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In the Esna Cosmogony (which may derive to some extent from a Saïte precursor), the earliest deity to appear is Neith - described as "the father of the fathers, the mother of the mothers, the one god who became two gods" - who manifests successively as a cow and a lates (Nile perch), in which form she swims about for ages untold in the primeval, endlessly-potential waters of the Nun. Eventually, the goddess created a place upon which to stand, whereupon she retook the form of a cow. Thereafter, she uttered thirty sacred names, an action which brings into existence thirty hemen-gods (hemen = "ignorant"). These hemen-gods coalesce to form the Hermopolitan Ogdoad (also known as hemen).

Next, Neith produces an excrescence, which she places in an egg: Alexandra von Lieven notes that "the act of birth is described in terms which rather evoke the breeding of fish." This egg eventually hatches, from which emerges Neith's son, the sun god Re, who soon takes the name Amun.

Re, depicted in the myth as a toddler, loses sight of his mother and begins to cry, forming humanity from his tears; upon catching sight of her again, Re salivates with joy [!], with the gods developing from his spittle.

Although the myth declares that he was hatched from an egg, Re nevertheless appears to have been connected, at least at some point in the drama, to his divine mother via an umbilical cord. This is eventually cut off, with ominous results: the severed cord develops into Re's implacable foe, the serpentine Apep.

Distressed by Apep's appearance and immediate rebellion, Re sires the god Thoth, who is formed from his heart, and who is then dispatched, as Lord of the Divine Word, against Apep.

Atum, by Jeff Dahl.
Shu, by Jeff Dahl.Tefnut, by Jeff Dahl.
Shu & Tefnut
Geb, by Jeff Dahl.Nut, by Jeff Dahl.
Geb & Nut
Shu, by Jeff Dahl.Tefnut, by Jeff Dahl.Osiris, by Jeff Dahl.Isis, by Jeff Dahl.
Set & Nephthys - Osiris & Isis


In the Heliopolitan creation myth, the god Atum is cast in the leading role. The story begins when Atum emerges from Nu (the personified primordial waters also known as Nun), either on the back of Mehet-weret or upon the first mound of productive silty earth to emerge from the deep, a tract which is known as the bnbn-stone or the ḳ3y ḳ3 ("high hill"), where a benu-bird (perhaps Atum's original incarnation?) alighted on a rock and issued a call.

Through masturbation, or else via the means of a sneeze and a spitting, Atum engendered the second generation of gods. In the case of the former, Atum's hand represents the female creative essence in contrast to the masculinity of the ithyphallus: Atum's female creative counterpart is Iusaas. This second generation is composed Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture?). This couple in turn give rise to Geb and Nut, the earth and sky. Geb and Nut have four children: Osiris, Isis, Nephthys & Set.

Shu, Geb, Osiris and Set go on to rule primordial Egypt during the first dynasty of gods, with Set eventually usurping the throne by murdering Osiris (but that's a story for another, less primordial, time). Together, the nine deities mentioned make up the Psḏt ([Great] Ennead).

Members of the Ogdoad depicted in the Temple of Hathor at Dendera.


What was the universe like before creation?


This was the question asked at Hermopolis, known in Egyptian as Khemennu or "Eight City," in honour of the local conception of the Ogdoad as the prime movers in creation.

The Ogdoad was formed of four pairs, a god and goddess, each representing a particular aspect of the pre-ordered cosmos: -

  • Nu & Naunet ("the abyss");
  • Heh & Hauhet ("formless");
  • Kek & Kauket ("darkness"); and
  • Amun & Amaunet ("hiddenness").

Please note that, given the increasing prominence of Amun as the tutelary god of Thebes, Amun and Amaunet are occasionally replaced by one of the following pairs: -

  • Tenem & Tenemuit ("nowhere," "murk");
  • Gereh & Gerhet ("night," "cessation");
  • Niau & Niaut ("emptiness").

Of the four pairs, Nu and Naunet appear to refer to the primordial ocean, whilst Kek and Kauket seem to be associated with the primordial darkness of the sky. An association with the atmosphere between the two domains has been suggested for Heh (and Hauhet), somewhat akin to the Heliopolitan Shu.

In terms of their iconography, the Ogdoad are depicted as four males with the heads of frogs and four females with the heads of serpents.

Khnum, by Jeff Dahl.


The Great Hymn to Khnum, dating from the Late Period, and which is made up of three parts, describes the potter god's creation of bodies and, by extension, all life, before concluding with a description of Khnum's attributes, in which he is associated with other creator gods.

  • first of all, Khnum is associated with Ptah-Tatenen;
  • he is also associated with the ba of gods such as Re, Shu, Osiris & Geb;
  • eventually, he is described as first cause: "[w]hen Nun and Tatenen first came into being, they appeared as lotus on his back. As heir to Djed-shepsy (i.e. "August Djed Pillar," a Memphite god identified with the primeval mound) at the start."
Formed on his potter's wheel,
Their speech differs in each region,
And clashes with that of Egypt.
Ptah, by Jeff Dahl.


The Memphite creation myth was focuses on the god Ptah and is noteworthy for being an intellectual, rather than a physical, account of creation. Ptah brings the world into being through the power of his mind and speech, having developed the ideas which were to become his creation in his heart (i.e. the seat of his intellect).

Ptah is associated with the god Tatenen ("risen earth"), the embodiment of the primeval mound. Another important Memphite figure with a relationship to the creation is Nefertum, whose origins were as a water-lily which arose from the waters of Nu at the beginning of time.

The Aten, by Jeff Dahl.


Marking a sharp break from previous religious conceptions, the short-lived "Atenist revolution" instigated by the New Kingdom pharaoh Amenhotep IV - better known as Akhenaten - was notable for its abstract depiction of the god, the centrality of the pharaoh as his emissary and a distinct lack of attributes.

There is no other who knoweth thee except thy son Nefer-kheperu-Ra Ua-en-Ra (i.e. Akhenaten).

Nevertheless, the Great Hymn to the Aten (probably written by Akhenaten himself) contains a number of references to creation: -

  • "Thy arrows (i.e., rays) envelop (i.e., penetrate) everywhere all the lands which thou hast made" [2];
  • "Thou makest offspring to take form in women, creating seed in men. Thou makest the son to live in the womb of his mother, making him to be quiet that he crieth not; thou art a nurse in the womb, giving breath to vivify that which he hath made. [When] he droppeth from the womb ... on the day of his birth [he] openeth his mouth in the [ordinary] manner, thou providest his sustenance. The young bird in the egg speaketh in the shell, thou givest breath to him inside it to make him to live. Thou makest for him his mature form so that he can crack the shell [being] inside the egg. He cometh forth from the egg, he chirpeth with all his might, when he hath come forth from it (the egg), he walketh on his two feet. O how many are the things which thou hast made!" [6-7];
  • "Thou didst create the earth by thy heart (or will), thou alone existing" [8];
  • "Thou hast made millions of creations (or, evolutions) from thy one self (viz.) towns and cities, villages, fields, roads and river" [11].


Amun, by Jeff Dahl.

In Thebes, the god Amun (who is also met at Hermopolis as a member of the Ogdoad) came to be seen as the transcendent force operating within the cosmos. As a result, other creation myths featuring named deities were re-examined, with gods such as Atum or Ptah coming to be regarded as hypostases of Amun.

In the developed Theban tradition, the Ogdoad are preceded by two serpentine beings: -

  • Kematef ("he who has completed his time") is the first sentient entity;
  • as he dies, Kematef gives birth to a son, Irta ("earth-maker") and charges him with creating the Ogdoad;
  • Irta gives birth to the Ogdoad.

Both Kematef & Irta are understood as forms of Amun: Kematef is identified with Amun-Re; whilst Irta represents Min-Amun. Kematef, Irta & the Ogdoad were reputedly buried at Djamet (Medinet Habu) on the western side of the Nile and were afforded funerary cults.

Sir Graham