ood 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 âlû. Regarded as the demon of the storm, and possibly, in its
origin, the same as the divine bull sent by Ištar to attack Gilgameš,
and killed by Enki-du. It spread itself over a man, overpowering him
upon his bed, and attacking his breast.
The êdimmu. This is generally, but wrongly, read êkimmu, and
translated "the seizer," from êkemu, "to seize." In reality,
however, it was an ordinary spirit, and the word is used for the
wraiths of the departed. The "evil êdimmu" 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 Aššur-bani-âpli to Te-umman, the
Elamite king against whom he fought.
The îlu limnu, "evil god," was probably originally one of the
deities of Tiawath's brood, upon whom Merodach's redemption had had no
The rabisu is regarded as a spirit which lay in wait to pounce upon
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
The âhhazu, 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 lîl 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, lilîthu,
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 Bêl, and offspring of Ereš-ki-gal or
Persephone, and he had a spouse named Huš-bi-šaga. Apparently he
executed the instructions given him concerning the fate of men, and
could also have power over certain of the gods.
The šêdu were apparently deities in the form of bulls. They were
destructive, of enormous power, and unsparing. In a good sense the
šêdu was a protecting deity, guarding against hostile attacks. Erech
and the temple Ê-kura were protected by spirits such as these, and to
one of them Išum, "the glorious sacrificer," was likened.
The lamassu, from the Sumerian lama, was similar in character to
the šêdu, 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 šêdu, the glorious
âlû, 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 âlû, evil êdimmu, evil gallu, evil god,
evil rabisu, labartu, labasu, âhhazu, 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 Êridu," 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 šêdu 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 Êrêš-ki-gal and Išum, the final paragraph was
"The afflicted man, by an offering of grace
In health like shining bronze shall be made bright.
As for that man,
Šamaš 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-napištim, the
Chaldæan 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 Ištar 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 Chaldæan 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, Aššur-nasir-âpli,
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. Aššur-banî-âpli, 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.