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Egyptian Creation Myths

Discussion in 'Paganism DIR' started by Finnyhaha, May 28, 2005.

  1. Finnyhaha

    Finnyhaha New Member

    This rather long speel was inspired by a comment on the "Egyptian Gods and Goddesses of the Week" thread. Mostly done for my own benefit, but hopefully someone else will get something out of it as well. Most information taken from Wilkinson's "The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt". Correct me if I'm wrong on anything.

    It is important to remember that the many inconsistencies and contradictions present in Egyptian mythology came about largely as a result of different mythological systems combining with others as the regions of Egypt became unified. Thus we have often have many different versions of the same basic story. Also, the Egyptians probably never viewed their deities as static and objective beings, but as representations of something deeper and less easily explained. This is why they had no qualms about combining their gods and goddesses. Such combining often took place when one group of people came into contact with another. Either out of respect for the belief system of the other people, or because they felt that the other system had something to contribute to their own (both views that the world at large could benefit from today), they would incorporate aspects of the other mythology into their own.

    Taking a look at the Egyptian creation myths should easily illustrate the truth of the above statements. It is difficult to give a conceptual overview of these myths because of their constant fusion with one another and the fact that they myths themselves seemed to change over time, even if without additions from another people. However, it is relatively correct to state that there were three major Egyptian views of creation, each with its own cult center. The inhabitants of the city of Hermopolis, for example, ascribed creation to a group of eight deities, called the Ogdoad (group of eight) by Egyptologists.

    In the Hermopolitan view, creation was not ascribed to one specific deity, but to eight deities, four frog-headed gods, and their snake-headed wives. Each pair of deities was thought to represent one of the four materials which contributed to the formation of the world, these being water, infinity, darkness, and hiddenness (or wind). Although all eight of these deities played a role in creation, it is thought that the four goddesses were not considered to be independent of their consorts, and may simply have served as underdeveloped feminine aspects of the four creator gods. Of this Ogdoad, only four were fully developed and seem to have existed independently of the others. Three of these were the gods Amun, Heh, and Nun, respectively personifying the concepts of hiddenness (or wind), infinity, and the primeval waters. The goddess Amaunet, consort of Amun, also developed her own independent mythology, evolving into a protective deity, and also becoming the mother of Re when the Hermopolitan view fused with that of the cult of the sun god at Heliopolis.

    Although it is probable that this group of eight were originally viewed as equal in the process of creation and thought to have existed simultaneously, eventually the god Amun came to be seen as the creator god, who existed prior to any other. In the eighteenth dynasty he was given solar attributes, and became the sun god of Hermopolis, although this role was probably not stressed until the fusion with Heliopolitan ideas came about. More stressed were his roles as king of the gods and, as a permeating being, the god which exists in all things. Although this last attribute may not have been unique to Amun, with him we have proof that the ancient Egyptian religion bore traces, at the very least, or monistic, or possibly monotheistic beliefs.

    In contrast, creation in Heliopolis is generally ascribed, not to a group of eight, but of nine, called the Ennead. Although each member of the Ennead was thought to have played a role in creation, they were not all given equal status or thought to have come about independently of each other. One god, Atum was credited as having been the first of all beings, although he was not thought to have completed creation ex nihilo as is commonly thought today by worshipers in the world’s three major monotheistic traditions. Nor was Atum thought to have been the first thing in existence. Although he was the first of the gods, the stories of his origins usually state that he came into being out of some other thing. This is variously thought to have been an egg, a mound of earth, a lotus flower, or simply the waters of creation themselves. However divisive the theories of his origins, most accounts agree that one of his first acts in the world was to produce children, Shu and Tefnut, from his spittle, semen (through masturbation), or a sneeze. In Heliopolitan theology, Shu became known as the god of the air, and of the upper atmosphere, while Tefnut became the goddess of moisture and the lower atmosphere. They were also sometimes seen as representing past and future, or the two horizons, or sunrise and set. Again, although the stories are divisive, the two children of Atum became the parents of the next generation of deities, Geb, the god of the earth, and Nut, goddess of the sky.

    Rather than simply being the ruler of the sky, or controller of what happens within it, Nut was seen as a personification of the sky, likewise, Geb’s body was thought to make up the earth. It is when this is taken into account that we can make sense of the image of Shu separating the two by holding Nut’s body above the earth. This separation allowed things to grow and live on the earth. Before being separated however, the couple had managed to produce four children, the final members of the Ennead. This children, Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys would play vital roles in the rest of Heliopolitan mythology.

    Despite the similarity of the names Atum and Amun, and despite their shared roles as both solar and creator gods, these two were always two distinct characters in Egyptian mythology, even after the fusion of Heliopolitan and Hermopolitan thought.

    Another interesting point to be made is that, although the Heliopolitan cult revolved around the sun deity, the main solar god, Re, is not a part of the Ennead. As with most Kemetic deities, his advent in religious thought may be seen in several different ways. Some see him as synonymous with Atum, while others see him as being another child of Nut (as the sun seems to be born from the sky). Other sources claim that his entry into the world came in the form of a hawk, falcon, scarab beetle, or phoenix, arising, like Atum sometimes was said to have done, from the waters of creation.

    A third creation story originated in the city of Memphis, and was entirely different from the two discussed previously. In Memphian thought, Ptah, god of the craftsman, was the sole creator of the world. Rather than creating from some prior element that was already present in the world (such as wind, water, etc) Ptah was thought to have created the entire cosmos ‘through his heart and through his tongue’ in a matter remarkably similar to that of the god of the Hebrew bible. Ptah was also thought by some to shape each member of humanity on a potter’s wheel (although this task was also attributed to Amun).

  2. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus Staff Member

    I think I recently heard that a Pharaoh had been discovered as 'missing' from the historical records, which would make the whole of the history, as we knew it wrong, by a number of years.

    Does this mean anything to anyone?:)

  3. Finnyhaha

    Finnyhaha New Member

    How do you discover something missing?
  4. jimbob

    jimbob The Celt

    you find it:D
  5. Finnyhaha

    Finnyhaha New Member

    So they found a previously unheard of pharaoh in some newly discovered records that had never been mentioned in any other records? Does anyone have any links on this, or detailed information?
  6. Finnyhaha

    Finnyhaha New Member

    As an adendum to my original post, I should have mentioned that sometimes Nepthys is left out of the Heliopolitan Ennead, and Re is added to it. However, this is a somewhat artificial substitution as Re is generally not thought to be a direct relative of any of the other members of the Ennead.
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