Nun (Nu)


According to the theology of the Ogdoad the universe was formed from the interaction of eight elements (instigated by one of a number of possible gods including Thoth, Amun, Horus, and Ra); water, nothingness or invisibility, darkness, and infinity.

Water was represented by Nun (or Nu) and Naunet (the female form). Although the Egyptians had many different creation myths, they all agreed that the universe came from the primordial waters of Nun, and many legends suggested that everything would slip back under these waters at the end of the world.

Nun and Naunet, Deir el Medina, SFE Cameron, via Wikimedia Commons

There were no priests or temples devoted specifically to Nun, but he was represented by the sacred lake of each temple and was frequently referred to in religious inscriptions.

Nun existed in every particle of water and formed the source of the river Nile and the yearly innundation. The god was also associated with the laying of foundations for all temples, possibly because the Egyptians used simple and effective technique which took advantage of the fact that water will always form a horizontal level in order to ensure that the foundation layers of structures were flat.

Nun lifting the barque of the Sun God out of the waters of chaos
Nun (Nu) holding up the sun barque

Nun is often associated with the forces of chaos. When Ra decided that the people were not giving him the respect he was due, it was Nun who suggested that Re should send out his ‘eye’ to destroy mankind and end the world. However, unlike the water serpent Apep (who was the enemy of Ra and a purely destructive force) Nun had a positive aspect. Nun protected Shu and Tefnut from the forces of chaos, as represented by demonic snakes. According to one myth it was Nun who told Nut to transform herself into a solar cow and carry Ra across the sky because he had become old and weary.

Nun was represented as a frog or a frog-headed man (as a member of the Ogdoad) but could also be depicted as a bearded man with blue or green skin (reflecting his link with the river Nile and fertility). In the latter form he can look fairly similar to Hapi, the god of the Nile, and often appears either standing on a solar boat or rising from the waters holding a palm frond (a symbol of long life), Occasionally, he appears as a hermaphrodite with pronounced breasts.

In Memphis, Nun was associated with the creator god, Ptah in the form of the composite deity Ptah-Nun. Both gods were described as the father of the sun god (Ra or Atum). However, rival priests claimed that Thebes was the place where the primeval mound first rose above the waters of Nun. As Amun was both the creator god of Thebes and a member of the Ogdoad they suggested that Nun had been a powerful, but inert force until Amun turned himself into the primeval mound and thereafter created the other gods.

Copyright J Hill 2010