Wind Demons of Sumeria

15 Oct

“I suffer an illness that is impossible to describe,” said Kingu in a low, muffled tone. “It is a malady that grows ever worse.”

“What is ailing you?” inquired the priest named Nebo, studying the dark brown eyes of the young man of Ur. “You must describe what the trouble you feel consists of.”

The Sumerian youth who had come to the Temple of Enlil for help decided that he had to open up to the cleric in charge of exorcism and healing spells.

“Every night I remain almost sleepless in my bed, and when I manage to fall into slumber, horrible dreams and visions present themselves before me. I soon awaken in sweat and pain from these horrid nightmares of mine.”

“Will you describe what it is that you see in your sleep?” said Nebo.

“Out of nowhere there comes a tall bird, bigger than me, walking on two legs and having the face of a hideous, frightening reptile. How can that be? The monster resembles a crocodile, but it has the form of a large avian. What I see must be from the underworld of the dead.”

“We must not guess or be too fast in our judgments,” warned the priest of Anlil. “I need to consult the records of the temple and find out what may appear in dreams as a reptile-faced bird.

“Return to me in five days, Kingu, and I shall tell you what I discover.”

Enlil, god of the ghost-lands, was highly honored at Nippur as the deity who had granted to his priests the spells and incantations that the lesser demonic spirits could be made to obey. Nebo searched in the temple archive for clay tablets that could throw light on the strange figure that Kingu had viewed in his sleep.

“I saw the same monstrous apparition again last night,” said the young Sumerian once he was seated on a low stool in the consultation cell. “It was all the more terrifying to me for being repeated. What does it signify, holy Nebo?”

The latter, much shorter than the one who sought enlightenment and remedy, stood in his white robe, gray eyes fixed upon the face of the seeker of relief.

“It is common knowledge that there are demonic phantoms of evil that derive from the departed spirits of dead human beings,” said the priest. “These go by the name of Ekimmus. They roam about at night, hunting for victims to attack. They are not visible to the eyes of man, but approach him as evil gusts of wind. There is no rest for them, wherever they happen to wander.

“The ekimmu can cause violent, unnatural death to its victims. It is the evil ghost of someone who has been denied entrance to the underworld of the dead and is doomed to walk over the earth for eternity. Children and the sleeping are vulnerable to this completely incorporeal wind spirit that can suck out the life from a human being.

“The ekimmu is oftentimes the ghost of someone who has suffered violent or premature death. It may be the spirit of someone who underwent improper burial and is forever trapped in a limbo between life and death. An ekimmu is unable to ever find peace or solace in all its wanderings with the winds.”

Kingu gazed at the priest called Nebo as if in a trance. “Is a person then helpless against an attack by one of them?” he inquired with dread.

All of a sudden, Nebo broke out with a broad, radiant smile. “Not at all. I have found and memorized a potent incantation that should be able to repel any ekimmu and compel it to go away elsewhere. If you will bow your head toward the ground, I shall recite it in the hope of forcing the wind demon away from you, young man.”

The latter instantly leaned forward, looking at the dirt floor of the cell.

Nebo started to chant the spell he had discovered in the temple’s archive.

“The evil ekimmus are like raging storms,

Workers of woe are they, that each night raise their heads for evil,

It is a terrible storm, a cyclone, an evil wind,

Carrying gloom from city to city, a tempest that furiously scours the heavens,

A dense cloud that brings dark shadow over the sky,

A rushing wind gust casting blackness everywhere,

A bringer of sickness and death in its baneful storming,

The gods who rule this world are herewith beseeched to rid us of the evil phantom that bedevils this helpless victim knelling before me.”

Nebo reached down with both hands and took hold of the narrow head of Kingu on both sides. He looked directly into the brown eyes of the afflicted one.

“You must now return home and find out whether the wind demon will allow you to rest in peace.”

The young man rose and departed without a word.

Nebo anxiously waited the next morning to learn whether his incantation had succeeded in liberating Kingu from the presence and influence of the evil ekimmu that was infecting his dreams with terrifying images.

It was late in the afternoon when the afflicted one entered the Temple of Enlil and made his way to the cell of the priest who exorcised ghostly spirits.

As soon as Kingu was seated on a stool, Nebo asked him the burning question that was obsessing his thoughts.

“How was your sleep, my friend? Did you have frightening vision once again, or has that terror been lifted from you?”

The youth drew a deep, long breath and then announced the sad, negative news.

“I am sorry to have to tell you that the spell you cast yesterday did not succeed in ridding me of contact with an ekimmu. Not at all. I had a repeated vision of a demonic monster. I saw an even larger bird, and its face was a combination of that of a crocodile with that of a poisonous snake. The sight terrified me more than before, because the horrid beast appeared hungry and avid for human food. I feared that it would try to feast on me if it could take hold of my physical body.

“I somehow succeeded in waking up before the monstrous being could devour me like a piece of meat. That picture, of being eaten up by the reptile bird, has remained with me all the hours of this day. The rays of the almighty sun were not able to remove it from my memory and thinking.”

Nebo studied the face of the young man intently, then spoke slowly and carefully.

“I regret that the incantation that I delivered was not strong enough to free you of the ekimmu. But there is another path that might lead us to victory over the wind demon that is plaguing you.”

“What is that?” asked Kingu with desperation on his face and anxiety in his voice.

The eyes of Nebo seemed to grow distant. “Along with all the evil ghosts and spirits that wander about in our world, there also exist certain beings that appear similar, but have good characters rather than evil ones. I am thinking of those invisible creatures of the wind called the shedus. Do you know what a shedu is?”

“No,” answered Kingu, suddenly breathing faster.

“It is possible to see the image of a shedu on the ancient entrance walls of Nippur. This spirit of the good is depicted as a winged demon not to be feared, but to be honored as the eternal enemy of the ekimmu kind of demon.

“Yes, our land contains numberless evil monsters, but their enemy is the pure, unsullied shedu that is the nemesis of the ekimmu.

“I believe that I can find special spells capable of summoning a shedu to save you from its enemy, the evil wind spirit that pursues you when you sleep.

“When you return here tomorrow afternoon, I plan to chant an invitation for a visit from a phantom of the good.”

Nebo searched the temple archive of cuneiform records on clay tablets until he found what he was after – an early Sumerian spell believed to call forth a nearby demon spirit dedicated to the good, not to evil.

When Kingu returned to the priest’s private cell the following afternoon, he had bad news to report. “I suffered my worst night yet,” he announced with pain in his vocal tone. “The monster being that appeared began to chase after me. There was no doubt in my mind that it was bent upon consuming me in its unnatural lust for human flesh. I felt totally helpless as it stormed toward me.

“What was I to do? I awakened from the nightmare in a flood of cold sweat. There seemed to be no way of escape for me. I did not go back to sleep, but paced about outside under the stars until dawn.”

Nebo waited several moments, then told him what he had discovered in the archive. “I came upon an old formula spell that promises to bring forth a shedu that can battle with an evil demon and defeat it. That is your only hope for liberation from the ekimmu, Kingo.”

“Do not hesitate,” pleaded the young man, his body beginning to shake. “Proceed with the call to the good demon to come and rescue me.”

Nebo began to recite the incantation he had uncovered in the ancient archive.

“Up above roar the ekimmus, down below they creep,

They are the bitter venom of the Great Gods,

They are the great storms let loose upon the earth from heaven,

They are the owls of ill omen that hoot in the towns,

Over high roofs, like a great wave they surge,

They climb from house to house, doors do not hold them out,

Locks cannot restrain them, they glide through doors like snakes,

Through the hinges they blow like the wind,

From a man’s embrace they take away the wife, from a house the little child,

From the house of his in-laws they fetch the youth,

The ekimmu is the numbness and the daze that thread upon a man,

Come forth, shedu of the good spirit, and rid this Kingu of the curse

That an evil ekimmu set upon him, the terrible dreams he suffers,

Take away the evil demon and see that it never returns to torture him.”

Nebo finished his priestly incantation, seeing that Kingu was deep in a swoon at that moment.

All of a sudden, the brown eyes of the youth refocused and came to life once more. “Are you finished with the spell?” he asked the priest.

“Yes. You may go home now are prepare yourself for what will happen to you tonight.”

The following afternoon, Kingu related the negative results of the effort to enlist a shedu in the fight with the invisible ekimmu that was hounding his sleep.

“I had an even worse version of the nightmare with the reptilian bird,” declared the suffering one. “It was the most painful dream that I have yet experienced.”

Nebo did not reply to this for a considerable while, for his thoughts were rotating and revolving at breakneck speed. He furrowed his brow as he pondered and concentrated on the question of what to attempt next.

At last, he presented what he had decided on.

“Can I come to your house with you tonight, Kingu? My aim will be to deal directly with this wind demon on my own.” He said no more than that.

“Yes,” answered the perplexed victim. “Of course you can.”

Kingu lived alone in a small clay brick hut on the far outskirts of Nippur, an unwalled city. He laid down on his sleeping palette at an earlier hour than was usual for him. Nebo sat beside his prone figure in the darkness, the only light coming in through a large opening from the infinite blanket of stars.

“I shall be on guard here all night long,” said the priest in a whisper. “With all the power of my soul, I shall endeavor to free you from attack by the evil wind demon. There are many prayers to Enlil that I know from memory. They will serve as my weapon of war against this ekimmu. I hope to liberate you from its poisonous influence.”

With that said, Nebo fell silent and watched as the drowsy Kingu fell into a deep sleep.

Through the mind of the priest ran a cycle of prayers to the supreme heavenly protector of Nippur. On and on, his memory repeated the appeals for divine intervention and protection.

Nebo kept his eyes on the face and the body of Kingu, on the watch for any sign that the young man was experiencing a dream of some kind.

I must not loose my vigilance and attentiveness, the older man said to himself.

Sleep must not be allowed to fall on my eyes. I cannot allow myself to loose the state of being awake.

On and on continued the praying to and the summoning of Enlil.

Nebo, for the first time, himself saw the huge bird with the face of a reptile. The sight was horrifying, yet he had the inner will to continue with his silent calls to the deity in heaven. I have to maintain my determination, I must not succumb to fear of the approaching monstrous form.

The guardian priest gritted his teeth and resisted the advance of the foe he had succeeded in diverting from the slumbering Kingu.

The invisible pressure of the force emanating out of the ekimmu produced an unlimited tension within the mind and the soul of the human contender.

Opposition to the evil spirit grew ever harder and more demanding.

The conflict between the man and the demon advanced toward a point of maximum climax. Nebo mobilized all of himself for the final stage of this strange battle.

All of a sudden, Kingu opened his eyes. He had been awakened by the event that had just come to an end next to his sleeping body. His sight cleared as he looked to where Nebo had fallen off of the stool and lay in a prone position on the ground of the hut.

Kingu arose to examine his protector, but he had an intuitive foreknowledge of what had happened only a couple of moments before.

As he bent down to feel for a pulse on the wrist of the priest, the one who had experienced no nightmare that night told himself that Nebo had sacrificed himself in order to draw the ekimmu to himself.

His defender had fought and died, paying with his life in order to free a victim from the visions created by an evil wind spirit.

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