Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

A trio of female demons

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 28, 2014

Lamashtu

Lamashtu

The Sumerians believed in a trio of female demons consisting of Labasu, Labartu (Lamashtu) and Akhkhazu, a female demon from the Akkadic mythology. Her Sumerian name is Dimme-kur. She is also called “the seizer”. She brings fever and plagues and is a member of Despite the fact the word “Akhkhazu” has a male gender, Akhkazu is often described as having a female nature.

In Mesopotamian mythology, Lamashtu (Akkadian La-maš-tu; Sumerian Dimme Dim-me), a daughter of the Sky God Anu, was a female demon, monster, malevolent goddess or demigoddess who menaced women during childbirth and, if possible, kidnapped children while they were breastfeeding. She would gnaw on their bones and suck their blood, as well as being charged with a number of other evil deeds.

Lamashtu is depicted as a mythological hybrid, with a hairy body, a lioness’ head with donkey’s teeth and ears, long fingers and fingernails, and the feet of a bird with sharp talons. She is often shown standing or kneeling on a donkey, nursing a pig and a dog, and holding snakes. She thus bears some functions and resemblance to the Mesopotamian demon Lilith.

Lilith is a Hebrew name for a figure in Jewish mythology, developed earliest in the Babylonian Talmud, who is generally thought to be in part derived from a class of female demons Līlīṯu in Mesopotamian texts of Assyria and Babylonia.

Evidence in later Jewish materials is plentiful, but little information has been found relating to the original Akkadian and Babylonian view of these demons. The relevance of two sources previously used to connect the Jewish Lilith to an Akkadian Lilitu—the Gilgamesh appendix and the Arslan Tash amulets—are now both disputed by recent scholarship. The two problematic sources are discussed below.

The Hebrew term Lilith or “Lilit” (translated as “night creatures”, “night monster”, “night hag”, or “screech owl”) first occurs in Isaiah 34:14, either singular or plural according to variations in the earliest manuscripts, though in a list of animals. In the Dead Sea Scrolls Songs of the Sage the term first occurs in a list of monsters. In Jewish magical inscriptions on bowls and amulets from the 6th century CE onwards, Lilith is identified as a female demon and the first visual depictions appear.

In Jewish folklore, from the 8th–10th century Alphabet of Ben Sira onwards, Lilith becomes Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time (Rosh Hashanah) and from the same earth as Adam. This contrasts with Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs. The legend was greatly developed during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism.

In the 13th century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, for example, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she mated with archangel Samael. The resulting Lilith legend is still commonly used as source material in modern Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror.

The Semitic root L-Y-L layil in Hebrew, as layl in Arabic, means “night”. Talmudic and Yiddish use of Lilith follows Hebrew. In Akkadian the terms lili and līlītu mean spirits. Archibald Sayce (1882) considered that Lilith are from proto-Semitic. Charles Fossey (1902) has this literally translating to “female night being/demon”, although cuneiform inscriptions exist where Lilith refers to disease-bearing wind spirits.

Another possibility is association not with “night”, but with “wind”, thus identifying the Akkadian Lil-itu as a loan from the Sumerian lil, “air” — specifically from Ninlil, “lady air”, goddess of the south wind (and wife of Enlil) — and itud, “moon”.

In Akkadian literature lilu occurs. A lilu or lilû is a masculine Akkadian word for a spirit, related to Alû, demon. In the Sumerian king list the father of Gilgamesh is said to be a lilu. Dating of specific Akkadian, Sumerian and Babylonian texts mentioning lilu (masculine), lilitu (female) and lili (female) are haphazard.

It is disputed whether, if at all, the Akkadian word lilu, or cognates, is related to the disputed Hebrew word liyliyth in Isaiah 34:14, which is thought to be a night bird by some modern scholars such as Judit M. Blair. The Babylonian concept of lilu may be more strongly related to the later Talmudic concept of Lilith (female) and lilin (female).

Lamashtu’s father was the Sky God Anu (Sumer An). Unlike many other usual demonic figures and depictions inMesopotamian lore, Lamashtu was said to act in malevolence of her own accord, rather than at the gods’ instructions. Along with this her name was written together with the cuneiform determinative indicating deity. This means she was a goddess or a demigoddess in her own right.

She bore seven names and was described as seven witches in incantations. Her evil deeds included (but were not limited to), slaying children, unborns, and neonates, causing harm to mothers and expectant mothers, eating men and drinking their blood, disturbing sleep, bringing nightmares, killing foliage, infesting rivers and lakes, and being a bringer of disease, sickness, and death.

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