The Egyptian Ogdoad: The World Before Creation.

There is no single definitive Egyptian creation myth, rather a collection of stories that have been transmitted and revised over time. This is partly due to the structure of Egyptian religion, which was organized around local cult-centers. These centers would focus on a particular god figure, and therefore often had their own localized version of the creation myth to incorporate their particular god, or support their cosmology.

Despite the differences, many of them speak of the primeval mound. This was a mound of earth that rose out of the primeval ocean upon which Atum, the creator god appeared, and a popular enough motif that it is believed by some scholars to be the inspirational shape replicated by the pyramids.

While most of the Egyptian cult centers worshiped current, living gods, there was also a dedicated cult-center for those gods that came before: Khenmw or “eight-town” (later called Hermopolis after the Greek Hermes, who was often associated with the Egyptian god Thoth). The name Khenmw was given to honor the Ogdoad, the collection of eight primeval gods that existed before creation; they were the gods that existed when the universe was essentially empty, a great void.

The Ogdoad consisted of four pairs of male/female consorts, each pair sharing the masculine/feminine versions of the same name: Nun & Naunet, Amun & Amunet, Kek & Keket, and Heh & Hehtet. The pairing of these gods and goddesses suggesting a fertile, sexual relationship between them, a symbolism that was reflected in their embodied forms where the four men were often depicted with frog heads, while their consorts bore snake heads:

“The amphibian and snake forms of the Ogdoad were thought of as mating in and fertilizing the Primeval Waters. An image of the waters alive with glutinous frog spawn may be what the Egyptians had in mind”.

– Geraldine Pinch. Egyptian Mythology

Despite these embodied depictions, the Ogdoad represented the waters, and the qualities it held within. Nun & Naunet made up the waters themselves, while the other three couples represented the primal waters’ less tangible attributes.. Amun & Amunet were the breath of life and represented the potentiality for life held deep in the waters. Kek & Keket represented the darkness, a world before the sun where no light existed, and Heh & Hehtet represented the endlessness and boundlessness of this underwater world.

An excerpt from the Coffin Texts provides an insight into this cosmology, where it recounts the journey of Atum before he was brought into being:

“When I was alone in Nun, incapable of action-
I found no place to stand
I found no place to sit”.
-The Coffin Texts

According to this text, when Atum existed in Nun, he was completely alone and powerless. He could not communicate with the Ogdoad, who were the very substance of the primeval ocean that surrounded him. He was a creator god rendered impotent through the inability to act, much like a child floating in a watery womb.

In the next stage we see Atum’s birth into the world, an event made possible by the merging of the Ogdoad, a gift from the primal waters, Nun.

“I am swimming, very weary,
my limbs are inert.
It is my son Life who lifts my heart.
He will enliven my spirit, after he has bound together these limbs of mine,
Which are very weary.
Then Nun said to Atum:
Kiss your daughter Maat, place her at your nose”.
-The Coffin Texts

In this section of the text we see Atum brought to life by his son Shu, the embodiment of life, and the chaos that existed in the primeval ocean brought to order through the goddess Maat. From the convergence of the Ogdoad life was brought forth. Atum gained his ability to create the world, Maat established laws and limits, and the all pervasive darkness receded from the light.

The Egyptian Ogdoad were no more.

Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt

The Gods of the Egyptians, Volume 1

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