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The Ancient Egyptian Myths of Creation
Ancient Egyptian myth of CREATION
The ancient Egyptians, like perhaps all of us, even now, looked for ways to explain the way that the earth came into being. Like all religions there were explanations as to the birth of the Universe but in Ancient Egypt as there was not one overarching religion to start with there are a number of these myths which actually tie in with specific geographical locations.
The creation myth of Memphis
Ptah was the God of creation, the father of all gods from whom all life was given. To form the universe he sat and thought and then spoke his thoughts out loud, thoughts from his heart rather than his head. His first action was to create the other deities and then to build towns for their followers. Ptah provided the wood , clay and stone statues to act as bodies for the deities. He decreed that they had divine power and that offerings were to be made to them forever. All things animals and humans were brought into life by Ptah and he gave them their names.
The creation Myth of Memphis has survived as it was inscribed on a slab of granite which is now in the British Museum at London. The inscription was ordered by the 25th Dynasty King Shabaqo (c718-c702bc) who had it set up in the temple of Ptah at Memphis. The preamble explains that the king ordered it to be inscribed on stone as the original was written on fabric (probably papryrus) which was becoming very worn and damaged through use. Scholars believe that the language used was from the late Rammesside period (c1100bc). There is evidence that Ptah was condisdered to be a creatior god in earlier times. In the coffin texts of the Middle Kingdom (c2055-1650bc) as well in later Ramesside texts (c1200bc). He is given responsibilitu for fashioning the gods and the sun and for ripening the crops.
The creation myth of Elephantine
The creator was named Khnum, who was said to have an rams head. Myth says that he created the universe by modelling the other gods as well as the human race and all animals on his potters wheel. He was reported to have paid special attention to the human race, allowing for blood to flow and skin to stretch over the body. The myth says that he paid special attention to the installation of the respiratory and digestive systems, the vertebrae and reproductive organs. After this had happened he is said to have watched over the human race to ensure that conception and labour took place .
In this myth the organ for thinking moves from the brain to the heart. Ancient Egyptians were not aware of the function of the brain and gave the heart the twin jobs of emotion and thought. The ancient Egyptians thought the brain to be a mere stuffing which is illustrated during the embalming process where the brain was removed and often discarded whilst the heart was preserved as the person needed their body and heart to be reborn in the after life. It was belived that the person was judged by the weight of their heart at judgement day balanced on a scale with the feather of Maat, the goddess of truth.
Elephantine does exist, even in modern Egypt. It is an island opposite the modern town of Aswan. Elephantine was the centre of worship for Khnum . He was worshipped by his people as part of a triad or group of three, Satet his consort and their daughter Anuket. He had a female counterpart Heket who was regarded as the goddess of childbirth and acted as a divine midwife at royal births. Heket gave life to the unborn child by working on it and fashioning it suitable for life whilst it was in the womb. This version of the creation myth survives on the walls of the Graeco- Roman temple of Esna in Upper Egypt.
The River Nile was never far away from the thoughts of the Ancient Egyptians. Whilst Khumn was revered as the creater God his wife, Seket was associated with the annual flood and their daughter Anuket with the cataracts of the Nile. Goddesses of fertility and childbirth were portrayed as Nile creatures. The chief deity of the Nile was said to be Hapy who was depicted as a man with a paunch and large, hanging breasts and a taste in headgear resembling river plants. Hapy was thought by the people to live in the caverns of the cateract presided over by Khnum
The creation myth of Hermopolis Magna
This creation myth was based on the elements The four elements were arranged in four male and female pairs.
Primordial water- (Nun and Nunet)
Air or hidden Power (Amun and Amanunet)
Darkness (Kuk and Kauket)
Flood force (Huh and Hauhet)
These are referred to as the group of eight or “Ogdoad” The four male gods had the heads of frogs whilst the female gods had the heads of snakes. At some point these gods interacted somehow to provide a burst of power and the universe was created.
There are two versions of the next events . Option a) a primeval mound of earth described as the Isle of Flame rose up out of the primordial water. The god Thoth who at that point was in the form of an Ibis, placed a cosmic egg on the mound of earth. The egg cracked and was found to contain the sun which immediately rose up into the sky. Option b) a lotus flowers personified as the divinity of
Nefertem was gliding on the surface of the primordial waters when the petals opened and the sun rose out of it, being the mark of Horus and ascended into the sky. Thoth was the god of wisdom and acted as a scribe to the gods as well as their messenger. He was believed to command all the sacred books and writings buried in all the temples.
Hermopolis Magna is situated on the West Bank of the Nile, in middle Egypt close to the modern town of Mallawi, it was the chief centre of the god Thoth. These myths show the way that the Ancient Egyptians turned everyday natural happenings into god like powers that they would then worship, thus the movement of the sun into the sky where he still sits.
The creation myth of Heliopolis
Before the universe existed there was darkness and water everywhere divinely personified as Nun. From amid this water a mound of silt appeared- whether overnight or over time is not known. The solar creator god Atum- the complete one landed on the mound and sneezed out the deites of Shu the divine personification of Ait and Tefnut moisture. As a male /female couple the deities beget Geb ( the earth) and Nut (the sky). The so called Enmead (group of nine) of Heliopolis includes these deities Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb and Nut and is completed by the children of the latter two gods, Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys.
Heliopolis is a Greek name meaning “city of the Sun”- it was called Yunu or On by the Ancient Egyptians and is now the modern city of Tell Hisn near Cairo. The nine Gods were first found in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (c2350bc). The image of the island emerging from the River Nile is an image borrowed from the natural life that the people saw surrounding them. The Ancient Egyptians would have sought the highest surrounding land on which to build their settlements so that their homes were safe during the annual inundation.. Again the emphasis is on couples and the procreation of children to multiply the population
All of these stories involve bringing order out of chaos. The Ancient Egyptians had respect for order hence their carefully regulated social society and ritual funeral procedures. However the lives of the Ancient Egyptians were governed by things they could not control. The River Nile was perhaps the most important resource available to them and yet they depended on the natural twice yearly floods and the occasional droughts would render the country helpless.