Tuesday 3 January 2012


Today I thought that I would talk about ghosts in Middle Eastern religions.  In the religions of the Canaanites, Egyptians, Hebrews, Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, and Arabs, the shades of the dead journey to the underworld below the earth (or in 'the west' in Egypt).  But cults of ancestor worship exist within the religions, and the parallels between them can be clearly seen. 

Ghosts are created at the time of death, but it is important to mention that often the word 'ghost' is specifically used to mean an offended spirit which returns from the underworld or else is not allowed into it.  There are many reasons why a ghost may wander the earth or be denied access into the underworld.  One is that they may have been unburied or without a proper funeral, that their tomb may have been disturbed, that they may have been an evildoer in life, that they may have died before their time, or that they may not have received offerings by their descendants.

Ghosts have a spirit form, meaning that they may appear or else make an invisible attack.  They may be able to pass through walls and doors with ease.  Ghosts may be responsible for attacks in the living, and they may go about this by different means.  One is by a haunting or apparition, in which a ghost may or may not attempt to actually cause harm.  Another is by cursing.  And yet another is by inflicting sickness, a different kind to that which is inflicted by gods and demons. 

Whilst in the underworld, Shapash has dealing with the shades of the dead, and may punish those responsible for returning as ghosts to harass the living.  While she is in the skies, ghosts do not appear on the earth as they dwell in darkness.

A necromancer is one who has contact with ghosts and may communicate with them by speaking in a high-pitched tone.  But necromancers are often viewed as ritually impure, as contact with ghosts causes impurity.  In Hebrew the word 'ob' is used to mean the ghost and the necromancer who communicates with them.  It may originally be a word to describe a kind of pit, well or cave (considered to be the entrance to the underworld).  In Hittite religion and Babylonian, a pit is dug in the ground by a necromancer, and an offering such as a wild boar or dog, or a model ear to represent the desire to hear, is lowered into the pit.  The ghost then ascends and shares its knowledge with those gathered.  This may also appear in Hebrew religion, and in Canaanite religion there is a connection between ghosts and wells, caves, or tombs underground.  Ghosts may also enter through the floor of a house.  Breaking a hole in the earth or digging a pit is a way to communicate with them, though as mentioned, contact with ghosts makes one impure and some can be dangerous or angry.

To exorcise ghosts, the goddess Shapash may be called upon.  Resheph and Choron as gods of the netherworld are also good to invoke in an exorcism ritual to ward off ghosts.

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