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Assyro-Babylonian magic is closely tied to religion. Forces of nature, occurances, sickness, health, luck, were all tied into religious mythology. Earth and heaven, the realm of the gods, are closely intertwined. What happens in one has direct affect on the other. This parallels the "As above, so below" paradigm in western magic. Gods controlled the forces of nature, they communicated with humans in forms of sins, demons caused sickness, luck was explained by divine presence and it's absence meant that one was abandoned by divine forces due to his/her sins.

Religious Worldview

Religious practices of ancient Mesopotamian religions could be divided into three sections: those of royalty, those of the priests, and those of the common people. Prayers, fasts, mortifications, and taboos were mostly restricted to royal religious practice. The king could also receive divine messages. Priest's religious practice involved the care for the temple and divine images, reciting hymns, and carrying out sacrifices. (Oppenheim, p 181-182) A lot of times priests also performed exorcisms. Little is known about the religious life of a private individual. It was considered that the average citizen did not have the same religious right, so to speak, as royalty or priests to communicate with the gods directly:

It was not considered appropriate for a private person to approach the diety through dreams and visions. ( Oppenheim, p 182)

Fate and Destiny

In ancient Assyrian and Babylonian culture great emphasis was placed upon fate. People strived to know it and, to some extent, control it. The world for fate was simtu, which also meant destiny. But this word implied more than that. It also meant something like "purpose". Gods gave everything a simtu, from individual humans to animals, plants, and even inanimate things such as rocks. (Oppenheim p 204)

Individual's luck was also explained using religious context. It was determined by spiritual beings preasent at the person's side: ilu (god), istaru (goddess), lamassu (equivalent of angel. feminine), sedu (angel, masculine). (Oppenheim, p 199) Also, by two demons that follow each person: mukil res daniqti or rabis damiqti ("he who offers good things") and mukil res lamutti or rabis lemutti ("he who offers misfortume"). (Oppenheim, p 204)


Divination was extremely important in the Mesopotamian society. Shamash and Adad were considered the gods of divination. (Contenau, p 281) Methods of divination varied from interpreting the placement of internal organs of a sacrificial animal, to astrology. A. Oppenheim divides Assyro-Babylonian divination into two categories:

Two-way communication [with the deity] requires a special technique; in fact, two techniques are kown in Mesopotamia: operational and magical. In both instances the answer comes forth in two possible manners: one is binary, that is, a yes-or-no answer; the other is based on a code accepted by both the deity and the diviner. (Opperhein, p 207-208)

In operational divination, "the diviner offers the deity the opportunity to directly affecting an object activated by diviner." Some examples of that include: casting lots, pouring oil into water, producing smoke from a censer. In magical divination, deity produces changes in natural phenomena such as behavior of birds and animals, their internal organs, changes in positions of celestial bodies, etc. (Opperhein, p 208-209)

Extispicy & Hepatoscopy

In operational divination, "the diviner offers the deity the opportunity to directly affecting an object activated by diviner." Some examples of that include: casting lots, pouring oil into water, producing smoke from a censer. In magical divination, deity produces changes in natural phenomena such as behavior of birds and animals, their internal organs, changes in positions of celestial bodies, etc. (Opperhein, p 208-209)

Extispicy, that is interpreting abnormalities in location and looks of animal's internal organs was a very popular method of divination. The organ of special importance was the liver, which was considered the seat of the soul of the animal ( Wikipedia). There have been found clay replicas of various level of detail of animal livers that were evidently used as examples in the training of baru (diviner) initiates. Divination using the liver even has its own name: hepatoscopy.

Behavior of live animals, birds in particular, was observed for divination as well. Archaeologists have discovered a collection of tablets, Summa alu that are a collection of omens derived from animal behavior. (Opperhein, p 213)

Another popular form of divination was using malformed infants born to either humans or animals. Summa izbu are a collection of omens pertaining to human and animal birth abnormalities. (Opperhein, p 218)

It seems that in Mesopotamian society, almost everything could be considered an omen. What we would call a random occurance in our society, a person of the Mesopotamian world view may consider an omen from the gods. Dreams were important divination tools as well.


Modern astrology had its beginnings in ancient Babylonia.(Wikipedia, "History of Astrology"). Not only were celestial events considered to be omens from the gods, some gods themselves were identified with celestial bodies. Marduk was identified with Jupiter, Ishtar with Venus, Shamash wit the sun, Sin with the moon, etc. (Wikipedia, "History of Astrology") However, the old Babylonian astrology was rather different from astrology we know today. Georges Contenau writes:

Babylonian astrology was fundamentally based on meteorology, being founded upon observations of the winds, the color of the stars, the occultation of the planets and eclipses… (Contenau, p 289)

So phenomena such as clouds, halo around the moon, storms, eclipses were considered parts of the science of astrology. ( Astrology Omens)

The moon was of the foremost importance in Babylonian astrology. It’s phases and the time of its appearance in the sky was the subject of much attention. (Astrology Omens) Appearance of the moon earlier then was expected, for example, was considered a bad omen. (Wikipedia, History of Astrology) Astrological predictions were short term and were not taken as predictions of what is destined to happen, but signes and warnings/omens from the gods as to what could result if things went on as usual (in case of bad omens, if the king did not take special action to correct the situation). (Astrology Omens)



Assyrian and Babylonian magic, not only had its roots in religion, but was a major part of religion itself. Magic was concerned with aversion of bad things predicted from omens and exorcism of demons (the term for exorcist was âshipu). The primary gods of magic were Marduk and Ea. (Contenau, p 291) The magic that âshipu priests practiced was what is commonly known today as "white" magic. People who practiced evil magic were called sorcerers. Besides exorcising demons, another of âshipu’s duties included removal of curses placed on the victim by sorcerers.

True Name

The most prominent element in Assyro-Babylonian magic is the true name of a person or demon being exorcised. In fact, name was almost equivalent with the object/individual itself. If something was not named, it did not exist. Names were thought to posses great power and for shiptu (incantation) (Wikipedia, Assyro-Babylonian religion") to be effective, it had to contain the true name of its subject. Voice can harvest the power and knowledge contained within a name. Writing the name down "projects it indefinitely" (Contenau, p 161)

The shiptu and names contained in them had to be pronounced in a special tone of voice. The word used to describe one speaking in this manner, luhhushu is even different from the regular verb "say", and had a meaning similar to "utter", "murmur", or "chant". (Contenau, p 162-163)

In the name of the gods of heaven and earth the priest called on his adversary by name (this very exposure robbed him [the adversary] of his power). (Contenau, p 291)

This concept of the name being tightly related to the object to which it belongs also has its origins in religion. Before the creation of the world there was primeval chaos, which is attributed to the fact that nothing had a name. The gods were said to undergo the following process when creating a being or thing:

The creating god mentally defines the nature-to-be of his creation: when it has taken final shape in his imagination and he has given it a name, he draws its shape, whereby it acquires almost complete life. (Contenau, p 197)


It is in Mesopotamia that the practice known as isopsephia, otherwise known as gematria, was first used:

The Mesopotamians next conceived the idea of ascribing a numerical value to each sign in their syllabary so that every name was capable of numerical expression… (Contenau, p 166)

There are even records of people signing the name in form of numbers, not letters. (Contenau, p 166) Gods were considered to be in a numerical hierarchy of sorts as well. Anu’s number was 60, which was considered the perfect number. Sin’s (the moon god) number was 30 (number of days in a lunar month), Ishtar’s was 15. (Contenau, p 258)

The mathematical system was based on "sexagesimal" principle. Whence now we use decimal system: multiples of 10, in sexagesimal system is in alternating multiples of 6 and 10.

Perhaps the most important result was that the Babylonian ‘sexagesimal’ system became widespread, and as applied to the recording of time, this gave birth to the twelve-hour day. Although this was later replaced by the Egyptian twenty- four hour day, 20th century time is still based on the division of the hour into 60 minutes and the minute into 60 senconds. (Astrology at

Sympathetic Magic

Other then the invocation of the gods and the use of correct names to harvest the power of and control the entities involved in the magic ritual, a lot of Mesopotamian magic was sympathetic. Sometimes the image of a demon thought to be possessing the sick person was burned or tortured, other examples include watering plants to induce rain, etc.


See Also

Assyro-Babylonain research thread on the magick forum. Related to History of magick research project.