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The Theban Triad: Amen, Mut and Khons


(Amon, Amun, Ammon, Amoun)

Alley of ram sphinxes, Thebes     Amen's name means "The Hidden One." He was a local Theban god from earliest times, and was viewed (along with his consort Amaunet) as a primordial creation-deity by the priests of Hermopolis. (look Ogdoad)
Another possible derivation of his name might come from the Libyan aman, water, hence his occasional depiction as a goose. He is also shown as an ithyphallic fertility god, as a ram or ram-headed, again referring to creation and fecundity, or as a snake when he bears the name Kematef.
    Until the Middle Kingdom his influence was local; but when the Theban kings had established their sovereignty over Egypt, Amen became nationally pre-eminent as Amen-Re, [3] and by the 18th Dynasty was called the King of the Gods. His famous temple, Karnak, is the largest religious structure ever built by man.

Pharaoh worshipping Amen     Amen according to the older Theban traditions, was created by Thoth as one of the eight primordial deities of creation (Amen, Amaunet, Hah, Hauhet, Nun, Naunet, Kau, Kauket). Later traditions cast him in the role of self-created creator, who shaped the ordered world out of chaos through masturbation and self-fertilisation.
    As creation god he assumed at times the name of Kematef (Greek Kneph) and was depicted as a snake.

Enemies' hands being counted     As the Egyptian state god during the expansionist period of Egypt's history, Amen was the god to be thanked for the military successes. This was done both by endowing his temples with vast wealth as well as through the offering of severed hands and penes of fallen enemies [2]. Both penis and hand were symbols for Amen's powers, stemming from their role in the creation process. Amen's priestesses, the Wives of the God, were also called the Hands of the God. The obvious thought association arising from this epithet is not supported by any evidence. Very little is known about the Amen worship but what happened in public, such as the yearly transportation of Amen's statue from Karnak to Luxor, or the annual peregrination of the pharaoh and his wife to the Amen temple and their penetration into the inner sanctum.

Amen fertilising himself through auto-fellatio     Budge saw the Amen of the 19th and 20th Dynasties as an invisible creative power which was the source of all life in heaven, and on the earth, and in the great deep, and in the Duat, the Realm of the Dead, and which made itself manifest under the form of Re. He was considered to be the protector of any pious devotee in need.

    During the New Kingdom, Amen's consort was Mut, "Mother," who seems to have been the Egyptian equivalent of the "Great Mother" archetype. The two thus formed a pair reminiscent of the God and Goddess of other traditions such as Wicca. Their child was the moon god Khons.

[Image: Amen]     Akhenaten seems to have discouraged the worship of all gods but Aten, especially that of the state god Amen, thus entering into open conflict with Amen's powerful priesthood.
    After his death Ay, Tutankhamen's vizier, replaced Akhenaten's monotheistic [1] cult of Aten with the traditional polytheistic religion. Akhetaten, the centre of the Aten monotheistic cult, was abandoned, the capital was returned to Thebes, and the cults of the state god Amen and other gods were revived. The king himself changed his name from Tutankhaten ("living image of Aten") to Tutankhamen ("living image of Amen").

    Amen, Ptah and Re formed a new triad in the New Kingdom, with Ptah and Re losing their separate identity and merging with Amen, who during the Third Intermediate Period when the Theban priests ruled part of Egypt became a universal god. Especially widespread was his worship in the south and the Kushite kings used their orthodoxy to gain acceptance from the powerful priesthood.

    Amen, as the national Egyptian god, was a powerful symbol of Egyptian independence and often rebellions against foreign rulers were fomented by his adherents. Thebes was sacked by the Assyrians and by Ptolemy IX after such unrest.
    Amen, identified with Zeus by the Hellenists, lost many followers to Isis, who became popular among Greeks and Romans. His worship was finally eclipsed by the advent of Christianity in Egypt.


(Golden Dawn, Auramooth)

    The wife of Amen in Theban tradition; the word mut in Egyptian means "mother", and she was the mother of Khons, the moon god.She was depicted either in the form of a vulture or in human form with a vulture head-dress and the combined crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. She was usually dressed in a bright red or blue gown.
    When Amen fused with the sungod Re, Mut became the Eye of Re and began to assume the shape of a lioness, a traditional form for the Eye of the Sun. In the late New Kingdom she began to be counted among the original gods with the epithet Mother of the sun in whom he rises.

    Mut is sometimes also equated with Isis.


(Khonsu, Chons) Khonsu with sidelock, and ruler's paraphernalia

    In Upper Egypt Khons was the third member (with his parents Amen and Mut) of the great triad of Thebes, while in Lower Egypt he was considered the child of Ptah and Sekhmet. Khons was the god of the moon and like Nauti, the sun-god, a traveller. In the Khonsu cosmogony, a text inscribed on the walls of the well-preserved Khons temple at Karnak, the great serpent fertilizing the cosmic egg is Khons and as Traveller (Khons) he travelled to Thebes.

Khonsu with sidelock and ruler's paraphernalia

    One of the best-known stories about him tells of him playing the ancient game senet ("passage") against Thoth, another moon god, and wagering a portion of his light. Thoth won, and because of losing some of his light, Khons cannot show his whole glory for the entire month, but must wax and wane.
    Since earliest historic times the Egyptians appreciated the regularity of the moon, and made it the base for their calendar of twelve months making up a lunar year.
The moon god Khonsu, pendulum of heaven, precise divider of months,
Khonsu, most mathematical aspect of Thoth,
Pyramid Text 273
J. Rabinowitz ,Isle of Fire, p. 110
    Like his Lower Egyptian mother Sekhmet, Khons had a violent temper. He might devour the hearts of the deceased and in the papyrus of Nu and other Books of the Dead he is called the Slaughterer of the Lords. He came to be associated with fate, judgment, and punishment. As Destroyer of Evil Spirits he strangled lesser deities and therefore people appealed to him as Khons the Merciful for help when they were ill. The most famous literary example of such an intervention is told on the Bentresh Stela. Like Horus, Khons was–as Khons the Child–protector against dangerous animals and depicted standing on crocodiles.
    He was often shown as a child, at times in the form of a mummy, or, reminiscent of Horus, as a man with the head of a falcon. On his head he wore a crescent moon, topped by a full moon. Like Horus he holds the symbols of ruler: the crook and the flagellum. The main temple in the enclosure at Karnak is dedicated to him.

[ ] Picture of the priests counting genitalia courtesy Jon Bodsworth.
[1] Some doubt that Akhenaten's beliefs were monotheistic, i.e. exclusive of all gods but one. They prefer to speak of monolatry, worship of a single god.
[2] Strangely, the Egyptians collected only uncircumcised penes, while circumcised enemy dead had a hand cut off.
[3] It appears that Re was worshipped at Karnak since the 11th dynasty (Kees, op.cit.) The first mention of the merging of Amen and Re, which also includes Atem and Harakhte, occurs in the Cairo Amen Hymn (Papyrus Cairo CG 58038= Papyrus Boulaq 17) which dates, at least in parts, to the late Middle Kingdom (early 17th century BCE) (Brunner & Beyerlin, op.cit., pp.40-43.)
Hellmut Brunner, Walter Beyerlin, Religionsgeschichtliches Textbuch zum alten Testament, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985
H. Kees, Der Götterglaube im alten Ägypten, Leipzig 1941
Manfred Lurker, Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter, Scherz 1998
Geraldine Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology, ABC-Clio 2002
J. Rabinowitz ,Isle of Fire, Invisible Books 2004
Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson 2003

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August 2009
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