Egyptian Creation Myth of Heliopolis
The Great Ennead
On the first episode of Myths With Mai, I thought it would be appropriate to start the series at the very beginning, with an Egyptian creation myth.
There are several different ones, but today we’ll focus on the one that comes to us from the cult center of Heliopolis and from which sprung the great Ennead.
But first, a quick reference: the word Ennead in a Greek word that means “a collection of nine things”.
The Great Ennead of Heliopolis is composed of 9 deities that come to us from the cult center.
Heliopolis is another Greek word and it means City of the Sun. It is the ancient Egyptian city of iwnw, now modern day Ayn Shams and other parts of greater Cairo. Ayn Shams is an Arabic term meaning “Eye of the Sun”.
Prefer to watch? Here’s the video explanation:
The Egyptian creation myth of Heliopolis is quite the story and although there are some variations, we will focus on the most popular ones which centers around the god Atum, who is associated with the God Ra.
The Egyptian Creation Myth – From Nun to Atum
In the beginning there was nothing but a dark, watery abyss of chaos – the primordial ocean of Nun. But just as the waters of this great Nile gave birth to life through the Earth, out of the Nun came the Benben.
Benben, the earthy mound shaped like a primitive pyramid, emerged and became the place out of which the sun rose for the first time to light the world.
It also became the place where the first god, Atum, stood.
Ra-Horakhthy and Atum
Atum is the source of everything in this world, and thus he is the creator of all life. Before rising atop the benben, Atum was just floating aimlessly within Nun, holding both male and female aspects within himself. At some point he willed himself to rise and then to create life.
The Egyptian Creation Myth – The Ennead
Atum created life by using the female part in him, his hand, to spawn the God of air and emptiness Shu, and his sister Tefnut the Goddess of moisture and mist
And then he declared:
“I had union with my hand, and I embraced my shadow in a love embrace; I poured seed into my own mouth and I sent forth from myself issue in the form of the Gods Shu and Tefnut.”
Some say “Shu” and “Tefnut” were created by “sneezing” and “spitting”, where Shu is the sound of sneezing and Tef is the sound of spitting.
*Actually the verb we use in Egypt today for spitting is tef.*
Once his first two children were created, and The One became three, chaos left the world and light entered it.
After this first creative act, Atum wept. As his tears fell, they turned into men and women.
At the same time, Shu and Tefnut mated and birthed two children of their own. The Earth god Geb and the Sky Goddess Nut.
Geb and Nut were born in such a tight embrace that they had to be separated by their father. As Geb lay down to form the Earth, Shu the God of air held Nut the sky Goddess and extended her over the Earth.
And so now the world as we know was formed, with air and moisture and sky and earth. And the men and women of the world.
Geb and Nut then had their own children: Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys.
Osiris then became the king of the Earth and took Isis as his beloved queen. They ruled the Earth for many years. And thus began the legend of Isis and Osiris, the greatest legend in all the land.
But that story is for another time.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Myths With Mai on The Egyptian Creation Myth of Heliopolis. If you did, please share it with anyone else you think might like it. And if you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll be updated whenever I upload a new page or video.
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