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Baby, sleep! Or the Demon will come for you...

Walking up to her friend’s front door, Jennifer rang the doorbell. A few moments later, the door opened and her friend Lilith stood before her, looking quite frazzled and haggard. J: Hey Lilith!

L: Hey! You’re here! Come on in.

Entering her house, Jennifer could hear the cries of a baby from upstairs. Almost immediately, Lilith rushed up to sooth the wails of her child. Following her, Jennifer quietly walked towards Kayson’s nursery room but remained outside, watching Lilith as she rocked Kayson in her arms while singing a lullaby in a foreign tongue:

sehrum wãSib bit ekletim

lú tattasâm tãtamar núr èamèim

ammin tabakki ammin tuggag

ullikia ammin lã tabki

ili bitim tedki kusarikkum iggeltêm

mannum idkianni mannum ugallitanni

sehrum idkika sehrum ugallitka

kima Sãtu karãnim kima mãr sãbitim

limqutaãàum èittum

(Magic at the Cradle. Babylonians and Assyrian Lullabies. Pg 140)

Gradually, Kayson’s cries began to quieten down and soon after he was fast asleep. After tucking him in, Lilith and Jennifer quietly retreated downstairs to the living room. Flopping onto her couch, Lilith breathed a sigh of relief while Jennifer settled next to her. Curious about the lullaby, Jennifer turned to Lilith and asked.

J: Hey Lilith, I’m just wondering…what was that lullaby that you sang to Kayson?

L: Oh, well, my mother used to sing that to me, as my grandmother did to her. It’s a Babylonian lullaby. Although to be honest, I only use this lullaby because it always puts Kayson to sleep. I have no clue what the lyrics mean though. If I’m not wrong, it’s called “Little baby in the dark house”.

J: Hmmm, I’m curious…let’s Google it!

Using Lilith’s laptop, Jennifer started searching for information about the lullaby.

J: It says here that the lullaby was written around 2000 BC in cuneiform script, and the only written record of this lullaby is a small clay tablet which is now located in the British Museum. This lullaby is ancient! How does your family even know this lullaby?

L: (shrugs) I just learned it from my mother and my grandmother. Maybe we have Babylonian ancestry somewhere in the family tree hahaha. Hey, could you open up that link? It’s a translated version of the lullaby.

Jennifer opens the translation of the lullaby and reads it out loud:

Little Baby in the dark house

You have seen the sun rise

Why are you crying?

Why are you screaming?

You have disturbed the house god.

‘Who has disturbed me,’ says the house god?

‘It is the baby who has disturbed you.’

‘Who scared me,’ says the house god?

‘The baby has disturbed you, the baby has scared you, making noises like a drunkard who cannot sit still on his stool. He has disturbed your sleep.’

‘Call the baby now,’ says the house god.

(Click on hyperlink above for audio translation)

J: Woah, didn’t expect such a bizarre message. With lyrics like that, how did it put Kayson to sleep? I guess it helps that he probably doesn’t understand any of it but still…

L: Perhaps it’s the melody that puts them to sleep and not the words?

J: I guess? (reads some more) Hey this is interesting! It says here that in the past, lullabies in Mesopotamia were believed to be incantations or prayers to summon the moon god Nanna to protect the baby from the female demon Lamashtu. But for this particular lullaby, it seems to be more of a warning for the child...because if the demon mentioned were to wake up, the child’s a goner! And I thought lullabies were just to help babies to sleep...


L: Well, it seems like there are more to lullabies than what we have assumed to know? Maybe during that period, the lyrics of the lullabies were influenced by the religious beliefs of the people back then. I remember reading somewhere that since babies during this period generally had a short life span, crying was interpreted as a symptom of illness. As a result, perhaps the only protection mothers felt they could give their babies was through lullabies, which were viewed as “magical charms” to protect babies when they sleep. Could you check out that link? (reads for a moment) This also seems to suggest that sometimes the lyrics of the lullaby are directed towards the parents and not the baby? Like it’s a means for them to relieve “their own fears and anxieties”.


GIF Credit

J: That’s kind of weird...and dark. But I doubt all lullabies are this morbid? Although I’m starting to wonder if the lyrics make a difference anyways; because what may be more important for the sanity of the parent is putting the child to sleep, am I right?

L: I guess...but there’s no harm in looking for alternative lullabies.

J: (searches for a while) Well you’re in luck! There is an alternative Babylonian lullaby. An interpretation nonetheless but let’s check it out!

L: Hey, it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And the lyrics look alright. Maybe I should learn this instead and sing it to Kayson next time!

J: Yeap. Let’s try singing it!

For the rest of the afternoon, Lilith and Jennifer went on learning the lyrics and attempting to sing the lullaby.