© 1997 Deurer
All Rights Reserved.
The Great Creators
. . Introduction
. . Atum, the creator.
. . Khepri, the creator.
. . . . . As is the case with most ancient mythologies, the Egyptians created myths to try to explain their place in the cosmos. Their understanding of the cosmic order was from direct observation of nature. Therefore their creation myths concern themselves with gods of nature; the earth, the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, and of course, the Nile river.
. . . . .Since the Nile river, with its annual floods played a critical role in this cosmic order. It should come as no surprise to find water the fundamental element in the Egyptians ideas of creation. For the Egyptians to watch the inundation of their land would have been like watching a earthly model of their ideas of a watery creation. Allow me to explain.
. . . . .In the beginning there was only water, a chaos of churning, bubbling water, this the Egyptians called Nu or Nun. It was out of Nu that everything began. As with the Nile, each year the inundation no doubt caused chaos to all creatures living on the land, so this represents Nu. eventually the floods would recede and out of the chaos of water would emerge a hill of dry land, one at first, then more. On this first dry hilltop, on the first day came the first sunrise. So that is how the Egyptians explain the beginning of all things.
. . . . .Not surprisingly, the sun was also among the most important elements in the Egyptians lives and therefore had an important role as a creator god. His names and attributes varied greatly. As the rising sun his name was Khepri, the great scarab beetle, or Ra-Harakhte who was seen as a winged solar-disk or as the youthful sun of the eastern horizon. As the sun climbed toward mid-day it was called Ra, great and strong. When the sun set in the west it was known as Atum the old man, or Horus on the horizon. As a solar-disk he was known as Aten. The sun was also said to be an egg laid daily by Geb, the 'Great Cackler' when he took the form of a goose.
. . . . .To the Egyptians the moon was any one of a number of gods. As an attribute of the god Horus the moon represented his left eye while his right was the sun. Seth was a lunar god, in his struggles with the solar god Horus, Seth is seen as a god of darkness doing constant battle with the god of light. We often find the ibis-headed god Thoth wearing a lunar creseant on his head.
. . . . .To the Egyptians the sky was a goddess called Nut. She was often shown as a cow standing over the earth her eyes being the sun and the moon. She is kept from falling to earth by Shu, who was the god of air and wind, or by a circle of high mountains. As this heavenly cow, she gave birth to the sun daily. The sun would ride in the 'Solar Barque' across Nut's star covered belly, which was a great cosmic ocean. Then as evening fell, Nut would swallow the sun creating darkness. She is also pictured as a giant sow, suckling many piglets. These piglets represented the stars, which she swallowed each morning before dawn.Nut was also represented as an elongated woman bending over the earth and touching the horizons with her toes and finger tips. Beneath her stretched the ocean, in the center of which lay her husband Geb, the earth-god.He is often seen leaning on one elbow, with a knee bent toward the sky, this is representive of the mountains and valleys of the earth. Green vegetation would sprout from Geb's brown or red body.
. . . . .In the beginning there was only the swirling watery chaos, called Nu. Out of these chaotic waters rose Atum, the sun god of the city of Heliopolis. It is believed that he created himself, using his thoughts and will. In the watery chaos, Atum found no place on which to stand. In the place where he first appeared, he created a hill. This hill was said to be the spot on which the temple of Heliopolis was built. Other interpretations find that Atum was the hill. In this interpretation Atum may represent the fertile, life giving hills left behind by the receding waters of the Nile's annual flood. As early as the Fifth-Dynasty, we find Atum identified with the sun god Ra. By this time his emergence on the primeval hill can be interpreted as the coming of light into the darkness of Nu. As the god of the rising sun, his name is Khepri.
. . . . .His next act was to create more gods. Because he was all alone in the world, without a mate, he made a union with his shadow. This unusual way of procreating offspring was not considered strange to the Egyptians. We find Atum regarded as a bisexual god and was sometimes called the 'Great He-She'. The Egyptians were thus able to present Atum as the one and only creative force in the universe.
. . . . .According to some texts the birth of Atum's children took place on the primeval hill. In other texts, Atum stayed in the waters of Nu to create his son and daughter. He gave birth to his son by spitting him out. His daughter he vomited. Shu represented the air and Tefnut was a goddess of moisture. Shu and Tefnut continued the act of creation by establishing a social order. To this order Shu contributed the 'principles of Life' while Tefnut contributed the 'principles of order'.
. . . . .After some time Shu and Tefnut became separated from their father and lost in the watery chaos of Nu. Atum, who had only one eye, which was removable. This was called the Udjat eye. Atum removed the eye and sent it in search of his children. In time they returned with the eye. At this reunion Atum wept tears joy, where these tears hit the ground, men grew. Now Atum was ready to create the world. So Shu and Tefnut became the parents of Geb, the earth and Nut, the sky. Geb and Nut gave birth to Osiris and Isis, Seth, Nephthys.
. . . . .In one Egyptian creation myth, the sun god Ra takes the form of Khepri, the scarab god who was usually credited as the great creative force of the universe. Khepri tells us,"Heaven and earth did not exist. And the things of the earth did not yet exist. I raised them out of Nu, from their stagnant state. I have made things out of that which I have already made, and they came from my mouth." It seems that Khepri is telling us that in the beginning there is nothing. He made the watery abyss known as Nu, from which he later draws the materials needed for the creation of everything.
. . . . .He goes on to say, "I found no place to stand. I cast a spell with my own heart to lay a foundation in Maat. I made everything . I was alone. I had not yet breathed the god Shu, and I had not yet spit up the goddess Tefnut. I worked alone." We learn that by the use of magic Khepri creates land with its foundation in Maat (law, order, and stability). We also learn that from this foundation many things came into being. At this point in time Khepri is alone. The sun, which was called the eye of Nu, was hidden by the children of Nu. It was a long time before these two deities, Shu and Tefnut were raised out of the watery chaos of their father, Nu. They brought with them their fathers eye, the sun. Khepri then wept profusely, and from his tears sprang men and women. The gods then made another eye, which probably represents the moon. After this Khepri created plants and herbs, animals, reptiles and crawling things. In the mean time Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Geb and Nut, who in turn gave birth to Osiris and Isis, Seth, Nephthys.
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