It is no rare occurrence that someone comes to the OVC (online vampire community), claiming to know secrets about “Sumerian vampires”, the so-called ‘akhkharu’. As I’ve tried to explain why this term is neither Sumerian nor in any way related to ancient Mesopotamia numerous times, I have decided to write a concise and yet complete explanation on why this term doesn’t mean “vampire” and, indeed, doesn’t even exist.
As for my credentials — I am studying Ancient Semitic Philology, Oriental Archaeology and Sumerology (yes, professionally, at a university) and am at the moment working on my Master’s thesis. It’s about demons, spirits and ghosts in the 3rd millennium, so if I find anything to refute my current claims, I’ll let you know. The quest for knowledge is never over. I can read Sumerian and Akkadian, as well as Bible Hebrew and Ancient Hebrew and a whole bunch of other dead languages none of you have ever heard of. So I guess that qualifies me at least a bit.
“Akhkharu” (or “aḫḫaru” if we use a proper Semitic spelling) is supposed to mean “vampire”. Where does this idea come from? The first note of a word “aḫḫaru” appears in the so-called Simon Necronomicon, 1977, by Peter Levenda (or at least very probably by Peter Levenda).
To give some sort of impression of the ‘scholarship’ inherent in the Simon Necronomicon, let’s examine a few parts of its introductory parts. On page 5, we read about “Sumeria”. It is a tell-tale sign that Levenda — sorry, Simon — doesn’t even know that the proper term is Sumer. Sumeria is only used by people with limited education, and certainly a limited education in the matters of the Ancient Near East.
The next highlight ‘Simon’ presents us with is the following: “[…] Each of the seven principal cities of Sumeria was ruled by a different deity, who was worshiped in the strange, non-Semitic language of the Sumerians; a language which has been closely allied to that of the Aryan race, having in fact many words identical to that of Sanskrit (and, it is said, to Chinese!).” (p. 6f)
– “seven principal cities”? Mh. Interesting that that’s not recorded anywhere… not that Sumer ever had a real “principal city” anyways; it all depended on which dynasty from which city-state managed to gain more power. Also, Sumerian is not “strange”, although the writer at least got the “non-Semitic” right. The rest, however, is pure hogwash. Sumerian is a language isolate, and not at all related or “closely allied” or even barely resembling the language of “the Aryan race” (do I smell racial supremacy here?).
But Levenda carries on in this vein. As an ‘expert’ of Sumerian mythology and grammar as well as comparative linguistics, he offers the reader the following valuable insight: “The Underworld in ancient Sumeri was known by many names […] also as Cutha or KUTU as it is called in the Enuma Elish (the Creation Epic of the Sumerians). The phonetic similarity between Cutha and KUTU and Chthonic, as well as Cthulhu, is striking. Judging by a Sumerian grammar at handii, the word KUTULU or Cuthalu (Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Sumerianised) would mean “The Man of KUTU (Cutha); The Man of the Underworld; Satan or Shaitan […]” (p. 6f)
I cannot even begin to explain how incredibly wrong this paragraph is as a whole and in its details. First of all, the Enûma Elish (“As Above”, the first line of the text, after which texts were referred to in antiquity) isn’t a Sumerian text; it dates to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, who had it written as a piece of political propaganda to ease the unrest between the Babylonian South and the Assyrian North under his rule, to about 1422. That’s about 1500 years away from Sumer and its creation myths. I say “myths” (plural), because there are numerous different accounts of creation in Sumerian texts. Anyone remotely familiar with the topic would have realized that.
Leaving his ridiculous “phonetic similarities” aside, Levenda/Simon arrives at his most glorious point: Sumerian grammar. And of course, he got it gloriously wrong. “The Man of KUTU” would be constructed as LÚ-KUTU-AK; /-ak/ is the genitive postposition in Sumerian. Without another vowel following the genitive postposition, it loses the /k/, and a phonological assimilation of the vowels takes place, making the end result LÚ-KUTU(-Ú/A). Note that LU and LÚ mean different things. Levenda’s example would mean “KUTU of a sheep”.
Scholar of Sumerian with a grammar at hand indeed. Even first semester students know that. And truth be told, I don’t think much about first semester students… ’nuff said?
So much for a short overview of Peter Levenda’s/Simon’s credibility when it comes to matters of the Ancient Near East and particularly its languages and… well, everything. Back to ‘aḫḫaru’, though…
What about the reality of the word, outside of an admittedly fictional grimoire – a hoaxiii?
Let’s look at it from a philological perspective. In the Simon Necronomicon, we find under the heading of “Common Sumerian Words and Phrases in English” (p25) as the first entry “Akhkharu”, “vampire”.
What other sources are available?
Guess what: None. Literally none.
But still, let’s assume ‘aḫḫaru’ is a real word. Could it be Sumerian? Just one glance at the structure of the word shows that it can’t be Sumerian — the classically Semitic laryngeal sound /?/ (“khet” for the armchair kabbalists out there) doesn’t exist in the Sumerian phonological inventarium. Also, doubled consonants in the middle of a word are rare in Sumerian, and even rarer are those that include the same consonant doubled. So, Sumerian can safely be ruled out on purely linguistic grounds. But for those with a taste for more — let’s see what the online Sumerian dictionary, the ePSD (electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary), the best resource for scholars of Sumerian, has to say if we type in ‘aḫḫaru’, ‘akkaru’, ‘akhkharu’ or any other variant one can think of: Nothing. There is no Sumerian word ‘a??aru’.
But alas, people often get Sumerian and Akkadian with its two main dialects, Babylonian and Assyrian, mixed up. So might ‘aḫḫaru’ maybe be a Semitic word? Let’s look at the oldest Semitic language, Akkadian.
To understand the following, I have to preface with a bit of grammatical theory. No, don’t be scared. It’s not that bad.
In Semitic languages, words don’t really have vowels; the meaning of a word is carried by its consonants, also called ‘RADICALS’. A typical Semitic word has 3 radicals; within the field of Comparative Semitistics or Assyriology, we use the structure *R1R2R3 to refer to this so-called “root” of a word. Depending on what grammatical stuff you do with a root, you can create a variety of words.
If you learn a Semitic language, particularly a dead Semitic language, one of the first things you learn is how to find out the root of a word — if you can’t recognise roots, you may as well forget studying Semitic languages. No root = no meaning.
Usually, we start at the end of a word. In this case, we have a /-u/. This might very well be a Nominative ending. It is certainly not part of the root. Why? We’ll get to that later.
The next consonant we see is /r/ (‘reshiv‘). Proper consonant, part of the root. So we already have *R1R2r for the root.
The next consonant we encounter is the doubled /ḫ/ (‘khet’), which already gives our root more form – *R1ḫr. Considering the structure of the word, we have to assume either a weak radical /j/ or an aleph as the first radical. A /j/ would, under the influence of the /r/ in the root, transform the first vowel into a /u/, which isn’t the case here. However, Aleph I verbs fit the pattern, so we can assume a root *ʾḩr (aḫāru). Sounds like a reasonable Akkadian root…. so let’s look for it.
hhh stopped. need to find code for ? (is that aleph?)
What do we find?
Nothing. No single Akkadian root *ʾḩr, no Aramaean root *ʾḩr, no Hebrew root *ʾḩr… that way seems to be a dead end.
Besides for the nonexistent root *ʾḩr, we are facing another philological problem: The doubled middle radical, /ḩ/. Only the D-stem (“Doppelungsstamm”, resp. “doubled stem”, which causes an intensification of the original meaning of the root) and the Dt and Dtt (‘D-stem with -ta- and -tata- infices, which cause an iterative-repetitive meaning of a verb) have a doubled second radical/consonant. The vocalisation (a.k.a. the way vowels are put in between the radicals/consonants) is fixed in stone when it comes to Akkadian — it’s like maths, really. The D-stem’s vocalisation is R1uR2R2uR3u for the basic infinitive , which would make for ‘uḩḩuru’ in the case of a Primae Aleph (Aleph I) root like the (nonexistent) *ʾḩr. -ta- and -tata- infixes are even less likely, as there is no evidence of anything resembling an ‘ataḩru’ or ‘utaḩḩuru’ or any such variations — not even in hapaxv forms.
But wait!, you say. Couldn’t there be the root *ḩḩr? Sure, there could — but again, a glance into the (very, very, very complete) dictionaries on Akkadian tell us that no such root exists. And if it did, ‘aḩḩaru’ would be a verbal form in the G-stem, Singular, 1st person Present Tense + Subjunctive . Which makes no sense as a noun, especially since nouns are formed in a different way (forms like PARS/PIRS/PURS, PARRUS/PURRUS, PRIST/PRUST, PRUSSU/PRASSU, etc.)
Neither Sumerian nor Akkadian sources mention a word even remotely resembling ‘aḩḩaru’. I think it is safe to say that cultures that spanned three millennia before Crisis (© Jursa) that compiled dictionaries, some of them bilingual, trilingual or even quadrilingual, knew better what words they used than the author of the only source on ‘aḩḩaru’.
Sumerian/Mesopotamian vampires? I’m sorry, you have to look somewhere else.
i Heureka! He managed to write it correctly! Sign of an editor, even a sloppy one, or just chance?
ii Peter Levenda/Simon wants you to know: He has a Sumerian grammar at hand. Just because he’s awesome. And a scholar.
iii The author acknowledges the validity of the Simon Necronomicon system as a coherent magickal system that produces results if the paradigm is followed by the practitioner. The only issue the author has with the Simon Necronomicon is the blatant misrepresentation of Sumero-Akkadian deities and rituals, as well as inventing terms just to bother occultists who happen to be philologists and sanguinarians.
iv Interestingly enough, even Akkadian knows this — rĕšu means “head”, same as in Hebrew.
v That means that a certain grammatical form is only attested once. Happens a lot in Assyriology, so you can’t say “Oh, but you just haven’t found the word yet!” — if we haven’t found it, how could Levenda/Simon know about it?
vi That means it’s a marker for a verb that is part of a relative clause.
vii We use the paradigm verb parāsu for the paradigm of the strong verb and all derived paradigms. It means “to separate”.