Thursday, October 11, 2012


The Theban Triad - Amun, Mut and Khons

Amun was the mysterious creator god whose name meant Hidden One. He was most commonly shown as a bearded man in the prime of life wearing a headdress surmounted by a double plume. His origins are obscure, but Amun and his female counterpart Amunet (Amaunet) were listed among the divine protectors of the king in the Pyramid Texts. Amun and Amunet were part of the group of eight primeval deities who came to be known as the Ogdoad of Hermopolis. During the Middle Kingdom, Amun gradually became the chief god of the Theban area, where he acquired a new consort, Mut, and a son, Khonsu. In the New Kingdom, the cult of Amun was combined with that of the creator sun god Ra. Amun-Ra was worshipped as the King of the Gods and creator of the world and its inhabitants.

In his chief cult temple at Karnak in Thebes, Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, ruled as a divine pharaoh. Unlike other important deities, Amun does not seem to have been thought of as living in some distant celestial realm. His presence was everywhere, unseen but felt like the wind. His oracles communicated the divine will to humanity. Amun was said to come swiftly to help Egyptian kings on the battlefield or to aid the poor and friendless. When he was manifest in his cult statues, Amun periodically visited the necropolis of Thebes to unite with its goddess, Hathor, and bring new life to the dead.

Amun tended to be the subject of speculative theology rather than mythical narratives, but he did play a role in the creation myths of Hermopolis. One of his incarnations was as the Great Shrieker, a primeval goose whose victory shout was the first sound. In some accounts this primeval goose laid the “world egg;” in others, Amun fertilized or created this egg in his ram-headed serpent form known as Kematef (“He who has completed his moment”). The temple of Medinet Habu in western Thebes was sometimes identified as the location of this primal event. A cult statue of the Amun of Karnak regularly visited this temple to renew the process of creation.

By the end of the New Kingdom, Amun was often depicted as a virile ram with curved horns or as a ram-headed sphinx. It was in these forms that he was primarily worshipped in Nubia and Libya. As early as the Middle Kingdom, Amun had been linked with the god Min to become the embodiment of male sexual power. Amun-Min, the “bull of his mother,” was an ithyphallic self-generating god. Amun-Ra was the mysterious originator of all life, the “one who made himself into millions.” In the temples of Thebes he was given a partner in the form of a royal priestess known as the “god’s wife” or “god’s hand.” One of her duties seems to have been to physically arouse the god so that he would continue the ongoing work of creation by generating life.

Like the ram-god Banebdjedet, Amun was said to mystically unite with the queen of Egypt to sire the heir to the throne. This royal-birth myth was depicted in several Theban temples (see Figure 20). The idea persisted as late as the Greco-Roman Period, when legends were told about how the world-conquering Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, was sired by Amun. Alexander seems to have been acknowledged as the god’s son when he made a pilgrimage to the remote temple of Amun at Siwa Oasis. According to some Classical writers, Alexander and his companions were in danger of dying in the desert when two serpents appeared to lead them safely to Siwa. The oracle of Amun at Siwa was believed to be infallible. The Greeks wove it into their own mythology, claiming that the heroes Perseus and Heracles had consulted Amun/Zeus there.

References and further reading: J. Assmann. Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun, and the Crisis of Polytheism. Translated by Anthony Alcock. London and New York: 1995. G. Hart. “Amun.” In A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London and Boston: 1986, 4–17. V. A. Tobin. “Amun and Amun-Re.” In The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt I, edited by D. B. Redford. Oxford and New York: 2001, 82–85. Primary sources: PT 301; Leiden hymns; P. Boulaq XVII; Amun prayers; Qadesh inscriptions; Khonsu Cosmogony; Arrian Book 3; Alexander Romance

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