The Purple Book
Purification is an essential part of religion and magic throughout the Near East. It is required for calling on the deities, participating in ritual, curing ill-health, or ending bad fortune. It survives today among Moslems in the ablutions performed before prayer in a mosque, where the fountain for washing is the counterpart of the ancient purificatory pools in the Pagan temples, and among Jews with hand-washing often ritually performed at the dinner table for sacred feasts.
A word of caution, when reading translations of ancient texts. Often modern authors use the word "evil," as an adjective when the original word implies "unfortunate" in the sense that this brings misfortune or refers to someone afflicted with misfortune, or as a noun when the word implies "misfortune."
The monotheisms of the world today are essentially dualistic, viewing things, events, etc. as either/or: Good or Evil, Light or Dark, Sacred or Profane. This apparently represents the influence of Manicheanism, a Persian religion of the late ancient period which described the world thus divided into two halves in conflict. In much of the Ancient Near East, however, things were not so neatly or simply defined.
What might be potentially dangerous could also be potentially helpful, spirits of the dead, for example. Or the Mesopotamian kashshapu (masc.)/ kashshaptu (fem.), who was not solely the cause of harmful magic, but might also be a source of useful magic as well. Many of the untamed spirits dwelling in the wilderness, possible causes of misfortune, could also be used to assist one in achieving one's ends. Furthermore, if Person X worked magic which affected Person Y in a way that Y did not like, it was bad, but if Person Y retaliated by performing magic to afflict Person X, the same sort of magic X had done, this was not bad, from the perspective of Y.
A second warning. Scholars also sometimes use the work "sin" to translate words which actually have a different connotation in the original language. Frequently, this is something which has caused one to become impure. If one discovers the cause and performs the appropriate ritual and cleansing, one is no longer impure. This is rather different than the implications of the Christian use of "sin." One may need to offer some sort of sacrifice, but one's soul is not mortally sullied, unless one does nothing to rectify the situation. One is not damned, temporarally or eternally, in any case, although one may die from pollution. Generally, one suffers in life for one's mistakes. All souls go ultimately to the same place after death in the Mesopotamian and Levantine world-views.
In Mesopotamian belief, one was also accompanied by a group of Good Guardian Spirits and personal souls.
It is important to keep these Guardian Spirits in harmony with you, and you with them. Of course, maintaining "cleanliness" is one important method. You also need to make offerings to these spirits, to assure that they are strong and content. You must never forget them nor forget to thank them for their continued beneficial presence, or they may become alienated, and the quality of your life will suffer as a consequence. You must never assume that because you "have" these spirits, that they will always be there to protect you. If you behave too badly too often, they may well abandon you. Their purpose is to oversee the harmony and well-being of your life, but if you are not also being responsible for your life, you may lose their protection.
Methods of Purification
Purification by Water
The foremost method of purification is by Water - which can necessitate bathing the whole body, washing parts of the body, pouring water over parts of the body, or sprinkling with blessed water. The use of water serves a dual purpose, as it both cleanses away evil and purifies the person being washed. A potent source for the Assyrian healer was water from a place where two streams run together, mimicking the place where the chief god resides at source of thedouble world oceans. Depending on the culture or the illness, herbs may be added to the water.
Purification by Blood
A second potent form of purification is the Blood Sacrifice. The most common sacrifice was usually a sheep or goat, and only sometimes bovine, such as a bull, ox, or cow. Fowl were rarely used, and only deemed commonly acceptable much later. Often the ritual participants and/or the place to be sanctified were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificed animal. Blood is multipurpose: it can cleanse, purify, and sanctify. The sacrificial animal could also be used as a substitute for an ailing patient: the magician would transfer the illness to the animal, then sacrifice it to the "demons," the cause of the disease, thus removing the source of the ailment.
It is rare today that we have access to animals. I am not here recommending animal sacrifice, which is a concept fraught with disturbing connotations and almost guaranteed to arouse powerful negative emotions among Euro-American Jews and Christians. However, in most cases in the past, the animal sacrificed was a domesticated animal, raised to be killed and eaten, the very beasts mentioned above which are still our primary sources of meat. Anyone who eats meat today is a cause of the sacrifice of animals. The biggest difference is that most of us are at such a remove from it that we do not have to think about the terrible suffering the animals endure before being slaughtered.
There are still religions today which utilized sacred animal sacrifice, usually sharing the butchered animal in a ritual feast. Devout Jews and Moslems require that their animals be ritually slaughtered after inspection by a trained specialist to ensure that the animal and both the methods of death and of butchering follow religious law. Torture of an animal is nowhere encouraged in any of the religions of which I am aware. In many cases the animal is fêted, specially fed, decorated, often massaged or carressed, before its spirit and blood are sent to the Divine Ones.
Purification by Fire
A third method was by Fire. The magician would pass through the smoke of incense or of sacred wood whatever or whoever needed to be purified. Alternately, the magician would burn an image of the source of illness as a sacrificial offering. This sacred and magical purification by fire could the source of the intentionally misinterpreted Moloch rite in the Old Testament.
Purification by Other Means
Other types of purification may also be required before undertaking certain types of magic or rituals. These include eating only ritually pure foods, fasting, sexual abstinence, carefully following rules of behavior, etc.
One thing to bear in mind, fasting usually does NOT mean doing without food and water. It can often mean eating and drinking only a very limited set of foods. Going on a purifying fast in ancient times oftem meant doing without rich or desirable foods and eating a restricted set of the most common foods, such as only one type of grain, no meat, a few limited vegetables, and drinking only water. One is generally not asked to starve for one's benefit, merely observe restrictions.
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©1997 Lilinah biti-Anat