Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: Babylonians

Flirting with Deification

May 2, 2008

The monarch was the supreme human being in Assyrian thought, since he was god’s anointed, but he was a mere mortal all the same, and this is in contrast again to Sumer and Babylonia where deification of the ruler was known. The Assyrians were, of course, aware of this southern phenomenon, and they flirted with the idea of the apotheosis of their own king, but it never achieved full official recognition in Assyria. It surfaces, nonetheless, in various forms. In the royal epithets there is sometimes ambiguity as to whether the king or the deity is described, and there were titles and adjectives (such as dandannu, ‘almighty’) which were applied only to god or monarch. The royal images (salmu), statues and reliefs of the king, are another case in point; in texts where these images are mentioned the word salmu is preceded by the divine determinative, and the personal name ‘The-Divine-Image-of-the-King-Has-Commanded’…is well attested. This last fact brings to mind the custom practised at Guzanu (Tell Halat) of concluding contracts before the images of gods including the ‘divine image of the king’. None of this evidence justifies a conclusion that official sanction was given to the worship of the Assyrian king or his images, but it does underline the fact that he was generally regarded as being on a plane closer to the gods than other mortals. In popular thought no doubt people went one step further and regarded the king as at least partially divine, and uneducated Assyrians probably believed that the offerings placed on a table before a royal image in a temple were offerings to the image itself rather than offerings to be presented by the king portrayed to the god.

The Cambridge Ancient History, volume III, part 2, p. 195

Exorcism in Babylonia and Assyria

May 1, 2008

All down the ages good and evil have been in opposition as two contending forces in perpetual conflict, so that the ritual of expulsion has been an essential element in sanctification and the impulsion of spiritual power and insight. Consequently, in this dual task of getting rid of evil in order to secure good the exorcist has exercised a function complementary to that of the seer. Not infrequently, as we have seen, the medicine-man or shaman has been responsible both for riddance and induction, and at a higher cultural level in Babylonia and Assyria the soothsayer and exorcist originally were hardly distinguishable. In the process of time, however, the driving out of demons from human beings and buildings by incantations and ritual expulsions were separated from the interpretation of omens and astrological portents. This was necessitated by the development of an elaborate system of demonology entailing jinns, ghouls, vampires, malignant disembodied ghosts (edimmu), and vast hordes of hostile spirits (utukku, galla, labartu, labasu and ahhazu, lila, sûdu and lamassu) which lurked in graves and solitary places, on mountains and in dens of the earth, and in marshes. They roamed about the streets, sliding through the doors and walls of houses, and were borne on the wings of the mighty winds that swept the land. Wherever they occurred they brought misfortune, sickness and death in their train. Small wonder, then, that the exorcist was in constant demand. Thus, the cuneiform texts from the middle of the third millennium [B.C.E.] onwards bear witness to the numerous incantations employed to expel evil spirits and the ghosts of the dead. In the case of the latter the exorcist threatened that no rites would be performed on their behalf until they had departed:

(Whatever spirit thou may be), until thou art removed:
Until thou departest from the man, the son of his god,
Thou shalt have no food to eat,
Thou shalt have no drink to drink.

E. O. James, The Nature and Function of Priesthood, p. 49

Emphasis mine.

Babylonian Divination

March 7, 2003

Divination was undoubtedly the most important of the disciplines that a Mesopotamian would have categorized as “scientific,” and should be viewed not as some primitive magical or occult activity but as one of the most basic features of Babylonian life. Indeed its senior practitioners were men of influence, held in high esteem in the own society. They were consulted on all important occasions both by private individuals and officers of state. The army was always accompanied by a diviner who in the Old Babylonian period seems to have acted also as general….

Divination represented, basically, a technique of communication with the gods who, according to Babylonian religious thought, shaped the destinies of all mankind, individually and collectively. Its purpose was to ascertain the will of the gods, to the Babylonian synonymous with the prediction of future events. Its philosophy, of course, presupposes supernatural cause and effect in all perceived phenomena and assumes the cooperation of the gods in their willingness to reveal the future intentions. Evil portended was not inevitable; there existed a variety of purification rituals…and other means of averting unwelcome predictions…. A clear distinction was made between provoked and unprovoked or natural omens. Preference for these various techniques differed markedly from one period and area to another. Although there exists some literature pertaining to the interpretation of dreams, Mesopotamian philosophy was curiously reluctant to admit that the gods made use of man himself for the expression of divine intention—and indeed a dream was significant only when “interpreted” by an expert. Thus shamanistic concepts, often considered universal in primitive religion, are absent in Mesopotamia.

Joan Oates, Babylon, p. 178

Emphasis mine.