Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Creation Mythology: Ancient Egypt

Nun by Naterifari
The mythology of Ancient Egypt is considered highly complex and there are several stories of creation, all of which follow the same main themes - order versus chaos, and creation versus destruction.  Out of all of these creation myths, the Heliopolitan creation story is one of the oldest and is believed to date back to the Old Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt, between 2686 and 2181 BC.  And they all begin in the primal ocean, before the start of time, where the creator first manifests himself into being.  This god is known as Atum, 'the all', Ra, the sun god, and Nebertcher, 'the lord without limit'.

 In the vast ocean of nothingness known as Nun, which existed before the beginning, the spirit Atum-Ra lay and within Atum-Ra was the seed of all life yet to come.  Once Atum-Ra had emerged from the vast Nun he created the gods from within himself by the act of masturbation.  He sneezed out Shu, who was the god of dry air, and spat out Tefnut, who was the goddess of dew and rain and moist air.

TEFNUT by el-grimlock
 Then Atum-Ra used three elemental forces, which would one day become gods themselves, to create the world.  These forces were Heka, who was creative power or magic; Sia, who was perception; and Hu, who was pronouncement.  With these forces Atum-Ra called forth all the elements of creation and then he made a fourth power who was called Ma'at, the goddess of truth and universal harmony, to uphold balance within his creation.

Benben. Life is domnotte
Next, Atum-Ra sent forth Shu and Tefnut, who travelled out across the vast primal ocean and caused Nun to receed.  An island appeared and here Atum-Ra stood as the primal mound, known as Benben Stone which would one day be the model for pyramids.  He debated within himself how life should be within his creation and, once decided, he called forth birds and plants and animals from the Nun.  He simply called their names and they came into being.

After the creation of the plants and the animals, Atum-Ra sent his eye, who was the goddess Hathor, to find Shu and Tefnut.  But, when she returned, Hathor was very angry, for another eye had grown upon Atum-Ra's face where she had once been.  She wept bitter tears and, as the tears hit the ground, they became the first human beings.  Atum-Ra placed Hathor on his brow in the shape of a cobra where she could rule over the world with him until the end of time, when the world would once again be covered by the vast and infinite flood of Nun.

Shu by Richard Cox
It was then that Shu and Tefnut came together as husband and wife, and from them a son and daughter were born.  They were called Geb and Nut, and they too came together as husband and wife.  

But Atum-Ra was not pleased with the brother and sister coming together in such a way and he sought to separate them.  Atum-Ra chose Shu to sever the connection between Geb and Nut.  Shu did as he was bid and forcibly separated the two.  Nut was hoisted up high above Geb, held overhead by Shu's outstretched arms, while Geb was left far below her, lying upon the ground.  Nut's hands were beside Geb's head, while her feet touched his, and her body covered his life a cup upturned on a saucer.  And their separation was the parting of heaven and earth with the space in between being filled with Shu's presence, for air fills all empty space.

Nut and Geb by nienor
 Atum-Ra then cursed Nut so she would bear no children on any day within any month of the year.  In this way, he sought to keep Nut a prisoner for all time.  However, the god Thoth sympathised with Nut and soon devised a plan to help her.  Thoth challenged the Moon to a game of draughts and, after several, he managed to win a small fraction of the Moon's light.  From this light he shaped five extra days and added them to the three hundred and sixty days which already made up the year.

Because these five days were not a part of the original year created by Atum-Ra, they were out of his control.  So, thanks to Thoth, Nut and Geb were able to reunite and, for each of the five days, Nut had a child.  The first was Osiris, the lord of fertility and light, whose eyes were the sun and the moon; the second was Horus, the falcon-headed god of the sky and vengeance; third came Set, the lord of the desert and the drought; fourth was Isis, the goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom; and the fifth and final child of Nut and Geb was Nephthys, the goddess of death and the night.

That's all for today.  Please remember to check out some of the artists featured here and be sure to leave a comment.  Until next time.

Useful Resources
DK Eyewitness Companions: Mythology by Philip Wilkinson & Neil Philip
Hamlyn History: Myths Retold by Diana Ferguson

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