udug

Udug-hul Rituals

Udug-gul (”Evil Demons”) is a serialized composition of apotropaic rituals against demons and the sorcerers who manipulate them. Preserved on sixteen tablets, the collection contains rituals that span from the Old Akkadian (2300-2200) to the Seleucid periods (300-200). It is in the context of Udug-hul that the asipu most foreshadows the New Testament exorcist in his attribution of affliction to the demons, in his dependence upon divine powers to treat those afflictions, and in his own role as the mediator between that divine assistance and the human victim which includes a confrontation with the demonic antagonist.


As in Surpu, the incantations of Udug-hul help to restore the proper cosmic order. In this case, however, the order has been disrupted by one’s personal transgressions. Tablet 4 of Udug-hul concerns the identification of demons who have come up from the netherworld and their return by Enki to their proper place. Tablet 5 illustrates this in its description of the activity of seven demons called the “watchmen”:

The watchmen (demons) pursue anything

created in the Netherworld, the seed of An.

The watchmen constitute a sort of netherworld police force, but have left their proper domain and are misusing their authority in the upper world. In a case where the literary presentation may actually document the course of a disease, one by one the demons assault the patient in worsening stages:

the fifth lays him there on his bed.

As the sixth one approached the distraught man, he lifts his head from his belly

As the seventh one approaches the distraught man, (the patient) had already set his mind on

the Netherworld.

Udug-hul includes several passages which illustrate well the confrontation between the asipu and the demonic presences he seeks to drive out. These passages refer to the asipu’s making known his source of authority, and threats made against the demons not to harm him. From Tablet 6 of the collection we read:

I am the incantation priest, the sangamah of Enki.

The Lord (Enki) sent me to him (the victim), he sent to him me, the vizier of the Abzu.

You shall not shriek behind me,

nor shall you shout after me.

O evil man, may you not lift your hand (against me).

O evil demon, may you not lift your hand (against me).

Udug-hul also makes known the asipu’s uncompromising stance against the demons’ requests. From Tablet 8 the priest adjures the demon to depart:

Do [not say, “let me] stand [at the side].”

[Go out, [evil Udug-demon,] to [a distant place],

[go] away, [evil Ala-demon], to [the desert].

These passages show the asipu’s dependence upon and confidence in divine support for his craft, and an aggressive attitude toward the demons that one also finds in connection with the New Testament exorcists.

Source: Siebeck, 2.2.1.2

Image: Clay tablet; a Greek student’s exercise; on the front of this tablet is part of a cuneiform incantation against evil spirits written in both Sumerian and Babylonian; on the back the text has been repeated phonetically in Greek script. (Clay cuneiform tablet. Graeco-Babyloniaca; bilingual incantation, Udug-hul 9.) 3rdC BC-1stC BC.