John Richard Ward

Akephalos: a Demon’s Origins and Transformation into ‘the Headless One’

The aim of this paper is to explore the possible origins and later adaptations of the ancient Egyptian Akephalos, a demon also known as ‘the Headless One’. Its characteristics, attributes and functions are primarily portrayed within the Magical Papyrus PGM V.96-172, and later became subject within various modern magical formulae. A modern recital of one such formula read in Classical Greek by George Georgiades can be listened to here:

Since the translation of a Graeco-Egyptian papyrus fragment in the British Museum by Charles Wycliffe Goodwin in 1852, the Headless One has been amalgamated into various late 19th and early 20th centuries’ magical formulae. This adaptation of an ancient demon or protective deity is at the heart of this discussion. What was the intended role or function of the Headless One during the ancient period? How widespread was its appeal within superstitious communities of the Graeco Roman period? Was this apparent religious identification utilized outside of the ancient Egyptian borders?

This paper further aims to discuss the seeming inclusion of a headless deity – Ab Tuat – and his counterpart – Ap Tuat – within the 4th Division of the Duat, as described by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge in The Egyptian Heaven & Hell, and whether this widely acclaimed material had any bearing or influence on the re-interpretation of the original Akephalos as a demon called upon to assist the exorcism of a possessed person (as described in PGM V.96-172). Was the work of Budge instrumental to contemporaneous occultists’ appeal or were there other defining catalysts or components for its widespread usage?

Concluding with a exploration of how the Headless one has become entrenched within modern day spiritual movements (Golden Dawn, Theosophy, practitioners of Thelma, etc.) this paper will explore if the original function of the Akephalos remained unchanged or if it was adjusted in the multitude of translations and interpretations to fit the modern call upon ancient spirits in time of need.

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