Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 115

The gods had their faces painted like the living and the dead and were similarly adorned with charms. In the course of the daily service in the Egyptian temples an important ceremony was "dressing the god with white, green, bright-red, and dark-red sashes, and supplying two kinds of ointment and black and green eye paint".[254] In the word-picture of the Aryo-Indian Varuna's heaven in the Mahabharata the deity is depicted "attired in celestial robes and decked with celestial ornaments and jewels". His attendants, the Adityas, appear "adorned with celestial garlands and perfumed with celestial scents and besmeared with paste of celestial fragrance".[255] Apparently the "paste", like the face paint of the Babylonians and Egyptians, had protective qualities. The Picts of Scotland may have similarly painted themselves to charm their bodies against magical influences and the weapons of their enemies. A painted man was probably regarded as one who was likely to have good luck, being guarded against bad luck.

Weapons and implements were also laid in the Sumerian graves, indicating a belief that the spirits of the dead could not only protect themselves against their enemies but also provide themselves with food. The funerary gifts of fish-hooks suggests that spirits were expected to catch fish and thus obtain clean food, instead of returning to disturb the living as they searched for the remnants of the feast, like the Scottish Gunna,

perched alone
On a chilly old grey stone,
Nibbling, nibbling at a bone
That we'll maybe throw away.

Some bodies which were laid in Sumerian graves were wrapped up in reed matting, a custom which suggests that the reeds afforded protection or imparted magical powers. Magical ceremonies were performed in Babylonian reed huts. As we have seen, Ea revealed the "purpose" of the gods, when they resolved to send a flood, by addressing the reed hut in which Pir-napishtim lay asleep. Possibly it was believed that the dead might also have visions in their dreams which would reveal the "purpose" of demons who were preparing to attack them. In Syria it was customary to wrap the dead in a sheep skin.[256] As priests and gods were clad in the skins of animals from which their powers were derived, it is probable that the dead were similarly supposed to receive inspiration in their skin coverings. The Highland seer was wrapped in a bull's skin and left all night beside a stream so as to obtain knowledge of the future. This was a form of the Taghairm ceremony, which is referred to by Scott in his "Lady of the Lake".[257] The belief in the magical influence of sacred clothing gave origin to the priestly robes. When David desired to ascertain what Saul intended to do he said, "Bring hither the ephod". Then he came to know that his enemy had resolved to attack Keilah.[258] Elisha became a prophet when he received Elijah's mantle.[259]

Sometimes the bodies of the Sumerians were placed in sarcophagi of clay. The earlier type was of "bath-tub" shape, round and flat-bottomed, with a rounded lid, while the later was the "slipper-shaped coffin", which was ornamented with charms. There is a close resemblance between the "bath-tub" coffins of Sumeria and the Egyptian pottery coffins of oval shape found in Third and Fourth Dynasty tombs in rock chambers near Nuerat. Certain designs on wooden coffins, and tombs as early as the First Dynasty, have direct analogies in Babylonia.[260]