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Witchcraft Beliefs in Ancient Mesopotamia


Babylonian Rituals for Fighting Enemies and Healing Witchcraft-Induced Illnesses with Dr Daniel Schwemer (SOAS)

Tonight's illustrated talk will introduce you to Mesopotamian witchcraft beliefs, and then go into a more detailed discussion of a rite called the Maqlû (“Burning”) -- the most extensive Babylonian anti-witchcraft ritual, which involved numerous ritual actions and the recitation of almost a hundred incantations.

People in all periods of ancient Mesopotamia, people believed witchcraft to one of the causes of serious illness. There survive a large corpus of anti-witchcraft rituals along with realted drugs prescriptions and preparation; these provide a wealth of information on the witchraft fear phenomenon in 2nd and 1st mill. Babylonia and Assyria. For all we know, witchcraft beliefs and witchcraft accusations never dominated whole segments of Babylonian or Assyrian society, but Babylonian and Assyrian healing experts, most importantly the ashipu (‘exorcist’ or ‘conjurer’), did regard witchcraft as one of the three basic causes of certain kinds of illnesses. When these illnesses occurred, the exorcist/ conjurer would speak of witchcraft attack: a counter-intuitive, out-of-the-ordinary (yet culturally accepted) diagnosis. The surviving evidence show us that the rites and prescriptions for undoing the curses are as fascinating as the beliefs about the attacks themselves.

This will be a night for those who love ancient Mesopotamia, for everyone with an interest in magic, for those whe are curious about psychosomatic illness, cures and curses.

Daniel Schwemer is a Reader in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His has published estensively on Mesopotamian religion and magic. Together with Tzvi Abusch, Brandeis University, he is preparing the Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals.


Dr Daniel Schwemer | talks | www


Date and Time:

11 December 2008 at 7:15 pm


2 hours



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