Given that sheep and goats formed the economic basis (as far as fauna are concerned) of the sacred economy in the ancient Near East, one would expect creative uses of such animals. That is, one used every conceivable part of the animal, and the animals performed all manner of functions. Some would be expected – fibre, milk, meat, bones – others less so. Such as:

If a woman quarrelled with her man, she could seek to overcome his anger by knifing a sheep, touching its death wound, holding a magnet in her right hand and an iron boat in the left – not to forget the necessary prayer to the goddess Ishtar. Why? Her man’s anger would be as dead as the sheep and he would – like the iron boat – find her magnetism simply irresistible.

More intriguing is the ritual for the man with a twinge of regret for intercourse with a goat. Yes, there is a ritual for this too. It goes:

You take hair from the she-goat. On the roof, before Shamash, you tie up a virgin she-goat and you take hair from a she-goat whose hair and body are red. You lay them out before the virgin she-goat and pour a libation of beer over them.

Of course one wonders why, but it may well be that the opposition between one’s recent dalliance and the goat with whom one has not copulated, along with the opposition between the colours red and white (hair from the respective goats), all point to the wish for separation.

It goes on:

You tie that hair up in a linen cloth. You put it on the ground before Shamash. You kneel on it and say as follows … You say this three times and report your doings and then prostrate yourself. You throw that linen cloth into the gate of a beer distributor and after fifteen days you remove it. The gain of the beer distributor will be diminished but the omen will stand to one side and its evil will not approach the man and his household.

Why a beer distributor? Not only was beer a crucial product of agriculture, perhaps one of the reasons why human beings gathered together in the first place, but it may also be due to the fact that the goddess Ishtar was the patron of both goats and sex.

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