Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Utukku – Benevolent or evil?

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 28, 2014

Utukku (Sumerian: UDUG), in Sumerian mythology a type of spirit or demon that could be either benevolent or evil. It is common to change /D/ to /t/ and /G/ to /k/ in converting Sumerian into Akkadian. The final /-u/ is the Akkadian nominative case-ending.

The canon of exorcism of the evil UDUG is known as UDUG HUL, the Akkadian expansion of which (known in Akkadian as Utukkū Lemnūtu) is in sixteen tablets. They were siblings of the Anunnaki. They were in the service of the underworld, and were required to fetch home the fruit of the sacrifices and burnt offerings, which generally consisted of the blood, liver, and other “sweetmeats” of the sacrificed animal.

Two of the best known of the evil Utukku were Asakku (Sumerian Asag, meaning slain by Ninurta), who attack and kill human beings, especially by means of head fevers, and Alû, in Akkadian and Sumerian mythology a vengeful spirit of the Utukku that goes down to the underworld Kur.

The demon has no mouth, lips or ears. It roams at night and terrifies people while they sleep, and posession by Alû results in unconsciousness and coma; in this manner it resembles creatures such as the mara, and incubus, which are invoked to explain sleep paralysis. In Akkadian and Sumerian mythology, it is associated with other demons like Gallu and Lilu. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Alû is the celestial Bull.

Asag, one type of Mesopotamian evil spirits and monsters, classed with good spirits as Utukku, was said to be accompanied into battle by an army of rock demon offspring – born of his union with the mountains themselves. They are mentioned in poetical enumerations of diseases.

An especially fierce gallu demon, the monstrous Asag, in the Sumerian mythological poem Lugale a monstrous demon so hideous that his presence alone makes fish boil alive in the rivers, was slain by the heroic Akkadian deity Ninurta/Ningirsu using the enchanted mace Sharur, his enchanted talking mace, after seeking the counsel of his father, the god Enlil.

The incantation literature is quite extensive among the Sumerians as well as the Babylonians. Sumerian incantations have survived in monolingual form mostly in old Babylonian transcriptions and were later handed on accompanied by Akkadian translations. In many cases, even the Sumerian text is post-Sumerian.

These texts were later compiled in the great series Evil Udug/Utukku’s and Bad Asag/Asakku’s. In some of these, the activities of the demons are portrayed in lively fashion, and often long successions of similar pronouncements are found. Depending on one’s purpose, various types of incantations with particular emphases can be distinguished.

The post-Sumerian incantations, which were likely translated from the Akkadian with some frequency, were not compiled into their own larger tablet series and have not yet been studied from a literary standpoint. Among these are the incantations directed against spells. By contrast, there is still no evidence for Sumerian incantations against witches.

In Akkadian mythology they were seven evil demons who were the offspring of Anu and Antu. The evil utukku were called Edimmu or Ekimmu; the good utukku were called shedu (Cuneiform: AN.KAL×BAD; Sumerian: alad; Akkadian, šēdu) or lamassu (Cuneiform: AN.KAL; Sumerian: lamma; Akkadian: lamassu), an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted with a bull or lion’s body, eagle’s wings, and human’s head. In some writings, it is portrayed to represent a female deity. Shedu refers to the male counterpart of a lamassu.

The edimmu were a type of utukku in Sumerian mythology, similar in nature to the Preta of Vedic religion, the name for a type of (arguably supernatural) being described in Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain texts that undergoes more than human suffering, particularly an extreme degree of hunger and thirst, or the jiangshi (read geong-si in Cantonese, cương thi in Vietnamese, gangshi in Korean and kyonshī in Japanese ) of Chinese mythology.

The edimmu were envisioned as the ghosts of those who were not buried properly. They were considered vengeful toward the living and might possess people if they did not respect certain taboos, such as the prohibition against eating ox meat.

They were thought to cause disease and inspire criminal behavior in the living, but could sometimes be appeased by funeral repasts or libations. The edimmu were also thought to be completely or nearly incorporeal, “wind” spirits that sucked the life out of the susceptible and the sleeping (most commonly the young).

The Preta are often translated into English as “hungry ghosts”, from the Chinese, which in turn is derived from later Indian sources generally followed in Mahayana Buddhism. In early sources such as the Petavatthu, they are much more varied.

Pretas are believed to have been false, corrupted, compulsive, deceitful, jealous or greedy people in a previous life. As a result of their karma, they are afflicted with an insatiable hunger for a particular substance or object. Traditionally, this is something repugnant or humiliating, such as human corpses or feces, though in more recent stories, it can be anything, however bizarre.

The Sanskrit term preta means “departed, deceased, a dead person”, from pra-ita, literally “gone forth, departed”. In Classical Sanskrit, the term refers to the spirit of any dead person, but especially before the obsequial rites are performed, but also more narrowly to a ghost or evil being. The Sanskrit term was taken up in Buddhism to describe one of six possible states of rebirth. The Chinese term egui, literally “starving ghost”, is thus not a literal translation of the Sanskrit term.

A jiangshi, also known as a Chinese “hopping” vampire or zombie, is a type of reanimated corpse in Chinese legends and folklore. It is typically depicted as a stiff corpse dressed in official garments from the Qing Dynasty, and it moves around by hopping, with its arms outstretched. It kills living creatures to absorb their qi, or “life force”, usually at night, while in the day, it rests in a coffin or hides in dark places such as caves.

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