Egyptian creation story From Earthly Paradise to Heavenly Kingdom

The various egyptian creation story are attempts to describe the complex phenomenon of the origin of the world. The creator has always arisen from itself (kheper djesef); he is husband and wife, father and mother. He is the One, origin of the Many.

After creation, gods and humans lived together in a paradise world. Thanks to the permanent presence of the sun god there was no change of day and night and death did not yet exist.

When the sun god became obsolete, mankind revolted. Re had some of them destroyed, some remained alive (cf. the story of the flood in the Bible).

The sun god (was tired of it) and left the earth; he ascended to heaven on the back of the celestial cow, followed by the gods; only Osiris remained on earth.

Paradise was lost, the perpetual day gave way to the day/night cycle and man became mortal. Only through death did the “realm of heaven” become accessible.

Creation Story of Heliopolis

Egyptian creation story From Earthly Paradise to Heavenly Kingdom

In this oldest creation story, creation is described as an evolutionary process that is very similar to our current big bang theory.

In the beginning there was nothing except the Nun , a limitless ocean of liquid “primordial matter” from which all later elements will be created. In this primordial water floats the creator Atum , who originated from himself, he is the Monad , the Only One. We can speak here of a “primordial monotheism” because the multiplicity of creation arose from the work of that “One”.

At his creation, Atum, as the first element of the cosmos, creates the “primordial hill”, a high place that emerges from the primordial ocean. From this primordial hill he will create the rest of the universe.

The androgynous creator creates the air and the humidity through masturbation, in the form of the pair of gods Shu and Tefnut ; herewith begins the differentiation of the masculine and feminine elements, and creation can be continued; these gods in their turn create the earth and the sky, like the gods Geb and Nut .

Geb and Nut give birth to two pairs of gods: Seth and Nephtys and Osiris and Isis, who themselves have the child Horus.

Creation Story of Hermopolis

In Hermopolis, the local chief god Thoth created the cosmos, along with a group of four pairs of primordial gods (the ogdoade):

  • Nun and Naunet (primordial waters),
  • Amun and Amonet (air and hidden power),
  • Kek and Keket (darkness) and
  • Heh and Hehet (endlessness).

On the primordial mound rising from the primordial ocean, Thoth placed an egg from which the sun rose, the beginning of creation.

Creation Story of Memphis

In Memphis it is the god Ptah who conceived creation in his heart and pronounced it with the tongue. As in the Bible, creation is realized here through the word.

Creation story of Saïs

In Saïs it is the goddess Neith who emerges from the Nun in the form of the celestial cow (Mehet-weret) “the great swimmer”, with the sun god Re between the horns. The sun determines space through its light and time through its course.

Creation Story of Esna

In Esna, the god Khnum created the world on his potter’s wheel and placed this instrument in the belly of the women so that they could continue the act of creation.

Back to the chaos

In the above creation stories, the creator creates: either from his seed, or by his word, or by the work of his hands.

According to the Egyptians, the world was limited in time and space. This early insight has not been refuted but clarified by modern cosmogony.

At the “end of time” heaven and earth will reunite, then the cycle of the sun will end and with this life on earth, the primordial water and the primordial darkness will once again rule the universe, only the creator survives and returns as primordial being. the chaos from which he had sprung

Representation of the Cosmos

The Egyptians imagined the earth as a disk. It was only the Greeks who realized that the earth was spherical. In the 3rd century BC Eratosthenes, of the Alexandrian school of science, calculated the circumference and size of the earth.

According to the Egyptians, the Earth’s disk was surrounded by the primeval water Noen. Above the earth was the vault of heaven formed by the body of the sky goddess Nut bending over the earth; her hands and feet touched the surface of the earth. During the day the sun god sailed in his “daybark” along the vault of heaven, in the evening Nut swallowed the sun to give birth to him again the next morning. During the night Re had been pulled through her body on his “nightbark”. In the same way during the day the stars crossed the body of the sky goddess.

The temple as representation of the cosmos

Egyptian creation story

The temples from the Greco-Roman period give us a concrete representation of the Egyptian image of the cosmos:

  • The “wavy” enclosure wall depicts the primeval water (the Noen).
  • The higher floor of the Most Holy Place symbolizes the primordial mound that rose from the primordial waters.
  • From the floor of the temple, (the earth), one descends into the subterranean crypts that represent the underworld.
  • The gigantic pylon towers through which one enters the temple grounds represent the hills of the horizon between which the sun rises and sets.
  • From the bottom of the hypostyle halls (primordial swamp) papyrus and lotus-like columns ‘grow’; they symbolize the pillars of heaven and bear the temple roof studded with the stars of the night sky, or representations of Nut, the sky goddess, or of falcon and vulture deities.

The continuous creation

The moment of creation the Egyptians call Sep Tepi (the first time). Creation is not a one-time event, but repeats itself incessantly: the rhythm of day and night, the annual Nile floods, the succession of king after king, etc.

Creation has driven Nun back to the limits of the cosmos, but the chaotic powers contained within it ceaselessly threaten ordered creation. To avert these and maintain the cosmic world order, daily cult rituals must be performed in the temple. One of the most important tasks of the king (as the one who performed the actual ritual) is to actually ensure world order.

The walls of the temples depict the king in his struggle against chaos; the king slays the enemies, the king hunts against wild beasts (chaos), the king erects the djed pillar (ensures stability), etc.

The Egyptians were also aware that in addition to a beginning (Sep Tepi), the world would also come to an end. Atum says about this in a passage from the Book of the Dead: “I will destroy all that I have created. The world will sink again in the primeval water, as in the very beginning”