Friday, February 1, 2013

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

In May of 2011 I put up this post regarding the so called demons Lamastu (or Lamashtu) and Pazuzu. Just as an aside, and in case you - like me - are a fan of the SyFy series "Face Off" the latter's name is pronounced PA-zoo-zoo; not pa-ZA-zoo which I imagine would make him some kind of jazz hands sporting, tap dancing demon.

Anyway, in that post I mentioned the Sumerian she-demon Ardat-Lili. This inscrutable character from folklore, who later morphed into not only the baby killer Lamastu but also informed the now famous Jewish monster Lilith, is one hard nut to crack. At least speaking in terms of research.

Unlike Lamastu, who as noted was the daughter of a god and therefore, at the very least, more akin to a demi-goddess than a demon, Ardat-Lili seems to have originated as a troubled spirit. According to the one sentence notation afforded her in Patricia Monaghan's book Goddesses and Heroines, Ardat-Lili was a storm demon not in Sumerian but in related Semitic tradition. Monaghan goes on to say:

... this ... demon caused nocturnal emissions, mounting sleeping men and capturing their ejaculations to form her demon children.

This form of Ardat-Lili is in contrast to the picture of her as "frustrated bride." In such role she is neither wife nor mother and, denied these most feminine of attributes, she seeks revenge for her bareness either on  women who are more fortunate that she or on men who represent those who have spurned her.

In their book Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, Jeremy Black and Anthony Green discuss this more ancient form of Ardat-Lili. In their entry, she is a member of a triumvirate of demons who prey on both women and men. Paraphrasing the doctors would be a bit silly, so here is the entry under "lilitu" in it's entirety (pg 118):

The male lili and the two females lilitu and ardat-lili are a sort of family group of demons. They are not gods. The lili haunts desert and open country and is especially dangerous to pregnant women and infants. The lilitu seems to be a female equivalent, while the ardat-lili (whose name means 'maiden lili') seems to have the character of a frustrated bride, incapable of normal sexual activity. As such, she compensates by aggressive behavior especially towards young men. The ardat-lili, who is often mentioned in magical texts, seems to have some affinities with the Jewish Lilith (e.g. Isaiah 34:14). 'She is not a wife, a mother; she has not known happiness, has not undressed in front of her husband, has no milk in her breasts.' She was believed to cause impotence in men and sterility in women.

A plaque thought possibly to depict her shows a scorpion-tailed  she-wolf about to devour a young girl.

Thus the evolution of one unsettled spirit into a frightening demon embodying frustration, malevolence and disappointment. How full of interesting characters the underworld, if it exists anywhere beyond our own minds, must be.

Header: Assyrian plaque of protection against Lamastu via Wikipedia (note that Lamastu, at the center bottom of the plaque, appears as a lion or wolf-headed woman; the creature holding the plaque, whose head appears at the top, is Pazuzu)


Timmy! said...

As another humorous aside on Pazuzu, here is a picture of the awesome and hilarious heavy metal guitar legend Zakk Wylde's "Pazuzu bathroom" in his home studio:

The "Excorcist" pictures are because Pazuzu was the demon (or one of the demons) who supposedly posessed Linda Blair's character "Regan" in the film, as you no doubt recall.

And with regards to Lilith, another rock legend, Glenn Danzig did this album:

Here is an except:

Pauline said...

Wait... Are you saying rock and roll has been influenced by world religions? Mind. Blown.

Calliope Street said...

Right on, Timmy! Pazuzu actually has a brief speaking part in John Boorman's hilariously awful 1977 sequel, "Exorcist II". Quoth Pazuzu: "No! Once the wings have brushed you, you're mine forever!"

More great dialogue here: