The Abu Triad and Related Deities
Khnum - Worshipped at Abu
Khnum is a creator god and the patron god of potters. He created the universe by forming the other gods, Egyptians and non-Egyptians, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and plants out of clay on his potter's wheel. Since that time, he has a special interest in protecting the human race at conception and throughout labor. He continues to create each ruler and his or her ka or spirit from clay on his potter's wheel.
The ram god, Khnum, is also associated with the fertility of the soil and the flooding of the Nile. His chief center is here at Abu (Elephantine) Island, where he has been worshipped since the time of the first kings (Early Dynastic Period, 3100 to 2686 BC). He also has a temple at Tasenet (Esna) on the Qena Bend of the Nile. At Tasenet (Esna), his consort is the lioness-goddess Menhyt and there is an annual Festival of the Potter's Wheel there.
Khnum is usually portrayed as a ram or as a man with a ram's head. The type of ram used to illustrate Khnum sometimes goes by the strange name of Ovis longipes, the first type of ram domesticated in Kemet (Egypt). This type of ram has curly horns extending horizontally from the head. Modern rams (Ovis platyra) have horns that curve in towards the face, as is shown in portrayals of Amun. The word for ram in Kemet is, of course, ba. Ba is also the word for the personality or that which makes a person unique. The ba is the essence of a person's motivation and movement. Khnum is thus also called the ba of Ra. While Ra passes through the underworld on his solar barque he is pictured as having ram's horns.
Satet - Abu and Swentet
Satet/Satis, the "Mistress of Abu", is Khnum's consort. She is usually shown as a woman wearing the white crown of Upper Kemet (Egypt) with antelope horns on either side and a uraeus. Satet is the guardian and protector of the southern frontier. She repels enemies with her arrows. She is also associated with the annual flood of the Nile. Some say her shrine at Abu dates to before the unification of Kemet (the predynastic period) and that it predates Khnum's temple in the area. At her shrine, you can hear the Nile flood before you can see it in the lower part of the Nile. She is thus associated with fertility and the Nile flood. Although she is most associated with the area of Swentet and Abu, some say her name was inscribed on jars in the (3rd Dynasty) Step Pyramid of Djoser in the north. She is also mentioned in the (6th Dynasty) Pyramid Texts as purifying the deceased with the water of Abu (Elephantine). She has connections with Montu, the god of Waset (Thebes). By the time of the New Kingdom, she was the consort of Khnum and the mother of Anuket. Khnum's original consort was Heket. When Khnum became identified with Ra, Satet became an Eye of Ra and took on some of the aspects of Het-Heru (Hathor). Satet is also associated with the star Sothis (Sirius), whose rising heralds the coming of the inundation.
Anuket - Abu and Swentet
Anuket/Anukis the Huntress is the daughter of Khnum and Satet. She is the third member of the triad at Abu (Elephantine). She is usually shown as a woman with a tall plumed crown who is holding a papyrus sceptre. Sometimes she is called the "mother of the king." She is shown nursing the king in some images. She is the goddess of the cataracts, especially the First Cataract. Her cult dates back to the Old Kingdom. At that time, she was seen as a daughter of Ra. She became part of the triad at Abu (Elephantine) during Middle Kingdom times. In Waset (Thebes) she is associated with Het Heru (Hathor), and like Het Heru, she sometimes has both a benign and fearful nature. She is worshipped as part of the triad at the temple in Abu (Elephantine). There is also a temple to Anuket on the island of Sehel, just south of Swentet (Aswan). She is also worshipped in Ta Nehesy (Nubia). Her animal is the gazelle.
The frog goddess Heket is the female counterpart of Khnum. Some say she was the first consort of Khnum. Fertility goddesses are often seen as deities of the Nile. At certain times of the year, frogs can be seen appearing out of the Nile mud, apparently reborn. Heket is the goddess of childbirth and the divine midwife at royal births. Heket gives life to unborn children by creating them in their mother's wombs. She first appears in the Old Kingdom Pyramid texts as a goddess who helps the dead king journey into the sky. She has been associated with childbirth and protecting the inhabitants of the household since at least the Middle Kingdom. She has a temple at Herwer and Qus and appears in the temples of other cities, such as those at Abedju (Abydos).
Hapy is the main god of the Nile inundation. He lives in the caverns of the First Cataract that are presided over by Khnum. Hapy is usually shown as a paunchy man with pendulous breasts. He often wears aquatic plants on his head. The inundation was a time of celebration. Offerings are made to Hapy during this time. The flood usually subsides after two weeks. [Strangers might say that the flood reaches Swentet (Aswan) by late June and the north (Cairo) by September. Crops are planted in October and November and harvested in March and April).]
The Contendings of Heru (Horus) and Sutekh (Seth) at Abu
Abu (Elephantine) was the location of the final battle between Heru (Horus) and Sutekh (Seth). As is recorded at Behdet/Djeba (Edfu), Heru (Horus) accompanied the sun god Ra in his solar boat to protect the sun against his enemies, who appeared as hippopotami and crocodiles. Sutekh (Seth), as the leader of the enemies, repeatedly attacked Heru. Sutekh appeared as a cheetah and a snake while Heru appeared as a lion. Finally, Sutekh appeared as a red hippopotamus and fought Heru at Abu (Elephantine), the southern boundary of Kemet (Egypt). The battle happened during a wild storm which churned up the river. This is why at Abu there is a granite outcrop under the water that turns the Nile into a series of unnegotiable rapids. Others say that cataracts are caused by a change in the underlying rock of the river bed. At any rate, Heru finally succeeded in harpooning Sutekh. Sutekh was then dismembered. This shows that sons should succeed their royal fathers as Heru succeeded his father, Ausar (Osiris).
Auset (Isis) - P'aaleq and Swenet
Auset (Isis), the mother of Heru (Horus) and a mother goddess of Kemet (Egypt), has a major cult center on the island of P'aaleq/Iu-Rek (Philae) that dates to the later periods of our history (ie the time of Taharqa and the 25th Dynasty). She is represented as a woman with a headdress of a throne or a solar disc between cow's horns. She is associated with the throne and her lap is the throne of Kemet. She is part of the Ennead of Iunu (Heliopolis) and, as the consort of Ausar (Osiris) and the mother of Heru (Horus), she is one of the triad worshipped at Abedju (Abydos) in Upper Kemet.
Ausar (Osiris) - P'aaleq
Ausar (Osiris) is the god of the dead and the Afterlife. He is the consort of Auset (Isis) and the father of Heru (Horus). He is shown as a mummified man with a crook and flail and wearing the tall atef crown. His skin can be green or black (representing fertility or the black soil of the Nile) or white (representing the linen bandages of a mummy). He was buried at Abedju (Abydos) which has become his main cult center, although he also has a tomb on the island of Biga across from P'aaleq (Philae). He was first mentioned as part of the Ennead of Iunu (Heliopolis) in the Fifth Dynasty. The deceased king has been associated with Ausar since the Fifth Dynasty. Later (about 2000 BC) all of the deceased, both commoners and royalty, have become associated with Ausar.
Heru - Nubyt
Heru, the great falcon god of Kemet, has been associated with the kings since the beginning of recorded history. The worship of Heru is thought to predate that of Ra. Heru is shown as a falcon or a man with the head of a falcon. He lost his eyes during the Contendings of Heru and Sutekh (Horus and Seth). The left eye, which he later regained, is associated with the moon. The stronger right eye is the sun. His name means "he who is above." Heru is part of the triad at Abedju (Ausar, Auset, Heru). He is also associated with Mesen or Behdet (Edfu), where he was worshipped alongside his consort Het-Heru (Hathor) and their son, Harsomtus. He is also identified with Nekhen (Hierakonpolis or the "Town of the Hawk" in Upper Kemet, and Behdet in the Delta.
Het-Heru (Hathor) - Nubyt and P'aaleq
Het-Heru (Hathor) is a mother goddess who is associated with love, fertility, sexuality, music, dance, and alcohol. She is represented as a cow or as a woman with cow's ears. She sometimes wears a headdress with a solar disc and cow's horns or a falcon with a perch. She is a sky goddess and is seen as a giant cow in the heavens. Her four legs mark the four cardinal points (north, south, east, and west). She is the Lady of the West, Lady of the Western Mountain, Lady of Turqoise, and the Lady of Faience. Faience is of course a blue or green substance made of crushed quartz or quartz sand that can take the place of more expensive turquoise. As Lady of the West, Het-Heru is associated with the setting sun and the land of the dead. Het-Heru is often seen as the mother of Heru (Horus). At Behdet/Djeba (Edfu), she is the wife of Heru. Her main cult center is at Iunet (Denderah).
Sobek - Nubyt and Kheny
Sobek is the crocodile god of Nubyt (Kom Ombo) and She-Resy (the Faiyum). He appears as a crocodile or as a man with the head of a crocodile. His crown is a sun disk with horns and tall plumes. His worship dates to at least the Old Kingdom. In the Pyramid Texts he is mentioned as a son of Neith. He is associated with the might of the king and he is often a symbol of their power. He also is a god of water who makes the river banks fertile and green. His worship was especially prominent during the Middle Kingdom, when the kings came from the area of She-Resy (the Faiyum). His consort is Het-Heru (Hathor) and his son is Khonsu (although others say that Khonsu is the son of Amun and Mut).
Imhotep - P'aaleq
Imhotep was the wise vizier and architect of Djoser's Step Pyramid (2667 - 2648 BC). It has been said that he invented the idea of dressing stone. He also wrote a number of sebayt or instructions. Although his Instructions have become increasingly harder to find in recent years, Imhotep is best known for his great wisdom. He became a god two thousand years after he lived. He is now a god of wisdom, writing, and medicine. He is shown as a seated scribe unrolling a papyrus scroll. He has a cult center in Saqqara and also at Ipet Isut (Karnak) and P'aaleq (Philae).
Iry-hemes-nefer (Arensnuphis) is Meroitic god from Upper Nubia. He is often associated with Shu and Anhur (Onuris). Anhur is a Thinite god of war and hunting who traveled to Ta Nehesy (Nubia) to bring back the Eye of Ra, which was in the form of a lion. The lion became his consort, Mekhit. Shu, the god of air, and his consort Tefnut, goddess of moisture, are involved in a similar story. Iry-hemes-nefer (Arensnuphis) is depicted as a human wearing a feathered crown. Sometimes he is shown holding a spear. He can also appear in the form of a lion. He has been called the companion of Auset (Isis) although there are no stories about the two. Interest in Iry-hemes-nefer (Arensnuphis) is so strong on both sides of the First Cataract that I expect before too long, there might even be an international effort to put a kiosk to Iry-hemes-nefer at the Temple of Auset (Isis) at P'aaleq (Philae). Remember, you heard this idea here first! (A kiosk to Arensnuphis was built between 218 and 205 BC as a joint effort by Ptolemy IV of Egypt and Arkamani of Meroe in Ptolemaic times).
Merwel is a solar god of Lower Nubia who has become known to the northerners (Greeks) as Mandulis. He is a companion of Auset (Isis) and has been equated with Heru (Horus). He is usually shown as a man wearing ram horns, sun disks, cobras, and tall plumes. He is also sometimes shown as a human-headed bird with ram horns, sun disks, cobras, and tall plumes. His image has not yet appeared on any temples in Kemet but there has been talk of a chapel to Merwel at the Temple of Auset (Isis) in P'aaleq.
Back to the Ta Sety Nome
Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Richard H. Wilkinson, New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, New York: Harry N Abrams, 1995, 2003.
Egypt: Gods, Myth, and Religion, Lucia Gahlin, New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2002.
Created before March 2005
Last Updated November 30, 2009