Religion and magic cannot be distinguished as separate concerns in the context of Mesopotamian attitudes to the “supernatural.” The great gods were all invoked to combat destructive and malevolent forces by lending efficacy to spells and apotropaic rituals. Eaand Marduk, for instance, were seen as “master magicians” whose divine powers were harnessed for combat against evil. Human beings were under constant threat of falling victim to harmful influences; any accident, misfortune, illness, or death could be interpreted as a demonic attack, witchcraft, or even the “anger” of one’s personal god. Magic protection, in the form of amulets, unguents, or special invocations (prayers) acted as a prophylactic. Once the harm was done, however, and sickness and ill luck would not go away, the afflicted person would seek professional help from a magician-healer. The kingand the elites could afford to avail themselves of the services of experienced specialists (asipu) who had spent many years of apprenticeship and training, while the less wealthy had to be content with “unlicensed” amateurs. Before any treatment could begin, the cause of the affliction had to be determined. This was a lengthy process that involved divination to aid diagnosis—to identify which evil spirit or demon was to blame. Then followed an exorcism to expel the offending agent and thereby rid the patient of his torments. Since sinfulness and ritual pollution could also attract demonic attacks or cause divine anger, purification rituals could be added for good measure.
   Kings were especially in grave danger from evil influences. They had to undergo time-consuming and uncomfortable ritual treatment to ward off danger or reverse an ill-fated course of events. The correspondence between some Assyrian kings (e.g., Esarhaddon) and their diviners and magician-priests show that there were rivalries between different royal advisers and often a lack of unanimity. There is a great amount of cuneiform literature on the subject, including incantations and spells, as well as instructions for the accompanying ritual actions and which materials and substances had to be used, how, and at what stage of the proceedings. These are difficult to understand since they were written for persons with insider knowledge and must have relied on oral commentaries. The earliest magic spells date from the Akkadian period and concern love magic. ASumerian incantation series that was also translated into Akkadian (uttukki lemnuti) tried to address all evil spirits and find the right formula to banish them. The most famous Babylonian magic series are Maqlu and Shurpu (both mean “Burning”), which concern witchcraft. The texts refer to a seven-day ritual combat and cosmic trial of the “witch” in the widest sense, by a divine assembly. It involved the burning of specially prepared effigies.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.


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