Sunday, May 29, 2016

The womb as tomb

I'm in the process of reading The Overturned Boat right now. I wasn't aware of the following:

Birth incantations aid the woman in labour to break free the “boat” from the darkness of womb, to wash out the baby bound by the umbilical cord to the “quay of death” (Stol 2000: 69). The following recitation is intended for a woman having difficulty in giving birth:

The boat is detained at the quay of death; the magurru boat is held back at the quay of hardship. ... May it come out from hardship; [may it see] the sun (Scurlock 2014: 601, half brackets omitted).
The association between the drowning boat and dying woman was used in scientific texts, e.g. in the apodosis of an Old Babylonian liver omen: “the full(y loaded) boat will sink; or: the pregnant woman will die in her giving birth” (Stol 2000: 62). Therefore the unborn baby in the womb that was too voluminous to be delivered could be regarded as being fatally locked in the netherworld prison, failing to find its way out from the amniotic fluids. Nobody except the divine exorcist Asalluhi could see what was inside of these waters (Frymer-Kensky 1977: 603). In the following Old Babylonian incantation, the locks and doors are broken down to let the baby out:
In the waters of intercourse, the bone was created; in the flesh of muscles, the baby was created. In the ocean waters, fearsome, raging, in the far-off waters of the sea: where the little one is – his arms are bound, inside which the eye of the sun does not bring light. Asalluhi, the son of Enki, saw him. He loosed his tight-bound bonds, he made him a path, he opened him a way: “Opened are the paths for you, the ways are [alo]tted for you. The [divine mid]wife is sitting for you, she who creates [...], she who creates us all. She has spoken to the doorbolt: ‘You are released’. Removed are the locks, the doors are thrown aside. Let him knock at [the door], like a fish (dadum), bring yourself out!”
Those who are not released are detained in the ordeal prison, which prevents them to advance to the world of the living. In the Maqlû incantations the terms “ford, entrance” (nēberu) and “quay” (kāru) are used for such places of detention. The exorcist binds the witches and their sorceries to remain there (I 50-51):
Incantation: I have blocked the ford, I have blocked the quay, I have blocked their sorceries (coming) from all the lands!
The exorcist intends to prevent the entrance of the witches to the world of the living, leaving them eternally blocked on the “quay of death”. The opposite is the case in exorcistic birth incantations where the child is expected to become delivered from the “quay of hardship” to the world of the living (BAM 248 I 44-50):
“The boat is detained [at the quay] of narrowness (pušqi), the magurru-boat is held back [at the quay] of hardship. [Whom should I] send to merciful Marduk? May the boat be loosed [from the quay] of difficulty, may the magurru-boat be freed [from the quay] of hardship. [Come out to me] like a snake; slither out to me like a snake. May the woman having difficulty having birth bring (her pregnancy) to term so that the infant may fall to the earth and see the sunlight” (Scurlock 2014: 595, 601).
In comparison to Maqlû passage, the birth incantations intend to achieve just the opposite – to release the unborn bodies from the “quay”. The same Akkadian verb for “holding back” (kalû) is used in both contexts. This difference is related to the positive and negative outcomes in the reintegration stage that is crucial for the Self going through a religious experience. While child’s birth assures the positive integration of the Self from the point of view of a healthy mother and her baby, the witches and demons experience a failure in their binding process and remain stuck at the quay of death, unable to leave the netherworld.— The Overturned Boat, pages 52–53

<idle musing>
Fascinating, isn't it? This is a very interesting book, if you are into ANE religion, that is. Some of the stuff is highly speculative and reminds me somewhat of reading the early 20th century history of religions—which I love to read, but take with a pound of salt : )

Anyway, here's the details on the book:
The Overturned Boat

The Overturned Boat
Intertextuality of the Adapa Myth and Exorcist Literature
State Archives of Assyria Studies - SAAS 24
by Amar Annus
Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project - NATCP, 2016
Pp. xii + 148, English
Paper, 17.5 x 25 cm
ISBN: 9789521094910
Your Price: $59.00

Now it's off to clean a few cabins...
</idle musing>

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