Shed, the Savior God of the New Kingdom

Male Child Deities of Ancient Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Jefferson Monet

Male child deities in ancient Egypt overlapped considerably in both their mythology and worship. Sometimes they were worshipped in both their forms as children and adults, though that was rare. They usually were the male children of major deities, and so such child gods frequently played a role related to the divine conception and birth of the king. Some were associated with the mammisis, or 'birth houses' that were found in later temples.

Horus the Child

Probably one of the best known of the child deities was Horus the Child, which was actually a name given to a number of related forms of divine infant. Most were the son of Osiris and the goddess Isis whom she birthed in the papyrus marshes of Chemmis (Khemmis) in the northeast Delta and raised in secret there in fear of the god Seth. However, Horus the Child could also be grouped with other divine parents at specific temples. At Medamud he was the son of Montu and Raettawy, for example.

A Cippus or amuletic plaque depicting Horus the Child

Horus the child might have more specific names. For example, in the Pyramid Texts this god is referred to as 'the child with his finger in his mouth'. In that form, he was called Harherywadj, or 'Horus upon his papyrus plants' and sometimes as 'Horus hidden behind the papyrus'. As 'Horus upon his papyrus plant', the child deity appears visually in a wall relief in the temple of Seti I at Abydos as a hawk on a column in the shape of papyrus reed.

The child deity was most frequently called Harpakhered (Greek Harpokrates), which translates as 'Horus the Child' and was often represented in this form as a vulnerable looking child seated on the lap of Isis while sucking his thumb, or he could be alone, depicted standing in the amuletic plaques known as cippi of Horus.

Note that at the top of some cippi of Horus, Bes is depicted. Bes could protect the solar child as part of the Hathor myth. However, the 'cippi' itself was that to act as an amuletic force warding off dangerous creatures.

As Harsiese, he was 'Horus son of Isis', and was clearly identified in his role as the goddesses' legitimate son and heir of Osiris. This was also the case with the related names, Horus iunmutef, or 'Horus pillar of his mother' and Harnedjitef (Greek Harendotes) or 'Horus savior of his father'.

Ihy, the Mucisian

The name of Ihy was interpreted by the Egyptians themselves as 'sistrum player', or 'musician'. He was a personification of the jubilation associated with the use of this sacred instrument. However, another translation of his name could be 'calf', referring to his relation to the cow goddess Hathor, who was usually thought to be his mother. This was especially true at Dendera and Edfu, where he appears as Harsomptus. He was also regarded as the son of a few other deities though, and could be associated in this way with Isis, Nephthys and Sekhmet. Horus was most frequently considered to be his father, but he was also said to be the child of Re.

A depiction of Ihy in the  Roman birth house at Dendera

Ihy was certainly most often thought of as a deity connected with music. However, he was also associated with the afterlife in some contexts. For example, in the Coffin Texts and also in the Book of the Dead, Ihy is called 'the lord of bread' and is said to be 'in charge of the beer' in reference to offerings, but also possibly with regards to ritual celebrations which involved intoxication in the worship of Hathor.

Ihy was typically depicted as a naked boy with his thumb in his mouth, who wears the sidelock of youth. Even though a child, he is not always depicted in a diminutive size, and may be shown at the same scale as his mother and other deities or the king when he appears in the same scene. Sometimes he wears the uraeus on his brow and may be depicted holding the sistrum and the menal necklace which were his symbols. They were also the symbols of his mother, Hathor. There is also some limited evidence that he might have at times also been depicted in the form of a calf.

Ihy, as the son of Horus and Hathor, was one of the triad of deities who were worshipped at Dendera, which was Ihy's main cult site. In fact, a very early shrine specifically dedicated to Hathor and Ihy was rebuilt in this location by the 4th Dynasty King, Khufu. The child god played a very significant role in the mammisi of Nectanebo I at Dendera where his divine conception and birth, as well as that of the king, were celebrated. In fact, 'mystery plays' in thirteen acts concerning the divine birth appear to have been performed at this location. A second birth house at this site built by Caesar Augustus celebrates the divine birth of Ihy as the son of Hathor.


In the town of Hiw near Nag Hammadi, Neferhetep was locally worshipped also as an infant deity. Though less well known, he was also considered the child of Hathor. His name can be translated as 'perfect in conciliation', which probably reflected the mythological idea that the raging goddess Hathor was transformed into a gentle and loving mother. However, he was also viewed as a divine ram and therefore a symbol of male potency. He was believed to be loved by 'wives at the site of his beauty', in which beauty here is a circumlocution for the god's phallus. Thus, he functioned both as a child, and the power behind the child's conception.


Painted wooden head of Nefertem from the tomb of Tutankhamun

Normally, we think of Nefertem as a god of perfumes but in reality, that was a secondary association. Primarily, Nefertem was the youthful god of the lotus blossom which rose from the primeval waters according to Egyptian myth. Hence, he was not only associated with the blue lotus (Nymphaea cerulea), but with the sun god who emerged from it as well. Therefore, he is frequently associated with Re as a solar deity.

His name, Nfr-tm, means 'Amun is good' or "he who has newly appeared is perfect'.

In the Pyramid Texts he is called 'the Lotus blossom which is before the nose of Re' and therefore his association with perfume was both early and natural. He eventually unites with Re to form a single deity.In spell 249 of the Pyramid Texts, he is also described as "the king as a flower in the and of the sun god".

In later periods, Nefertem was also very closely related to Horus, the son of Re, and the two deities were even sometimes merged. At Memphis during the New Kingdom, Nefertem came to be associated with the God, Ptah, and his consort, Sekhmet, in a very important triad in which he was commonly viewed as their child In this aspect, Nefertum could take on a warlike role and be associated with other warlike gods such as Montu, Sopdu and Hormenty, as well as with other

However, other ancient Egyptian cities also claimed Nefertem, so for example, at Buto he was the son of the cobra goddess Wadjet and he was also sometimes viewed as the son of the goddess Bastet.

Nefertem with his lotiform headdress

Nefertem is most frequently represented anthropomorphically as a male god wearing a lotus blossom on his head. This headdress is sometimes augmented by two upright plumes and twin necklace which hang at its sides. Nefertem may also be depicted as a lion headed god when he is the son of the leonine goddess Sekhmet. Even in this guise, he might still infrequently wear his distinctive lotus headdress. He could also be shown standing on the back of a lion, but this may have been more closely connected with his solar association with Re. The child god usually wears a short kilt and may hold a khepesh sickle sword, which may be connected to his epithets, khener tawy, or 'protector of the Two Lands'.

Due to his connection with the primeval creation myths, Nefertem may also be depicted as a child seated on a lotus blossom, and a variation of this motif is found in examples which depict only the head of the god emerging from the lotus. We have, from the tomb of Tutankhamun, a famous painted wooden example of this form of the god. In these images, the connection between Nefertem and the infant sun god is particularly striking, and such representations could be seen as depicting the king as one or the other, or even both of these deities.

Nefertem was primarily a deity of royal and divine monuments and was therefore not popularly worshipped. In fact, as the son of the ferocious goddess, Sekhmet, he was frequently feared. Hence, by the Third Intermediate Period, amulets with divine decrees made when a child was born often promised to protect the child from manifestations of Nefertem, along with other potentially harmful deities. Yet, and very interestingly, we also find a few protective amulets depicting the god that were made during the same period.

Shed, the Savior God of the New Kingdom

Shed was a protective god who was venerated mainly from New Kingdom times, though he is known to us prior to that period. In fact, he appears to possibly be an Egyptian aspect of the Semitic god Reshef. Known as 'He who rescues' or 'the enchanter', he was the master of wild beasts of the desert and river as well as weapons of war. He was believed to pursue and kill dangerous animals. Hence, he was suppose to provide protection from dangerous animals such as the scorpion as well as from martial harm. In addition, he also a guardian against illness and inimical magic.

The protective child god Shed

Shed was associated with Horus, and sometimes appears in the form of Horus-Shed, to the extent that by the Late Period he was largely subsumed by Horus.

The iconography of Shed usually depicted a child or young man, most often with a shaved head except for the sidelock of youth. He wears a kilt, sometimes with a broad collar and a quiver slung over his back. He may grasp serpents and wild, symbolically noxious animals while standing on the back of one or more crocodiles. This is essentially the same iconographic attributes found associated with cippi of Horus. Shed is also sometimes depicted in a chariot that is pulled by a Griffin with a Seth animal head known as 'the swift one".

It was popular religion that seems to have spawned Shed and we know of no temples or cult centers for his worship. His name is attested within individual's personal names, and we find representations of the god on protective plaques, pendants and amulets known from a variety of contexts. There were two staelae found in a chapel in the workmen's village at Amarna that were dedicated to the god, which is unusual and shows his popular support, given the restrictive religion of that period. In fact, it may have been this period of uncertainty in Egyptian history that caused the rise of Shed as a savior god.

Other Child Deities

Where there other male child deities worshipped by the ancient Egyptians? Probably, but though a number of gods were referred to as the 'sons' of one deity or another, most of these were actually portrayed as adults (such as the son's of Horus).






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