Mesopotamia fantasmas

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Chapter 2

SYMPTOMS OF GHOSTLY AFFLICTION

Ancient Mesopotamian ghosts made themselves obnoxious in three distinct ways – by emitting ghostly screams,44 by haunting people in visible form,45 and by causing a series of physical problems.46 More specifically, two of our prescriptions instruct what to do “if a ghost cries out in a person’s house.”47 A further fifty-two deal with apparitions, andanother one hundred seventy-three are concerned with headaches, ringing/buzzing in the ears, rumbling stomachs, and the like. The remaining one hundred twenty-five are either fragmentary or simply note that they are directed against “hand” of ghost.

Types of Ghost Causing Problems Sometimes the labels or introductions attached to ghost prescriptions give details about the nature of the deadperson, distinguishing between ghosts of the patient’s relatives on the one hand48 and “pursuing”49 or “roving”50 or “strange”51 ghosts who have accosted him in the steppe lands on the other.52 They also occasionally refer to the precise way in which the ghost in question met his end. “(The ghost of one) who was killed with a weapon (and) abandoned in the steppe afflicts him.”53 “ ‘hand’ of a ghost whodied through murder”54 “Among his relatives, the ghost of (one who) died of thirst afflicts him.”55 “The ghost (of one) who died in water afflicts him.”56 “The ghost of someone burned to death afflicts him.”57 Particularly vicious ghosts are also distinguished: “hand” of a murderous ghost58 or “the ‘double’ of the dead person afflicts him.”59 A careful examination of such passages shows that thechoice of which ghost to blame for what symptoms was not necessarily arbitrary. “(If) he continually see[s] dead persons (in his dreams) . . . (the ghost of one) who was killed with a weapon (and) abandoned in the steppe afflicts him”60 makes a certain amount of sense – given the desperate need of abandoned ghosts for food and water,61 they could be presumed to be the sort to pester strangers for ahand-out. In a number of cases, the behavior of the victim was seen to mimic that of the ghost in a manner suggestive of possession. “If his breath is continually short like one who has just come up from the water
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Symptoms of Ghostly Affliction . . . the ‘hand’ of the ghost of one who [died] in the water [afflicts him].”62 “If he rubs his face, the ghost (of one) who died in water afflicts him.”63“If he continually strikes his face and screams, the ghost of someone burned to death afflicts him.”64 “(If) his breath has become short (and) constantly enters his throat as if he were thirsting for water, the ‘hand’ of a ghost roving in the (waterless) steppe afflicts him.”65 There is also an obvious connection between “roving” (murtappidu) or “roaming” ghosts and the mental derangement orneurological disorders for which they are sometimes blamed. “[If] his [mind] becomes deranged so that he cannot take (any) action, ‘hand’ of a ro[vi]ng ghost.”66 “If the scepter of Sˆn has been placed on him and he bends and stretches out his ı foot, he drones and saliva flows from his mouth, a ghost roving in the steppe afflicts him.”67 “If . . . his mentation is altered so that he wanders about(urappad) without knowing (where he is) as in affliction by a ghost.”68 In other cases, the connection between the symptoms and the ghost was apparently made by looking for homophones or near homophones. “If his limbs are as quiet as those of a healthy person (but) his mouth is ‘seized’ so that he cannot talk, ‘hand’ of a murderous ghost (var: ‘hand’ of the ghost of someone burned to death).”69 “If hislimbs are as quiet as those of a healthy person (but) he is silent (i-q´ -al) a and does not take any food, ‘hand’ of a murderous ghost (var: gh[o]st of someone burned to death).”70 Since, as we have seen, incinerated ghosts typically made their victims scream, the silence produced in these cases is something of an anomaly until it is remembered that qalˆ : “to burn” is a near homophone to qˆ lu:...
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