Egyptian demonology


In Ancient Egypt there were a series of beliefs about evil beings that tormented both the living, taking away their sustenance, and the dead, on their way to meeting Osiris. The definition of demon is not, by any means, correct. Let us remember that the Greek demon, from which the word comes, is simply a spirit, and that it was Christianity that gave it its evil character. However, for convenience and consensus, it is the term used to refer to these creatures from the imagination of Ancient Egyptian mythology. As Durán Velasco (2017) points out, in Egypt there was an idea of ​​ethical goodness that was rewarded, so the existence of ethical evil also seems inevitable, as is its expression in art and literature. However, the definition of Egyptian "demons" continues to be debated: why call entities that also perform good deeds demons? Why not leave it as "supernatural beings"? Perhaps because Egypt enjoys an impressive abundance of them.

It seems that the best definition of a demon in Egypt would correspond to: that supernatural being that is not properly a divinity - although this is debatable, since some were minor divinities or geniuses, small hybrid beings, with whom they shared divine abilities but, according to It seems, not good wishes towards human beings. Another category for these demonic beings were the souls that had not managed to achieve the desired peace, and became such threatening beings, spectral beings, ghosts or a kind of temper that made the living sick. The big difference is that, while gods, big and small, do receive worship, the same does not happen with these evil beings. This will mean that many divinities with a double facet will be left in no man's land by not being able to classify them properly.

There is also no consensus on differentiation or separation, even within demonic categories. According to some, on one side of the catalog we will have those gods considered evil or evil towards humans, punishers, etc. In the other, minor spirits, who fulfill various functions: some are guardians, watchers of the portals of Amduat, the Beyond; or that they are heralds or companions in the procession of some god. Due to the negative connotation that the word demon (which in its original Greek is simply "spirit") has obtained, it is very difficult to talk about these entities without imagining them at the service of a superior being that guides them in their evils, or has them subjugated.

If we look at Lucarelli (2010), the difference lies in its location: there would be demons or funerary spirits, from the Beyond, and terrestrial spirits, as they can travel on earth, among humans, and influence their lives. However, as in other religions, there is great ambiguity between what is good or bad in the category of divinity, given that its definition is taken from the human perspective.

Recently, the division has been raised between demonic (unnatural) animals, demons that have previously been human (either transformed or as spirits of the deceased), and general demons, those that do not fit either into the category of divinity or the previous ones.

To recognize an Egyptian "demon", until clear definitions are obtained, we can be guided by other means. Sometimes their names are a reference to their evil characteristics, such as Sehaqeq, "he who causes headaches", a demon described as having claw-like hands, eyes in the back of his head, and a tongue in his anus. Others receive simple nicknames, such as "the butchers", commanded by the lioness goddess Sekhmet, "the decapitated or decapitators", demons who torture enemies in the afterlife, or the nameless genie they call hatayw, translatable as "the nocturnal" or "the murderer"; As in the last example, most of the demons do not have a name and are known directly by a nickname based on their function or appearance: the worm-eater, the blind, the poisonous, or the horrible-faced one. Szpakowska (2009) provides several of these names, demonstrating, however, the complexity of identifying them by their functions: khayty, those of darkness, are easily identifiable as nocturnal spirits; However, weputyu, the messengers, have this function but are also troublemakers, and the werets, the great ones, are demons but are closely related to oracular functions and aids. This author, however, provides one more demonic characteristic: its closed location, whether in a specific place or at an opportune time.

Spirit demons

The Mtw were the dead, and their name was taboo in funeral ceremonies, since they interacted with other dead people. The Akhw were the reviving spirits, that is, spirits that did interact with the living after death, something similar to ghosts and vampiric undead. It was believed that they entered human bodies through their orifices or eyes, causing diseases. There were spells clearly aimed at expelling both types of evil spirits. However, being an akhw was not necessarily bad if you were associated with some deity from the Beyond, such as Osiris, and were allowed to travel between worlds. There is also a power called Baa, a verb that means drinking blood, invisible, which attacks and weakens children especially. Thus in the text of pRamesseum III:

<<After leaving the marshes, Isis says: "I tore my hair, because I had found my son Horus, his heart was tired, his lips were greenish, his legs were weak, because he had sucked the baa that was in my chest..." Horus strives to expel the unpleasant baa: "You will come out, evil baa, in your name, this name, baa, which is yours, you, who draw out the heart and weaken the knees...">>

As can be seen, the baa is expelled through the always reliable magical technique of invoking the entity by its own name.

Their forms also varied within the iconography: anthropomorphic, mixed - half animal and half human -, animal hybrids, shadows. For example, Intep,example, was considered an evil animal, so the representation of a donkey in a religious or ritual scene exposes the presence of an evil force. Demonic representations date from the Low Period in which the head the baboon-dog, or Chery-benut, a being with an amorphous, indefinite body, but always with a human face. Sometimes they are not explicitly stated: the donkey, for of the demons is not even an animal, but instead they have objects, such as weapons or flames of fire.

Demonized divinities

The evil force par excellence is Apophis (or Apep), the gigantic serpent (or other times, any reptile of enormous proportions) that tries to devour the sun and that Ra defeats every night. Apophis, also called Lord of Chaos and Enemy of Ra, despite considering himself very powerful, was not a primordial being, since in Egyptian mythology and theology it is said that he was born after Ra, which would imply that his existence is a direct consequence of the need to balance opposites, that is, to be non-existence, chaos, darkness. Its negative consideration is justified by the evocation of everything bad, and consequently, it did not receive worship either, rather, its presence was avoided through "anti-cults."

This monstrous being revives and returns to its mission, which is proof of dualistic and cyclical, but also constant, thinking, of the fight between light and darkness, good and bad. In reality, there was a divine Kek-Kekui couple that also represented darkness (masculine) and light (feminine), without negative connotations. The negativity of Apohis consists precisely in the imbalance that his victory would produce.

Set is a controversial divinity. Good, bad, very much his own, Set has very different roles that make it unclear why even scholars insist on including him among the evil deities if a little is not known about his cult. It is true that, in the myth, he murdered and dismembered his brother Osiris, keeping the throne, until after a contest with Horus, royal order was reestablished. These episodes are full of evil, arrogance, arrogance, sexual excesses, torture, mutilations... which in fact do not position Set on the best side. But it is also true that he accompanies Ra in his boat to confront Apophis every night, being a protective divinity.

The animal with which Set is represented is not completely recognizable, being for some a jackal with its ears cut off, and for others, some type of fennec. In any case, since these are his domains, he is god of the desert, of the Red Earth, of storms, of drought, of the absence of good nature, as well as of destruction, disorder and violence. His loneliness in the desert is another point against him, since life in society was the positive thing in Egypt. Furthermore, the bordering peoples, living in the deserts or beyond, including Assyrians and Persians, worshiped Set (or some other of his forms) as their main deity, and the possibility that they, in fact, saw in the myth of the dethroning of Osiris a way to recognize themselves as strong nations that could defeat the Egyptian crown. For their part, the Hyksos, who dominated Lower Egypt in the 16th century. XVII BC, they were devotees of Set, for whom he was a god of war and storm. Although some pharaohs even have theophoric names of Set, such as Seti or Setnajt, with the arrival of invading peoples, not counting the Greeks and Romans, the image of Set would gain more strength as a negative one, being the myth of Osiris. the one that would prevail among its recognizable facets.

Shesmu, depicted as a man with a lion's head and a large, sharp knife, is another double-faceted divinity, mistaken for a time as a demon from the afterlife. He is the god of perfumes, oils and wines, a role that the Greeks enhanced, but also a bloodthirsty god, or at least that is how he was presented in the texts of the pyramids, where he appears dismembering other gods. His epithet is "the executioner." However, this is a religious act to give power to the deceased king, through the consumption of other divine essences. Something similar happens with Shekmet, the lioness goddess, whose myth tells of her aggressive and bloodthirsty side, which humans manage to calm by exchanging it for wine to get her drunk and put her to sleep.

Demons from Beyond

Like the vast majority of gods, the Otherworld is where these spirits belong. A part of them had a fixed place in Amduat, like Ikenty, guardian of a fiery portal, from which it has not yet been possible to deduce what place it leads to, although it is assumed that it is the home of some divinity or his image. Others are dedicated to complicating the path for the souls of the deceased, preventing them from reaching Osiris and living with him. The aforementioned Intep receives the epithet Head Cutter, since this is his mission, attacking the souls of the deceased. when they approach the Judgment.

Ammut, the Devourer of souls, or hearts, was a monstrous funerary deity, with the head of a crocodile and the body of a lion and hippopotamus. She remained attentive to psychostasis, the weighing of souls carried out by the god Anubis, and if the scales were not balanced with the pen of Maat, order and justice, it devoured the soul of the deceased, preventing him from achieving eternal life. .

We also find a series of recitations that the deceased can perform to protect themselves, as well as the functions of the funerary trousseau:

«The demon Nebt could not approach me; and the guardians of the Arrits will not reject me, because my body is protected by amulets» Spell CLXIV, Entry into the Arrits. Egyptian Book of the Dead.

«Oh Isis! Let your blood act! Let your radiation act! Let the force of your effective magic work! Take this powerful Spirit under your protection, oh goddess, do not let it get close to the demons that inspire horror and disgust in it! » CLVI spell from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

This spell had to be recited on a carnelian buckle that was attached to a wooden tablet that was placed around the neck of the deceased.

A curious aspect that the deceased would have to "identify" these demons, differentiating them from the gods, is that he would perceive the stj of the gods, that is, "what emanates", their perfume, while in the case of the demons I would smell an unpleasant stench. The deceased, for his part, would also emit his own "smell of the blessed",

Demons in the human world

Although they abound in Amduat, evil spirits can also manifest and participate in the world of the living, in which the gods intervene. The lioness goddess Sekhmet had a small outpost of evil spirits among her servants, charged with taking revenge for the affronts to her cult, bringing pestilence and disease. They are the shemayu, the wanderers and swau, the passers-by. (Szpakowska, 2009)

It is a curious detail that in the world of men, demons always come in groups, in hordes, and not alone, except in the case of family ghosts. This plural is manifested in names such as "the nocturnal ones" or "the powerful ones." From a religious point of view, perhaps this association is related to the idea of the entourage of a greater divinity, or as a symptom of cowardice in the face of a very religiously devoted society, or, from an anthropological point of view, perhaps it is simply a form of associate it with pests and diseases, which attack numerously. In the Ptolemaic period and later, there was a syncretic divinity, Twtw, which meant something similar to "collective", that is, it referred to the multiple number of beings that were part of the plagues or plagues, like a troop.

Furthermore, at other times when the human being crossed the thin line between life and death, such as a death or a birth, the most monstrous demons crossed into the human world, and therefore the assistance of divinities "equally" was necessary. monstrous" like Tueris, the hippopotamus goddess, or the god Bes (Beset in his female counterpart).

Rites against these Egyptian "demons"

There were magical formulas and prayers to protect oneself from them; many of these texts, which appear in the Book of the Dead, are found written in large tombs, on objects or on bandages. There were also amulets specifically dedicated to protecting and warding off these spirits, as could be seen in the demons section of Amduat, as well as in the article on Egyptian Talismans.

Furthermore, as seen in the article: Heka: Egyptian Magic (II), there was a certain category of "exorcisms" when demons entered the body of a human and made them sick or tormented. Although the relative documentation is mainly external, we know certain details, such as that when a spirit was expelled, it emitted a characteristic odor (rDw), or that it had to be transferred to an inert, dead material, where it would remain trapped.

Many protective spells are known against evil spirits, many taken from the Book of the Dead. Against Apophis, for example, there was an annual, purifying and renewing rite, in which a snake figure was modeled in clay or wax and then burned, mutilated or destroyed. In this way, Ra's victory over darkness was reaffirmed and the entire society was purified. There were also amulets with signatures against specific demons of Amduat. In fact there is a text popularized by its Greek name, Book of Apophis, where this and other rituals are described only against Apophis.

But there were also ways and expressions to ward off demons in more personal and everyday ways, which always demonstrate beliefs in a closer way. The historian Henry Breasted (1912) presented a personal translation of the so-called Egyptian Lullaby, which we find in P. Berlin 3027, also called the Erman Papyrus by its first editor, which in reality is primarily a papyrus with medical prescriptions for the newborns and infants, and which includes incantations to ward off evil spirits, also indicating the elements to use. 

«Run out, thou who comest in darkness, who enterest in stealth, his nose behind him, his face turned backward, who loses that for which he came.

Run out, thou who comest in darkness, who enterest in stealth, her nose behind her, her face turned backward, who loses that for which she came.

Come thou to kiss this child? I will not let thee kiss him.

Come thou to soothe him? I will not let thee soothe him.

Come thou to harm him? I will not let thee harm him.

Come thou to take him away? I will not let thee take him away from me.

I have made his protection against thee out of Efet-herb, it makes pain; out of onions, which harm thee; out of honey which is sweet to (living) men and bitter to those who are yonder; out of the evil parts of the Ebdu-fish; out of the jaw of the meret; "out of the backbone of the perch" »

Pietro V. Carracedo Ahumada -


-Breasted, J.H. Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt. Cosimo, Inc., 1 ene 2010 (First edition 1912)

-Hornung, E. EL Uno y los Múltiples. Concepciones egipcias de la divinidad. Trotta, 1999.

-Lucarelli, R. Ancient Egyptian demonology. An introduction. Éskathon Publishing, 2013.

-Szpakowska, K. Demons In Ancient Egypt. Religion Compass, 2009

Related Posts:

>Heka, Egyptian magic (I)

>Heka, Egyptian magic (II)

>Egyptian talismans

>History of alchemy (I): Egypt, Greece and Rome

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