World Wide School
Library About us


The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria

by Thophilus G. Pinches



Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Part II

Chapter V

Chapter VI




Chapter V

The Demons: Exorcisms and Ceremonies

Good and evil spirits, gods and demons, were fully believed in by the Babylonians and Assyrians, and many texts referring to them exist. Naturally it is not in some cases easy to distinguish well between the special functions of these supernatural appearances which they supposed to exist, but their nature is, in most cases, easily ascertained from the inscriptions.

To all appearance, the Babylonians imagined that spirits resided everywhere, and lay in wait to attack mankind, and to each class, apparently, a special province in bringing misfortune, or tormenting, or causing pain and sickness, was assigned. All the spirits, however, were not evil, even those whose names would suggest that their character was such--there were good "liers in wait," for instance, as well as evil ones, whose attitude towards mankind was beneficent.

The utukku. This was a spirit which was supposed to do the will of Anu, the god of the heavens. There was the utukku of the plain, the mountains, the sea, and the grave.

The l. Regarded as the demon of the storm, and possibly, in its origin, the same as the divine bull sent by Itar to attack Gilgame, and killed by Enki-du. It spread itself over a man, overpowering him upon his bed, and attacking his breast.

The dimmu. This is generally, but wrongly, read kimmu, and translated "the seizer," from kemu, "to seize." In reality, however, it was an ordinary spirit, and the word is used for the wraiths of the departed. The "evil dimmu" was apparently regarded as attacking the middle part of a man.

The gallu. As this word is borrowed from the Sumerian galla, which has a dialectic form, mulla, it is not improbable that it may be connected with the word mula, meaning "star," and suggesting something which is visible by the light it gives--possibly a will-o'-the-wisp,--though others are inclined to regard the word as being connected with gala, "great." In any case, its meaning seems to have become very similar to "evil spirit" or "devil" in general, and is an epithet applied by the Assyrian king Aur-bani-pli to Te-umman, the Elamite king against whom he fought.

The lu limnu, "evil god," was probably originally one of the deities of Tiawath's brood, upon whom Merodach's redemption had had no effect.

The rabisu is regarded as a spirit which lay in wait to pounce upon his prey.

The labartu, in Sumerian dimme, was a female demon. There were seven evil spirits of this kind, who were apparently regarded as being daughters of Anu, the god of the heavens.

The labasu, in Sumerian dimmea, was apparently a spirit which overthrew, that being the meaning of the root from which the word comes.

The hhazu, in Sumerian dimme-kur, was apparently so called as "the seizer," that being the meaning indicated by the root.

The lilu, in Sumerian lila, is generally regarded as "the night-monster," the word being referred to the Semitic root ll or layl, whence the Hebrew layil, Arabic layl, "night." Its origin, however, is Sumerian, from lila, regarded as meaning "mist." To the word lilu the ancient Babylonians formed a feminine, lilthu, which entered the Hebrew language under the form of lilith, which was, according to the rabbins, a beautiful woman, who lay in wait for children by night. The lilu had a companion who is called his handmaid or servant.

The namtaru was apparently the spirit of fate, and therefore of greater importance than those already mentioned. This being was regarded as the beloved son of Bl, and offspring of Ere-ki-gal or Persephone, and he had a spouse named Hu-bi-aga. Apparently he executed the instructions given him concerning the fate of men, and could also have power over certain of the gods.

The du were apparently deities in the form of bulls. They were destructive, of enormous power, and unsparing. In a good sense the du was a protecting deity, guarding against hostile attacks. Erech and the temple -kura were protected by spirits such as these, and to one of them Ium, "the glorious sacrificer," was likened.

The lamassu, from the Sumerian lama, was similar in character to the du, but is thought to have been of the nature of a colossus--a winged man-headed bull or lion. It is these creatures which the kings placed at the sides of the doors of their palaces, to protect the king's footsteps. In early Babylonian times a god named Lama was one of the most popular deities of the Babylonian pantheon.

A specimen incantation.

Numerous inscriptions, which may be regarded as dating, in their origin, from about the middle of the third millennium before Christ, speak of these supernatural beings, and also of others similar. One of the most perfect of these inscriptions is a large bilingual tablet of which a duplicate written during the period of the dynasty of Hammurabi (before 2000 B.C.) exists, and which was afterwards provided with a Semitic Babylonian translation. This inscription refers to the evil god, the evil utukku, the utukku of the plain, of the mountain, of the sea, and of the grave; the evil du, the glorious l, or divine bull, and the evil unsparing wind. There was also that which takes the form of a man, the evil face, the evil eye, the evil mouth, the evil tongue, the evil lip, the evil breath; also the afflicting asakku (regarded as the demon of fever), the asakku which does not leave a man: the afflicting namtaru (fate), the severe namtaru, the namtaru which does not quit a man. After this are mentioned various diseases, bodily pains, annoyances, such as "the old shoe, the broken shoe-lace, the food which afflicts the body of a man, the food which turns in eating, the water which chokes in drinking," etc. Other things to be exorcised included the spirit of death, people who had died of hunger, thirst, or in other ways; the handmaid of the lilu who had no husband, the prince of the lilu who had no wife, whether his name had been recorded or unrecorded.

The method of exorcising the demons causing all these things is curious. White and black yarn was spun, and fastened to the side and canopy of the afflicted person's bed--the white to the side and the top or canopy, the black to the left hand--and then, apparently, the following words were said:--

"Evil utukku, evil l, evil dimmu, evil gallu, evil god, evil rabisu, labartu, labasu, hhazu, lilu, lilithu, handmaid of lilu, sorcery, enchantment, magic, disaster, machination which is not good--may they not set their head to his head, their hand to his hand, their foot to his foot--may they not draw near. Spirit of heaven, mayest thou exorcise, spirit of earth, mayest thou exorcise."

But this was only the beginning of the real ceremony. The god Asari-alim-nunna (Merodach), "eldest son of ridu," was asked to wash him in pure and bright water twice seven times, and then would the evil lier-in-wait depart, and stand aside, and a propitious du and a propitious labartu reside in his body. The gates right and left having been thus, so to say, shut close, the evil gods, demons, and spirits would be unable to approach him, wherever he might be. "Spirit of heaven, exorcise, spirit of earth, exorcise." Then, after an invocation of r-ki-gal and Ium, the final paragraph was pronounced:--

"The afflicted man, by an offering of grace
In health like shining bronze shall be made bright.
As for that man,
ama shall give him life.
Merodach, first-born son of the Abyss,
It is thine to purify and glorify.
Spirit of heaven, mayest thou exorcise, spirit of
earth, mayest thou exorcise."

Rites and ceremonies.

As may be expected, the Babylonians and Assyrians had numerous rites and ceremonies, the due carrying out of which was necessary for the attainment of the grace demanded, or for the efficacy of the thanks tendered for favours received.

Perhaps the oldest ceremony recorded is that which Ut-napitim, the Chaldan Noah, made on the zikkurat or peak of the mountain after the coming forth from the ship which had saved him and his from the Flood. The Patriarch's description of this ceremony is short:--

"I sent forth to the four winds, I poured out a libation
I made an offering on the peak of the mountain:
Seven and seven I set incense-vases there,
Into their depths I poured cane, cedar, and scented wood(?).
The gods smelled a savour,
The gods smelled a sweet savour,
The gods gathered like flies over the sacrificer."

Following in the footsteps of their great progenitor, the Babylonians and Assyrians became a most pious race, constantly rendering to their gods the glory for everything which they succeeded in bringing to a successful issue. Prayer, supplication, and self-abasement before their gods seem to have been with them a duty and a pleasure:--

"The time for the worship of the gods was my heart's delight,
The time of the offering to Itar was profit and riches,"

sings Ludlul the sage, and all the people of his land were one with him in that opinion.

It is noteworthy that the offering of the Chaldan Noah consisted of vegetable produce only, and there are many inscriptions referring to similar bloodless sacrifices, and detailing the ritual used in connection therewith. Sacrifices of animals, however, seem to have been constantly made--in any case, offerings of cattle and fowl, in list-form, are fairly numerous. Many a cylinder-seal has a representation of the owner bringing a young animal--a kid or a lamb--as an offering to the deity whom he worshipped, and in the inscriptions the sacrifice of animals is frequently referred to. One of the bilingual texts refers to the offering of a kid or some other young animal, apparently on behalf of a sick man. The text of this, where complete, runs as follows:--

"The fatling which is the 'head-raiser' of mankind--
He has given the fatling for his life.
He has given the head of the fatling for his head,
He has given the neck of the fatling for his neck,
He has given the breast of the fatling for his breast."

Whether human sacrifices were common or not is a doubtful point. Many cylinder-seals exist in which the slaying of a man is depicted, and the French Assyriologist Menant was of opinion that they represented a human offering to the gods. Hayes Ward, however, is inclined to doubt this explanation, and more evidence would seem, therefore, to be needed. He is inclined to think that, in the majority of cases, the designs referred to show merely the victims of divine anger or vengeance, punished by the deity for some misdeed or sin, either knowingly or unknowingly committed.

In the Assyrian galleries of the British Museum, Aur-nasir-pli, king of Assyria, is several times shown engaged in religious ceremonies--either worshipping before the sacred tree, or about to pour out, apparently, a libation to the gods before departing upon some expedition, and priests bringing offerings, either animal or vegetable, are also represented. Aur-ban-pli, who is identified with "the great and noble Asnapper," is shown, in bas-reliefs of the Assyrian Saloon, pouring out a thank-offering over the lions which he has killed, after his return from the hunt.

[Previous] [Contents] [Next]




Please read the terms under which this book is provided to you