Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals

From 2012 to 2018, I was fortunate to be part of the University of Würzburg team, directed by Professor Daniel Schwemer, which published all known Mesopotamian anti-witchcraft rituals.

These texts combine incantations (magic) with elaborate ritual instructions (medical treatment) in an attempt to provide a cure for patients suffering from symptoms thought to be connected with witchcraft. Most of the texts originate from the so-called Assurbanipal’s library or libraries in Nineveh, but other Assyrian (especially Assur) and Babylonian (including Babylon, Sippar, Uruk) cities, not forgetting the Hittite capital Ḫattuša, have provided many rituals, too.

As one of the most exciting Assyriological publication projects in recent decades, the Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals project made a large body of magical and medical texts available as critical editions consisting of copies, transliterations, transcriptions, English translations and notes in three printed volumes with an additional glossary. Furthermore, the same texts are also available online on the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (Oracc) platform.

The Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals project gave a boost to the edition of the remaining unpublished cuneiform tablets from Nineveh and elsewhere, be they about magic, divination, archival or any other type of texts. For me, by no means a specialist of the genre, it was fascinating to discover how systematic the approach of the Mesopotamian healing experts, the exorcists, was to ward off any evil threat they encountered and how inseparable magic and medicine were in ancient Mesopotamian ritual practice.

The printed CMAwR volumes

Abusch, T. – Schwemer, D., Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals, Volume One (Ancient Magic and Divination 8/1), Leiden – Boston: Brill 2011.

Abusch, T. – Schwemer, D. – Luukko, M. – Van Buylaere, G., Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals, Volume Two (Ancient Magic and Divination 8/2), Leiden – Boston: Brill 2016.

Abusch, T. – Schwemer, D. – Luukko, M. – Van Buylaere, G., Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals, Volume Three (Ancient Magic and Divination 8/3), Leiden – Boston: Brill 2019.

Van Buylaere, G. – Luukko, M., Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals: Glossaries and Indices (Ancient Magic and Divination 8/4), Leiden – Boston: Brill 2019.

An explanatory volume on Mesopotamian magic and medicine highlights the role of the exorcist:

Van Buylaere, G. – Luukko, M. – Schwemer, D. – Mertens-Wagschal, A. (eds.), Sources of Evil: Studies in Mesopotamian Exorcistic Lore (Ancient Magic and Divination 15), Leiden – Boston: Brill 2018.

Websites and URLs

Online, the project developed useful tools for professionals and occasional users alike. One can read, study (by searching for words, etc.) or just glimpse the published corpus at

An explanatory website that provides general information on magic and witchcraft and expounds the basic terminology can be found at the pages of Universität Würzburg.

An aid for the researchers of the genre is the Critical Catalogue of Mesopotamian Anti-witchcraft Rituals and the provisional Bibliography of Mesopotamian Magic.