What’s behind an exorcism, part two.
“Early man, early demons”
In this section we’re going to look for the earliest references made to demons, demonic entities and how mankind would interact with them in their stories. I’m going to examine what powers these demons had and what man would do physically and spiritually to protect themselves from their powers. I’m also hoping to find that early notion of evil as a force that would try to interfere with mankind in some way.
The obvious place to start would be the bible as it’s one of the earliest forms of writing we have that openly deals with these creatures. First, however, I want to study the world that was there before the bible came into being. In particular, I want to go to different cultures and see how far back we can go in time and find those first early references to demons.
This on its own sparks a debate about the ages of religion and the ages of their texts. The Uruk density is reported to date back to 4,000-3,000 BC with the first biblical references coming from about 2,000 BC (which ties in with some dating research into the lifetime of Gilgamesh. Now these dates are very hard to verify. As there are two groups of people that take ancient history and ancient archaeology into account. The traditional historical accounts are holding fast to the belief that early writing and early civilization started around 3,000 BC. The alternative group that have much, much older dates. These dates do clash and I will write about this in detail later. For now, we will give a given date that if it accepted that Uruk civilization was started at around 4,000 BC then it stands that at least verbal accounts of the Gilgamesh story would have been in existence at this time. I know that dating of his actual life was later, however like as in most folklore, I would at least suggest that it is likely that when they came to write about his life, the compiled the earliest stories of their culture and legends and attributed it to the biggest historical hero they had (a more modern idea of this would be trying to date stories and evidence of Robin Hood or trying to attach which archaeological layer of Troy Homer’s poem relates to). Even if they weren’t written on tablets until 2,000-1,000 years BC, which would put the writings around the same time as the first historical cross dating that can be recognised with biblical events. Let’s bare in mind that even fundamentalist Christian biblical scholars differ on opinions of how old the earth is varying from 6,000 to 15,000 years old.
Also, we need to bare in mind that the earliest written texts would have been the Silver Scrolls of Ketef Hinnom dated at 700BC
So, from the area that really started to cultivate a civilization that we can establish between 6,000-5,000 years ago, is there anything in the written texts about any creature or entity that resembles a demon.
Pazuzu, Humbaba and Hanbi
The first references I can find go as far back as the Sumarian tablets of Gilgamesh or The Epic of Gilgamesh. Giglamesh was the Uruk king, in the poems about him a long description of his battles and his conflict with several gods. He was a “man like no-other” who the Gods wanted to punish or kill. Some of the versions I have looked at say it was because of his arrogance and treatment of the people or Uruk, other accounts are of various gods feeling threatened by Gilgamesh or spunned by his refusal of their sexual advances.
The first references to a demon are that of Humbaba, Pazuzu and Hanbi. The story goes that the gods made a ‘non human’ hero called Enkidu, to defeat Gilgamesh. They battled but ended up becoming friends.
After they form a friendship they venture to the Ceder Woods to find the monster called Humbaba. Humbaba is called a monster in some accounts and a demon in others. He is often described or depicted as a giant with a club. Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat Humbamba (and in some versions destroy the Ceder Forest), which worries the gods and angers the god Enlil who placed Humbaba to guard the forest.
Now, even if I have found the use of the word demon when describing Humbaba it’s not the word that was used in the text or tablets and is not what I am looking for. Descriptions are much more that of a giant, and the mention is not of supernatural powers but physical strength. There also seems to be a notion that he was put there by Enlil to guard the wood of the forest or the land beyond the mountains from humans and to keep them away. This would go against what we have come to understand as a demon, that which we associate with is malevolent and more sinister rather than purposeful and brutish in power.
Then there is Pazuzu who was Humbaba’s brother. This is a much clearer description of what we would consider a demon. In fact, I was delighted when I found the traditional statue of Pazuzu is exactly the statue that was used for the exorcist. In the sequel, it is actually named in the film as demon possessing Regen as an adult.
When we look at what Pazuzu however we see a completely different concept of what the Summarians associated this demon with. Physically, his statues look every part the concept of what we would today expect from a demonic being. He would have the head of a lion or a dog, with talons of an eagle, a long humanoid body, wings and the tail of a scorpion. There are also pictures of Pazuzu with a phalic erect penis although I have not found anything in the tablets to indicate this and it may be a concept that was included in the film the Exorcist popularised the image of Pazuzu.
It is true that Pazuzu was the “King of Demons” and had power over evil spirits. His actual power was over the winds or more specifically the wind of the south, this gave him the ability to cause famine and draughts and plagues of locusts.
Pazuzu was used in Sumarian culture as a warden to scare off other evil spirits (like a gargoyle). There are particular references made in the use of the image of Pazuzu to protect against the goddess Lamashtu, who could kill pregnant mothers and new born babies. In fact it is this use of Pazuzu as a demon to ward off other threats that he was in a way domesticated rather than feared. This may be the reason that so many statues of Pazuzu have been found, which makes for a good understanding of why his image may have been readily available to be used in the film franchise.
So here we see the image of what we recognise as a “demon” as early the Uruk period which could go back as for as 4,000 BC that has survived all the way to featuring in the very film that inspired me to write this blog.
However I haven’t quite found what I was looking for: I wanted to find that entirely malevolent presence. Not something that was confined to winds, or pregnancies or to famine. It makes sense that in a Polytheistic society, where several gods, demons, demi gods and monster were accountable for all the blessings and atrocities that the ancient people attributed to themselves there would be an absence of an all evil power intent on making mankind suffer.
Before we venture into the early origins of dualism, which evolved into the founding concepts of the Semitic faiths, I want to see if any other cultures that were filled with giants, hybrids, nymphs and demi gods and gods had demons like Pazuzu. If they did, did they have those traditional powers of possession or were they confined to causing natural disasters and war.
So to the next blog, were I’m going to explore ancient Egyptian, and Greek demons and see if I can find any references to either a demon that could poses the soul or body of a human, or the presence of an absolute evil or a personification of evil as force against good.
Please leave any comments, or any suggestions on where I can read further on the dating of these texts. I hope you enjoyed my blog.