This has been on my mind recently, the demon in The Exorcist. Then I watched Shudder’s Cursed Films and my curiosity only got worse. The first episode of Cursed Films discusses the 1973 horror film in great detail, including the demon that the film revolves around. His name is Pazuzu from the Assyrian Empire and he gave the entire world a heart attack in his feature film debut.
But there must be more. What is his backstory? Why did Blatty choose him as the antagonist to his novel? Is Pazuzu as vicious as The Exorcist makes him out to be?
Who is Pazuzu?
There actually isn’t a lot of history on Pazuzu. Most stories repeat the same thing. Dating back to 8th Century BC, Pazuzu is a demonic god worshiped by the Babylonian and Assyrian people. Holding a high position in the underworld on account of his father, Hanbi, Pazuzu is more or less considered to be a prince among demons. Although he is a king among wind demons.
He has a slightly more famous brother, Humbaba who appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh. An epic poem that’s regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature and the second oldest religious text after the Pyramid Texts.
Although his origins are muddled, he’s believed to be first introduced through Sumerian mythology as a fearsome demon that protected against certain evils. Unlike current portrayals of demons, in Babylonian mythology demons were evil entities that weren’t always evil in nature. They did good as well as bad, a characteristic very similar to the Jinns of Islamic mythology.
Grand duties for a demon
Pazuzu was a complicated guy with a multifaceted personality. He wasn’t opposed to protecting a person every now and then, especially if that person was a pregnant woman. Even though he was a sky demon, his primary domain seemed to be pregnant women and newborns. People would wear his visage around their necks or wrists to ward off other evil spirits including that of his wife, the demon-goddess Lamashtu. Apparently she had a particular distaste for pregnant women.
He also held a certain influence over diseases. He is believed to have been blamed for the spread of malaria and typhoid through Mesopotamia and Northern Persia somewhere around 430 to 424 BC. Despite being the cause, people often invoked Pazuzu for safety against the very diseases he created and prayed in hopes that he wouldn’t bring a famine. The basic logic behind this was, if he can bring sickness, he can also take it away.
William Peter Blatty’s version of Pazuzu in “The Exorcist” came from a story in 1949 about a 14-year-year old, known under the pseudonym “Roland Doe”, that was possessed by a demon. After numerous failed attempts, a successful exorcism was finally performed by the priest Raymond J. Bishop. Blatty read about the story in a newspaper and got the idea for his novel.
The possession was blamed on an Ouija Board given to Roland by his spiritualist aunt. It was only after the aunt died that Roland began showing signs of possession. Many exorcisms were performed. Some didn’t go well, but in the end, the alleged demon was exorcised to everyone’s satisfaction and Roland went on to live a “rather ordinary life.” The event is covered by Thomas B. Allen in his book “Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism.”
More recent influence
For true crime fanatics, Pazuzu has made a more recent footnote in history by being the inspiration for the crimes of Satanist Pazuzu Algarad, whose real name is John Alexander Lawson. A fan of The Exorcist, Lawson decided to honor the demon by changing his name to Pazuzu in 2002. He then took on the very persona of his namesake, ostracizing himself from society: covering his face in tattoos, filing his teeth down to points. telling people that he regularly made animal sacrifices and could control the weather.
Lawson’s house became a gathering for social outcasts. They came uninvited and stayed for as long as they wanted, like Jesse’s house in Breaking Bad when he had his mental breakdown. The house was dubbed the “House of Horrors”. Inside, people drank animal blood, sacrificed rabbits, performed self-mutilation, and engaged in orgies.
On October 5, 2014, police discovered skeletal remains in Lawson’s backyard. The remains belonged to two men later identified as Joshua Fredrick Wetzler and Tommy Dean Welch. They both died from a gunshot to the head. Lawson and his girlfriend, Amber Nicole Burch, were arrested and charged with the crime. He committed suicide before he could receive his sentence but Burch was sentenced to 30 years.