The Gods of the Egyptians Vol 1

Studies in Egyptian Mythology

by E. A. Wallis Budge | 1904 | 170,388 words

Volume 1-16 chapters including The Gods of Egypt, Primitive Gods and Nome-Gods, Hell and the Damned, Ra the Sun-God and His Forms, Hathor and the Hathor-Goddesses, The Horus Gods, and more. Includes 49 plates, 38 illustrations....

Chapter VII - The oldest Company of the Gods and the Creation

image right: The Oldest Company of the Gods.

In the earlier chapters of this work mention has been made of three companies of gods, the existence of which was formulated by the priests of Heliopolis, and it has been shown that a company of gods usually consisted of four pairs of deities, four gods and four goddesses, and a president or chief of the same. We have also shown that a paut or company of gods did not necessarily contain nine deities only, and that it as often as not was supposed to include more than nine gods. Originally, however, the Heliopolitan priests, or the authors of the theological system exhibited in the Pyramid Texts, intended the paut to consist of nine gods, and it seems that they arrived at this decision as the result of the addition of their own local god Tem to a group of four pairs of deities, four gods and four goddesses, whom they had grouped together according to the plan followed by an older school of theologians in forming an older company of the gods.

The company of the gods last mentioned is probably the oldest of all the companies in Egypt, although for various reasons it never seems to have attained to the popularity of the “great paut of the gods of Annu,” or to have enjoyed such a prominent position in the minds of the religious philosophers of Egypt.

This is not to be wondered at, for whilst the Heliopolitan company of the gods included the

  • Sun-god Rā-Tem, or Rā-Tem-Kheperȧ,
  • and Osiris, the god of the dead,

the older company consisted of pairs of deities who represented religious conceptions, and faiths, and beliefs, which even at that remote period had been long dead, and the meaning of which had been forgotten. The very gods of the older company had been superseded, and their worship abolished, and the knowledge of their history and attributes was preserved only in the minds of priests and religious experts, who probably regarded the ancient views about these gods which had come down to them as the product of men belonging to a lower stage of civilization than their own.


The First Eight Gods

The older company of the gods here referred to have been described as personifications of aspects, or phases, or properties of primeval matter, and may be thus enumerated :—

Nu, .

Nut, .

Ḥeḥu, .

Ḥeḥut, .

Kekui, .

Kekuit, .

Ḳerḥ, .

Ḳerḥet, .



Nu and Nut

The character of the first pair of gods can be readily determined by the hieroglyphics which form their names ; thus the name Nu, ,[1] is expressed by three vases of water which indicate the sound, and the outstretched heaven, , and the determinative for water, , and the sign for “god,” all of which show that this deity was the god of the watery mass of the sky.

The goddess Nut, , was merely his female counter part, as the signs, , indicate. From various passages found in the religious, mythological, and funereal texts of all periods it is abundantly clear that in primeval times at least the Egyptians believed in the existence of a deep and boundless watery mass out of which had come into being the heavens, and the earth, and everything that is in them. The germs of all and every kind of life were in this watery mass, and they were supposed to have been there from the beginning.

They do not seem to have formulated any exact ideas about the position of this watery mass in the sky or heaven, and they certainly did not attempt to assign to it dimensions which could be expressed by the ordinary methods of measurements; in later times, however, Nu was frequently identified with the sky, pet , and with the heaven above it, nut, , though, strictly speaking, he represented the watery mass which was supposed to exist between the two. It must also be noted that the ocean and also the Nile[2] were identified with Nu, whose characteristics appear to have changed during the latter part of the dynastic period. The name of this god has been compared with the Coptic word  “abyss,” “deep,” and the like, and it is possible that it may have some connection with it, but it is difficult to see how in that case it can mean “young,” as the late Dr. Brugsch suggested.[3]

The true meaning is much more likely to be suggested by the play on the words Nu and nen which we have on p. 309 in the passage,

“I raised them up from out of the watery mass (nu) out of inactivity” (nen),

i.e., Nu was the inert mass of watery matter from which the world was created. Of Nut, the female counterpart of Nu, little need be said here, except that she was regarded as the primeval mother, with whom in later dynastic times were identified several goddesses, e.g., Hathor, Mut, Nit, or Neith, and whose attributes were assigned to them. The forms in which Nu is depicted vary.

Thus he is represented in human form holding a sceptre when he forms one of the company of the gods of Amen, but he is also represented with the head of a frog, which is surmounted by a beetle,[4] and even with the head of a snake. The goddess Nut is also represented in human form, but sometimes she has the head of a uraeus, surmounted by a disk,[5] and at other times she has the head of a cat.[6]


Ḥeḥu and Ḥeḥut

The characteristics of the second pair of gods, Ḥeḥu,, and Ḥeḥut,, are not easy to determine. According to Signor Lanzone they are personifications of male and female elements of fire,[7] and from the ancient pictures of them we see that the Egyptian artists regarded them from different points of view. Thus in one group of the eight primeval gods Ḥeḥu is represented in one of the forms of Nu, i.e., frog-headed, already described, and Hehut in the form of Nut;[8] and in another group Ḥeḥu has the head of a serpent, and Hehut that of a cat. According to the late Dr. Brugsch[9] the name Ḥeḥ is connected with the word which indicates an undefined and unlimited number, i.e., ḥeḥ,; when applied to time the idea suggested is “millions of years,” and Ḥeḥ is equivalent to the Greek αἰων. In several passages quoted by Dr. Brugsch mention is made of a god Ḥeḥ, who seems to be a personification of the atmosphere which exists between heaven and earth, and to be identical with Shu, and that distinguished Egyptologist went so far as to compare his functions with those which were exercised by Aiôn, Eros, and Pneuma in Greek systems of philosophy.

In a small scene reproduced by Signor Lanzone[10] we see the god Harpocrates in his usual attitude,, just above what appears to be a small tree. On the right kneels the goddess Ḥeḥut, who is making her outstretched hand and arm a support for the left hand of the young god which rests upon it; on the other side kneels Ḥeḥu, who is represented in the act of raising or supporting the feet of the god, above whose head are the beetle and disk.


Kekui and Kekuit

The characteristics of the third pair of gods, Kekui, , and Kekuit,, are easier to determine, and it is tolerably certain that these deities represent the male and female powers of the darkness which was supposed to cover over the primeval abyss of water; they have been compared by Dr. Brugsch with the Erebos of the Greeks. In some aspects they appear to represent both the night and the day, that is to say, Kekui is called “the raiser up of the light,” and Kekuit “the raiser up of the night.” It is not difficult to see how these deities obtained these names, for Kekui represents that period of the night which immediately precedes the day, and Kekuit is that period of the night which immediately follows the day.

At one period Kekui and Kekuit were considered to be gods of Elephantine, and their attributes were identified with those of the Nubian god Khnemu and his female counterpart Sati; but this, no doubt, was a result of regarding Kekui and Kekuit as personifications of the Nile-god Ḥāpi, whose hidden fountains lay beneath the rocks at some part of the Island of Elephantine. According to another view the crocodile-god Sebek, one of whose chief seats of worship was at Kom Ombo, was a personification of the old primeval god Kekui, and in any case Sebek was certainly considered to be one of the principal forms in which the soul of the primeval darkness loved to array itself.[11]

In the scenes in which-the forms of the oldest paut or company of the gods are represented Kekui is usually given the head of a serpent, but Kekuit has the head either of a frog or a cat.[12] In one scene Kekui and Kekuit are identified with Ka and Kait,, the former being called the “grandfather of all the gods,” and the latter the “grandmother of the divine company,”; in this scene Ka or Kekui has the head of a frog surmounted by a beetle, and Kait or Kekuit the head of a serpent surmounted by a disk.


Ḳerḥ and Ḳerḥet

The characteristics of the fourth pair of gods, Ḳerḥ, , and Ḳerḥet,, are not easy to define, and the texts in some places give quite different names where we should expect to find theirs;

  • thus we have  Ni, ,
    or Nenu, ,
    or Nut, ,
    or Ȧmen, ,
    instead of Ḳerḥ,
  • and Ennit, ,
    or Nenuit, ,
    or Nut, ,
    or Nit, ,
    or ,
    instead of Ḳerḥet.

The common meaning of the word ḳerḥ is “night,” and according to this the deities Ḳerḥ and Ḳerḥet would represent the male and female powers of night; on the other hand, the determinative, which occurs in each name, shows that these gods were regarded as personifications of some apparently inactive powers of the primeval watery abyss, and we may, therefore, regard them as types of powers of nature in a state of repose either before or after a state of activity. In the scenes in which the forms of the oldest company of the gods are represented, Ni, that is to say, Ḳerḥ, has the head of a frog, with or without a beetle upon it, or the head of a snake, and Ennit, that is to say, Ḳerḥet, has either the head of a frog or that of a cat.


The First Eight Gods

It is not easy to reconcile the various views which Egyptologists have held about the above four pairs of deities, and it certainly appears as if the ancient Egyptians themselves had no very clear ideas as to their functions. As to their antiquity there is no room for doubt, for although the oldest pictures of their forms do not date from a period anterior to the reign of Seti I., it is quite clear, from the way in which they are mentioned, that they represent traditional ideas of an extremely ancient character.

One proof of this is the careful mention of the female counterparts of the four great primeval gods, for it was usual in the case of gods who were the product of the purely dynastic period to pay small attention to the goddesses who were regarded as their wives. Thus Rā and Ȧmen possessed female counterparts called Rāt, , and Ȧment, , but they play no prominent parts in Egyptian mythology, and are rarely mentioned in the texts.

Man always has fashioned, and probably always will, fashion his god, or gods, in his own image, and he has always, having reached a certain stage in development, given to his gods wives and offspring ; but the nature of the position taken by the wives of the gods depends upon the nature of the position of women in the households of those who write the legends and traditions of the gods.

The gods of the oldest companv in Egypt were, the writer believes, invented by people in whose households women held a high position, and among whom they possessed more power than is usually the case with Oriental peoples. Nut, Ḥeḥut, Kekuit, and Ḳerḥet are the equals of the gods Nu, Ḥeḥ, Kekui, and Ḳerḥ, and not merely the bearers of offspring as were the later goddesses.

The general drift of the texts wherein the four pairs of gods are mentioned indicates that three pairs were qualities, or characteristics, or attributes of the fourth pair personified, although some would make the four pairs represent the male and female elements of the Four Elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and others would make them stand for the primeval Matter out of which all things have been made, and primeval Space, and primeval Time, and primeval Power. To say definitely and exactly what they represent is in the present state of Egyptological knowledge impossible, for the evidence which would enable us to arrive at a final decision in the matter is not forthcoming.


Apzu-Rishtu, Mummu-Tiamat

Before we pass on to the consideration of the events which resulted in the creation of the sun and later of the world, it will be interesting to compare with the above four pairs of gods the group of gods that we meet with in the “Seven Tablets of Creation,”[13] which are written in cuneiform, and contain the views and beliefs of the Assyrians as to the origin of the gods, and of the world, and of mankind. The old company of primeval gods mentioned in these Tablets are also eight in number, and they fall readily into four pairs.

The first pair consisted of

  1. Apzû-rishtû, , i.e., the “primeval abyss,”
  2. and Mummû-Tiamat, .

The meaning of the word mûmmu is unknown,[14] but Tiamat is the name of the female counterpart of Apzû-rishtû, and she became the mother of offspring by him. These two deities, then, represent the male and female powers of the watery mass which contained the germs of all life, and of every kind of life, and they existed at a time

“when of the gods none had been called into being, and none bore a name, and no destinies [were ordained].”

When “their waters were mingled together” then the work of creation began. We thus see that Apzû-rishtu and Mûmmu-Tiamat are the exact equivalents in the Babylonian cosmogony of Nu and Nut in the Egyptian, and that they are the originals of the Greek forms ’Απασὼν and Ταυθὲ, which are given in the scheme of Damascius.[15]


Lakhmu and Lakhamu

The next pair of gods in the Assyrian texts are

  1. Lakhmu, ,
  2. and Lakhamu, ,

but of their functions we know nothing, any more than we do of the Egyptian primeval gods Ḥeḥ and Ḥeḥut. The names of the third and fourth deities in the list of Damascius (ed. Kopp, p. 125) are Δαχός and Δαχή, but these are clearly mistakes for Λαχός and Λαχή, i.e., Lakhmu and Lakhamu.

According to the First Tablet of the Creation Series “ages increased,”[16] and then two more gods came into being, viz., Anshar, , and Kishar, , i.e., the ’Ασσωρός and Κισσαρὴ of Damascius. Now up to this point the three pairs of gods of the Assyrians agree exactly with the first three pairs of gods of the oldest Egyptian company of the gods, and the points of resemblance are striking.

We see from the table printed by Brugsch[17] that the Egyptian authorities differed as to the names of the god and goddess of the fourth pair of gods, some giving Ḳerḥand Ḳerḥet, others giving Ȧmen and Ȧment, and others giving Enen and Enenet-ḥemset, and others Ni and Ennit; all, however, agreed that a fourth pair of deities were necessary to complete the company, and that one must be a god and the other a goddess.


Anu, Ea, Bel

The First Tablet of the Creation Series mentions a seventh deity called Anu, , who is clearly to be identified with the ’Ανός of Damascius, and an eighth deity called Nudimmud, , which is a title of the god Ea ; the context which would probably have supplied us with the name of a ninth god is broken away, and at present there is no means of restoring the passage.

Both these deities are masculine, whereas one should be masculine and one feminine. In the list of the primeval gods given by Damascius following Κισσαρὴ we have Ἄνός, ’Ιλλινος, and ’Αός ; the first of these is, as we have said, Anu ; the second is the god Enlil, ; and the third is Ea, . But all these are gods, and there is no goddess among them, and it is difficult not to think that in making the recension of the story which is preserved in cuneiform the Assyrian editors substituted the three gods Anu, Bel, and Ea, who represented heaven, and earth, and the abyss respectively, for those who were in the older recension.

The Assyrian copy which we now have was made during the reign of Ashur-bani-pal, king of Assyria from B.C. 668 to B.C. 626, presumably from a Babylonian archetype, but it is impossible to say to what period the actual version which it represents is to be assigned. The Seven Tablets of Creation contain several Assyrianized forms of ancient Sumerian words, a fact which proves that the original traditions incorporated in the work must be of Sumerian origin, and must have been formulated in remote antiquity.

It is surprising therefore to find so much similarity existing between the primeval gods of Sumer and those of Egypt, especially as the resemblance cannot be the result of borrowing. It is out of the question to assume that Ashur-bani-paľs editors borrowed the system from Egypt, or that the literary men of the time of Seti I. borrowed their ideas from the literati of Babylonia or Assyria, and We are therefore driven to the conclusion that both the Sumerians and the early Egyptians derived their primeval gods from some common but exceedingly ancient source.

The similarity between the two companies of gods seems to be too close to be accidental, especially as there is every possibility that the Sumerian system was taken into Egypt by the same people who carried into the country the art of making bricks, the use of the cylinder seal, and the like.[18] Be this as it may, it is certain that the company of primeval gods, which, as we have seen, was common to the Sumerians and Egyptians, was quite different from the companies of gods of which Osiris and Rā-Tem were the heads in Egypt, and also from those which were formed in Babylonia and Assyria when these countries were inhabited by Semitic populations.


The Primeval Spirit

Now the First Tablet of Creation gives us to understand clearly that the work of creation began when the waters, or essences, of the first pair of primeval gods, Apzû and Tiamat, were mingled together, and that the offspring of this union were Lakhmu and Lakhamu, Anshar and Kishar, etc. What the views of the ancient Egyptians on this subject were we do not know, but it is quite clear from the allusions in many texts that the second, third, and fourth pairs of the gods already mentioned were the offspring of the union of the first pair Nu and Nut, i.e., that they were their attributes.

We may also conclude that Nu and Nut were the male and female powers of the vast and inert watery mass, with its male and female counterparts Ni and Ennit, and that the second pair of gods, Ḥeḥ and Ḥeḥut, represented their eternal nature. The third pair of deities are nothing but the male and female counterparts of Darkness personified, and thus we have as the primeval material from which everything was made an eternal, boundless, watery mass wherein are the germs of life, male and female ; this watery mass is, however, enveloped in thick darkness.

The late Dr. Brugsch, basing his opinion upon certain statements made in the Egyptian texts, declared that the primeval spirit (Urgeist) felt the desire for creative activity, and that his word awoke the world to life in a form in which it had already been mirrored in his mind, and that the first act of creation began with the formation out of the primeval watery mass of an egg, wherefrom issued the light of day, i.e., Rā, which was the immediate cause of all life in the earthly world. In this light, that is to say, in the Rising Sun, the almighty power of the divine spirit incorporated itself in a brilliant form.[19]


Thoth and his Paut

The opinion of the great Egyptologist is of great weight on all matters of this kind, but it must be remembered that we have no authority in the texts for all the details of his narrative of the events which are supposed to have taken place before the appearance of the sun in the heavens, and that for many of the ancient Egyptian views on the subject of the Creation our only authorities are compositions which, in the forms in which we know them, are not older than the period of the end of the Middle Empire and that of the beginning of the New Empire, and many of the views and opinions expressed in them date from the same periods.

That the sun was the product of the primeval watery mass of Nu the Egyptians believed beyond doubt, because they declared repeatedly that Rā came forth from Nu, but they did not, as far as we know, make it to be the dwelling-place of a primeval spirit (Urgeist) which designed and planned the future world in its mind before it began to create it, and which carried out the various works of creation on the lines which it had evolved in its consciousness long before the darkness which lay on the watery mass was pierced by the light of the sun.

We know that the priesthood of Hermopolis, the Khemennu of the Egyptian texts, i.e., the “city of the Eight Gods,” where

  1. Nu,
  2. Nut,
  3. Ḥeḥu,
  4. Ḥeḥut,
  5. Kekui,
  6. Kekuit,
  7. Ḳerḥ,
  8. and Ḳerḥet

were worshipped, placed at the head of their divine company the god Thoth, to whom certainly in later times were ascribed many of the attributes which Dr. Brugsch’s “Urgeist” possessed. But there is no proof whatsoever that Thoth was the original leader of this company of gods ; on the contrary, there is reason for thinking that if the Eight ever had a leader in the beginning of their existence he must have been a form of the Sun-god.

The fact is that as the priests of Heliopolis formed their companies of gods from systems already in existence, and placed their own local gods at the head of them, so the priests of Hermopolis for some reason unknown to us adopted the primeval company of Eight, and appointed their own local god Thoth to be their head. The attempt to find any equivalent of the “spirit of Elohîm,” which, according to the Book of Genesis, moved, or brooded, on the face of the waters before the creation of light, has nothing to support it in the Egyptian texts.


Papyrus of Nes-Amsu

But although we do not know what the primitive Egyptians imagined to be the means by which the Sun came into being, we have a very good idea of what they thought about the creation of the gods, and of the world, and of the animals, birds, trees, fish, reptiles, etc., which are in it, and by whose agency it was brought about. We owe our knowledge of these things to a papyrus preserved in the British Museum (No. 10,188), which was written for a priest of Panopolis (the modern Akhmîm), of high rank and lineage, called Nes-Ȧmsu, or Nes-Min, during the thirteenth year of the reign of “Alexander, the son of Alexander,” i.e., about b.c. 312.

This remarkable document contains, among other valuable compositions, a series of Chapters of a long magical work which was written with the object of effecting the destruction of the arch-fiend Āpepi and his fiends and devils of darkness, and of keeping storms and hurricanes out of the sky; many of the Chapters are followed by rubrics which, as we have already shown in the description of the Ṭuat given above, contain directions for the performance of the ceremonies which were to accompany the recital of the words.

Where the Chapters were to be recited is not clear, but as two out of three works in the papyrus were chanted in the temple of Amen-Rā, the king of the gods, at Thebes, we shall not be far wrong if we assume that the third was a service which was performed in the temple from time to time. The first work, the “Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys,” was a very important service, and the second, the “Lamentations of Isis,” was probably a supplement to it; two priestesses, who dressed in the characters of Isis and Nephthys, and personified these goddesses, sang the sections, or “houses,” of the Festival Songs in turn on the great commemorative festivals of Osiris, and as the “Lamentations” were rhythmical they were probably sung at the same service.


The Creation

The rubric of the “Festival Songs” orders that they be sung in the temple of Ȧmen-Rā, and as the third work, the “Book of Overthrowing Āpepi,” was devoted to the protection of the Sun-god Rā, the great lord of the temple, provision must have been made for reciting it there. Be this as it may, our present interest in the papyrus centres in the fact that it contains two copies of the story[20] of the Creation which are of the greatest interest. Curiously enough, each copy is inserted among the Chapters in the main body of the work, and it seems as if they represent two distinct versions, although in many places the text in each is identical.

Each copy is entitled,

“The Book of knowing the Evolutions of Rā, and of Overthrowing Āpepi.”

The word here rendered by “Evolutions” is kheperu, , being derived from the root kheper, , which means “to make, to fashion, to produce, to form, to become,” and in a derived sense “to roll,” so that the title might be translated the “Book of knowing the Becomings of Rā,” i.e., the things which were made, or created, or came into being through Rā. In the text the words are placed in the mouth of the god Neb-er-tcher,, the lord of the universe and a form of the Sun-god Rā, who says,

“I am he who came into being in the form of the god Kheperȧ,, and I was the creator of that which came into being, that is to say, I was the creator of everything which came into being; now when I had come into being myself, the things which I created and which came forth from out of my mouth were very many.”

In these words Neb-er-tcher, or Rā, says that he took upon himself the form of Kheperȧ, i.e., that he was the god who was most intimately connected with the creation of things of every kind. Kheperȧ was symbolized by a beetle which belonged to the class of “Coprophagi,” or “dung-eaters,” which having laid its eggs in masses of dung rolled them about until they became circular in form. These balls, though made of dead, inert matter, contained the germs of life, which, under the influence of warmth and heat, grew, and in due course developed into living creatures which could move about and seek their food.

At a very early period in their history the Egyptians associated the sun’s disk with the dung ball of the beetle, partly on account of its shape, and partly because it was the source of heat, and light, and life to man, even as the dung ball was to the young beetles. Having once got the idea that the disk of the sun was like the ball of the beetle, they went a step farther, and imagined that it must be pushed across the sky by a gigantic beetle just as the dung ball was rolled over the ground by a beetle on earth, and in pictures of the sunrise we actually see the disk being pushed up or forward into the sky by a beetle.

Gradually the ideas of new life, resurrection, life in a new form, and the like, became attached to the beetle, and the god with the attributes of the beetle, among which in later days was included the idea of self-production, became one of the most important of the forms of Rā, and the creator of heaven, and earth, and the Ṭuat and all that is in them.

Having declared under what form he had come into being Kheperȧ goes on to say that his power was not exhausted by one creative act, but that he continued to create new things out of those which he had already made, and he says that they went forth from his mouth. The word “mouth” may be here a figurative expression, but judging from other parts of the text we are probably intended to understand it literally.

The god continues his narrative thus :—

“Heaven did not exist, and earth had not come into being, and the things of the earth (plants ?) and creeping things had not come into existence in that place (or, at that time), and I raised (or, built up) them from out of Nu from a state of inactivity.”

Thus it is clear that Kheperȧ himself was the one thing besides the watery abyss of Nu which was then in existence, and it is evident that we are to understand that he performed the various acts of creation without the help of any female principle, and that Nu had nothing to do with them except to supply the primeval matter, the “Urstoff” of Brugsch, from which all things were made.

The word rendered above by inactivity is enen, , and it ought to refer to the things which Kheperȧ says he raised up out of Nu, in which case we must understand that everything in heaven and in earth was at that time existing in a quiescent state in the watery mass of Nu.

The narrative continues:

“I found no place there whereon I could stand. I worked a charm upon my own heart (or, will), [and] I laid a foundation in Maā, [and] I made every form (or, attribute).

I was one by myself, [for] I had not emitted from myself the god Shu, and I had not spit out from myself the goddess Tefnut; there was no other being who worked with me.”

The things made clear by this passage are that Kheperȧ alone was the creator, and that he had no place to stand upon in performing the various acts of creation. The words, Khut-nȧ em ȧb-ȧ, here rendered “I worked a charm upon my heart,” present difficulty, but this or something very like must be their meaning.


Maāt And Ḥokhmâh

The word in texts of the kind generally means “to perform a magical rite or ceremony,” and the author of the story of the creation before us found himself obliged to make the god resort to magical powers to get himself out of a difficulty; that Kheperȧ worked in some way and by some means upon his heart or will is clear, and as a result he laid a foundation for himself and the work which he was about to do in Maā.

The name may be read either as Maā or Shu, but Shu cannot be the reading here because in the next sentence Kheperȧ tells us that he had not at that time emitted Shu from himself. From the texts of all periods we learn much about the conceptions which the Egyptians had arrived at concerning Maā, and it is clear that the word primarily meant “what is straight,” and that it also came to mean “straightness, rectitude, uprightness, right, law, order, regularity, justice,” and other significations of like character ; the goddess Maāt,, was the personification of “Truth.”

The idea which the text is intended to convey here is that Kheperȧ laid the foundation of the future world according to a clear, well-defined, and unalterable plan, wherein there was no error; Maā was with Kheperȧ exactly what Ḥokhmâh,(a word somewhat inadequately rendered “wisdom” in Proverbs viii. 2 ff.), was to Yahweh. Wisdom says that she was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, when there were no depths, before the mountains were settled, and before the hills was she brought forth when as yet Yahweh had made neither the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the earth, and that she was there when he prepared the heavens and placed a circle upon the face of the depth (Proverbs viii. 23 ff.).

The narrative continues:

“I made a foundation in (or, by) my own heart, and there came into being multitudes of things, of things from the things of what was produced from the things which they produced.”

This sentence is both involved and redundant, but about its meaning there is fortunately no difficulty, for the writer only makes the god assert in an emphatic manner that everything that is came into being as a result of the act of the god in laying a foundation in his own heart, and that when once the creative processes had been set in motion they continued their operation of their own accord, apparently without any direct interference from the original creative power.


Tem, She, Tefnut

In the next sentence we have a reference to a curious belief which was already current in the VIth Dynasty, but at that period it had reference to the god Tem and not to Kheperȧ, and occurs with the following context :—

“This Pepi washeth himself in the Lake of ȧaru wherein Rā washeth himself; Horus hath brought the back of this Pepi, and Thoth hath brought his legs, and Shu hath lifted him up to heaven ; O Nut, stretch out thy hand to Pepi.

Tem hath departed to Ȧnnu to satisfy his love of pleasure ; he hath thrust his member into his hand, and hath performed his desire, and hath produced the two children Shu and Tefnut,[21] and these two children put Pepi between them, and they set him among the gods which are in Sekhet-ḥetepet.”

In the story of the creation Kheperȧ is made to say,

“I had union with my hand, and I embraced my shadow in a love embrace ; I poured seed into my own mouth, and I sent forth from myself issue in the form of the gods Shu and Tefnut.”

Now a myth of this character can only be the product of a people at a low level of civilization, and it is difficult to understand the character of the mind of an author who in one sentence helps Kheperȧ out of a difficulty by ascribing to him the possession and use of magical powers, and in another reduces him to the necessity of committing an act of masturbation in order to begin the generations of the gods, and yet assigns to him at the same time many of the powers which are assigned by Christian nations to God.

The only possible way of accounting for this gross passage is to assume either that it was copied into the papyrus of Nesi-Ȧmsu, or Nesi-Min, by the scribe simply because he found it in the archetype from which he was working, or that the author, knowing that Shu and Tefnut were held to be the children of Kheperȧ, and that this god was unaccompanied by any female counterpart, explained the origin of his children in the manner described above. But in any case this brutal example of naturalism was not intended to be obscene, and it must be regarded as a survival in literature of the dynastic period of one of the coarse habits of the predynastic Egyptians, that is to say, of one of the indigenous African tribes from which dynastic Egyptians were partly descended.


Appearance Of Rā

The next section of the narrative is difficult to translate and explain, for it contains words which Kheperȧ puts into the mouth of his “father” Nu, who says that his eye, i.e., the Sun, was covered up behind Shu and Tefnut, but that after ḥenti periods, , had passed[22] that he had become three gods instead of one, and after he had come into being in this earth, Shu and Tefnut were raised up from out of the watery mass wherein they were, and they brought his eye in their train.

The general meaning of these words seems to be that when Kheperȧ was existing in Nu by himself the sun, in which he afterwards incorporated himself, was hidden in the watery deep ; but as soon as Kheperȧ had produced Shu and Tefnut the sun emerged from the deep and followed in their train. In other words, we learn that the Eye, , of Nu was unable to make itself seen until after Shu and Tefnut had come into being. We need not tarry to consider all the various attributes of these twin gods, and it will be sufficient to say here that Shu represents the daylight and, in some cases, the atmosphere which supports the heavens and keeps them above the earth, whilst Tefnut, the female counterpart of Shu, represents rain, dew, and moisture.

We have already seen that these twin gods proceeded from Kheperȧ, and the words which are used to express the idea of emission, i.e., ȧshesh , and tef  , indicate the processes by which they came into being as separate entities. The creation of Shu made a space between the heavens and the earth into which the Eye of Nu could rise from out of the waters and shine, and because the sunlight immediately followed the creation of Shu that god is sometimes identified with light, and is regarded as its personification. The general sense of the passage under discussion makes it necessary to assume that Nu is identified with Kheperȧ, and vice versa.


Creation of Man

The next passage refers to the creation of man, and the god, presumably Kheperȧ, says,

“Now after these things, I united my members, and I wept over them, and men and women came into being from the tears which came forth from my eye.”

Of this passage there are two interpretations possible. We may either assume that the tears which fell from the Eye of Nu, or Kheperȧ, are the rays of light which fell from the sun, and that men and women are the offspring of the light, or what is far more probable, that men and women are the product of the tears of water which fell from the eye of the god upon his members,[23] and that they turned into human beings straightway.

Meanwhile the god Nu or Kheperȧ had made another Eye, by which we are, no doubt, to understand the Moon, and it is said that when the first Eye found that a second had been made it raged at the god ; now when the god saw this he endowed the second Eye with some of the power (or, splendour) which he had made, and having made it take up its position in his face it henceforth ruled the whole earth.

After this the god brought about the creation of plants, and herbs, and reptiles, and creeping things. Finally, the gods Shu and Tefnut produced the gods and goddesses Seb and Nut, Osiris and Isis, Set and Nephthys, and Ḥeru-khent-ȧn-maati, i.e., the “Blind Horus,” one after the other at one birth, and these deities multiplied offspring in this earth.

Thus we have a complete account of how a male god who existed alone in the watery abyss of Nu produced from himself by unnatural means a pair of deities, one male and one female, and how this pair produced three other pairs, i.e., three gods and three goddesses, and one male deity in addition, in fact the paut or company of the great gods of Heliopolis, which in this instance was made to include ten gods. It is interesting to note the order in which the acts of creation took place.

The self-existent god who had lived for ever created :

  1. The light.
  2. The firmament, or home of moisture, i.e., clouds and rain.
  3. Mankind.
  4. The second (?) Eye, i.e., the Moon (?).
  5. Plants, and herbs, and reptiles, and creeping things.
  6. Seven deities, four being male and three female.


Kheperȧ and Osiris

In the second version of the story of creation which we shall now describe some interesting variants will be found, and we shall see that the god Osiris is made to usurp the position which in the first version is occupied by the god Kheperȧ.

The opening words are :—

Neb-er-tcher saith,

“I am the creator of what hath come into being, and I myself came into being under the form of the god Kheperȧ, and I came into being in primeval time. I came into being in the form of Kheperȧ, and I was the creator of what came into being, that is to say, I formed myself out of the primeval matter, and I formed myself in the primeval matter.

My name is Ȧusȧres,(i.e., Osiris), [who] is the primeval matter of primeval matter. I have done all my will in this earth, I have spread abroad therein, and I have made strong (or, lifted up) my hand.”

In this passage we have Neb-er-tcher, who came into being in the form of Kheperȧ, identifying himself with Osiris, who is described as the pautet pautti, , i.e., the very essence of primeval matter, and the source of all created things. This is a remarkable attribute to ascribe to the god of the dead, and it is only understandable when we remember that it was a common belief of the Egyptians that life rose out of death.

The narrative continues,

“I was alone, for they (i.e., the gods) were not born, and I had emitted from myself neither Shu nor Tefnut. I brought my name into my own month, that is to say [I uttered it as] a word of power,  ḥekau, and I forthwith came into being under the form of things which were created and under the form of Kheperȧ.”


Power of the Name

Here we have an interesting statement, for the god tells us how he came into being, and he is not content with merely saying that he existed. We know from the literature of Egypt how great a part words of power played in its magical and religious systems, and how the believer hoped to obtain all his desires by the utterance of special names, or words, or formulæ. Here, however, we have the god Osiris transforming himself from the essence of primeval matter into the active principle of creation by merely uttering his own name.

The belief in the potency of certain names is very old in Egypt, and rests upon a still older idea that no creature, animate or inanimate, could be said to have an existence until it possessed a name, an idea with which every one is familiar from Genesis ii. 19 f., where we read that Adam gave names to every beast of the field and to every fowl of the air, and to all cattle. Every god and goddess and supernatural being were believed to possess a hidden name by, and through, and in which he and she lived.

The man who could find out these names was able to command the help of the gods who bore them, and the man who could obtain by any means a hidden name for himself thought he would be the equal of the gods. On the other hand, to destroy or “blot out” a name was to wipe out of existence the being who bore it, and it was for this reason that in the earliest days of civilization in Egypt services in which the name, or names, of the dead were commemorated, and were mentioned with laudatory epithets, were established.

We may note in passing that one of the greatest gifts which was to be given to the true believers of the Church of Pergamos was

“a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it”

(Revelation ii. 17).

Here is a direct allusion to the old belief in the efficacy of an amulet which was made of a certain stone, and inscribed with a name, by and through and in which its owner would enjoy life and happiness.


The Creation

Returning to our narrative we find that the god continues,

“I came into being from primeval matter, and I appeared under the form of multitudes of things from the beginning. Nothing existed at that time, and it was I who made whatsoever was made.

I was alone, and there was no other being who worked with me in that place. I made all the forms under which I appeared by means (or, out of) the god-soul which I raised up out of Nu, , out of a state of inertness (or, out of the inert mass).”

In this passage we have a new element introduced, that is, a “god-Soul,” , or, in other words, the Soul which possessed the quality of neter, and was existent in a quiescent state in the inactive watery mass of Nu. When we consider the general ideas of the Egyptians about the soul this statement need not surprise us, for we know that they endowed every object in nature with a soul, and if they assumed the existence of a mass of primeval matter they were bound, logically, to give it a soul. Thus we have in the second version of the story of the creation an idea which is wholly wanting in the first.

We next read,

“I found there (i.e., in Nu) no place wherein I could stand. I worked a spell on my heart, and I laid a foundation before me, and I made whatsoever was made. I was alone. I laid a foundation in (or, by) my heart, and I made the other things which came into being, and the things of Kheperȧ which were made were manifold, and their offspring came into existence from the things to which they gave birth.

It was I who emitted Shu, and it was I who emitted Tefnut, and from being one god (or, the one god) I became three, that is to say, the two other gods who came into being on this earth came from myself, and Shu and Tefnut were raised up from out of Nu wherein they had been.

Now, behold, my Eye,(i.e., the Sun), did they bring to me (or, I brought to them) after a double ḥen period [had passed since] they went forth from me. I gathered together my members which came forth from my own person after I had union with my hand, and my heart (or will) came unto me from out of my hand.

The seed fell into my mouth, and I sent forth from myself the gods Shu and Tefnut, and from being one god (or, the one god) I became three, that is to say, the two other gods who came into being, , on this earth came from myself, and Shu and Tefnut were raised up from out of Nu wherein they had been.”

The repetitions in the above passage are due to the fact that the scribes possessed many variant readings of portions of it, these representing, no doubt, the opinions of different schools, and the scribe of the papyrus of Nes-Ȧmsu, with characteristic reverence for what was written, incorporated them all into his text.

The next passage contains a very interesting addition and variant reading, which makes “father” Nu declare that his Eye, i.e., the sun, was covered over with large numbers of “bushes” for an indefinite number of periods, each containing sixty years ; now “bushes,” otherwise called “hair,” is the name given to the clouds which hang round the sun at sunrise, and obscure his rays, and it seems as if the god intends to complain that his sight was impeded by them for centuries.

The words following seem to indicate that vegetation and reptiles, including worms or serpents, proceeded from the god Rem, and that they were the product of the tears which fell from Kheperȧ, but this rendering is not wholly certain. The vegetation and worms here mentioned are forms of mist and cloud which wholly or partially hide the sun, and the line is probably added to the text to account for the “bushes” of which “father” Nu spoke above.

Of the god Rem, , we know nothing, but as the word rem means “to weep,” and an allusion to “crying or weeping,” , is contained in the line in which the name of the god occurs, we may assume that he was the personification of Rā’s tears. Mention is made in the Book of the Dead (lxxxiii. 4) of a god called Remi, , who seems to have been the Fish-god, and to have been identified in some way with Sebek, the personification of Nu, but it is not clear that Rem and Remi are one and the same god.


Four Races of Men

We next arrive at the description of the making of man, and each version of the story of the creation gives a different account. According to the first, Kheperȧ joined, or united, his members and wept upon them, and men and women came into being from these tears ; according to the second, Kheperȧ wept with his Eye, and men and women came into being forthwith. It is impossible to say decidedly which is the older view, but it is probably the former.

The difference between the methods employed in creating gods and men must be noted ; the gods are the seed of Kheperȧ, and they came forth from his mouth, whilst men are only the tears of the god, and they came forth from his Eye. The older version makes the tears of Kheperȧ to fall upon his genital organs, and it is only after they have been in contact with the god’s virility that they turn into human beings. In late dynastic times the Egyptians divided mankind into four classes, namely, the Egyptians, the Āamu, the Neḥesu, and the Themeḥu.

Thus in the Book of Pylons[24] Horus says to the “chiefs of Rā,” , who are in the Ṭuat of the Black Land and the Red Land (i.e., Egypt and the deserts to the South),

“Ye are the tears made by my Eye in your name of ‘Men.’”[25]

The Āamu,, (i.e., the Semitic nomad tribes of the Eastern Desert), were created by Horus and Sekhet,, and this goddess protected their souls;  the Themehu, or Libyans, , were also created by Horus and Sekhet, and the goddess protected their souls.

Of the Nehesu, (i.e. the Negroes), Horus says,

“I masturbated for you, and I have been content at the millions  who have come forth from me in your name of Nehesu ; Horus hath created you, and it is he who hath protected their souls.” [26]

This last statement is of interest, for it connects the idea of masturbation with the Negroes, that is to say, with the dark or black-skinned races of Nubia who lived on the banks of the Nile so far south as the Sixth Cataract, and, as we have already said, the legend as to the origin of the gods Shu and Tefnut is far more likely to have been the product of some indigenous dark-skinned race than of the group of mixed peoples whom we call Egyptians. It will be noticed that only the Egyptians, or offspring of Rā, are said to have been produced by the tears of Rā, which are the same as the tears of the Eye of Horus, i.e., the sun.


The Creation of Man

According to one version of the story of the creation, men and women were created after the gods Shu and Tefnut, and before the plants and reptiles, but according to the other, they were created after the plants and reptiles ; neither version mentions the creation of beasts and cattle. A point of interest is that men and women were not fashioned by Kheperȧ, or Neb-er-tcher, himself, and that they seem to have come into being almost, as it were, by accident; in making the gods Kheperȧ showed both will and design, but men and women were only the tears which fell, apparently without volition, from his Eye. But it must also be noted that in both versions of the Egyptian creation legends it is Rā the Sun-god, the Eye of Temu, who is in reality the creator of man, and this is exactly what we find in the Mesopotamian creation legends.

After Marduk had defeated Tiamat and her eleven fiends, and had split up her body, like a fish, and made heaven out of one half of her skin, he conversed with Ea, the lord of the great deep, and declared his intention of making man, in the following words:—

“My blood will I take, and bone will I build up, and I will make man, that man may . . . .; and I will build up man who shall inhabit [the earth].”

This very important passage proves that the statement of Berosus to the effect that man was made out of the blood of Bel, i.e., Marduk, was based upon a genuine Assyrian tradition ; unfortunately the cuneiform text,[27] which was first identified by Mr. L. W. King, is incomplete, but when the inevitable duplicate is found we shall probably find the equivalent of the rest of the story according to Berosus, who says that the blood of which man was made was obtained from Bel himself after his head had been cut off.

The passage which follows the mention of the creation of man in the Egyptian story refers to the Eye of Nu. which, Kheperȧ says, he endowed with power or splendour, or with the serpent khut,, which possessed both these attributes. The Eye raged at him when it found “another growth” in its place, by which, apparently, the moon is referred to, and it made an onslaught upon the “bushes,” i.e., the light clouds, which Kheperȧ had placed over it to adorn it, or to keep order in it; but finally it took up its position in the god’s face, and henceforth ruled the whole earth.

The text concludes with the statement that Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Seb, Nut, Osiris, Ḥeru-khenti-ȧn-maati, Set, Isis, and Nephthys, and that their offspring increase and multiply in the earth, and that they invoke the name of Kheperȧ and so overthrow their enemies, and that they create words of power, , whereby they overthrow Āpepi. We may now summarize briefly the results of the two versions, and we shall find that the Egyptians thought that a self-begotten and self-existent god lived alone in a primeval watery mass, which was itself part male and part female., and which was the abode of two living powers, the one male and the other female, and also of a soul, and that this mass was of unlimited extent, and was eternal, and was enveloped in thick darkness.

The self-existent god, at some unknown time and for some unknown reason, uttered his own name as a word of power, and he straightway came into being under the form of the god Kheperȧ. He next roused the soul of the watery abyss out of inactivity, and then having brought some influence, probably by the utterance of certain words, to bear upon his heart, he produced some material place, probably the earth, whereon he could stand. From this place he produced the gods Shu and Tefnut, which act resulted in the immediate creation of light and in the dispersion of darkness, and in the formation of the sky or firmament.

These acts were followed either by the creation of men and women, or by the creation of vegetation and creeping things and reptiles of every kind ; of the creation of stars and of birds and beasts nothing is said. The above statement represents one of the earliest of the opinions of the Egyptians about the creation in its simplest form, the one in fact which was first adopted by the priests of Heliopolis, and was then modified to suit the theological system which they formulated. The texts on which it was based are transcribed into hieroglyphics with interlinear transliterations and translations in the following chapter.

Footnotes and references:


The old form is, or(Unȧs 199, 399), or(Tetȧ 78).


Compare Horapollo I. 21 (ed. Leemans; p. 28):—Νείλου δὲ ἀνάβασιν σημαίνοντες, ὃν καλοῦσιν Αἰγύπτιστι Νοῦν; attention was first drawn to this passage by Tattam.


Religion und Mythologie, p. 129.


Lanzone, Dizionario, pl. l67, No. 2.


Ibid., No 3.


Ibid., pl. 170, No. 2.


Lanzone, Dizionario, page 685.


Ibid., pi. 168 fř.


Religion, p. 132.


Op. cit., p. 685.


Brugsch, Religion, p. 142.


Lanzone, op. cit., pi. 168 ff.


The best copies of the cuneiform texts hitherto issued will be found in the publication of the Trustees of the British Museum, entitled Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, part xiii,, London, 1901. These, with many additional texts, are given in Mr. L. W. King’s Seven Tablets of Creation with transliterations, translations, notes, etc., London, 1902. (Vol. I.)


Mûmmu = the Μωϋμις of Damascus, and probably means “chaos.”


He was born in Syria, probably at Damascus, in the last quarter of the Vth century of our era. He studied at Alexandria and at Athens, and was a pupil of Marinus and Zenodotus, and when Justinian closed the schools at Athens he went to the court of the Persian king Khusrau (Chosroës). The best edition of his work on “First Principles” is that of Kopp, published in 1828.


King, Babylonian Religion, p. 61.


Religion, p. 127.


See my Egypt in the Predynastic and Archaic Periods, p. 41.


“Der göttliche Urgeist, unzertrennlich von dem Urstff des Urwassers, fühlte das Verlangen nach schöpferischer Thätigkeit und sein Wort erweckte die Welt zum Leben, deren Gestalt und formenreiche Gebilde sich in seinem Auge vorher abgespiegelt hatten. Ihre körperlichen Umrisse und Farben entsprachen nach ihrer Entstehung der Wahrheit d.h. der Urvorstellungen des göttlichen Geistes über sein künftiges Werk. Der erste Schöpfungsact begann mit der Bildung eines Eies aus dem Urgewässer, aus dem das Tageslicht (Rā), die un-mittelbare Ursache (rā) des Lebens in dem Bereiche der irdischen Welt heraus-brach. In der aufgehenden Sonne verkörperte sich die Allmacht des göttlichen Geistes in ihrer glanzvollsten Gestalt” (Religion, p. 101).


The first copy is in column xxvi. and the second in column xxviii.



The ḥen period = 60 years, but when two such periods are referred to the writer does not mean necessarily 120 years, but some long, indefinite period of time.



See Bonomi and Sharpe, Sarcophagus of Oimenepthah, pll. 7 and 6d.



(lines 16-20)


The tablet is No. 92,629 (obv. ll. 5-7). The text reads:-

da-mi lu-uk-ṣur-ma iṣ-ṣi-im-tum lu-[ub-ni] lu-ush-ziz-maa amêla[a] lu a-me-lu [. . . .] lu-ub-ni-ma amêla[a] a-shib· irṣitim. See L. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, vol. i., pp. 86 ff., and vol. ii., pi. xxxv.

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