special place which Nana has in the old Babylonian pantheon is probably due to the peculiar development taken by the chief deity of that centre, Anu, who as we have seen became an abstraction, the god of heaven, presiding over the upper realm of the universe. Her temple at Uruk known as E-anna “the heavenly house” and revealing the association of the goddess with Anu as a solar deity became one of the most famous in the Euphrates Valley.

It is in connection with the cult of Nana that we learn of a phase of the worship of the mother-goddess which degenerates into the obscene rites that call forth the amazement of Herodotus. [1] As the mother-goddess, Nana or Ishtar is not only the source of the fertility displayed by the earth and the kind, gracious mother of mankind, but also the goddess of love, the Aphrodite of Babylonia. The mysterious process of conception and the growth of the embryo in the mother’s womb gave rise at an early period to rites in connection with the cult of the mother-goddess that symbolized the fructification through the combination with the male element.

There is, however, another side to Ishtar which comes particularly to the fore in Assyria, though it is also indigenous to Babylonia. She is not only the loving mother but, as the protector of her offspring, a warlike figure armed for the fray and whose presence is felt in the midst of the battle. She appears to her favorites in dreams and encourages them to give battle. It is she who places in the hands of the rulers the weapons with which they march to victory. To Ashurbanapal she thus appears armed with bow and arrow and reassures him: “Whithersoever thou goest, I go with thee”. [2] As far back as the days of Hammurapi, Ishtar is thus viewed as the one who encourages her followers for contest and battle.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 223-4.

Origins of the Name Nina, Synonymous with Ishtar

” … In the case of each triad, a fourth figure is often added, Ninlil, originally the consort of Enlil, or Nin-makh (“the great lady”) to the first, and Belit (“the lady”) or Ishtar to the second, both, however, symbolizing the female element which, fructified by the male, is the indispensable complement to the production of life, vegetation, fertility and all blessings that go with the never ending process of vitality, growth, decay and regeneration in nature.

This leads us to a consideration, before leaving the pantheon, of one notable female figure, the great mother-goddess, frequently identified with the earth viewed as a fruitful mother but who should rather be regarded in a still wider sense as the mother of all that manifests life, embracing therefore the life in man and the animal world as well as in the fields and mountains in nature in general.

This natural association of a female element as a complement to the male one leads to assigning to every deity a consort who, however, has no independent existence. So Enlil has at his side Nin-lil, Ninib has Gula A (“the great one”), Ningirsu has Bau, Shamash has A, Sin has Nin-gul, Nergal has Laz, Anu a female counterpart Antum, to Ea a consort Shala (“the woman”) is given, to Marduk, Sarpanit or Nin-makh (“the great lady”), to Nabu, Tashmit (“obedience”), while Ashur’s consort appears as Nin-lil or Belit and at times as Ishtar.

All these figures with the single exception of Ishtar are merely shadowy reflections of their male masters, playing no part in the cult outside of receiving homage in association with their male partners. Ishtar, however, although assimilated in the Assyrian pantheon as the consort of Ashur, is an independent figure, who has her own temples and her distinct cult. She appears under a variety of names: Nana, Innina, Irnini, Ninni, Nina all of which contain an element having the force of “lady,” as is also the case with Nin-makh and Nin-lil, likewise used as epithets of the great mother-goddess. Corresponding to the Sumerian element, we have in Akkadian Belit, “lady” or “mistress,” as one of the generic designations of Ishtar.

All this confirms the view that Ishtar is merely the symbol of the female element in the production of life, and that the specific name is of secondary significance. The circumstance that Ninlil, the consort of Enlil, is also (though in texts of a later period) identified with the mother-goddess would seem to show that the female associate of the head of the pantheon was always an Ishtar, though in a certain sense, as we have seen, the consorts of all the gods were Ishtars.”

Morris Jastrow, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 232-4.