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The Ghosts Of Demons And The Childless

In ancient Babylonia, it was believed that ghosts walked through the night like the living walked through the day. They weren’t the incorporeal spirits that we think of today when someone mentions ghosts. Back then, it was thought that ghosts could possess the bodies of living animals and that the ghosts of the world’s demons had a particular affinity for possessing the bodies of birds. Evil spirits possessed wild dogs and lions, which were driven to hunt—and to occasionally hunt humans—because of the ghosts within them.

One of the most powerful and dreaded of the Babylonian ghosts was the spirit of the woman who had died in childbirth, driven mad by grief and cursed to walk the night for the rest of time. Equally damned were those who died without having children, whether they were men or women. They, too, would be cursed to wander and wail during the night.

To make sure that the spirits of parents, grandparents, and other ancestors were allowed to rest, the living—traditionally the oldest son—would leave food and drink for the starving, thirsty spirits. Without children to watch over them, the childless were forced to haunt homes and wander the streets, looking for anything to sate their appetites.

Nighttime in Babylonia was a terrifying place, with many types of deaths forcing a person’s soul to remain in the land of the living and haunt empty buildings, possess the bodies of nocturnal creatures, and prey on those unfortunate enough to be traveling at night. These nighttime ghosts were the spirits of people who had died in the desert with their bones uncovered, who had their lives cut short in violent ways, who were executed as prisoners, who drowned and rose from the water to walk again, and who fell in battle and were left unburied.