Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
stone engraving of winged monster and Babylonian warrior

A Babylonian Book of Spells to Ward off Evil Spirits


Demons, goblins, vampires, ghosts, and evil spirits; they’re just some of the supernatural beings these spells can scare off.

In 1840, having spent thousands of years beneath the Middle Eastern earth, a collection of clay tablets was discovered and taken to the British Museum. Carved in cuneiform script, the text had been engraved into the clay by an Assyrian scholar in the 7th century BCE. It bore the enchantments of a Sumerian sorcerer who lived about six or seven thousand years ago. The tablets had been part of the library of an Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, at Nineveh. Sacked by the Babylonians in 612 BCE, the tablets were finally relegated to oblivion.

When the compendium of ancient magic arrived in England, the erudite Reginald Campbell Thompson translated the 43 spells. These would make up the first of two volumes of a book he titled The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia: Being Babylonian and Assyrian Incantations Against the Demons, Ghouls, Vampires, Hobgoblins, Ghosts, and Kindred Evil Spirits, Which Attack Mankind (1903).

Campell’s book suggests that just living in ancient Babylon was tantamount to continually avoiding a permanent struggle between good and evil, and constantly facing dark, often wicked supernatural beings. These ranged from deceptive and beautiful demons who’d descended from heaven and who “ride on noxious winds, spreading storms and pestilence”; the edimmu ghosts of Sumerian mythology who, eventually tired of eating dust and mud, roamed the world for not having been buried properly (they approached travelers in haunted places to possess them); the utukku, that came from the world of the dead, awaited their victims in the desert, the mountains, or in cemeteries, and were capable of inflicting evil with a single glance; and the Alu, being half-human and half-demon, were without mouths, legs, arms, or ears, and hid in ruins and dark corners, “slinking through the streets at night like pariah dogs” (they fed insomnia and stopped sinisterly next to those about to sleep threatening them should they close their eyes).

After an extensive introduction to the world of the Sumerian and Assyrian supernatural, the volume consists of a transliteration into English of the tablets containing these protective charms (for anyone who might need warding off such evil spirits). The second volume describes some other spirits and evil beings, and records more protective spells, while focusing primarily on rituals of purification and the defense against disease.

Below is some of the enchantments from this unique compilation of one of humanity’s oldest works of witchcraft:


Image: Public Domain

Related Articles