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In Egyptian mythology, Chnum was one of the earliest Egyptian gods, originally the god of the source of the Nile River. Since the annual flooding of the Nile brought with it silt and clay, and its water brought life to its surrounds, he was thought to be the creator of human children, which he made at a potter's wheel, from clay, and places them in their mothers' uteruses. Indeed, before the cult of Ra gained prominence, he was said by those who worshipped him to have moulded the other Gods, and he had the titles Divine Potter and Lord of created things from himself.


In certain locations, such as Elephantine, since Chnum was thought of as a god pouring out the nile, he was regarded as the husband of Satis (who did much the same), and the father of Anuket, who represented the Nile itself. In other locations, such as Antinoe, as the moulder and creator of the human body, he was sometimes regarded as the consort of Heget, since it was her responsible for breathing life into his creations. Alternatively, in places such as Esna, due to his aspect as creator of the body, they viewed him as the father of Hike, who activated the Ka, and consequently as the husband of Menhit.

Originally one of the most important gods, when other areas arose to greater prominence, it was the secondary function, as potter, that became his whole realm of authority, and the nile was considered the god Hapi, who was the nile god in the more powerful areas, instead. His name derives from this secondary association - it means builder. However, Chnum's earlier position as moulder of the other gods, lead to him being identified as Ra, or more particularly as the Ba of Ra. Since Ba is also the word for a Ram, he became thought of as having a Ram's head.

In art, he was usually depicted as a Ram headed man at a potter's wheel, with recently created children standing on the wheel, although he also appeared in his earlier guise as a water-god, holdng a jar from which flowed a stream of water. However, he occasionally appeared in a compound image, depicting the elements, in which he, representing water, was shown as one of four heads of a man, with the others being Geb representing earth, Sha representing the air, and Osiris representing death. Some think this is a depiction which may have had an influence on Ezekiel and Revelations, as Chnum had a Ram's head, Sha sometimes appeared with a Lion's head, Osiris was a man, and Geb had a goose on his head.

The worship of Chnum centred on two principal riverside sites, Elephantine Island and Esna, which were regarded as sacred sites. At Elephantine, he was worshipped alongside Anuket and Satis as the guardian of the sources of the River Nile. His significance lead to early theophoric names of him for children, such as Chnum-khufu ? Chnum is Protector, the full name of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid. Due to his importance, as an aspect of the life-giving nile, and also the creator, Chnum was still worshipped in some semi-Christian sects in the 2nd or 3rd Centuries.

Other versions of his name

  • Khnemu
  • Khnum
  • Knum

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