Meditation on Ptah

First published on the Neos Alexandria website, here, in 2011. While I love and support Neos Alexandria, I’m in the process of trying to get most of my writing in one place (this blog) so I (and others, I suppose) don’t have to go all over to find it.

[Excepted from “Olympos in Egypt”, the author’s class on the history of Alexandria, the Ptolemies, and Greco-Egyptian Spirituality.]

Ptah was the primary Deity in the Egyptian city of Memphis. Memphis was the first capital and administrative center of Egypt, when all of Egypt was unified during the First Dynasty. Memphis sits at the juncture of Upper and Lower Egypt, and so is called “the Balance of the Two Lands, in which Upper and Lower Egypt had been weighed.”

Mariam Lichtem states that in the conflict between Horus and Set, Horus represented Lower Egypt, and Set Upper Egypt.

Although the sacred Apis bull was typically considered the manifestation of Osiris (hence the combination name Osar-Apis), at times the Apis was called the ba of Ptah. This impiles that Ptah was originally a fertility God. His green skin, similar to that of Osiris, may support this theory,

Ptah’s Memphite priests identified Him with the primordial mound that arose at the First Time from the watery chaos of Nun. His mound was called Ta-tenen (Tathenen, Tatjenen), which means “risen land” or, as Tanen, “submerged land.”  Ammon, one of the greatest Gods of the Ennead of Heliopolis, arose from this primordial mound of soil. Ptah’s identification with the Ta-tenen placed the God of Memphis above the Ennead, making Him a very powerful, very primal creator God. Like most usually “inamimate” things in Egyptian Theology, the mound itself was considered a God,  and so Ptah was often worshiped as the fusion Deity Ptah-Tatenen.

Ptah dreamt of creation in His heart, and He brought forth the world through the power of the spoken Word. He knows the true name of everything in existance, and so maintains power over everything. Some of the creation stories say that Ptah created the great metal plate that was the floor of heaven and the roof of the sky.

Ptah means “opener”, referring to the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, in which Egyptian priests called down the spirit of a God to reside in its cult statue. Although the statue only contained a fraction of the God’s true Being, ever after it was treated as the God itself. It was awakened in the morning through elaborate rituals, washed and dressed, fed and entertained throughout the day, and at night was put to sleep, like it was a living creature.

Others suggest that His name means “sculptor.” He is often called Ptah-Neb-Ankh, which means Ptah, Lord of Life.

As the supreme crafter of the world, He patronized all artisans and craftsmen, especially  stone-carvers and potters. Since in Egypt stone-craft was heavily connected with the building of magnificent tombs, He became a funerary Deity, and the Opening of the Mouth ceremony came to be used to free the souls of the deceased from their corpse before their mummification and burial.

Ptah is a God of intelligence in all forms, but especially of eloquence and the spoken word. He is the master creator and builder, and the Greeks identified Ptah with Hephaistos, Their own master craftsman and Divine Blacksmith. (I personally identify Hephaistos more strongly with Khnum, another craftsman God, with the head of a ram, Who shapes all men on His potter’s wheel. I have no idea if this was supported by ancient belief, but it holds true for me, and others in the Recon community see the connection as well.) So strong was His connection to craftsmen that when the mortal architect and healer Imhotep was deified, Ptah was said to be His father.

By some accounts Ptah is married to Sekhmet, the lioness Goddess. Other accounts name Bast or Wadjet as His wife. All three Goddesses bear the title the Eye of Ra. In Memphis Ptah, Sekhmet, and Their son Nefertum were worshiped as a Triad (sometimes Nefertum’s mother is Wadjet).  Nefertum’s name could be interpreted to mean  “that which is beautifully completed,” that is, perfected or actualized. He is usually shown holding or smelling a blue lotus, a flower that was very popular in ancient Egypt, or as a man wearing a lotus headdress or a child sitting on a lotus.  He is sometimes accompanied by a cat, which may imply a connection to Bast. With Bast, Ptah is supposed to have fathered a minor lion-headed God called Mihos. In some of the stories Bast is the mother of Nefertum as well.

Ptah is called the Lord of Life, for indeed, in Memphite Theology all other Gods come into being through the thought and speech of Ptah, as the very thought and speech of Ptah. He is the Divine Artificer, but He also gives life. He himself states that He causes  “the herbage to grow … I make the riparian lands of Upper Egypt green, I the Lord of the deserts who makes green the valleys in which are the Nubians, the Asiatics and the Libyans.” He says also that he is responsible for  “nourishing the grain of the Field of Offerings and knitting the seed together,” and that he “give[s] life.” As God of words of power, He also patronizes spoken magic.

Resources

Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press. Vol. 1. page 53.

Tour Egypt: Ptah

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