September 21, 2018
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Ptah’s Place in the Egyptian Pantheon

ptahhhhhhhhhhhhhhIn Egyptian mythology, the deity named Ptah (Egyptian: ptḥ) is the demiurge of Memphis, god of craftsmen and architects. In the triad of Memphis, he is the spouse of Sekhmet and the father of Nefertum. He was also regarded as the father of the sage Imhotep. The Greeks knew him as the god Hephaestus, and in this form Manetho made him the first king of Egypt.  Ptah is the creator god par excellence: He is considered the demiurge who existed before all things, and by his willfulness, thought the world. It was first conceived by Thought, and realized by the Word: Ptah conceives the world by the thought of his heart and gives life through the magic of his Word. That which Ptah commanded was created, with which the constituents of nature, fauna, and flora, are contained. He also plays a role in the preservation of the world and the permanence of the royal function.  In the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, the Nubian pharaoh Shabaka would transcribe on a stela known as the Shabaka Stone, an old theological document found in the archives of the library of the temple of the god at Memphis. This document has been known as the Memphite Theology, and shows the god Ptah, the god responsible for the creation of the universe by thought and by the Word.  Ptah is the patron of craftsmanship, metalworking, carpenters, shipbuilders, and sculpture. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, he was one of five major Egyptian gods with Ra, Isis, Osiris and Amun.

The Epiteths of Ptah

He wears many epithets that describe his role in Egyptian mythology and its importance in society at the time:

  • Ptah the beautiful face
  • Ptah lord of truth
  • Ptah master of justice
  • Ptah who listens to prayers
  • Ptah master of ceremonies
  • Ptah lord of eternity

Like many deities of ancient Egypt he takes many forms, through one of his particular aspects or through syncretism of ancient deities of the Memphite region. He is sometimes represented as a dwarf, naked and deformed, whose popularity would continue to grow during the Late Period. Frequently associated with the god Bes, his worship then exceeded the borders of the country and was exported throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

The Attributes and Magical Tools of Ptah

Pooh, Phoh, Loh (Lunus, le dieu-Lune, Sélène), N372.2, Brooklyn Museum

Thanks to the Phoenicians, we find figures of Ptah in Carthage. Ptah is generally represented in the guise of a man with green skin, contained in a shroud sticking to the skin, wearing the divine beard, and holding a sceptre combining three powerful symbols of Egyptian mythology:

  • The Was sceptre
  • The sign of life, Ankh
  • The Djed pillar

These three combined symbols indicate the three creative powers of the god: power (was), life (ankh) and stability (djed). From the Old Kingdom, he quickly absorbs the appearance of Sokar and Tatenen, ancient deities of the Memphite region. His form of Sokar is found contained in its white shroud wearing the Atef crown,[4] an attribute of Osiris. In this capacity, he represents the god of the necropolis of Saqqara [5] and other famous sites where the royal pyramids were built. Gradually he formed with Osiris a new deity called Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Statuettes representing the human form, half-human, half-hawk, or simply in its falcon form will be systematically placed in tombs to accompany and protect the dead on their journey to the West.

The Representations of Ptah

Painting of Ptah in the tomb (TT 290) Irynéfer at Deir el-Médineh, New Empire (1292-1070 av. J.-C..).

His Tatenen form is represented by a young and vigorous man wearing a crown with two tall plumes that surround the solar disk. He thus embodies the underground fire that rumbles and raises the earth. As such, he was particularly revered by metalworkers and blacksmiths, but he was equally feared because it was him who caused earthquakes and tremors of the earth’s crust. In this form also, Ptah is the master of ceremonies for Heb Sed, [6] a ceremony traditionally attesting to the first thirty years of the Pharaoh’s reign. The god Ptah could be opposite the sun god Re, or Aten during the Amarna period, [7] where he embodied the divine essence with which the sun god was fed to come into existence, that is to say to be born, according to the Memphite mythological texts. In the holy of holies of his temple in Memphis, as well as in his great sacred boat, he drove in procession to regularly visit the region during major holidays. Ptah was also symbolized by two birds with human heads adorned with solar disks, symbols of the souls of the god Re: the Ba. The two Ba are also identified as the twin gods Shu and Tefnut and are associated with the djed pillar of Memphis [8] Finally, Ptah is embodied in the sacred bull, Apis. Frequently referred to as a herald of Re, the sacred animal is the link with the god Re from the New Kingdom. He even received worship in Memphis, probably at the heart of the great temple of Ptah, and its death was buried with all the honours due to a living god in the Serapeum of Saqqara. [9] Ptah was assimilated by the Greeks to the god Hephaistos and then by the Romans to Vulcan.

The Priests of Ptah

As god of craftsmen, the cult of the god Ptah quickly spread throughout Egypt. With the major royal projects of the Old Kingdom, the High Priests of Ptah were particularly sought after and worked in concert with the Vizier, somehow filling the role of chief architect and master craftsman, responsible for the decoration of the royal funerary complexes. he High Priest of Ptah was sometimes referred to as the Greatest of the Masters of the Craftsmen (wer kherp hmww). This title refers to Ptah as the patron god of the craftsmen. [10]  The office of the High Priest of Ptah was located in Memphis. The temple of Ptah in Memphis was dedicated to Ptah, his consort Sekhmet and their son Nefertem. [11]  High priests of Ptah are mentioned in inscriptions dating back to at least the Fourth Dynasty. In the tomb of the nobleman Debhen, for instance, there is a description of a visit by Pharaoh Menkaure to the construction site for his pyramid “Divine is Menkaure”. The pharaoh is accompanied by a naval commander and two high priests of Ptah. [12] There used to be two high Priests of Ptah until the Sixth Dynasty. It was probably during the reign of Pepi I that the two offices were combined into one. In the tomb of Sabu called Thety in Saqqara, the owner mentions that “His Majesty appointed me as High Priest of Memphis alone.  The temple of “Ptah-South-of-His-Wall” in its every place was under my charge, although there never was a single High Priest of Ptah before.” [13]   A large temple complex dating to the time of Ramesses II is located at the modern site of Mit Rahina. The Temple of Ptah from this time period was one of the largest temple complexes in Egypt. Not much of this complex has been excavated because a large part of the site lies very close to the modern town. [14]  It was common for the high priest to also hold the title of sem priest of Ptah. The sem priest could be recognized by the fact that he wore a short wig with a side-lock and was dressed in a panther skin.

The Cult of Ptah

Statue of Ptah – Egyptian Museum of Turin

As god of craftsmen, the cult of the god Ptah quickly spread throughout Egypt.  In the New Kingdom, the cult of the god would develop in different ways, especially in Memphis, his homeland, but also in Thebes, where the workers of the royal tomb honoured him as patron of craftsmen. For this reason, the oratory of Ptah who listens to prayers was built near the site of Deir el-Medina, [15] the village where the workers and craftsmen were confined. At Memphis, the role of intercessor with men was particularly visible in the appearance of the enclosure that protected the sanctuary of the god. Large ears were carved on the walls, symbolizing his role as god who listens to men. With the Nineteenth Dynasty, his cult grew and he became one of the four great gods of the empire of Ramses. He was worshipped at Pi-Ramesses as master of ceremonies and coronations. With the Third Intermediate Period, Ptah returned to the centre of the monarchy where the coronation of the Pharaoh was held again in his temple. The Ptolemies continued this tradition, and the high priests of Ptah were then increasingly associated with the royal family, with some even marrying princesses of blood, clearly indicating the prominent role they played in the Ptolemaic court.

Tree of Life Attribution

The Egytian Deities correspondences for Kether, according to Crowley’s quabalistic writtings, are Ptah, Asar, Nepher and Hadith. [1]  The reason for this attribution of Ptah as Egyptian deity correspondence, Crowley tells us, is because Ptah is the Creator.” [2a].  He gives a bit more details telling his readers that the specific aspect of Ptah that embodies this attribution is Ptah “represented as a mummy without any gestures” because “it signifies that Kether has no attributes.” [2b] Even though Crowley enumerates four differents deities in his attributions, Israel Regardie in A Garden of Pomegrenates put more emphasis on Ptah who harmonize himself exquisitely well with Kether because he was one of the “abstract gods” (as distinguished from human or cosmic gods) and because he was the creator of the cosmic egg.  Regardie also  talks about Amon-Ra (with whom Osiris became identified) as he was considered to be king of the gods and “lord of the thrones of the world.” [2]

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[1] Aleister Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writtings of Aleister Crowley, p. 6.
[2] Israel Regardie, A Garden of Pomegrenates, p. 39.  Regardie is citing Prof. Flinders Petrie.
[2a] Aleister Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writtings of Aleister Crowley, p. 81.
[2b] Aleister Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writtings of Aleister Crowley, p. 6.
[4] Atef is the specific feathered white crown of the Egyptian deity Osiris. It combines the Hedjet, the crown of Upper Egypt, with red ostrich feathers for the Osiris cult.
[5] Saqqara (Arabic: سقارة‎), also spelled Sakkara or Saccara in English, is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids.
[6] The Sed festival (ḥb-sd, also known as Heb Sed or Feast of the Tail) was an ancient Egyptian ceremony that celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The name is taken from the name of an Egyptian wolf god, one of whose names was Wepwawet or Sed.
[7] The Amarna Period was an era of Egyptian history during the latter half of the Eighteenth Dynasty when the royal residence of the pharaoh and his queen was shifted to Akhetaten (‘Horizon of the Aten’) in what is now Amarna.
[8] Cf. J. Berlandini, Contribution à l’étude du pilier-djed memphite, p.23-33 et pl. 1 A & pl. 2 A.
[9] The Serapeum of Saqqara is a serapeum located north west of the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, a necropolis near Memphis. It was the burial place of the Apis bulls, living manifestations of the god Ptah. It was believed that the bulls became immortal after death as Osiris Apis, shortened to Serapis in the Hellenic period.
[10] Dodson and Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004. pg 114-115
[11] Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, 2000, Thames and Hudson, pg 83.
[12] J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol I, 2001 (originally 1906), pg 94-95.
[13] Pepi I Meryre (reigned 2332 – 2283 BC) was the third king of the Sixth dynasty of Egypt.
[14] Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, 2000, Thames and Hudson, pg 114-115
[15] Deir el-Medina (Arabic: دير المدينة‎) is an ancient Egyptian village which was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom period (ca. 1550–1080 BC). The settlement’s ancient name was “Set Maat” (translated as “The Place of Truth“), and the workmen who lived there were called “Servants in the Place of Truth”.

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