pazuzu figure

Assyrian Pazuzu Amulet, 8th-6th Century BC

Carved of basalt or diorite

Pazuzu was an Assyrian and Babylonian demonic god who is represented with a canine head, scaly body, a snake headed penis, the talons of a bird and usually four wings of a bird. He is often regarded as an evil underworld demon, but he seems also to have played a beneficent role as a protector against pestilential winds; a bronze figure of Pazuzu in the Louvre, (accession number MNB 467) is inscribed, “I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issues violently from mountains, causing much havoc.” His close association with Lamashtu, a fierce demon goddess responsible for child mortality, resulted in him being used to counter her powers and send her back to the underworld. Amulets of Pazuzu were positioned in dwellings to act as protective barriers to evil powers, or are often in the form of just a head, as in this example, and were hung around the necks of pregnant women. Pazuzu is popularly known today as the demon from the 1973 film, The Exorcist.

“ The genii of fevers and madness crept in silently everywhere, insidious and traitorous as they were. The plague alternately slumbered or made furious onslaughts among crowded populations. Imps haunted the houses, goblins wandered about the water’s edge, ghouls lay in wait for travellers in unfrequented places, and the dead quitting their tombs in the night stole stealthily among the living to satiate themselves with their blood. The material shapes attributed to these murderous beings were supposed to convey to the eye their perverse and ferocious characters. They were represented as composite creatures in whom the body of a man would be joined grotesquely to the limbs of animals in the most unexpected combinations. They worked in as best they could, birds’ claws, fishes’ scales, a bull’s tail, several pairs of wings, the head of a lion, vulture, hyaena, or wolf; when they left the creature a human head, they made it as hideous and distorted as possible. The South-West Wind was distinguished from all the rest by the multiplicity of the incongruous elements of which his person was composed. His dog-like body was supported upon two legs terminating in eagle’s claws; in addition to his arms, which were furnished with sharp talons, he had four outspread wings, two of which fell behind him, while the other two rose up and surrounded his head; he had a scorpion’s tail, a human face with large goggle-eyes, bushy eyebrows, fleshless cheeks, and retreating lips, showing a formidable row of threatening teeth, while from his flattened skull protruded the horns of a goat: the entire combination was so hideous, that it even alarmed the god and put him to flight, when he was unexpectedly confronted with his own portrait. There was no lack of good genii to combat this deformed and vicious band. They too were represented as monsters, but monsters of a fine and noble bearing,—griffins, winged lions, lion-headed men, and more especially those splendid human-headed bulls, those "lamassi” crowned with mitres, whose gigantic statues kept watch before the palace and temple gates. Between these two races hostility was constantly displayed: restrained at one point, it broke out afresh at another, and the evil genii, invariably beaten, as invariably refused to accept their defeat.“(Ibid.)