In the beginning, god created eleven mythical monsters because of her concern over the actions and growing power of the younger gods. An unexpected beginning to most in the western world, to be sure, but this is not that god: this god is Tiamat.
Tiamat, “the glistening one”, was a primordial god of the sea in the traditional religion of ancient Mesopotamia. Her defeat at the hands of the younger pantheon of gods forms a major part of their mythology.
Echoes of this sort of narrative exist in many pantheons. Think of the Titans in Greek mythology, think of the monsters and frost giants of the Norse epic sagas. The latter comparison is especially apt given the monsters Tiamat created, for these too would challenge the gods.
And of the eleven great creatures created by Tiamat, perhaps the most unusual was known as the “Big Weather Beast”. This was Ugallu, an ud-demon of Mesopotamia.
And if you worshipped him, he could personally save your life.
Big Wings and a Very Short Skirt
Ugallu was certainly monstrous to behold. Lion headed and powerfully built, this storm demon and his brothers and sisters were created to wreak havoc on the world, destroying the upstart gods of the younger Mesopotamian pantheon and all their works.
Happily, this destruction was averted. Marduk, who would eventually rise to become head of the Mesopotamian pantheon and the patron deity of the great city of Babylon and the Neo-Assyrian Empire, saw the danger in these monsters and feared what they might do.
However, he did not destroy them. Instead Ugallu and his like were captured and bound with strong ropes. Marduk then fed them the corpses of his (and Babylon’s) defeated foes, which served to domesticate them and bring them into his service.
In doing this the priesthood of Babylon were essentially linking religious war and protection from natural disasters. Smite the foes of Babylon, or those earthquakes will happen again, that sort of thing. Handy little message, that.
Anyway, Ugallu was transformed through the efforts of Marduk and at the expense of his enemies. Over time Ugallu and the other ten monsters became protective presences, magical creatures who could safeguard the lives of every Babylonian. And boy, did Ugallu change in his new role.
His feet became eagle’s talons, which occasionally seem to have challenged the stonecarvers looking to depict him, leaving him tottering about on the tips of his claws. He also took to wearing an extremely short skirt, a distinctive fashion choice that became almost synonymous with him.
His job changed, too. Ugallu, the all-powerful ud-demon and storm lord, became a sort of life insurance for the Babylonians: wear a charm with a picture of him, and amulet or the like, and your person would be safe from attack.
If your life was in danger, and if you wore such a protective amulet, then Ugallu would spring to your aid. He would manifest and save you from whatever was threatening you, either through spiriting you away (he sometimes had very big wings and is depicted with them spread wide) or by destroying your adversaries.
Unsurprisingly this proved very popular with the ancient Babylonians, and the cult of Ugallu became very powerful. Rituals worshipping him were held at night, when he was likely to be listening: in the day he was busy, “ud-demon” literally meaning “day demon”.
So, if you find yourself facing danger, or are concerned about your safety, maybe carrying an amulet of Ugallu might not be a bad idea. He just might turn up to rescue you, lion head, eagle feet, mini skirt and all.
Top Image: Ugallu as depicted in the North Palace of Nineveh, Iraq. Source: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / CC BY-SA 4.0.
By Joseph Green