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 XVI - The Great Triad Of Memphis, Pthaḥ, Skehet, And I-em-ḥetep

Ptaḥ, ,
Sekhet, ,
I-em-ḥetep, .

The greatest of all the old gods of Memphis was undoubtedly Ptaḥ, , or Ptaḥ-neb-ānkh, , and his worship, in one form or another, goes back to the earliest part of the dynastic period. He has usually been regarded as a form of the Sun-god, and as the personification of the rising sun, either at the time when it begins to rise above the horizon or immediately after it has risen.

The name has often been explained to mean “Opener,” and to be derived from a root which was cognate in meaning with the well-known Semitic root pâthakh, , in fact Ptaḥ was thought to be the “Opener” of the day just as Tem was considered to be the “Closer” of the day. The chief drawback, however, to the acceptance of this derivation is the fact that Ptaḥ never forms one of the groups of the chief forms of the Sun-god in the texts, and his attributes are entirely different from those of Kheperȧ, Tem, Hera, and Rā.

Moreover, although the word ptaḥ, , is found in Egyptian it never has the meaning “to open,” in the sense of opening a door, and the determinative which follows it,[1] , proves conclusively that although it does mean “to open” it is always in the sense of “to engrave, to carve, to chisel,” and the like ; compare Heb. “engraving, sculpture.” The meaning proposed for the name “Ptaḥ” by Dr. Brugsch is “sculptor, engraver,” and many passages in the texts of all periods make it plain that Ptaḥ was the chief god of all handicraftsmen, and of all workers in metal and stone.

What the form of the god was originally it is, unfortunately, impossible to say, but from the titles which the dynastic Egyptians gave to him it is clear that his main characteristics did not change from the period of the IInd Dynasty to that of the Ptolemies and Romans.

At a very early period he was identified with one of the great primeval gods of Egypt, and he was called

  • “the very great god who came into being in the earliest time,” ;
  • “father of fathers, Power of powers,” ;
  • “father of beginnings, and creator of the egg[s] of the Sun and Moon,”  ;
  • “lord of Maāt, king of the two lands, the god of the Beautiful Face in Thebes, who created his own image, who fashioned his own body, who hath established Maāt throughout the two lands;”[2]
  • “Ptaḥ, the Disk of heaven, illuminer of the two lands with the fire of his two eyes.”[3]


Ptaḥ the Artificer

In the text of Tetȧ (lines 87, 97) the “workshop of Ptaḥ,” , is mentioned, and the general sense of the passages indicates that it was Ptaḥ who was believed to fashion the new bodies in which the souls of the dead were to live in the Underworld. Ptaḥ, as we shall see later from the passages quoted from the Book of the Dead, was the great artificer in metals, and he was at once smelter, and caster, and sculptor, as well as the master architect and designer of everything which exists in the world. The Greeks and the Latins rightly identified one form of him with Hephaistos and Vulcan.

Ptaḥ was the fellow-worker with Khnemu in carrying into effect the commands concerning the creation of the universe which were issued by Thoth, and whilst the latter was engaged in fashioning man and animals, the former was employed in the construction of the heavens and the earth. The large rectangular iron slab which formed the floor of heaven and the roof of the sky was beaten out by Ptaḥ, and he and his assistants made the stays and supports which held it in position.

In the character of architect of the universe he partakes of the nature of Thoth, especially in respect of his title “lord of Maāt;” and, as the god who beat out the iron firmament with a hammer and supported it, his attributes resemble those of Shu.

Forms of Ptaḥ

In other capacities he was supposed to be endowed with powers which we are wont to associate with other gods, and thus we find enumerated in religious and funeral texts

  1. Ptaḥ-Ȧsȧr (Ptaḥ-Osiris),
  2. Ptaḥ-Ḥāpi,
  3. Ptaḥ-Nu,
  4. Ptaḥ-Seker,
  5. Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr,
  6. Ptaḥ-Seker-Tem,
  7. Ptaḥ-Tanen,
  8. and the like.

The part which Ptaḥ in his various forms plays in the Book of the Dead is well illustrated by the following:—

In Chapter iv. he is said to come forth from the Great Temple of the Aged One in Ȧnnu ; in Chapter xi. the deceased says,

“I shall stand up like Horus,
I shall sit down like Ptaḥ,
I shall be mighty like Thoth,
and I shall be strong like Tem.”


  • Chapter xxiii. we learn that Shu or Ptaḥ performed the ceremony of “opening the mouth” of the gods with an iron knife;
  • in Chapter xlii. the feet of the deceased are identified with the feet of Ptaḥ;
  • in Chapter lxiv., line 8, he is said to have covered his sky with crystal;
  • Chapter lxxxii. is a text by the use of which a man transforms himself into Ptaḥ, when his tongue becomes like that of the god;
  • in Chapter cxlv., line 67, the “writings of Ptaḥ” are referred to;
  • in Chapter cli.a Mesthȧ tells the deceased that he has “stablished his house firmly according to what Ptaḥ hath commanded;”
  • and in Chapter cliii., line 6, the “hook of Ptaḥ” is mentioned;
  • in Chapter clxvi. Ptaḥ is said to overthrow the enemies of the deceased (see also Chapter clxxii. 10).
  • In Chapter cli. the hair of the deceased is compared to that of Ptaḥ-Seker,
  • and in Chapter clxx. this god is said to give him help with his khaheru, , weapons from his divine house.

In a hymn to Osiris (Chapter xv.) Osiris is addressed as

“Un-nefer Ḥeru-khuti,”

and as

“Ptaḥ-Seker-Tem, , in Ȧnnu, the lord of the hidden place, and the creator of Het-ka-Ptaḥ (i.e., ‘the House of the Double of Ptaḥ,’ or Memphis);”

finally, Ptaḥ-Tanen is mentioned in Chapter clxxxiii., line 15, as having caused to be inscribed certain decrees concerning Horus upon an “iron tablet.”

The commonest form in which Ptaḥ is represented is that of a bearded man with a bald head who is shrouded in a close-fitting garment, from an opening in the front of which project his two hands; from the back of his neck hangs the menȧt, symbol of pleasure and happiness, and in his hands he holds a sceptre, , and the emblems of “life,” , and “stability,” .

When standing upright his feet rest upon a pedestal made in the shape of the sign maāt , and when seated his throne rests upon a pedestal of similar shape. At the back of standing figures of the god we sometimes see an obelisk, , or the ṭeṭ, , which symbolizes both “stability” and the tree trunk in which the body of Osiris was hidden by Isis.

Ptaḥ under his forms of Ptaḥ-Nu, , and Ptaḥ-Ḥāpi, , merely represents the union of the great celestial workman and architect with the primeval elements of earth and water, and there are no representations specially set apart for these forms.

image right: Seker-Ȧsȧr.

On the other hand, his forms of Ptaḥ-Seker, or Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr, , and Ptaḥ-Tanen, , must be specially considered. Ptaḥ-Seker represents a personification of the union of the primeval creative power with a form of the inert powers of darkness, or in other words, Ptaḥ-Seker is a form of Osiris, that is to say, of the night sun, or dead Sun-god. Seker is depicted in the form of a hawk-headed man in mummied form resembling that of Ptaḥ, and his hands project from the front of his close-fitting garment and hold the emblems of sovereignty and dominion, ; sometimes he has the head of a man and holds in each hand a knife.[4] Seker was originally a power of darkness, or of the night, which in later times was identified with forms of the night sun like Tem.

He is called

“the great god, who came into being in the beginning, he who resteth upon the darkness,”


In the xviith Chapter of the Book of the Dead (line 113) occurs a petition in which the deceased begs to be delivered from the

“great god who carrieth away the soul, who eateth hearts, and who feedeth upon offal, the guardian of the darkness, the god who is in the Seker boat,,”

and in the explanation of the passage which is given in answer to the question, “Who is this?” the god who is in the Seker boat is said to be either Suti, , or Smam-ur, , the soul of Seb. Thus it is clear that Seker was an ancient spirit or god whose attributes were such that he might well be represented by Set, or Suti, the enemy of Ra, or by the soul of the earth-god Seb. In comparatively early dynastic times Seker was exalted to the position of god of that portion of the Underworld which was allotted to the souls of the inhabitants of Memphis and the neighbourhood, and it is tolerably certain that he was regarded as the tutelary deity of the necropolis of Ṣaḳḳâra.


The Seker Boat

The Seker Boat which has been mentioned above is often represented on sepulchral monuments and papyri, and it was certainly made to play a very prominent part in certain solemn, sacred ceremonies. It was not made in the form of an ordinary boat, but one end of it was very much higher than the other, and was made in the shape of the head of some kind of gazelle or oryx ; the centre of the boat was occupied by a carefully closed coffer which was surmounted by a hawk with protecting wings stretched out over the top of it.

This coffer contained the body of the dead Sun-god Af, or of Osiris, and it rested upon a framework or sledge which was provided with runners. On the great day of the festival of Seker which was celebrated in many places throughout Egypt, the ceremony of placing the Seker boat upon its sledge was performed at sunrise, at the moment when the rays of the sun were beginning to spread themselves over the earth.

The whole ceremony was under the direction of the high priest of Memphis, whose official title was “Ur kherp ḥem,”, “i.e., great chief of the hammer”; this official was expected to lift the Seker Boat upon its sledge, and to march at the head of the procession of priests which drew the loaded sledge round the sanctuary. By this action the revolution of the sun and other celestial bodies was symbolized, but no texts explaining the symbolism have come down to us.

From the inscriptions which are found at Memphis and in the neighbourhood we know that the office of high priest of Ptah was considered to be a most honourable position, and that many men of noble family and of high rank held it as far back as the period of the IInd Dynasty. Now since the priestly office existed in those remote times it is only reasonable to assume that the Seker Boat also existed, and that the ceremonies with which it was used in the later period were also performed in the earlier; the god Seker was, even when the Pyramids were built, an ancient god, and the chief characteristics of his worship must be as old as the god himself.


Seker or Ḥennu Boat

image right: Ptolemy Euergetes and the Ḥennu Boat.

The name given to the Seker Boat is “Ḥennu,” , and it is mentioned several times in the Book of the Dead, and sometimes in connexion with traditions of great importance. Thus after the lxivth Chapter we have a rubric which states that the composition was found in the masonry below the shrine of Ḥennu during the reign of Semti (Hesepti) a king of the 1st Dynasty; now Ḥennu can only be the god of the Ḥennu boat, and the shrine of Ḥennu must be the place where it was kept.

A most valuable proof of the antiquity of this boat is found on an ebony tablet in the British Museum[5] which was made for the royal chancellor Ḥemaka, who flourished during the reign of Semti, whose Horus name was Ṭen. On this we see a representation of the king dancing before Osiris, who is seated within a shrine on the top of a flight of steps, and in the register immediately below it is a figure of the Ḥennu Boat. The Seker or Ḥennu Boat was probably a form of the Sektet Boat, i.e., the boat in which the sun sailed over the sky during the second half of his daily journey, and in which he entered the Underworld in the evening, for Rā the Aged, , is said to be like Horus, and Rā the Babe, , to be like Seker.

The sanctuaries of Seker must have been extremely numerous[6]  in Lower Egypt in very early dynastic times, but it appears that before the great development of Rā worship took place, the god Seker was already identified with and merged in Ptaḥ, and that these gods were adored together in one temple. The forms in which Ptaḥ-Seker is represented are interesting, for they illustrate the attributes of the double god, and prove that it was Ptaḥ who usurped the characteristics of Seker, and that Seker was the older god.

Ptaḥ-Seker is often depicted in the form of a man who wears upon his head a crown composed of disk, plumes, horns, and uraei with disks on their heads, ; a cognate form is perhaps that reproduced by Lanzone[7] in which the god, who in this case is called “Ptaḥ whose double plumes are lofty,” has upon his head horns, plumes, and a uraeus, and a uraeus upon his forehead. Another interesting form is that of a mummy with a disk and the two feathers of Maāt, , upon his head.[8] Elsewhere he is found in the usual form of Ptaḥ seated upon a throne behind Osiris and followed by Anubis, Horus, son of Isis, and Hathor.



Under the name of Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr we find Ptaḥ and Seker united with Osiris to form a remarkable triad, which is depicted in various ways. A common representation of the god is the hawk, with the White Crown and plumes upon his head, standing upon a low pedestal, from the front of which projects a serpent; in this form he is often met with on painted coffins and sepulchral chests. In the Papyrus of Anhai (Brit. Mus., plate 5) the god is seated within a shrine in human form with the crown, , upon his head ; behind him stand Isis and Nephthys.

The titles here given to him are,

“Dweller in the secret place, great god, lord of Ta-tchesertet, king of eternity, governor of everlastingness,”


Before the god is the skin of the pied bull, of which the head has been cut off, with blood dripping from it into a bowl, and perched on the side of the throne is his son Horus in the form of a hawk. The cornice of the shrine in which the god is seated is composed of uraei with disks on their heads, and before it stand the Mer goddess of the South,, wearing a red garment, and the Mer goddess of the North,, wearing a blue garment, and it is quite clear from the general arrangement of the vignette that in the XXIInd Dynasty Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr was wholly identified with Osiris.

A very interesting form of the triune god is that in which he appears as a squat pigmy with a large, bald head, and thick limbs ; on the top of his head he usually has a beetle, but occasionally plumes are given to him. An examination of the variants of this form proves that he was supposed to possess all the virile power of Ȧmsu, or Min, and the creative power of Kheperȧ, which is symbolized by the beetle, and the youth and vigour of Harpocrates, which is represented by the lock of hair on the right side of his head; and as sometimes he stands upon a crocodile, and holds a serpent in each hand, he must have possessed besides the powers of several of the great solar gods.

Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr is, then, like Osiris, the type and symbol of the resurrection from the dead, and he has been fittingly described as the “triune god of the resurrection”; that he was the outcome of some local Memphite belief, or the result of some compromise between the priests of Osiris and the priests of the old Memphite god is tolerably certain, but there is no evidence to show exactly what belief, or doctrine, or dogma was associated with this mysterious god who united within himself the attributes of Seker, and those of Ptaḥ the architect and builder of the material world, and of Kheperȧthe self-begotten and self-born, and Osiris the giver of everlasting life.



Finally must be mentioned Ptaḥ in his connexion with the primeval god

  • Tenen, ,
  • or Ta-tu-nen, ,
  • or Ta-thunen, ,
  • or Ta-thu-nenet, .

This god is represented in the form of a man, either sitting or standing, who wears on his head the crown, , and holds in his hands the symbols of sovereignty and dominion, , , and ; in a figure reproduced by Lanzone[9] we see him seated upon the oval object, . Another figure represents the god seated with a potter’s wheel before him, which he works with his foot, and on the upper part of it is the egg of the world which he is fashioning with his hands ; elsewhere he is depicted with a scimitar in his right hand, which suggests that in one form he was regarded as a destructive power of nature, or as a warrior-god.

Tenen, or Ta-Tenen, must have been one of the earliest gods of Lower Egypt, and have been a personification of a nature power, the exact attributes of which appear to have been unknown even to the Egyptians. In the early part of the dynastic period it was thought that Ptaḥ, the local god of Memphis, might be fittingly identified with Tenen, or Ta-Tenen, and his name was, therefore, joined to that of the older god, just as in later days the name of Ȧmen was joined to that of Rā ; later Tenen and Ta-tenen were merely forms and names of Ptaḥ.

From a hymn to Ptaḥ-Tenen,[10] which is probably a product of the XXth or XXIst Dynasty, we may gain some idea of the meaning of the name Ta-tenen, “Ta,”, is of course “earth,” and “Tenen,”, is probably to be connected with the word,, enen, or nen, which means “inertness, in activity, rest, motionless,” and the like, and if this derivation be correct Ta-Tenen must be the god of the inert but living matter of the earth.


Hymn to Ptaḥ-Tanen

The passage on which this view is based is a very difficult one, and appears to read,

“There was given to thee a Sekhem (i.e., Power) upon the earth in its things which were in a state of inactivity, and thou didst gather them together after thou didst exist in thy form of Ta-Tenen, in thy becoming the ‘Uniter of the two lands,’ which thy mouth begot and which thy hands fashioned.”

It is, as Dr. Brugsch suggested, quite possible that in this passage the writer was not discussing the derivation of the name Tenen, or Ta-Tenen, seriously, and was only making a play upon the words of similar sound.

In the hymn to Ptaḥ-Tenen already mentioned we find the following address to the god and titles:—

“Homage to thee, O Ptaḥ-Tenen, thou great god, whose form is hidden ! Thou openest thy soul and thou wakest up in peace, O father of the fathers of all the gods, thou Disk of heaven! Thou illuminest it with thy two Eyes, and thou lightest up the earth with thy brilliant rays in peace.”

In the lines which follow he is called the

  • “begetter of men,” ,
  • the “maker of their lives,”
  • the “creator of the gods,”
  • “he who passeth through eternity and everlastingness,” ,
  • “of multitudinous forms,” ,
  • “the hearer of prayers which men make to him,” ,
  • “builder of his own limbs,” ,

and maker of his body, 

“when as yet heaven and earth were not created, and when the waters had not come forth,”


“Thou didst knit together the earth, thou didst gather together thy members, thou didst embrace thy limbs, and thou didst find thyself in the condition of the One who made his seat, and who fashioned (or, moulded) the two lands.

“Thou hadst no father to beget thee in thy person, and thou hadst no mother to give birth unto thee ; thou didst fashion thyself without the help of any other being. Fully equipped thou didst come forth fully equipped.”

Next we have an allusion to thy “aged son,” , i.e., Rā, and to the dissipation of night and darkness by the sun and moon, which are called the “Eyes” of Ptaḥ-Tenen.

The hymn continues,

“Thy feet are upon the earth and thy head is in the heights above in thy form of the dweller in the Ṭuat. Thou bearest up the work which thou hast made, thou supportest thyself by thine own strength, and thou holdest up thyself by the vigour of thine own hands. . . . The upper part of thee is heaven and the lower part of thee is the Ṭuat.”

The winds come forth from thy nostrils, and the celestial water from thy month, and the staff of life (i.e., wheat, barley, etc.), proceeds from thy back ; thou makest the earth to bring forth fruit, and gods and men have abundance, and they see Meḥ-urit cattle in thy field. When thou art at rest the darkness cometh, and when thou openest thy two eyes beams of light are produced. Thou shinest in thy crystal form according to [the wont of] thy majesty . . . . . The company of the gods of thy supreme company praise thee, and they acclaim thee at thy rising and hymn thee at thy setting in the land of life.”

A few lines lower down Ptaḥ-Tenen is called the

“great god who stretched out the heavens, who maketh his disk to revolve in the body of Nut and to enter into the body of Nut in his name of Rā, Moulder of gods, and of men, and of everything which is produced, maker of all lands, and countries, and the Great Green Sea in his name of Kheper-ta (), Bringer of Ḥāpi (j from his source, making to flourish the staff of life, maker of grain which cometh forth from him in his name Nu the Aged (), who maketh fertile the watery mass of heaven, and maketh to come forth the water on the mountains to give life to men and women () in his name of Ȧri-ānkh (), Maker of the Ṭuat with all its arrangements, who driveth away the flame from those who live in their corners in his name of Suten-taui (), King of eternity and everlastingness, and lord of life.”

Among other titles of the god in this hymn we have:—

  • “Babe, born daily,” ;
  • “Aged one on the borders of eternity,” ;
  • “Aged one traversing eternity,” ;
  • “Inert one passing over all his aspects,” ;
  • “Exalted one without his strength,” ;
  • “Lord of the hidden throne, hidden is he,” ;
  • “Hidden one, whose eternal form is unknown,” ;
  • “Lord of years, giver of life at will,” .

The-above extracts are sufficient to show the importance of the god Ptaḥ-Tenen in the eyes of the Egyptians about B.C. 1100, at which time, if we may judge from palaeographical evidence, the hymn was probably written, and there is no reason for supposing that he was thought less of during any period of Egyptian history.

The papyrus upon which the text is inscribed is said to have been found at Thebes, and there is no doubt that the style of writing closely resembles the fine bold hand of the great papyrus of Rameses III., king of Egypt about B.C. 1200, which also was discovered at Thebes; we should not, however, expect to find, in the city of Ȧmen-Rā, the king of the gods, papyri containing hymns to Ptaḥ-Tenen, the god of Memphis, in which this god is made to possess all the attributes of all the-great gods of Egypt, yet such has been, undoubtedly, the case.

The fact that the triad of Ptaḥ, Sekhet, and Nefer-Tem was worshipped at Thebes is another proof of the influence which the priests of Heliopolis exerted over the religious views of the Thebans in almost every period of Egyptian history after the VIth Dynasty.


Shrines of Ptaḥ

Returning now to the consideration of Ptaḥ in his simplest form, it must be noted that the principal centre of his worship was in the city of Men-nefer, , i.e., Memphis, the capital of Ȧneb-ḥetch, , the first nome of Lower Egypt.

The commonest names for Memphis in the religious texts are :—

  1. Ḥā-nefer, .
  2. Ḥet-ka-Ptaḥ,[11] , from which the Greek name for Egypt, ἄιγυπτος, has been commonly derived.
  3. Khut-taui, , i.e., “horizon of the two lands.”
  4. Ḥet-ka-khnem-neteru,[12].
  5. Ȧnebu, , i.e., the “city of walls.”
  6. Makha-taui, , i.e., “the balance of the two lands.”

In the city of Memphis or its neighbourhood were the temples of

  1. Ptaḥ,
  2. Sekhet,
  3. Bast,
  4. Hathor,
  5. Osiris,
  6. Seker,
  7. and I-em-ḥetep,

the most important being the Het-ȧa, , “the house of the Aged One,” i.e., Rā.


Ȧsȧr-Ḥāpi or Serapis

image right: Ȧsȧr-Ḥāpi (Serapis).

In the temple called Ānkh-taui, , were the sacred persea and acacia trees; in Ḥekennut, , Osiris was worshipped; in Ḥet-utet, , i.e., “house of the begetter,” the cult of Khnemu was observed ;
another sacred place was called the “Path of Anubis,” ; and another Ta-ḥet-pa-Ȧten, , i.e., the “House of the Disk”; and in Tepeḥ-tchat, , was yet another sacred tree.[13]

The Serapeum, which was discovered by M. Mariette in 1868, was known by the name of “Neter-ḥet per en Ȧsȧr-Ḥāp,” ;
a district called Baḥtet, , was the centre of the worship of Seker;
the district of Pa-penāt, , was the centre of the worship of Bast;
Osiris was adored in the district of Ḥekennut, ;
Hathor was adored in the district of Smen-Maāt, ;
Khnemu was adored at ưafet, ;
and Ptaḥ and Sekhet and their son I-em-hetep appear to have possessed temples wherein they were worshipped exclusively.

The city of Memphis is often called in the hieroglyphic texts “Ȧneb,” a name which is written , or , or ,[14] and there is no doubt that the appellation of “Walls” was given to it because of its strong fortifications. Once a year the priests of Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr formed a solemn procession, and led by the Sem-priest, , and usually accompanied by the king, they marched all round the walls of Memphis ; it is probable that the image of this triune god was carried in the procession.

The god Ptaḥ himself was worshipped in a temple on the eastern side of the city called “Ȧneb-ȧbt,” ; the temple of Tenen bore the name of “Ȧneb Ȧthi,” ; and Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr was adored in a temple on the south side of the city called “Ȧneb-rest-f,” i.e., “his southern wall,” . The whole city was known by the name of “White Wall,” , to which reference is made by Herodotus[15] (iii. 91).


Sekhet and Nefer-tem

The principal female counterpart of Ptaḥ was the goddess Sekhet, , who was at once his sister and wife, and the mother of his son Nefer-Tem, and a sister-form of the goddess Bast. She is generally depicted in the form of a woman with the head of a lioness which is surmounted by the solar disk encircled by an uraeus, , but sometimes the disk is omitted, and a uraeus only is seen upon her head.

The name of the goddess appears in the Pyramid Texts (Unȧs, line 390), where after the statement that Unȧs hath proceeded from the thighs of the company of the gods, , he is said to have been conceived by Sekhet, , and by Sheskhentet, , and by Sothis, .

In comparatively late dynastic times Sekhet and Bast were identified with forms of Hathor, and were regarded as the goddesses of the West and the East respectively, just as Nekhebet and Uatchet were the goddesses of the South and the North respectively. Each goddess had the head of a lioness, but the body of Sekhet is said to have been draped in a red garment whilst that of Bast was arrayed in a green garment.

Several special forms of Sekhet are known to have existed, viz.,

  • Sekhet, lady of Rekht, ,
  • Sekhet, lady of Sa,,
  • Sekhet, lady of Rehesaui,,
  • Sekhet, the great lady, the queen of Ȧnt,,
  • Sekhet in Bȧshu,,
  • Sekhet in Sail,,
  • Sekhet-Nut in Ḥet-khāt,,
  • and Sekhet in Nefer (?)-Shuu,.

The principal titles of Sekhet were

  • “Mighty lady, lady of Flame, Tefnut in Senemet,” [16];
  • “greatly beloved one of Ptah, lady of heaven, mistress of the two lands,” ;
  • “lady of Ṭep-nef,” ; “lady of Tchār, , and of Sehert, ”;
  • “chief of the Libyan lands, mistress of Pa-mertet,”



The name “Sekhet” appears to be derived from or connected with the root sekhem, , “to be strong, mighty, violent,” and the like, and as she was the personification of the fierce, scorching, and destroying heat of the sun’s rays, these attributes would be very suitable for her character. In the form of the serpent-goddess Meḥenet, , she took up her position on the head of her father Rā, and poured out from herself the blazing fire which scorched and consumed his enemies who came near, whilst at those who were some distance away she shot forth swift fiery darts which pierced through and through the fiends whom they struck.

In a text quoted by Dr. Brugsch[17] she is made to say,

“I set the fierce heat of the fire for a distance of millions of cubits between Osiris and his enemy, and I keep away from him the evil ones, and remove his foes from his habitation.”

One of the commonest names of the goddess is “Nesert,” i.e., Flame, as a destroying element, and in texts of all periods she plays the part of a power which protects the good and annihilates the wicked. In some aspects she may be compared with Uatchet, of whom a well-known name is “Lady of flame.”

We have already said that in some respects Sekhet may be regarded as a form of Hathor and Net, and indeed several of the titles of the last named goddesses are bestowed upon her, e.g., “Lady of Ȧmentet, lady of Manu “(i.e., the mountain of the setting sun), the queen of the Libyan “lands,” etc. ; these appear to suggest a western or Libyan origin for the goddess.


Seven Gods of Learning

In connexion with Sekhet and her relationship with Hathor, Net, and Maāt must be mentioned the Seven Wise Ones of the goddess Meh-urt, who together with Thoth, , Ṭekh, planned the world; they were born of Meḥ-urt, , at the feet of Nu, , in their home in Nehet-rest, , and they came forth from the water, from the pupil of the Eye of Rā, and they took the form of seven hawks and flew upwards, and together with Ȧsṭen, , a form of Thoth, they presided over learning and letters.

The names of these Seven Wise Ones,, are :—

  1. Nefer-ḥāti,
  2. Āper-peḥui,
  3. Neb-Ṭesheeu,
  4. Ka,
  5. Bȧk,
  6. Khekh,
  7. and Sȧn.[18]

Ptaḥ, as the master architect and workman who carried out the designs of Thoth and his Seven Wise Ones, partook, in some respects, of the characteristics of them all, and as Sekhet was his female counterpart she appears to have acquired some of their attributes also, because Thoth was in reality only a personification of the intelligence of Ptaḥ. It is in this way that Sekhet becomes identified with the goddess Maāt, for Maāt was the inseparable companion of Thoth, and inasmuch as Thoth was contained in Ptaḥ, Maāt became the female counterpart of Ptaḥ and a sister form of Sekhet.

In one of the titles of Sekhet given above, the goddess is identified with Tefnut, the female counterpart of Shu; this need cause no surprise, because Thoth was only the Hermo-politan form of Shu, and Tefnut was therefore his female counterpart, and as Ptaḥ absorbed Thoth, that is to say, Shu, the female counterpart of Ptaḥ (i.e., Sekhet) absorbed the female counterpart of Thoth, or Shu (i.e., Tefnut).

In many texts Sekhet is called the “Eye of Rā,” , and in a scene reproduced by Lanzone[19] we see the goddess in the form of a woman, with the Utchat, , in place of a head, kneeling upon a rectangular throne, whilst a hawk with outstretched w'ings stands behind her. Her titles in this form are, “Great lady, beloved of Ptaḥ, holy one, powerful one, “dweller in Ȧt-Tefnut,” .


Sekhet, Bast, Pakht

We have already mentioned the small porcelain figures of Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr, and seen how they were intended to represent the union of the powers of the three great gods whose names are here joined together, and we must now note that on the backs of certain examples we find outlined the form of a goddess, who might be identified with any of the female counterparts of the great gods to whom the head of a lioness was given by Egyptian sculptors and artists.

The goddess here found, however, is Bast, , who was for some time confounded by Egyptologists with the goddess Pekheth, , or Pekhet, , or Pekh, , the Cat or Lioness deity of Pekhit, , in honour of whom a temple of Pekheth, , was hewn out of the solid rock in the mountain near the modern village of Beni Hasan in Upper Egypt; this temple is known by the names of “Stabl al-Anṭar,” and “Speos Artemidos.”

The name Pekht, or Pakht, or Pasht means the “tearer,” and is, of course, suitable for a goddess who possessed the attributes of the cat or lioness ; this goddess was the lady of Ȧnt, , and of Set, , orthe supplementary nome of which the city Pekht, , was the capital.[20]

Her title was “lady of Sepṭ,” , i.e., of the star Sothis, and she was identified with Isis and with a form of Hathor, and also with a form of Sekhet. In the great inscription of Beni Hasan (line 18) we find the mention of Horus Paklit, , and we may therefore assume that Pakht was in some way connected with one of the forms of Horus, and that she was a local deity of great importance.



It is probable that Bast was a female counterpart of the triune god Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr, and that she possessed attributes which cannot at present be clearly defined. As a nature power she represented the gentle, fructifying heat of the sun, and its regenerative influence in the most comforting form. In late dynastic times Bast, and Sekhet, and Rā formed a deity whose existence is made known to us by a Chapter in the Book of the Dead (clxiv.). In the vignette Sekhet-Bast-Rā is represented as a woman with a man’s head, and wings attached to her arms, and the heads of two vultures springing either from her head or neck ; she has the phallus of a man and the claws of a lion.

One vulture’s head is like that of Pekhat,, and has plumes upon it, and the other is like that of an ordinary vulture, and appears to have plumes upon it also; the man’s head has upon it the united crowns of the South and North, and taken together with the phallus they indicate that the body of the woman, who is here called Mut, was supposed to possess the generative and procreative powers of Rā.

The text which forms the chapter is a very interesting one, and reads :—

“Homage to thee, O Sekhet-Bast-Rā, thou mistress of the gods, thou bearer of wings, thou lady of the red apparel (ȧ nes), queen of the crowns of the South and North, only One, sovereign of her father, superior to whom the gods cannot be,
thou mighty one of enchantments (or, words of power) in the Boat of Millions of Years,
thou who art preeminent, who risest in the seat of silence, mother of Pashakasa (),
queen of Parehaqa-Kheperu (),
mistress and lady of the tomb, Mother in the horizon of heaven, gracious one, beloved,
destroyer of rebellion, offerings are in thy grasp,
and thou art standing in the bows of the boat of thy divine father to overthrow Qeṭu.[21]

Thou hast placed Maāt in the bows of his boat.

Thou art the fire goddess Ȧmmi-seshet (),
whose opportunity escapeth her not;
thy name is Tekahaeesa-pusaeemkakaeemet

Thou art like unto the mighty flame of the goddess Saqenaqat (),
which is in the bows of the boat of thy father Ḥarepuḳakashareshabaiu
or behold, thus is [his] name in the speech of the Negroes, and of the Anti,
and of the people of Ta-kensetet (Nubia).

Praise be unto thee, O Lady, who art mightier than the gods, words of adoration rise unto thee from the Eight Gods of Hermopolis.

The living souls who are in their hidden places praise the mystery of thee, O thou who art their mother, thou source from which they sprang, who makest for them a place in the hidden Underworld, who makest sound their bones and preservest them from terror, who makest them strong in the abode of everlastingness, who preservest them from the evil chamber of the souls of Ḥes-ḥrȧ [22] (), who is among the company of the gods.

Thy name is Sefi-per-em-Ḥes-ḥrȧ-ḥapu-tchet-f

On each side of Sekhet-Bast-Ra in the vignette is a dwarf with two faces, one of a hawk and one of a man, and the body of each is fat; each has on his head the disk and plumes, , and each has one hand and arm raised after the manner of Amsu, or Min.

The name of one dwarf is



and that of the other,



Finally, the last name given to Sekhet-Bast-Rā is Utchat-Sekhet-urt-ḥent-neteru, , and she is said to be the emanation of Mut,

“who maketh souls to be as gods, who maketh bodies to be sound, and who delivereth them from the abode of the fiends which is in the chamber of the evil one.”

According to the Rubric, the deceased for whom pictures of the goddess and the two dwarfs were made would become like the immortals, and worms would not eat his body, and his soul would never be fettered, and he would drink water at the source of the river, and would have a homestead of his own in Sekhet-Ȧanre, and he would become a star of heaven, and he would fight and overcome the fiends Tar, , and Nekȧu, .


Forms of Nefer-tem

The third member of the Memphite triad is Nefer-Tem,  , or Nefer-Temu, , who is the son of Ptaḥ and Sekhet, or of Ptaḥ and Pakht, or of Ptaḥ and Bast. He is usually represented in the form of a man who holds in his hands either the tchām sceptre, , and the symbol of life, or the lotus sceptre surmounted by plumes, ; in these forms he is called

“Nefer-Tem khu taui,” and “Nefer-Tem khu taui ānkh rekhit,”


The small blue and green glazed porcelain statues of the god make him to stand upon a lion, and sometimes he appears in religious scenes with the lotus flower, or the lotus flower and plumes upon his head.[23] In some cases Nefer-Tem has the head of a lion, and his body has the form of a mummy, and consistently with this his hands project from a close-fitting garment, and he holds in them the tchām sceptre and flail,. In the earliest times the lotus flower was associated with Nefer-Tem, and in the Pyramid Texts we find allusions to this fact.

Thus in the text of Unȧs (line 392) the dead king is compared to a lotus at the nostrils of the Great Sekhem, , and a line or two further on it is said,

“Unȧs hath risen like Nefer-Tem from the lotus to the nostrils of Rā, and he goeth forth from the horizon on each day, and the gods are sanctified by the sight of him.”[24]

In the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead (xvii. 24) is a passage which appears to show that the attributes of Nefer-Tem were not well defined, and we find him mentioned in connexion with a number of gods in a manner which is hard to explain.

The text makes the deceased to beseech Rā to deliver him from the god

“whose form is hidden, and whose eyebrows are like unto the two arms of the Balance on the night of reckoning destruction,”

and in answer to the question,  “Who then is this?”  we have the words, “It is Ȧn-ā-f,” i.e., the “god who bringeth his arm,” ,[25] who is usually regarded as a form of Ȧmsu, or Min. The words “night of reckoning destruction” are explained by making them refer to the burning of the damned and the slaughter of the wicked on the block of the god by the “Slaughterer of Souls,”, Ṭenṭ-baiu.

The opinions of the Egyptian theologians differed greatly as to the identity of this god Ṭenṭ-baiu, for some thought he was Nemu,[26] , the headsman of Osiris, and others thought he might be Āpep, with one head, or Horus with two heads, or Horus the Great of Sekhem, or Thoth, or Nefer-Tem, or Sepṭu,. When we remember that Nefer-Tem is the “young Tem,” i.e., a god of the rising sun, and that the Horus gods and Sepṭu were likewise forms of the rising sun, it is evident that Nemu and Āpep must have had some characteristic in common with the son of Ptaḥ and Sekhet.

From Chapters lxxxi., versions a and b, we learn that the deceased had power to transform himself into a lotus ; in the first version of the text he says,

“I am the pure lotus which springeth up from the divine splendour that belongeth to the nostrils of Rā,”

and in the second we read,

“Hail, thou Lotus, thou type of the god Nefer-Tem! I am he who knoweth you, and I know your names among the gods, the lords of the Underworld, and I am one of you.”

The vignette of the first version is a lotus, and that of the second is a lotus plant with a flower and buds growing out of a pool of water, and out of the flower springs a human head, i.e., the head of the deceased.

The idea conveyed by the last vignette seems to have originated in the mind of some early writer who was accustomed to see the sun rise over the flooded lands of the Delta where the lotus grew in abundance.

In Chapter clxxiv. 19, the deceased says,

“I rise like Nefer-Tem, who is the lotus at the nostrils of Rā, when he cometh forth from the horizon each day,”

and in Chapter clxxviii. 36, Nefer-Tem has the same title. We must also note that he is the thirty-fourth Assessor in the Hall of Maāti and that the deceased makes the following address to him:—

“Hail, Nefer-Tem, who comest forth from Ḥet-ka-Ptaḥ (Memphis), I have not acted with deceit, and I have not worked wickedness.”

In the late Egyptian texts Nefer-Tem is identified with a number of gods, all of whom are practically forms of Horus and Thoth, and in consequence the mother of each of these gods becomes his mother.



The Egyptian texts prove that besides Nefer-Tem another son of Ptaḥ called I-em-ḥetep,, was regarded as the third member of the great triad of Memphis; he was called ’Ιμοῦθης by the Greeks, and possessed many attributes in common with their god Aesculapius. The name of I-em-hetep means, “He who cometh in peace,” and is appropriate to the god who brought the art of healing to mankind. The god is represented like Ptaḥ, with a bald head, and he is depicted in a seated position with a roll of papyrus open upon his knees ; he was a god of study and learning in general, but he owed his great power to the knowledge of medicine which he possessed.

As a god of learning he partook of some of the attributes of Thoth, and he was supposed to take the place of this god in the performance of funeral ceremonies, and in superintending the embalming of the dead ; in later times he absorbed the duties of Thoth as “scribe of the gods,” and the authorship of the words of power which protected the dead from enemies of every kind in the Underworld was ascribed to him. In certain aspects the god had a funeral character which somewhat resembled that of Ptaḥ-Seker-Ȧsȧr, although he is not mentioned in the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead.

In the “Ritual of Embalmment”[27] it is said to the deceased,

“Thy soul uniteth itself to I-em-ḥetep whilst thou art in the funeral valley, and thy heart rejoiceth because thou dost not go into the dwelling of Sebek, and because thou art like a son in the house of his father, and doest what pleaseth thee in the city of Uast (Thebes).”

The oldest shrine of the god was situated close to the city of Memphis, and was called “the Temple of I-em-ḥetep, the son of Ptaḥ,” , to which the Greeks gave the name, τὸ ’Ασκληπιειον; [28] it stood well outside the city, and lay quite near the Serapeum, on the edge of that portion of the desert which formed the necropolis of the city. Under the Ptolemies a small temple was built in honour of I-em-ḥetep on the Island of Philae ; the hieroglyphic inscriptions are those of Ptolemy IV., Philopator, but the Greek text over the door was placed there by the command of Ptolemy V., Epiphanes. From one of the former we learn that the god was entitled,

“Great one, son of Ptaḥ, the creative god, made by Thenen, begotten by him and beloved by him, the god of divine forms in the temples, who giveth life to all men, the mighty one of wonders, the maker of times (?), who cometh unto him that calleth upon him wheresoever he may be, who giveth sons to the childless, the chief kher-ḥeb (, i.e., the wisest and most learned one), the image and likeness of Thoth the wise.”[29]

I-em-ḥetep was the god who sent sleep to those who were suffering and in pain, and those who were afflicted with any kind of disease formed his special charge ; he was the good physician both of gods and men, and he healed the bodies of mortals during life, and superintended the arrangements for the preservation of the same after death. If we could trace his history to its beginning we should find probably that he was originally a very highly skilled “medicine man” who had introduced some elementary knowledge of medicine amongst the Egyptians, and who was connected with the practice of the art of preserving the bodies of the dead by means of drugs, and spices, and linen bandages.

He was certainly the god of physicians and of all those who were occupied with the mingled science of medicine and magic, and when we remember that several of the first kings of the Early Empire are declared by Manetho, whose statements have been supported by the evidence of the papyri, to have written, i.e., caused to be edited, works on medicine, it is clear that the adoration of the god of medicine was in Memphis as old as the archaic period.


I-em-ḥetep and Ḥeruṭāṭāf

In the songs which were sung in the temple of Antuf, the writer says,

“I have heard the words of I-em-hetep and of “Ḥeru-ṭāṭā-f, (), which are repeated over and over again, but where are their places this day? Their walls are overthrown, their seats (or places) have no longer any being, and they are as if they had never existed. No man cometh to declare unto us what manner of beings they were, and none telleth us of their possessions,”


Ḥeru-ṭāṭā-f, as we know from later texts, was a very learned man, even though his speech could only with difficulty be understood, and we also know the prominent part which he took as a recognized man of letters in bringing to the court of his father, Khufu, the magician Teṭṭeṭa, and how his name is associated with the “finding” of certain Chapters of the Book of the Dead. Of the sage I-em-ḥetep, who is mentioned in connexion with him, it is difficult not to think that he was famous as a skilled physician whose acts and deeds were worthy of being classed with the words of Ḥeru-ṭāṭā-f.



From the manner in which these great and wise men are referred to it is clear that they, who were the chosen representatives of the ablest and most learned among men, had become, even at the time when the Songs of Antuf were composed, mythical beings in whole or in part, and there is no good reason why I-em-ḥetep, the third member of the triad of Memphis, should not be a deified form of a distinguished physician who was attached to the priesthood of Rā, and who flourished before the end of the rule of the kings of the IIIrd Dynasty. The pictures and figures of the god suggest that he was of human and of strictly local origin, but it is not evident how he came to usurp the place of Nefer-Tem at Memphis, especially as he was not the son of Ptaḥ by Sekhet, or Bast, or any form of these goddesses.

The worship of I-em-hetep was commoner in the Saïte and Ptolemaic periods than in the Early and Middle Empires, and all the bronze figures of the god belong to a period subsequent to the XXIInd Dynasty. The titles given to him in the inscriptions at Philae may, it is true, represent ancient beliefs, but it is improbable, and as he does not appear in the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead it is tolerably certain that his worship was as popular and fashionable at Memphis immediately before and during the Ptolemaïc period as that of Ȧmen-ḥetep, the son of Hāpu, the famous sage who had seen and conversed with the gods, was at Thebes about the same time.




Footnotes and references:


Brugsch, Wörterbuch, p. 528.


, Lanzone, op. cit., p. 240.



Lanzone, op. cit., pi. 368, No. 4.


No. 32,650.


See a list given by Lanzone, op. cit., p. 1117.


Op. cit., pi. 94, No. 4.


Ibid., pl. 95.


Op. cit., pl. 401, No. 3.


For the hieratic text see Lepsius, Denkmäler, vi., pl. 118.


I.e., "House of the Double of Ptaḥ."


I.e., “House of the Double which uniteth the gods.”


See de Rougé, Geographie, pp. 4 ff.


Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 55.


ἐν τῷ Λενκῶ Τείχεϊ τῷ ἐν Μέμφι


Var. .


Religion, p. 520.


, , , ,


Op. cit., pl. 364, No. 3.


Dict. Geog., pp. 225, 226.


, the name of a fiend.


I.e., “god of the terrible face.”


See Lanzone, op. cit., pll. 147 and 148.



He is one of the Forty-two Assessors in the Hall of Maāt.


See Book of the Dead, cliii.A 8, 31, 32 ; cliii. 5 ; clxx. 6.


See Maspero, op. cit., p. 80.


Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 1098.


See Brugsch, Thesaurus, p. 783 ; Religion, p. 527 ; Sethe, Imhotep, 1903.

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