Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 7There is no reason whatsoever for doubting that in neolithic times the primitive Egyptians worshipped animals as animals and as nothing more." None of the above statements approaches a definition of totemism. The theory that the totem is a tribal ancestor is now regarded as doubtful. Dr. Budge continues: "The question as to whether the Egyptians worshipped animals as representatives of tribal ancestors or 'totems' is one which has given rise to much discussion, and this is not to be wondered at, for the subject is one of difficulty. We know that
Pylon, Karnak, from the North—Photo Bonfils
There are several accounts in existence which deal with the Egyptian conception of the creation of the world and of man. We find a company of eight gods alluded to in the Pyramid Texts as the original makers and moulders of the universe. The god Nu and his consort Nut were deities of the firmament and the rain which proceeds therefrom. Hehu and Hehut appear to personify fire, and Kekui and Kekuit the darkness which brooded over the primeval abyss of water. Kerh and Kerhet also appear to have personified Night or Chaos. Some of these gods have the heads of frogs, others those of serpents, and in this connexion we are reminded of the deities which are alluded to in the story of creation recorded in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Kiche Indians of Guatemala, two of whom, Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, are called "the ancient serpents covered with green feathers," male and female. We find in the account of the creation story now under consideration the admixture of the germs of life enveloped in thick darkness, so well known to the student of mythology as symptomatic of creation myths all the world over. A papyrus (c. 312 B.C.) preserved in the British Museum contains a series of chapters of a[Pg 13] magical nature, the object of which is to destroy Apepi, the fiend of darkness, and in it we find two copies of the story of creation which detail the means by which the sun came into being. In one account the god Ra says that he took upon himself the form of Khepera, the deity who was usually credited with the creative faculty. He proceeds to say that he continued to create new things out of those which he had already made, and that they went forth from his mouth. "Heaven," he says, "did not exist and earth had not come into being, and the things of the earth and creeping things had not come into existence in that place, and I raised them from out of Nu from a state of inactivity." This would imply that Khepera moulded life in the universe from the matter supplied from the watery abyss of Nu. "I found no place," says Khepera, "whereon I could stand. I worked a charm upon my own heart. I laid a foundation in Maāt. I made every form. I was one by myself. I had not emitted from myself the god Shu, and I had not spit out from myself the goddess Tefnut. There was no other being who worked with me." The word Maāt signifies law, order, or regularity, and from the allusion to working a charm upon his heart we may take it that Khepera made use of magical skill in the creative process, or it may mean, in Scriptural phraseology, that "he took thought unto himself" to make a world. The god continues that from the foundation of his heart multitudes of things came into being. But the sun, the eye of Nu, was "covered up behind Shu and Tefnut," and it was only after an indefinite period of time that these two beings, the children of Nu, were raised up from out the watery mass and brought their father's eye along with them. In this connexion we find that the sun, as an eye, has a certain affinity with water. Thus Odin[Pg 14] pledged his eye to Mimir for a draught from the well of wisdom, and we find that sacred wells famous for the cure of blindness are often connected with legends of saints who sacrificed their own eyesight. The allusion in those legends is probably to the circumstance that the sun as reflected in water has the appearance of an eye. Thus when Shu and Tefnut arose from the waters the eye of Nu followed them. Shu in this case may represent the daylight and Tefnut moisture.