Lamashtu: Mesopotamian Goddess and Prototype Vampire

by JoHarrington

In Ancient Sumer and Babylon, this dark goddess was known as Dimme. Memory of her terrible legend formed the basis for all vampire tales to come.

In tracing the history of vampire stories, nothing prepared me for this.

From the great Victorian novels, through the real world scares of 18th century Europe, to the grisly legends of ancient demigoddesses, there had been plenty to chill the blood. But the only time I ever flinched away from the computer screen was after running a Google image search for Lamashtu. Safe search off.

All that is horrific and dark is met in Her. Those pictures should come with a NSFL warning for extreme gore. They match Her aspect perfectly.

The Lamaštu Plaque at the Louvre Museum in Paris

A lot of time and effort went into carving this stunning scene, but parents will do anything to save their babies.

Image: Lamashtu Plaque, LouvreIn the Louvre Museum, there is a free-standing plaque. Wrought from metal and stone, it dates from the Bronze Age, and it depicts a terrifying tableau.

A small baby lies screaming in its cradle, flanked by a man and woman wearing armor in the shape of fish. A row of humanoid figures are held at bay, or keep guard. Each one of them has the face (or mask) of a wild creature.

Beneath the crib, a gigantic female deity has almost broken through. Lamaštu has arisen from the depths of the ocean, brandishing two snakes. A piglet and a whelp suckle from her breasts.

The terrible goddess had the head of a lion, but the teeth of a donkey. Her whole body is hairy. Her long, tapering fingers end in talons, and her hands are stained with blood. Lamaštu rides through the waters of the Underworld on a boat, alongside her sacred donkey.

She has tools and dread companions to enact her bidding. She wants the baby. She wishes to devour it, and drink the blood of its father. If the infant wasn't already born, She would rip it from the womb of its still-living mother.

Only the protection of the god Pazuzu can save the family. That's what this plaque is all about. It's a talisman forged in the name of that deity; others exist very similar to it. Placing it in an Assyrian nursery would keep the blood-thirsty Lamaštu from entering, in precisely the same way as Hollywood movies frequently flash the cross to ward away vampires.

And there is a reason for that. Lamashtu (aka Lamaštu) is probably the original vampire.

Lamashtu by Crepusculum

Crepusculum is a Polish Black Metal band. 'Lamashtu' is a track from their 2010 album 'Visions of the Apocalypse'.
Visions Of The Apocalypse

Black Metal full-length album from Polish band Crepusculum. Nine tracks ending in the 6:32 minute scream-fest of 'Lamashtu'.

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Lamashtu in the Legends of Ancient Mesopotamia

This devouring Goddess is everywhere in those tales from the dawn of human civilization. Fear of Her was so pervasive that She went on, while fellow deities faded.

Image: LamashtuIt is difficult to tell where in ancient Mesopotamia such stories first began circulating.

This is a region which encompasses the whole of the Tigris-Euphates river valley. Today, we would be talking about Iraq and parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran. From around 3100 BCE, it was dominated by the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

Lamashtu is found in the pantheons of them all.

To the Sumerians and Babylonians, She was Dimme, daughter of the sky God Anu. To the Assyrians, She was Lamaštu, daughter of An. The stories they told were much the same.

She was a Goddess who could not be stopped. Her reason to be was to cause chaos, destruction and mass slaughter. She was the dark deity behind wars and the horrors enacted during wars. She brought pestilence and disease. She visited the bedridden and plagued them further. She unleashed anarchy and terror; and She had seven children (male and female), who did the same.

Yet Lamashtu's principal victims were always the newborns. She could take a fetus from the womb by tapping a pregnant woman's belly seven times. She would snatch infants from their cradles.

Unlike the later stories of Lamia and Lilith, there was no underlying reason for this. As the British Museum states on their web-site, 'Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative'.

In fact, Lamia and Lilith are undoubtedly later manifestations of Lamashtu Herself, twisted to fit into the pantheons of emerging civilizations, and provided with a reason for their reigns of terror.

The first vampires were all female. They were monstrous demigoddesses, who could not be killed, and they were firmly linked to infant mortality.
Before Eve, there was Lilith, or so some tellings of the story state. She fought with Adam and flew from Eden. Then entered folklore as a vampire or a demon.

How Lamashtu Became the Vampire

It's a very twisted path, which takes us from this Underworld Goddess to the tuxedo and flashy charms of Count Dracula.

Image: Lamashtu Plaque, British MuseumLamashtu is depicted on another talisman plaque, this one held in the British Museum, London.

It dates from around 800 BCE. The cuneiform suggests that the stone was carved in either Babylonia or Assyria. The talisman is much younger than its near twin on display in the Louvre.

Fear of Lamashtu held sway for centuries before her legend became reduced.  First a ray of hope was inserted. The God Pazuzu was able to protect babies from being devoured by her. The amulet and talismans attracted His divine attention.

Next came an erosion of status. Somewhere along the way, Lamashtu became described not quite as a goddess, but as a spirit of the air. She was the daughter of the sky god Anu, so it all fit nicely into place.

The Sumerian for air was 'lil'. In plural, that would be 'lilu'. What begins to emerge is a specific spirit of the air named Lilitu. She is described as a terrible baby-eating seductress, who lived in remote places, like the desert. Everything about her screams Lamashtu, but she's indistinct and she can be avoided. She's a spectral being, not a deity. Presumably Pazuzu defeated this aspect of Her.

The Semites picked up this legend and, perhaps linking her back to her divine origin, transformed Her into Lilith.

Meanwhile, the real Lamashtu still lingered, until the Hellenic culture could gain enough traction to sweep Her up into their pantheon. Suddenly Lamia emerged, sharing so many of the characteristics - particularly in matters of devouring babies and seducing men - but controllable. Lamia began as a human woman. Even in Her divinity, She is only a minor figure in the Greek pantheon. Her nemesis Hera far out-ranks Her.

The world now had blood-suckers, who were originally human, but are now immortal. The genesis of the vampire was there. But it needed more to transform the monster fully into the form that we would recognize today.

What happened next is very much open to speculation. I personally believe that it was the Celts, who carried the legend of Lamia west, across the whole of southern Europe. By 275 BCE, Celtic culture held fast throughout most of Europe, and one of their defining features were shifts in funeral rites.

It's my strong suspicion that Lamia became infused in such spiritual battles, which marked the switch from cremation to tumulus burials. After all, people would have wanted to do right by their beloved deceased, but what could possibly go wrong for a corpse? Extant Celtic spirituality would have had room for the dead rising from their graves to enact revenge. Lamia gave them the terrible means by which that revenge was executed.

Nevertheless, this is all still speculation, based on the history and location of the Celts at the time, plus evidence from Celtic cultures elsewhere. (Lamia exists in Basque; and sixth century Ireland definitely had vampiric folklore.)

Now the notion of a blood-sucking, immortal monster was firmly linked with the grave. Plus it had humanity, not divinity, at its root.

The Celts moved on, pressed ever westward by invading Slavonic tribes or the emerging might of the Roman Empire. Yet their stories remained where they had been. This included the Danube River Basin, which is absolutely the traditional hotbed for vampire legends. It includes Serbia, which gave us the very word 'vampire', and eventually kick-started the 18th Century Vampire Controversy.

It's that latter part of verifiable history, which inspired the modern vampire genre in books, then movies and television.

It was the idea of Lamashtu, rather than the goddess Herself, which survived. Divorced from the original, this idea was flexible enough to twist and change under the influence of several cultures, primarily Hellenic, Celtic and Slavonic. Once the vampiric idea could gather around a male figure, then the way was wide open to create Count Dracula.

Lamashtu would have eaten him alive.

Novels Featuring Lamashtu

Lamashtu: Serpent Goddess: (Lilith - 1st wife of Adam)

Lamashtu, Serpent Goddess, is the story of spousal abuse, betrayal, infidelity, incest, and bestiality. Lamashtu is the story of the first woman, and man before Adam and Eve, ...

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Becoming, and the Tale of Lamashtu

A psychic woman becomes a demon hunter after her death...this is not your average paranormal romance. Death/marriage in the family? About to come into some money? Imogen Ameore ...

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The Atlantean Necronomicon: Veils Of Negative Existence

The Necronomicon Tradition has been practiced in secret for years. Now for the first time, topics, such as the Qliphoth, Simon Necronomicon, the Jinn, and ancient Atlantean thou...

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Spiritual Books Mentioning Lamashtu

Households And Holiness: The Religious Culture Of Israelite Women (Facets)

This brief study provides a clear and succinct overview of the role women played in ancient Israelite religion. Meyers points out that too many scholars have left women out of t...

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Maskim Hul - Babylonian Magick

The Mesopotamian Gods and Demons are presented and restored to the ancient knowledge and power for the modern Luciferian ideology as defined by Michael W. Ford. Maskim Hul is a ...

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The Complete Book of Amulets & Talismans (Llewellyn's Sourcebook Series)

The Pentagram, Star of David, Crucifix, rabbit's foot, or four-leaf clover . . . they all provide feelings of comfort and protection, intended to attract good while dispelling e...

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Updated: 09/20/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 07/04/2013

Thank you very much, Ragtimelil. It was a fascinating journey to get to Lamashtu.

Ragtimelil on 06/22/2013

I'm fascinated by the history of ancient times! Especially ancient religions. Very well done.

JoHarrington on 06/16/2013

I'm pleased that you found it interesting, and you're very welcome. It's been quite fascinating tracing vampirism all the way back to Lamashtu.

Robin on 06/16/2013

I found this really interesting, thanks for putting in the effort to make this article!

JoHarrington on 06/14/2013

Thank you very much. I'll admit that I had several surprises on this journey. I thought it all began with the Slavs in the Danube River Basin - Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, Hungary, all those places where we in the West immediately hark back to, when vampires are mentioned.

It was an eye-opener when the vampiric trail led further East into Greece and Israel. Then for that in turn to have been influenced by Mesopotamia really startled me.

But the thing which REALLY blew my mind was when I found my own Celtic ancestors involved with the legend so far back. We don't tend to think of the Celts in central and southern Europe, because we're so used to us lot being over here in the West.

There's certainly an article coming over the next few weeks, tracing the early Celtic influence on the legend. It seems that my lot have been pushing vampires and blaming it on the Slavs for millennia!

EliasZanetti on 06/14/2013

If someone would ask me about the very first origins of vampirism in ancient cultures I would probably cite ancient Greece and Lamia. Westen culture - sometimes - tends to neglect the importance and/or influnce of ancient Messopotamian culture despite the fact that it is actually more ancient than the Greek one.
Well researched article, Jo and the Lamastu plaque is simply amazing (and quite creepy as well :)

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