ON PAZUZU, PARENTING, AND THE HYSTERICAL SEARCH FOR “SATAN” IN ALL THINGS
A couple weeks ago we learned that some of our Bay Area Satanists are expecting their first child, which naturally made me think of–what else?–the Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu.
Actually to be completely accurate, only one of the expectant parents is a Satanist. But they’re shortly going to be raising Hell together either way, and Satan’s blessing on their house.
As for Pazuzu, well, it turns out he might be pretty well suited for parenting as well, even though he’s an ancient evil spirit of famine, locusts, and the wind and has a face like a hernia.
And as if he didn’t have enough problems already, he was also famously smeared by one of America’s most popular horror novelists, and then by Hollywood to boot. So let’s take a few minutes to advocate for one devil who has never really gotten his due.
According to the University of Chicago, Pazuzu was the “king of evil wind demons” to the peoples who inhabited the Tigris and Euphrates river regions. If you’re waiting for a flatulence joke to accompany that description you’re in the wrong department.
In most iconography he was depicted with “a scorpion’s body, feathered wings and legs, talons, and a lion-like face on both front and back,” which is what happens when you can’t quite commit to just one fursona.
The Google Museum adds that he sometimes was depicted with a dog’s face, a “scaly torso,” and a “snake-headed penis.” Not gonna lie, this Tinder profile is sounding more and more intriguing by the moment.
Despite Pazuzu’s fearsome appearance and a reputation as “an evil underworld demon,” Google curators also note that “amulets of Pazuzu were placed in dwellings, attached to bedroom furniture, [and] hung around the necks of pregnant women.”
Pazuzu was also likely to be invoked in homes with newborn children. Via YouTube, British Museum Curator Irving Finkel explains why:
“When you see Pazuzu you think he must be evil, but just the opposite. The sight of his face was enough to drive Lamashtu away”–Lamashtu being the demon who preyed on children and pregnant women and thus “the personification of the dangers of childbirth.”
Finkel says there’s no record of why Pazuzu was imagined to be proof against those dangers; he jokes that maybe Pazuzu and Lamashtu had a bad divorce at one point.
But the use of the demon king’s image as a protective measure is consistent in the archeological record. This is particularly interesting nowadays, because the odd are if you’ve heard of Pazuzu before it’s because horror novelist William Peter Blatty employed the name in his 1971 novel The Exorcist.
The famous 1973 film adaptation by William Friedkin even reproduces a Pazuzu statue as a prop in its opening scene, set in Iraq. Metropolitan Museum of Art Assistant Curator Sarah Graff notes the movie presents Pazuzu as “a foreign, ancient, violently malevolent source of evil power.”
And of course Pazuzu goes on to possess young Linda Blair and explain that your mother cooks socks in Hell–or something like that, it’s been a while since I saw it. Thus becoming the only Babylonian spirit nominated for ten Oscars. (Sorry Lilith.)
Now that’s all well and good for a horror movie I guess. But Graff notes that in his original context “Pazuzu’s identity was far more complicated and interesting” and really is the last demon you’d ever worry about riling up your sixth grader.
So why do I bring this up? Well, when it comes to religion and folklore, we all tend to want to force square pegs into round holes. Which can be a fun Saturday night with consenting parties but is more troublesome in a cultural context.
In 2015, conspiracy assholes on Facebook blue screened because “New York City, the most pro-abortion city of America, just placed a giant image of Satan on the Empire State Building.”
As Snopes explains, that wasn’t Satan, that was the Hindu goddess Kali.
In March, the Ledger reported that the city of Lakeland, Florida removed a seven by nine foot tapestry in a public art exhibition because people complained that it looked “Satanic.”
Putting aside the fact that Satanic art has as much right to the public sphere as anything else, the piece by Aaron Corbitt was titled The Fall of Dionysus and actually depicted his struggle with alcoholism using pagan imagery.
(Ironically, nobody complained about Corbitt’s accompanying mural of Hades.)
In 2018, Reuters reported that an angry mob in Athens tore down a winged statue by artist Kostis Georgiou, the latest in a series of vandalism attacks “against an artwork critics liken to Satan.”
But the statue’s title, Phylax, translates to “guardian” and is probably a reference to mythical figures like “Talos, the guardian of Crete island, or the Sphinxes placed to protect sites from evil,” as the mayor of Athens explained.
Like Pazuzu, people are quick to brand anything perceived as provocative or foreign with the label “Satanic.” And the more shallow your perspective, the more easily provoked.
Show them any face they don’t recognize–a god, a heretic, a foreigner, a critic–and they always see the same thing: “Satan.” A tale almost as old as time.
In happier news, sometime between now and the due date we’ll be staging a ritual to put Pazuzu’s blessing on our friends’ new arrival. This is purely symbolic, of course. Like Satan and magic itself, Pazuzu is not real.
Still, it’s a crazy world out there. The newbie could use all of the well wishes anybody has to spare.