Ogdoad (Egyptian)

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In Egyptian mythology, the Ogdoad (Greek ογδοάς "the eightfold", Egyptian Khemenu, Ḫmnw) were eight primordial deities worshipped in Hermopolis during the late Period (664 BC to 332 BC).


The oldest known pictorial representations of the group do not predate the time of Seti I, while the earliest mention of such a group is found in the Coffin Texts 76 §§ 5-6. Budge (1904) compares the concept to a group of four pairs of primeval gods mentioned in the Babylonian Enûma Eliš.[1]

Texts of the Late Period describe them as having the heads of frogs (male) and serpents (female), and they are often depicted in this way in reliefs of the Ptolemaic period.[2]

Budge also argues that the Ogdoad is the original "company of gods" or paut neteru, represented by nine flags on flagpoles, the hieroglyph sign for 'god':

R8 R8 R8 R8 R8 R8 R8 R8 R8

arrived at by augmenting the original Ogdoad by the local chief deity of Heliopolis, Tem, by the authors of the theological system reflected in the Pyramid Texts.[3]

Depiction of the Ogdoad with serpent and frog heads (Roman-era relief at the Hathor temple in Dendera).
Drawing of a representation of the Ogdoad in the temple of Philae.[4]

The eight deities were arranged in four male-female pairs (the female names being merely derivative female forms of the male names), as follows:[5]

W24 W24 W24
N35A A40
W24 W24 W24
N35A X1
V28 V28 G43 A40
V28 V28 G43 X1
y G43 N2 A40
y G43 N2 X1
V28 D41 A40
V28 D41
X1 H8

The names of Nu and Nut are written with the determiners for sky and water, and it seems clear that they represent the primordial waters.

Ḥeḥu and Ḥeḥut have no readily identifiable determiners; according to a suggestion due to Brugsch (1885), the name is associated with a term for an undefined or unlimited number, ḥeḥ, suggesting a concept similar to Greek aion. But from the context of a number of passages in which Ḥeḥu is mentioned, Brugsch also suggested that he may be a personification of the atmosphere between heaven and earth (c.f. Shu).

The names of Kekui and Kekuit are written with a determiner combining the sky hieroglyph with a staff or scepter used for words related to darkness and obscurity, and kkw as a regular word means "darkness", suggesting that these gods represent primordial darkness, comparable to Greek Erebus, but in some aspects they appear to represent day as well as night, or the change from night to day and from day to night.

The fourth pair appears with varying names, sometimes the name Qerḥ is replaced by Ni, Nenu, Nut, or Amun, and the name Qerḥet by Ennit, Nenuit, Nut, Nit, or Amunet. The common meaning of qerḥ is "night", but the determinative (D41 for "to halt, stop, deny") also suggests the principle of inactivity or repose.[6]

In the time of E. A. Budge (1904), there was no obvious way to allot or attribute four functions to the four pairs of gods, and it seemed clear that "the ancient Egyptians themselves had no very clear idea" regarding such functions. [7] Subsequent scholarship identified four concepts for the pairs, [8] darkness, fluidity, invisibility, and unboundedness. [9]

See also


  1. ^ viz. Apzu and Tiamat, Lahmu and Lahamu, Anshar and Kishar, Anu and Nudimmud. Budge 1904, p. 287f
  2. ^ Smith, Mark (2002), On the Primaeval Ocean, p. 38 
  3. ^ Budge 1904, p. 282.
  4. ^ "Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from a photograph by Béato. C.f. Lepsius, Denkm, iv.pl.66 c.", published in Maspero (1897). The scene is collapsed from "the two extremities of a great scene at Philae, in which the Eight, divided into two groups of four, take part in the adoration of the king."
  5. ^ Budge 1904, p. 283.
  6. ^ Budge 1904, p. 283-286.
  7. ^ Budge 1904, p. 287-288.
  8. ^ Harco Willems (1996) - The Coffin of Heqata: (Cairo JdE 36418) : a Case Study of Egyptian Funerary Culture of the Early Middle Kingdom - p.470 Peeters Publishers, 1996 ISBN 9068317695 Accessed December 3, 2017
  9. ^ Maulana Karenga (2004) - Maat, the Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics - p.177 Psychology Press, 2004 ISBN 0415947537 - Volume 70 of Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta, ISSN 0777-978X Accessed December 3, 2017


  • Budge, E.A. (1904), The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, Studies in Egyptian Mythology, 1 
  • Hart, George (2005), The Routledge Dictionary Of Egyptian Gods And Goddesses, Routledge, p. 113 
  • Dunand, Françoise; Zivie-Coche, Christiane (2004), Gods and Men in Egypt: 3.000 BCE to 395 CE, Cornell University Press 
  • Baines, John D.; Shafer, Byron Esely; Silverman, David P.; Lesko, Leonard H. (1991), Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, Cornell University Press 
  • Salmon, George (1887), "Ogdoad", in Smith, William; Wace, Henry, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines, Volume IV, London: John Murray 

External links

  • Butler, Edward P. "Hermopolitan Ogdoad". Retrieved 2010-08-21. 
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