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Lamastu: A Friendly Introduction

Lamashtu is a demon goddess from Mesopotamian mythology, known for her terrifying powers and association with childbirth and fertility. She was often depicted as a winged lion-headed woman with long talons and a serpent’s tail. In some texts, she is also referred to as “the daughter of Anu,” the sky god of the Sumerian pantheon.

In ancient times, Lamashtu was feared by many people, especially pregnant women and new mothers. It was believed that she could cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and even the death of infants. Her powers were said to extend beyond childbirth, as she was also known to prey on men and women alike, causing illness, madness, and death by drinking their blood and eating their flesh.

Despite her fearsome reputation, Lamashtu was also worshipped by some as a powerful deity who could grant fertility and protection to those who honored her. Some ancient texts describe rituals and offerings made to her in hopes of gaining her favor. Today, Lamashtu continues to be a popular figure in modern fantasy and role-playing games, where she is often portrayed as a demonic villain with supernatural powers.

Origins of Lamastu

Mythological Roots

Lamastu is a female demon or goddess whose origins are rooted in the polytheistic beliefs of ancient Mesopotamian cultures, including the Akkadians, Sumerians, and Babylonians. According to mythology, she is believed to be the daughter of the sky god Anu. She was often described as a demon or a monster, and her malevolent nature was feared by many.

Cultural Context

In ancient Mesopotamian cultures, childbirth was a perilous time for women and their newborns. Lamastu was believed to be particularly dangerous during childbirth and was said to kidnap infants while they were breastfeeding. She was also known to drink the blood of men and eat their flesh. As a result, women often invoked protective spells and amulets to ward off her evil influence during childbirth.

Lamastu’s legend was so pervasive that she even made her way into the rituals of the Babylonian New Year festival, where she was invoked to help ward off evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest. Despite her terrifying nature, Lamastu was also seen as a powerful and influential figure in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, and her legend continues to inspire awe and fascination to this day.

Depictions of Lamastu

Lamashtu is a fearsome and malevolent being, embodying a hybrid creature with both human and animal characteristics. She possesses a black body covered in coarse hair, sporting the head of a lion with donkey-like teeth and ears, and bird-like feet adorned with long, twisted claws.


Iconographic depictions of Lamastu in the 9th – 7th centuries BCE have her wearing upright ears, like those of a donkey, whilst a piglet and a whelp suckle at her breasts. She frequently stands or kneels on the figure of a donkey and holds snakes in both hands. The images of Lamastu often depict her with a bird’s head, a crooked beak, a crest of feathers, and arms and fingers stretched out.


Lamastu is a symbol of the dangers of childbirth, and her iconography reflects this symbolism. Her depiction with animals such as pigs and dogs is believed to represent the unclean and impure aspects of childbirth. The snakes that she holds in both hands are a symbol of the life force and the power of creation, which can be both life-giving and destructive.

In summary, the iconography and symbolism of Lamastu reflect her role in Mesopotamian mythology as a fearsome and malevolent being who menaced women during childbirth. Her depictions with animals and snakes serve to reinforce her association with the dangers of childbirth and the power of creation.

Lamastu in Ancient Texts

Cuneiform References

Lamastu is a demon or monster described in ancient Mesopotamian mythology. She is mentioned in various cuneiform texts from the second and first millennia BCE. In the texts, she is often depicted as a female demon who menaces women during childbirth and kidnaps their children while they are breastfeeding. The cuneiform texts also describe various rituals and incantations to protect women and their children from Lamastu’s malevolent influence.

One of the most significant cuneiform references to Lamastu is the canonical series of Lamastu incantations and rituals from the second and first millennia BCE. This series includes various texts that describe the demon’s powers and how to protect oneself and one’s family from her. The series also includes non-canonical Lamastu incantations and rituals that are not part of the standard Babylonian series.

Literary Descriptions

Apart from cuneiform references, Lamastu is also described in various literary texts from ancient Mesopotamia. For example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, she is depicted as a demon who attacks the hero Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. In the text, she is described as having the head of a lion, the body of a donkey, and the wings of a bird.

In another literary text, the Babylonian Talmud, Lamastu is described as a demon who causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The text suggests that parents can protect their children from Lamastu’s influence by placing an amulet with her image around the child’s neck.

Overall, Lamastu is a fascinating figure in ancient Mesopotamian mythology and is mentioned in various cuneiform and literary texts. The demon’s powers and malevolent influence on women and children are well-documented in these texts, and various rituals and incantations were developed to protect oneself and one’s family from her.

Beliefs and Practices

Lamastu was a prominent figure in the ancient Mesopotamian beliefs and practices. She was considered a demon who caused harm to both humans and animals, especially pregnant women and newborns. However, there were also protective measures that people took to ward off her negative effects.

Protective Measures

To protect themselves from Lamastu, people would often use amulets and charms. These amulets were believed to have protective powers against the demon’s harmful effects. Some amulets were made of precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, and were worn as jewelry. Others were small figurines that could be carried around or placed in homes.

Another protective measure was the use of incantations. These were special prayers that were recited to ward off Lamastu’s negative effects. The incantations were often performed by priests or other religious specialists and were believed to have powerful magical properties.

Rituals and Amulets

In addition to protective measures, there were also rituals that were performed to counteract Lamastu’s negative effects. One such ritual was the “Lamastu Banishing Ritual,” which was performed to banish the demon from a person’s home. This ritual involved the use of special objects, such as a clay figurine of the demon, which was destroyed during the ritual.

Another important aspect of Mesopotamian beliefs and practices was the use of amulets. These were small objects that were believed to have protective powers against the demon’s harmful effects. Some amulets were made of precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, and were worn as jewelry. Others were small figurines that could be carried around or placed in homes.

In conclusion, Lamastu was a significant figure in ancient Mesopotamian beliefs and practices. While she was considered a demon who caused harm, there were also protective measures that people took to counteract her negative effects. These included the use of amulets, incantations, and rituals.

Lamastu and Lamashtu

Lamastu and Lamashtu are two names that are often used interchangeably in reference to the same Mesopotamian goddess. However, there are some differences between the two names that are worth noting.

Comparative Analysis

Lamastu is the older of the two names and was first mentioned in Sumerian texts dating back to the third millennium BCE. She was often depicted as a winged lion or a lion-headed woman and was associated with disease and death.

Lamashtu, on the other hand, is a later Akkadian name for the same goddess. She was often depicted as a demon with the head of a lioness, the body of a donkey, and the feet of a bird. Lamashtu was associated with infertility, miscarriages, and the death of newborns.

Despite these differences in name and appearance, both Lamastu and Lamashtu were feared and respected as powerful deities in ancient Mesopotamia.

Scholarly Interpretations

Scholars have offered various interpretations of Lamastu/Lamashtu over the years. Some have seen her as a symbol of the dangers of childbirth and the unpredictability of life. Others have viewed her as a manifestation of the chaos and disorder that lurks beneath the surface of civilization.

In recent years, some scholars have suggested that Lamastu/Lamashtu may have been a way for ancient Mesopotamians to express their anxieties about the natural world and the forces that govern it. By personifying these forces as a powerful goddess, they may have felt a sense of control over them, or at least a way to make sense of them.

Regardless of the interpretation, it is clear that Lamastu/Lamashtu played an important role in Mesopotamian religion and mythology, and her legacy continues to fascinate scholars and laypeople alike.

Influence on Popular Culture

Modern Representations

Lamastu, the demonic entity from ancient Mesopotamian mythology, has had a lasting impact on popular culture. Her terrifying reputation has inspired numerous works of literature, art, and media. Her depiction as a monster/malevolent goddess or demigoddess who menaced women during childbirth and kidnapped their children while they were breastfeeding has made her a popular figure in horror and supernatural genres.

Lamastu in Media

Lamastu has appeared in various forms of media over the years. In the video game “Final Fantasy XII,” she is depicted as a boss character. In the television series “Penny Dreadful,” she is portrayed as a demon who preys on pregnant women. In the comic book series “Lucifer,” she is referenced as the mother of the character Mazikeen.

Moreover, Lamastu’s themes of motherhood, terror, and the supernatural have been utilized in many other works of media. Her influence can be seen in movies such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Omen,” where demonic entities threaten the safety of children and their mothers. Her impact can also be felt in literature, where she is referenced in works such as “The Exorcist” and “The Hellbound Heart.”

In conclusion, Lamastu’s influence on popular culture has been significant. Her reputation as a terrifying demon goddess has inspired numerous works of art, literature, and media. Her themes of motherhood, terror, and the supernatural continue to captivate audiences to this day.