Spirits, Utukku, Evil, Demon, Gods, Power
The demons were of various kinds and of various grades of power. The names of many of them, as utukku, shedu, alu, gallu, point to 'strength' and 'greatness' as their main attribute; other names, as lilu, 'night-spirit,' and the feminine form lilitu, are indicative of the moment chosen by them for their work; while again, names like ekimmu, the 'seizer,' akhkhazu, the 'capturer,' rabisu, 'the one that lies in wait,' labartu, 'the oppressor,' and labasu, 'the overthrower,' show the aim that the demons have in view. Putting these names together, we may form a general idea of the conceptions connected with the demons. They lurk in hidden or remote places, in graves, in the shadow of ruins, on the tops of mountains, in the wilderness. Their favorite time of activity is at dead of night. They glide noiselessly like serpents, entering houses through holes and crevices. They are powerful, but their power is directed solely towards evil. They take firm hold of their victims and torture them mercilessly.
To these demons all manner of evil is ascribed. Their presence was felt in the destructive winds that swept the land. The pestilent fevers that rise out of the marshes of the Euphrates valley and the diseases bred by the humid heat of summer were alike traced to demons lurking in the soil. Some of these diseases, moreover, were personified, as Namtar, the demon of 'plague,' and Ashakku, the demon of 'wasting disease.' But the petty annoyances that disturb the peace of man—a sudden fall, an unlucky word, a headache, petty quarrels, and the like—were also due to the instigation of the demons; while insanity and the stirring up of the passions—love, hatred, and jealousy—were in a special sense indicative of the presence and power of the demons. Men and women stood in constant danger of them. Even the animals were not safe from their attacks. They drive the birds out of their nests, strike down lambs and bulls. It was impossible to forestall their attacks. They enter a man's dwelling, they wander through the streets, they make their way into food and drink. There is no place, however small, which they cannot invade, and none, however large, that they cannot fill. In a text which furnishes the sacred formulas by means of which one can get rid of the demoniac influence, a description is given of the demons which may serve as an illustration of what has just been said. The incantation is directed against a variety of the demons:
The utukku of the field and the utukku of the mountain,
The utukku of the sea and the one that lurks in graves,
The evil shedu, the shining alu.
The evil wind, the terrible wind,
That sets one's hair on end.
Against these the spirits of heaven and earth are invoked. The text proceeds:
The utukku that seizes hold of a man,
The ekimmu that seizes hold of a man,
The ekimmu that works evil,
The utukku that works evil.
And after invoking against these demons, likewise, the spirits of heaven and earth, the text passes on to an enumeration of a long list of physical ills: sickness of the entrails, of the heart, of the head, of the stomach, of the kidneys, of the limbs and muscles, of the skin, and of the senses, which are all ascribed to the influence of the demons.
Apart from the demons that are naught but the personification of certain diseases, it does not appear that the demons were limited in their power to one specific kind of action. In other words, sharp distinctions between the demons do not appear to have been drawn. As appears from the extracts above translated, the utukku, shedu, alu, and ekimmu were grouped together, and hardly regarded as anything more than descriptive epithets of a general class of demons. At the same time it appears likely that at one time they were differentiated with a greater degree of preciseness. So the ekimmu appears to be the shadowy demon that hovers around graves, a species of ghost or vampire that attacks people in the dead of night and lays them prostrate. Lilu and lilitu are the spirits that flit by in the night. Of a specific character likewise are the conceptions connected with a demon known as ardat lili, 'maid of the night,' a strange female 'will-o'-the-wisp,' who approaches men, arouses their passions, but does not permit a satisfaction of them. Great importance being attached by the Babylonians to dreams, the belief in a 'maid of the night' was probably due to the unchecked play of the imagination during the hours of sleep. Bad dreams came at the instigation of the demons, and such a demon as the rabisu or the labartu appears to have been especially associated with the horrible sensations aroused by a 'nightmare.' Again the utukku is represented at times as attacking the neck of man; the gallu attacks the hand, the ekimmu the loins, the alu the breast. But these distinctions count for little in the texts. Utukku becomes a general name for demon, and gallu, alu, and shedu are either used synonymously with utukku or thrown together with the latter in a manner that clearly shows the general identity of the conceptions ultimately connected with them. The same is the case with the rabisu and gallu, with the labartu, akhkhazu, and ekimmu.
The demons were always given some shape, animal or human, for it was a necessary corollary of the stage of religious thought to which the belief in demons belongs, that the demon must not only be somewhere, though invisible to mankind, but also in something that manifests life. Among animals, those calculated to inspire terror by their mysterious movements were chosen, as serpents appearing and disappearing with startling suddenness, or ugly scorpions, against whom it was difficult to protect oneself, or the fabulous monsters with which graves and pestiferous spots were peopled. Regions difficult of access—the desert, the deep waters, the high mountains—were the favorite haunts of the demons. Some of these demons were frequently pictured in the boundary stones between fields, in order to emphasize the curses hurled upon the head of him who should trespass on the lawful rights of the owner of the land. It is to such demons embodied in living form that epithets such as the 'seizer,' the 'one that lurks,' and the like apply with peculiar aptness. In a tablet belonging to a long series of incantations, we find references to various animals—the serpent, the scorpion, monsters—that are regarded as the embodiment of demons.
In the distinctively religious art, the evil spirits are often pictured as ugly monsters that were to inspire terror by their very aspect. Depicted on the monuments, singly or in groups, the shape of wild animals was given to the head, while the remainder of the body was suggestive of a human form. With gaping mouths and armed with some weapon, they stand ready to make an attack. The Assyrian kings, up to the latest period, acknowledged the power of the demons by making huge representations of them, which they placed at the approaches, entrances, and divisions of their temples and palaces, in the hope of thus securing their protection. The great bulls and lions with human heads—so familiar to every one—are but another form of the same idea. These colossal statues were actually known by the name shedu, which we have seen is one of the general terms for 'demon.' But as a general thing, this personal phase of the demon's existence is lost sight of. Even though embodied in animal form, the demons could make themselves invisible to man; and since most of their actions were performed in secret, so that people were totally at their mercy, the differentiation of the demons became a factor of minor importance. With so large a quantity of demons at command, it was difficult to hit upon the one who was manifesting himself by some evil at any given moment. Accordingly, instead of a single mention, a number or a group were enumerated, and the magic formulas pronounced against them in concert. We have one such group of seven to whom quite a number of references are found in the incantation texts. A section in one of these texts gives a vivid description of them:
Seven are they, they are seven,
In the subterranean deep, they are seven,
Perched (?) in the sky, they are seven,
In a section of the subterranean deep they were reared,
They are neither male nor are they female,
They are destructive whirlwinds,
They have no wife, nor do they beget offspring.
Compassion and mercy they do not know,
Prayer and supplication they do not hear,
Horses bred on the mountains, are they
Hostile to Ea are they,
Powerful ones among the gods are they.
To work mischief in the street they settle themselves in the highway.
Evil are they, they are evil,
Seven are they, they are seven, seven, and again seven are they.
These seven spirits, who are elsewhere compared to various animals, have power even to bewitch the gods. The eclipse of the moon was attributed to their baneful influence. The number seven is probably not to be taken literally. As among so many nations, seven had a sacred significance for the Babylonians; but largely, if not solely, for the reason, as I venture to think, because seven was a large number. In the Old Testament seven is similarly used to designate a large number. A group of seven spirits, accordingly, meant no more than a miscellaneous mass of spirits, and we may therefore regard this 'song of the seven' as a general characterization of the demons who, according to this view, appear to move together in groups rather than singly. Elsewhere we are told of this same group of spirits 'that they were begotten in the mountain of sunset,' i.e., in the west, 'and were reared in the mountain of sunrise,' i.e., the east; 'that they dwell in the hollow of the earth, and that they are proclaimed on the mountain tops.' Evidently a description of this kind is intended to emphasize the universal presence of the spirits. There is no place where they are not found; and when we are furthermore told (apparently in contradiction to what has just been said) 'that neither in heaven nor earth is their name pronounced (i.e., are they known to be), that among the gods of the earth (i.e., the pantheon) they are not recognized, that neither in heaven nor earth do they exist,' this is but the reverse of the picture intended to illustrate the capability of the spirits to disappear without leaving any trace of their presence. They are everywhere and yet invisible. They come and they go, and no one knows their place. Nothing is proof against their approach. Of all the demons it is true, as of this group, that they slip through bolts and doorposts and sockets, gliding, as we are told, 'like snakes.' Such are the demons against whom man must seek to protect himself.
The relationship of the demons or spirits to the gods of the pantheon has been touched upon in a previous chapter. It is sufficient here to emphasize the fact that the dividing line between the two becomes at times exceedingly faint. A deity, we have seen, is a spirit writ large; but often the demon assumes dimensions and is clothed with power that makes him 'little short of divine.' Strength is the attribute of the demons as it is the chief feature of the gods. Both classes of powers influence man's career. The names of the demons are preceded by the same determinative that is used for the gods. As a matter of fact, many of the spirits were originally worshipped as local deities in some restricted territory, which, losing its importance, bequeaths the name of its protective genius to posterity. In the realm of religious belief, as in the domain of nature, absolute loss of something that once had existence does not take place. Something remains. Hundreds of old local gods of Babylonia thus survived in the literature as spirits or demons. The tendency towards making a selection out of the great mass of gods goes hand in hand with the multiplication of spirits that might, as occasion presented itself, be invoked. In general, the larger affairs of life were consigned into the hands of the gods; the petty annoyances—accidents, pains, ill luck, and the like—were put down to the account of the spirits. The gods were, on the whole, favorably disposed towards man. They were angry at times, they sent punishments, but they could be appeased. The spirits were, on the whole, hostile; and although the Babylonians also invoked favorable and kind spirits, when a spirit was hostile there was only one method of ridding oneself of the pernicious influence,—to drive it out by means of formulas, and with the help of a priest acting as exorciser.
|Written By Morris Jastrow|
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