Lamatu (also written
Lamashtu) was an evil and malevolent demon goddess within the
Mesopotamian pantheon - as the daughter of the god
An and acting according to her own initiative, rather than at
the gods' instruction, she represented something more than the usual
demonic power. The writing of her name in cuneiform further suggests
that Lamatu was considered a goddess in her own right.
practised evil apparently for its own sake, her primary victims
considered to be unborn chlildren and new-born babies. Pregnant
women were therefore also her targets, Lamatu
generally being held responsible for miscarriage and cot death
amongst babies. It was believed, in the first instance, that the
wearing by the expectant mother of an
amuletic bronze head of the demon
Pazuzu might thwart the goddess' evil plans. Another apotropaic
device in warding off Lamatu was the
positioning of the so-called 'Lamatu-plaques'
of metal or stone about the house, these including a depiction of
Pazuzu forcing Lamatu back into the
Underworld from whence she came. Rather than a pregnant woman,
however, these plaques depict a bed-ridden man, suggesting that
Lamatu was also associated with disease.
Finally, the ritual offering of centipedes and brooches, amonst
other items, were considered to distract Lamatu
from her intent.
In incantations Lamatu is described
as possessing the head of a lion, a donkey's teeth, bare breasts and
a hairy body, blood-stained hands with long fingers and nails, and
the clawed, talon-like feet of the bird-demon
Anzû (Imdugud). Iconographic depictions of
Lamatu in the 9th - 7th centuries BCE have her wearing
upright ears, like those of a donkey, whilst a piglet and a whelp
suckle at her breasts. She frequently stands or kneels on the figure
of a donkey and holds snakes in both hands. Her particular beast was
the donkey and her associated object a boat, in which
Lamatu was thought to navigate the river
of the Underworld.
Incantation against Lamatu:
Great is the daughter of Heaven who tortures babies
Her hand is a net, her embrace is death
She is cruel, raging, angry, predatory
A runner, a thief is the daughter of Heaven
She touches the bellies of women in labor
She pulls out the pregnant womens baby
The daughter of Heaven is one of the Gods, her brothers
With no child of her own.
Her head is a lions head
Her body is a donkeys body
She roars like a lion
She constantly howls like a demon-dog.
Image Source: Keel, Othmar, Die Welt der altorientalischen
Bildsymbolik und das AT, 1980, Abb. 94, S. 71.
1987 "Tamarisken-Fibeln-Skolpender: Zur philologischen Deutung
der 'Reiseszene' auf neuassyrischen Lamatu-Amuletten", in Rochberg-Halton,
F.(ed.), Language, Literature and History: Philological and
Historical Studies Presented to Erica Reiner, [American
Oriental Series 67], New Haven, 1987, pp.85-105.
1997 "itu api ilâma ezezu ezzet: Ein bedeutsammes neues
Lamatu-Amulett", Röllig AV = AOAT 1997 (Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1997),