The Mesopotamian Demons

First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia refers to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and is basically what is now modern-day Iraq, along with parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran.  The Mesopotamian civilization is considered one of the earliest civilizations, spanning the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.  The Mesopotamian civilization included numerous empires – perhaps you may have heard of the Babylonian Empire or the Sumerian Empire.

With its long history, it’s only to be expected that Mesopotamia developed its own distinct, unique, and rich culture.  This culture, however, did take influences from other civilizations and groups of people at the time.

When taking a look at Mesopotamian culture, it is important to note that Christianity had not yet been invented during this ancient time; in fact, the Mesopotamian civilization fell just a few hundred years before 0 A.D.

Chaldea was a territory of Mesopotamia, and is now modern-day southern Iraq.  You may know it as the ruler of the Babylonian empire.  This is where the Mesopotamian demons come in: these seven demons were considered the evil deities in Chaldean culture and mythology.

The Mesopotamian demons were known as the shedu, which translates into “storm demons.”  They were symbolized by winged bulls, in what is known as “winged bull form.”

A winged bull with a human's head

A human-headed winged bull, known as a Šedu from Khorsaba. Photo credit: Trjames

The above image is of a Sheedu Lamassu.  They were considered a protective deity (name actually means “the repellent of evil”) of the Babylonian/Sumerian/Assyrian people and were commonly found at the cities entrance and in the kings throne room as well as in other important doorways. The people believed they warded off evil spirits. They symbolize the strength of a bull, which during this period were much larger than bulls today (or sometimes a lion was used). The freedom of an eagle (the most powerful bird in the sky) and the intelligence of a human. They wear a crown to symbolize of their divinity and the heads of these sculptures mimicked the king of Assyria at that time they were created.

In ancient Mesopotamian culture, these evil deities were believed to be very powerful, being able to cause disease in a victim.  The seven demons were also able to “seize,” or possess, people, and by doing so cause excruciating pain along with huge stress.  Only special Mesopotamian incantations, rituals, and herbal remedies were believed to cure the disease that the demons spread.

With further study, it is likely that the idea of these seven shedu spread into later cultures.  In fact, they seem to have had a huge impact on demons in Christianity.  And this is what study of demonology is all about.

Further reading and bibliography

  1. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary
  2. Mesopotamian Demons, including: Lilith, Gallu, Asakku, Lamashtu, Pazuzu, Utukku, Asag