Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 127

Occasionally a quite effective cure was included in the ceremony. As much is suggested by the magical treatment of toothache. First of all the magician identified the toothache demon as "the worm". Then he recited its history, which is as follows: After Anu created the heavens, the heavens created the earth, the earth created the rivers, the rivers created the canals, the canals created the marshes, and last of all the marshes created "the worm".

This display of knowledge compelled the worm to listen, and no doubt the patient was able to indicate to what degree it gave evidence of its agitated mind. The magician continued:

Came the worm and wept before Shamash,
Before Ea came her tears:
"What wilt thou give me for my food,
What wilt thou give me to devour?"

One of the deities answered: "I will give thee dried bones and scented ... wood"; but the hungry worm protested:

"Nay, what are these dried bones of thine to me?
Let me drink among the teeth;
And set me on the gums
That I may devour the blood of the teeth,
And of their gums destroy their strength--
Then shall I hold the bolt of the door."

The magician provided food for "the worm", and the following is his recipe: "Mix beer, the plant sa-kil-bir, and oil together; put it on the tooth and repeat Incantation." No doubt this mixture soothed the pain, and the sufferer must have smiled gladly when the magician finished his incantation by exclaiming:

"So must thou say this, O Worm!
May Ea smite thee with the might of his fist."[270]

Headaches were no doubt much relieved when damp cloths were wrapped round a patient's head and scented wood was burned beside him, while the magician, in whom so much faith was reposed, droned out a mystical incantation. The curative water was drawn from the confluence of two streams and was sprinkled with much ceremony. In like manner the evil-eye curers, who still operate in isolated districts in these islands, draw water from under bridges "over which the dead and the living pass",[271] and mutter charms and lustrate victims.

Headaches were much dreaded by the Babylonians. They were usually the first symptoms of fevers, and the demons who caused them were supposed to be bloodthirsty and exceedingly awesome. According to the charms, these invisible enemies of man were of the brood of Nergal. No house could be protected against them. They entered through keyholes and chinks of doors and windows; they crept like serpents and stank like mice; they had lolling tongues like hungry dogs.

Magicians baffled the demons by providing a charm. If a patient "touched iron"--meteoric iron, which was the "metal of heaven"--relief could be obtained. Or, perhaps, the sacred water would dispel the evil one; as the drops trickled from the patient's face, so would the fever spirit trickle away. When a pig was offered up in sacrifice as a substitute for a patient, the wicked spirit was commanded to depart and allow a kindly spirit to take its place--an indication that the Babylonians, like the Germanic peoples, believed that they were guarded by spirits who brought good luck.