Further thoughts on Mesopotamian demons: The devourer of Children, from Sinister, May 12 2013

The use of the god Buguul/Lugal from ancient Mesopotamia, the eater of children, as explained to Ethan Hawke, in the movie Sinister (2013), is not a use that is out of the blue, but one derived deeply from the traditional confines of modern horror. Why Mesopotamia? In history, meaning in readings of the 19th century, it was thought that Satan and Lilith migrated West from East through being imported into the fears of Jewish exiles in Babylon in the fifth century BC. Whether true or not, this idea stuck, and has become a popular art legend. The jumping off point between this legend and horror is Gaston Masperos survey of the gods of the ancient near east, in which Pazuzu, the god of the southwest wind, but also protector of the unborn against Lamastu, the one who causes miscarriages by clawing the belly of an expectant mother seven times, was singled out a demon of particular ferocity. The fact that Pazuzu is one of the most advanced composite gods, representing in him all the animals who are agitated to dangerous action by the plague, including starving dogs, makes it the outstanding example of the Mesopotomian genius for depicting demons in their art. At the time, Maspero and that old book of his is also the way that Pazuzu made it into the bloodstream of modern horror, and Maspero is quoted and Pazuzu shown in the 1922 Danish movie about witchcraft, Haxan. At present, I can only imagine that William Peter Blatty saw or heard this and this is why he made use of Pazuzu to represent the demon that becomes Satan in the movie, and the sequels. From this example, Mesopotamia is the fount of demons for modern horror, and this was elaborated upon in silver age comics as well, as Marvel comics dug deep into depicting all the demons of old Mesopotamia, including Nergal, the god of wind, another interesting prototype, in so far as representing wind he is a Janus figure, two heads facing different ways. But the demon’s name is Nergal, and he has nothing to do with childbirth, that is Lamastu. Where, then, did the writers of Sinister come up with the idea of Lugal or Bhughuul, the eater of children? Lugal is the name of a leader in ancient Sumeria, and sometimes the local god of a town was called lugal, master too. It is a generic reference, a title, not the specific name of a god. The writers simply wikid it out of the superficial knowledge of the time and place, and attached to the script. Donald McKenzie, a Frazierian of the early 20th century, noted that,

The Sumerian gods never lost their connection with the early spirit groups. These continued to be represented by their attendants, who executed a deity’s stern and vengeful decrees. In one of the Babylonian charms the demons are referred to as “the spleen of the gods”–the symbols of their wrathful emotions and vengeful desires. Bel Enlil, the air and earth god, was served by the demons of disease, “the beloved sons of Bel”, which issued from the Underworld to attack mankind. Nergal, the sulky and ill-tempered lord of death and destruction, who never lost his demoniac character, swept over the land, followed by the spirits of pestilence, sunstroke, weariness, and destruction. Anu, the sky god, had “spawned” at creation the demons of cold and rain and darkness. Even Ea and his consort, Damkina, were served by groups of devils and giants, which preyed upon mankind in bleak and desolate places when night fell. In the ocean home of Ea were bred the “seven evil spirits” of tempest–the gaping dragon, the leopard which preyed upon children, the great Beast, the terrible serpent, &c.

Mckenzie did not seem to know yet the name Pazuzu, but his description of the demon of the southwest wind is evocative,

Another terrible atmospheric demon was the south-west wind, which caused destructive storms and floods, and claimed many human victims like the Icelandic “corpse swallower”. She was depicted with lidless staring eyes, broad flat nose, mouth gaping horribly, and showing tusk-like teeth, and with high cheek bones, heavy eyebrows, and low bulging forehead.

It is of interest that the above is referred to as a devourer of corpses, as that title is also given to a ghul, or ghoul, and since the professor in Sinister pronounces the name with a heavy emphasis on the ul it might well be that this is what they are really talking about, as ghul in arabic means to seize, and relates to Gallu, a Mesopotamian demon who dragged the dead off to the underworld, the most fearsome of which was Asag, demon whose appearance made fish boil in the river, and who was accompanied in battle by rock demon offspring of his mating with the mountains. As to ghul, the Arabs associated it with the hyena, which is likely the source of the perpetual demonization of this animal, as, for example, playing the wolf in Nosferatu, and who is described as preying on young children, drinking their blood and eating corpses. Female forms of this is called ghulah, which sounds awful close to the name pronounced in Sinister, the syllables flipped for effect.
McKenzie presents these early or near images of Pazuzu as demons, possibly ghuls or gallu

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In the dark netherworld, the gap history, and aftertaste specialized tangent culture space of Heavy Metal meets Satanism, there is a listing for Asag, one of the gallu

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Asag is an underground heavy metal band. The fact that Asag looks like this, which is pretty much what the Mr Boogie of the movie looks like, is odd, as it cannot be likely that the writers intended to demonize heavy metal as the eater of children. That said, my topofthehead thought was that Mr. Boogie looked like the Guy Fawkes figure, this seems closer, but odd, as if the demon is the darkest future imaginable of children in the imaginations of their parents, which would be if they go heavy metal on them. Is it possible that writers are projecting on to young children the fears of going satanic in teens in the heavy metal tradition? Odd. To be continued.

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But back in real history, here is a depiction, in mainstream Mesopotamian art, of Ninurtu vanquishing Asag,

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Therefore, at present, my reading of the name is that it follows in the tradition of modern horror to originate most demons in ancient Mesopotamia, based on art legends going back to the 19th century, and with a prototype in Haxan and The Exorcist. (documentation to follow) But then in its latest form it may be playing with the second life of these images, after comics books, in heavy metal albums and bands, which would be scary to parents. In any case, none of the pictures that D’Onofrio shows Hawke appear to have anything to do with the god they are talking about:

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There is a scorpion god, but the snake is not connected. The specific reference in the film therefore is spurious transposing and simplifying of the mish mash of the accepted pool of imagery for this kind of thing, but it does come from an accepted tradition, and connects the movie to the lifeblood of modern horror.

This rather stublike piece demands, at some other point, and I would not be the best one to do this, to explore the demonization of heavy metal in modern horror. This would be an example of ostension, since heavy metal Satanism was largely metaphorical, and for culture only, and to then read it literally and turn it back into real Satanism and authentic demonic danger to children would be to ostensively call it back out into reality. Odd.

And having taken my shot, here is what the bible Wikipedia says,

Writer C. Robert Cargill’s inspiration for the movie came from a nightmare he experienced after seeing The Ring, in which he discovered a film in his attic depicting the hanging of an entire family. This scenario became the setup for the plot of Sinister.[4] In creating a villain for the film, Cargill conceptualized a new take on the Bogeyman, calling the entity “Mr. Boogie;” Cargill’s idea was that the creature would be both terrifying and seductive to children, luring them to their dooms as a sinister Willy Wonka-like figure.[5] Cargill and co-writer Scott Derrickson ultimately decided to downplay the creature’s alluring nature, only intimating how it manipulates the children into murder. In further developing “Mr. Boogie,” the pair had lengthy discussions about its nature, deciding not to make it a demon but rather a Pagan deity, in order to place it outside the conceptual scope of any one particular religion. Consequently, the villain was given the proper name ‘Bughuul,’ with only the child characters in the film referring to it as “Mr. Boogie.”

In crafting a look for Bughuul, Cargill initially kept to the idea of a sinister Willy Wonka before realizing that audiences might find it “silly” and kill the potential for the film becoming franchised. Looking for inspiration, Derrickson typed the word “horror” into flickr and began searching through 500,000 images. He narrowed the images down to 15, including a photograph of a ghoul which was tagged simply “Natalie”. Cargill was particularly struck by “Natalie,” deciding “What if it’s just this guy?”. He and Derrickson contacted the photographer and purchased the rights to use the image for $500. Derrickson explained that the image appealed to him because it reminded him of the makeup and costumes worn by performers in black metal while remaining unique enough so as not to be directly linked to the genre; Derrickson had previously researched black metal while looking for inspiration for Bughuul’s symbol, which is ritualistically painted at the scene of each of the film’s murder sequences.[5][6]

This then turned into an article on Fearnet

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Curious, then, the bogeyman in Sinister (2013) has a geneaology linked to the demon of Gondar in Evil Dead (1981)

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