Shu (Egyptian god)

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Shu
God of the wind and air
Shu with feather.svg
The ancient Egyptian god Shu is represented as a human with feathers on his head, as he is associated with light and air. This feather serves as the hieroglyphic sign for his name. Shu could also be represented as a lion, or with a more elaborate feathered headdress.[1]
Name in hieroglyphs
N37 H6 G43 A40
Major cult center Heliopolis, Leontopolis
Symbol the ostrich feather
Personal Information
Consort Tefnut
Offspring Nut and Geb
Parents Ra or Atum and Iusaaset
Siblings Tefnut
Hathor
Sekhmet

Shu (Egyptian for "emptiness" and "he who rises up") was one of the primordial Egyptian gods, a personification of air, spouse and counterpart to goddess Tefnut and one of the nine deities of the Ennead of the Heliopolis cosmogony[2].

Family[edit]

In Heliopolitan theology, Atum created the first couple of the Ennead, Shu and Tefnut by masturbating or by spitting. Shu was the father of Nut and Geb and grandfather of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. His great-grandsons are Horus and Anubis.

Myths[edit]

Shu is shown holding the sky above his head.

As the air, Shu was considered to be cooling, and thus calming, influence, and pacifier. Due to the association with air, calm, and thus Ma'at[3] (truth, justice, order, and balance), Shu was depicted as the air/atmosphere between the earth and sky, separating the two realms after the event of the First Occasion.[4] Shu was also portrayed in art as wearing an ostrich feather. Shu was seen with between one and four feathers. The ostrich feather was symbolic of lightness and emptiness. Fog and clouds were also Shu's elements and they were often called his bones. Because of his position between the sky and earth, he was also known as the wind.[5]

In a much later myth, representing a terrible weather disaster at the end of the Old Kingdom, it was said that Tefnut and Shu once argued, and Tefnut left Egypt for Nubia (which was always more temperate). It was said that Shu quickly decided that he missed her, but she changed into a cat that destroyed any man or god that approached. Thoth, disguised, eventually succeeded in convincing her to return.

The Greeks associated Shu with Atlas, the primordial Titan who held up the celestial spheres, as they are both depicted holding the sky.[6]

According to the Heliopolitan cosmology, Shu and Tefnut, the first pair of cosmic elements, created the sky goddess, Nut, and the earth god, Geb. Shu separated Nut from Geb as they were in the act of love, creating duality in the manifest world: above and below, light and dark, good and evil. Prior to their separation, however, Nut had given birth to the gods Isis, Osiris, Nephthys (Horus) and Set.[5] The Egyptians believed that if Shu did not hold Nut (sky) and Geb (earth) apart there would be no way for physically-manifest life to exist.

Shu is mostly represented as a man. Only in his function as a fighter and defender as the sun god does he sometimes receive a lion's head. He carries an ankh, the symbol of life.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003). The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05120-8. 
  2. ^ van Dijk, Jacobus. "Myth and mythmaking in ancient Egypt" (PDF). Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
  3. ^ Lazaridis, Nikolaos (2008). "Ethics". UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology. Retrieved 22 May 2017. 
  4. ^ Dunan, Francoise (2004). Myth and mythmaking in ancient Egypt. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0801488532. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Owusu, Heike. Egyptian Symbols. Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. p. 99. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Remler, Pat (2010). Egyptian Mythology, A to Z. Infobase Publishing. p. 24. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 


  • Hans Bonnet: Lexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-937872-08-6, S. 685-689 → Shu
  • Adolf Erman: Die Aegyptische Religion, Verlag Georg Reimer, Berlin 1909
  • Wolfgang Helck: Kleines Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 1999 ISBN 3-447-04027-0, S. 269f. → Shu
  • Francoise Dunand and Christiane Zivie-Coche: "Gods and Men in Egypt 3000 BCE to 395 CE", Cornell University Press 2005, ISBN 0-8014-8853-2
  • Jacobus Van Dijk: "Myth and mythmaking in ancient Egypt", ed. J. M. Sasson, Simon & Schuster, New York 1995