The people of ancient Babylonia believed that hordes of evil spirits are to be found everywhere, both within and outside of man's domain. Among these invisible entities are the Rabisu, "the ones that lie in wait". The demon's mere presence makes the hair of any man or woman stand on end. In other words, this spirit is so terrifying that it is literally indescribable. The only real representations that are known of the Rabisu are the images and the words of incantations and those inscribed on talismans and amulets used to ward them off.
According to Akkadian mythology, the Rabisu (meaning "the vagabond"
or "the seizer") is a demon or an evil spirit with vampiric
tendencies. It lurks about the entrances and thresholds of houses and hides in
dark corners, where it awaits a chance to attack any passersby. Doors and bolts
will not stop them, nor will closed windows, as the Rabisu will slither through
such openings like a snake. In some instances, these demons are known to lurk
upon rooftops, where they await an opportunity to pounce on and devour newborn
babies. In the biblical Book of Genesis, God says to the murderer Cain,
"Sin crouches at the door." This passage from the Holy Bible may
indeed refer to the Rabisu as being a very real threat. The Lord God is essentially
saying that evil is always present and lurking about, ready to attack and
devour the unwary.
The Rabisu dwell in the Babylonian equivalent of Hell, living in the Desert of
Anguish, where they ambush the souls of the recently dead as they travel down
the Road of Bone towards the City of the Dead. It is ruled by the goddess
Ereshkigal and her consort, the death god Nergal. In the ancient texts, one
finds that the Hebrew word Sheol is also used to describe the Babylonian
underworld many times, and thus it may be surmised that these two versions of
Hell are very similar to one another. This place is known as Irkalla, which was
once another name for the goddess Ereshkigal, until Nergal made his way down to
the underworld and seduced her. To get there, the souls of the dead had to pass
through seven different gateways, and each gateway had its own guardian. Each
of these guardians was more fearsome and more formidable than the previous one.
In order to get through the gates to Irkalla, the deceased had to bribe the
guardians with the articles of clothing and jewelry on their person. Once the
souls had made their way through the gates, they were greeted by a world
similar to the living one, only much more dreary in comparison. Irkalla is the
ultimate destination of every living soul after they die, and not necessarily
punishment for one's sins or wrongdoings during his or her lifetime. However,
there was no reward for one's kindness or good deeds to be had in this place,
either. On a more depressing note, the dead had nothing to eat or drink but
dust. Furthermore, these spirits wouldn't live forever in this hell, but their
bodies would continue to decay, just as they would while buried in the ground.
But Irkalla wasn't necessarily an evil place. Ereshkigal and Nergal served as
the guardians of the dead, protecting and watching over them.
It is said that an unbroken line of pure sea salt will ban the Rabisu from
harming others, as salt represents incorruptible life and purity. Salt comes
from the sea, and it is said that life itself emerged from the sea. In ancient
times, inverted bowls with magical charms engraved into the surface were placed
in the four corners of building foundations. This was done with the hopes that
the bowls would trap any Rabisu nearby and prevent them from hurting or even
killing passersby. Sometimes, such demons may be stopped by merely closing the
door on them. However, the solution to stopping any evil force is rarely that
simple. In ancient times, it is said that kings placed statues of powerful
demons at their palace entrances not only to pay homage to these spirits, but
to ask for protection against lesser spirits. Such statues functioned not only
as decoration, but also as apotropaics (repelling evil), essentially scaring the
lesser demons (like the Rabisu) away from such places. Crossing oneself before
crossing a threshold is considered to be helpful, as will maintaining a certain
degree of awareness at the entrance of any house. Some sources also claim that
staying in company with good friends (i.e. the type that produces hearty
laughter and pleasant noise) will drive the Rabisu away.
At one time, the Rabisu preyed upon humans for their vital energies, or
lifeforce. They could then manipulate this energy, enabling them to move
objects (essentially creating a poltergeist effect). This activity in turn
created a greater amount of negative energy in their human victims: fear
itself. Once the Rabisu had tasted the fear of their victims, they were
addicted. Not only was the energy itself powerful, but it also made these
demons so powerful that they were able to directly influence the minds of their
victims as well. Then sorcerers started summoning these demonic spirits,
enabling the Rabisu to take on a physical form. Unfortunately, there were (and
still are) always practitioners of ancient black magic who were a little
overzealous or became just a little bit too overconfident. The Rabisu had
taught these men and women how to summon them, so that the demons could do
their bidding. Those who grew too arrogant or too confident were slaughtered by
the Rabisu, who now had a corporeal form with which to do such damage. The
demons tore into their bodies with relish, but something happened: the Rabisu
had tasted human blood. This changed the demons, and there was no going back to
how things had been before.
Eventually, the sorcerers found a way to actually control the Rabisu. However,
some of these demons managed to escape and found a way to maintain a corporeal
state: through the possession of the corpses of the recently dead. According to
ancient legend, this ungodly combination of rotting human flesh and evil
demonic spirit became the first true Vampire. Furthermore, by killing humans
and feeding on the blood, the Rabisu are able to create other vampires as well,
thus perpetuating the existence of their own species. Keep in mind, however,
that this is purely speculation, and that it cannot be proved or disproved to
But is this legend true? Is there any historical or physical evidence to lend
credence to such a claim? The truth is that, while there may be some truth to
the legend itself, there is little or no evidence to support such a theory.
Nobody knows how the Vampire first truly came into being, and it is likely that
no one ever will. People can only speculate. But regardless, it wasn't long
before humans discovered that they could bargain with the Rabisu, offering up
their blood and souls to these demons in exchange for worldly power, wealth,
material possessions, and even supernatural powers. In other words, people made
pacts with the Rabisu. People still make pacts with the Devil and lesser demons
to this day, although it is far less common than it once was. But people who
yearn for an easy way to power and glory soon find that, contrary to their own
beliefs, they could not truly control the demons. The Rabisu do not feel
compelled to answer for their actions to their so-called "master",
and they answer to none but themselves.
Eventually, commoners began to search for the sorcerers who summoned such evil
spirits. They would go to these dark magicians, seeking revenge against their
enemies and those that had wronged them. For a price, the sorcerers would call
upon the Rabisu and send them to exact the client's vengeance upon neighbors,
ex-lovers, and those who are hated by the person in question. The wrath of
these demons is both swift and utterly terrifying, as the Rabisu savor the
taste of a victim's fear (which the demons also feed on), and rest assured that
the victim’s death would be both slow and extremely painful. However, there is
nothing to guarantee that the Rabisu won’t come after the one who asked the
sorcerer to call them up in the first place. Toying with such forces is indeed the proverbial double-edged sword.
Nobody knows how numerous the Rabisu actually are, but if one takes into
account that the most powerful demons are fallen angels who rebelled against
God and the rest of the angelic host, one may assume that the numbers are very
large indeed. The Scriptures say that a third of the angels in Heaven were cast
down into the fiery pits of Hell, which would numerically translate into
hundreds of thousands of these ferocious demons. Not all of these fallen angels
became Rabisu though, nor were all of the demons of this species. In other
words, not all demons are Rabisu. Each one is different in its own way.
However, it does suggest that man has much to fear when the world comes to an
There can be no doubt that the Rabisu are extremely dangerous. They are vicious,
animalistic demons, but they are both intelligent and cunning as well. These
evil spirits feed on human blood, which gives them power, and may have led to
the emergence of one of the most feared monsters in history and legend: the
Vampire. It is unknown if these demons did indeed create the first bloodsucking
undead, and one may only speculate as to the true causes of vampirism. Perhaps
they truly are human corpses under demonic possession. But despite their
overwhelming power, the Rabisu are limited in that they need a human to summon
them into this world. The vampires that they create, on the other hand, are not
so limited in their powers.
But regardless of such speculation, it is very possible that the Rabisu are
still running rampant throughout the world, along with multitudes of other
demons. Therefore, it pays to be continuously on guard against demonic attack,
and it is through faith that mankind may be victorious against these evil
spirits in the end.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank C. Silverthorn for graciously allowing me to use her own research to expand upon my own. If not for her generosity, this would have been a very short post indeed. Her website may be found at Silverthorn Press.
Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of
Demons and Demonology. New York: Checkmark Books. Copyright ©2009 by
Visionary Living, Inc.
Mack, Carol K. and Dinah. A Field
Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits.
New York: Arcade Publishing. Copyright ©1998, 2008, 2010, 2011 by Carol K. Mack
and Dinah Mack.
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