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The Heliopolis Theology

illustration from Amazon com Egyptian Mysteries; p.8

the Ennead

this diagram is from external link Vartiklis: Mythology: Egypt mythology. World creation, (which seems like an extremely interesting site but unfortunately its in a foreign language, but its worth going to for the little pictures of the Egyptian gods alone)

The Heliopolis theology explains creation in terms of the emanation of the Ennead, the first nine Gods, from whom the rest of Ceeation arises.

At Heliopolis the name Atum is given to the First Principle, the Creator or Demiurge. The word Atum means both "All" and "Nothing", (c.f. the words attributed to Christ, "I am the alpha and the omega").  He represents the potential totality of the Universe which is as yet unformed and intangible.  There are three basic variants by which Atum gives rise to creation

The Primordial Hill

In this version Atum is in the midst of the Nun, the primordial chaos or nothingness (equivalent to the tohu or "the deep" of the Hebraic book of Genesis).  Atum begins by "becoming", by projecting himself into existence', by distinguishing himself from the Nun, and thereby annihilating the Nun in its original inert state.  This is represented by the primordial hill, like the first mounds of dirt and mud that can be seen when the floodwaters of the Nile recede.  The image of the scarab god Khepri, representative of being and becoming, are also used here.

Hail Atum! Hail Khepri, he who becomes from himself!
You culminate in this your name of 'hill', you become in this your name of Scarab Khepri. (Pyramid Texts, 1587)

Atum-Khepri, you culminate as hill, you raise yourself up as Benu Bird from the ben-ben stone in the abode of the phoenix at Heliopolis. (Pyramid Texts, 1652.)

Atum emerges from the cosmic waters in the form of the primordial hill. He then 'spits out' (ishish) the first of the divine qualities or powers: Shu, the Principle of air and of space, symbolized by the feather he wears on his head.  Atum then 'expectorates' (tfnt) the second Principle, the lion-headed Tefnut, who probably represents the element of Fire, or perhaps the solar principle (in Western astrology the lion is associated with the sun).


In another version, "Atum gives birth to himself through masturbation at Heliopolis', causing 'the seed from the kidneys to come" (Pyramid Texts, 1248). He then brings the twins Shu and Tefnut into the world.  This strange (to us) image is an attempt to explain the eternal question, "if God created the universe, who created God?"  Answer, why, God of course.  ;-)  Masturbation here is a metaphor of self-creation (autopeoisis). Atum's power is so great that he can give birth to his own parents.  The theme of the "Self-Begotten" is a recurring one in Sethian Gnosticism, and is also found in later Neoplatonism.

Also regarding the theme of masturbation and self-creation see especially:

web pagelinks  The Word of God; The Production of Christ - the "Word of God" as sex-magickal autofellatio

Projection of the heart

In a third version, Atum creates himself by the projection of his own heart - or in other words mind or consciousness.  The Egyptians, like many ancient civilisations, located the mind in the heart.  It was only with Plato that the mind was transferred to the head.  The heart chakra in Tantric thought is considered the seat of the Jivatman, the divine soul.  Atum then brings forth the other eight elementary principles: Shu (air) and Tefnut (fire), then Geb (Earth), Nut (Sky), and finally Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nepthys.   Together with himself, make up the Nine, the Great Ennead of Heliopolis.

The Ennead
illustration from Amazon com Egyptian Mysteries; p.9 (Thames & Hudson, Art and Imagination Series)

It is written that 'none of these entities is separate from him, Atum' (Pyramid Texts, 1655).  Again, in Judaic Kabbalah the ten sefirot or attributes are not separate from the En Sof or Godhead or Absolute (interpreted theistically as the Creator)

The Nine principles form a series from the more subtle to the more manifest, like the tattwas of Samkhya or the sefirot of Kabbalah  First there is the abstract Source, Atum.  Then the initial polar pair of Shu and Tefnut.  Then the manifest polarity, the cosmos, of Earth and Sky.  And finally, incarnate in that, the last four gods who are directly tied up with the drama of existence, duality, birth, death, sacrifice and resurrection.

Heliopolis Theology
Memphis theology
Hermopolis theology
Theban theology

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page uploaded 2 December 1999, last modified 10 October 2005