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Dedicating magic: Neo-Assyrian apotropaic figurines and the protection of Assur
Carolyn Nakamura

As counterpoint to conventional studies that evaluate ancient systems of magic against the logic of rational thought, this paper situates magical practice as a mode of knowing and producing anterior to such logic, engaged in the reproduction of society. The discussion converges on Neo-Assyrian apotropaic figurine deposits, which provided magical protection of a priest-house at Assur. It is argued here that apotropaic magic engages in a mode of secrecy that underwrites protective power in the social field. These material assemblages, as mimetic expressions of myth and dedication, configure protection in a play on the public secret, the pathos of the real as really made up. Protective power, therefore, emerges in this process that compels the perception and experience of a transformed and protected reality.

Mesopotamia; Assur; magic; apotropaic figurines; mimesis; dedication; material practice; production of space.

Technologies of (re)production Magic is a mode of relating to things in the world; and this mode, which engages materiality to negotiate the human experience of transcendent powers and supernatural beings, delineates a process of bringing forth that which is invisible, imagined and powerful into the hard-core realm of human perception and understanding. Heidegger’s analysis of the Greek concept of techne finds particular relevance here; techne serves ‘to make something appear, within what is present, as this or that, in this way or that way’, it denotes a ‘producing in terms of letting appear’ (Heidegger 1977a: 361, emphasis added). But techne also expresses a mode of knowing, the essence of which consists in the revealing of beings: ‘to know means to have seen, in the widest sense of seeing, which means to apprehend what is present, as such’ (Heidegger 1977b: 184). Viewed as a technique or technology,
World Archaeology Vol. 36(1): 11–25 The Object of Dedication © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 online DOI: 10.1080/0043824042000192687

dedication forges and transforms networks of social relations. The magical object (or substance) presents an imagined reality that is apprehended and experienced as real. . Magic. 934–610 BC).fm Page 12 Thursday. effectively reproducing society. What I find compelling here is the idea that the production of society hinges on a maneuver of metaphysical proportions – the simultaneous duplication and obliteration of human selves at their origins – and how this ‘secret’ converges with material practice to form a socially powerful reproductive technology. also see Taussig 1999: 144). This practice engages magic and dedication to create or bring forth protection. And this ‘knowing what not to know’ provides a social skill essential to being a person. the public secret enshrouds the myth of human origins: the fact that humans create the gods or beings who ‘create’ human life and society. is a process (Canetti 1984: 290. Here. Viewed in these terms. more than just a thing. The current discussion explores certain modalities of techne in a ritual of Mesopotamian apotropaic magic: the strategic burial of protective figurine deposits under house and temple floors during the Neo-Assyrian period of ancient Iraq (c. with this capacity to transform reality. imagination and physical reality. and is no less essential to society itself (ibid. and which necessarily and continuously entails negative consequences for part of society.: 195). configure magical protection.RWAR 360102. (Godelier 1999: 173) This ‘something’ that Godelier alludes to as a primary condition for the production and reproduction of society. its power resides in this inherent instability of social life. a way of knowing contingent upon a secret that configures the production of humans and their society. I would suggest that the deposition of these assemblages as dedicatory caches mimics the creation of world order and traces out paths of magical agency such that social reality becomes transformed. unleashed in the ‘letting appear’. like magic. I consider the apotropaic process in terms of how conceptions of dedication and mimesis. In greater Mesopotamia. a process which permeates and configures various reproductive technologies. is what Taussig names as the ‘public secret’: that which is generally known but cannot be articulated (1999: 5). cannot appear as such in the representations individuals and groups produce of their society. the material practice of magic constitutes nothing less than a reproductive technology. a social being. The secrecy of objects Something which is involved in the very nature of social relations. something which lies at the heart of these relations. magic orbits around something anterior to reason. The secret. the bringing forth of the invisible into the material realm. 2004 1:58 PM 12 Carolyn Nakamura magic belongs to both a knowing and a producing that foregrounds materiality. which trace back to the mythic origin of humans. As such. And it is the material production of socially powerful space and object-beings that achieves this goal. January 29. magic takes advantage of the recursive exchange between concept and experience. Dedicatory practice joins and often converges with magic under this concept of techne. which is part of the groundwork of society. serves as an ‘affective technology’ (Meskell in press) and engages in the reproduction of society. mediating between worlds and beings.

appearance and essence. . but magnifies the power of the original. ‘It is in this surrender to the thing made. 934–610 BC) devoted a significant amount of thought and endeavor to their relationships with the ‘first beings’: the divine owners of the . accomplishes the creation of a powerful. second. The inviolability of this surrender to imagined. humans truly believe in and experience this divine presence and being. This is Taussig’s ‘miming the real into being’ (1993: 105–6). they give back to humans their rules and customs as idealized and sacred realities. January 29. In Mesopotamia. there is mimesis: the age-old and rather profound faculty that stands somewhere at the beginning of language. that we find the pathos of the real as really made up’ (ibid. . Anterior to the division of mind and body. the Neo-Assyrians (c. as it were. this mimetic faculty merges with the public secret to reproduce and create social life. no less than produces. invisible divine beings configures sacred power. Such objects locate and present the synthesis of that which can and cannot be expressed or represented to society (after Godelier 1999: 137). to the creation taking over the creators.RWAR 360102. humans constantly reproduce and reform these ideals through social and material practice. and ideal and real (Taussig 1999: 192). The apotropaic In Mesopotamia. In turn. namely. This social reality locates power in an ur-presence created by the miming of humans into original being (the divine). And this original mimesis of the self is notable on two accounts: first. It is this convergence of myth. the copy not only assumes the power of the original. the presence of a powerful spiritual being that is experienced and perceived as real. By and large. therefore. since the gods give back. power and materiality in public secrecy that I take as a departure point for understanding an ancient Mesopotamian reality in which clay figurines became magically powerful and powerfully real. this self-miming is tantamount to self-obliteration at its origins. is necessary in order to produce and reproduce society’ (Godelier 1999: 137). 2004 1:58 PM Dedicating magic 13 This imagined reality underscores a culturally mediated worldview – a secret or truth within – that inhabits and is sustained by social practice. this repressing beyond consciousness of the active role of man in the origins of society .fm Page 13 Thursday. Materiality is key in this dialectic: certain devoted objects confront a kind of ‘hard-core’ understanding of the world with the process of public secrecy. This fact gets at the most provocative aspect of the public secret: that the original creation of absence – the absence of physical being (both human and divine) – ensures. Original mimesis.). This reality of undeniable presence through absence configures the public secret as social power. the original substitution of gods for humans – that simultaneous duplication and effacement of human selves at their origin – constitutes the secret whose possibility assures the possibility of society ‘because this obliterating of real humans and replacing them with imaginary beings. the beginning of memory and the mediation of experience in-the-world. the true nature of the relationship between humans and their imaginary doubles. amounting to a participation between matter and spirit. and this power emerges through a cunning reversal: the secret as made by persons in turn becomes the secret making persons (Taussig 1999: 121). writ large at the origins of human society. divine super-presence through self-obliteration.

moreover. in pairs or groups of seven. 1): brick boxes often containing clay figurines portraying mythical beings – gods. religion. 1995. the scholarship conspicuously omits any account of these data in terms of social Page 14 Thursday. animals and various hybrid types – found singly. Van Buren 1931). fall short of doing justice to the sophistication of this ancient practice. 1993–7. Particularly. 2004 1:58 PM 14 Carolyn Nakamura universe who gave them life and civilization. therefore. Preusser 1954) and consider how apotropaic deposits might be seen in terms of a reproductive technology. Wiggermann 1992). Not surprisingly. These assemblages. negotiating human–divine relations towards the localization and production of protected space. invisible beings figured profoundly in how humans made sense of their world.RWAR 360102. this primordial debt to imaginary. state administration and kingly power. although rigorous and thorough. Kish. Nineveh. conformed closely to a practice recorded in various ritual texts (Gurney 1935. along walls. Previous studies of these materials provide detailed figurine catalogs (Klengel-Brandt 1968. AQ7 Figure 1 Positions of brick capsules 1–16 in the Haus des Beschwörungspriesters (after Miglus and Heidemann 1996: Plan 132c). in corners. ritual texts and a substantial corpus of research on Mesopotamian cultural history can add considerable depth and detail to the interpretation of this practice. drawing from multiple classes of data. needs to theorize and contextualize various gestures of apotropaic practice. I revisit a case study from Assur (Andrae 1938. . Smith 1926. Modern scholarship. 1986. thresholds and the middle of rooms. Green 1983. Ur and Babylon. magic. With this goal in mind. Wiggermann 1993–7) and mythological and textual analyses (Wiggermann 1992). The early excavations of ancient Mesopotamian cities unearthed provocative Neo-Assyrian deposits buried beneath room floors (Fig. Nimrud. Rittig 1977. found at Assur. Klengel-Brandt 1968. ancient humans placed these boxes under particular areas: flanking doorways. Notably. These apotropaic assemblages are evocative precisely because they present a material imprint of human practice in space and time. and entailed a protracted series of elaborate ceremonies and acts performed by a trained practitioner. A relationship prefigured by the obligation of service and devotion to the gods probably provided an organizing principle for myth. Archaeologically. we can interrogate this phenomenon through material practice. iconographic analyses (Ellis 1967. These texts suggest that the ritual served to purify and protect individuals and buildings from disease and evil forces. Such studies. January 29.

Humans are born servants. The gods smelled the sweet savor. Episodes from the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh epics depict how humans are able to negotiate protection of their precarious existence (as both useful servants and annoying over-breeders) through unanticipated gifts of devotion. peoples. In these stories. Humans redeem their existence by fulfilling their original purpose: to . which places humans in eternal obligation to labor and provide for the gods. humans as servants (what they are) who have nothing (such as they are) demand to be taken under the care of the gods. This fact prefigures the cunning human ability to make demands through the dedicatory gift. ‘by taking what they are and by taking them such as they are’ (ibid. cedar and myrtle. certain ideas of human origins and their place in the world endured throughout the region. presents an offering to the mass of remorseful. I offered incense in front of the mountain ziggurat. January 29. they can only demand (Derrida 1992: 142). Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place. These materials of human creation are relevant to the mimesis of protective beings and will be discussed later on. 2004 1:58 PM Dedicating magic 15 Of human origins: the gift that takes The conception of world origins was debated over nearly four millennia in various mythologies of diverse Mesopotamian cultures. In most cases. The Mesopotamian gods are the true owners of all things and possessions in the world. the giving that takes. humans simply return what rightfully belongs to the gods. (Kovacs 1992: 102. from this position. And collected like flies over a (sheep) Page 15 Thursday. the great god Ea/Enki conceives humankind as a substitute to free the gods from having to labor the earth for their sustenance.RWAR 360102. lines 155–61) This suppliant. in performing this service. and polities.: 144). One of the most prevalent ideas maintained throughout the mythic tradition is the divine creation of humans as servants of the gods. produce and thrive – but also give by taking them. this is the demand for protection. people narrowly survive scourges sent by the gods – first plague and then flood – with help from Ea and by presenting offerings to win back the gods’ favor. The divine gift of life establishes a primordial debt. But currently. and [into the fire] underneath [or: into their bowls] I poured reeds. In other words. act of offering proves to be a highly effective method of persuasion. but. Utanapishtim (also known as Atrahasis). The gods smelled the savor. The Atrahasis epic recounts the creation of humankind from a mixture of clay of the apsu and the blood of a slain rebel god (Tablet I. Other myths relate divine human creation using only this clay (Enki and Ninmah. Tablet VI. Humans have nothing to give but themselves. more than obligatory. 210–13). Although various mythologies constantly re-negotiated conceptions of world order and creation. including those procured from the earth. the father of the only surviving human family. 33). And what they demand is that the gods give what they have to humans – give them the resources to live. I am concerned with how this mythological theme delineates the creation of humankind in terms of eternal human servitude to the gods. heartbroken and hungry gods: Then I set out everything in all directions and sacrificed [a sheep]. 24–6) or blood (Enuma elish. After the flood.

the clay pit of Ea. assembled. 2004 1:58 PM 16 Carolyn Nakamura provide gifts. Dedicatory gestures. dedication takes a creative role in this context. with these acts. from the consecration of the clay. Dedication creates in the sense that it reproduces necessary conditions of social life: the life and essence of the divine. The ritual text. those substitute beings who replace humans at their origins. hey. your pieces of silver are given to you. translated in Walker and Dick 1999: 117) In the context of Neo-Assyrian apotropaic magic. and set up – still not a god. presto! He is a god – by a man’s will and the act of dedication. they manifest this wish. dedication and devotion to the gods. transmuted into the common good. Herein lies the public secret in the form of the gift that takes back. (Minucius Felix. lord of the deep. consecrated. you have made the king for kingship. the clay pit of the great gods. In short. see him bedizened. no opposition. Sep lemutti ina bit ameli parasu. This process. these are protective deities and spirits that come to inhabit the world as a presence that is apprehended as real. God-given protection ensures the reproduction of society. More precisely. ‘the defense that goes on the offensive’ (Derrida 1992: 142). since the gods. which animate this magical practice. you have made the prince for future days. worshiped. produces and configures the nature of protection. humans find they can demand protection of their existence from the gods. but in a sacred form. which can only be the object of unanimous consent’ (Godelier 1999: 174). see him soldered. being. clay pit. ‘give [humans] back their own laws and customs. into a sacred principle which brooks no argument. Dedicated mimesis Say you the stone or wood. and it preserves (protects) in that it makes this creation actual.RWAR 360102. becomes a precondition of social being (following Derrida 1992: 144). The process of reversal in the dedicatory gift recalls the uncanny exchange in the secret of origins: ‘the creation taking over the creators’. Techne inhabits dedication as the two-sided coin of creation/protection. January 29. therefore. Also essential to this transformation is the mimesis of divine creation. but specific requests. The role of dedication in the public secret. molded sculptured – not yet is he a god. you are the clay pit of Anu and Enlil. you have made the lord for lordship. in which the categories of having. you have received them. dedication to the gods and declaration of being: Incantation: Clay pit. and what it takes back is power. giving and taking merge. or silver is not yet a god? When then does he come to the birth? See him cast. are not merely the obligatory acts of servants. ‘to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house’ demonstrates the dedicatory mode that inhabits the entire creation of the protective figurine. Neo-Assyrian magical figurines perform the fulfillment of the wish for protection. they constitute the apotropaic. dedication engenders a protected reality by creating the presence of powerful beings in the material world. .fm Page 16 Thursday. idealized. And. it grounds the process that transforms matter into being.

repelling the evil ones. but this revelation becomes concealed immediately in the dedicatory gesture amounting to the very creation of being in thing. as object-beings with the life of protective spirits and as a collective demonstration of a protected reality. human creation assumes the power of original creation amounting to a demonstration that transforms reality (after Taussig 1993: 106). . Speculating further. Provocatively here. brings insides out. I pinch off the clay NN son of NN. an act which produces ‘violated’ representations such that they are no longer merely symbols. (Wiggermann 1992: 13..RWAR 360102. In this dedicated mimesis. These instructions call for the re-enactment of creation itself – from the utterance of words to the pinching off of clay – all dedicated to Samas.. may it be profitable. may be associated with divinity and protection (see Mallowan 1954: 87). . 2004 1:58 PM Dedicating magic 17 your gift you have received. revealing a powerful presence through the labor of the negative. Apotropaic figurines present a palpable presence-in-the-world. exposed. . The clay becomes the clay of the deep – the original matter from which the world was created – fashioned into a powerful being with divine or supernatural powers and qualities. But. And the ‘thingness’ of being is essential here. often obscuring their distinctive features. January 29. it seems possible that this plaster represents melam.. performed. the luminous. visible mark of the supernatural. . lines 151–61) These instructions recall the gift that takes: ‘your pieces of silver are given to you . with Page 17 Thursday. The power of the spirit spills forth into a controllable presence through this very negation of the secret. I [pinch off] their clay before you <in> the clay pit. and so. such that this communication locates and structures a perceptible reality. The thick lime plaster which coats many of the figurines. [As soon as] you have recited this. this in turn sets up the request/demand for power: ‘may it be profitable. Humans mediate their relationships between worlds and beings materially. you shall speak before Samas as follows: [statues] of Ea and Marduk. I would suggest that this intentional creation of a humble copy constitutes a cunning dissimulation akin to what Taussig calls defacement. but come to life (1999: 30). the secret (the human creation of the divine) becomes articulated. in the morning before Samas. like a built-in form of defacement. the sun god (see Black and Green 1992: 54). as if to propel the figure beyond the mere status of ‘powerful object’ and merge into powerful being. your gift you have received’. may what I do prosper. The ‘poor’ counterfeit. This consecration of ritual materials reduplicates the human obligation of giving back that which already belongs to the gods. By bringing the imaginary into the realm of direct perception. the spirit of supernatural being comes to inhabit a physical reality that presents a blatant sham for a double: miniature clay figurines dipped in thick lime plaster. apotropaic assemblages mime a protected reality into being. [to] be placed in the house of NN son of NN [to] expel the foot of evil. may what I do prosper’. the copy need not be a ‘good’ or accurate copy (Taussig 1993: 13).

Such liminal areas designate areas that are ‘in-between’ or in transition at margins. The door is both an entrance and exit. The burial of apotropaic figurines may also reinforce a related conception of space. multiple meanings in ritual contexts. dead gods. it keeps in. and demons. Numerous sources locate the underworld underground. This idea follows from a traditional Mesopotamian conception of a vertical and bipolar universe where the earth. Many of the evil forces targeted in apotropaic practices – spirits. Similarly. invites and tempts (Bachelard 1994: 222). Producing protection The apotropaic assemblages from Assur offer roughly 117 clay figurines. Most of the mythological creatures and gods depicted in apotropaic figures dwell in the apsu. these areas could be regarded as powerful since they locate potential. The placement of apotropaic figurines underground is also interesting from the perspective of liminal space. At the household scale. populated by various beings. part door and designate spaces of hiding. And this continuity locates potential. doorways. Bottero 1992: 273–5). Notably. walls. ghosts. Certain ritual practices reinforce this notion of an underworld located underground. windows. but also lets pass. permeable to both benevolent and malevolent beings from the underworld. the most obvious being the burial of the dead in the ground. Evidence of dedicatory caches and foundation offerings throughout various Mesopotamian cultural periods (Ellis 1968. The placement of these powerful copies underground may act to channel or enervate their power. other liminal boundaries include corners. dedicatory practices often involve burial underground.RWAR 360102. This permeability recalls Lefebvre’s notion of visible boundaries which ‘give rise to an appearance of separation between spaces where in fact what exists is an ambiguous continuity’ (1991: 87). spirits of dead humans. protection and immobility (ibid. By the Neo-Assyrian period. the underground fresh water ocean. slain heroes and monsters. as they are brought forth to being in their ‘proper’ realm. doors and windows. for detailed AQ1 . As such. corners are part walls. Indeed. beneath the surface of the earth (Black and Green 1992: 180. January 29. presents potential for threat and danger. inhabited by living humans. 2004 1:58 PM 18 Carolyn Nakamura Images of the underworld The demonstration of protection involves further mimetic acts at the level of producing protected space. thresholds. lines 245–9). secures. gods and demons – find their proper dwelling place in the underworld. but also for aid and protection. separated the Heavens from the Netherworld (Bottero 1992: 273). The surface of the earth acts as a boundary that delineates the border between the underworld and the ‘living’ world of humankind. the surface of the earth. roofs and attics as areas in need of protection and purification (Wiggermann 1992: 17. perhaps. both benevolent and malevolent: Page 18 Thursday.: 136). protects. one ritual text specifically designates corners. thirty-four deposits and eight general figure types. But such unsettled or summoned beings are able to leave this realm through cracks and holes in the earth and cause harm to humans. thereby effecting their passage to their proper residence in the nether world. Mesopotamians conceived of an underworld. two of which have subtypes (Table 1. Van Buren 1931) suggests that the gesture of burial has certain and.

thirteen figurines). capsules 1 and 4–8 contain pairs of Type Ia and VIIa. but textual evidence as well. Eleven of sixteen excavated figurine deposits occur in room 3. textual and mythological data. Wiggermann 1992). 2004 1:58 PM Dedicating magic 19 catalog. Plate 4. which Preusser suggests might have been robbed (1954: 58). fifteen figurines) and the fish-apkallu (Type II. KAR 298 (Gurney 1935. the best-known example at Assur. Smith 1926. Capsules 10 and 11 contain Type II in groups of seven and AQ2 AQ3 Plate 1 Brick capsules in room 3 of the Haus des Beschwörungspriesters (after Preusser 1954: table 28a). will help illuminate certain Neo-Assyrian conceptions of protection. January 29. the bird-apkallu with cone and bucket (Type Ia. Plate 3. in front of the NW door threshold. in the middle of the room and in all corners except for the west corner. Preusser 1954). Within this room. see Klengel-Brandt 1968). The Haus des Beschwörungspriesters (Andrae 1938. The figures stand in brick boxes made from three or four bricks placed upright about 35cm under floor level (Plate 5). Three different figurine types in sixteen known deposits are located in the priest house: the six-curled lahmu with spade (Type Page 19 Thursday. these deposits occur flanking the north-east doorway. 1). Plate 2. twenty-one figurines). provides an ideal case for theorizing the deposition patterns of Neo-Assyrian apotropaic figurine assemblages. and have notable deposition patterns (Fig. use and placement of apotropaic figurines.RWAR 360102. This Neo-Assyrian house belonged to a priest family and probably accommodated a temple school during Sargonid times (Weidner 1937–9). The context is particularly remarkable given that it not only provides material evidence of the apotropaic ritual. Klengel-Brandt 1968. originates from this house along with many other literary and magical texts. drawing upon material. . A contextual analysis of this practice. the inventory of figures which describes the production.

which would conform to the KAR 298 placement of the seven fish-apkallu guarding the entrance to the ritual chamber or bedroom (15–16).fm Page 20 Thursday. Plate 3 Six-curled lahmu. the apkallu figurines act as ‘purifiers and exorcists whose presence continuously protects the inhabitants against evil influences’ (1992: 96). Wiggermann’s reading of ritual texts suggests that. these two deposits occur in themiddle of room 3. 2). the practice at Assur does not conform to this appealing analysis. AQ4 Plate 2 Bird-apkallu. VA 4895.RWAR 360102. . room.7 cm )after Preusser 1954. textual prescription. would be stationed in the outer entrance and at strategic points within the house (ibid. within this apotropaic ritual. Furthermore.6 cm (after Preusser 1954: table 29c). 2004 1:58 PM 20 Carolyn Nakamura fourteen. the locations and types of deposits do not follow Ht 11. 10 and 11 do not cluster in the direct center of the room but within the path between the north-east and south-east doorways. VA 4890. Ht 11. Alternatively. As such. room 3 appears to be a well-enclosed interior Plate 4 Fish-apkallu. Interestingly. January 29. based on Preusser’s assumption that the door into courtyard 7 provides the entrance to the house (1954: 58). VA 5484. more internal rooms of the house. he predicts that the apkallu figurines would be placed in the private. respectively. capsules 6.: 97).9 cm (after Preusser 1954: table 29c). oriented perpendicular to each other. However. whose task is to defend against demonic intruders. Although. capsule 10 could be viewed as positioned in front of south-east doorway. The fish-apkallu deposits do occur table 29a). figurines of gods and monsters (Fig. Ht 12.

one that could compensate for the uncertainty. The histories and identities of apotropaic figures animate this practice with various mythical and supernatural associations and therefore might contribute a certain dimension to the meaning of protection in this context. if not contentious (Ellis 1995. rather. 14). This divergence supports Richard Ellis’s suggestion that the relation between apotropaic theory and practice at this time engendered a creative intellectual endeavor. and the identification of lahmu as an apkallu figure is insecure. As such. mythological antediluvian beings who first brought the arts of civilization to humankind (Black and Green 1992: 163–4. The text Sep lemutti ina bit ameli parassu locates the apkallu and lahmu as creatures of the apsu: ‘the statues repelling the evil ones. become known as Tiamat’s creatures. Like humans. the lahmu/bird-apkallu pairing never occurs in the texts. line 159).RWAR 360102. Wiggermann 1992: 147–52). In the Neo-Assyrian period. vagueness and disagreement that characterized the process (1995: 164–5). the servants and defeated enemies of Marduk (Wiggermann 1992: 147–52. 1993–7: 229). monsters are servants. death. Unlike humans. peace and destruction that intervene in human affairs. who previously engendered various forces of Page 21 Thursday. these often-divergent profiles come under the rule of Marduk (Green 1993–7: 248). of Ea and Marduk’ (Wiggermann 1992: 87. 2004 1:58 PM Dedicating magic 21 Plate 5 Brick capsule 11 with fish-apkallu figurines (after Preusser 1954: table 28b). Moreover. Monsters. monsters are not born servants. Various apkallu figures come to represent the Babylonian Seven Sages. but the lahmu/bird-apkallu deposits occur in interior rooms 2 and 3 (capsules 1–11). Wiggermann 1992: 75–6). near the house entrance (capsule 12) and in other areas (capsules 13. these supernatural beings provide complexly appropriate figures of protection. they are born rebel warriors who become . exclusively in room 3 of the house. January 29.

Lahmu – the monster embodiment of the preservation of life (ibid: 152) – becomes specifically associated with Marduk when carrying a marru (spade). not only in the flip-flop of offense and defense. Russell 1991: 184. There is undoubtedly something of the public secret at work here.RWAR 360102. the apotropaic figures found in the priest house embody those beings with powers suitable for protection. As defeated enemies. and also may represent an apkallu sage (Ellis 1995: 165. as apotropaic figures. Suitably then. it names both a cosmogonic deity and one of Tiamat’s creatures (Wiggermann 1992: 155–6). From this vantage. 27). Drawing after Richards in Black and Green (1992). 2. January 29. The bird and fish-apkallu carry various instruments that purify. 1. Their essential being as rebels completely overthrown. the pairing of purification (bird-apkallu) with the protection of Marduk (lahmu) might find particular salience in terms of legitimizing the priestly power under the authority of Marduk. respectively. they serve protection: the embodiment of appropriated aggressive being and force controlled and redirected into defensive power. at the very least. therefore. monsters only Page 22 Thursday. respectively (Wiggermann 1992: 66–9). monsters are reduced to mere pawns and extensions of divine will and rule. The identification of the lahmu figure is controversial. this point of hybrid physiognomy articulates well with the notion of liminality discussed earlier. but in the dialectics of what is hidden and manifest in the hybrid physiognomies (Bachelard 1994: 111). effect release and remove sin: the mullilu (cleaner). banduddû (bucket) and libbi gisimmari (offshoot of the date palm). fn. this apotropaic team might provide a non-specific idiom of the apotropaic appropriate for general placement within the house. Although the issue cannot be further explored here. In the context of the priest school. the symbol of the god. and. . engender powers of purification and divine protection. disarmed and acquired by the gods. servants in their defeat. The apkallu and lahmu. monsters seem well suited for the apotropaic: ‘the defense that goes on the offensive’. 2004 1:58 PM 22 Carolyn Nakamura AQ8 Figure 2 Apotropaic figurine types found at Assur.

Mesopotamian magical practice emerges from the shadow of knowledge defined by modern reason and becomes salient as a socially reproductive technology. Consequently. January 29. Research for this project was funded by a generous grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. And. The installation of various beings underground to guard dangerous liminal areas such as corners. the magical capacity itself. Such interpretation treads even more delicate terrain when it involves the articulation of ancient practice with contemporary theory and philosophy (see Asher-Greve and Asher 1998: 35). Despite these difficulties. The dedicatory mode anchors protective power. From this vantage. becomes operative in ancient social practice. these assemblages also localize dedication in objects and space. the assemblage of Neo-Assyrian apotropaic figurines in room 3 suggests linked conceptions of protection and dedication. I am also grateful to Tom Aldrich. if we follow the redoubled movements between dedication. While we can never know exactly how Mesopotamians conceived of apotropaic power in their rituals. As such. Notably. doors. 2004 1:58 PM Dedicating magic 23 Considered collectively. permeating the mimetic praxis which creates the apotropaic: the miming of creation. one that does not easily fit a Western paradigm. From this perspective. Marduk’s protection of humankind and a particular conception of being and world order. protection and magic. The creation of powerful beings in apotropaic deposits engages the process of the public secret tantamount to the reproduction of certain social relations and realities: the priestly power of purification. Concluding remarks I have suggested that the efficacy of apotropaic magic emerges in the dedication of mimesis: a constellation of mimetic gestures which create power in the process of public secrecy. all mistakes and misrepresentations remain my own. the modern study of ancient life necessarily concerns the problematic task of transposing the views of one culture to another. it is clear that their magic constitutes and engages in a particular mode of knowledge. such a project remains a worthy pursuit since it attempts to situate ancient life in terms that engage a modern audience and have social resonance across a wider register. Columbia University . as a certain quality of ‘mimetic excess’ tantamount to transformation.RWAR 360102. apotropaic deposits engage the process of the public secret as dedicatory gifts that demand protection and localize this power in designated Page 23 Thursday. floors and thresholds delineates a protected space: a space of localized power and of a mythological locality. world order and protection. Acknowledgements I am grateful to Lynn Meskell for her support and encouragement of this project. we indeed find that ‘secrecy lies at the very core of power’ (Canetti 1984: 270). Needless to say. Robin Osborne and an anonymous reviewer whose thoughtful comments on earlier drafts helped clarify the ideas presented here. being.

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