Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
Demons (benevolent and malevolent)
- Author(s): Lucarelli, Rita
- et al.
According to ancient Egyptian belief, the created world was populated by humans, spirits of deceased humans, deities, and a host of supernatural beings whose identities were never precisely defined. The Egyptian language refers to the first three categories as, respectively, rmT, Ax or mwt, and nTr, but lacks a proper term for the fourth class. Egyptians nonetheless recognized the existence of these beings, and we are therefore justified in studying them as an ontological category. Instead of defining “demons” as a uniform group, the Egyptians gave specific names and occasionally physical attributes to its individual classes and members. These names and associated iconography do not so much characterize what these demons are as identify what they do. From the perspective of humans, their behavior can be benevolent and malevolent. Two main classes of demons can be recognized: wanderers and guardians. Wandering demons travel between this world and the beyond acting as emissaries for deities or on their own accord. They can bring diseases, nightly terrors, and misfortune and are therefore basically malevolent. Guardian demons are tied to a specific locality, either in the beyond or on earth, and protect their locality from intrusion and pollution; as such, their function is rather benevolent. In the Late and Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, they came to be regarded as deities in their own right and received cult.