From time immemorial, man has felt himself to be confronted with evil supernatural beings, and his weapon against them has been the use of magical rites. Spirits lurked everywhere. Larvae and lemures lived beneath the earth; vampires escaped from the dead to attack the living; Namtar (pestilence) and Idpa (fever) plagued the cities. Night was ruled by the demons of evil, of the desert, of the abyss, of the sea, of the mountains, of the swamp, of the south wind. There were the succubi and incubi, carriers of obscene nightmares; the snare-setting Maskim; the evil Utuq, dweller of the desert; the bull demon Telal; and Alal the destroyer. People’s minds were dominated by malign demons who demanded sacrifices and prayers. But the sages of ancient civilizations knew also that good spirits existed, ever ready to come to the rescue of the afflicted. In the higher magical religions, the priests conceived a supreme deity, a wise controller of the world’s harmony….
In the broad plains [of Mesopotamia], on terraces of temples and towers, the priests scanned the night sky, pondering over the riddle of the universe—the cause of all being, of life and death. They offered their prayers to the spirit of Hea, the earth, and to the spirit of Ana, the sky. By conjuration, by the burning of incense, by shouts and by whispers, by gesture and by song, the priests sought to attract the attention of the fickle gods who had forever to be reminded of the misfortunes of mortals. “Remember,” the incantations were always reiterating: “Remember him who makes sacrifices—may forgiveness and peace flow for him like molten brass; may this man’s days be vivified by the sun!—Spirit of the Earth, remember! Spirit of the Sky, remember!”