Krapar & Kini

Hmayil: Part 26
Հմայիլ. բաժին ԻԶ

*Աղօթք թպղայի և ալի:1

Prayer against t‘pgha and al.1

Սուրբն Սիովն. սուրբն Սիսի. և սուրբն Սիսի­անէ. և սուրբն Նօվ­իէլ. և սուրբն Տազ­իէլ Հրեշ­տակքն աստ­ուծոյ՝ հրամ­անաւ քրիս­տոսի յորս էին ելեալ. և առին2 զձայն երեխ­այի իմոյ. և գնացեալ տեսին զալն ՚ի չար­ու­թեան. և ըմբռն­եալ կալան զալն և կապ­եցին ՚ի յալին վէմն: և եկեալ մայրն ալին և ասէ՝ ինչ իցէ այս.3 ասեն հրեշ­տակքն՝ այս ինչ է4 որ մտանէք դուք ՚ի որով­այն մօրն երեխ­ային, և զերեխ­ային զմիսն ուտէք, զար­իւնն խմէք. և զլոյս աչացն խաւար դարձ­ուց­անէք: ասէ մայրն ալին թողէք իմ որդին. որոյ վերայ ձեր ան­ուանքն գտան­իցի անդ ո՛չ մերձ­են­ամք5 ՚ի ծառ­այն աստ­ուծոյ (name) ամէն:

The holy Sion, the holy Sisi, and the holy Sisianus, and the holy Noviel, and the holy Taziel, the Angels of God, by the command of Christ went out to hunt, and heard2 the cry of a baby. And going [there] they saw the al [engaged] in wickedness. And seizing [it] they held the al and bound it to the Stone of the Al. And the mother of the al came and said, “What might this be?3 The angels said, “What is this,4 that you enter into the womb of the baby’s mother, eat the baby’s flesh, drink its blood, and turn the light of its eyes into darkness?” The mother of the al said, “Pardon my son, [for] upon whatever [place] your names appear, there we will not come near5 to the servant of God (name). Amen.”

Hmayil Part 26

hmayil

1 The al (ալ) or alk‘ (ալք) is a demon that enters into the wombs of pregnant women to kill them and/or their unborn children. (In some Armenian dialects, al is expressed as the plurale tantum form alk‘.)

Shown here is a portion of a handwritten hmayil in the Maten­adaran, with an illustration of St. Paul confronting an alk‘ that holds the innards of its victim. Following the illustration is the title of the incantation: Գիր ալքի և ծնուն կանաց չար թփղի, “Writing [for the sake] of alk‘ and [protecting] childbirth of women [from] evil t‘p‘gh”. (Image Credit: Toporkov, A. L., ed., The Sisinnius Legend in Folk­lore and Written Tra­di­tions. Middle East, Balkans and Eastern Europe, Moscow: 2017.)

Ghevond Alishan (1820–1901), the great poet, historian and Priest of the Mkhi­tarist Con­gre­gat­ion in Venice, discusses the alk‘ as follows:

As an ordinary word, Alk‘ means deep places, like abysses, and corresponds to the word Hell of the Goths, Germans and those of the same tongue, which means Hell. In the north, the Goddess of Hell was also called Hel; [the place was] suitable for the inhabitation of Alk‘, which live in damp places. And they mostly harmed women in childbirth and children, as if they were adversaries of their Eternal Brides. Such Spirits are, says Grigor Tatewats‘i the Moralist, “who in the water and the childbirth of women, are called Alk‘, for with the wet disease [i.e., lust] they destroy souls, and in births [they destroy] bodies and souls.” (Alishan, Gh., Hin hawatk‘ kam het‘anos­akan kronk‘ hayots‘ [Ancient Faith or Pagan Arme­nian Religion], Venice: St. Ghazar, 1910 (in Arme­nian), online at digilib.aua.am.)

Manuk Abeghyan (1865–1944), the great scholar of Arme­nian folklore, states:

There is a category of evil spirits which are especially hostile to human reproduction. These spirits are called als (alk‘) and appear as bristly and shaggy half-animal half-human figures. In one charm prayer the al is directly called an evil beast. They are usually described as having fiery eyes, bronze claws, iron teeth, and the tusks of a wild boar. They hold an iron axe in their hands. Their habitations are outdoors, on mountains and in sandy places. They like to sit in the road at sandy spots. From there they come and enter homes, staying in stables in dark corners or near the eaves. They are usually called “men,” but both sexes are represented, and they multiply like humans. The mother of the al frequently appears in folk tales and spells. They have a king who lives chained and constantly shrieking in the abyss, buried up to the neck in lead.

One legend says that God created the al to be a comrade to Adam. However, they did not suit each other since Adam was made of earth while the al was made of fire. When God saw that, he create Eve. From that time forth, the al has been inimical to Eve and to her sex. It imposes sexual abstinence on young couples, enters the womb, and destroys the fetus. With these methods it increases infertility.

Above all, the al is a danger to those giving birth and to the newborn. One spell says:

I make the children of women wither

I dry up the milk

I darken the eyes

I suck their brains out and make them dumb

And take babies from the womb prematurely.

I eat the flesh of the babies and drink their blood,

And I darken the light of their eyes.

There is another one which says:

I sit down on the childbearing woman

And make her ears burn.

I pull out the liver

And strangle the mother and the child.

Our food is the flesh of the woman giving birth, and the child.

We steal fetuses of seven months from the mother

And take them, deaf and dumb, to our king in the abyss.

It appears that the als are also spirits of lust which visit women in their sleep. (Abeghyan, op. cit. in Part 12).

hmayil

Shown here is a portion of a handwritten hmayil in the Maten­adaran, with an illustration of a sword-bearing Saint confronting an alk‘ that holds the innards of its victim, next to another alk‘ on all fours. Following the illustration is the title of the incantation: Գիր ալքի և թպղայի, “Writing [for the sake] of alk‘ and t‘pgha”. Also note the name of the hmayil’s owner, մարտին (Martin), written at the end of the prayer above the illustration, in the space after ծառ­ային աստ­ուծոյ. (Image Credit: Toporkov, Sisinnius Legend.)

Tadevos Tadevosyan, Associate Professor at Vanadzor State University in Armenia, and graduate student Shushanna Kotsinyan discuss the alk‘ as follows:

In the Arme­nian tradition, creatures called als or alks (ալեր, ալք, ալքեր) are known, who were considered the most disgusting messengers of the demonic world. In folk performances, an al appears as a female vampire spirit and a cannibal who can transform into different animals. However, in contrast to the folklore tradition, in Arme­nian prayer-incantations of book origin, the al, as a rule, appears in a male form. In some prayers, an al is described as a child along with its mother.

Als — evil spirits, demons of disease, harming women in labor and newborn children. According to legends, they attacked the mother during childbirth, tried to strangle her with the baby, burned (in some incantations — pulled) her ears, pulled out and ate the liver, lungs and flesh, sucked out the heart and brain, deprived the woman of milk and mind. Pay attention to the fact that the liver, which was allegedly stolen and devoured by the als, is the focus of life, mind and soul in popular belief, i.e., in destroying a person’s liver, the demon destroys his soul as well. That is why the curse of Ալը քեզ տանի, ‘Al take you’, is considered terrible among Arme­nian women. Women who became victims of als were called ալի կոխած, ‘crushed by an al’, ալի տարած, ‘carried away by an al’. (Toporkov, Andrei, ed., Sisin­iyeva legenda v fol'k­lornykh i ruko­pisnykh tradits­iyakh. Blizh­nego Vostoka, Balkan i Vostoch­noy Yevropy [The Sisin­nius Legend in Folk­lore and Written Tradi­tions. Middle East, Balkans and East­ern Europe], 2nd. ed., Moscow: Indrik 2017 (in Russian).)

James R. Russell, Emeritus Professor of Arme­nian Studies at Harvard Uni­versity, connects the alk‘ with Lilith of Jewish tradition:

Let us look first at the sources of the Arme­nian hmayil and its typical content. Its main feature is an invocation against the Al, or Child-stealing Witch. Belief in this demonic being is ancient and widespread in the Near and Middle East. Lamashtu, the Child-stealing Witch of ancient Mesopotamia, rides an ass. She is a fearsome lion-headed monster, with a woman’s body and a bird’s claw-like feet, grasping a serpent in each hand; at her breasts, she suckles a black dog and a pig. This demoness hates mortal women, and it is her particular function to kill their babies. On a talismanic tablet she appears with the demon of an evil wind, Pazuzu. The tablet depicts also a patient attended by doctors. The latter wear robes designed to resemble fish—the perennial symbol of immortality. There are three more relevant Mesopotamian demons―all of storm winds: lilu, lilitu, and (w)ardat lili—the last two being female. The latter fly through the air and find men whom they seduce. But their relations with a man are not of the kind he has with his wife, for they have no babies, and give no milk. They are unfulfilled, and bitter, and, taking on the role of the first demon mentioned, Lamashtu, they attack women in childbirth. So, this is the origin of the famous demoness of later Jewish and Christian lore, Lilith. …

In Jewish folklore, Lilith is believed to have been not a supernatural being at first, but the first wife of Adam, made from earth as he was, and not from his rib, either—more an equal than a helpmate. Once, the first human couple quarreled: Lilith pronounced the ineffable Name of God, the Tetra­gram­maton, and was instantly spirited into the air. She flew away. Adam complained of his loneliness to God, who dispatched three angels to find Lilith. These become the triumvirate of saints commonly encountered in Christian spells. They caught up with her at the Red Sea, where she declared she was determined to kill any children Adam might father on a second wife. They wanted to drown her then, but Lilith begged mercy, and they struck a deal: they would protect from her any child born in a home where their names were invoked. The three are named Sinoi, Sasanoy, and Samangluf, and are invoked in various texts, including the magical “Book of the Angel of Secrets”, the Sefer Raziel. … So Lilith appears as the succubus who flies to sleeping men for spectral and barren intercourse, and, in her boundless bitterness against the fertile daughters of Eve, acts as the murderous Child-stealing Witch. …

… The charm against the Child-stealing Witch even finds its way into Shake­speare’s King Lear, act 3, scene iv: “St. Withold footed thrice the (w)old;/ He met the night-mare and her nine-fold;/ Bid her alight/ And her troth plight;/ And aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!” Here, the Lilith, or night-mare succubus, has children; and her murderous forays seem to be as much for the purpose of feeding them, as for vengeance against mortal, child-bearing women. We can infer this from an Arme­nian tale, in which the Child-stealing Witch is called Al, from Iranian āl, “scarlet”, referring to the puerperal fever with which she strikes women.

Arme­nian tradition calls a fiery being named Al the first wife of Adam, too; so there is no doubt she is the same being called Lilith, or Night-mare, elsewhere. In the Arme­nian tale, the Al, called in the dialect of Kharberd, Turkish Harput, Elk‘ (with the Clas­sical plural, k‘, as pluralis tantum), takes a young mother’s liver, but cannot eat it unless she dips it first in water—perhaps a recollection of Lilith’s flight to the Red Sea. She is caught with a metal pin stuck into her clothes, for iron pins or scissors are a common charm against these monsters; and, once she is captured, we learn she has many children herself, and has stolen the liver in order to feed them. She returns the human mother’s liver to her, and becomes her servant. Eventually the Elk‘ is freed, after promising not to harm seven generations of the family, only making their wooden spoons break easily. Maybe this proviso has to do with the relative potency of iron. The Al is shown in Arme­nian talismanic scrolls as a long-clawed, horned, bearded, tailed, club-footed monster, pitchblack, holding the innards of some victim, as in the folk tale from Kharberd. … The Arme­nian talismans against the Al invoke three saints, Siovn (i.e., Zion), Sisi (perhaps from Sis, the capital of Cilician Armenia), and Sisi­ane (i.e., the Greek vocative of Sisi­anos): the same triad, and same story, as in the Jewish magical texts―and both in their present form derive from a Byzantine Greek prototype, as Gaster pointed out long ago. (Russell 2011, op.cit. in Part 15.)

Less information is available about the origin and nature of the demon known as t‘pgha (թպղա). It is often mentioned in together with an al in the titles of prayers (incantations). Alishan states: “In our divination books, the T‘pgha is remembered only along with the next evil and horrible spirit [described in his book], which is Al or Alk‘.” (Alishan, op. cit.). However, the t‘pgha usually does not appear in the texts of the incantations themselves. When it does, it often shares the same characteristics as the al. Thus it would appear that two separate demons of antiquity were merged into one demon in Arme­nian folklore, with both names surviving in the tradition.

Tadevosyan and Kotsinyan discuss the t‘pgha as follows:

Another evil spirit, which harms women in labor and newborns, is popularly called t‘pgha (t‘ghpa, t‘epgha, t‘epgh; թպղա, թղպա, թեպղա, թեպղ). According to G. Acharyan, this word goes back to the Persian tabāh, ‘defiler’, ‘villain’. The scholar also cites forms of the adjective թպղոտ, ‘ill with t‘pgha’, and the verb թպղոտիլ ‘to fall ill with t‘pgha’. G. Alishan attributes the word t‘pgha to the Greek θεο­βουλη ‘the will of God’, and notes that this name (Theo­bula) was borne by the mother of Myrtilus — the son of Zeus Heph­aestus or Hermes. However, he is rather skeptical about his own hypothesis. G. Kapants­yan connects t‘pgha with the Hittite god of harvest and fertility Telepinu. This magnanimous deity turned into an evil demon as a result of complex cultural and political contacts between the Hittites and the Arme­nians. S. Haru­tyunyan connects t‘pgha with the Sumerian-Akkadian demon Tabal (Khumut-Tabal), who transports the souls of the dead across the river. The connection of t‘pgha with the female Syrian demon — Tabi'ah, who seduces men and kidnaps children from the cradle — is not excluded. It is possible that the term comes from the name of the Arabic female demon Teb'ah, which is derived from the verb tabaʕa, ‘to follow’.

T‘pgha is both the personified spirit of the disease and the disease itself. The disease affects women in labor, newborns, older children, and even adolescents. … If a woman’s children are born dead or die early, then people say that she has t‘pgha. To get rid of t‘pgha, they resorted to the help of sorcerers… (Toporkov, op. cit.)

2 առին, “(they) heard”, literally “(they) received”.

3 Reading ինչ իցէ այս contextually with a question mark as ի՞նչ իցէ այս,“What might this be?”. See also the following note.

4 Reading այս ինչ է contextually with a question mark as այս ի՞նչ է, “What is this…?”. The narrative of the prayer appears to be distorted here. In lengthier incantations with a similar story of three or more angels or saints confronting this demon, the angel-saints typically ask the question “What are you?” (often with an invective such as “O foul living thorn-bush”), to which the demon responds that it is an al, or the mother of the al. The angel-saints then ask “What deeds are you doing?” (or something similar), and the demon responds with a recita¬tion of its evil deeds against the mother and child in the womb. Occasionally a third question is asked, “What is your name?”. In the condensed version of the narrative here, it appears that the question by the angel-saints, “What is this…?”, is the standard “What deeds are you doing?” question combined with the al’s answer that recites its foul deeds. The prior question by the al, “What might this be?”, might be a reversal of the standard “What are you?” question asked by the angel-saints.

5 The names of the angels act as magic words to keep the als away from the person whose name is written on the hmayil. Cf. also the protection afforded by the angels’ names in Part 11.