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Demons, Daemons and the Sumerian

No, the Necronomicon is not real. It is made up of sci-fi/horror from Lovecraft combined with a few names and actions that have been taken completely out of context and mixed with the Christian verison of the Underworld.

In most religions there is a belief in various kinds of supernatural beings ranking between the level of gods and men. ‘Demon’, in its original Greek sense (daimon ‘supernatural being’, ‘spirit’) serves as an approximate translation of Akkadian terms like rabisu (Sumerian maskim), which can refer to, and be qualified as, a good or bad ‘demon’. In spells of the Neo-Assyrian Period, we read, ‘Get out, evil rabisu! Come in, good rabisu!"

In modern studies of ancient Mesopotamian art and iconography, however, the term ‘demon’ had generally been applied to any upright human-bodied hybrid creature, while ‘monster’ has been applied to an animal combination on all fours.

Demons only rarely figure in mythology. The scores of demons whose names are known to us are mentioned mainly in magical incantations. Generally, ‘evil’ demons seem to have been conceived as mere agents or executors of the will of gods; their role was to implement divinely ordained punishment for sin. Such ‘evil’ demons were often imagined as weather spirits, of the wind or storms. Their usual method of attacking humans was by inflicting diseases (but not all illness was thought to be due to them); there is no evidence for a general belief in demonic possession. Evil gods and demons are only very rarely depicted in art, perhaps because it was thought that teir images might endanger people; in some cases descriptions of their appearances are so vague and inconsistent as to suggest they were not well established. By the first millennium BC, however, Lamastu is commonly represented, usually in connection with incantations against her, while Pazuzu is even turned to a good purpose, being shown forcing Lamastu back to the underworld.

A greatly simplified but plausible chronology for the development of demons and monsters in ancient Mesopotamian art has adopted a division into five main phases, namely:

1) a formative phase, in the late Ubain and Uruk Periods, when the features of different animals were first combined into unnatural composite beings;

2) an optimistic phase, in the Akkadian Period, when glyptic scenes show the capture and punishment of nefarious demons;

3) a balanced phase, in the Old Babylonian Period, when cylinder seal designs often mix images (gods, symbols and other motifs) of good and bad associations with respect to mankind;

4) a transformative phase, with Mitiannian, Kassite and Middle Assyrian art of the fourteenth to eleventh centuries BC, when the human-centred imagery of the Old Babylonian Period gave way to a preponderance of animal-headed hybrids;

5) a demonic phase, represented by Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian art, when individual evil demons were depicted in their full horror.

This last phase of development accords well with the new theology of a demonically populated underworld in the first millennium BC. The change happens, moreover, at the same time as the advent of the practice of erecting in palaces and temples monumental statues and reliefs of magically protective beings, and of burying small clay images of them in the foundations. Diverse in cultural background and original significance, the various gods, demons and monsters involved were brought together into a fairly restricted visual series at this time, and for the first time they came to be treated as a group in mythological narratives.

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