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Ennead is the name given to a set of nine gods in Ancient Egypt. The Great Ennead of On, called by the Greeks Heliopolis, contained the following deities: Atum, Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, Ausar, Auset, Set, and Nebhet. These nine gods participated in the Myth of Creation when the sun god emerged from the primeval waters of nun. In the Ennead, it is Atum, the almighty, who sets the act of creation on its course and establishes the foundation of the cosmic universe. Clearly the Myth of Creation is not based on some notion of multiple gods who direct the creation. It is inescapable in that the Ennead is the work of Atum. All other energies, forces, spirits, and powers, celestial and terrestrial, are based on Atum's energy.
Nothing was so powerful in the mythology of the ancient Egyptians as the story of creation that stood at the beginning of their religious consciousness. Without the creation, all is lost and nothing is possible in terms of the moral and ethical lives of the people. They believed that the emergence of the sun god from the primeval waters of nun to step on the hillock and bring into being all of the creatures, including deities, in the universe was the moment of magic.
The deities of the Great Ennead appear frequently in the literature of the Egyptians and were especially significant during the New Kingdom. It was thought that the First Occasion, that is, the moment of creation, occurred as a prototype for all subsequent creation. Thus, when Atum, of the On theological tradition, created Shu and Tefnut, air and moisture, the elements had been set in motion that would ultimately result in human society. In one sense, Shu and Tefnut may be called the children of Atum. Geb, Earth, and Nut, sky, may be called his grandchildren and Ausar, Auset, Set, and Nebhet, the great grandchildren of the deity, Atum.
Another way of grasping the importance of the Great Ennead is to say that when Geb and Nut gave birth to their offspring, who were terrestrial, unlike the celestial creations that preceded them, this marked the beginning of real time. This was time after the First Occasion that was now locked in mythology. Now with the arrival of Ausar, Auset, Set, and Nebhet, the Earth had found itself with citizens who would contain all human traits and characteristics. One could see, in almost every example of The Book of the Dead, some reference to some of the deities of the Great Ennead.
It might be said that the difference between the celestial components of the Great Ennead and the terrestrial components is one of personality. Whereas one is struck by the abstract nature of Shu and Tefnut, although materialized in the air and moisture, one sees in the terrestrial figures something of the fallibility of all humans. When Ausar is killed by his brother Set and Auset and her son Heru and her sister Nebhet went to find the pieces of the body of Ausar, all of humanity was in search of its hero, its leader, and its god of the resurrection. This was the great drama acted out in the imagination of the ancient Egyptians on a daily basis. When Heru defeats Set, then humanity could rejoice because good had won the day over evil. The Great Ennead was the most complete dramatic myth told and retold in ancient Egypt.



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Further Reading

  • Asante, M. K. (2007). The History of Africa. London: Routledge.
  • Grimal, N. (1992). A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Hornung, E. (1992). Idea Into Image (E. Bredeck, Trans.). New York: Elizabeth Bredeck Books.