First posted in 2o11.
Khnum (also Chnum, Knum, or Khnemu), the ram-headed creator God of Egypt, is one of the oldest Gods of Egypt, worshiped from the 1st dynasty ( 2925–2775 BCE) into the early centuries CE. He was originally thought to preside over the unknown source of the Nile River. Hapi was considered the Nile God in other areas, and eventually His rise in prominence eclipsed Khnum’s Nile aspect. Since the annual flooding of the Nile deposited black silt and clay unto its banks, and because the water was the source of all life, He evolved to be the creator of human bodies. He shapes each child’s form from clay on his potter’s wheel, and then places them in their mother’s wombs. In some accounts He even creates the soul of the child. Henadology.com says that this process did not end at birth, but continued throughout life as a person grew and matured.
In later periods He is even thought to have molded other Deities. One hymn to Hapi, the God of the Nile, says that Khnum fashions Him anew each year. Among Khnum’s titles are Divine Potter and Lord of created things from himself, and Lord of the Cool Waters. Khnum itself means “builder”.It is also related to the root word khnm, “to unite”, or “to form, create”. Henadology.com has more interesting insights into the possible origins of His name.
It is Khnum who releases the vivifying floodwaters from the subterranean caverns in which they were symbolically stored; a connection is thus sometimes postulated between his name and the word khnmt, meaning a spring or well. Several times in the Coffin Texts (spells 51 and 53-6) one encounters the phrase, “Khnum is glad,” referring to the resurrection, but also punning on the name Khnum and khnm, meaning ‘to be glad1’.
E. A. Wallis Budge, the author of The Gods of the Egyptians, tells us about the ancient origins of Khnum, using an alternate spelling of His name:
The texts show that Khnemu always held an exalted position among the ancient gods of their country, and we know from Gnostic gems and papyri that he was a god of great importance in the eyes of semi-Christian sects for some two or three centuries after the birth of Christ. It was probable that Khnemu was one of the gods of the pre-dynastic Egyptians who lived immediately before the archaic period, for his symbol was the flat-horned ram, and that animal appears to have been introduced into Egypt from the East; he disappears from the monuments before the period of the XIIth Dynasty2.
As the molder of other Gods, Khnum came to be identified with Ra, and considered the Ba, the soul or manifestation, of Ra. The word ba also means “ram”, and so Khnum was pictured with the head of a Ram. His two main centers of worship were Elephantine Island and Esna, which was also right by the river. At Elephantine rams have been found mummified with gold gilded headpieces.
At Elephantine, He is married to the Goddess Satis and worshiped alongside Anuket, Who is sometimes another wife and sometimes the daughter of Khnum and Satis. Satis’ worship originated in the city of Swenet, now called Aswan, where She was considered the deification of the innundation, the floods of the Nile River. Her name means “She Who Shoots Forth”, and “She is also called She Who Runs Like an Arrow”, both of which is thought ot refer to the river floods and/or current. She was often drawn with a bow and arrows, and was early on a Goddess of war and hunting, and protector of the southern (Nubian) border of Egypt. Related to the Nile as She was, She was also a fertility Goddess to some extent.
Satis gave birth to Anuket, Goddess of the Nile River itself, presumably by Khnum. Anuket (also spelled Anqet, and transliterated to Greek, Anukis) means “embracer”, as the Nile floods embrace the fields. She is called The Giver of Life, the Nourisher of the Fields, and She Who Shoots Forth. When the Nile began to flood each year, the Festival of Anuket began. Coins, gold, jewelry and other precious items were thrown into the river as offerings of thanks. Along with Her parents Satis and Khnum, She was 1/3 of the triad of Elephantine. By some accounts Khnum was also the father of Heka, the God/dess of magic (Heka is usually described as male, but sometimes female). In this pairing, Heka’s mother and Khnum’s consort is Menhyt, a lioness-headed Goddess Who defends the sovereignty of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and is possibly related to the usraus crown, the rearing cobra, on Ra’s head, and so related to Wadjet.
Sometimes Khnum is pictured with four heads, all rams. E. A. Wallis Budge tells us about the symbolization behind this description:
Khnemu united within himself the attributes of the four great Gods Ra, Shu, Qeb or Seb (Geb), and Osiris, and in this aspect he is represented in pictures with four ram’s heads upon a human body; according to Brugsch these symbolize fire, air, earth and water. When depicted with four heads Khnemu was the type of the great primeval creative force, and was called Sheft-Hat3.
The Greeks in Alexandria equated their Hephaistos with Ptah, but I’ve always connected Him to Khnum. All three are Master Craftsmen, Khnum of pottery specifically, Ptah of stone-working, and Hephaistos of metal-working and the forge. All represent the Principal of organization in the Kosmos. Despite His stone-working patronage, Ptah is strongly associated with the power of the Word, with the magical use of language to create. In contrast, Khnum and Hephaistos work with Their hands. They are handymen, not afraid to get Their hands dirty. Khnum and Hephaistos are earthy, rooted Gods, never mind Hephaistos’ connection to fire and Khnum’s water and solar aspects.
Like Hephaistos, Khnum is another God Who is sadly neglected in modern Paganism, even by Kemetics. One possible reason is that we take technology for granted. It’s always been there. Honored or not, machines and technology are ever-present, and so are Hephaistos and Khnum. In addition, craftsmanship, the kind of hands-on, detailed work that both Hephaistos and Khnum represent, is not common anymore. When it is available, it’s usually very expensive. Most of our “stuff” is mass produced in factories or pieced together in third-world countries. Everything comes ready-made, fully assembled. We don’t see all the work that goes into them. And much of it is shoddy and badly constructed.
Lastly, Hephaistos and Khnum are quiet, unassuming Deities. I believe They represent a gentler kind of manhood than is sometimes extolled in our culture. Unlike Ares, the brash warrior God, Hephaistos and Khnum prefer peace and order. They are not rulers like Zeus or the future king like Horus, son of Isis. They are not Tricksters like Hermes or Loki, crafty though They are. No, They apply Their intelligence and talent toward shaping things, towards making beauty in an sometimes ugly world. Hephaistos and Khnum are Creators, on a basic level. This is a fantastic example for modern men who do not fall into the categories of warrior, king, or prankster. Western culture often expects men to be taciturn, emotionally unavailable Vin Diesel-like action figures, and punishes those who are not judged “manly” enough. The rash of recent gay suicides should illustrate this sad fact – several of those boys were actually straight, but were mercilessly teased as gay because other boys decided they were too effeminate. How sad! Those boys didn’t have any examples of other ways to be a man. Hephaistos and Khnum, the gentle, intelligent craftsmen of the Gods, are an alternate way, a more positive role model.