Cursed and cured – witchcraft and its tools. Research Area Three Witches and Demons


Topic 3. Cursed and cured – witchcraft and its tools.

Although our witchcraft texts are late and cannot be proof of any earlier situation, they do help us to ask better questions about earlier archaeological evidence. Read Maqlu and other spells and incantations.

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Remote Resources: The Maqlu text; spells and incantation texts; figurines and other objects.

The basic questions you need to start with:

Problem 1. Soothsaying, extispicy (omen-reading), and reading the stars. These are all longstanding practices of divination. Divination is a vital function of religious specialists, but it is also open to any individual who has the gift for forseeing the future. Divination is attested at least as early as the beginning of writing, and indeed, has even been proposed as the reason writing was invented. Mesopotamian divination practices lay behind the notion of prophecy in the bible too. Priests are trained in reading the entrails of animals, and model livers explaining the signs are very common. To understand witchcraft you need to understand the larger world of signs, portents, and solutions to which it belongs.

Problem 2. The materiality of witchcraft. Spells, whether to curse or cure, whether for victory in battle or to cure erectile disfunction use substances and objects in their execution. Can we match objects retrieved through excavation to objects described in these texts? This is largely a methodological issue. You will not be able to make these sorts of connections on the appearance of the objects alone. You will have to find patterns in the treatment of the objects, but most importantly, in their find spots. So reconstruct what people are actually doing with the objects and materials used in the spells, and see if you can find evidence of those practice in the archaeological materials.

Problem 3.The social ramifications of witchcraft. From trials of those who are accused of witchcraft, the punishments for witchcraft, and the role of spells and incantations, what can we learn about social conditions in the first millennium BCE. And why, indeed, are materials of magic so prevalent at that time and not before? Is there something different about the world now? Or is it just an accident of discovery. To answer these questions, you will have to think about the implications of the texts, you will have to find out where these texts were found, and you will have to learn about the larger history of the first millennium in Southern Mesopotamia.

Whatever your topic, this is your summation of the data you collected and your interpretation of it. Describe your process. What did you do to collect the data? Detail the data. What are the results? Analyze the data. How does this data address the big questions of concern for your topic? Does it substantiate prevailing views or does it raise questions about them? Do you have any alternative suggestions? Papers should be 6-8 pages long

All written work should be 1.5 spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman Font and only uploaded as doc or docx file. ANY WORK THAT IS NOT IN THIS FORMAT WILL NOT BE GRADED. DO NOT UPLOAD A PDF. IT WILL NOT BE GRADED.

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