An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 71


The second version of the creation myth which the papyrus contains makes Osiris take the place of Khepera, or Neb-er-tcher. He is described as the pautet pautti, or the very essence of primeval matter, and the source of all created things. Osiris utters his own name as a word of power, and "forthwith came into being under the form of things which were created." Like Neb-er-tcher, he took the form of Khepera as proper to the act of creation. "I came into being," he says, "from primeval matter, and I appeared under the form of multitudes of things from the beginning. Nothing existed at that time, and it was I who made whatsoever was made. I was alone, and there was no other being who worked with me in that place. I made all the forms under which I appeared by means of the god-soul which I raised up out of Nu, out of a state of inertness." Thus we here have the 'god-soul' existent in a quiescent condition in the watery abyss of Nu, awaiting the magic call of Osiris. The next point in which the second account differs from the first is the making of man, made, it states, after the reptiles and creeping things.

Thus in these Egyptian creation myths we have a primeval watery mass peopled by a self-begotten and self-existent god who, uttering his own name as a spell, straightway came into existence, then awakened the slumbering soul of the abyss into activity, and by the utterance of magic words created a place or foundation upon which he could stand. Having done this, he proceeded to the creation of other gods, the light, human beings, vegetation, and creeping things. Of birds, beasts, and stars we find nothing in the myth, which is one of the earliest[Pg 165] Egyptian conceptions of the creation of the world and of mankind.[2]

But as new races entered Egypt as immigrants or conquerors, other myths descriptive of the creation process arose and flourished side by side. There was, for example, that of Ptah, a potter, pictured in the ancient drawings as shaping the world-egg, the 'cosmic egg,' upon his wheel. He is said, in connexion with Khnemu, to have carried out the active work of creation at the command of Thoth. Khnemu was also regarded as the personification of creative force, who formed the cosmic egg from the Nile mud and shaped man on his potter's wheel; and there were others, all more or less akin.


The earlier Egyptians regarded the sky as a flat metal plate or slab, each end of which rested upon a mountain, the mountain of sunrise, Bakhau, and the mountain of sunset, Manu. In the late Pyramid texts the sky is rectangular, each corner resting upon a pillar. In still later times those four pillars were looked upon as the sceptres of the gods who presided over the four quarters of heaven. At a comparatively late date the idea arose that the sky required support in the centre as well as at its angles, and the god who acted as central prop was called Heh. In another myth the heavens were shaped like a man's head, with the sun and moon for eyes, and hair supporting the sky.

Another Egyptian idea of the sky is that the goddess Nut, who personified the upper regions, formed the vault of the heavens by arching her body over the earth and resting her weight upon her hands and feet. Sometimes the god Shu stands beneath, as if to support her. Over her body are scattered the stars. She was alluded to as 'the Lady of Heaven,' and is uniformly painted blue in imitation of the sky she represented.


The principal version of the Babylonian account of creation is preserved in the 'Seven Tablets of Creation' now in the[Pg 166] British Museum, and originally part of the library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh. In this epic we find two primeval deities, Apsu and Tiawath, personifications of the great abyss, and their son, Mummu. The gods are created, Anu, En-lil, and Ea, but their 'ways' are displeasing to Apsu and Tiawath, who rebel. The original male deities speedily succumb to the power of the new gods. Tiawath creates a host of grisly monsters and carries on unrelenting war against the enemy, but in terrific combat with Marduk or Merodach she is annihilated. She is cut in twain, and from one half of her body Merodach forms the heavens. He divides the upper waters from the lower, makes dwellings for the gods, creates the sun, moon, and stars, and ordains their courses. At this juncture a portion of the account (Tablet V) is missing, but in the next slab Merodach is said to have been decapitated, and with his own blood and bone to have made man. Berosus, a priest of Merodach, who lived in the third century B.C., wrote a Greek history of Babylonia, which has been lost, but is known in part from quotations by classical writers. In this work he recounted the above myth, with some variation in the names, and the additional statement that half of Tiawath's body formed the earth.[3]