Egyptian Creation Gods and Myths

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Raising of the Sun
According to ancient Egyptian creation myth, before the world emerged from the waters of chaos the Sun god Ra appeared. He was so powerful that all he had to do was say the name of something and it came into being. "I am Khepera at the dawn, and Ra at noon and Tum in the evening," he declared and the first day was created. When he cried "Nut" the goddess of the sky took her place between the horizons. And when he the shouted "Hapi" the sacred river Nile began flowing through Egypt. After filling the world with beautiful things Ra said the words "man" and "women" and thus people were created. Ra then transformed himself into man, thus becoming the first pharaoh. [Source: Roger Lancelyn Green, Tales of Ancient Egypt]

As recorded in colorful paintings in the tombs of the pharaohs, the Egyptians believed that the cosmos consisted of a dome of heaven supported by the god of Air. According to Egyptian mythology, the Nile divided the world in two. The sky was supported on four poles or mountain ranges. The sun was pushed above the horizon by a hawk and then pushed across the sky by a scarab beetle the same way it rolls its dung. Later the Egyptians believed their sun God carried the sun in his chariot, a chore also performed by the Greek god Apollo.

The ancient Egyptian believed the earth emerged from the sea of chaos and was like an egg guarded at night by the moon which were described as being "a great white a goose brooding over her egg." The concept of the Earth and eggs rising out of the sea is thought to have developed from the observation of fertile silted mounds emerging from the Nile when the flood waters receded.

The ancient Egyptians believed the sun was a god (Ra) who visited the underworld, a watery realm of the demons of the dead, where he battled with the serpent of chaos, and victoriously returned to the day each morning. They believed the Sun-god Ra rode across the sky from east to west in a “day boat” and changed to a “night boat” for the return trip through the underworld. He rose in the jaws of a lion in the East and set in the jaws of a lion in the West and was guided at night through the waters of chaos. The myths about Ra, it has been argued, made sense to the ancient Egyptians because they did not contradict what they saw with the naked eye.

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Apophis, Sekmet, Hathor and Good and Evil in the Egyptian Creation Myth

Later Apophis (the Dragon of Evil) entered the souls of the people of Egypt and many of them began rebelling against Ra. Ra then called a meeting of all the gods and asked for their advise. He wanted to kill all the people of Egypt with a "burning glance" from his eye but Nun, the god of water and the oldest of all the gods, told Ra, "If you send forth the burning glance of your Eye to slay mankind, it will turn all the land of Egypt to desert. Therefore make a power that will harm men and women only; send out that which will burn the evil but not harm the good." Thus Ra created Sekhmet, a giant lioness with an insatiable appetite.

Sekhmet stalked her prey at night and hid in the rocks during the day. Finally after Sekhmet killed thousands of people, Ra decided enough was enough and ordered the people of Elephantine Island near the First Cataract to bring him some ocher. He then ordered all the sun temple priests and members of his court to command their subjects to crush barley, make beer and mix it with the ocher. Ra then ordered the people to hide. When Sekhmet came out at night she couldn't find any people. She saw the red beer. Thinking it was the blood of people that she had previously killed she drank greedily and eventually became so drunk she could not hunt or kill.

An entire night passed without a single death. The next morning Ra said to the lioness: "You come in peace, sweet one, peace be with you and a new name. No longer are you Sekhmet the Slayer: you are Hathor, the Lady of Love. Yet your Power over Man will be even greater than it was — for the passion of love shall be stronger than the passion of hate, and all shall know love, and all shall be your victims."

Evolution of Egyptian Creation Gods and Myths

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “According to the Heliopolitan Tradition, the world began as a watery chaos called Nun, from which the sun-god Atum (later to identified with Re) emerged on a mound. By his own power he engendered the twin deities Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture), who in turn bore Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Geb and Nut finally produced Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. The nine gods so created formed the divine ennead (i.e. company of nine) which in later texts was often regarded as a single divine entity. From this system derived the commonly accepted conception of the universe represented as a figure of the air-god Shu standing and supporting with his hands the out-stretched body of the sky-goddess Nut, with Geb the earth-god lying at his feet. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“The second cosmological tradition of Egypt was developed at Hermopolis, the Capital of the Fifteenth Nome of Upper Egypt, apparently during a time of reaction against the religious hegemony of Heliopolis. According to this tradition, chaos existed at the beginning of time before the world was created. This chaos possessed four characteristics identified with eight deities who were grouped in pairs: Nun and Naunet, (god and goddess of the primordial water), Heh and Hehet, (god and goddess of infinite space), Kek and Keket, (god and goddess of darkness), and Amun and Amunet, (god and goddess of invisibility). +\

“These deities were not so much the gods of the earth at the time of creation as the personifications of the characteristic elements of chaos out of which earth emerged. They formed what is called the Hermopolitan Ogdoad (company of eight). Out of chaos so conceived arose the primeval mound at Hermopolis and on the mound was deposited an egg from which emerged the great sun-god. The sun-god then proceeded to organize the world. The Hermopolitan idea of chaos was of something more active than the chaos of the Heliopolitan system; but after the ultimate triumph of the latter system, a subtle modification (no doubt introduced largely for political reasons) made Nun the father and creator of Atum. +\

“The third cosmological system was developed at Memphis, when it became the capital city of the kings of Egypt. Ptah, the principal god of Memphis, had to be shown to be the great creator-god, and a new legend about creation was coined. Nevertheless, an attempt was made to organize the new cosmogony so that a direct breach with the priests of Heliopolis might be avoided. Ptah was the great creator-god, but eight other gods were held to be contained within him. Of these eight, some were members of the Heliopolitan Ennead, and others of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad. Atum, for example, held a special position; Nun and Naunet were included; also Tatjenen, a Memphite god personifying the earth emerging from chaos, and four other deities whose names are not certain. They were probably Horus, Thoth, Nefertum, and a serpent-god. Atum was held to represent the active faculties of Ptah by which creation was achieved, these faculties being intelligence, which as identified with the heart and personified as Horus, and will, which was identified with the tongue and personified as Thoth. +\

“Ptah conceived the world intellectually before creating it 'by his own word'. The whole Memphite theology is preserved on a slab of basalt now exhibited in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery. It was composed at an early date, and committed to stone during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty by the order of King Shabaka. Unfortunately, this stone, the so-called 'Shabaka Stone' was subsequently used as a nether mill-stone and much of the text has been lost. The document known as the Bremner-Rhind Papyrus includes, among other religious texts, two monologues of the sun-god describing how he created all things. +\

Atum, Creator God According to the Heliopolis Myth

“Atum (Atem, Tem Tum) was the original sun-god of Heliopolis represented as a man, later identified with Re. At the height of his popularity, he was regarded as a supreme god and creator god. As "the god of the visible disc of the sun," he had his own city within which a temple was dedicated to him. According to the Heliopolis creation story, Atum emerged from a chaotic ocean known as Nun and immaculately conceived and gave birth to Shu (air) and Tefenet (moisture). Atum had some similarities with Amun. In later versions of the Egyptian creation myth he was considered a descendent of the sun-god Ra.

Atum is one of the most important and frequently mentioned deities in early ancient Egypt based his prominence in the Pyramid Texts, where he is portrayed as both a creator and father to the king. His name is thought to be derived from the verb tm which means to complete or finish. Thus he has been interpreted as being the "complete one" and also the finisher of the world, which he returns to watery chaos at the end of the creative cycle. As creator he was seen as the underlying substance of the world, the deities and all things being made of his flesh or alternatively being his ka. [Source: Wikipedia +]

In the Heliopolitan creation myth, Atum was considered to be the first god, having created himself, sitting on a mound from the primordial waters. Early myths state that Atum created the god Shu and goddess Tefnut by spitting them out of his mouth after masturbating, with his hand representing the female principle inherent within him. In the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed that Atum lifted the dead king's soul from his pyramid to the starry heavens. He was also a solar deity, associated with the primary sun god Ra. Atum was linked specifically with the evening sun, while Ra or the closely linked god Khepri were connected with the sun at morning and midday. In the Book of the Dead, still followed in Greco-Roman times, Atum was depicted as a sun god that ascended from chaos-waters as a snake renewing itself every morning. +

Atum is the god of pre-existence and post-existence. As a self-created deity, he was the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that existed before creation and created his children —the first deities — out of the energy and matter contained in this chaos to combat his loneliness.He is usually depicted as a man wearing either the royal head-cloth or the dual white and red crown of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, reinforcing his connection with kingship. Sometimes he also is shown as a serpent, the form he returns to at the end of the creative cycle, and also occasionally as a mongoose, lion, bull, lizard, or ape. The worship of Atum was centered in the city of Heliopolis. The only surviving remnant of Heliopolis is the Temple of Re-Atum obelisk located in Al-Masalla of Al-Matariyyah, Cairo. It was erected by Senusret I of the Twelfth dynasty, and still stands in its original position. The 68 ft (20.73 m) high red granite obelisk weighs 120 tons (240,000 lbs). +

Heliopolis Ennead and the Creation of Mankind

Shu, Tefnt, Nut and Geb are regarded as the original Egyptian gods as they were the first gods created by the creator god Atum. Shu was the god of air. Shu separated space into Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephyhys were all offspring of Geb and Nut. The Heliopolis Ennead or Great Ennead was a group of eight or nine deities in Egyptian mythology worshiped at Heliopolis, an early ancient Egyptian religious center now underneath a suburb of Cairo. The nine deities were: 1) the sun god Atum; his children 2) Shu and 3) Tefnut; their children 4) Geb and 5) Nut; and their children Osiris, 6) Isis, 7) Seth, and 8) Nephthys. The Ennead sometimes includes 9) Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, Horus. The Heliopolis Ennead rose to importance in Dynasties V and VI of the Old Kingdom and remained prominent in Egypt into the Ptolemaic era.

According to the Heliopolitan Scheme, a religious concept elaborated by the priests of Heliopolis, Atum, the early Egyptian sun god creator god, created Shu and Tefnut because he was lonely. Lee Huddleston of the University of North Texas wrote: “Finding himself alone, Atum used his hand and begat, then brought out of himself, the first generation of Gods: a) Shu [Air], and his sister/wife Tefnut [Ma'at/ Mayet]. The root meaning of Ma'at is right-thinking or Order, but she was also Space. They then wandered off into the endless body of Nun. Atum sent Eye to find them and return them. While Eye was gone, Atum created a second eye, possibly the Moon. When Shu and Tefnut returned, Tefnut gave birth to b) Geb [Earth], and his sister/wife b) Nut [Sky]. Geb and Nut were born in sexual embrace. Shu forcibly interposed himself between them, thus separating Earth from Sky. Nut gave birth to two sets of twins: d) Osiris [the Nile, God of the Dead] and his sister e) Isis, who was his wife [the Fertile soil, the star Sirius]; f) Seth [Disorder, Foreign Places], brother to Nepthys, his wife, and to Osiris and Isis. The son of Isis and Osiris was g) Horus [the Pharaoh, the Fruit of the Land]. An older God, h) Thoth, who was reborn as the son of Horus and Seth, was the Law [of God], the Word [of God], the Seed [of God].” [Source: Lee Huddleston, Ancient Near East Page, January, 2001, Internet Archive, from UNT]

According to Heliopolis story Atum produced Shu and Tefnut from his own sneeze, or in some accounts, semen, after uniting his male and female side through masturbation. The brother and sister, curious about the primeval waters that surrounded them, went to explore the waters and disappeared into the darkness. Unable to bear his loss, Atum sent a fiery messenger, the Eye of Ra, to find his children. The tears of joy he shed on their return were the first human beings. [Source: Wikipedia]

Shu, Tefnut, Nut and Geb: the Original Egyptian Gods

Shu was the god of air, the husband of Tefnut and the father of Nut and Geb. He and his wife were the first gods created by Atum. Shu was the god of the air and sunlight or, more precisely, dry air and his wife represented moisture. He was normally depicted as a man wearing a headdress in the form of a plume, which is also the hieroglyph for his name. Shu’s function was to hold up the body of the goddess Nut and separate the sky from the earth. He was not a solar deity but his role in providing sunlight connected him to the sun god Ra. He was one of the few gods to escape persecution under iconoclastic king Akhenaten.

Tefnut was the goddess of moisture, the wife of Shu and mother of Nut and Geb. She and Shu husband were the first gods created by Atum. She was the goddess of moisture or damp, corrosive air, and was depicted either as a lioness or as a woman with a lioness’s head. She and Shu were the first pair of the Heliopolitan ennead. [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Nut (Nuit) was the sky-goddess and wife of Geb, the earth-god. Represented as a woman, whose naked body curved to form the arch of heaven, she was the great mother who held up the canopy of the sky. From her breast poured the Milky Way. In one tomb painting she is shown with her legs spread and her lover Geb, with an erect penis, reaching for her. Pharaohs often claimed to be the offspring of Nut and Geb, or as Pepi II put it from "between the thighs of Nut."

Mark Millmore wrote in “Nut was the mother of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephythys, Nut is usually shown in human form; her elongated body symbolizing the sky. Each limb represents a cardinal point as her body stretches over the earth. Nut swallowed the setting sun (Ra) each evening and gave birth to him each morning. She is often depicted on the ceilings of tombs, on the inside lid of coffins, and on the ceilings of temples.” [Source: Mark Millmore, ^^^]

Geb was the Earth god, husband of Nut and father of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephythys,. He is sometimes depicted with an erect penis and was sometimes represented by a crocodile. As an Earth god he was associated with fertility yet he had no cult. He is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as imprisoning the buried dead within his body. It was believed that his laughter caused earthquakes. ^^^

Creation by Atum

The Creation by Atum from From Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, text 9 reads: Scroll of knowing the development of the Sun and of Overthrowing Apophis.
Recitation of the Lord to the Limit, which he spoke after he developed:
For my part, the fact is that I developed as Developer.
When I developed, development developed.
All development developed after I developed,
developments becoming many in emerging from my mouth,
without the sky having developed,
without the earth having developed,
without the ground or snakes having been created in that place. [Source: From Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, text 9, translated by J. P. Allen, “Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts” (New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1988), pp. 28-29. Internet Archive, from Creighton]

“It was out of the Waters, out of inertness, that I became tied together in them,
without having found a place in which I could stand.
I became effective in my heart,
I surveyed with my face.
I made every form alone,
without having sneezed Shu,
without having spat Tefnut,
without another having developed and acted with me.

“When I surveyed in my heart by myself,
the developments of developments became many,
in the developments of children
and in the developments of their children.
For my part, the fact is that I acted as husband with my fist,
I copulated with my hand,
I let fall from my month by myself,
I sneezed Shu and spit Tefnut.

“It is my father, the Waters, that tended them,
with my eye after them since the time they became apart from me.
After I developed as one god,
that was three gods with respect to me.
When I developed into this world,
Shu and Tefnut grew excited in the inert waters in which they were,
and brought me my eye after them....
Then Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Geb and Nut.
Then Geb and Nut gave birth to Osiris, Horus the Two-Eyed, Seth, Isis and Nephtilys,
from one womb, one after the other,
and they gave birth to their multitude in this world.

Ptah, The Memphis Creator God

Ptah was the Creator-god of Memphis. Represented as a mummified man, possibly originally as a statue, he was the patron god of craftsmen and equated by the Greeks with Hephaestus. According to Memphis theology, he made the world from the thoughts in his heart and his words. Images of him as a mummy show his hands sticking out of the wrappings and holding a staff. His head was shaved and covered with a scull cap. The High Priest of his temple at Memphis held the title Great Leader of Craftsmen. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato,] Mark Millmore,]

Barbara Waterson, author of a book on women in ancient Egypt, wrote for the BBC: “Ptah was head of three gods and goddesses who were worshipped at Memphis (near modern-day Cairo); the other two were his wife, Sekhmet, a lion-headed goddess who brought destruction upon the enemies of the god Re; and their son, the lotus god, Nefertem. [Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|] “Ptah was depicted as a mummified man standing inside a shrine, and held a measuring rod to signify that he was patron-god of craftsmen. He was a creator-god who, according to the Memphite Theology recorded on the so-called Shabaka Stone (now in the British Museum), brought the world into being through thought and speech. He became identified with Sokar, the god of the necropolis, at Memphis, and as Ptah-Sokar became a god of the dead. The Greeks equated him with Hephaestus, god of metalworking.” |::|

Ptah as Creator God: Memphite Theology

The Memphite Theology reads:
Through the heart and through the tongue something developed into Atum s image.
And great and important is Ptah,
who gave life to all the gods and their kas as well
through this heart and this tongue
through which florus and Thoth both became Ptah.
It has developed that the heart and tongue have control of all limbs,
showing that he is preeminent in every body and in every mouth —
of all the gods, and all people, all animals, and all crawling things that live —
planning and governing everything he wishes. [Source: Memphite Theology, translated by J. P. Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1988), pp. 43-44, Internet Archive, from Creighton]

“His Ennead is before him, in teeth and lips —
that seed and those hands of Atum:
for it is through his seed and his fingers that Atum's Ennead developed,
but the Ennead is teeth and lips in this mouth
that pronounced the identity of everything,
and from which Shu and Tefnut emerged
and gave birth to the Ennead.


“The eyes' seeing, the ears' hearing, the nose's breathing of air send up to the heart,
and it is what causes every conclusion to emerge;
it is the tongue that repeats what the heart plans.
So were all the gods born,
Atum and his Ennead as well,
for it is through what the heart plans and the tongue commands that every divine speech has developed.
So were the male life-principles made
and the female life-principles set in place —
they who make all sustenance and every offering —
through that word that makes what is loved and what is hated. “So has life been given to him who has calm
and death given to him who has wrongdoing.
So was made all construction and all craft,
the hands' doing, the feet's going, and every limb's movement,
according as he governs that which the heart thinks,
which emerges through the tongue,
and which facilitates everything.
It has developed that Ptah is called "He who made all and caused the gods to develop,"
since he is Ta-tenen, who gave birth to the gods,
from whom everything has emerged —
food-offerings and sustenance, gods' offerings, and every perfect thing.

“So is it found and recognized that his physical strength is greater than the gods'.
So has Ptah come to rest after his making everything and every divine speech as well,
having given birth to the gods,
having made their villages,
having founded their nomes,
having set the gods in their cult-places,
having made sure their bread-offerings,
having founded their shrines,
having made their bodies resemble what contents them.
So have the gods entered their bodies —
of every kind of wood, every kind of mineral, every kind of frit,
everything that grows all over him, in which they have developed.
So were gathered to him all the gods and their kas as well,
content and combined in the lord of the Two Lands.

Ra, the Egyptian Sun God and Another Creator God

Ra (also called Re) was the supreme Ancient Egyptian sun god. The ancient Egyptians believed at night he visited the underworld, a watery realm of the demons of the dead, where he battled with the serpent of chaos, and victoriously returned to the day each morning. They believed he rode across the sky from east to west in a “day boat” and changed to a “night boat” for the return trip through the underworld. He rose in the jaws of a lion in the East and set in the jaws of a lion in the West and was guided at night through the waters of chaos. The myths about Ra, it has been argued, made sense to the ancient Egyptians because they did not contradict what they saw with the naked eye.


According to later ancient Egyptian creation myths, before the world emerged from the waters of chaos Ra appeared. He was so powerful that all he had to do was say the name of something and it came into being. "I am Khepera at the dawn, and Ra at noon and Tum in the evening," he declared and the first day was created. When he cried "Nut" the goddess of the sky took her place between the horizons. And when he the shouted "Hapi" the sacred river Nile began flowing through Egypt. After filling the world with beautiful things Ra said the words "man" and "women" and thus people were created. Ra then transformed himself into man, thus becoming the first pharaoh. [Source: Roger Lancelyn Green, Tales of Ancient Egypt]

Ra was represented as a falcon-headed man, crowned with a solar disk and the sacred serpent. During his journey through the underworld he is depicted as ram-headed. Ra is viewed as the father of the gods as it was from him that all the gods and goddesses were created. His influence on the other gods was so strong that he subsumed many of their identities, with Amun, Sokek, Mantu and Horus becoming Amun-Ra, Sobek-Ra, Montu-Ra and Ra-Horakhty. Pharoah Akenaten’s god, the Aten, was another form of Ra, the solar disk. [Source: Mark Millmore,, Minnesota State University, Mankato,]

Ra is sometimes seen as the same god as Atum; other time he is regarded as a different god, or a god with three aspects, which correspond to the positions of the sun, Amen at dawn, Re in the evening, and Set at dusk. The Egyptian kings claimed to be descended from Ra, and called themselves “The Son of Ra.” His cult was very powerful during the period of the Old Kingdom, when Sun Temples were built in his honor. His cult center was at Heliopolis, the home of a massive Atum-Ra temple.

Barbara Waterson wrote for the BBC: “Re was identified as the sun, and was most often depicted as the sun's disk itself, or as a falcon-headed man wearing a sun-disk on his head. His chief cult centre was at Iunu, often referred to under its Greek name Heliopolis (City of the Sun)...Re manifested himself in several other forms: as Atum, the evening sun; as Khepri, the morning sun, depicted as a scarabaeus or dung-beetle; and as Horakhty, most famously represented by the Great Sphinx at Giza. Re was head of a group of nine gods, who are known jointly as the Great Ennead, and was the supreme judge of the dead. He was closely connected with the king, who for much of Egyptian history was known as the 'son of Re'.” [Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]

Amun, the Great Fertility God of Thebes


Amun (also Known as Amen, Amun, Ammon) was originally a local god of fertility and growth. Amun-Re (a combination of Amun and the sun god Re) became the state god during the New Kingdom. Mut was the wife of Amun. Mut (which means "vulture") is symbolically portrayed in the form of a vulture. Khonsu was the son of Amun and Mut. As Thebes became powerful in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.) the influence of its local gods grew. Its primary god Amun became a dominant god in all of Egypt, with connections to the sun god Ra and the pharaoh. The word "amen" is said to have originated in ancient Egypt as a tribute to Amun. When the Egyptians prayed they said "By Amun!," a custom, it is said, that was picked up by the Hebrews and later passed on to the Christians.

Amun’s name means “Hidden One, Mysterious of Form.” Although he is most often represented as a human wearing a double plumed crown, he is sometimes depicted as a ram or a goose, the idea being that his true identity has to remain a secret. Amun’s power grew as Thebes (Luxor) grew from a backwater village, in the old Kingdom, to a powerful city in the Middle and New Kingdoms. He rose to become the patron of the Theban-based pharaohs and was eventually combined with sun god, Ra the dominant deity of the Old Kingdom. [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Karnak was Amun’s chief temple. He was well beyond know beyond Egypt. Evidence of his cult has been found in Ethiopia, Nubia, Libya, and Palestine. The Greeks regarded him as an Egyptian manifestation of their god Zeus. When he was in Egypt, Alexander the Great went out of his way to consult the oracle of Amun.

Barbara Waterson wrote for the BBC Amun “was usually depicted as a man wearing two tall plumes on his head, and holding a sceptre in his hand. His sacred animals were the ram and the goose, both symbols of virility-which was one of Amun's characteristics....He rose to political importance as the favourite god of the kings who freed Egypt from Hyksos rule, and in the Eighteenth Dynasty royal patronage ensured that he outstripped all other gods in power and prestige. |His great temple at Karnak is a demonstration of his status as king of the gods. [Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]

Mut and Khonsu, Who Formed the Thebean Triad with Amun

Amun, Mut and Khonsu formed the Thebean triad. Mut (Mutt) was one of the daughters of Ra, the wife of Amun, and mother of Khonsu. She was the Vulture goddess and is often depicted as a woman with a long, brightly colored dress and a vulture headdress surmounted by the double crown. In her more aggressive aspect she is shown as a lion-headed goddess. [Source: Mark Millmore, ^^^]

Like Isis and Hathor, Mut played the role of divine mother to the king. Her amulets, which depict her as a seated woman suckling a child, are sometime confused with those of Isis. Mut’s cult-center was at Asheru, south of the main temple of Amen-Re at Karnak. She was originally a vulture-goddess. Later she was usually represented as a woman. Mut means "vulture". [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato,]

Khonsu (also known as Khons Khensu, Khuns) was the son of Amun and Mut and the third member of the Theban triad. According to ro Millmore, “He was a moon god depicted as a man with a falcon-head wearing a crescent moon headdress surmounted by the full lunar disc. Like Thoth, who was also a lunar deity, he is sometimes represented as a baboon. Khonsu was believed to have the ability to drive out evil spirits. Rameses II sent a statue of Khonsu to a friendly Syrian king in order to cure his daughter of an illness. His temple was within the precincts of Karnak.” ^^^

Other Creator and Sun Gods


Khepre (also known as, Khepri, Khepra and Khepera), the scarab-beetle god, was identified with Ra as a creator-god and often represented as a scarab beetle within the sun-disk or as a man with a scarab for a head. The ancient Egyptians observed young scarab beetles emerging spontaneously from balls of dung and associated them with the process of creation. Self-created, Khepre was one of the first gods. His name means “he who has come into being,” Atum took his form as he rose out of the chaotic waters of the Nun in a creation myth. It was thought that Khepre rolled the sun across the sky in the same way a dung beetle rolls balls of dung across the ground. [Source: Mark Millmore,]

“Aten, the god of the sun-disk or simply the sun disk, was the great creator-god worshiped by Akhenaten. Barbara Waterson wrote for the BBC: “Aten was the sun-disk, the body in which the essence of the divine being was made visible. He rose to prominence in the reign of Amenhotep IV, who thought of himself as the embodiment of Aten. The king changed his name from Amenhotep ('Amun-is-satisfied') to Akhenaten ('Glorified-Spirit-of-the-Aten'), and designed an iconography in which Aten was depicted as a sun-disk with rays ending in hands. Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti, moved to a new city, Akhetaten (Horizon-of-Aten-Amarna), where a trinity consisting of Aten, Re and Akhenaten himself was worshipped. Atenism was exclusive to the royal family, with no appeal to ordinary Egyptians: when Akhenaten died, it too died.” [Source: Barbara Waterson, BBC, March 29, 2011]

“Nun (Nu), the god of the primeval chaos, was also seen as the primeval water from which the gods, earth, and humans were created from and from which order emerged from chaos. Ptah-seker-osiris was a composite deity, incorporating the principal gods of creation, death, and after-life; represented like Osiris as a mummified king. Tatjenen: The primeval earth-god of Memphis, was later identified with Ptah. Sothis (Sepdet) was associated with the dog-star Sirius in the constellation Canis and was shown as a woman with a star on her head. +\

Min, the god of sexual fertility, appeared in both human form and as an erect phallus. It was no surprise that he was worshiped by a fetish cult similar to the one that honored Dionysus (Bacchus) in Greece. Closely associated with Amun, he was originally the primeval god of Coptos and was represented as an ithyphallic human statue, holding a flagellum.

Myth of the Heavenly Cow

Nadine Guilhou of the Université de Montpellier III wrote: The Myth of the Heavenly Cow,” also known as “The Destruction of Mankind,” is the name scholars of today use in reference to a mythological narrative that tells about the rebellion of mankind against the sun god and about the sun god’s subsequent decision to reorganize the cosmos. The narrative is embedded in a larger ritual text, the so-called Book of the Heavenly Cow. [Source: Nadine Guilhou, Université de Montpellier III, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

“This composition forms part of the corpus of royal funerary compositions of the New Kingdom, the so-called Books of the Netherworld. It is first attested on the inside of the outermost of the four gilded shrines of Tutankhamen (KV 62), where it appears in excerpts on the left and back panels . It also occurs in variant versions in four other royal tombs located in the Valley of the Kings, namely those of Sety I (KV 17), Ramesses II (KV 7), Ramesses III (KV 11), and Ramesses VI (KV 9). In the tombs of Sety I, Ramesses II, and Ramesses III, the composition fills all four walls of a subsidiary room annexed to the sarcophagus chamber, to the right of the latter’s entrance.

“In the tomb of Ramesses VI, one episode only has been retained, inscribed in a small recess built into the left (south) wall of the third corridor. A fragment of wall relief with text of the Book of the Heavenly Cow is preserved at the Musée Lapidaire in Avignon, France; it comes from a royal tomb, in all likelihood that of Sety I. In addition, two papyri from the Egyptian Museum of Turin also preserve parts of the composition; they date to the late New Kingdom and derive from the craftsmen’s village of Deir el-Medina.”

Heavenly Cow

Myth of the Heavenly Cow Story

Nadine Guilhou of the Université de Montpellier III wrote: “The Myth of the Heavenly Cow is one of the few coherent narrative accounts of the deeds of the gods of ancient Egypt. The events in the narrative take place in a mythical time at a moment when the sun god Ra has reached old age and mankind stirs up rebellion against his rule. Upon the advice of the council of gods, Ra sends his daughter Hathor, the fiery, protective “Sun Eye,” to kill the rebels. When she returns in the evening from her slaughterous undertaking, Ra feels pity for humankind and decides against continuing the massacre. To appease the raging goddess he orders that beer be mixed with red ochre, so as to make it look like blood, then spread throughout Egypt during the night. The next morning, the goddess discovers the red liquid and, in her blood-thirst, drinks it until she is intoxicated. Thereupon she returns appeased to the palace, leaving the rest of humanity undisturbed. As an alternative solution, the sun god decides to leave the earth for the sky, which is created for him in the form of the Heavenly Cow, a manifestation of the sky goddess Nut. Humanity is now left without the presence of the gods on earth. Subsequently the sun god reorders the cosmos into three layers of existence—the sky, the earth, and the beyond (duat)—and assigns specific tasks to the gods Geb, Osiris, and Thoth in this new configuration. [Source: Nadine Guilhou, Université de Montpellier III, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

“The version preserved in the tomb of Sety I is the most complete. It includes the complete sequence of events, the rubrics with ritual instructions, and all three vignettes. The other versions are abbreviated—some even leave out entire sections. The vignette of the Heavenly Cow appears in all monumental versions except for Ramesses VI’s, occupying the wall opposite the entrance to the annexed chamber. It shows the heavenly cow, looking to the left, with star- spangled belly. The god Shu, standing between the cow’s legs, supports her belly with his raised arms. Each leg is itself supported by two Heh-gods. Two solar barks traverse her belly, one between her front legs displaying the sun god as a passenger, the other beneath her udder. The two additional vignettes, much smaller in size, show the king holding the pillar of the sky and the gods Djet and Neheh holding the supports of the sky. The composition is rendered into distinct episodes by way of rubrics at the end of each episode. These rubrics are concerned with practical instructions on how to perform the accompanying ritual and also elaborate on the ritual function of the myth. Tutankhamen’s version contains only a limited selection of episodes, but preserves, together with the Avignon fragment, the final rubric in its most complete form.

“Being an etiological myth, the narrative structure follows the scheme of the folktale. Set at the end of the reign of the gods on earth, the story line explains the origin of representative kingship and of the king’s destiny after death. It also aims at explaining the creation of the invisible night sky (duat), through which the sun god travels each night. Additionally, the myth provides an explanation for the dangers present during the five final days of the year (epagomenal days) before the yearly return of the inundation.

“The myth is structured in two principal parts. The first part (columns 1 - 27, following the Sety I version), which deals with the aging of the sun god and the ensuing rebellion of mankind, gives the reasons for the reorganization of the created world. The reorganization is the topic of the second part (columns 27 - 95), which is itself subdivided into subsections. This reorganization is concerned with the distinct, interacting layers of visible and invisible reality. It organizes the various forms of the divine by causing the ba’s (the visible manifestations of the gods) to be present in different beings and phenomena of the material world (the so-called ba-theology). It also regulates the relations between the worlds of gods and men by establishing certain customs and rituals, which thus serve as codified memories of divine providence. Although the myth is presented as a narrative about the destruction of mankind and subsequent separation of the spheres of existence, it is, like all Egyptian myths, performative, and thus inseparable from its function in ritual, which in this case is primarily funerary in nature, but also bears relevance to the living.”

Context of the Myth of the Heavenly Cow

Nadine Guilhou of the Université de Montpellier III wrote: “The myth must be read in combination with the rubrics, which provide an extension of the narrative and instructions for its application in ritual. In fact, the rubrics determine the form of the narrative and the selection of embedded “mythemes.” The application of the myth is twofold. First, it serves as a model, setting forth a mythological precedent, so to speak, in which the reigning king, earthly representative of the gods, will upon his death follow the example of the sun god in leaving the earth for the sky. The sun god’s departure, and by extension that of the reigning king, is not presented as his “death,” but rather as his departure for another world—namely, the duat and the Island of Baba. His absence necessitates a reorganization of the earthly realm as well as the creation of a celestial space. As such, the narrative is self-sufficient. Inscribed in a royal tomb, it is transformed from a literary text into a ritual text, its application guaranteed and perpetuated through its written presence. [Source: Nadine Guilhou, Université de Montpellier III, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

“Secondly, the rubrics point to the execution of rituals as part of the burial proceedings and funerary cult. Such metatextual markers are rare in the royal funerary corpora of the New Kingdom. In the Book of the Heavenly Cow, the recurrent use of the technical term “incantation” (rA) in the first rubric (related to the ba-theology and concerning the supports of the sky) is indicative of the myth’s ritual function. Moreover, the ritual execution of the vignette of the Heavenly Cow herself is described in this rubric. This reveals that the first rubric— with its ritual instructions, and which closes the first part of the narrative—is inextricably related to the myth.

“The concluding section of the text is no longer narrative in nature, but rather an incantation. Known as the ba-theology, it explains how the sun god installed the ba’s, or manifestations of the gods, in nature. The extant versions differ in the way the text is reproduced. The Ramesses VI and Papyrus Turin 1982 versions entitle this part “an incantation” (rA), whereas the Sety I version is without title. The Sety I version also includes ritual prescriptions for the preparation of a female figurine and injunctions of ritual purity, which are missing in the former. The incantation proper reproduces the speech of the sun god addressing “the gods who rise in the east of the sky” (i.e., the stars) in the first person singular: “It is I who made the sky, established to place the ba’s of the gods therein.” When reciting these words, the ritualist identifies with the sun god, ritually becoming one with him. In the Ramesses VI version, the text switches from first-person- singular to third-person-singular discourse in line 11 by substituting the “I am,” preserved in the Sety I version, with “King Ramesses VI is.” This substitution activates the magical power of the spell for the deceased king. The ritualist, speaking on the king’s behalf, thus achieves for the ruler identification with the sun god: “King Ramesses VI is Ra, the radiant one.”

Meaning of the Myth of the Heavenly Cow

Heavenly Cow

Nadine Guilhou of the Université de Montpellier III wrote: “The myth allows for three complementary interpretations. First, it displays how the gods share power and tasks after the departure of the sun god. Shu becomes the support of the Heavenly Cow, separating the sky from the earth; Geb is now responsible, together with Osiris, for guarding the earth—in particular the mounds and the snakes that inhabit them. This scenario can be understood as a “spatial distribution” of power. Moreover, the installation of the god Thoth as both vizier and moon, substituting for the sun god in the sky each night, can refer additionally to a “temporal distribution” of power. The pharaoh, physical representative of the gods on earth, partakes in the organizing: mortal, he nonetheless endures like the sun god through his integration in the cosmos, rendered visually with the vignette of the king supporting the pillar of heaven. From the onset of the narrative, the royal character of the sun god’s office is emphasized: he is called “majesty” (Hm) and “king of Upper and Lower Egypt” (nswt-bjtj), his name in the latter case being written within a cartouche. In this way, the assimilation of the king with the sun god, a major theme in the so-called “Litany of the Sun,” is further reinforced. [Source: Nadine Guilhou, Université de Montpellier III, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

“Second, the myth can be interpreted in relation to the Egyptian calendar. Hathor’s deadly assault on humanity can be understood as a mythical explanation of the uncompromising heat and contagion in summer, which falls at the end of the year according to the Egyptian calendar. The final five days of the year, the so-called epagomenal (“added on”) days, were particularly feared as a period of danger and misfortune. The danger was believed to have passed at the moment the Nile began to flood, commencing a new year and a new agricultural cycle. The red color of the beer, produced by mixing it with Nubian hematite (red ochre), can then be read as a reference to the red silt of the first inundation waters. The appeased goddess returning to the palace evokes the episode of the “return of the Distant Goddess,” which was yearly celebrated in the Festivals of Drunkenness (Tekhy), attested, for example, on the 20th day of the first month of akhet, or the inundation season, in texts in the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor in Dendara. In addition, the reorganization of the cosmos resulted in a daily cycle of day and night: the sun and moon travel in succession through the visible sky, while the sun descends at night into the invisible sky (duat).

“Third, the myth can be interpreted as raising the issues of the existence of evil, mankind’s free will, and divine providence. The existence of evil is attributed to humanity and not to the creator god. The latter crushes mankind’s rebellion brutally through the intervention of Hathor; to destroy evil he is compelled to annihilate humanity, an action that conflicts with the idea of creation itself. The ultimate solution—a separation of the cosmic levels of existence—limits the problem to the earthly realm. In this sense, the composition is complementary to the other netherworld books, such as the Amduat, the Book of Gates, and the Book of Caverns, which show how manifestations of disorder are punished and overcome in the Beyond.”

Great Hymn to the Aten

Aten was the monotheistic sun disk god of the heretic pharaoh Akhnaten (r. 1363-1347 B.C.): “The Great Hymn to Aten” goes: “Adoration of Re-Harakhti-who-rejoices-in-lightland In-his-name-Shu-who-is-Aten, living forever; the great living Aten who is in jubilee, the lord of all that the Disk encircles, lord of sky, lord of earth, lord of the house-of-Aten in Akhet-Aten; and of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, who lives by Maat, the Lord of the Two Lands, Neferkheprure, Sole-one-of-Re; the Son of Re who lives by Maat, the Lord of Crowns, Akhenaten, great in his lifetime; and his beloved great Queen, the Lady of the Two Lands, Nefer-nefru-Aten Nefertiti, who lives in health and youth forever. The Vizier, the Fanbearer on the right of the King. [Source: M. Lichtheim, “Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II”, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 96-99, Internet Archive, from Creighton] ]

“Ay; he says:
Splendid you rise in heaven's lightland,
O living Aten, creator of life!
When you have dawned in eastern lightland,
You fill every land with your beauty.
You are beauteous, great, radiant,
High over every land;
Your rays embrace the lands,
To the limit of all that you made.
Being Re, you reach their limits,
You bend them for the son whom you love;
Though you are far, your rays are on earth,
Though one sees you, your strides are unseen.

“When you set in western lightland,
Earth is in darkness as if in death;
One sleeps in chambers, heads covered,
One eye does not see another.
Were they robbed of their goods,
That are under their heads,
People would not remark it.
Every lion comes from its den,
All the serpents bite;
Darkness hovers, earth is silent,
As their maker rests in lightland.

“Earth brightens when you dawn in lightland,
When you shine as Aten of daytime;
As you dispel the dark,
As you cast your rays,
The Two Lands are in festivity.
Awake they stand on their feet,
You have roused them;
Bodies cleansed, clothed,
Their arms adore your appearance.
The entire land sets out to work,
All beasts browse on their herbs;
Trees, herbs are sprouting,
Birds fly from their nests,
Their wings greeting your ka.
All flocks frisk on their feet,
All that fly up and alight,
They live when you dawn for them.
Ships fare north, fare south as well,
Roads lie open when you rise;
The fish in the river dart before you,
Your rays are in the midst of the sea.

“Who makes seed grow in women,
Who creates people from sperm;
Who feeds the son in his mother's womb,
Who soothes him to still his tears.
Nurse in the womb,
Giver of breath,
To nourish all that he made.
When he comes from the womb to breathe,
On the day of his birth,
You open wide his mouth,
You supply his needs.
When the chick in the egg speaks in the shell,
You give him breath within to sustain him;
When you have made him complete,
To break out from the egg,
He comes out from the egg,
To announce his completion,
Walking on his legs he comes from it.

“How many are your deeds,
Though hidden from sight,
O Sole God beside whom there is none!
You made the earth as you wished, you alone,
All peoples, herds, and flocks;
All upon earth that walk on legs,
All on high that fly on wings,
The lands of Khor and Kush,
The land of Egypt.
You set every man in his place,
You supply their needs;
Everyone has his food,
His lifetime is counted.
Their tongues differ in speech,
Their characters likewise;
Their skins are distinct,
For you distinguished the peoples.

You made Hapy in dat (the Netherworld),
You bring him when you will,
To nourish the people,
For you made them for yourself.
Lord of all who toils for them,
Lord of all lands who shines for them,
Aten of daytime, great in glory!
All distant lands, you make them live,
You made a heavenly Hapy descend for them;
He makes waves on the mountains like the sea,
To drench their fields and their towns.
How excellent are your ways, O Lord of eternity!
A Hapy from heaven for foreign peoples,
And all lands' creatures that walk on legs,
For Egypt the Hapy who comes from dat.

Your rays nurse all fields,
When you shine they live, they grow for you;
You made the seasons to foster all that you made,
Winter to cool them, heat that they taste you.
You made the far sky to shine therein,
To behold all that you made;
You alone, shining in your form of living Aten,
Risen, radiant, distant, near.
You made millions of forms from yourself alone,
Towns, villages, fields, the river's course;
All eyes observe you upon them,
For you are the Aten of daytime on high...

“You are in my heart,
There is no other who knows you,
Only your son, Neferkheprure, Sole-one-of-Re,
Whom you have taught your ways and your might.
Those on earth come from your hand as you made them,
When you have dawned they live,
When you set they die;
You yourself are lifetime, one lives by you.
All eyes are on your beauty until you set,
All labor ceases when you rest in the west;
When you rise you stir everyone for the King,
Every leg is on the move since you founded the earth.
You rouse them for your son who came from your body,
The King who lives by Maat, the Lord of the Two Lands,
Neferkheprure, Sole-ane-of-Re,
The Son of Re who lives by Maat, the Lord of crowns,
Akhenaten, great in his lifetime;
And the great Queen whom he loves, the Lady of the Two Lands,
Nefer-nefru-Aten Nefertiti, living forever.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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