Egypt: Gods - The Gods of Heliopolis

The Gods of Heliopolis



Tem was a form of the Sun-god, and was the great local gods of that place. His name is connected with the root tem, or temem, "to be complete," "to make an end of," and he was regarded as the form of the Sun-god which brought the day to an end, i.e., as the evening or night sun . He is always depicted in the human form. The attributes of the god have been already described in the section which treats of the forms of the god Ra.

2. Shu, or 3. Tefnut

Shu and his female counterpart Tefnut may be considered together, at all events in the texts of the later periods. The name Shu appears to be derived from the root shu, "dry, parched, withered, empty," and the like, and the name Tefnut must be connected with tef, or teftet, "to spit, be moist," and the like; thus Shu was a god who was connected with the heat and dryness of sunlight and with the dry atmosphere which exists between the earth and the sky, and Tefnut was a personification of the moisture of the sky, and made herself manifest in various forms. The oldest legend about the origin of the gods is contained in the text of Pepi I., wherein it is said {line 465 that once upon a time Tem went to the city of Annu and that he there produced from his own body by the irregular means of masturbation his two children Shu and Tefnut. In this circle form the myth is probably of Libyan origin, and it suggests that its inventors were in a semi-savage, or perhaps wholly savage, state when it was first promulgated. In later times, as we have already seen the Egyptians appear to have rejected certain of the details of the myth, or to have felt some difficulty in believing that Shu and Tefnut were begotten and conceived and brought forth by Tem, and they therefore assumed that his shadow, khaibit, acted the part of wife to him; another view was that the goddess Iusaaset was his wife.

The old ideas about the origin of the twin gods, however, maintained their position in the minds of the Egyptians, and we find them categorically expressed in some of the hymns addressed to Amen-Ra, who under the New Empire was identified with Tem, just as at an earlier period Ra was identified with the same god. In two hymns quoted by Brugsch we have the following : "O Amen-Ra, the gods have gone forth from thee became Shu, and that which was emitted by thee "became Tefnut; thou didst create the nine gods at the beginning "of all things, and thou wast." The Lion-gods are of course, Shu and Tefnut, who are mentioned in the Book of the Dead in several passages. In the second hymn to Amen-Ra it is said, "SHU AND TEFNUT, "Thou art the One god, who didst form thyself into two gods, "hou art the creator of the Egg, and thou didst produce thy Twin-gods." In connection with the production of Shu and Tefnut. Dr. Brugsch refers to the well-known origin of the gods of Taste and Feeling, Hu, and Sa, who are said to have sprung into being from the drops of blood which fell from the phallus of Ra, and to have taken up their places among the gods who were in the train of Ra, and who were with Temu everyday. {Book of the Dead, xvii 62. Shu is represented in the form of a man who wears upon his head one feather, or two, or four, the phonetic value of the sign is shu, and the use of it as the symbol of the god's name seems to indicate some desire on the part of the Egyptians to connect the word shu, or shau, "feather," with shu, "light, empty space, dryness," etc. As the god of the space which exists between the earth and the sky, Shu was represented under the form of a god who held up the sky with two hands, one supporting it at the place of sunrise, and the other at the place of sunset, and several porcelain figures exist in which he is seen kneeling upon one knee, in the act of lifting up with his two hands and the sky with the solar disk in it. when Shu wears no feather he bears upon his head the figure of the hind-quarter of a lion, prh; in mythological scenes we find him both seated and standing, and he usually holds in one hand the scepter, and in the other. In a picture given by Lanzone he grasps in his left hand a scorpion, a serpent, and a hawk-headed scepter. The goddess Tefnut is represented in the form of a women, who wears upon her head the solar disk encircled by a serpent, and holds in her hands the scepter, and; she, however, often appears with the head of a lioness, which is surmounted by a ureah, and she is sometimes depicted in the form of a lioness.


An examination of the texts shows that Shu was a god of light, or light personified, who made himself manifest in the beams of the sun by day, and in the light of the moon by night, and his home was the disk of the sun. Viewed in this connection it is easy to understand the scene in which the god appears rising up from behind the earth with the solar disk upon his head, and his hands supporting that upon which it rests. In text at Edfu published by Bergmann, the creator of Shu is called Tauith, and to him the king who caused the words to be inscribed is made to say, "Thou hast emmitted {asheh Shu, and "he hath come forth from thy mouth...He hath become a "god, and he hath brought for thee every good thing; he hath toiled for thee, and and he emitted for thee in his name of Shu, "the royal double. he hath labored for thee in these things, and he beareth up heaven upon his head in his name of Shu, and Tauith giveth the strength of the body of heaven "in his name of Ptah. He beareth up for thee "heaven with the hands in his name of Shu the body of the "sky." It must be noted that the same word asheh is used to express both the idea of "pouring out" and "supporting," and it is difficult to reconcile these totally different meanings unless we remember that it is that which Tem. or Ra-Tem, has poured out which supports the heavens wherein shines the Sun-god. That which Tem, or Ra-Tem, has poured out is the light, and light was declared to be the prop of the sky. From a number of passages examined by Dr. Brugsch we find that Shu was a personification of the rays which came forth from the eyes of Ra, and that he was the soul of the god Khenmu, the great god of Elephantine and the First Cataract; he also represented the burning, fiery heat of the sun at noon, and the sun in the height of summer.

In another aspect his abode was the region between the earth and the sky, and he was a personification of the wind of the North; Dr. Brugsch went so far as to identify him with the "spiritual Pneuma in a higher sense," and thought that he might be regarded as the vital principle of all living beings. He was certainly, like his father Tem, thought to be the cool wind of the North, and the dead were grateful to him for his breezes. Shu was, in fact, the god of the space which filled with the atmosphere, even as Ra, was the god of the heaven, and Seb the god of the earth, and Osiris the god of the Underworld. From the Book of the Dead {xvii. 16 we learn that Shu and Tefnut were supposed to possess but one soul between them, but that the two halves of it were identified with the soul of Osiris and the soul of Ra, which together formed the great double soul which dwelt in Tattu. The gate of the pillars of Shu" {xvii. 56, and Shu and Tefnut laid the foundations of the house in which the deceased was supposed to dwell. From the xviiith Chapter of the Book of the Dead we find that the princes of Heliopolis were Tem, Shu, Tefnut, Osiris, and Thoth, and that Ra, Osiris, Shu, and Bebi were the princes of the portion of the Underworld which was known by the name of Anrut-f. We may note in passing that Bebi, or Baba, or Baba or Babai, was the first-born son of Osiris. According to Dr. Brugsch, Baba was personified in the form of some Typhonic mythological animal, and was the god who presided over the phallus; the blood which fell from his nose grew into plants which subsequently changed into cedars. Dr. Pleyte has rightly identified Bebi or Baba with the Bebwv or Bebwva of Plutarch {De Iside, 62 and with the Babus of Hellanicus. Bebon was a name of Typhon, i.e., Set, and that he was represented by an animal is proved by the hieroglyphic form of his name, which is determined by the skin of an animal, In chapter xxiii. the deceased prays that his "mouth may be unclosed by Shu with the iron knife wherein he opened the mouth of the gods." From Chapters xxxiii. and xxxv. we learn that Shu was believed to possess power over the serphants, and he it was who made the deceased to stand up by the Ladder which would take him to heaven {xcviii. 4. That souls needed a ladder whereby to mount from earth to heaven was a very ancient belief in Egypt. The four pillars which held up the sky at the four cardinal points were called the "pillars of Shu" {cix. 5, cx. 13, and Shu was breath of the god Ra {cxxx. 4. The deceased was nourished with the food of Shu, i.e., he lived upon light; and in the Roman period Shu was merged in Ra, the god of light. The part played in Egyptian mythology by Tefnut is not easily defied, and but little is known about her. In the text of Unas {line 453 she is mentioned together with the two Maat goddesses, and with Shu, but curiously enough, she seems to appear as the female counterpart of a god called Tefen. The passage reads, "Tefen and Tefnet have weighed Unas, and the "Maat goddesses have hearkened, and Shu hath borne witness," etc. In the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead she is mentioned a few times in connection with Shu {Chapters xvii., cxxx, etc. and she is one of the group of gods who form the divine company and the "body and soul of Ra" {cxl.7, but she performs no service for the deceased beyond providing him with breath. She was originally a goddess of gentle rain and soft wind, but at a comparatively late period of Egyptian history she was identified with Nehemauit at Hermopolis, with Menhit at Latopolis, with Sekhet in Memphis, and with Apsit in Nubia.

Unlike most of the gods of Egypt, Shu and Tefnut do not appear to have had set apart for them any special city or district, but at the same time titles were given to certain cities which presupposed some connection between them and these gods. Thus Dendera was called Hinu-en-Shunefer, and Edfu was the "Seat of Shu, and Memphis bore the name of "Palace of Shu," Similarly, one portion of Dendera was known as the "House of Tefnut," or the "Aat of Tefnut," or. Whether there were statues of Shu and Tefnut in these cities cannot be said, but it is very probable that they were worshipped in the sanctuaries under the forms of lions, and in connection it is worthy of note that Aelian records {De Nat, Animal. xii. 7 that the people of Heliopolis worshipped lions in the temple of Helios.

It has already been mentioned that Shu was the sky-bearer par excellence, and we may note in passing the interesting myth which the Egyptians possessed about him in this capacity, and the explanation which they gave of his occupying this portion. According to the text which found in the tomb of Seti I. in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes, in very remote times, when Ra ruled over gods and men and had his throne established in the city of Suten-henen, or Henen-su, mankind began to utter seditious words against him, and the great god determined to destroy them. He summoned Hathor, Shu, Tefnut, Seb, and Nut into his presence, and having told them what men, who had proceeded from his eye, had been saying about him, he asked them for their advice, and promised that he would that he would slay the rebels until he had heard what the first-born god" and the "ancestor gods" had to say on the matter. In answer to this the first-born god Nu, advised him to let his daughter Hathor, "the eye of Ra," go forth and slay men; Ra accepted the advice straightway, and Hathor went forth and slew all mankind, and when she returned Ra was pleased with her. Soon after this he became wearied with the earth, and the goddess Nut having been turned into the cow he mounted upon her back and remained there, but before long the cow began to shake and to tremble because she was very high above the earth, and when she complained to Ra about it he commanded Shu to be a support to her, and to hold her up in the sky. In the picture of the cow which accompanies the text we see her body resting upon the head and the two raised hands and arms of the god. When Shu had taken up his place beneath the cow and was bearing up her body, the heavens above and the earth beneath came into being, and the four cardinal points; and thus it came to pass that the god Seb and his feamle counterpart Nut began their existence.

Seb was the son of Shu and Tefnut, and was the brother and husband of Nut, and the father of Osiris and Isis, Set and Nephthys, and some say of one of the Horus gods; according to the late Dr. Brugsch his name should be read Geb or Keb, or Gebb, or Kebb, and in every early times this undoubtedly seems to have been the correct form of the god's name. He is usually represented in the form of a man who bears his head either the white crown, or the crown of the North, to which is added the Atef crown, or a goose, or the peculiar species called seb. This bird was sacred to him because he believed to have made his way through the air in its form. Seb was the god of the earth, and the earth formed his body and was called the "house of Seb," just as the air was called the "house of Shu," and the heaven the "house of Ra," and the Underworld the "house of Osiris," As the god of the surface of the earth from which spring up trees, and plants, and herbs, and grain he played a very prominent part of the earth beneath the surface of the ground he had authority over the tombs wherein the dead were laid. In hymns and other compositions he is often styled the erpat, i.e., the hereditary, tribal chief of the gods, and he plays a very important part in the Book of the Dead. Thus he is one of the company of the gods who watch the weighing of the heart of the deceased in the Judgement Hall of Osiris, and on his brow rested the secret gates which were close by the Balance of Ra, and which were guarded by the god himself {xii. 2

The soul of Seb was called Sham-ur, {xvii. 116 The righteous who were provided with the necessary words of power were able to make their escape from the earth wherein their bodies were laid, but the wicked were held fast by Seb {xix. 14; Seket and Anpu were great helpers of the deceased, but it was Seb whom he asked to open wide his two jaws for him, whom he begged to open his eyes, and loose his legs which were bandaged {xxvi. 1. And of him the deceased said, "My "father is Seb, and my mother is Nut" {xxxi. 5. Like Shu the god Seb was appealed to by the deceased for the help against serpents {xxxiii. 2, and he was never tired of boasting that his cakes were "on the earth with the god Seb" {lii. 4, and that the gods had declared that he was "to live upon the the bread of Seb" {lxviii. 9. In a burst of joy, Nu, the overseer of the house of the overseer of the seal, is made to say, "The doors of heaven are opened for me, the "doors of earth are opened for me, the bars and bolts of Seb are "opened for me" {lxviii. 2, and I exchange speech with Seb, the "lord of the earth, and the protector therein. The mine" {lxxx,11,12

The religious texts show that there was no special city or district set apart for the god Seb, but a portion of the temple estates in Apollinopolis Magna was called the "Aat of Seb," and a name of Dendera was "the home of the children of Seb,". The chief seat of the god appears to have been at Heliopolis, where he and his female counterpart Nut produced the great Egg from which sprang the Sun-god under the from of a phoenix. Because if his connection with this Egg Seb is sometimes called the "Great Cackler," Kenken-ur,. Thus the deceased says. Hail, thou god Tem, "grant unto me the sweet breath which dwelleth in the nostrils. "I embrace that great throne which is in the city of Hermopolis, "and I keep watch over the Egg of the Great Cackler {or, "according to another reading, I am the Egg which is in the Great Cackler, and I watch and guard that mighty thing which "hath come into being wherewith the god Seb hath opened the "earth, I germininate as it germinateth; I live as it liveth; and "{my breath is {its breath" {Book of the Dead, Chapters liv., "lvi., lix..

The name of the phoenix in Egyptian is "Bennu," and this bird played a very prominent part in mythology, but the texts do not bear out the extraordinary assertions which have been made about it by classical writers. According to the story which Herodoyus heard at Heliopolis {ii. 73, the bird visited that place once every five hundred years, on its father's death; when it was five hundred, or fourteen hundred and sixty-one years old, it burnt itself to death. It was supposed to resemble an eagle, and to have red and gold feathers, and to come from Arabia;. Before its death it built a nest to which it gave the power of producing a new phoenix, though some thought that a worm crept out of its body before it died, and that form it the heat of the sun devloped a new phoenix. Others thought that it died after a life of seven thousand and six years, and another view was that the new phoenix rose from the burnt and decomposing remains of his old body, and that he took these to Heliopolis where he burnt them. All these fabulous stories are the result of misunderstandings of the Egyptian myth which declared that the rerewed morning sun rose in the form of a Bennu, and the belief which declared that this bird was the soul of Ra and also the lining symbol of Osiris, and that it came forth from the very heart of the god. The sanctuary of the Bennu was the sanctuary of Ra and Osiris, and that it came forth from the very heart of the god. The sanctuary of the Bennu was the sanctuary of Ra and Osiris, and was called Het Benben, i.e., the "House of the Obelisk," and remembering this is easy to understand the passages in the Book of the Dead, "I go in like the "Hawk , and I come forth like the Bennu, the Morning Star {i.e., "the planet Venus of Ra " {xii. 2]; "I am the Bennu, which is in "Heliopolis" {Xvii.27, and the scholion on this passage expressely informs us that the Bennu is Osiris. Elsewhere the deceased says, "I am the Bennu, the soul of Ra, and the guide of the gods "in the Tuat; {xxix.c 1; let it be so done unto me that I may come forth like Bennu, "the Morning Star" {cxxii. On a hypocephalus quoated by Prof. Wiedemann, the deceased to transform himself into a Bennu bird if he felt disposed to do so; in it he identifies himself with the god Khepera, and with Horus, the vanquisher of Set, and with Hhensu.

It has already been said that Seb was the god of the earth, and the Heliopolitans declared that he represented the very ground upon which their city stood, meaning that Heliopolis was th birthplace of the company of the gods, and in fact the work of creation began there. In several papyri we find pictures of the first act of creation which took place as soon as the Sun-god, by whatsoever name he may called, appeared in the sky, and sent forth his rays from the heights of heaven upon the earth, and in these Seb always occupies a very prominent position. He is seen lying upon the ground with one hand stretched out upon it, and the other extended towards heaven, which position. seems to be referred to in the text of Pepi I. lines 338,.339, wherein we read,

"Seb throws out his {one hand to heaven and his {one hand "towards the earth," By his side stands the god Shu, who supports on his upraised hands the heavens which are depicated in the form of a women, whose body is bespangled with stars; this women is the goddess Nut, who is supposed to have lifted up from the embrace of Seb by Shu when he insinuated himself between their bodies and so formed the earth and the sky. This was the act of Shu which brought into being his heir Seb, and his consort Nut, and it was the heirship of this god which the kings of Egypt boasted they had received when they sat upon their thrones.

Seb was the hereiditary tribal chief of the gods, and his throne represented the sovereignty both of heaven and of earth; as a creative god he was identified with Tem, and so, as Dr. Brugsch pointed out, became the "father of his father." As an elementary god he represented the earth, as Ra did fire, and Shu air, and Osiris water. In some respects the attributes of Nut were assigned to him, for he is sometimes called the lord of the watery abyss, and the dweller in the watery mass of the sky, and the lord of the Underworld. He is also described as one of the porters of heaven's gate, who draws back the bolts, and opens the door in order that the light of Ra may stream upon the world, and when he set himself in motion his movements produced thunder in heaven and quaking upon earth. He was akin in some way to the two Akhru gods, who were represented as a lion with a head at each end of its body; this body was a personifaction of the passage in the earth through which the sun passed during the hours of night from the place where he set in the evening to that where he rose the next morning. The mouths of the lions formed the entrance into and the exit from the passage, and as the head of one lion sympolized the morning and the east, in later days each lion's head was provided with a separate body, and the one was called Sef, i.e., "Yesterday," and the other was called Tuau, i.e., "Today" {Book of the Dead, xvii, lines 14, 15. though he was god of the earth Seb also acted as a guide to the deceased in heaven, and he provided him with meat and drink; numerous passages in the Book of the Dead refer to the gifts which he bestowed upon Osiris his son, and the deceased prayed fervently that he had bestowed upon him the same protection and help which he had bestowed upon Osiris.

In two passages in the Book of the Dead {Chapter xxxi. 3 of the Saite Recension; and Chapter lxix.7, Theban Recension we appear to have an allusion to a myth concerning Seb which is otherwise unknown. In the former the deceased says, "I even I, am Osiris, who shut in his father Seb together with his mother "Nut on the day on the day of the great slaughter. My father is Seb and my mother is Nut"; and the latter he says, "I even I, am Osiris, "who shut in his father together with his mother on the day of "making the great slaughter," and the text adds, "now, the father is Seb, and the mother is Nut." The word used for "slaughter" is shat, and there is no doubt whatsoever about its meaning, and according to Dr. Bruhsch we are to understand an act of self-mutilation on the part of Ra, the father of Osiris, simular to that which is referred to in the Book of the Dead, Chapter xvii, line 61. According to this passage the gods Ammiu, sparng from the drops of blood which fell from Ra after the process of mutilation, and Dr. Brugsch compared the action of Osiris in shutting in, his father Seb with the punishment which Kronos inflicted upon his father Uranus because he threw the Cyclopes into Tartarus, and the Ammiu gods had an origin somewhat simular to that of the Erinnyes.