Before the world was formed, there was a watery mass of dark, directionless chaos. That’s how a good Egyptian Creation Myth starts.
In this chaos lived the Ogdoad of Khmunu (Hermopolis), eight primordial deities, also called the Hehu or Infinites. The Ogdoad predates the more commonly known Egyptian gods, such as Osiris, Isis, and Anubis.
Considered to have come into creation before the world did and the creation of man, these deities consisted of four males (amphibious head) or frog gods and, four females (reptiles head) or snake goddesses of chaos, making it a total of eight:
- Nun and Naunet (water)
- Amun and Amaunet (invisibility)
- Heh and Hauhet (infinity)
- Kek and Kauket (darkness)
These deities can also be found under the names:
- Nu — Nut
- Querh- Querhet
- Hehu — Hehut
- Kekui- Kekuit
Within the Ogdoad, we can find about three different views as to how the world as they knew it came into creation.
The first creation story was that the Ogdoad created an egg from which the world was born. This egg hatched, causing an explosive and brilliant golden light; the sun was born and it was called Ra, and thus the world was born.
Another belief is that the universe was created from a lotus flower that “rose from the Sea of the Two Knives”. Within the petals was the same sun god Ra, who then created the cosmos.
The third story begins with the same lotus flower rising from the sea, however, this time within the flower was one of the sacred scarab beetles representing the sun. This beetle then transformed into a boy whose tears made humanity and went by the name Nefertum.
As a curiosity, it was thought the Ogdoad ruled the earth during the Golden Age. We can find a reference to a “Golden Age” in Greek Mythology as well, but that’s a story that belongs to another article…
… What’s an “Ennead”?
Ennead, a word derived from the Greek meaning nine, is just another group of Egyptian Deities with its own creation story. The number nine was a sacred number that could also stand for ‘all’ gods. This was because the Egyptians indicated plurals by using three, and nine was then the representation of the plural of plurals.
Worshiped at Heliopolis, the list of deities goes as:
- Shu (the air)
- Tefnut (moisture)
- Geb (the earth)
- Nut (the sky)
Although this is the most common way to read about the Ennead, there were multiple Enneads in ancient Egypt. Pyramid Texts mention the Great Ennead, the Lesser Ennead, the Dual Ennead, plural Enneads, and even the Seven Enneads. Some Pharaohs created Enneads that incorporated themselves; most notably, Seti I in his temple at Redesiyah worshipped the Ennead that combined six important deities with three deified forms of himself.
Some retellings of the myths also state that Anubis is the son of Nephthys and Seth, however this is not the case in the original Egyptian story. The Ennead Creation Story goes as:
…In the beginning there was nothing (Nun). A mound of earth rose from Nun and upon it Atum (later Amun or Re) created himself. He did not want to be alone so he masturbated (or spat) producing air (Shu), and moisture (Tefnut). Shu and Tefnut gave birth to the earth (Geb) and the sky (Nut). Geb and Nut were separated by Shu, creating our world. The children of Nut and Geb were Osiris, Horus the elder, Set, Isis and Nephthys…
Main differences between the Ogdoad and the Ennead:
- The Ogdoad consisted of eight deities, while the Ennead was formed of nine deities.
- The Ogdoads were worshiped at Hermopolis, while the Ennead was worshiped at Heliopolis.
- We can find three versions of the creation story in the Ogdoad, while in the Ennead we find one central creation story.
Citations, sources and further reading:
- Allen, James P. Genesis in Egypt: the Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (Yale Egyptological Seminar: Yale University, 1988.
- Faulkner, R. O. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1969.)
- Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003) The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt
- Watterson, Barbara (1996) Gods of Ancient Egypt
- Morenz, Siegfried. Egyptian Religion. trans. By Ann E. Keep (Cornell University Press: New York, 1973.)