Friday, September 21, 2012

Nun and Atum

In pure Heliopolitan mythology, Atum both rises from the waters of Nun on the primordial mound and is the primordial mound.   He represents the creative potential that exists within the waters.  These are the same waters that Vishnu floats on in Hindu myth.  In the other theologies, different gods are incorporated into the Heliopolitan model.

In  Memphite theology, the god Ptah is associated with the mound, thus one-uping  Atum.  Atum and the other gods then become the heart and tongue of Ptah.  This preserves the already-existing  model while allowing the priests of Ptah to make their god the supreme creator god.

In Hermopolitan theology, we're shown what's happening in Nun.  We see the eight chaos gods who represent the qualities of Nun.  These chaos gods form the soul of Thoth, the supreme creator god of the priests of Hermopolis.  He then causes the mound to rise on which sits Atum.  Well, actually he causes the lotus to grow out of the waters, on which sits the sun god Ra.  This is not a contradiction, just an alternative image.  The lotus and the mound are the same, as are Atum and Ra.

Atum, the uncreated creator, emerges from the waters on his mound in the form of Khepri the dung beetle.  Khepri represents the sun at morning, and his name means "He Who Becomes" (or something like that).  He later takes the form of Ra, the sun at noon.  Oddly enough, the setting sun is seen as Atum in the form of an old man with a staff.  I think this has to do with the belief that Atum will one day dissolve the universe and return to the waters of Nun.  It's said that Osiris will join him, being the only thing besides Atum that will continue to exist.

Atum, being alone, creates Shu and Tefnut.  I'll talk more about that next time.  He does this through heka (magic).  Heka, personified as a god, boasts in inscriptions that he existed before all the gods.  Some view the Memphite version as being the first full expression of what would later become logos philosophy, but I think the Heliopolitan version does so just as well.  Heka or Shu (depending on which version of the myth you use--in fact, the two are interchangeable) is the agency through which the gods and the world are created, which is logos philosophy.

Ta-tenen is an earth god who was associated with the primordial mound, and the mound was often called by his name.  More commonly it was known as the benben.  This was also the name of the capstone of obelisks and pyramids, which were representations of the primordial mound.

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