The main purpose of the series was to treat a patient who was in physical or psychological distress. Demons were considered one of the main causes of illness, which is why Udug-hul enjoyed great popularity. The ritual healer responsible for reciting the incantations had to make sure that the evil demons would abandon not only the patient’s body but also his house and its wider environment (Geller 2016, 4). In contrast to other incantation series, there is no separate tablet known that would have been devoted to accompanying ritual instructions, although hints about the performance of ritual acts are included in the wording of the incantations themselves.
This tablet represents the twelfth section of the series, which includes a good deal of information on such ritual matters. The text starts with a recurring theme, a conversation between Ea, the god of wisdom, and his son Marduk, who is eventually sent by his father to help the patient. Ea’s speech alludes to many of the ritual acts the healer was supposed to perform. After an offering and an invocation of the patient’s personal deity and the sun god Shamash, the healer apparently had to make use of a scapegoat, described as a black goat, a knobbly horned sheep, or a mountain goat with a multicolored face. The scapegoat was supposed to absorb everything evil from the patient’s body so that the purified patient could regain the protection of his personal deity. The goat
was tied to the sickbed, eventually sacrificed, and its dead body laid on top of the patient. This rather drastic procedure was combined with more common practices such as fumigations, the sounding of a copper bell to frighten off the demons, the tying of colorful cords to the patient’s bed, and the encircling of the sickbed, which was made of pure reeds, with a magical, impenetrable circle of flour and other substances. The patient’s body was massaged with ghee and milk, substances considered pure and protective. In addition, seven figurines were formed, given names, and positioned at the patient’s head to guard him, while another two figurines were placed on the threshold of his house. In the end, it was hoped, all the demons would have been forced to head back to the netherworld, and the patient would have emerged from the ritual purified and protected.
The wide applicability of many of the magical incantations used in Mesopotamia against demons and other evil creatures explains the significant overlap of parts of Udug-hul with other ritual texts. Tablet 12, for example, shares material with the Bīt mēseri ritual series (Wiggermann 1992, 113–114).
See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020
CDLI entry: P297207
credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus