Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rabisu

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 any degree.

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 end.

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.


Guiley, 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.

The Rabisu ~ Vampiric Spirits

Rabisu (Wikipedia)

Teresa Wilde's Demon of the Week Blog: Rabisu

Irkalla (Wikipedia)

Rabisu (Monstropedia)

Accad and the Early Semites