Diviner’s Prayer to the Gods of Night

An ancient Babylonian prayer for divination is known as The Diviner’s Prayer to the Gods of Night.  For background, divination was often done in daytime under the omens and oversight of the gods like Šamaš and Ištar, and official religious activity often ceased at nightfall when things generally calmed down.  However, if one needed answers immediately and it just happened to be nighttime, they were often out of luck.  The Diviner’s Prayer to the Gods of Night got around this by appealing to the nighttime gods, the constellations that watched over the world in the absence of the big guys.  Artistically, it sets things up quite nicely and illustrates how the dark of night usually closes all available avenues for help and assitance: officials retire into their palaces, the gods retire to their abodes, doors are shut, courts are closed, and all goes dark.  Except, of course, those remaining lights in the sky, the stars themselves.

The prayer was first mentioned in September 2012.

The princes are closely guarded,
The bolts are lowered, rings set in place.
The noisy people are fallen silent,
Gates once opened are locked.
The gods of the land, goddesses of the land,
Šamaš, Sîn, Adad and Ištar
Have gone off into the lap of heaven.
They will give no judgment, they will decide no cases.
Veiled is the night.
The palace, its chapel, and sanctuary are dark.
The wayfarer calls out to the god, the petitioner keeps on sleeping.
The judge of justice, father of the destitute,
Šamaš has gone into his sanctuary.
May the great gods of the night,
brilliant Girra, warrior Erra,
the Bow, the Yoke, Orion, the Dragon,
the Wagon, the She-Goat, the Bison, the Horned Serpent,
stand by!
In the extispicy which I am performing,
In the lamb which I am offering,
place for me the truth!

In Babylonian (a macron or circumflex over a vowel lengthens it, a carat over an S turns it into a “sh” sound, and a carat under an H makes it guttural like “ch” in German or Scottish):

pullulū rubû
wašrū sikkūrū šīrētum šaknā
habrātum nišū šaqummā
petûtum uddulū bābū
ilī mātim ištarāt mātim
šamaš sîn adad u ištar
īterbū ana utul šamê
ul idinnū dīnam ul iparrasū awâtim
pussumat mušītim
ekallum šaḫurša kummu adrū
ālik urhim ilam išassi u ša dīnim ušteberre šittam
dayyān kīnātim abi ekiātim
šamaš īterub ana kummišu
rabûtum ilī mušītim
nawrum girra qurādum erra
qaštum nīrum šitaddarum mušḫuššum
eriqqum enzum kusarikkum bašmum
lizzizūma
ina têrti eppušu
ina puḫād akarrabu
kittam šuknān

The “gods of night” were ancient Babylonian constellations watching over the world in the night sky.  Below is a rough correspondence between the constellations mentioned in the prayer and modern constellations:

  • Girra ↔ Jaw of Taurus
  • Erra ↔ A star above the bridge of Ursa Major
  • Bow ↔ Puppis, the poop deck of the Argo
  • Yoke ↔ Part of Boötes, the central stars around Arcturus
  • Dragon ↔ Draco, or another name for Hydra?
  • Wagon ↔ Seven principal stars of Ursa Major
  • She-Goat ↔ Lyra
  • Bison ↔ Centaurus and Lupus
  • Horned Serpent ↔ Hydra

A translation that transforms the final lines referring to extispicy into a more general format might be as follows:

In the divination that I am performing,
In the spirit that I am offering,
place for me the truth!

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