Magical Circles and Ancient Incantations from Mythology

A magic circle is a sacred space marked out by some practitioners of ritual magic.

These circles are believed to contain energy that forms a sacred space to provide protection for the practice of magic spells and invocation of gods and spirits.

This ancient practice took place in ancient Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian Period, at least three thousand years ago.

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The form of a circle was sprinkled with salt, flour, chalk, water, or just visualized by a magical practitoner. Ancient Sumerians called their ritual circles Zisurrû.

The Zisurrû, derived from Sumerian, was a defensive measure drawn on the ground around clay figurines.  Using flour as part of a Babylonian ritual to thwart evil spirits, this circle was also drawn around a sick person’s bed to protect them against ghosts, demons, or curses.

Einkorn wheat

The choice of flour was crucial to the purpose of the ritual. Some types of wheat flour could repel ghosts. Other types were for rituals invoking personal gods, and barley flour was used to encircle beds of the sick to counter disease-carrying demons.

A ritual tablet of the Maqlû  contained a series of incantations that offered instructions on how to do this: “Thereafter, you encircle the bed with flour-paste and recite the incantation “sag ba sag ba” and the incantation “tummu bītu”, meaning “Adjured is the house”. 

The religion of Babylonia and Assyria – 1908

The incantations are divided into three sequences. During the first of these rites, figurines of the sorcerer were burned, drowned in black liquid, and finally placed face down on the ground and crushed while the first four tablets were recited.


Pure oven, inside whom the fire of the grave is flaring, inside whom the valiant fire-god has taken up residence, flames have reached the sky, burn, set alight, incinerate my witch! May my warlock’s and witch’s life swiftly, quickly come to an end!

— Maqlû, Tablet II, 219–224


It’s exciting to me that we have the actual wording used by the ancient Babylonians for their incantations. 

In any case, some of these incantations took the form of destructive rites to thwart the source of evil. Later in the same exercise, these rites were replaced by purification & protection rites for the said victim. 

This involved fumigating the house, massaging the body, and washing out the mouth of the patient. One tablet line to be read out loud while performing those actions states:

“May their spells be peeled away like garlic!”

In the wee hours of the morning, one of the remaining incantations was recited, while again, washing the patient. This time, the god Nusku was invoked by the patient themselves, who held aloft a bowl of pure water while stating: “You are my reflection – You are mine, & I am yours – May nobody know you, may no evil approach you!”

I’ve noted comparisons in similar, but much later exercises by pre-Christian Europeans. By stating that “nobody knows you”, meant one’s name was not to be said aloud, (or a different name was to be used), because the logic was that a demon can’t find you if they don’t know your real name.) But I digress!

Kudurru of Gula-Eresh, showing a lamp (centre) as a symbol of Nusku.
Via the British Museum.

Invoking Nuska, chief vizier to the chief Sumerian god Enlil, also a scribe & a boatman to god Enlil to his wife, goddess Ninlil, became later, in Babylonian & Assyrian mythology, himself a god, one who represented fire & light, hence the early morning incantations of his name, which it was felt by the magical practioner, that that time of day held more power because the night was fading and the sun, like power, was rising in the sky.

In additon to Nuska’s association with fire & light, he played a crucial role in protection from other types of evil. He was invoked as a guardian of the night, and it’s said he protected sleeping people by offering them happy dreams, & preventing any nightmares.

The Witches of Warboyse, A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery and Witchcraft, Vol. 1, ca 1715. Public Domain

To tie all of this together, humans, (as servants to the gods, according to ancient Sumerians), would have nothing, not even existence, if it weren’t for the gods. So, those same humans demanded to be taken care of by those gods who gave them life. This was done by invoking them with spells & incantations in sacred, protected circles.


Sources:

https://www.academia.edu/23733257/Dedicating_magic_Neo_Assyrian_apotropaic_figurines_and_the_protection_of_Assur

http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/nuska/

https://archive.org/details/reportsofmagicia00thomuoft/page/n5/mode/2up?view=theater

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zisurr%C3%BB

https://cdli.ucla.edu/search/archival_view.php?ObjectID=P369026

The Power of Three in #Mythology

The idea of a triple deity or triad of goddesses has fascinated me for as long as I can remember.

Three is my favourite number, so I started to research a little bit about the number three and its connection to mythology, or more particularly, triple deities.

Triple deities appear throughout every layer of history, back to the very beginning of our current knowledge of ancient mythology, across cultural divides, from the Indus to Ireland.

Along with the number three, my fascination lies in the connections between them, from the ancient past and up to the nearer present.


A definition from Wikipedia:

triple deity (sometimes referred to as threefold, Trinity, tripled, triplicate, tripartite, triune or triadic) is a deity associated with the number three. 

  • Triadic (“forming a group of three”): a triad, three entities inter-related in some way (life, death, rebirth, for example, or triplet children of a deity) and always or usually associated with one another or appearing together.
  • Triune (“three-in-one, one-in-three”): a Trinity being with three aspects or manifestations.
  • Tripartite (“of triple parts”): a being with three body parts where there would normally be one (three heads, three pairs of arms, and so on)
  • Triplicate-associated: (“relating to three corresponding instances”) a being in association with a trio of things of the same nature which are symbolic or through which power is wielded (three magic birds, etc.)

Obviously, three-fold deities usually appear in three forms, however many of them acquired individual names and appearances of their own but were worshipped together in a group or as one single entity.

For example, a triad can correlate in some way with life, death, and rebirth, (or), birth, life, and death, but all are encompassed under one umbrella name.

Some examples from classical mythology and religious iconography who best represent these triads are: the Greek Moirai,  the Charities, the Furies, and the Norse Norns. The Irish Morrigan also appears, but sometimes as one being, and at other times as three sisters, or even as crows.

There are a couple of single deities who consist of these three aspects such as the Greek Hecate who is often depicted in art with three faces, the most common interpretation is that her first face is the Maiden, the second the Mother, and the third is the Crone.

Sometimes Hecate is represented by the moon’s aspect of a waxing, full, and waning moon.

The Roman Diana is shown on the coin as a triple goddess.

In Norse mythology, the Norns spin the threads of fateOne can find them sitting at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of the world.

From the Poetic Edda we’re told: Thence come the maidens mighty in wisdom, Three from the dwelling down ‘neath the tree.”

There are the three Greek Fates, Clotho, Lachesis & Atropos, who spin, draw out, & cut the thread of life. 🪡 🧵✂️

The Fates were the personifications of our life and destiny. They decide our life, lifespan, and its end. They control our past, present, and future. Sometimes they appear at our birth and choose our destiny at that point.

The Hours, by Edward Burne-Jones (1882) (cropped).

The Horae are personifications of nature in each seasonal aspect. 🌸

Ovid writes in his Metamorphoses about the Horae:

‘Here Spring appears with flowery chaplets bound.
Here Summer in her wheaten garland crown’d;
Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear.
And hoary Winter shivers in the rear.

Orestes at Delphi, flanked by Athena, Pylades, & the Erinyes c. 330 BC.

It’s said the Furies, also known as the Erinyes, sprang forth from the spilled blood of Uranus when he was castrated by his son Cronus.

An oath in the Iliad invokes them as “the Erinyes, that under earth take vengeance on men, whosoever hath sworn a false oath” – One would not want to swear an oath invoking the Furies, only to break it at one’s peril!


In addition to all of the above three deity info, Carl Jung recognized that numbers are “symbols of the Self’s coming to consciousness.” He felt the first four numbers in particular symbolize different “phases of the journey of the Self, different expressions of its transformation, and considered the arrangement of deities into triplets an archetype of religion.”


In any case, I’ll be writing more about myths, archetypes and fairy tales here on my blog. It’s good to be back here again after a several month hiatus. 🙂

In the meantime I’ve been writing my book, practicing self-care, and doing some much needed work around our house, all creative ways to take my mind off of plagues, war, and other horrible happenings we’re all faced with these days.

In light of that, I’d just like sign off saying that I stand with Ukraine. I do hope & wish, like everyone, a positive conclusion to the unprovoked Russian aggression they’re currently faced with.

Wishing everyone happier days ahead. – Thanks, Karen


Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Triple_deities

Jung on Numbers

https://www.cngcoins.com/

https://nigelborrington.com/2015/05/28/the-number-three-in-pagan-mythology-triple-deity-sculpture/