In Mesopotamian mythology, Lamashtu (Akkadian dLa-maš-tu) was a female demon, monster, malevolent goddess or demigoddess who menaced women during childbirth and, if possible, kidnapped their children while they were breastfeeding. She would gnaw on their bones and suck their blood, as well as being charged with a number of other evil deeds. She was a daughter of the Sky God Anu.
Lamashtu is depicted as a mythological hybrid, with a hairy body, a lioness’ head with donkey’s teeth and ears, long fingers and fingernails, and the feet of a bird with sharp talons. She is often shown standing or kneeling on a donkey, nursing a pig and a dog, and holding snakes.
Lamashtu’s father was the Sky God Anu. Unlike many other usual demonic figures and depictions in Mesopotamian lore, Lamashtu was said to act in malevolence of her own accord, rather than at the gods’ instructions. Along with this her name was written together with the cuneiform determinative indicating deity. This means she was a goddess or a demigoddess in her own right.
She bore seven names and was described as seven witches in incantations. Her evil deeds included (but were not limited to): slaying children, unborns, and neonates; causing harm to mothers and expectant mothers; eating men and drinking their blood; disturbing sleep; bringing nightmares; killing foliage; infesting rivers and lakes; and being a bringer of disease, sickness, and death.
So, to set the stage, the Mesopotamian pantheon has “ten thousand” gods (and goddesses). I’m not taking that literally, I’m taking that figuratively, like the number of stars in the sky. Uncountable by anything less than the gods themselves. Also relevant (-ish) is that every “city” had its own patron god, major or minor. I’m including towns in that Dungeon World context; but not villages which probably have something more like a local spirit.
Most important of the ten thousand are the Anunnaki, “the seven who decree”. What they decree specifically is the fate of those who die, in the underworld known as Kur or Irkalla (it’s also known is Kigal, hello foreshadowing). The underworld is ruled by a Queen (Ereshkigal) who is not one of the Anunnaki. But whether you end up a slave, free, or nobility in the Underworld depends on how the seven who decree weigh your life.
And I thought, “what’s the opposite of childbirth”? Bickety-bam, necromancers. Not the primal chaos of Tiamat, but the ordered corruption of natural law, a pale imitation, if you will. Stay tuned next week when I tie this in to the demon lord of undeath.
Pazuzu, a god or demon, was invoked to protect birthing mothers and infants against Lamashtu’s malevolence, usually on amulets and statues. Although Pazuzu was said to be bringer of famine and drought, he was also invoked against evil for protection, and against plague, but he was primarily and popularly invoked against his fierce, malicious rival Lamashtu.