Today, the Demon Things Conference 2016 welcomed over 85 delegates to the impressive Taliesin Theatre next to the Egypt Centre, where nine excellent papers were presented over the theatre’s huge screen (for images please visit our Facebook site.)
A conference on “demons” was always destined to warrant a few demons of our own showing their presence and sure enough the organisational team were confronted with a few hiccups before the delegates arrived! Tea urns stopped working, the air conditioning in the museum faltered in the lower gallery forcing it to close to the public for a while and Carolyn Graves-Brown (one of the organisers) fell down the steps. By the time the delegates arrived for registration though, everything was running smoothly and thankfully continued to do so for the rest of the day.
Carolyn warmly welcomed everyone to the conference and first off to speak was Swansea University’s own Felicitas Weber on The “Demon” Code. Her research on New Kingdom Book of the Dead texts using diegetic lists has focused on commonly applied identifiers of demons which have been studied through the categories of dangerous weapons, guardians, “dangerous” behaviour and ‘peculiar’ behaviour – it was fascinating and thoroughly detailed research. Dr Kasia Szpakowska followed by reading a paper from Arnaud Quertinmont on Anubis as a Demon. Great illustrations accompanied the presentation which revealed that Anubis was often referenced at the entrance of the tomb chapel and this “protection” of the deceased can be witnessed in the tomb of Nakhtamun’s where Anubis may be interpreted as a guardian of the Underworld. Ladislav Bares‘ paper on Underworld Demons in the Decoration of the Large Late Period Shaft Tombs at Abusir came next. Discussion on the position of the image of the demons in regard to their orientation and use in the burial chamber – particularly in regard to the tomb of Iufaa, the wooden coffin of Nekau and the Book of the Dead chapter 144 in the burial chamber of Menekhibnekau – were ably read by Renata Landgrafova in the absence of Ladislav. I particularly loved the image of the dancing cows!
After a short break, we returned to the theatre to be greeted with an interesting discussion on Following Seth’s Path? The Ambivalent Nature of Ancient Egyptian Donkey-headed Deities by Marie Vandenbeusch. The evolution of these deities took us on a journey from the Old Kingdom, where examples are quite rare, to the Middle Kingdom representations on coffins, through to the New Kingdom and Graeco-Roman Period. We learnt that identification can often be a problem, that there seems to be a connection with the deity Seth, and because of their malevolent and ambivalent nature, the donkey was often seen in the New Kingdom at the prow of the solar bark, defending it from attack. Some wonderful images were shown and my favourite has to be the beautiful depiction on the shrine of Tutankhamun. Maria Nilsson was the last paper to be presented before lunch and her extensive research was well received by the audience. Symbolae Sacrae – Symbolic Formulae for Protection and Adoration within the Sandstone Quarries of Gebel el Silsila described the huge project being undertaken at Silsila where 20 entities have been identified and are accompanied by many other abstract images. All indicate a high amount of superstitious representation in keeping with the dangerous work being undertaken at the quarries during ancient times.
An hour for lunch, then we were back hunting demons! Aris Legowski kick-started the afternoon with What is the Evil with Demons? Exploring the Egyptian Semantic Field of Evil. Can any demon in ancient Egypt be considered as fundamentally evil? We considered this question as Ari took us through the difficulties of determining what “evil” actually meant to the ancient Egyptians. We were also introduced to one of the 42 judges found in the Book of the Dead – “the evil one” – and perused the concept of its role as perhaps being the absorption of evil. Anatomy of a Coffin Text Demon was the subject of Zuzanna Bennett‘s paper up next. This vividly described and illustrated paper considered 3 questions in connection with demons – What do they look like? Why do demons look like this? and How do demons use their appearance. Zuzanna has constructed a database of 110 coffins from the Middle Kingdom, revealing over 400 different demons. Types of Anatomy have included avian, serpentine, bovine, canids (foxes and canines) and feline which illustrates the wide diversity of demons in terms of size and shape! The appearance of demons were shown to have both practical and symbolic purposes and overall create a complex demon network which shows a great level of imagination.
Zoologist John Wyatt gave the penultimate paper – A Demonic and Angelic Bestiary – which considered not only the different types of species which can be seen to make-up the anatomy of demons but also why they may have in fact have been chosen in the first place. John’s research has included 42 wands, 51 headrests and 1 brick and he has identified at least 25 actual species. In his conclusions, however, John suggested that identification of the actual species is probably not that important. Of a greater interest to him was the characteristics of the animals chosen – all animals have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characteristics and the demons can take on any aspect of these depending on their role. It was a great talk which John illustrated with some stunning images. The final paper was given by Renata Landgrafova (co-written with Jiri Janak) on Guardians of Gates: An Unusual Assemblage of Demons in Menekhibnekau’s Book of the Dead Chapter 144. The scene discussed is highly unusual in its different depiction and arrangement when considered to other examples of the chapter in question. Menekhibnekau’s version can be viewed as probably a variant triggered by its position and other factors. A great talk to end with!
Day Two of the conference came to an end with the promise of an exciting few hours ahead for delegates with a visit to the Egypt Centre – Night at the Museum beckoned when the museum could be seen in all its glory ably guided by the wonderful child volunteers!
This delegate for one can’t wait until tomorrow when a whole host of new demon hunters will take to the stage!!!!