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Nun


Nun (or Nu) was chaos or the primeval waters from which all life immanent, and was guarded by four androgynous frogs and serpent-headed deities. Atum, father of all gods, rose from Nun, though his son was greater than himself. In Heliopolis Nun was called "Infinity, Nothingness, Nowhere and Darkness."

Being the primeval waters of Egyptian mythology, Nun is in rare illustrations is pictured as a bearded man with the head or either a frog, eagle, or serpent, standing waist-deep in water with arms raised to support the solar barque, in which the sun-disk was being raised up by a scarab. Isis and Nephthys supported the scarab, and the crew of the boat included Shu and Geb; these were described in texts as deities issuing from Nun. Nun was described as having no surface for in the primeval period he filled the entire cosmos; it was the belief of Shu, the air, which separated the sky from the earth.

In the Hermopolitan Theological System, Nun arose from these deep, endless, murky, and unperceived waters with other gods and their consorts who personify the aspects of the chaos. The gods, Nun and Naunet, Kuk and Kakwet, Amun and Amaunet, comprised the Ogdoad of Khmun, "the town of Eight."

Within the Hermopolitan system that is thought to have originated at a fairly early date since it is mentioned Pyramid Texts several times, there are about four elements of the primeval chaos. These elements, which gradually formulated to account for the formulation of the universe, might be considered aspects of the chaos itself. On the primeval hillock, which the texts refer to as the Island of Flame, four gods appeared simultaneously. Among them were Nun and his consort Naunet, the god and goddess of the primeval ocean.

Nun also is mentioned in the Memphite system, which combined both theological and political theories, and is said to have been carved on what is presently known as the Shabaka Stone (a basalt slab) commanded by King Shabaka (Twenty-fifth Dynasty, or eighth century BCE). Although most of the engraving is difficult to translate, the main doctrine was discernable. The system centered on the god Ptah, the god of Memphis, in his role of demiurge or maker of the universe. Ptah originally existed before everything else and had his existence in Nun, the primeval ocean formed in other cosmologies.

Nun was believed to still exist; his representation was seen in the water discovered whenever a well was dug, and in the flooding waters of the Nile. Occasionally it was thought that the waters of Nun, which surrounded the floating earth, would one day re-envelop the world and Atum would revert to his original form as a serpent; Osiris instead of Re, would sail over the waters of Nun. As a whole, Nun was a beneficent god, he looked after Shu and Tefnet at birth, and he supposedly guarded and kept in check the demonic powers of chaos represented by serpents. A.G.H.


Sources:

Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, pp. 40-41
Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, pp. 30-40
Ions, Veronuca, Egyptian Mythology, Feltham, Middlesex, Hamlyn Publishing Group, Ltd., 1968. p. 39