The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art (RAFFMA) at Cal State San Bernardino, in collaboration with the Bowers Museum and American Research Center in Egypt, Orange County (ARCE-OC), presents “Redeeming Demons: Coopting Demonic Forces for Good in Ancient Egypt” on Saturday, April 10, from 1:30 -3:30 p.m. (PST).

The event is free and open to the public. Register for the event at the Redeeming Demons registration page.  

The word “demon” is used throughout Egyptology for a number of divine or semi-divine creatures encountered in art and texts. Although there is no term for “demon” in Egyptian, scholars have applied this term freely for creatures with an especially menacing demeanor found in the texts that describe the underworld.  But it also appears in reference to other areas of Egyptian magic, medicine, and mortuary art. Demons appear to have malevolent and benevolent tendencies in Ancient Egyptian religion.

The seminar will look at the benevolent demons. It will especially focus on how the ancient Egyptians used magic or myth to coerce ostensibly naturally malevolent forces. The study of demons in ancient Egyptian religion is undergoing a renaissance. This conference will bring together experts in the topic of demons in ancient Egypt to offer their perspectives on how the ancient Egyptians conceived of magical, ritual and mythical strategies to bend evil to do the will of good.

Panelists, in sequence of appearance, include:

Rita Lucarelli, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Egyptology
Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley
Title: Inverted of face, violent of voice: benevolent protectors with scary names and how to think about “demons” in ancient Egypt   

The inhabitants of the ancient Egyptian netherworld are widely depicted and mentioned in a series of compositions found on papyrus, tombs and temples. Although their name most often recalls threatening traits of their character, their main function is protective. By analyzing names and epithets of the so-called “demons” of the netherworld, as attested especially in the Coffin Texts and in the Book of the Dead, emic vs etic views of “fear,” “chaos” and “protection” in relation to the liminal figures populating the ancient Egyptian Duat will be considered in order to “redeem demons” in ancient Egypt.

Joshua A. Roberson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Art History
Department of Art at the University of Memphis
Title: The Bones of the Earth-Spawn Tremble: Reassessing the Aker Sphinx – Personification or Guardian Demon?

The being known to the ancient Egyptians as Aker is attested in mortuary spells and cosmological texts during Egypt’s New Kingdom in the form of a double sphinx, which might appear either as human- or lion-headed. Aker stands at the entrance and exit of the underworld, where the deceased must pass on their journey through the afterlife. This talk will examine the textual and iconographic evidence for the Aker creature, in order to assess its function and meaning, including antecedents from the Old Kingdom and even earlier, and its survival through the end of Pharaonic Egypt. 

Bryan Kraemer
Researcher (RAFFMA) and Instructor (Department of History)
California State University, San Bernardino
Title: Demons in God’s Land: Menacing Creatures Used for Protecting Osiris in Abydos

The term “demon” is used broadly in Egyptology to cover a category of beings found in religious texts and art that bear a menacing or threatening demeanor. But according to the texts, they often have a beneficial, protective role belying the designation “demon.”  In this talk, I will discuss how demons were incorporated in ancient Egyptian ritual practice, especially through their active protection of the god Osiris. I look in detail at how these ostensibly menacing forces were coopted to protect the god in his ritual transitions during the festivals of Osiris as celebrated in Abydos. Specifically, “demons” were ritually embodied in statues used in the structure called the House of Life, a location for the most critical rituals practiced in the festivals of Osiris. “Good demons,” sometimes called the Agathodaimons by Egyptologists, were also menacing guardians imagined as inhabiting the region of the god’s final burial in the desert. By looking at the case of Osiris, this talk will therefore present a case study of how demons were incorporated into actual ancient Egyptian ritual practice.

Kasia Szpakowska, Ph.D
W. Benson Harer Egyptology Scholar in Residence
California State University, San Bernardino (spring 2021)
Title: I Dream of Genii

While Egyptian genii did not come forth from a bottle, their essence could be contained as amulets and figurines, paintings on the plastered wall of a home, or carved on furniture. This presentation examines in detail a particularly vibrant and engaging selection of genii that appeared on New Kingdom headrests – the ancient Egyptian version of a pillow. While their iconography presents the benevolent daemons in a fixed position, it is clear that what has been frozen as a static pose is but a single moment of vibrant eccentric dance movements they engaged in to protect and fulfill the needs of their wards. Beyond that dramatic pose they could apparently act with their own volition and agency to energetically maintain maat and protect the vulnerable. Without needing further explicit evocation, these genii expressed themselves vociferously. They bellowed like hippos, they spat, beat drums, and stamped their feet. With menacing gestures, they defiantly danced, all the while flashing serpents and weapons with every limb. Only some of the headrests bear wishes for good sleep – others relied on the presence of the image alone to invoke the power of the genii to keep the vulnerable safe in everyday life, the afterlife, and even in their dreams.

For questions, contact

The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art, nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, houses a collection that includes Egyptian antiquities, ceramics and contemporary art, and hosts 10-12 temporary exhibitions a year. Located at California State University, San Bernardino, RAFFMA presents one of the largest public displays of ancient Egyptian art in Southern California.

The museum offers a variety of opportunities providing valuable hands-on work experience and preparation for future museum-related careers for CSUSB students. RAFFMA is a great location for hosting corporate events, networking events, meetings, social gatherings and K-12 school field trips. During the temporary physical closure of RAFFMA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, guests are invited to participate in RAFFMA @ Home!

About Bowers Museum
Take a trip around the globe at the Bowers Museum! Opened in 1936, the Bowers prides itself on showcasing world-class arts and cultures in a warm, inviting space located in the heart of Orange County.  Bowers has been voted "Best Museum in Orange County" by The OC Register for 26 years and has organized more than 50 special exhibitions in just the past 15 years in partnership with some of the greatest museums in the world. Recent highlights include blockbusters such as Terra Cotta Warriors, Mummies: Treasures from the British Museum, Guo Pei: Couture Beyond, and Inside the Walt Disney Archives. Over 100,000 square feet and surrounded by lush gardens, the Bowers campus includes a 296-seat auditorium, 12,000 square feet of event space, a Patina-owned Tangata Restaurant, a robust Gallery Store, 8 permanent exhibitions, and spectacular featured exhibits on rotation, to ensure a full day of engaging fun with every visit. Bowers Museum, bringing the world to you.

ARCE-OC is a Southern California chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) -- a nonprofit organization that facilitates the study, excavation, preservation and conservation of important historical artifacts and sites from the Pharaonic through the Medieval Period through grants, fieldwork and field schools as well as high quality training in Egypt. ARCE chapters in the U.S. sponsor Egypt-related educational programs in almost all geographic regions of the lower 48 states, and ARCE-OC is the most active of all of them.

Visit the RAFFMA website for more information.