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The general term Semites applies to the ancient divisions of a race of people including the Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Hebrews of Biblical times. The Arabs and Kabbalah include later Semitic occultism.
Magic was a priestly activity in Babylon and Chaldea (see Chaldeans). In Mesopotamia magic was practiced by the priestly sect called Asipu, who were designated to perform such activities which probably consisted of hypnotism, exorcism, and banning troublesome spirits.
There where another group name the Baru who were augurs, who consulted the oracles about the future by inspecting the entrails of animals and the flights of birds, "the observation of oil in water, the secret of Anu, Bel, and Ea, the tablet of the gods, the sachet of leather of the heavens and earth, the wand of cedar dear to the great gods."
Both the priest of Baru and Asipu were clothed in vestments signifying their rank, which they changed frequently in ceremonies in which they participated. There are records recorded on ancient tablets telling of kings making frequent inquiries through priestly castes. In the tablet of Sippar is decribed the initiation of a Baru to the Sun-Temple. Also, it is written that Sennachrib sought through the Baru knowledge of the cause of his father's violent death.
Again, the Asipu were exorcists whose activities included removing taboos and dismissing ghosts. Their functions are described in the following incantatory poem:
[The man] of Ea am I,
[The man] of Damkina am I,
The messenger of Marduk am I,
My spell is the spell of Ea,
My incantation is the incantation of Marduk,
The circle of Ea is in my hand,
The tamarisk, the powerful weapon of Anu,
In my hand I hold,
The date-spathe, mighty in decision,
In my hand I hold.
He that stilleth all to rest, that pacifieth all,
By whose incantation everything is at peace,
He is the great Lord Ea,
Stilling all to rest, and pacifying all,
By whose incantation everything is at peace,
When I draw nigh unto the sick man.
All shall be assuaged,
I am the magician born of Eridu.
Begotten in Eridu and Subari,
When I draw nigh unto the sick man.
May Ea, King of the Deep, safeguard me!
O Ea, King of the Deep, to see,
I, the magician, am thy slave
March thou on my right hand,
Assist [me] on my left;
Add thy pure spell to mine,
Add thy pure voice to mine,
Vouchsafe (to me) pure words,
Make fortunate utterances of my mouth,
Ordain that my decisions be happy,
Let me be blessed where'er I tread,
Let the man whom I [now] touch be blessed.
Before me may lucky thoughts be spoken,
After me may a lucky finger be pointed.
Oh that thou wert my guardian genius,
And my guardian spirit!
O God that blesseth, Marduk,
Let me be blessed, where'er my path be,
Thy power shall god and man proclaim;
This man shall do thy service,
And I too, the magician thy slave.
Unto thy house on entering .
Samas is before me,
Sin [is] behind [me].
Nergal [is] at [my] right hand,
Ninib [is] at my left;
When I draw near unto the sick man,
When I lay my hand on the head of the sick man,
May a kindly Spirit, a kindly Guardian stand at my side.
The third priestly caste was the Zammaru, who sang and chanted certain ceremonials.
Those performing lower ranks of sorcery were the Kassapu and Kassapru, the wizard and witch, who, as elsewhere, were said to have practiced black magic, and were vigorously combated by the priest-magician castes. In the code of Hammurabi there was a stringent law against professors of black magic.
"If a man has charged a man with sorcery and has not justified himself, he who is charged with sorcery shall go to the river, he shall plunge into the river, and if the river overcome him, he who accused him shall take to himself his house. If the river makes that man to be innocent, and he be saved, he who accused him shall be put to death. He who plunged into the river shall take to himself the house of the man who accused him."
This might have been the origination of the 17th century water test for a witch. If the suspected person sank when thrown into a pond, then she/he was deemed innocent; but, if the person floated, she/he were charged with witchcraft.
Other tablets dealt with the black magician. The witch was depicted as roaming the streets, entering houses and prowling through towns, stealing the love of men, and withering the beauty of women.
An exorcist declared he made an image of the witch, and called upon the fire-god to burn it. He would seize the mouth, tongue, eyes, feet, and other members of the witch, and piously prayed the Sin might cast her into the abyss of water and fire, and that her face may grow yellow and green. But, he, the exorcist, was at the same time fearing the witch might be trying to send similar or identical sorcery onto him as she sat making spells in the shade of a wall. However, against her he sent haltappan plant and sesame to undo her spells and force her words back into her mouth. He devoutly trusted the images that she had fashioned would assume her own character, so that her spells would recoil upon her.
Another tablet told of the desire of the god of night might smite the witch in her magic, that the three watches of the night might loose her evil sorcery, that her mouth be fat and her tongue salt, that the words of evil that she had spoken might be poured out like tallow, and that the magic which she was working be crumbled like salt.
Tablets abounding with magical matter contain description of actual practices of wizardry that was the custom of the age. Such tablets date back to the seventh century BC onwards until their cuneiform inscription ceased to be used.
This includes the Chaldean magic known throughout the world, especially for its astrology. The book of Isiah stated: "Let the astrologers, star-gazers, monthly prognosticators, stand up and save thee from things that shall come upon thee." In the book of Daniel the magicians were called Chaldeans, and modern occultists have praised the Chaldean magi. Strabo and Aelian alluded to their knowledge of astrology, as did Diodorus Siculus, and there was supposed to have been a Chaldean magician CEthanes who introduced his science into Greece, which he entered with Xerxes.
The great library of Assurbanipal, king of Assyria who died 626 BC, holds mast amounts of information of Assyrian magic. Assurbanial gathers numerous volumes from the Babylonian cities and stored them in the great library at Nineveh where he had them copied and translated. Letters of Assurbanipal sent to his officials have been discovered showing his given instructions for copying certain incantations. Many grimoires came from Babylonia, written during the later empire. The best known of which are the series entitled Maklu (burning), Utukki limnuti (evil spirits), Labartu (hag-demon), and Nis kati (raising of the hand).
Many ceremonial texts, that have been discovered, throw considerable light on magical practice. The Maklu, for example, contains eight tablets of incarnations and spells against wizards and witches, much of this material is one making figures (effigies) and destroying them.
There is a series dealing with exorcism of evil spirits, demons, ghosts and goblins, consisted of sixteen or more tablets. They instructed the exorcist on driving devils from possessed people with the aid of the gods, so that these demons might be laid under divine taboos. The demon possessing the person had to be minutely described.
Another series of tablets described Labartu, or hag-demon, a sort of female devil who delighted in in attacking children, gave directions for making a figure of Labartu and incantations to be repeated over it. It seemed that the magician and physician worked together in Assyria, because medical men constantly employed incantations to drive out demons, and incantations were often associated with prescriptions. This same sort of medical magic is found amongst the American Indians and other primitive peoples.
The doctrine of the "Incommunicable Name" was established among the early Semites, and among the Egyptians, related to a secret name of a god which when discovered, gave the speaker complete control over him when uttered. Such knowledge of the name of description of the person or demon against whom the magician directed him charm was essential for its success. Drugs were originally ascribed the power vouchsafed by the gods for the welfare of mankind, and were supposed to greatly aid in exorcism.
Ea and Marduk, in Assyrian sorcery, were the most powerful gods, the latter being appealed to as the intermediary between human beings and their father, Ea; indeed the legend of Marduk going to his father for advice was frequently repeated in incantations. When using magic against a person it was essential to have something that belonged to him or her-clippings of hair, or fingernails if possible. The possessed person was usually washed, the principle of cleansing probably was the basis of this ceremony. The incantation called the Incantation of Eridu was often prescribed, and this must have related to some such cleansing, for Eridu was the Home of Ea, the Sea-god.
The formula for exorcism or washing away a demon named Rabesu prescribed the possessed person to be sprinkled with clean water twice seven times. Of all water none was more sacred than that of the Euphrates, and its water was frequently used for charms and exorcisms.
In Assyrian exorcisms the fumigation with a censor was also used, but the possessed person was often guarded from attack by fiends by placing him in an enchanted circle of flour; through which it was thought no spirit could break. Wearing the glands from the mouth of a fish was also a charm against possession. When constructing a magic circle, the sorcerer usually formed seven winged figures to set before the god Nergal, with a long spell, which stated that he had completed the usurtu or magic circle with a sprinkling of lime. The wizard further prayed the incantation might be performed for the possessed individual by the god. This entire description seems to describe the prototype of the medieval magic circle used by magicians then.
Much folklore as well as fiction has originated from Eastern occultism. Of the most popular fiction is the Arabian Nights. But, stories abound with stories of devil, demons, and ghosts; and stories surrounding the activities of devils and demons. Such tales seemed to have permeated the human imagination for centuries. These magical myths appear alluring.
"In modern times in the East," stated R. Campbell Thompson author of Semitic Magic (1908), "from Morocco to Mesopotamia, books of magic are by no means rare, and manuscripts in Arabic, Hebrew, Gershuni, and Syriac can frequently be bought, all dealing with some form of magic or popular medicine. In Suakin in the Sudan I was offered a printed book of astrology in Arabic illustrated by the most grotesque woodcuts of the signs of the Zodiac, the blocks for which seem to have duty in other places. Such books existed in manuscript in ancient days, as is vouched for by the story of the Syblline books or the passage in Acts xix, 19; 'Not a few of them that practised curious arts brought their books together, and burned them in the sight of all.'"
However, more interesting, and intriguing, as it was shown throughout
this article the major principles and concepts of modern magic and occultism
appear to stem from Semitic occultism. Therefore, it might behoove those
especially interested in magic to study these Eastern concepts so to discover
their original and true meanings. A.G.H.