In Heliopolis, Atum was regarded as the first God, who created himself, sitting on the benben (mound) which emerged from the chaotic waters of Nu, which covered the world. At the beginning of the creative cycle Atum appears in the form of a snake.
Atum's name means “to complete” or “finish”. He is considered by many as being the "complete one" and finisher of the world, returning to Nu at the end of the creative cycle. He is the god of pre and post existence. As creator he brought life to the world, with all other gods and goddesses being part of his ka (his soul). Atum is a solar deity, associated with the young ram-headed scarab sun god Khepri, whose name means “to come into existence”. Khepri is connected with the morning sun, whilst Atum is linked with the evening sun. A continuous cycle of death and rebirth.
Because of loneliness, Atum created Shu (god of dry air) and Tefnut (goddess of moist air) after masturbating by sneezing and spitting them out of his mouth, respectively. When they were brought into existence, Shu and Tefnut grew curious about Nu and disappeared into the abyss. Atum sent the Eye of Ra (the female counterpart of the sun God Ra) to find them.
When they returned he shed tears of happiness and from these the first Pharaoh was formed. In fact, many Pharaohs used the title “Son of Atum” and were considered living deities. When their mortal bodies died, the Egyptians taught that Atum took the Pharaoh's soul from his carefully prepared body into the heavens.
In Egyptian art, Atum is usually depicted as a man wearing royal head-cloth or sometimes wearing a dual white crown of Upper Egypt and red crown of Lower Egypt. This shows him to be the God of kings. In other art, besides being depicted as a serpent, he is also shown in various forms as a mongoose, lion, bull, lizard, or ape.
Today, the only surviving remnant of Heliopolis is the Temple of Re-Atum obelisk, erected by Senusret I of the twelfth dynasty, still in its original position. This impressive red granite monument dedicated to this ancient God is 20.73 m high and weighs 108,900 kg.
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