Ancient Egyptian Daemonology Project

Ancient Egyptian Daemonology Project




The Ancient EgyptianDemonology Project organized and coordinated by Kasia Szpakowska (Swansea University, Wales), Rita Lucarelli (Bonn University, Germany) and Panagiotis Kousoulis (University of the Aegean, Greece), with the collaboration of distinguished scholars from eight institutions. The aim of this ambitious, trandisciplinary research project is to study certain lexical, iconographical and chronological criteria for the formation of a category or categories of beings that could be mapped together and systemized to become a “demonology” within the cultural framework of Ancient Egypt. The time span covered is large (from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Period, roughly 3000 BC-AD 400) as are the source materials.

The AEDP seeks to answer questions related to the innermost aspects of the demonic idiosyncrasy in ancient Egypt based on certain textual and iconographic articulations: a) to what extent can such a negatively polarized term be safely assigned to denote and describe diverse attitudes and roles in the Egyptian cultural environment? b) What would the criteria be for the formation of a category or categories of beings that could be mapped together and systemized to become a “demonology”, especially when the majority of them do not possess an apparent ontological essence or a clearly defined denotation in the Egyptian belief system? c) What are the causes for the genesis and formation of the demonic in Egyptian thought and ritual prāxis that there is no need for a concrete terminology to be conceptualized as such? d) What do we distinguish the demonic from the natural, divine or human in ancient Egypt? What criteria should we use?

There are three major research axes, which roughly correspond to the three millennia of Pharaonic history. Each theme is subsequently divided into specific topics that reflect the research interests and specializations of the team members and their collaborators:

  • 3rd and 2nd millennia demonology with a special focus on private religious practices, icons, demons responsible for psychological afflictions, weapons, devices, apotropaic clay cobra figurines from Egypt and the Levant; Creation of a data-driven classification of ancient Egyptian demons and related physical paraphernalia (Kasia Szpakowska);
  • 2nd and 1st millennia demonology with a special focus on demons populating the ancient Egyptian Netherworld and attested in the funerary papyri from the New Kingdom to the Greco-Roman Period such as the Book of the Dead, as well as on demonologies of the ancient Near East (Rita Lucarelli);
  • 2nd and 1st millennia demonology with a special focus on anti-god entities (e.g. Apophis), venomous agents and associated demons, ritual phylogenesis and manipulation of the demonic within a specific cultic or magical environment, as well as on the transfer of ideas and the mobilization of certain demonic motifs and hybrid personae in archaic Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean  (Panagiotis Kousoulis).

More specifically, the third axis comprises two major research themes:

1. “Anti-god entities and their demonic associates”, in which the demonic phylogenesis and polyformism in the magicoreligious discourse of the Late Period are explored. One important aspect of the Egyptian demonology that has not been properly investigated in the past is the interrelation between the major anti-god figures of the Egyptian theology, such as Apophis or Seth, and the multiple demonic names and hypostases associated with them. This research strand forms part of my on-going research on Apophis and the riddle of primeval evil in the Egyptian belief-system. The multiplicity of Apophian names and manifestations consists of a central chapter in the development of the Egyptian demonic motif, because it touches the quite problematic relation between the name and the named. These manifestations could range from positive to negative and vice versa. Certain issues related to the identity of these demonic entities and the interrelation between name and function should be carefully examined, especially when the negative and hostile polarity of the latter is not easily detectable in all cases. Similarly, although certain criteria that distinguish divine from demonic entities occasionally exist in the Egyptian belief system, diversity and multiplicity of names and forms are not idiomatic privileges of the demonic but they have been taken after the exemplar within the society of the divine. The most striking prototype is that of Seth, whose malevolent nature as the rival of Horus, is appeased by protective attributes towards Re and against Apophis, or that of Bes/Beset who seems to operate in the luminal areas of transformation between the human/animal on the one hand and the divine/demonic on the other. The main objectives of the current research strand are: (a) the definition of the anti-god category in the theological and ritual discourse of the ancient Egyptians; (b) the exploration of the inner mechanisms that govern the formation of the multiplicity of its names, visual expressions and personae; (c) the construction of a detailed demonic cartography (names, properties, roles, variations in iconography and role, ritual mechanisms of the demonic formation) which will map together and fully exemplify the polygenetic and polymorphic characteristics of the demonic idiosyncrasy within the multi-cultural and syncretistic environment of the Late Period and Ptolemaic Egypt.

2. “Demonization of otherness and the issue of acculturation in the Late Period Egypt”, in which the issue of ethnicity as a criterion for distinguishing good from evil in both the divine and social sphere is examined. The position of the demonic agent, regarded as marginal and outcast to the Egyptiansocial ethics, shares common characteristics with the position of the foreigner in the Pharaonic ideology and society: as a member of an ethnic group, the foreigner was portrayed as an enemy of mAat, like a demon or animal, with strange habits and appearance. This rigid opposition between Egyptian and foreigner topos, which reflects the pharaonic ideology towards the chaotic and potentially threatening world beyond its boundaries, acquires new modes of conception and visualization during the Late Period alongside the diverse notions of acculturation and demonization of the foreigner, divine or human being. The idea of acculturation, which describes the adaptation processes of various intensitiesthat follow the inclusion of foreign ethnic individuals and groups in the Egyptian society, could be employed mutatis mutantis to explain diverse attitudes towards demonic entities of a syncretistic nature associated with foreign gods in the religious discourse of the first millennium Egypt. The existence of foreign divine and demonic personae could easily be accepted into the framework and worldview of Egyptian religion, because of its polytheistic nature. Thus, this strand will examine certain aspects of cultural adaptation in the formation and role of certain demonic motifs and their divine associates in the Egyptian ingenious pantheon. Moreover, the analysis of the rich apotropaic ritual repertoire of the Ptolemaic Period will exemplify issues concerning the relationship between demons and gods, as well as the way theologians, by subordinating demons to the gods’ control, could insert the former into the ordered world created by the latter.

Project deliverables so far

  1. P. Kousoulis, ‘Constructing and deconstructing demonic idiosyncrasies: aspects of diffusion, reception and cultural appropriation of demonic and liminal entities in Late Period Egypt and beyond’. Paper to be delivered at the International Conference Demon Things: Ancient Egyptian Manifestation of Liminal Entities, Swansea, UK, 21-24 March 2016.
  2. P. Kousoulis, ‘The materiality of the Egyptian magical and popular beliefs in the early Iron Age eastern Mediterranean: questions on cultural diffusion and local adaptations of the religious Aegyptiaca’. Paper to be delivered at the International Conference “Egyptian and Jewish Magic in Antiquity: Contexts, Contacts, Continuities and Comparisons” [EJMA], which is organized by the Tel Aviv University and Bonn University, Bonn, 6-9 July 2015.
  3. Π. Κουσούλης, ‘Εξορκίζονταςτον ‘άλλον’: η αντιμετώπιση των αλλοεθνών στην αιγυπτιακή αποτρεπτική τελετουργία”, στο Σ. Ντάλης, Κ. Μαγκλιβέρας και Ι. Σακκάς (επιμ.), Η Μεσόγειος Χθες και Σήμερα, Αθήνα, εκδ. Παπαζήση, 2014, 27-42.
  4. P. Kousoulis, ‘Egyptian demonology within the phylogenetic and polymorphic environment of the Late Period and Ptolemaic Egypt: searching for modes of demonic conception, progression and praxis. A progress report’, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5.4 (2013), 20-1.
  5. P. Kousoulis and M. Stefanakis, ‘Researching the past: the projects of the Department of Mediterranean Studies in Archaeology and Egyptology’. Paper delivered at the First Research Meeting of the University of the Aegean and the Egee University entitles “Aegean Routes”, Ege University, Izmir, 16-17 May 2013.
  6. P. Kousoulis, ‘Egyptian versus otherness and the issue of acculturation in the Egyptian demonic discourse of the Late Bronze Age”, in N. Stampolidis (ed.), Immortality: the Earthly, the Celestial and the Underworld in the Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, Rethimno: University of Crete 2012, 257-67.
  7. Π. Κουσούλης, ‘”Ὁ ὂφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος’: όψεις του αρχέγονου κακού και του δαιμονικού κόσμου στην αρχαία Αίγυπτο”, στοΣ. Ντάλης (επιμ.), Η Μεσόγειος και ο Κόσμος Χθες και Σήμερα. Ειδική έκδοσητου περιοδικού Διεθνής και Ευρωπαϊκή Πολιτική 24 (Νοέμβριος 2011-Φεβρουάριος 2012), 47-70.
  8. P. Kousoulis (ed.),Ancient Egyptian Demonology: Studies on the boundaries between the Demonic and the Divine in Egyptian Magic, Orientalia Lovaniencia Analecta 175, Peeters Publishers, Leuven, 2011.
  9. P. Kousoulis, ‘The demonic lore of ancient Egypt: questions on definitions’, in P. Kousoulis (ed.), Ancient Egyptian Demonology: Studies on the boundaries between the Demonic and the Divine in Egyptian Magic, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 175, Leuven: Peeters Publishers 2011, ix-xxi.
  10. P. Kousoulis, ‘“Stop, o poison, that I may find your name according to your aspect”: a preliminary study on the ambivalent notion of poison and the demonization of the scorpion’s sting in Egypt and abroad’, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections4.3 (2011), 14-26.
  11. P. Kousoulis, Apophis: a Study of his Nature and Ritual Execution (monograph, in preparation).
  12. Π. Κουσούλης και Ε. Τουρνά, Μαγεία και Μεταθανάτια Ζωή στην Αρχαία Αίγυπτο μέσα από την Αιγυπτιακή Συλλογή του Εθνικού Αρχαιολογικού Μουσείου Αθηνών (κατάλογος-μονογραφία υπό έκδοση).

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