|History 333 Students, with Tracene Harvey and her assistant Carla Watson at the front|
and the Rain Miracle god behind.
What struck the class is the continuance of certain practices and images over time: the use of charms to ward off sickness or evil and the persistent belief in half-human and half-animal creatures with supernatural powers. There were some changes, though. Pazuzu, for example, was a neutral deity for the Assyrians, although his appearance was co-opted in the later Christian ideas of Satan. The rain miracle reveals the differing interpretations of events by competing groups (much as possession was by sixteenth-century Protestants and Catholics).
Each week, two questions haunted our course:
- Why did certain supernatural explanations make sense more during different periods, and how did they shape peoples' experiences?
- Why was there a growing rejection of supernatural beliefs during the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the educated elite who had previously believed?
Arguably, there never was a complete change, given the continued modern beliefs in ghosts. But perhaps this is to be expected. The move away from supernatural beliefs in the eighteenth century is, after all, relatively recent in the wider historical frame. As our visit to the Museum highlighted, the idea of supernatural entities regularly interacting with humans and the natural world has a long and fascinating history.
The Museum of Antiquities is open Monday to Friday, 9:00-4:00, but public tours and additional opening hours can be arranged.