Atum – Self-Engenderer and Lord of Totality
O Atum! When you came into being you rose up as a High Hill,
You shone as the ben-ben stone in the Temple of the Phoenix in Heliopolis.
Hail to you, O Atum!
Hail to you, O Becoming One
who came into being of himself!
You rose up in this your name of High Hill,
You came into being in this your name of “Becoming One”.
In Egyptian [Ennead] cosmogony, the world is depicted as coming into being out of the primeval waters of chaos (the abyss). The first thing to appear was the world-mound, the ‘mound of the first time’ (the High Hill alluded to in the passages above). Atum is the primeval hill itself. He is the creative principle that called the world into being from the original chaos.
The root of his name is in the word ‘tem’ which means ‘complete’ or ‘finish’ in both the constructive and destructive senses. He is the uncreator as well as the creator. At the end of the world he will destroy everything and return to the form of the primeval serpent.
He is also known as the Lord of Totality. Everything originates from him. Our kas (ka = the life force or double of a person that is released from the body seventy days after embalming) come from him.
He is Father of the Gods, he is the ‘self-engendered one’. By copulating with himself, he essentially masturbated the gods into creation. His hand thus represents the female principle inherent in himself. He was the father of Shu and Tefnut, the first divine couple through whom the other gods proceed.
He is the primal mound, the original creation. This was represented at Heliopolis (the main theological centre that established a form of orthodox belief around Atum) in the form of the ben-ben stone, which may have actually been a meteorite.
He is the Sun which is considered the primary factor in the process of creation. As such he is linked to the ‘self-developing scarab’ (the scarab was also believed to be self-engendering). Atum in his solar form was often fused with Re (or Ra) to become Re-Atum. The Coffin texts say that Atum emerges in the east and rests in the west – here he is the complete manifestation of the sun. But in funerary contexts he is shown as an aged ram-headed man travelling to the underworld each evening to be reborn the next day; consequently he played an important role in mortuary books. At other times Re is seen as the rising sun and Atum as the setting sun.
He is a chthonic god (i.e. pertaining to the underworld). As a primeval god and the Evening Sun he has strong associations with the underworld, as such his power is invoked in netherworld contexts. Atum is depicted in the Valley of the Kings as an aged, ram-headed figure supervising punishment of evildoers and enemies of the sun god, and as subduer of netherworld forces such as the serpents Apophis and Nehebu-Kau.
Atum is frequently depicted in anthropomorphic form wearing the dual crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The main focus of worship was in Heliopolis before his cult was eclipsed by that of Ra, but his influence was widespread. In his underworld aspects he is shown with the head of a ram; in his chthonic form he is symbolised as a serpent. He can also appear as a scarab, mongoose, lion, bull or lizard.
“All manifestations came into being after I developed…no sky existed no earth existed…I created on my own every being…my fist became my spouse…I copulated with my hand…I sneezed out Shu…I spat out Tefnut…Next Shu and Tefnut produced Geb and Nut…Geb and Nut then gave birth to Osiris… Seth, Isis and Nephthys… ultimately they produced the population of this land.”
Hail and honour to Atum.
The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Richard H. Wilkinson
Egyptian Religion, Siegfried Morenz