"Imps of the Marginalia"
They appeared in Sumeria
when learned men first began
to press letters into tablets of clay.
Something about the system of writing
let the incantations start talking back,
setting messages bolt upright along
the margins of the grimoires.
For the most part the changes
remained subtle, and few except for
the priests and the wizards even noticed.
Only the most observant of peasants
realized that the power of words
could make incidental magic,
or that a clever person could
copy marks from a temple
onto humbler crafts.
The imps of the marginalia
were only messengers, though;
the real power lay elsewhere --
and equally capable of speech.
Now and then one of the dub-sar,
the scribes of the tablet-house,
would begin writing up and down
instead of side to side, and what
they wrote could be powerful.
The old word zisurrû, meaning
a magic circle drawn with flour,
slowly evolved into Zisurra,
the name of magic herself.
She could always listen,
but she rarely answered,
preferring to leave most work
to the imps of the marginalia.
Still, this left its mark on history,
as subtle important changes tend to do.
Thus began the age of acrostic magery.
* * *
Sumeria gave birth to the first writing. Sumerian is written in cuneiform.
Marginalia are notes or pictures made around the edges of a manuscript.
Acrostic writing goes down the side of a text, usually spelled in the first letters of the lines.
dub-sar -- scribes, tablet-writers
é-dub-ba -- school, tablet-house
dumu-é-dub-ba -- student, son of the tablet-house
-- "Schooldays: A Sumerian Composition Relating to the Education of a Scribe"
Zisurrû, meaning “magic circle drawn with flour,” was a historic method of protective magic.