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In the myth and folklore of the Near East and Europe, Abyzou is the name of a female demon. Abyzou was blamed
for miscarriages and infant mortality and was said to be motivated by envy (Greek: phthonos), as she herself
was infertile. In the Jewish tradition she is identified with Lilith, in Coptic Egypt with Alabasandria, and in Byzantine
culture with Gylou, but in various texts surviving from the syncretic magical practice of antiquity and the early
medieval era she is said to have many or virtually innumerable names. [1]
Abyzou (also spelled Abizou, Obizu, Obizuth, Obyzouth, Byzou etc.) is pictured on amulets with fish- or serpentlike attributes. Her fullest literary depiction is the compendium of demonology known as theTestament of Solomon,
dated variously by scholars from as early as the 1st century AD to as late as the 4th. [2]

A.A. Barb connected Abyzou and similar female demons to the Sumerian myth of primeval Sea. Barb argued that
although the name Abyzou appears to be a corrupted form of the Greek word abyssos ("the abyss"),[3] the Greek
itself was borrowed from Assyrian Apsu or Sumerian Abzu, the undifferentiated sea from which the world was
created in the Sumerian belief system, equivalent to Babylonian Tiamat,[4] orHebrew Tehom in the Book of Genesis.
The entity Sea was originally bi- or asexual, later dividing into male Abzu (fresh water) and female Tiamat (salt
water). The female demons among whom Lilith is the best-known are often said to have come from the primeval
sea. In classical Greece, female sea monsters that combine allure and deadliness may also derive from this
tradition, including the Gorgons (who were daughters of the old sea god Phorcys), Sirens, Harpies, and even
water nymphs and Nereids.[5]
In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, the word Abyssos is treated as a noun of
feminine grammatical gender, even though Greek nouns ending in -os are typically masculine. Abyssos is
equivalent in meaning to Mesopotamian Abzu as the dark chaotic sea before Creation. The word also appears in
the Christian scriptures, occurring six times in the Book of Revelation, where it is conventionally translated not as
the deep but as the bottomless pit of Hell. Barb argues that in essence the Sumerian Abzu is the grandmother
of the Christian Devil.[6]

The Testament of Solomon[edit]

In the late antique Testament of Solomon,[7] Abyzou (as Obizuth) is described as having a greenish gleaming face
with dishevelled serpent-like hair; the rest of her body is covered by darkness. [8] The speaker (King Solomon)
encounters a series of demons, binds and tortures each in turn, and inquires into their activities; then he metes out
punishment or controls them as he sees fit. Put to the test, Abyzou says that she does not sleep, but rather wanders
the world looking for women about to give birth; given the opportunity, she will strangle newborns. She claims also to
be the source of many other afflictions, including deafness, eye trouble, obstructions of the throat, madness, and
bodily pain.[9] Solomon orders that she be chained by her own hair and hung up in front of the Temple in public view.
The writer of the Testament appears to have been thinking of the gorgoneion, or the icon of the Medusas head,
which often adorned Greek temples and occasionally Jewish synagogues in late antiquity.[8]
Envy is a theme in the Testament,[10] and during his interrogation by the king, Beelzebub himself asserts that he
inspires envy among humans.[11] Among the succession of demons bound and questioned, thepersonification of
Envy is described as headless, and motivated by the need to steal another's head: "I grasp in an instant a man's
head and put it on myself."[12] As with Envy's Sisyphean efforts to replace his head, Abyzou (Obizuth) cannot rest
until she steals a child each night.

On medical amulets[edit]

Amulet depicting Abyzou whipped by Arlaph

On the inscribed healing amulets of the Near Eastern and European magico-medical tradition, illness or affliction is
often personified and addressed directly; the practitioner may be instructed to inscribe or chant a phrase that orders
the ailment to depart: for example, Flee, Fever![13] The ailment may also be conceived of as caused by a demon,
who must be identified correctly by name and commanded to depart. In this mode, magico-healing practice bears
comparison to exorcism.[14]
Abyzou is depicted and named on several early Byzantine bronze amulets. With her hands tied behind her back,
she kneels as she is whipped by a standing figure, identified as Solomon or Arlaph, called Afarof in the Testament of
Solomon and identified with the archangel Raphael. On one amulet, the figure is labeled as Arlaph, but an
inscription reads The Seal of Solomon [is] with the bearer; I am Noskam. The reverse inscription is written within
an ouroboros, the symbol of a snake biting its tail to form a circle: Flee, flee, Abyzou, [from] Sisinios and Sisinnia;
the voracious dog dwells here. (St. Sisinnios[15] sometimes takes the Solomon role on Christian amulets.) Although
Abyzou is regarded mainly as a threat to child-bearing women and to infants, some of the names of those seeking
protection from her on extant amulets are masculine.[16]
Medieval amulets show a variation on this iconography, with Abyzou trampled underfoot by a horseman. The rider is
identified again either as Solomon or Arlaph; one example depicts the rider as Sisinnios, with the demon named as
both Abizou and Anabardalea, and an angel named Araph (for Arlaph) standing by with one raised wing. The
medieval lead amulets that show the rider subduing the female often have a main image that resembles a
gorgoneion and is likely a womb symbol (hystera).[17]

The names of Abyzou[edit]

In one magic-related text, the archangel Michael confronts Abyzou and compels her to tell him the 40 names that
can control her.[18] In magico-religious practice, the knowledge of the secret name of a deity, divine force, or demon
offers power over that entity.[19]
In the Testament of Solomon, the demon herself declares that she has ten-thousands of names and forms, and that
Raphael is her antithesis. She says that if her name is written on a scrap of papyrus when a woman is about to give
birth, I shall flee from them to the other world.[20]
Variants on the name of Abyzou appear frequently in charms in languages such as ancient Greek, Hebrew,
and Romanian.[21]

Gyllou, Gylou, Gello[edit]

Main article: Gello
The female childbirth demon appears frequently in magical texts under her Babylonian name Gyllou or Gylou. In
one Greek tale set in the time of Trajan the King, Gyllou under torture reveals her twelve and a half names:

My first and special name is called Gyllou; the second Amorphous; the third Abyzou; the fou

In medieval texts, one of Gylous twelve and a half names is given as Anabardalea, a name also associated with
In the form of Gello, the demon appears in a fragment from Sappho's poetry.[25]

Antaura is a female demon who causes migraine headaches. She is known primarily from a 2nd/3rd century
silver lamella (inscribed metal leaf) found at the Roman military settlement Carnuntum in present-dayAustria.
Antaura, whose name means something like Contrary Wind, is said to come out of the sea. In the inscription, she
is confronted by the Ephesian Artemis, who plays the role assigned to the male figures Solomon, Arlaph, and
Sisinnios in Judaeo-Christian magic.[26]

At the monastery of St. Apollo in Bawit, Egypt, a wall painting depicts the childbirth demon under the name
Alabasandria (or Alabasdria) as she is trampled under the hooves of a horse. The rider wears a belted tunic and
trousers in the Parthian manner, and an inscription, now faded, was read at the time of its discovery as Sisinnios.
This central image is surrounded by other figures, including a centaur, the piercing of the evil eye, and the
demon's daughter, winged and reptile-tailed, identified by an inscription. [28]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 2012 horror film The Possession, Abyzou is the name of the Dybbuk that haunts one of the main
characters, Emily "Em" Brenek.

In "The Sisters Mills", an episode of the Fox fantasy series Sleepy Hollow, Abyzou is featured as the primary
antagonist. Here she is the origin of the myth of the Tooth Fairy.

See also[edit]
For similar or related figures, see:






Selected bibliography[edit]

Barb, A.A. Antaura. The Mermaid and the Devils Grandmother: A Lecture. Journal of the Warburg and
Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966) 123.

Conybeare, F.C. The Testament of Solomon, translation and introduction. Jewish Quarterly Review 11
(1898) 1 46 online, full text available and downloadable.

Fulgum, Mary Margaret. "Coins Used as Amulets in Late Antiquity." In Between Magic and
Religion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), pp. 139148 limited preview online.

Spier, Jeffrey. Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets and Their Tradition. Journal of the Warburg and
Courtauld Institutes 56 (1993) 2562, online.


Jump up^ Mary Margaret Fulgum, "Coins Used as Amulets in Late Antiquity," in Between Magic and Religion:
Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Mediterranean Religion and Society (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), p. 142


Jump up^ A.A. Barb, Antaura. The Mermaid and the Devils Grandmother: A Lecture, Journal of the Warburg
and Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966), p. 5; at least to the 2nd century, Sara Iles Johnston, Religions of the Ancient
World (Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 122 online; probably dates to the third century, James H. Charlesworth,
Jewish Interest in Astrology, Aufstieg und Niedergang der rmischen Welt II 20.2 (1987) pp. 935936 online. et al.


Jump up^ Based on a popular etymology that saw in the word Greek bythos (depth) with an alpha privative,
to mean without depth or bottomless; Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1843,
1985 printing), p. 4, gives no etymology for .



Jump up^ See also article on Assyro-Babylonian religion.

Jump up^ A.A. Barb, Antaura. The Mermaid and the Devils Grandmother: A Lecture, Journal of the Warburg
and Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966), p. 6
Jump up^ Barb, Antaura, pp. 1012.
Jump up^ Testament of Solomon 5859, translation and introduction by F.C. Conybeare, Jewish Quarterly
Review 11 (1898), p. 30 online.


^ Jump up to:a b Barb, Antaura, p. 9.


Jump up^ Barb, Antaura, p. 5; for online texts of the Testament, see Selected bibliography below.


Jump up^ Fr. George R.A. Aquaro, Death by Envy: The Evil Eye and Envy in the Christian Tradition (iUniverse,
2004), p. 99 online.


Jump up^ Testament of Solomon 27, p. 22 in Conybeare.


Jump up^ Testament of Solomon 4344, p. 26 in Conybeare.


Jump up^ For an example of a course of treatment employing a flee charm, see article on Medicina Plinii.


Jump up^ Roy Kotansky, Incantations and Prayers on Inscribed Greek Amulets, in Magika Hiera: Ancient
Greek Magic and Religion, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink (Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 113
114 and 119; on exorcism of the childbirth demon, Maria Vasilak, Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of
the Theotokos in Byzantium (Ashgate, 2005), p. 256 online.


Jump up^ For more on St. Sisinnios, see Christopher Walker, The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and
Tradition (Ashgate, 2002), pp. 242242 online.


Jump up^ Jeffrey Spier, Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets and Their Tradition, Journal of the Warburg
and Courtauld Institutes 56 (1993), pp. 3738, full text available online.


Jump up^ Fulgum, "Coins Used as Amulets in Late Antiquity," p. 142; Spier, Medieval Byzantine Magical
Amulets, pp. 3840.


Jump up^ Sergio Giannobile and D.R. Jordan, "A Lead Phylactery from Colle san Basilio (Sicily)," Greek,
Roman, and Byzantine Studies 46 (2006), p. 80, citing II 163 in F. Pradel, Griechische und
sditalienische Gebete, Beschwrungen und Rezepte des Mittelalters, RGVV 3.3 (1907) 2324 online for the relevant
passage in Greek.


Jump up^ The secrecy surrounding the correct names of gods extended to prayer formularies in general and
was characteristic of Ancient Egyptian religion, mystery religions, early Christianity and Judaism, and other religions of
antiquity. See Matthias Klinghardt, Prayer Formularies for Public Recitation: Their Use and Function in Ancient
Religion, Numen 46 (1999) 152, and for an example of dire consequences attending on the revelation of a secret
name, see article on Quintus Valerius Soranus.


Jump up^ Barb, Antaura,p. 5; Spier, Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets and Their Tradition, p. 12.


Jump up^ Barb, Antaura, p. 5.


Jump up^ There is a gap in the original text.



Jump up^ Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late
Antiquity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1985), pp. 114115.
Jump up^ Spier, Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets, p. 38.


Jump up^ Sappho, frg. 178 in Poeta Lesbiorum fragmenta, edited by Edgar Lobel and Denys Page (Oxford
1955), p. 101; Karen Hartnup, On the Beliefs of the Greeks: Leo Allatios and Popular Orthodoxy (Brill, 2004), pp. 35,
8586, 149150, limited preview online.


Jump up^ Barb, Antaura, especially pp. 25; Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek
and Roman Worlds. A Collection of Ancient Texts (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, 2nd ed. 2006), p.
281 online; Roy Kotansky, "Jesus and the Lady of the Abyss (Mark 2:2534): Hieros gamos, Cosmogony, and the Elixir
of Life," in Antiquity and Humanity: Essays on Ancient Religion and Philosophy Presented to Hans Dieter Betz on His
70th Birthday (Mohr Siebeck, 2001), p. 100, note 49 online; Roy Kotansky, "An Early Christian Gold lamella for
Headache," in Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World (Brill, 2001), pp. 4142 online; Vivian Nutton, Ancient
Medicine(Routledge, 2004), p. 274 online. Full discussion of this amulet in Roy Kotansky, Greek Magical Amulets: The
Inscribed Gold, Silver, Copper, and Bronze Lamellae: Text and Commentary (Opladen : Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994),
1.270300 (nos. 52.9395), esp. 279, 29596.


Jump up^ Fulgum, "Coins Used as Amulets in Late Antiquity," p. 142 online.
Jump up^ Christopher Walter, The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition (Ashgate Publishing, 2003), p.
241 online.