Susanllewellyn's Blog

March 28, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Nut (1)

If Geb was the earthy type, his twin sister Nut was the original heavenly body.  While Geb the earth lay under the feet of their father Shu, Nut arched herself over his head as the sky, her hands and feet standing at the four cardinal points:

 Nut formed a vault over the world, stopping malevolent forces from the cosmos from invading Egypt.   The stars travelled over the vault of Nut, and like many other heavenly bodies with star quality, pictures of Nut appeared everywhere, especially on royal tomb ceilings, like this one:

You can see a line of stars painted in blue, running over her shoulder and down her back like a tattoo.  Nut had a tremendous appetite; every dawn, she ate all the stars for breakfast.  Every evening for supper, she swallowed the barque of the sun god when it reached the western horizon.  Every morning, presumably while stuffing her face with the stars, she gave birth to the ship, the god and his retinue, and the whole cycle began again.   The red disks painted along Nut’s body represent the passage of the sun through her inner workings.  The different parts of her body represented hours of the night.  Her lips corresponded to the second hour of night, her teeth to the third, her throat the fourth, her chest the fifth and so on.  Remember, if you’re tempted to snack as much as Nut was:  a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips…  But then, everything she ate seems to have passed straight through her.  She doesn’t seem to have digested anything, just like all the other supermodels.

Nut was also a favourite pin-up on coffin lids, where she arched protectively over the deceased, offering the promise of rebirth and eternal life among the stars:

In the underworld, Nut was present as a sycamore fig tree, and provided air, water and nourishment to the departed.

Like certain supermodels, too, Nut wasn’t all celestial sweetness and light.  Occasionally, she could appear as a cow or a pig.  She was known to fight with her brother Geb; in one quarrel, he split her head right open.  No wonder their Dad Shu is holding them apart.  The quarrel was hushed up, though, and no-one was allowed to talk about it, for fear of spreading disorder in the company ranks.

Geb and Nut’s parents, Shu and Tefnut, were the first gods to produce children through sex and, like many parents, decided that the kids at better not know anything about it.  This is another reason Shu is holding them apart.  However, the more you deny them something the more they want it.  You could say that Geb and Nut had a love-hate relationship.  Geb’s passion for Nut did not only manifest itself in violence.  Unable to consummate his lust, he became so frustrated that he resorted to blowing his own trumpet, so to speak.  But Nut’s head did touch the ground at the western horizon.  Geb was able to pass his semen to her secretly through a kiss, and in this way Nut became pregnant.

But that’s another story.  We’ll have a closer look at her name first.

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February 26, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Shu (3)

So, we’re running our fingers across Shu’s office nameplate:

 

Our tongues protruding slightly, our breath misting up the polished brass,   we’ve traced the contours of his name, and are now sliding our fingers down the two stacked hieroglyphs of his title:

  sa Ra son of Re.

What?  Son of whom?  You just told us Shu was the son of Atum, and now you’re telling us he’s the son of Re?

Well, yes.  The thing about ancient Egyptian gods was that many of them had their own cult centres in provincial cities the length and – at least in the Delta – the breadth of Egypt.  In their own temples in their own cities, as far as they and their priests and citizens were concerned, they were the most important god around.  Several of them, not just Atum, claimed to be the creator god, and got put at the top of the family tree.  Whoever painted and captioned this particular family portrait obviously had it in his head that Re was the creator god and father of Shu, even though he’d drawn Atum sitting in front of him.  

More than one creator god – OK, we can understand that.  Every company chairman is the supreme god in his own universe.  As far as the bosses of Pepsi and Coke are concerned, there’s only one cola in the world.  So who is this Re, then?  I’m sure we’ve met him before; he’s the sun god known to the Victorians and thence to Hollywood producers as Ra, but to most Egyptologists as Re.  We’ll come back to him some other time.

Let’s look at the hieroglyphs.  The first one looks like an egg, you draw it like an egg and by golly it is an egg – a goose egg, in fact.  Here’s a picture of one, in case you don’t know what an egg looks like:

The egg  symbol in this case writes the word s3, sa, son.  Just draw it at an angle, pointing the sharp end towards the beginning of the sentence.  The second hieroglyph, a circle with a dot in it, is the standard hieroglyph for the sun and encapsulates the name of the god Rc, Ra, Re.  (It’s also possible that the mysterious and superfluous circle in the name of the god which we saw in the last post is an abortive attempt at a sun disk, as there was a word shu meaning sun.)  If you don’t know what the sun looks like, here it is:

There’s no dot in the middle that I can see, and I’m not sure what that was about.  But if the chairman’s son says the sun has a dot in the middle, it’s probably not a good idea to disagree.

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