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Mandaeans

In the Diwan Abathur the stern of the moon-boat is decorated with leafy twigs (see above, Fig. 3), but Sin who is considered responsible for abortions and deformities, is a malformed figure.

Venus, Libat, or Dilbat, is more favourably regarded. The form of the name is curious. The Sumero-Babylonian form Dil-bat had, Pallis suggests, long been obsolete at the period when the Mandaean scriptures were collected. He thinks that scribes, copying from earlier documents, took d for the genitive particle and omitted it as unnecessary. In the Ginza occurs a passage describing a matarta in which are found those who go into the house of Tammuz (Adonis), sit there twenty-eight days, slaughter sheep, mix bowls and make cakes, 'mourning in the house of Dilbat'. Other references in the Ginza are to 'Dilbat'.

The small planetary boat directly behind that of Shamish in the Diwan Abathur illustrations is said to belong to Libat, and one of the figures above it is labelled, 'This is the likeness of Libat: 'Sitting-on-the-mountain-of-Shamish' is her name: seven names she has'. Libat is often invoked in sorcery. Her peculiar function is either to help in matters of love and generation or to give information about the unknown. Owing to her association with Zahri'il, spouse of Hibil Ziwa and protectress of women in childbirth, she is far from being regarded with aversion. A yalufa said:

'Those who wish to consult Liwet, take an istikan (tea-glass) and reverse it upon a slab of marble. Two people place their fingers upon the glass, one of them being a person who converses with the other world. Letters are placed round in a circle and the glass in the middle, and the glass moves about and touches letters, spelling out answers to questions put to it. This is called 'ilm Liwet.
'Liwet controls inventions. The melka of this planet is female and beautiful. I have heard that there are people who put a boy or a virgin outside the town on Sundays in a place set apart for her veneration, and she descends into the boy or girl and instructs them so that they give information about many matters.'

Magic dealings with her are frowned on by orthodoxy, but it was a priest who had copied a Libat incantation in my possession. The goddess is asked 'to make refulgent and beautiful my face' so that the supplicant and his beloved may 'glow with desire', 'their hearts are clothed with love', 'glowing love and blind and glowing desire' is kindled in them. 'They shall not eat or drink until they possess each other.'

Mars (Nirigh) is the 'Lord of Clouds and Thunder, who makes rain and draws, together with Shamish, water from earth and sky'. The name is derived from Nirg-al the Babylonian deity. Pallis suggests that the scribes suppressed the al or el as this suffix is usually given to beings of divine origin. Mandaeans, perhaps on account of his warlike and quarrelsome character, look on him as the protector of Islam.

Jupiter (Bil or Bel) is rarely mentioned except in exorcisms of disease-demons, such as the Pishra d Ainia. It is probable that his functions were gradually absorbed by such beings as Yawar Ziwa, Hibil Ziwa, and Malka Ziwa.

Mercury ('Nbu, Enwo), 'lord or writing and books', 'lord of wisdom and knowledge', and Saturn (Kiwan), appear little in magic except in exorcism rolls. Qmahia written in 'Nbu's name cure madness.

Every hour and every month has also its Zodiacal burj or house, the day being divided, as is said above, into two parts of twelve, twelve light hours and twelve dark hours. This brings me to the question of names, which are based on the numerical value of the signs of the Zodiac as given on this page (above). Every Mandaean has two names, Malwasha, or Zodiacal name, and his laqab or worldly name. The latter is usually a Muhammadan name and is used for all lay purposes, the former is his real and spiritual name and is used on all religious and magic occasions. This spiritual name is linked with that of the mother instead of the father, suggesting some period at which paternity was attributed to some ancestor on the female side, or a god. The religious name is of great importance, for if a man is drowned or burnt and the body not found, a man as a like him in circumstance as possible, and bearing a name falling under the same astrological influences, must impersonate him at the reading of the zidqa brikha, a ritual meal which atones for the lack of death rites and burial. A person chosen as sponsor for a child unable to reply for itself at baptism should have astrological conditions similar to those of the child, and his name will, therefore, fall into the same category of names.

Malwasha names have each an arbitrary numerical value. Letters themselves have no numerical value as in Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, according to the priests, who keep lists of these names and suggest one to the parents when their calculations have been made. The names are not always drawn from religious characters or from the holy books and amongst Malwasha appellations are such names as Yasman (Jessamine). I confess that I have been unable to discover why these names are selected, or why they have numerical values.

When an infant is to be named, the priest takes the Zodiacal sign of the month in which its birth occured, counts from it round the Zodiacal circle, and calculates from it the sign of the hour. The sign of the day does not matter. From the numerical value which results, they subtract the value of the mother's name.

For instance, a male child is born at 11 am. in Awwal Gita, 1935, on February 4th. His mother's name is Sharat (numerical value 2). The sign for Awwal Gita is Aria. Starting at Aria on the circle but not counting it in, eleven hours gives us Sartana (numerical value 4). Two (for the mother's name) deducted from four, leaves two. The name selected for the child, therefore, is Zahrun, one of the names with a numerical value of two. Thus the infant's full Malwasha is Zahrun bar Sharat, which adds up to four, the number of the Zodiacal sign Sartana.

For all astrological information the priests consult the astrological codex Sfar Malwasha, the 'Book of the Zodiac'. Mandaeans say that Hibil Ziwa gave Adam Paghra the Sfar Malwasha so that he might be able to foresee coming events in its pages.

Foreknowledge of coming events is claimed, not only by the priests who scan omens in the sky, clouds, birds, and interpret such events as eclipses (a recent eclipse was said to be 'blood on the moon' and a portent of war or massacre), but as a natural gift of clairvoyance peculiar to some priestly families. My old friend Hirmiz bar Anhar claims that both he and his wife (a cousin) have this hereditary gift, and has given me several instances of second sight and premonition in their family.

Most of the leading events in a Mandaean's life are decided by recourse to the priests, who tell him the astrologically auspicious day on which to marry, or send his child to school, undertake a new enterprise, or set out on a journey. In cases of illness, cures and herbs fall under the influence of certain planets and certain signs of the Zodiac, and a man should take only the medicament or cure which belongs to the sign under which he fell ill, i.e. the hour he sickened. In general the Subba refuse to drink any medicine, even when they have gone to a European doctor, though they have faith in ointments and do not object to subcutaneous injections. The community presents problems to the health authorities. During a recent cholera epidemic a Government order forbad people to drink anything but chlorinated water from the town supply. It was impossible to enforce this order as far as the Subba were concerned, for the only water that they regard as 'living' is water from the yardna, i.e. from a running river or spring, and water boiled or chlorinated has lost its 'life', so they will not drink it.

If a man falls sick on the 21st day of any month he has little hope of recovery, for that is a day on which the shiviahia (i.e. spirits of evil) have power. The 15th of a month is also inauspicious, and many Subba wear a special qmaha called 'Shalhafta d Mahra' to protect them against sickness on this day. A Subbi told me that on these two days

'it is better for a man to remain in his house and not to undertake any business. Clothes should not be bought, no journey should be begun and it is dangerous to embark either on a ship or a new enterprise. Should a man fall sick on either of these two days, he is likely to die unless his nose bleeds. If this happens, he will recover; but it must bleed of itself, and not be induced artificially. He must keep pure, for purification protects a man: it makes him white and clothes him in light so that the shiviahi cannot approach him.'

The Mandaean year is divided into twelve months of thirty days each, with five intercalary days named Parwanaia (pronounced sometimes Paranoia), or Panja, which fall between the 30th day of Shumbulta and the 1st day of Qaina. These twelve months are redivided into four seasonal divisions: Sitwa (winter), Abhar (spring), Gita (Geyta) (summer), and Paiz (automn) which have lost connexion with the actual seasonal changes of hot and cold weather.

Each season is subdivided into three: First, Middle, and Last (Awwal, Misai, and Akhir or Khir). The twelve month are given other names also: Nisan, Ayar, Siwan, &c., but these do not correspond in season to their Jewish or Turkish namesakes.

1st month Awwal Sitwa (or Shetwa) Qam Daula Shabat
2nd ~ Misai Sitwa Qam Nuna Adar

3rd ~

Akhir Sitwa Qam Umbara (Ambra) Nisan
4th ~ Awwal Abhar Qam Taura Ayar
5th ~ Misai Abhar Qam Silmia Siwan
6th ~ Akhir Abhar Qam Sartana Tammuz
7th ~ Awwal Gita Qam Arya Ab
8th ~ Misai Gita Qam Shumbulta Ellul
9th ~ Akhir Gita Qam Qaina Tishrin
10th ~ Awwal Paiz Qam Arqba Mashrwan
11th ~ Misai Paiz Qam Hatia Kanun
12th ~ Akhir Paiz Qam Gadia Tabit

Each year is named after the day with which it began, e.g. the year of Habshaba, the Year of Sunday; or Year of Rahatia, Year of Friday. For instance, I write on January 29th, 1935, which, according to Mandaeans, is the 25th of Sartana or Tammuz, in the Akhir Abhar, the six month of the year of Arba Habshaba, which is almost as if one said, 'the 25th of the Crab or August in the last of Spring, the 6th month of the year of Wednesday'. It will be seen that the calendar is a somewhat confusing subject.

The New Year's Day of the present Mandaean year, therefore, fell on August 8th, 1935, in the midst of the summer heat, Qam Daula the First of Winter. Dislocation in times and seasons is apparent, the reason being obviously that the calendar does not make allowance for the quarter day which has to be included to make the solar year correspond with the seasons.

The name given to the New Year's Feast is Dihba Rba (Dehwa Rabba). Lidzbarski thinks the word dihba had an original meaning of 'slaughter', but Mandaean priests derive the words from dahba (zahba) 'gold', since slaughter is forbidden on most feast days, but particularly at the New Year. The Mandaean also use the Persian 'Nauruz Rba' and this is the name given to the solemn festival in Alf Trisar Shiala. New Year's Eve is called 'Kanshia uZahla'. On this day sheep and chickens are slaughtered to provide a store of food, bread is cooked and brought into the house, kleycha (small festival cakes marked with a cross) are prepared, dates and vegetables receive careful ablution and are stored within doors where they can suffer no pollution, and water is drawn in pots enough for thirty-six hours and covered in the house. All day, till evening (paina d Dihba Rba), the priests baptize the faithful. Cattle and poultry must be shut up before sunset and entrusted to the care of Gentile neighbours or servants, for, during the ensuing thirty-six hours they may not be touched or milked by a Mandaean. Five minutes before the sun disappears, every man, woman, and child performs the tamasha (threefold ritual immersion) and the women raise joy-cries. Then all retire into the house, where they must remain without going outside, no matter for what purpose, for the next thirty-six hours, i.e. the night before the New Year, the first day of the New Year, called the Day-of-Lacking, and the night which follows it. Laxer spirits go out of the house to attend to a call of nature, but priests say that this is highly dangerous and arrangements are made within the house for the time. Vigil must be kept during the whole thirty-six hours: not an eye must be closed, though the sleep of children is excused because not preventable. On New Year's Day, or The-Day- of-Lacking, no religious ceremony can take place. If a man chances to die during the thirty-six hours, he may not be buried. He is washed with water from the household store and clothed with his death-rasta, and when he has breathed his last he is covered with a white cloth and left as he is, until the dawn of the second day of the New Year, when he can buried with the usual ceremonies. It is considered a disaster for the soul of the dead to have passed at such a time, and when Parwanaia (or Panja) comes, zidqa brikha and masiqta must be performed over a substitute.

Abstracted from : Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran, E.S. Drower, Leiden, 1962

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