Egyptian Gods

Egyptian Gods

Ancient Egyptian Gods, Goddesses and Religion


AtumAtum, Egyptian Gods

Image: The god Atum, his name written before him, seated within a solar disk on a divine barque. The image thus particularly reflects the important solar aspect of this deity. New Kingdom papyrus.

Mythology of AtumAtum as Serpent, Egyptian Gods

Image: Atum in serpent form and as - or with - the young sun. The god's primal aspect gave him associations both with creatures such as the snake and the image of the newly born sun. Papyrus. Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Atum was the great primeval deity of Heliopolis. His cult was a very ancient one and by the Old Kingdom he had risen to a very high level of importance in Heliopolital theology. Atum is one of the eight or nine most frequently mentioned Egyptian gods in the Pyramid Texts and we thus have a good deal of early information regarding the god's mythological roles and characteristics. His most essential nature is that of the "self-engendered one" who arose at the beginning of time and who created the first Egyptian gods through his semen - or, according to another story, through his saliva. Atum had many other facets, however. The word tem on which the name of the god is founded means 'complete' or 'finish' in both constructive and destructives snses, and this range of meanings fits well with a number of aspects of the god's nature.

 Lord of totality: Atum was the monad - the one from whom all else originally came. One of the ways in which his name might be translated carries the idea of 'totality', and in the Coffin Texts and elsewhere he is specifically called 'the lord of totality' (CT III 27). From this perspective, everything which existed was a part of the 'flesh' of Atum, and every individual thing was said to be one of the millions of the god's kas, a concept which not only stressed the god's primacy in coming before all else but also his importance as a universal god. By means of the magical formulae contained in the Pyramid Texts, the deceased king hoped to unite with Atum and thus become one with the supreme deity (PT 147).

Creator: According to the Heliopolitan cosmogony, Atum was god of the creative principle whereby the world was created from primeval chaos. In the Pyramid Texts the god was 'he who came into being' of himself (PT 1248), and this independence of prior causality was what allowed him to exist as creator. Atum's creative nature has two sides to it, however, because Atum can be seen as the one who completes everything and finishes everything. In this sense he is the uncreator as well as the creator. Thus, in the Book of the Dead, Atum states that at the end of the world he will destroy everything he has made and return to the form of the primeval serpent (BD 175).

Father of the Egyptian gods and the king: As the creator god Atum was the father of Shu and Tefnut, the first divine couple, and hence "father of the (Egyptian) gods" (PT 1521, 1546). According to the viewpoint of Egyptian mythology Atum copulated with himself to produce the first divine pair (PT 1248-49), with the hand utilized by the god in this act representing a personification of the female principle inheret within himself. Because the 'family tree' envisaged by the Heliopolitan theologians led from the through Shu and Tefnut eventually to Osiris and his son Horus, Atum was also the genealogical father of the Egyptian king, and the Pyramid Texts make clear the father-son relationship was held to be a close one even from early times: 'O Atum, raise this king up to you, enclose him within your embrace, for he is your son of your body forever" (PT 213).

Primal mound: Atum was not only viewed as the creator but also the original creation itself. He was thus the primeval mound which rose from the waters of creation and was represented in this aspect by the sacred ben-ben stone, which was worshipped at Heliopolis from the earliest dynasties and which may have originally been a meteorite or some other sacred stone.

The sun: Because the sun was regarded as a primary factor in the process of creation Atum was also linked to solar religion as the 'self-developing scarab' (PT 1587) who represented the newly created sun. In fact, in the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts Atum is often fused with the sun god as Ra-Atum. When Ra and Atum are viewed separately, Ra is usually the rising sun of the day and Atum is the setting sun of the evening, but this is not always the case. In the Coffin Texts he is specifically said both to 'emerge from the eastern horizon' and to 'rest in the western horizon', so that he is in this way the complete sun. In funerary contexts, however, Atum was certainly more commonly the aged form of the sun which set each evening and travelled through the underworld before being reborn the following day. As such he plays an important role in many of the later mortuary books.
Atum, Egyptian Gods
Chthonic god: As a primeval god and as the evening sun Atum had strong chthonic and underworld connections. His power is thus invoked in many netherworld scenarios. In the funerary books inscribed on the walls of the New Kingdom royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Atum is shown as an aged, ram-headed figure who supervises the punishment of evildoers and enemies of the sun god, and also subdues hostile netherworld forces such as the serpents Apophis and Nehebu-Kau. In non-royal funerary texts Atum also provides protection for the deceased from netherworld dangers.

Image: The 'body' or 'flesh' of Atum upon a serpent from the seventh hour
of the Amduat. Like the sun god Ra, with whom he was associated, Atum was constrained to pass through the netherworld regions in the cycle of death and regeneration.

Iconography of Atum

Atum is most frequently represented in anthropomorphic form and is usually depicted in this manner wearing the dual crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. He may also be represented with the head of a ram, though this is more usual in depictions showing his solar or underworld aspects. The god is often depicted seated on a throne and when standing he may be shown standing erect or, to stress his aged aspect, leaning on a staf. zoomorphically, Atum could be represented or symbolized as a serpent in reference to his chthonic and primeval nature, and also, in other aspects, as a mongoose, lion, bull or lizard, and as an ape - sometimes in this latter guise armed with a bow with which he shoots his enemies. In terms of his solar connections he may be depicted as a scarab, and the famous giant scarab statue which now stands by the sacred lake at Karnak was dedicated to Atum. Yet again, in terms of his primeval nature, Atum could also be represented by the image of the primeval hill, and in the First Intermediate Period "Atum and his hand" appear as a divine couple.

Worship of AtumAtum Statue, Egyptian Gods

Atum was perhaps the most important god originally worshipped at Heliopolis, although his cult was eventually eclipsed by that of Ra. Atum retained a good deal of his importance, however. The god is often called "Lord of Heliopolis", and even after the rise of Ra his influence continued to be expected in the solar cult center. Atum's importance was by no means limited to the north, or to the Old Kingdom,however. It is Atum, along with the Theban god Montu, who escorts the king in New Kingdom representations in the temple of Amun at Karnak. Atum's close relationship with the Egyptian king is seen in many cultic rituals, and a papyrus dating to the Late Period in the Brooklyn Museum shows the god's importance in the New Year's festival in which the king's role was reconfirmed. Atum is relatively rarely encountered in the popular religion of ancient Egypt, but amulets and small reliquaries of lizards - which were one of his symbols - were worn in honor of the god in the Late Period.

Image: The god Atum, seated on a royal throne and crowned with the Double Crown of Egypt. 18th Dynasty. Luxor Museum. Egypt.


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