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Pazuzu the Divine Exorcist

2013. Genuine semi-precious mineral pigments, 22kt gold, semi-precious stones on 8"x10" museum conservation wood panel

Pazuzu was both venerated and feared within the pantheons of the Mesopotamians, Assyrians and Babylonians, and functioned from his very beginnings as an apotropaic domestic spirit-deity, whose spheres of influence were especially bound to the protection of the home from malign influences and hostile personages.

As a controller of the often unruly winds and the noxious spirits that were known to dwell within them, Pazuzu was hailed as the king of the wind-demons, meaning to the ancients that he had ultimate power over the machinations of these beings and the element in which they dwelt. It was specifically the West wind to which Pazuzu was assigned, though his authority extends not only to the four winds of creation, but also to mountains (which he may cause to quake) and weather patterns.

On the domestic front Pazuzu behaves as a guardian of the household from all unwanted visitors, which include evil spirits and murderous demons, but most especially those who seek to harm women in childbirth, infants and children. In this role Pazuzu was recognized as the one magical, spiritual source that could be summoned to defend mothers and infants from the murderous demoness Lamashtu, whose special prey were newborns and young children.

Pazuzu's iconography was fixed at a relatively early date in his historical veneration (in the 8th century), which displays a terrifying hybrid composed of numerous dangerous animals. In my icon of the deity I have chosen to honor the predominant features associated with Pazuzu from the beginnings of his history.

It was the head of Pazuzu that was most frequently used by the ancients to invoke his magical power and terrifying apotropaic nature, believed to be resident in the blend of leonine and canid features. Pazuzu's forehead is characterized by deep wrinkles, thick eyebrows and a pair of horns, which most probably represented his divine nature and power to the ancient Mesopotamians, who depicted their most powerful deities with crowns featuring long horns curling back from the forehead. His undernourished chest with prominent ribs is another hallmark feature of Pazuzu's body, which has leonine hands with claws, leonine ankles, eagle's talons and a raised scorpion tale. The gesture of Pazuzu- with upraised right hand and lowered, splayed left hand- is characteristic of Near Eastern deities of martial and environmental potency, where upraised right arms and/ or fists denote destruction of enemies and removal of adversaries or obstacles. In his position as controller and vanquisher of demons and hostile forces, Pazuzu's defensive stance, including striding left leg, signals his ferocious, combative nature, ever ready to govern the unruly and strike down the forces that attack the weak or defenseless.

As the king of the West wind and its inhabitants, Pazuzu sprouts two pairs of eagle's wings.

Symbols of the other almighty gods with whom Pazuzu was sometimes associated are also depicted in this icon. Above Pazuzu's head soars the orb of the solar sovereign and justice-maker Shamash, which I have combined with the winged disk of the high god Ashur, into which I have placed the eight-pointed star of the goddess Ishtar ( from whose center sparkles a Brazilian amethyst). All of these symbols are to be found on apotropaic plaques used in rituals to defeat the feared demoness Lamashtu, over whom Pazuzu was believed to wield magical control and persuasive acumen. Combined with the insurmountable authority and justice of the very high gods and goddesses, Pazuzu makes his appearance on such ceremonial objects in order to defeat the demons (and in particular Lamashtu) that used the cover of darkness to afflict hapless women and children. The crescent moon of the lunar god Sin is also present, in a night sky swirling with the forceful West winds through which Pazuzu's awesome power is made manifest.

The lightning bolt of the storm god Adad, embellished with cabochons of lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, flanks both sides of the icon panel.

The colors used for this icon are derived from the very bright glazed tiles found on such monuments as the fabulous Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the palace of king Darius I at Susa, which preserves some of the most vivid representations from the Babylonian religious iconographic repertoire. The icon panel, together with the gilded jewelry worn by the deity, honors the Mesopotamian roots of Pazuzu by referencing the designs seen in Mesopotamian and Assyrio-Babylonian regalia.

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