The Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: Second Millennium BCE explores the realm of Ancient Egyptian supernatural beings in order to understand the role they played as coping mechanisms for people dealing with trauma, afflictions, and anxieties. The study also explores the psychology behind the choice of characteristics (animal, facial, gesture) of the beings, noting common structures that bring comfort, or make one feel protected. A Leverhulme Trust Research Grant was awarded (2013-16) to fund the pilot project. This included two PhD students to create a relational database to catalogue a sample of these ancient Egyptian demons.
Dr Kasia Szpakowska
This project is led by Dr. Kasia Szpakowska, Associate Professor of Egyptology in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology. Her research interests including ancient Egyptian private religious practice, magic, gender, daily life, dreams, cobra cults, and of course, demons.
The foundation was a deep philological, iconographic, and archaeological analysis of every demon found in Coffin Texts, ivory wands, decorated headrests, and early Book of the Dead manuscripts. The details of each being was dissected according to its form, functional, and essential characteristics. The international conference 'Demon Things: Ancient Egyptian Manifestations of Liminal Entities' 21-24 March, 2016 resulted in an edited volume of the same title, edited by Szpakowska. Two successful PhD dissertations were completed in 2017: Dr. Zuzanna Bennett, "An interpretive analysis of the role of the demons in the ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts.” and Dr. Sophie Felicitas Weber, "Diegetic Lists in the Early Egyptian 'Book of the Dead'. A Contextual Analysis of Demonic Entities in Private Second Millennium Manuscripts."
Public engagement occurs through a variety of key outputs including public lectures (in the UK, USA, and Europe), object handling sessions, the open-access online database, and engagement through various social media platforms. The project was featured in the universities Research as Art event (2015-2016). Families and children have hands-on opportunities with these “superheroes” via our Demon Creation Station that has appeared at the British Festival of Science, Being Human Festival, and "Superhero” events at museums such as the Ashmolean and Waterfront Museums in Swansea.
The project also appears in newspaper and magazine articles, podcasts (BBC History Extra and Profane Egyptologists) and interviews. An unexpected impact of the dissemination of this research was a collaboration with dancer/choreographer Betsy Baytos, with Egyptian demons appearing in her Eccentric Dance Timeline.
Research continues with Kasia Szpakowska exploring the development of new demonic iconography and avatars as a response to profound emotional upheaval and communal anxiety.