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Shu was the Egyptian god of air and the atmosphere, and the creator of wind. His primary task was to separate the sky, Nut, and the earth, Geb.

General description

Shu's name is the root of the words 'dry', 'parched', 'withered' and 'light', specifying him to be the dry component of the air where his sister and wife, Tefnut, is the moisture.

Shu was one of the Ennead, both he and his twin sister Tefnut being the first deities to be created by Atum. He was the father of Nut and Geb.

He normally was depicted as a man wearing ostrich feathers on his head. He typically shown with his arms raised, holding up Nut while standing on Geb. Sometimes he held a sceptre and ankh in his hands, symbols of power and life, and was sometimes written as having control of snakes. When with Tefnut, Shu is often shown as a lion to match his wife's leonine form.

Later, Shu became increasingly identified with the war god Anhur (GR: Onuris). Anhur can be translated as "Sky Bearer", wore a headdress of ostrich feathers, and also had a lioness consort. Both gods were also said to have recovered their consorts from Nubia when they ran away in defiance after an argument. Eventually, with Shu being seen more as a concept or force and Anhur as an actual god, the two were merged to form Anhur-Shu.

His role

Shu's main role was to hold up the sky from the earth, aided by the four Pillars of Shu at each cardinal point, much like the Greek titan Atlas. This created the space for life on earth to be created, making Shu more of a god of the atmosphere (as the space in between sky and earth) rather than the sky. Shu thus also ruled over the winds, which were seen as the breath of life. He was often beseeched to provide good winds for the many Egyptian boats.

His links to life were strengthened as Shu became seen as the resurrector of Ra and the Pharaoh each morning, causing the sun to rise. In addition, he helped to protect Ra from Apep in the underworld with spells. He was also thought to be involved with ordinary spirits after death, participating in the judgement in the Halls of Ma'at. He was the leader of the torturers and executors, taking on the role of the god of punishment for those not worthy of the afterlife. More happily, he also held up the ladder which souls used to climb into the afterlife. Many Egyptians thus saw him as a metaphorical bridge between contrasting ideals, such as day and night, sky and earth, and life and death.

Sunlight was also seen by the Egyptians to exist in Shu's domain of the air, and so Shu was sometimes referred to as the god of light. He was never a solar deity, despite his sporadic portrayals of wearing the sun disk. The sun disk was more likely present because he was sometimes seen as the second Pharaoh of Egypt, succeeding Ra.


Shu and Tefnut, unlike most other prominent Egyptian deities, does not seem to have any centre of worship, or any known temples dedicated to either of them, together or separately. Various cities, such as Iunet and Behdet, appear to have districts named after him. He is only known to have been worshipped as part of the early Ennead worship at Iunu, which later gave the Ennead cult status as the town grew into sprawling city the Greeks called Heliopolis.

Akenaten and his wife Nefertiti were said to have initially tried to depict themselves as Shu and Tefnut on earth. This did not appear to be widely accepted by Egyptians, which some historians speculate led to Akenaten's pushing forward of a more monotheistic worship of Aten, the sun disk. To justify his previous statements of he and his wife being Shu and Tefnut, he then claimed Shu actually lived within the sun disk.


Document Source

  • This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.