The Heliopolitan Ennead (from the Greek ennea, nine) was the earliest creation myth in Ancient Egypt. It described the nine gods who emerged from one, himself having come from nothing. These gods took up four generations. Each of them was responsible for a different part of what would become the world and universe.
Though there were other creation myths throughout Ancient Egypt, the Ennead was one of the most enduring. Later, it was even conflated with other, newer legends, just to make it fit!
The members of the Ennead, in order, were…
The 9 Ennead Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
1. Atum – the Creator God
Atum was the first god who spontaneously emerged from the waters of Nun onto the first mound of dirt. That dirt was the first in the world, and from it and Atum, all life and all other gods sprung. Though generally referred to as “he,” Atum was neither male nor female and had no parents.
He was an early sun god who would later become conflated with Ra to become Ra-Atum. The animals sacred to him were the Egyptian mongoose, the lion, the bull, and the lizard. The mongoose, in particular, was the enemy of the evil serpent, Apophis.
After he emerged from the waters, Atum masturbated himself. From his spilled seed came Shu and Tefnut. He mates with his own shadow or spits in other versions of the story instead of pleasuring himself.
He was considered a protector of pharaohs. He was responsible for meeting them in their tombs and lifting them up into the afterlife. In the afterlife, the king – all considered Atum’s sons – would become stars that never died. One of Atum’s titles was “Father of Kings.”
Unlike many gods, Atum usually appears fully humanoid. He has a red and white crown.
2. Shu – God of Air
Shu was one of the two children born of Atum, and he was lord of the air. He separated the air and sky and brought breath to the world. He was also a god of peace and a patron god of lions. He was usually portrayed as entirely humanoid, but sometimes he was instead shown as a man with a lion’s head. He carries an ankh.
Clouds were the realm of Shu, and when he was portrayed in art, it was always wearing between one and four ostrich feathers. He was the personification of the wind and married to his sister, Tefnut. Nut and Geb’s children were the earth and sky which Shu must separate to sustain all life.
Because of his job holding up the sky, he was heavily associated with the Titan-God, Atlas during the Greco-Roman periods in Egypt.
3. Tefnut – Goddess of Moisture
Tefnut was the personification of dew, an important life-giving force to the Egyptians, and the wife and sister of Shu. When she cried, her tears caused plants to thrive and grow wherever they landed. Her brother-husband and she were so closely linked that they each contained one half of the same soul.
Tefnut became the mother of Nut and Geb. Like her twin, Shu, she is often humanoid or shown as a woman with a lioness head. Very occasionally, she is entirely leonine.
She was known for her fury, and she became very jealous when her grandchildren received more worship than she did. She was only willing to return to her life when the god Thoth granted her a title of honor. Just as Atum’s penis produced life-giving seed, Tefnut could make pure water stream from her privates.
4. Geb – God of Earth
Geb was often portrayed as a green man with plants sprouting from his back. He was married to his sister, Nut, who was the sky. Because of the children, the couple produced together, Geb was known as the “father of the gods.”
Geb served as a judge in disputes between the gods, most famously in Set and Horus’s contention. It was up to him to judge who eventually was given the earth after the death of Osiris. Because of this, the godly Pharaohs were known as the heirs of Geb.
Geb wore a viper around his head in many portrayals. For this reason, he is often called the father of snakes, which had both positive and negative aspects in regards to ancient Egyptian religious belief.
5. Nut – Goddess of the Sky
Nut was the sky, and she touched each of the cardinal points as she stretched across the whole earth. She was occasionally a cow-goddess, but more often, she was simply a giant humanoid woman arched over her brother-husband, Geb. Shu, their father, kept them apart.
Later, when Ra came into popular mythology, she was often shown as his wife. Her relationship with Geb caused him to take vengeance and stopping her from having children until five extra days were added on to the end of the year by Thoth. She was said to swallow the sun every night and birth it every morning.
Nut was also an essential part of kings’ funerary rights, protecting them and providing breath and water for the next life. She was also responsible for keeping chaos and order separate from each other.
Nut’s body was covered in stars, and as such, she ruled over all heavenly bodies.
6. Osiris – God of the Dead and Funerals
Geb and Nut’s firstborn son, Osiris, was originally the ruler of earth and a god of agriculture. He was known as eternally good in everything he did. However, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother, Set, who wanted to take over the earth. His death was then avenged by his son, Horus.
Osiris’s sister-wife, Isis, and their sister Nephthys worked together to revive the dead god. His scattered pieces were gathered and rejuvenated, except for his phallus – though Isis created him a new one. After that, Osiris ruled in the underworld and helped souls reach the next life.
He was always humanoid and had green skin in his earthly form and black in his underworld association. He was one of the most powerful and revered of the gods.
He was sometimes considered a god of the moon. He was also responsible for judging the people who entered the underworld to test their value in the next life.
7. Isis – Goddess of Magic and Motherhood
Known as the Divine Mother, Isis was the wife and sister of Osiris and Horus’s mother. Isis was the one who brought Osiris back to life after his murder by their brother, Set. She also took Horus and fled after the murder, accompanied by seven scorpions.
Isis was known as a loving mother. She once brought back the child of a woman who had wronged her just because the child did nothing wrong. She was very close with the goddess Hathor, who helped her bring Osiris back to life.
Isis was also extremely popular during the Greco-Roman occupation of Egypt, during which she was known as the Queen of Heaven.
Her son, Horus, was the most valuable thing to her. She hid him in a thicket to protect him from his evil uncle, and when he died, she refused to accept it until he was returned to life.
As well as a goddess of magic and motherhood, Isis was often associated with the sky, wisdom, kingship, family, and mourning. In Ptolemaic times she was often considered the queen of the entire cosmos.
8. Set – God of Evil and Chaos
Set was jealous of his brother and killed him, only eventually being vanquished by his nephew, Horus. He was actually the husband of his sister Nephthys, though she didn’t particularly love him by all accounts!
Despite his crimes, however, Set did have several followers. Reincarnation was such an essential part of Egyptian belief. Set was seen by many as responsible for triggering the first due to Osiris’s death and rebirth.
He and Osiris were heavily associated with color. Where Osiris was black, Set was red.
His supposed son by Nephthys was Anubis, though Osiris was actually Anubis’s father. He was the father of Maga, the crocodile god, by Anat or Astarte.
Set was also a storm god with power over terrible weather.
9. Nephthys – Goddess of Funerals
The sister and wife of Set and Osiris and Isis’s sister, Nephthys, played more of a supporting role than the others in traditional Egyptian lore. She and Isis often worked together in funerary rites, as Nephthys was by Isis’s side during Osiris’s embalmment.
Though she was married to Set, she was much more loyal to Osiris and is not associated with evil. She and Set never had biological children. Instead, she produced Anubis by Osiris, either by taking Isis’s appearance or by giving Osiris wine. This didn’t affect her relationship with her sister.
She hid Anubis until Osiris’s death, after which she fled her husband, and Isis helped her get Anubis back. In some stories, Isis then adopted Anubis. After that, the sisters were inseparable.
The linen used to wrap mummies is sometimes referred to as “the tresses of Nephthys.”
The ennead creation myths is one of the most enduring Egyptian myths and stood the test of time, be it in a slightly altered form. It birthed some of the more interesting Egyptian gods and goddesses, and later made for some great myths.
We hope you enjoyed this brief overview. There are other articles on the website so feel free to browse through.
Bonus – Egyptian Gods Explained
- The 9 Ennead Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
- Final Thoughts