Gods of Kemet: Djehuty

Kemite Gods

In Kemet there were both national and regional deities, sometimes with multiple forms. I thought it might be helpful to write a series of short posts looking at some of these gods and the functions that they served. Where better to start than the inventor of writing?

Djehuty

Probably better known as Thoth, his Greek name, Djehuty was the principal deity at a site called Khemenu in Middle Egypt. However, it is thought that he originated from the Delta because one of the administrative areas there had an ibis as its symbol, and Djehuty was depicted as an Ibis or with the head of an Ibis. One myth relating to his birth was that he sprung from the head of the god Set.

Djehuty played a key role amongst Kemite gods. He was the inventor of writing. He was ‘Lord of the Moon’ and in this capacity he was also seen as the ‘Lord of Time’ and ‘Reckoner of the Years’. This is why he is often depicted holding a scribal palette as seen on the relief below.

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Djehuty, holding his scribal palette, ink and pen. Abydos.

His links to the passage to the After Life can be found at the weighing of the heart scenes in tombs and on papyri. Djehuty was also seen as a protector of the god of the After Life: Wsir (Osiris), and this role would later be seized upon by the Greeks.

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Scene from the Book of Coming Forth by Day belonging to Ani. Around 1250 BCE.

Djehuty as a Baboon

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Djehuty in the form of a baboon. Walters Art Gallery.

As noted Djehuty’s centre was at Khemenu, which was also home to a local deity Hedj-wer, who was depicted as a baboon. At some point in the New Kingdom the two deities seem to have merged and from this time we find Djehuty depicted as both an ibis and a baboon. The small faience figure above dates to the Late Period and shows the god holding the Eye of Horus.

Djehuty and the Greek Hermes

Later still, the Greeks saw Djehuty as an equivalent to their god Hermes and in fact the Greeks referred to the city of Khemenu as Hermopolis (the city of Hermes). It is thought that the link between these two deities was that Hermes was seen as a messenger, notably between the worlds of the gods and mortals, and that the Greeks also recognised this role for the more ancient Djehuty.

Imhotep: Architect, healer and god

Who was Imhotep?

Imhotep lived over 4600 years ago and was the highest official in Egypt during the rule of King Netjerkhet (also known as Djoser). This King ruled Kemet from around 2686 BCE and was the first ruler of what we now call ‘Dynasty 3’. Imhotep was also said to be the architect of the King’s burial monument, which was in the form of a stepped pyramid. This was the world’s first monumental stone building and was situated at the site we now call Saqqara in northern Egypt/Kemet.

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Statue of King Netjerkhet, The Egyptian Museum Cairo.

This particular statue of the King shows the dark brown pigment used to represent his skin and also the bulk of his African-type hair, over which he wears a headdress.

Imhotep the god

Copper Alloy statue of Imhotep, Kemet, 600-30 BCE
Copper Alloy statue of Imhotep, Kemet, 600-30 BCE
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images

Imhotep was deified over 2000 years after his death. For a mortal to become a god was highly unusual in ancient Kemet. Kings were divine on account of their office and so were different to non-royal people. Most images of Imhotep as a god date to the Late period, around 600-30 BCE. He is shown wearing a cap and holding a papyrus role, on which the ancient Kemites wrote. It was the Greeks who identified Imhotep with their god of medicine and so many years after his death he took on this additional role.

Most of the small copper alloy figures that represent Imhotep were dedicated at sanctuaries by visitors. Imhotep was worshiped at the Ptolemaic period temple below, which is at the much earlier site of Deir el Medina, or the workman’s village. This was where the tomb builders on the West Bank of Thebes lived and were buried. The photo below shows the house foundations (right) and the mud-brick temple (centre-left).

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Ptolemaic temple Deir el Medina (left)

In addition to Imhotep another, later, architect Amenhotep son of Hapu was also worshipped at the site, along with the two main deities Hathor and Maat.

A Late cult centre at Saqqara

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The Step Pyramid of King Netjerkhet

Another cult centre developed at Saqqara, where Imhotep had designed his famous pyramid. Here, visitors would dedicate animal mummies in the form of an Ibis bird in honour of Imhotep the god. It has long been assumed that Imhotep himself was buried somewhere at Saqqara because of his position and status. His tomb has never been found in spite of archaeologists working all over this extensive site.

Imhotep the Kemite

I often hear Imhotep referred to as a ‘Nubian’, he was in fact a Kemite who lived in the northern region of the country. I have written before about the importance of acknowledging Kemet and its people as indigenous Africans. His achievement in designing and overseeing the construction of a monument such as the step pyramid is impressive and is testimony to the advanced skills of the people of Kemet.

 

Gods of Kemet: Anukhet

The goddess in Kemet

Like many traditional African religions, women played a key role in the Kemite pantheon. Perhaps the best known is Isis, the mother of Horus and wife and sister of Osiris, who can be identified by the throne hieroglyph on her head, which spells out her name Iset or Aset (see below).

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The goddess Isis, who was called Iset by the Ancient Kemites. She appears with King Seti on a relief at his temple at Abydos

The role that gods played was often flexible and varied, depending on region for example. In the case of Isis, the goddess’ roles expanded to such an extent that in the Roman period she was given a second name to define which characteristic was being worshipped, for example Isis Pelagia was associated with seafaring by association with the lighthouse at Alexandria.   Even in traditional temples in Egypt, the goddess’ crown was adapted during the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BCE); she wore a sun disk and cow’s horns (see below).

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Ptolemy II makes an offering to Isis and his sister Arsinoe II. Temple of Isis at Philae

The last Cleopatra took the title ‘New Isis’, presenting herself as a living embodiment of the goddess from the middle of her reign, and appearing in the image of the goddess at a temple in Rome (below). Goddesses, and divine royal women, often wore a vulture headdress. You can see this on the relief above and on the statue below.

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Statue representing Cleopatra as Isis. Capitoline Museums Rome

Anukhet

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The goddess Anukhet makes an offering on a relief from the temple at Dakka in Nubia

Many people have heard of Isis. However, there are a number of less well known deities. One of these is Anukhet (above). Anukhet was the daughter of Khnum and Satet, who were gods from the region we now call Nubia. Khnum, who was from the New Kingdom presented as a ram-headed god, was seen to be the guardian of the source of the River Nile at Elephantine. He was also powerful creator god; the potter’s wheel that represented him is a reference to the idea that he created children from the clay of the river. It was this aspect of Khnum that was celebrated at his cult centre in Esna. Satet, her mother, appeared in the form of a human and was identified as the giver of water, which she presented to the deceased as purification. Her cult centre was Elephantine, in modern Aswan.

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Anukhet, left receives an offering from the King

Anukhet, therefore, was the offspring of two powerful parents. Like her mother she appeared in the form of a human, but can be distinguished from other goddesses by the headdress she wore, which was made of feathers. Although human in form, she was associated with the gazelle. A reminder that many of the animals of Kemet, that are no longer found there, are those that we associated with other African countries further south.

Anukhet was primarily associated with the River Nile, and the annual festival that celebrated her powers involved worshippers dedicating precious items by placing them in the river. The cult centres for Anukhet were on the Islands of Seheil and Elephantine, which are in the modern city of Aswan (below).

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Map showing Aswan and the Island of Seheil

On the Island of Seheil, the goddess appears on a number of rock cut inscriptions, left by Kemite officials from the New Kingdom who were travelling further south (below) and who made offerings for protection. She also appears on temples further south, including a number in Kush.

 

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The goddess Anukhet (left)