The Exorcist: Assyrian Mythology vs Catholic Mythology?

PazuzuI still hold to the belief that the Exorcist as one of the greatest supernatural thrillers ever produced. Every aspect of the film seems to be consummately done. Sure, the pace may be a bit slow for the Transformers crowd, but that’s never been a concern for me. It’s still tops in my world.

The issue I do have with the movie is not the film itself, but the common perception of it. The Exorcist is often portrayed as being nothing more than Christian propaganda; a two hour long claim that Catholic Christian mythology is indeed fact. While that may have been the intention, I don’t think it is. In fact, I not only think that The Exorcist is not a Catholic film, I don’t see it as being Christian at all. It’s Assyrian! An aspect of the film that is often missed by most movie goers is that the demon that possesses young Regan MacNeil is not the Judeo-Christian entity Satan, but rather the ancient Assyrian demon Pazuzu. And, as I see it, the film shows the rituals of the two Catholic priests as being ineffective in suppressing him.

In the beginning of the film, the elderly Father Lankester Merrin is shown on an archaeological dig when his team uncovers a figurine of Pazuzu, an Assyrian god that was personified with a human head, a scorpion’s tail, and wings. This uncovering appears to awaken the demon, as idols in the ancient world were often believed to hold sway over the beings that they depicted. This belief that physical depictions of beings, either natural or supernatural, is common all over the world and is very prevalent in tribal religions.

Once Pazuzu is awakened his begins to inhabit the body of young Regan MacNeil. After exploring medical explanations for Regan’s changing behavior, her mother resorts to exploring supernatural means and assumes there is a relation to the only supernatural belief system she is aware of: Catholicism. She contacts a local church that reluctantly assigns Father Merrin and Father Karris to combat the demonic. If only Chris MacNeil were more aware of the religions of the ancient world, she could have looked up a local Assyrian holy man and she would have found a much more effective cure.

Once the priests begin their exorcism ritual, the overall effect it has against the Assyrian god is left to be vague and up to the viewer to interpret themselves. But, I believe that it is intended to show that the entity of Pazuzu is real and that the Catholic rituals are not. The priests are shown mistakenly associating the demon with their own adversary Satan, showing their inability to even identify the being. There are moments when holy water appears to cause the demon pain, but moments later Pazuzu is shown springing back as if he were merely feigning pain to catch the priests off guard like an animal protecting it’s nest. Throughout the exorcism, the intensity of the demonic possession waxes and wanes, leaving the priests to mistakenly interpret the lulls as being the direct result of their ritual, however the intensity was shown as having highs and lows well before the priests ever arrived.

Why is the demon attacking the priests? It is not because the are holy men but simply because they dare to oppose him. After all, the first victim of the Pazuzu/Regan possession is the MacNeil’s friend Burke Dennings, a man shown as being far from religious but very confrontational.

The second film in the series makes it even more clear that the famine god Pazuzu and not Satan is responsible for the possession with the unfortunately filmed depiction of James Earl Jones in a giant grasshopper costume. It could be argued that both Christian and Assyrian religions are shown as being true and are battling each other, but in my eyes the Catholic rituals are shown as being just as effective as they are in the mundane world.

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18 Comments on “The Exorcist: Assyrian Mythology vs Catholic Mythology?”

  1. John Says:

    I actually think you missed the main point here… before the advent of Abrahamic religions, the Assyrian culture was pagan… the demons of this mythology, under the banner of Christianity, fall into the realm of all demons, beneath Satan… they always existed, but didn’t have a specific, identified realm as detailed in Catholicism. Therefore, when the priests are conducting the roman rituals, they refer to Satan as they would with any “demon,” as demons operate at the behest of Satan… and she consulted a Catholic priest after Regan masturbates with a crucifix, a clear affront to the Christian religion, not to Assyrian mythology. Likewise, had she masturbated with the Koran, they would’ve consulted an Imam… This falls into the same vein as Dante referring to Greek mythology in the decent into Hell/Hades, in his Inferno.

    • Good points, though I don’t think any of them would nullify my little theory. The crucifix masturbation was done to infuriate the priests, as was the other comments the demon made, some of them being quite personal. And the classification of Pazuzu as a demon under Satan would have to work under the assumption that the Catholic demonology was correct. Perhaps the don’t care about the identity of the demon, but there’s nothing in the story (that I remember, anyway) that clarifies that.

  2. Kier Ahsham Says:

    I believe that this entire thing was a pointless rant and I believe you need to find something to do in life if you know all of this stuff. But then again I dont believe in any religion or god so I may very well be running my mouth off and wasting time.

  3. Nishra Says:

    Some People call the Assyrian Culture Pagan, as always, Christians think they know all and they are the real religion, the truth is Christianaty was copied from the Old Assyrian and Egyptian Religion… Do your homework boys

    • The term Pagan is misused often. The original intent, from what I’ve learned, was to refer to rural peoples in Israel and Judah that did not worship at the temple in Jerusalem, and instead sacrificed at the “High Places”, often to other gods than Yahweh. It came to mean the follower of any non-Abrahamic religion, in which case, the Assyrians would definitely qualify. Today, it’s often used as a reference to non-Christian nature religions.

  4. all that talk about Linda Blair masturbating has me thinking impure thoughts.

    It’s also given me a semi-fatty.

  5. Landru Says:

    Ugly mutt for a demon. Easy to rid, just pee on it and it goes away.

  6. Richard Green Says:

    at several times in the novel the spirit inhabiting Regan identifies itself as Nowonmai. Does anyone have a clue abbout the origins of this name and what language Regan speaks?

    • Victor Says:

      Got me. The only reference I can find to that name is the movie itself. Made up by the author? If it’s a transliteration of another language there could be some radically difference spellings of the name.

    • Victor Says:

      Ah, it “I-Am-No-Won (One)” spelled backwards.

      Could be a reference to Greek myth. Odysseus identifies himself as “I am Nobody” to the cyclops Polyphemus in the Odyssey. The when asked who is hurting him, Polyphemus shouts, “Nobody is hurting me”. The other cyclops believe him to be ok and walk away.

      Or a reference to the demoniac in gMark, who introduces himself as “I am Legion”.

    • David Says:

      nowonmai is reverse english, I AM NO ONE (won) it is the response the demon gives to Karras after asking who are you. much of the dialogue in that scene from the demon is reverse english.

    • adarsh Says:

      Yes….in case you didn’t read the novel….its mentioned in its later part…..reverse the words NOW ON MA I which now becomes I AM NO WON
      …you can assume won as one
      ….so here’s ur answer…..she Said I am no one

  7. […] of Hanbi and king of the wind demons. And star of the Exorcist, of course (though mistaken as Satan by the priests in the movie). In 1968, a fibula carved into a Pazuzu idol was discovered in the Hebrew city of Megiddo. […]

  8. Ashur Says:

    Well I just wanted to add that I am actually Assyrian and we are all Christians…Assyrian Church of the East (First Church). We were Missionaries and reached many from China to India. The Jewish Old Testament was copied from Assyrian Tablets. We are not EVIL!

    • Victor Says:

      I don’t think anybody thinks you’re evil. And, if they do, they’re probably the type of person that thinks everybody that isn’t a member of their specific church is evil.

      There is no evidence the OT was copied from Assyrian tablets, though there may have been some Assyrian influence in the stories.

  9. patrick Says:

    the demonical form of possession is thought to have its origin in early christianity when in fact both possession and exorcism pre date the time of christ. and it is correct that there in the movie as well as the book Regan speaks in english backwards hence the i am no one when asked who the demon is in her. One of my favorite characters in the book and movie is Detective Kinderman, he is such a human character and fights with his rights and wrongs and doubts and suspicions just as much as Damien Karros does, if not more. Great movie. Fantastic can’t put the book down read.

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