In Mesopotamian Medicine, magico-religious therapy is the work of the ashipu, or exorcists, who pass after the baru, or soothsayers, have finished with their patients, once they have determined the nature of the offence and the identity of the offended god, which is the cause of the illness. Ashipu is an Akkadian term which means “conjuror of ills” or “purifier of sullage”. It is this conjuror who ritually proceeds to the expulsion of the malady, the dimitu, which has, as a tablet says, “risen from Hell”. To cure his patient, the exorcist has recourse to prayer, sacrifice or magic. The prayers are addressed to the divinities reputed for their power, omniscience, or else for their healing powers. It is frequent to invoke several at once and even to provoke their confrontation. The health of mortals can be the subject of discussion among the gods. For example, between Marduk and his father Ea, a text reports:
“Marduk, when he saw him [the patient] in this state, went to find his father Ea, described to him the patient’s condition and said to him: “I don’t know what this man did to find himself afflicted in this way and I don’t know how to cure him!’ But Ea answered his son: ‘You know everything! What could I tell you, since you know as much as I do?’ “
Ea, Marduk, but also Shamash, Gula and Ishtar. Here is an invocation to Gula and Marduk:
“May the divine healer Gula, who is capable of giving life to the dying, cure him by touching him with her hand! And you Marduk, the compassionate one, pronounce the formula that will liberate him from his suffering, so that he will be completely pulled from danger!”
As for Ishtar, the exorcist is even more prolix, he flatters her in every way:
“Oh you, the light of the skies and of the Earth, the splendour of the whole world, oh you, the one enraged in fighting, powerful and irresistable in attacking […] Goddess of the unsoundable, when you lower your gaze onto them, the dead come back to life, the sick rise […] It is you that I invoke, I your servant, tracked and tortured by pain. Look at me, Goddess, accept my supplication, look at me and listen to my prayer. May your grace manifest itself, and may your anger be calmed. Accord your grace to my feeble, sick body, to my tormented heart, full of tears and sighs… “
After the prayer, and if it is not sufficient, there is the sacrifice, considered here as a curative practice. The sacrificed animal works like an offering to the god who is supposed to have been offended, and as a liberating transfer, for by substituting itself for the sinner, it assumes his punishment…
Magic intervenes a lot less than has been said. But if it does, it is always in its double form: white, for the patient’s good by seeking to exorcise the demon, and black with the aim of harming the patient by provoking the aggravation of his illness. To neutralise the effect of black magic, it is possible to have recourse to a whole ritual based on figurines made from combustible matter, identified by the formulae addressed to the author of the spell. To be liberated, the figurines must be thrown into the fire while ritual formulae of this type are pronounced:
“Ardent fire, bellicose gods of Heaven. You, the most ruthless of your brothers, who judges quarrels as an equal of the Moon and the Sun, be my champion, dictate the sentence. Destroy the man and the woman who have bewitched me […] consume them, oh fire! Reduce them to ashes, oh fire!”
The prescriptions ordered by the gods are rather disconcerting for the patients, and the exorcist who transmits them must supervise their rigorous execution. Here is one, which is rather hermetic:
“Here is what must be done to cure him: you must take seven loaves of bread made from coarse flour and you must attach them together with bronze. Then you must rub this man with them, and make him spit on the debris which fall from them while pronouncing over him a “Formula of the Eridu”, the whole after having taken him into the steppe, in a lonely place, at the foot of a wild acacia. You will then give the ill which has struck him to Nim-Edinna, so that Nin-Kilim, the patron saint of little, wild rodents,will make these take on his illness.”
Here, the loaves of bread are supposed to recuperate the illness. It is then enough for the patient to abandon the crumbs to the rodents of the steppe, to be healed.
To be continued.