Shu and Tefnut, Children of RA
In my previous article about Ra, the God of the Sun, I stated that the interpretation I put on the legends is my own understanding of the myriad of legends and myths about the gods. Many people may not agree with my interpretation, but because so little of what really occurred was written down, there are many variations of the myths. Please also keep in mind that the Gods and Goddesses were almost always portrayed as husbands and wives or consorts even though, according to the creation legends, they were also brothers and sisters. They therefore, did not commit incest as we see it today. They were Gods and Goddesses after all, and not bound to human rules.
In the beginning there was a primordial mass of unstructured water. Ra, in his god form, lived in these waters also known as Nun. After a period of time he rose in all his splendour from this mass of water in the form that we know him today, the Sun. He rose out of the waters and stood upon a mound, also described as the Benben stone or the pyramordian, which is the summit stone of a pyramid, Up to now, the deities we have dealt with were all androgynous (having both male and female characteristics, showing neither male nor female traits) although we see Ra as male. Ra is both the creator and father of the first god and goddess who are definitely male and female. He created two children out of dust and his own spittle, whom he called SHU, the god of Air and TEFNUT, the Goddess of Moisture. Together these three formed a triad or threefold Deity.
Shu has much in common with his father, Ra-Atum or Ra, whichever name you prefer. He sails in the solar boat and fights off the serpent fiend, also called Nekau. Both Shu and Tefnut, like Sekhmet, are leonine deities, in other words they are depicted with lion heads. These twins are also called Ruti, the guardians of the eastern and western horizons where the sun rises and sets. Shu is often depicted as a god with a lion head with an ostrich feather on his head, separating his two children, Nut en Geb, whom we will discuss in the next article, by holding his daughter Nut above his head on his raised arms.
The four elements which we find mentioned in the Greek philosophies – earth, air, fire and water – is believed to have derived from the Egyptian cosmogony (the part of science that deals with the creation of the universe and the solar system). Atum, in his form as the primeval mound is Earth, Shu is Air, Ra (the Sun) is Fire and Nun (the primeval water from which Atum rose) is water. Tefnut also represents the moisture in the air, therefore she could also be associated with the element of water. Later generations allocated the four elements to different Gods and Goddesses.
The Egyptian God, Shu, was seen as the God of Wind and Air and therefore closely associated with weather prayers. The God Shu was one of the Ennead, the collective name given to the nine original deities (Gods and Goddesses) of the cosmogony of Heliopolis (the birthplace of the Gods) in the creation myths and legends. With his twin sister Tefnut, the God of Water, and their offspring (the Earth God, Geb and the Sky Goddess, Nut) the four made up the quartet of major elements: earth, air, sky and water. The Egyptians believed that Shu was the second divine pharaoh who ruled after Atum Ra but he abdicated the throne, allowing his son Geb to rule, and Shu himself returned to the skies. The Egyptians believed that Shu was also the God of Punishment in the Land of the Dead and the bridge between life and death.
The Egyptian Gods or Goddesses, such as Shu, were often depicted as being part human and part animal. In the description of the Egyptian God Shu he was most frequently depicted wearing and ostrich feather but was also seen with the body of a human and with the head of an animal – a Lion. In the Ancient Egyptian religion certain animals were seen as sacred as they believed that the Spirit of a God resided in these animals, such as the Lion, which were revered and worshiped as reincarnated Gods during their lifetimes.
Shu in his human form. He is often also depicted as a man with the head of a lion. The name Shu means “he who rises up”. As the god of air and a god of light, or of light personified, Shu was said to make himself manifest in the beams of the Sun by day and in the light of the Moon by night. He appears as rising up from behind the earth while supporting the sun with his hands similar to the way Atlas can be seen supporting the heavens on his shoulders. Although most of the legends say that Ra created Shu and Tefnut, there is another prominent myth also. It is said that Shu was created by Ra by way of masturbation. “I had union with my hand, and I embraced my shadow as a wife. I poured seed into my own mouth and I sent forth from myself issue in the form of the gods Shu and Tefnut.” Egyptian Story of Creation.
Shu is the god of the wind, the atmosphere, the space between the heavens and the earth. As Lord of the atmosphere it is his duty to separate his children. Shu can be seen supporting the sky goddess and daughter Nut above his head while his son and earth god Geb resides below his feet. It has been said that if Shu were to ever be removed from his place, chaos would come to the universe and all life would cease.
Shu’s Role in Egypt
It is stated that after Ra, Shu was Egypt’s second Divine Ruler. He was a part of the great Ennead of Gods. After battling and defeating the god Apep and having most of his followers turn away from him Shu left the throne leaving his son Geb in command. As a god of the wind the Egyptians would often invoke Shu to give good winds to their sails. He was also considered to be the personification of the northern winds which were a source of life for the Egyptians. To the Egyptians he was the breath of life, the bridge between life and death for breath is the sign of life and without breath there can be no life. His bones were thought to be the clouds and with the help of a giant ladder he was said to hold, he would raise the spirits of the dead to what was called the ‘Light Land’ by the Egyptians. As the bridge between life and death Shu was also considered to be both a protector and punisher of souls in the afterlife. As a punisher of the souls of the dead Shu would oversee the elimination of those souls who were found unworthy of an afterlife. Those who were deemed worthy would then climb the ladder of Shu and enter on into the ‘Light Land’. Shu was a god related to living and allowed life to flourish in Egypt. He was the division between day and night, the world of the dead and that of the living. The Egyptians believed that without Shu there could be no life, and that Egypt existed because of Shu.
“I am Shu, I draw Air from the presence of the Light-God. From the uttermost limits of heaven, from the uttermost limits on Earth and from the uttermost limits of the pinion of the Nebeh bird. May air be given unto this young divine Babe. My mouth is open, I see with my eyes.”
The Chapter of giving Air in Khert-Neter-The Egyptian Book of the Dead
How to connect with Shu
Shu is all around you, within you, part of you, he is the God of the Air, the very air you breathe, part of the atmosphere covering the planet. Breathe in and breathe out, experience the fresh clean air you breathe in, keep it in your lungs for a few moments and then let it out, carrying with it the foul expulsion from your lungs, cleansing your whole body – that is the presence of SHU in your life. Without SHU there is no life for anyone or anything on this earth.
Shu’s symbol is the ostrich feather. If you take an ostrich feather in your hand and wave it, feel the wonderful, soft moving of air around you, it give us a physical, almost visual awareness of his presence around us.
Although we call Shu the God of Air, he is actually the God of the Atmosphere, because he does not only reside in the East, the location of Air as one of the five elements, but is past of everything around us. The one word that would describe him most accurately would be “movement”, whether it is the softest, gentlest stirring of the air up to gale force winds that leave destruction in their path – that is SHU. Shu is not concerned with a single hurricane or sandstorm, he is connected with the whole of our weather patterns. When working with Shu we often find that he is somewhat impersonal to human concerns, it is not that he is uncaring of our plight, but his point of view is much wider than our own, he deals with the whole, not with individual bits.
Of course, Air is more than physical air, and so is Shu. He is beginnings, and potential light, freedom and movement. He is inspiration, he is aspiration, and he is reaching for the stars. He is necessary for life, he is always present around us, inside us, everywhere.
How to care for Shu
Be careful what you say, remember that words are given sound be breath. Do not use the body of this Lord to curse, to cause pain or to speak untruths. Another way is to care for the birds who travel so easily through and with this Lord, provide water for the, and gory in their beauty as they fly. When you see a bird soaring, think of Shu, honour him in your heart, and thank him for all that he gives you. Shu drives his father Ra’s holy bark across the heavens every day.
The Egyptian Goddess, Tefnut, was seen as the Goddess of Rain. Tefnut was one of the Ennead. The Egyptians believed that without Tefnut’s water, Egypt could dry and burn in the sun. The Egyptian Gods or Goddesses, such as Tefnut, were often depicted as being part human and part animal. In the description of the Egyptian Goddess Tefnut she was most frequently depicted with the body of a human and with the head of an animal – a Lioness or Lion. In the Ancient Egyptian religion certain animals were seen as sacred as they believed that the Spirit of a God resided in these animals, such as the Lioness or Lion, which were revered and worshipped as reincarnated Gods during their lifetimes.
The Temples dedicated to Tefnut, the Goddess of Rain, were believed to be the dwelling place of this famous Egyptian God. Only the Pharaoh and the Priests of Tefnut were allowed inside the temple and the priests would undergo ritual purification in a deep stone pool before they entered the Inner Sanctum of the Temple. This not only cleansed them but also gave them contact with the primeval moisture of life. Ordinary Egyptians were only allowed to come to the gates, or forecourt, of the temple of Tefnut to pay homage and offer gifts to the God / Goddess. The Priests of Tefnut would collect the gifts and say prayers on behalf of the person in the confines of the temple. The priests of Tefnut, the Goddess of Rain, would conduct ceremonies, sacrifices and chant magical incantations, sometimes referred to as spells. The temple of Tefnut would consist of heavy gates which accessed a massive hall with great stone columns, and then a series of many other rooms through which processions of priests would pass. These rooms, or chambers, were lit by candles and incense would be burnt to purify the air of the Temple. The chambers gradually decreased in size, the lighting in the temple was deliberately and significantly reduced to create an atmosphere of deepening mystery until the priests reached the chapel and the shrine which contained the Naos. The Naos was the stone tabernacle inside the shrine which housed the great Statue of Tefnut, the Goddess of Rain.
The large statue of the Goddess Tefnut, the God of Rain was situated in the inner sanctum of the Egyptian temple. The statue of Tefnut would have been depicted with the body of a woman and the head of Lioness. This sacred statue, in the dwelling place of the God, was the embodiment of Tefnut. Food and drink would be offered to the Goddess. The High Priest of Tefnut, would conduct ceremonies and offer prayers and incantations but there was another important priest, called the Medjty, who was responsible for the toiletries. The statue of Tefnut would have been washed and oiled. The statue was then dressed in fine linen and eye make-up, powder and rouge was applied and sacred oil rubbed on the forehead of the statue. The statue of Tefnut, with its head of the Lioness, was only seen by ordinary Egyptians at important festivals when the effigy was paraded in magnificent processions.
The goddess’ name is related to the root “tef”, “to spit, be moist” and “nu”, meaning “sky, waters”. Appropriately, she was the personification of the moisture of the sky. When Atum became associated with Ra, Ra became Tefnut’s father. According to one myth, Tefnut became angry with her father Ra and ran off to Nubia. The god Thoth went to find her and convinced her into returning to Egypt. Tefnut was depicted in the form of a woman who wears on her head the solar disk circled by two cobras. She holds in her hands the scepter and ankh. Many times she has the head of a lioness or is shown as one.
Who is she? She is depicted as a lioness and represents the moisture in the air, including rain. Why the combination with a lion? In Egypt, where hardly any rain fell and the land was dependent upon the moisture in the air, she had power, lion was always the symbol of power, and therefore she had power. There are not many depictions of her. She is either presented as a lion-headed Goddess, sitting with the ankh in her one hand and a lotus wand in the other that indicates her connection with water. She often also carries an ostrich feather like Shu her twin. We can see Tefnut more clearly than perhaps any other Gods or Goddesses except Ra, as we see her all the time in the clouds above us. We hardly ever look up at the sky without seeing a cloud in the sky and every time we see the cloud, we are reminded of the power of Tefnut.
In the desert where no rain fell, the land was absolutely dependent on the moisture condensing from the Nile and wetting the area with dew. When we honour this Goddess, we should use rose incense and astrological oil. When you suddenly get rained on by a sudden shower, don’t see it as a nuisance, experience it as a blessing from Tefnut.
How to honour Tefnut
Honour her with the moisture of your breath, honour her with your sweat, your own saliva (“tef” means saliva), as well as the rain, the clouds the dew.
Oils, Herbs and Incense for both Shu and Tefnut
Use 10 ml Sweet Almond oil as a base. Add: 5 Drops of Papyrus Oil, 3 drops of Benzoin Oil and 2 drops of Sage Oil. This oil can be used to anoint candles or altar ornaments or to anoint yourself when you go into a circle.
Use a Yellow candle for Shu.
Stick Incense: Benzoin or Sage / White Sage
Own incense mixture:
Grind together small quantities of Star Anise, Anise Seed, Benzoin, Gum Mastic and Sage until you have a fine powder. Burn the powder on your altar on a charcoal block as incense.
Use 10 ml Grapeseed oil as base. Add 5 Drops Lotus oil, 4 Drops Rose oil, 2 drops Myrrh oil and 2 drops Sandalwood. This oil can be used to anoint candles or altar ornaments or to anoint yourself when you go into a circle.
Use a Sky Blue candle for Shu.
Stick Incense: Rose, Sandalwoord, Thyme or Violet
Own Incense Mixture:
Grind together small quantities of any of the following herbs: Dittany of Crete, Liquorice Root, Lotus leaves or Lotus seeds, Orris Root, Rose Petals (white or yellow), Sandalwood, Spikenard Thyme and Violet Flowers. Burn the powder on your altar on a charcoal block as incense.
PAKHET, Priestess of Egypt