Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 109

An Assyrian text says of a sorceress that her bounds are the whole world, that she can pass over all mountains. The writer states that near his door he has posted a servant, on the right and left of his door has he set Lugalgirra and Allamu, that they might kill the witch.

The library of Assur-bani-pal contains many cuneiform tablets dealing with magic, but there are also

Exorcising Demons of Disease.—From Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria, by Professor Morris Jastrow.—By permission of Messrs G.P. Putnam's Sons.

A Toothache Myth

The Assyrian physician had perforce to be something of a demonologist, as possession by devils was held to be the cause of divers diseases, and we find incantations sprinkled among prescriptions. Occasionally, too, we come upon the fag-end of a folk-tale or dip momentarily into myth, as in a prescription for the toothache, compounded of fermented drink, the plant sakilbir, and oil—probably as efficacious in the case of that malady as most modern ones are. The story attached to the cure is as follows:

When Anu had created the heavens, the earth created the rivers, the rivers the canals, and the canals the marshes, which in turn created the worm. And the worm came weeping before Ea, saying,[Pg 263] "What wilt thou give me for my food, what wilt thou give me for my devouring?" "I will give thee ripe figs," replied the god, "ripe figs and scented wood." "Bah," replied the worm, "what are ripe figs to me, or what is scented wood? Let me drink among the teeth and batten on the gums that I may devour the blood of the teeth and the strength thereof." This tale alludes to a Babylonian superstition that worms consume the teeth.

The Word of Power

As in Egypt, the word of power was held in great reverence by the magicians of Chaldea, who believed that the name, preferably the secret name, of a god possessed sufficient force in its mere syllables to defeat and scatter the hordes of evil things that surrounded and harassed mankind. The names of Ea and Merodach were, perhaps, most frequently used to carry destruction into the ranks of the demon army. It was also necessary to know the name of the devil or person against whom his spells were directed. If to this could be added a piece of hair, or the nail-parings in the case of a human being, then special efficacy was given to the enchantment. But just as hair or nails were part of a man so was his name, and hence the great virtue ascribed to names in art-magic, ancient and modern. The name was, as it were, the vehicle by means of which the magician established a link between himself and his victim, and the Babylonians in exorcising sickness or disease of any kind were wont to recite long catalogues of the names of evil spirits and demons in the hope that by so doing they might chance to light upon that especial individual who was the cause of the malady. Even long lists of names of persons who had died premature deaths were[Pg 264] often recited in order to ensure that they would not return to torment the living.