Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 48

He again examined the flesh;
He looked about carefully before and behind him,
Then, moving swiftly, he made for the hidden parts.
When he entered into the midst,
The serpent seized him by his wing.

In vain the Eagle appealed for mercy to the Mother Serpent, who was compelled to execute the decree of Shamash; she tore off the Eagle's pinions, wings, and claws, and threw him into a pit where he perished from hunger and thirst.[100] This myth may refer to the ravages of a winged demon of disease who was thwarted by the sacrifice of an ox. The Mother Serpent appears to be identical with an ancient goddess of maternity resembling the Egyptian Bast, the serpent mother of Bubastis. According to Sumerian belief, Nintu, "a form of the goddess Ma", was half a serpent. On her head there is a horn; she is "girt about the loins"; her left arm holds "a babe suckling her breast":

From her head to her loins
The body is that of a naked woman;
From the loins to the sole of the foot
Scales like those of a snake are visible.
R.C. Thompson's Translation.

The close association of gods and demons is illustrated in an obscure myth which may refer to an eclipse of the moon or a night storm at the beginning of the rainy season. The demons go to war against the high gods, and are assisted by Adad (Ramman) the thunderer, Shamash the sun, and Ishtar. They desire to wreck the heavens, the home of Anu:

They clustered angrily round the crescent of the moon god,
And won over to their aid Shamash, the mighty, and Adad, the warrior,
And Ishtar, who with Anu, the King,
Hath founded a shining dwelling.

The moon god Sin, "the seed of mankind", was darkened by the demons who raged, "rushing loose over the land" like to the wind. Bel called upon his messenger, whom he sent to Ea in the ocean depths, saying: "My son Sin ... hath been grievously bedimmed". Ea lamented, and dispatched his son Merodach to net the demons by magic, using "a two-coloured cord from the hair of a virgin kid and from the wool of a virgin lamb".[101]

As in India, where Shitala, the Bengali goddess of smallpox, for instance, is worshipped when the dreaded disease she controls becomes epidemic, so in Babylonia the people sought to secure immunity from attack by worshipping spirits of disease. A tablet relates that Ura, a plague demon, once resolved to destroy all life, but ultimately consented to spare those who praised his name and exalted him in recognition of his bravery and power. This could be accomplished by reciting a formula. Indian serpent worshippers believe that their devotions "destroy all danger proceeding from snakes".[102]

Like the Ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians also had their kindly spirits who brought luck and the various enjoyments of life. A good "labartu" might attend on a human being like a household fairy of India or Europe: a friendly "shedu" could protect a household against the attacks of fierce demons and human enemies. Even the spirits of Fate who served Anu, god of the sky, and that "Norn" of the Underworld, Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades, might sometimes be propitious: if the deities were successfully invoked they could cause the Fates to smite spirits of disease and bringers of ill luck. Damu, a friendly fairy goddess, was well loved, because she inspired pleasant dreams, relieved the sufferings of the afflicted, and restored to good health those patients whom she selected to favour.