E-lecture on ‘Magic in Mesopotamia’ this Wednesday

Traditions of Magic in Near East and Caucasus Seminar Series
Institute of Oriental and Classical Studies (HSE University, Moscow)

Magic in Mesopotamia
Dr. JoAnn Scurlock

Wednesday, March 24
3:30 pm (GMT)
Register at <https://docs.google.com/document/d/101rp6ZxM-uoySu1tEuPHKgjG1CYdGXwpsldE78NhO58/edit>

Ancient Mesopotamia is a laboratory for understanding magic as
actually practiced since we have full instructions for the performance
of magical ritual, both the actions that were to be performed and the
words that were recited to accompany those actions.  From these we
learn that what differentiates magic from religion is that religion
involves creating a permanent relationship with powerful spirits that
is intended to be of benefit to an entire community whereas magical
rituals are intended to form short term contracts with the full range
of spirits, and are designed to bring benefit to a single person or
group of persons.

Magical rituals fall roughly into three categories.  At the top of the
scale and fully legitimate are those that heal the sick, give luck to
hunters and fishermen, protect against witchcraft, disease and death
in battle and resolve domestic quarrels.  At the bottom of the scale
and totally illegitimate are practices intended to harm others out of
spite or to achieve personal gain.  We know about these in some detail
from the measures taken to protect against them.  Last but by no means
least there is what I have termed conditional magic that is intended
to control other people’s behavior, to make them do something or to
stop doing something.  This sort of magic has legitimate uses but begs
to be turned to less than noble ends.  In the course of this lecture
we will be treated to examples of each of these categories.

JoAnn Scurlock is one of the few world experts in the fields of
medicine and magic of Ancient Mesopotamia. She received her BA and PhD
from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in Assyriology. She is
the author of “Diagnoses in Assyrian and Babylonian Medicine” (2005,
with co-author Burton Andersen), “Magico-Medical Means of Treating
Ghost-Induced Illnesses in Ancient Mesopotamia” (2006), and “A
Sourcebook for Ancient Mesopotamian Medicine” (2014). […]