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An acrylic painting of Pazuzu I painted.

A 24″ x 36″ acrylic painting of Pazuzu I created in late January 2013.

Feverishly adored and often misrepresented by many Modern Occultists, and popularized by The Exorcist film franchise as a mere demon with nothing better to do than possess underage American girls and cow to Catholic priests, Pazuzu has a long history far more respectable than a few chintzy “cult classics.” He enjoyed the attention of many Ancient Near Eastern families within a number of diverse regions, both as grotesque guardian of the home, and as draconian ruler and subduer of the malevolent denizens of the Western winds. Though He may not have had entire ziqquratu dedicated to Him, as had prominent deities like Marduk and Ištar, Pazuzu still played a popular and important role in both daily life and magical ritual as a perennial champion over evil forces.

O R I G I N S   A N D   I C O N O G R A P H Y

Pazuzu is the son of Hanbi, a God of Whom very little is known, aside from the fact that He is Pazuzu’s father. Wiggermann theorizes that Pazuzu is derived from similar-looking winged figures meant to represent the West wind (134 – 36), and informs us that the derivation of Pazuzu’s image from the “not perfect” (šu-du) “not straight” (si-sá) West wind, often portrayed as a bent, monstrous figure, provides a definite clue as to the meaning of His mysterious father’s name. Hanbi is considered to derive from Babylonian ḫanāp/bu, “to be luxuriant.” This derivation makes no sense in such a context, but there is a West-Semitic alternative in the root HNP, attested in Hebrew and Arabic, meaning “to limp; to be perverted.” A father called “The Limping One” fits Pazuzu’s origin, functions, and grotesque appearance perfectly.

Concerning Pazuzu’s name itself, Wiggermann offers us two possible solutions. The  first, Neo-Assyrian PN Pa-zu-zu, occurs once in a text from Tall Halaf, and is explained as deriving either from Aramaic pezôzā, “made of fine gold,” or from Aramaic PZZ, “to be impetuous, agile.” The latter of this class of derivations fits Pazuzu’s character exceptionally well. Whether the Neo-Assyrian names Ba-su-su and Ba-zu-zu reflect the same meaning for the same entity cannot be known. (136)

The second potential solution is a bit more tenuous. Pasusu would be derived from PSS, an unattested secondary variant of PSH, known in Babylonian from the word pessû — “halt” or “dwarf.” This would place Pasusu in the class of apotropaic dwarfs attested both in Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion and iconography. In fact, on one well-made Lamaštu amulet, Pazuzu has remarkably short legs, and in an inscription calls Himself ú-GU-u, or “cripple.” (Wiggermann, 136)

Wiggermann tells us that Pazuzu’s name is not attested before the Iron Age (1200 – 550 BCE), though “the bilingual [Sumero-Akkadian] incantations can be taken to point to an earlier date, as well as perhaps His appearance in an alamdimmû omen.” (135 – 6) As for specific, reasonable dates and alternative sources, Heeßel tells us that “the earliest securely datable Pazuzu representations stem from the royal tombs in Kalhu (Nimrud), which can be dated to the end of the 8th century BCE, while the earliest reference to Pazuzu in texts is found in a letter dated to around 670 BCE.” (2011) Pazuzu is known from over 170 iconographic representations stemming from the Tigris-Euphrates river system and beyond during the 1st millennium BCE, from the Late Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian (circa 1000 – 609 BCE) and Neo-Babylonian (circa 626 – 539 BCE) periods. (Gabbay et al., 63)

As mentioned previously, Pazuzu was a later, revised form of conglomerate West wind figures, as well as a variation of and successor to the Ḫumbaba apotropaion of the Bronze Age. (Wiggermann, 134 – 6) The West wind figure made its last appearance in the Mitannian North, and the Ḫumbaba figure went out of style, during the Late Bronze Age; from that point on, Pazuzu dominated much of Ancient Near Eastern iconography as the grotesque apotropaion par excellence. (Wiggermann, 135)

Pazuzu’s appearance is, in a word, unsettling. He is portrayed as a gruesome bipedal chimera of lion (or dog), eagle, scorpion, reptile, and humanoid, with razor-like talons on each hand and foot. Rather than being shown with a normal phallus, Pazuzu’s penis is scaly and serpent-headed. (Black and Green, 147)

It is generally maintained by Art Historians that the incorporation of arachnid and ophidian characteristics in iconography makes a deity capable of protecting against attack from such creatures, or possibly even capable of healing scorpion stings and snake bites, as the Ancient Egyptian Goddess Serket is thought to preside over the determent of scorpions and reversing the effects of their noxious venom. Alternatively, being in possession of such attributes could simply denote the profundity of the vicious, all-encompassing pain and violence Pazuzu is capable of inflicting upon transgressors, malevolent forces, and even hapless victims. Heeßel argues that this chimeric form underscores Pazuzu’s demonic rather than Divine nature, and in a related article Verderame supports this view by establishing that the “hybrid” and “aerial” nature expressed by Pazuzu are definitive qualities of demons rather than Gods. (2011) However, as I will attempt to demonstrate in the next section of this article, Pazuzu’s restriction to demonic status is debatable.

Wiggermann states that the motive for for Pazuzu’s creation must be looked for in His practical use. (135) Since the iconography and demonology of the previous ages are well documented, and since their character is generally conservative, this sudden appearance cannot be due to a coincidental weakness of the preserved, preexisting traditions. Heeßel corroborates this view. (2011) Rather, it suggests that Pazuzu’s origin lies in a conscious act, in a purposeful break with the past. (125)

It is in the Late Bronze Age that we find this break from tradition, and our most likely answers as to where and why Pazuzu entered the mythology. It is during this time that Lamaštu — formerly a child-killing demon without any special relation to other demons, nor an arch-nemesis among the Gods or demon-kind — became a member of the lilû-class of demons, which knocked the power structure completely out of balance in the demonic world. (Wiggermann, 135) Consequently, a new position opened up for an equally potent counter-demon, King over all lilû-demons, a monstrous being that would be able to force Lamaštu and her loathsome peers out of the house and back to the dust and darkness of the Underworld.

Thus enters Pazuzu onto the stage.


BLMJ Seal 1060, on display at the Israel Museum. the seal shows Pazuzu with a crescent moon headdress and a scepter at His feet.

BLMJ Seal 1060, on display at the Israel Museum.

While Pazuzu is most frequently referred to as “King of the wind-demons” in various ritual texts and accompanying incantations recorded on tablets and other Pazuzu artifacts unearthed at Nineveh, Sultantepe, and Uruk (Heeßel, 2002), I claim contrary to Heeßel in particular that it is made abundantly clear by a number of artifacts that Pazuzu was respected as a God, not merely as a helpful demon Who reigns in or banishes malevolent lesser demons. A remarkable item on display at the Israel Museum, 93.45.73, is a bronze head with a suspension loop on top. What is remarkable about this Pazuzu head is that it possesses pair of horns which encircle the top of the head, and turn up at the front, typical of those shown on crowns festooning the heads of revered Gods such as Šamaš and Ištar. (Gabbay, 2001) Another find that shows Pazuzu with Divine rather than mere demonic trappings also comes from the Israel Museum’s collection. It is an octagonal pyramidical carnelian seal — BLMJ Seal 1060 — that bears a well-defined relief of Pazuzu on its bottom. He is depicted in His unmistakeable chimeric form with a leonine or canine face, four wings, erect penis, and scorpion tail. Here He is given a crescent headdress and a ball-staff, which rests before His feet. (Gabbay, 2001) Both the crescent and the standard have obvious Divine connotations, though the reader should not assume that Pazuzu was in any way being merged with the Moon God, Sin.

Pazuzu also shares a common mythic formula with other Mesopotamian Gods. In Pazuzu’s version of this particular myth, He is confronted by a “strong mountain,” which resists His authority, along with its inhabitants. As a Furious Wind (šaru ezzu), Pazuzu confronts and ascends this insolent mountain “in violent motion,” thereby conquering it and all the evil beings that dwell there. (Gabbay et al., 66 – 7)

A relief from the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu (Nimrud), showing Ninurta, wielding lightning bolts, vanquishing the asakku demon Asag.

A drawing of a relief from the Temple of Ninurta at Kalhu (Nimrud) showing Ninurta, wielding lightning bolts, vanquishing the asakku demon Asag.

The motif of mountains refusing to bow or submit to the Divine authority of Gods, and those Gods subsequently fighting and subduing said mountains for their disrespect, can also be found in the myth of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna (Akkadian counterpart : Ištar) fighting the mountain Ebih because it did not show Her respect. Likewise, in the Lugal-e, one reads of Ninurta fighting the asakku demon par excellence, Asag, along with Asag’s mountain-born rock-demon children. (Karahashi, 2004) Pazuzu’s mountain myth has much more in common with Ninurta’s mountain myth than with Inanna’s, however. Both the myths of Pazuzu and Ninurta involve felling horrible demons, and both protagonists employ the forces of storm, albeit in different forms, to overcome Their foes.

The subduing of the mountains in all three myths, things which bow to nothing and no one, demonstrates the awesome power these Gods possess, and that all things — whether animal, mineral, or plant — must submit to and show Them respect. If They are not acknowledged as Divine and honored for Their quality, outrage and brutal reprisal follow.

In any event, sharing a common mythic formula could arguably place Pazuzu among the ranks of various War Gods and Storm Gods. Not simply in function, but also in status.

N A T U R E   A N D   F U N C T I O N

Pazuzu’s nature is twofold. He functions as a domestic deity, yet He is also a fearsome rager Who rules over wind-demons, and is prone to wandering. He is naturally at home beyond the limits and comforts of human civilization, yet He is a protector of households, seeking human hospitality in return for Divine protection against undesirable forces. While being the King of all wind-demons of the West (m. lilû / f. lilitû), He is also a chief protector of pregnant women, who are exceptionally vulnerable to every form of external evil imaginable within Ancient Near Eastern worldviews.

As a domestic deity, Pazuzu adopts the functions of His Bronze Age predecessor Ḫumbaba, the giant-guardian of the Cedar Forest Who appears in the tales of Gilgameš, described as being “protected by seven layers of terrifying radiance.” (Black and Green, 106) Like Ḫumbaba, Pazuzu’s demon-quashing power resides in His head, and that head can be represented and used as an apotropaion entirely on its own. With its malformed inhuman hideousness, it deters unwelcome visitors of all kinds. (Wiggermann, 126)

In light of this, statuettes of Pazuzu were often enshrined in homes, and the existence of small, durable statuary in more precious materials than simple sun-baked clay attests His popularity and importance as a household deity. A very famous example of such statuary is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Standing only 15 cm (6 in) tall, it dates from the 7th century BCE, and is crafted from cast-copper alloy. The reverse bears the inscription: “I am the God Pazuzu, son of the God Hanbi, King of the evil wind-demons.” (Black and Green, 148) This introduction ensures Pazuzu’s entry into a person’s house, while at the same time legitimizing Himself in the face of His unruly subjects, the raging winds. He blesses the house of the good host, and in doing so, drives away any troublesome spirits taking refuge there:

I, the one that drives out Evil and exits Fate, [the house] that I enter, Headache and Disorder may not approach and harass it.

(Wiggermann, 126)

In essence, Pazuzu is a terrifying but ultimately well-meaning traveler (the King of the wind-demons; wind-demons being nomadic by nature). In return for human hospitality, Pazuzu offers mortals protection against malevolent wind-demons and other unwanted visitors.

As King of the wind-demons, Pazuzu’s primary function is to force these demons, who are at the same time His subjects and adversaries, back to the bowels of the dark and dusty Underworld and the remote desert, where they can do no harm to the living. As mentioned in the previous section regarding Pazuzu artifacts reflecting Godly status, the presence of Pazuzu’s likeness on various seals alludes to the act of binding and sealing away malevolent demons, and Pazuzu’s role as Divine Exorcist. (Gabbay et al., 66)

Many incantations and ritual texts, delivered in the first person, underline this role:

I am Pazuzu, son of Ḫanpu,
King of the evil wind-demons (lilû).
I ascended a mighty mountain that quaked,
and the (evil) winds that I ran into there were headed West.
One by one, I broke their wings.

(Wiggermann, 126)

As should already be apparent to the reader, Pazuzu’s lordship over demons does not denote comradeship with those demons. “King” refers to the level of respect and fear He commands, and His ability to reign in or crush demons. And while Pazuzu is specifically referred to as “King of the wind-demons of the West (lilû),” Pazuzu is generally believed to have power over all kinds of demons. He is the overwhelming blast-wind that confronts all other winds and scatters them. (Gabbay et al., 64)

According to Wiggermann, the “mighty mountain that quaked” can be construed as a metaphor for the belly of a pregnant woman, on which Pazuzu’s head in amuletic form looks down with a piercing, unblinking gaze. Pazuzu-head amulets were exceptionally popular apotropaic charms worn about the neck, particularly by pregnant women. (Black and Green, 148) They were made in a variety of materials, from clay to bronze. (Gabbay, 2001) The importance of the head is once again underlined by ritual texts, where representations of it are prescribed against a variety of ills. Its significance is likewise evinced by the sheer number of Pazuzu-head amulets, which far exceed the number of statuettes and amulets that show the God fully-rendered.  (Wiggermann, 125) Pazuzu-head motifs can also be found in weaponry, in the form of maceheads (Gabbay, 2001), which reinforce Pazuzu’s qualities as a subduer of the unruly and a vanquisher of evil.

The “winds that blow” are the perils that threaten the mother and her developing fetus — those perils being personified chiefly by the reviled lilitû-demon, Lamaštu. (Wiggermann, 126) Additionally, it must be remembered that diseases were usually personified by demons, and that winds out of the West were considered pestilential. (Black and Green, 147) Pazuzu breaking the wings of the “evil winds” defines Him as a deity Who rebukes the myriad sicknesses and plagues that torment humanity — notas a deity that through inherent maliciousness causes humans to become ill. Additionally, this particular incantation references the myth of Pazuzu and the “strong mountain,” as already outlined in the section concerning Pazuzu’s status.

Though Pazuzu is more or less benevolent, like many Ancient Near Eastern deities He possesses an immense capacity for blind rage. At times, His wrath is misdirected toward human beings, causing terrible windstorms and drying up precious farmland. Some, like Heeßel, argue that Pazuzu is “morally ambiguous.” Unnamed others feel that Pazuzu’s nature is one leaning toward malevolence, not simply prone to fits of anger. Whatever the case may be, this necessitated, and is proven by, the existence of incantations and rituals which beseech Pazuzu to remove negative influences, but not to harm the patient or officiant who asks for His help. (Gabbay et al., 64) Pazuzu is the one Who is called upon to exorcise in various inscriptions and ritual texts, not the one being exorcised. (Heeßel, 2002) As Heeßel underscores in another publication, sincere “interpretatory problems” arise when Pazuzu’s nature is reduced to simple categorizations of either “good” or “bad,” or part of “black or white magic.” (2011)

Chief among Pazuzu’s nemeses is the profoundly hated she-devil Lamaštu. To review, it was Lamaštu’s “promotion” to the lilû-class of demons that necessitated the presence of Pazuzu, as an entity that strides both the Divine and demonic realm as domestic apotropaion, tireless traveler between worlds, prototypical exorcist, and improvement upon the West wind figure.

A number of beautiful amulets fully depicting Pazuzu vanquishing Lamaštu exist, demonstrating these aspects of Pazuzu’s character. The most notable and stunning of these is on display at the Louvre, and is dated to the 9th century BCE, placing it in the Neo-Assyrian Period. Measuring 133 mm (approximately 5.25 inches), it is double-sided, and depicts the myth of Pazuzu’s expulsion of Lamaštu to the Underworld — the myth that most notably defines Pazuzu as an apotropaion — incorporated into the same piece as an exorcism scene, in which Pazuzu is being called on to remove the illness(es) afflicting the patient.

Below Pazuzu’s snarling visage in the uppermost register are symbols for the Gods — the wedged stylus and writing board of the Scribal God Nabû, the star-symbol of Ištar, the winged sun disc of Šamaš (or Aššur), and the crescent of the Moon God Sin, among others. These symbols invoke the power and protection of the Gods, including Pazuzu, Who surmounts the entire scene. It should be noted that Neo-Assyrian art, like most forms of Ancient art, rely on what is known as “the hierarchy of scale.” That is, the largest figure is the most important figure. Pazuzu is the largest figure depicted in this piece, and is therefore the most important, inasmuch as this amulet and its then-owner are concerned.

The second register depicts a row of protective, benevolent demons, likely subordinates of Pazuzu and/or the other Gods represented in the first register, though Heeßel argues that their presence in such pieces as this is designed to keep Pazuzu’s power in check. (2011) In the third register, fish-garbed priests perform an exorcism on an ailing figure, likely petitioning Pazuzu’s power as an exorcistic deity. The figures in this register are surrounded by protective Ugallu demons.

The fourth and central register shows Pazuzu, with a fierce grimace of malcontent and raised scorpion tail, causing the reviled demoness to flee down the river to the Underworld. There, food awaits her as rations await a prisoner.

Obverse of the Pazuzu amulet shown above, courtesy of the Lessing Photo Archive. Bronze, 9th century BCE.

Obverse of the Pazuzu amulet shown above, courtesy of the Lessing Photo Archive. It shows Pazuzu’s full, monstrous form, complete with snake-headed penis and raised scorpion tail, while emphasizing Pazuzu’s head as an apotropaion from the front. Bronze, 9th century BCE.

F I G U R E S   R E L A T E D   T O   P A Z U Z U ,
T H E   A N C I E N T   N E A R   E A S T E R N   P R O T O T Y P I C A L
K I N G   O F   T H E   D E M O N S   A N D   D I V I N E   E X O R C I S

Pazuzu may very well have been the first of His kind in the Ancient Near East, but He was certainly not the only “King of the demons.” These Kings hail from different Ancient Near Eastern cultures, recorded in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Mandaic, and Syriac, and include but are not limited to such names as Iqarus/Tiqos, Buznay, Ašmedai, and most prominently of all, Bagdana. Their names appear on Late Antique Aramaic incantation bowls, and much to our chagrin and confusion, many of these bowls refer to the same figure by different names within the same text. (Gabbay et al., 57 – 8)

Gabbay tells us that the same types of demons and phrase-patterns appear on the Aramaic inscription bowls as well as in Ancient Mesopotamian texts. Many specific types of “Liliths” (a term describing a class of demons derived from the word lilitû, who are not Goddesses in any way, shape, or form) found within these Aramaic inscriptions are in fact derived from the she-devil Lamaštu, even though her name is not explicitly mentioned. (Gabbay et al., 57) The same is true of other Mesopotamian figures, phrases, and mythological formulae that appear in these Late Antique Aramaic inscription bowls.

On a Mandaic bowl in the Yale Babylonian Collection, and on a lead roll in the British Museum, the myth of Bagdana, referred to there as Babgun Abugdana, and the she-demon Bguzan-Lilit is preserved. In this myth, Bguzan-Lilit, daughter of Zanay-Lilith, stays in a house, sleeps with its master, kills the master’s children (behavior typical of Lamaštu), and attempts to separate the woman of the house from her husband through sorcery. (Gabbay et al., 58) The woman of the house, most distressed, seeks out Buznay, Who is “King of All,” and has the power to adjure all the Sahirs, Dews, Humartas and Liliths (powers and roles attributed to Pazuzu). Buznay sends His executioner, Gubaq-Dew, to chase the home-wrecker Bguzan-Lilit out of the lady’s house. At the end of the story, Gubaq-Dew calls Himself “the chief angel,” saying that He drove the Dews and Liliths from the house of the client named in the inscription on the bowl. (Gabbay et al., 59)

Another story, preserved on many bowls in Mandaic, Syriac, and Aramaic, speaks of Elisur Bagdana and the she-devil Hablat-Lilit/Taklat-Lilit. The she-devil sits on the threshold of houses and kills children. Following traditional mythic formula, Bagdana intercedes on behalf of the desperate, addressing Himself to the demon and shooing her away in the first person, as Pazuzu banishes Lamaštu in various Ancient Mesopotamian incantations and rituals:

Elisur Bagdana King of the Dews and Great Ruler of the Liliths: I adjure you, Hablat-Lilit, granddaughter of Zarnai-Lilit . . . I adjure you that you are smitten in the pericardium of your heart by the lance of Tiqos the hero who rules over the Šedas and over the Liliths.

(Gabbay et al., 59)

Elisur Bagdana is also mentioned in a myth practically identical to Pazuzu’s, where He is engaged in combat with malevolent demons in the mountains. (Gabbay et al., 59 – 60) Furthermore, Bagdana possesses a terrifying form much like Pazuzu’s, the description of which appears in a Babylonian Jewish Aramaic inscription bowl. The form and nature of the incantation is quite similar to Ancient Mesopotamian incantations addressed to Pazuzu:

. . . Lord Bagdana, the Great One of the Gods, and chief king of sixty kingdoms, Whose power is the power of a blast, Whose heat is the heat of fire, Whose practice is the practice of slaying, Whose chastisement is the chastisement of battle, that which is raw He eats, that which is unmixed He drinks. His head is the head of a lion, His tusks are the tusks of a wild boar, His teeth are the teeth of a tiger, the draughts of His mouth are furnaces of fire, His eyes are glowing lightnings . . . You, O Lord, come and encounter and make an attack against the Šedas, against the Dews, against the Liliths.

The emulation of Pazuzu in other Near Eastern religious cultures is demonstrative of His overall significance. Pazuzu provided the necessary template for exorcistic Divine figures Who come to the aid of man when he is beset by horrible she-demons and other unwelcome, undesirable forces and entities. It should now be apparent to the reader that Pazuzu, and the figures that were modeled after Him, are not mere demons. Rather, as Kings of demons and as Gods, They help to maintain order in the world when and where it is most threatened by disorder.

Though truly terrifying in appearance and strength and prone to episodes of blind, destructive rage, Pazuzu is a far cry from His portrayal in The Exorcist films. Likewise, He is certainly not the “evil” and misanthropic plague-bearer that some Modern Occultists make Him out to be. Among Pazuzu’s chief duties are the exorcism of malevolent entities from otherwise defenseless human beings, and the rebuking of diseases which make life miserable for the people who invoke Pazuzu — observing the necessary precautions that should be taken with any extra-human entity. While Pazuzu is not exactly a mild and tender entity, He is most assuredly a valuable friend to man.

An unusual Pazuzu amulet bearing a solar disk and bovine horns. Probably Syrian or Phoenician in origin.

An unusual Pazuzu-head amulet bearing a solar headdress with bovine horns and a bull’s head. Probably Syrian or Phoenician in origin. 9th – 6th century BCE. Image source.

W O R K S   C I T E D

Black, Jeremy, and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia – An Illustrated Dictionary. 6th printing. Austin: Texas University Press, 2006. Print.

Gabbay, Uri. “A Collection of Pazuzu Objects in Jerusalem,” Revue d’Assyriologie et d’Archaéologie Orientale. 2/2001 (Vol. 94), p. 149 – 54.

Gabbay, Uri. Wayne Horowitz. Filip Vukosavovic. “A Woman of Valor : Jerusalem Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Joan Goodnick Westenholz.” Biblioteca del Proximo Oriente Antiguo. p. 57 – 67.

Heeßel, Nils P. “Pazuzu: archäologische und philologische Studien zu einem alt-orientalischen Dämon.” Ancient Magic and Divination. 2002 (Vol. 4). Styx/Koninklijke Brill.

Heeßel, Nils P. “Evil Against Evil : The Demon Pazuzu.” SMSR 77. February 2011. pp. 357 – 368.

Karahashi, Fumi. “Fighting the Mountain: Some Observations on the Sumerian
Myths of Inanna and Ninurta.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Vol. 63, No. 2 (April 2004), University of Chicago Press. pp. 111-118.

Verderame, Lorenzo. “Some Considerations about Demons in Mesopotamia.” SMSR 77. February 2011. pp. 291-297.

Wiggermann, Frans A. M. “The Four Winds and the Origin of Pazuzu.” Das geistige Erfassen der Welt im Alten Orient Beiträge zu Sprache, Religion, Kultur und Gesellschaft. (2007): 125 – 67.