Mysterious Demons Of The Near East
Posted by foryourfaith on March 3, 2011
For the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia the universe was full of spirits. It is difficult for a modern Westerner, reared in a monotheistic and secular society, to image how the world seemed to ancient Babylonians or Assyrians. These peoples shared beliefs that had grown from prehistoric roots among the early Sumerians and remained largely untouched by the world outside Mesopotamia. They saw an almost endless variety of supernatural life in every portion of the world. Human life was just one part of a living, breathing, active universe.
At the top of the divine scale were the gods of official religion known from priests records on clay tablets unearthed by archaeologists – Anu, the remote god of heaven; Enlil, the sometimes stormy lord of wind; and Ea, the beneficent god of water and wisdom. These presided over a complicated pantheon that included literally thousands of named deities. Especially important were astral deities of sun and moon and the planet Venus, along with national gods like Marduk of Babylon or Asshur of Assyria.
Ideas that in a monotheistic religion appear as superstition formed the core of ordinary religious life in Mesopotamia. Deities truly inhabited their images. The images produced in temple workshops were consecrated to give them life and open their eyes to see the world.
Demons were a continual danger, to be warded off. Often, they lurked about graves and in deserts, and caused sleepers to have nightmares. They were a hazard to a woman in childbirth, ready to kill the newborn or the mother or both.
For example, one particularly vivid demon linked closely to the geography of Mesopotamia was Pazuzu, demon of the hot west wind that blew in sandstorms from the desert. He is known from statues and other pieces of art that have been discovered. One representation of Pazuzu included a monstrous head, hands and feet ending in eagle talons, a thunderbolt in one hand, a curled tail, and four wings. The back of the statue or amulet often carried an incantation to ward off the desert wind-demons. It began by allowing the demon to identify himself: “I am the god Pazuzu, son of the god Hanbi, king of the evil wind-demons. It is I who rage mightily in the Mountain . . . . “ The incantation ended with what was probably a simple magical formula to destroy the power of the demon: “The winds, their wings are broken.”
Similar rituals protected one from Lilitu, probably the same as Lilith, the “night hag” of Isaiah 34:14; Namtar, the plague demon; and Lamashtu, the dread female spirit that threatened childbirth. The universe was full of spirits, not all of them good.
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