on precreation in the Pyramid Texts
everlasting Abyss and eternal Pleroma

by Wim van den Dungen


1 The earliest literary source : the Wenis Texts.
2 The Book of Nun.
3 Approaching Nun.
4 Everlasting Abyss and eternal Pleroma.



In Ancient Egyptian thought, there is something before creation. This state-of-no-state is approached using two fundamental concepts : the limitless waters (Nun) and the autogenous potential of precreation (Atum). Both form a dual-union and express opposite ideas : Nun is lifeless, inert, dark and everlasting, Atum is life, differentiation, light and eternal recurrence (eternity-in-everlastingness). These notions are as old as the Pyramid Texts (ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE) and probably older.

In this paper, all Pyramid Text utterances containing the word "Nun" have been translated. In the Old Kingdom, Nun is also the "place" where creation started, namely when Atum self-creates and initiates the "first occurrence" (zep tepi). Because of the pre-rational mode of cognition at work in these texts, the distinction between Nun and this first time is not clearly made yet. Arguments are presented to interprete precreation in terms of Nun, the Abyss, hand in hand with Atum, the Pleroma of the deities.


The Pyramid Texts of Ancient Egypt are the oldest extensive body of written material in the world. They are incised on limestone in thousands of lines of hieroglyphics, containing fragments of myths and legends, historical references and astronomical lore, geography and cosmology, religion and rituals, systems of theology, festivals, magic and morals. This was done with literary skills capable of expressing subtle religious and refined ethical thoughts, albeit in an ante-rational mode of cognition.

Technically, this royal funerary corpus consists of a series of "utterances" or "spells", so called because the expression "Dd mdw" ("Dd" = "words" ; "mdw" = "speech"), "to say" or "words to be said", i.e. "to be recited" is, as a rule, at the head of most.
Nearly three centuries after the Old Kingdom began (ca. 2670 BCE), these important ritual sayings were recorded and entombed for the first time by Pharaoh Wenis (ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE) of the Vth Dynasty and Pharaohs Teti, Pepi I, Merenre & Pepi II (ca. 2270 - 2205 BCE) of the VIth Dynasty. These pyramids were erected and inscribed between the years about 2348 to 2205 BCE.

Additional texts, parallel and complementary, have been found in the pyramids of Oudjebten, Neit, and Apouit, queens of Pepi II, Pharaoh Aba of the VIIth Dynasty, of whom little historically is known, and Sen-Wosret-Ankh, an official of the XIIth Dynasty. The abbreviations of the pyramids in which texts so far have been found are : W. = Wenis, T. = Teti, P. = Pepi I, M. = Merenre, N. = Pepi II (Neferkare), Nt. = Neit, Ip. = Apouit, Wd. = Oudjebten, Ib. = Aba and Sen. = Sen-Wosret-Ankh.

This "eternalized" body of texts includes drama, hymns, litanies, glorifications, magical texts, offering rituals, prayers, charms, divine offerings, the ascension of Pharaoh, the arrival of Pharaoh in heaven, Pharaoh settled in heaven, and miscellaneous texts. It is the oldest body of theology in the world, and precedes the textualization of the Vedas.

"... from internal references in the Vedic literature we can now state with some certainty that the Rig-Veda was not composed, as maintained by many scholars under the spell of the Aryan invasion model, around 1200 BC, but at least more than eight centuries earlier. The hymn composers knew of an environment that simply ceased to exist around 1900 BC. What more concrete evidence could anyone wish for ?" - Feuerstein, Kak & Frawley, 1995, p.105.

Auguste Mariette (1821 - 1881) was the modern discoverer of the inscribed pyramids at Saqqara. However, in 1880, Gaston Maspero (1846 - 1916), working under Mariette's direction, discovered the first set of Pyramid Texts. They were those inscribed on the walls of the sarcophagus chamber of the pyramid of Pepi I. Following that, he found texts in the pyramids of Wenis, as well as in the pyramids of Teti, Merenre, and Pepi II. Pharaoh Teti's pyramid followed the prototype established by Pharaoh Wenis. Its dimensions are practically identical with those of the pyramids of Pepi I, Merenre & Pepi II.

This search for texts in pyramids did not find a continuation until the years 1920 and 1936, when Gustave Jéquier (1868 - 1946), besides clearing the pyramid of Pepi II (Neferkare), discovered additional texts, parallel and complementary. All these and other additional texts may be drawn upon (cf. Allen, 1950).

When Pharaoh Wenis decided to adorn his tomb with sacred hieroglyphs, in order to assure for himself -through the magic of his great speech- his ultimate realization in the afterlife, Osirian faith was already very popular and its incorporation in the royal funerary rituals had already begun. The name "Osiris" was inserted before Pharaoh's name wherever it stood at the head of a spell. It was omitted in all cases when it occurs in the text (except in Utterances 25 & 38). Breasted (1912) concluded the editor must have been "Osirian", working hastily and mechanically ...

"While there is some effort here to correlate the functions of Re and Osiris, it can hardly be called an attempt at harmonization of conflicting doctrines. This is practically unknown in the Pyramid Texts. (...) But the fact that both Re and Osiris appear as supreme king of the hereafter cannot be reconciled, and such mutually irreconcilable beliefs caused the Egyptian no more discomfort than was felt by any early civilization in the maintenance of a group of religious teachings side by side with others involving varying and totally inconsistent suppositions. Even Christianity itself has not escaped this experience." - Breasted, 1972, pp.163-164.

Although historical traces of Osirian faith predating the Pyramid Texts are sparse, popular Osirian beliefs had, during the previous Dynasties, already slowly infiltrated the Solar state religion. Had predynastic religion identified Osiris with the fertile waters of the inundation, with soil and vegetation (cf. Orion and the Dog-Star in the South, the direction of the inundation) ? The ever-waning and ever-reviving life of Egypt's soil through the Nile was entrenched by the story of the murder & resurrection of Osiris and the triumph of his son Horus over Seth, the evil uncle. As a result, and despite its popular origin, Osirian faith entered into the most intimate relationship with the ideology of divine kingship, causing a fundamental tension to be resolved later, when Osiris, as god of the dead  and king of the netherworld, was increasingly seen as the nocturnal aspect of Re (cf. the New Kingdom Solar theology and Netherworld literature).

So, although the religion of the state was a Solar faith focused on Pharaoh, the Pyramid Texts evidence an ambiguous relationship with Osiris, the god of the common people and popular beliefs. The Terminal Predynastic Osirian cult, probably local to the Delta, involved a forbidding, stern & repellent hereafter. Osiris was a Nile-god and a spirit of vegetable life, a harvest-god. But, as a King of Egypt, he had been killed by his brother Seth, recovered and restored by his wife Isis (with the help of the secret great name of Re) and resurrected by his son Horus, who avenged his father by overcoming Seth in a battle presided by Thoth. When Osiris migrated up the Nile from the Delta, he was identified with the old mortuary jackal-god of the South, "the First of the Westeners" (Abydos, Assiut). His kingdom was conceived as situated below the western horizon, where it merged with the netherworld. He became the "King of the dead" below the earth, the "Lord of the Duat", monarch of a subterranean kingdom. 

"... in the Solar faith we have a state theology, with all the splendor and the prestige of its royal patrons behind it ; while in that of Osiris we are confronted by a religion of the people, which made a strong appeal to the individual believer. (...) In the mergence of these two faiths we discern for the first time in history the age-old struggle between the state form of religion and the popular faith of the masses." - Breasted, 1972, pp.140-141.

According to Breasted, and there is no reason to disagree, nothing in these primordial myths proved Osiris to have a celestial afterlife. Indeed, the Pyramid Texts evidence survivals from a period when Osiris was even hostile to the Solar dead (cf. the exorcisms intended to retain Osiris from entering the Solar tomb with evil intent). However, the popularity of Osiris among the common people forced the Heliopolitan theologians to incorporate him into the Solar creed. In this way, Heliopolitan Solar theology got slowly Osirianized, a fact we witness in the Pyramid Texts.

The resurrection of Osiris by Horus and the restoration of his body was affirmed to be Pharaoh's privilege. The Osirian hereafter was celestialized. Osiris was called "Lord of the sky" and Pharaoh was announced to Osiris in the sky precisely in the same way as he had been announced to Re in the Solar theology. Hence, we find Pharaoh ascending to the sky and then descending among the dwellers in the netherworld, implying that the Duat became somehow accessible from the sky. In the Osirian cult, the netherworld became the lower region of the sky, in the vincinity of the horizon, below which it is also extended (Breasted). An important link between Re and Osiris was the former's death every day in the West, the place of the dead. The dead Pharaoh and the dying Sun corresponded well, as did the resurrection of Osiris (as king of the dead) and the dawning of the Sun (as the child Harpocrates).

"The fact remains, then, that the celestial doctrines of the hereafter dominate the Pyramid Texts throughout, and the later subterranean kingdom of Osiris and Re's voyage through it are still entirely in the background in these royal mortuary teachings. Among the people Re is later, as it were, dragged into the Nether World to illumine there the subjects of Osiris in his mortuary kingdom, and this is one of the most convincing evidences of the power of Osiris among the lower classes. In the royal and state temple theology, Osiris is lifted to the sky, and while he is there Solarized, we have just shown he also tinctures the Solar teaching of the celestial kingdom of the dead with Osirian doctrines. The result was thus inevitable confusion, as the two faiths interpenetrated." - Breasted, 1972, pp.159-160.

In the Old Egyptian language of the Pyramid Texts, the composition between semantic groups is loose. Subjectivity is still objectified. Pre-operatoric activity is limited by the immediate material context. Older structures are mingled with new ones and many traces of earlier periods are left over. The extent of this layeredness has been called in to reject the possibility of Ancient Egyptian philosophy. The language, which has the style of the "records" of the Old Kingdom, is often additive and offers little self-reflection (which starts with the literature of the First Intermediate Period). Didactic poetry (precepts) and lyrics in which personal emotions & experiences are highlighted are nearly absent.

"Along with the Sumerians, the Egyptians deliver our earliest -though by no means primitive- evidence of human thought. It is thus appropriate to characterize Egyptian thought as the beginning of philosophy. As far back as the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians were concerned with questions that return in later European philosophy and that remain unanswered even today - questions about being and nonbeing, about the meaning of death, about the nature of the cosmos and man, about the essence of time, about the basis of human society and the legitimation of power." - Hornung, 1992, p.13, my italics.

In the ca. 650 years between ca. 3000 BCE (the beginning of the Dynastic Period and of writing) and ca. 2348 BCE (the death of Pharaoh Wenis), the written language had considerably developed. Nevertheless, although words could be joined together in simple sentences and the latter in groups (dealing with honors & gifts, offices, legacies, inventories, testaments, transfers, endowments, etc.), the additive, archaic quality of the literary style remained pronounced.

Various types of parallelism occur : synonymous (doubling or by repetition), symmetrical, combined, grammatical, antithetic, of contrast, of constraint, of analogy, of purpose and of identity. Metrical schemes of two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight lines occur (the fourfold being the most popular). The play of words is the commonest literary feature and depends on the consonantal roots of the words. Alliteration, metathesis, metaphors, ellipses, anthropomorphisms and picturesque expressions are also found.

"The only basis we have for preferring one rendering to another, when once the exigencies of grammar and dictionary have been satisfied -and these leave a large margin for divergencies- is an intuitive appreciation of the trend of the ancient writer's mind." - Gardiner, 1925, p.5.

The Pyramid Texts pose their own particular problems and difficulties. From a thematical point of view, they are a set of symbolical "heraldic"  spells which mainly deal with the promotion of Pharaoh's welfare in the afterlife. These spells were recited at various ceremonies, mostly religious and especially in connection with the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Pharaoh. These texts are to a large extent compositions, a compilation and joining of earlier texts which must have circulated orally or were written down on papyrus many centuries earlier. Some of these probably go back to the oral tradition of the Predynastic Period, for they suggest the political context of Egypt before its final unification (as Sethe pointed out). Others, although the archeological record is limited, were used in this-life rituals, and have initiatoric connotations. The relative rarity of corruptions, which cannot be said of later compositions as the Coffin Texts, is another important fact which makes their study rewarding.

"The Pyramid Texts were not the work of a single man or of a single age. They are entirely anonymous and of uncertain date. And they are religious literature which reflect more or less clearly the conditions of religious thought in ancient Egypt previous to the Seventh Dynasty - more like the Psalms than any other book of the Old Testament." - Mercer, 1956, p.2.

The contemporary school of egyptological literalism equates the earliest temporal layer of any text with its historical date of composition, mistrusting the presence of literary antecedents. In the case of the Pyramid Texts, they would agree to push the date of inception with a few centuries (the margin of error for this period being ca. 100 years) but try to avoid a Predynastic figure. But, comparisons with the architectural language of the period, makes it likely that under Pharaoh Djoser (ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE), the Egyptians had the conceptual framework of the Pyramid Texts at their disposal. King Djoser, the "inventor of stone" and his Leonardo da Vinci, Imhotep, the "great seer" (or prophet) of Re at Iunu, "the Pillar", 40km northeast of Memphis (the Greek Heliopolis, the Coptic area of contemporary Cairo), layed the foundations of the Old Kingdom "canon" which ruled all aspects of the life of the Ancient Egyptian elite, including writing, art & religion.

The Pyramid Texts evidence the emergence of a composite mortuary doctrine. But what used to be viewed as a separate "Osirian" destiny of the king "has more recently been recognized as one aspect of his celestial cycle - the regenerative phase through which he passes before 'rising in the eastern side of sky like the Sun' (Pyr. 1465d-e)." (Allen, 1989, p.1).

1. The earliest literary source : the Wenis Texts.

"O You, the Great God, whose name is unknown."
 Pharaoh Wenis (PT 276c - ca. 2350 BCE)

Pharaoh Wenis, Unis or Unas (ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE) was the last Pharaoh of the Vth Dynasty. His pyramid at Saqqara is at the South-western corner of Djoser's enclosure. The complex, a model for subsequent rulers, is almost diagionally opposed to the pyramid of Userkaf (ca. 2487 - 2480 BCE), the founder of this Heliopolitan Dynasty. Pharaoh Wenis is the first to include hieroglyphic inscriptions in the tomb, namely in his antechamber and burial-chamber (not in the Ka-chamber).

Cartouche of Pharaoh Wenis.

The inscriptions carved and filled with blue pigment on most walls of the royal tomb underneath the pyramid of Wenis, contain, in 234 of the 759 known utterances, the first historical account of the (Heliopolitan) religion of the Old Kingdom.

Text-fragment in the tomb of Wenis.

The texts from the tomb of Wenis are available online. So is Sethe's standard edition of the Pyramid Texts (1910) and Mercer's translation (1952). In Sethe's edition, 714 Utterances are given, whereas Faulkner's standard edition of 1969 brings the total to 759.

Plan of the Pyramid-complex of Wenis (ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE).
The Pyramid was 57.75 m², 43 m high, with a slope of 56°.

The causeway to the pyramid of Wenis was 750 m long and was equal to Pharaoh Khufu's. In its roof, a slit was left open, so a shaft of light could illuminate the gallery of brightly painted reliefs, of which only fragments survived. A wide array of scenes once covered the wall : boats transporting granite palm columns, craftsmen working gold & copper, harvesting scenes (grain, figs & honey), offering bearers, battles with enemies, bearded "Aziatics" ... Two boat graves (each 45 m long) lay side by side South of it. By the New Kingdom, the complex had fallen into ruins.

The antechamber of the pyramid tomb lies directly under the centre axis of the pyramid. In the East, a doorway opens to the uninscribed Ka-chamber with three recesses. The middle recess of this Ka-chapel (intended for sitting statues of Pharaoh Wenis ?), lies exactly behind the false door of the mortuary temple.

The sitting statue is attested in the funerary domain from the Early Dynastic Period onwards. It is the three-dimensional realization of the picture of the Slab-stela, representing the enthroned tomb owner in front of an offering table, to which he is stretching out one hand. The stretched (mostly right) hand is shown resting on the thigh, the left hand often on the breast (but variants in gesture and garment exist). During the IVth Dynasty, the sitting statue is a formal part of the Giza cemetery. It was placed in a closed "serdab" (the Arabic for "cellar"). In this "inner" cult place -dedicated to the provision cult for the deceased- the Ka-statue is the "double" of the tomb owner, representing the latter as corporally intact, provided and able to receive provisions by way of the mummy enshrined in the sarcophagus, and by way of the Ka and/or Ba visiting the tomb and recognizing its own image in the Ka-statue.

On the ceiling of the tomb, golden, pentagram-like stars were carved in relief on a sky-blue background. The tomb is made of Tura limestone, except for the West wall of the burial-chamber and the western halves of its North and South walls, opposite the ends of the granite sarcophagus, which are in albaster, cised and painted to represent a reed-mat and a wood-frame enclosure (cf. the Early Dynastic Period and earlier). Sunk in the floor to the left of the foot of the sarcophagus was the canopic chest (near the South Wall).

Burial-chamber  - pyramid of Pharaoh Wenis.
Sarcophagus West, western half of North & South walls in albaster.
Canopic chest to the left (South) of the foot of the sarcophagus.

For Sethe (1908), the texts found in these pyramids were a free collection of magical utterances, which, by virtue of their presence, assisted Pharaoh in his resurrection & ascension de opere operato, dispensing with the need for daily priestly offerings to his Ka.

"Food offerings alone, however, even when they conformed to the prescriptions regarding purity and dietary taboos (e.g. no pork, no fish), did not suffice to maintain the divine forces. These forces were nothing without ritual and efficacious speech." -
Traunecker, 2001, p.40.

The presence of offering-texts feeds the subtle bodies of the deceased. Sacred words not only describe objects, but embody their double (cf. the Lascaux pictures and the Eastern desert petroglyphs). Hence, once properly recited (by the dead and/or the living, the so-called "voice-offerings"), they become efficient (for all of eternity). The hidden, secret, dark potential of hieroglyphs is evidenced by the sacrificial rituals found in the extended mortuary literature. The Ba of the deceased reads the words and the latter manifest their meaning.

"We have already pointed out that the spells of the so-called sacrificial ritual, i.e. the texts used in the provision of supplies, were inscribed in a prominent place where they could be seen by the dead person resting in his sarcophagus. (...) In other words, texts were written down so that the dead themselves could 'proclaim the provision of supplies' ("nis dbHt-Htp") instead of this being done by unreliable priests. This was the nucleus around which the texts crystallized." - Morenz, 1996, p.229.

Schott (1945) & Ricke (1950) advanced the thesis that at the time of the funeral, these texts were recited in the various chambers, corridors and courts through which the procession passed on its way to the pyramid. But it was not easy to identify which spell was recited were ! For Spiegel (1953 & 1971) the texts were an integral part of the funerary ritual performed in the tomb and hence were recited in the area were they were inscribed. They reflect the royal burial ritual. This hypothesis was criticized. In 1960, Morenz wrote :

"This bold, learned and ingenious interpretation can properly be accessed only by one who has examined it in terms of the vast and diverse material. When this is done, it appears that quite serious objections may be levelled against numerous points in the argumentation and thus against the thesis as such." - Morenz, 1996, p.228-229.

Nevertheless, Altenmüller (1972) agrees with Schott & Ricke that these texts were recited in the mortuary temple, as well as in the pyramid, involving priests assuming the god-forms of Re, Horus, Seth and Thoth. Recently, Eyre (2002) suggests the training and initiation of these priests points to this-life rituals.

"The promise of divine assistance, resurrection, and safe passage to the afterlife is not, however, a concern purely of funerary ritual, and the markedly initiatory form of parts of the mortuary literature must be taken as a pointer to contemporary 'this-life' ritual that is otherwise lost from the archaeological record." - Eyre, 2002, p.72.

In "Reading a Pyramid",
Allen (1988) compared the location of the texts within the tomb of Wenis with other Old Kingdom pyramids and tombs (cf. Morenz, 1960). He was able to establish a coherent model describing the funerary ideology of these royal tombs. The position of particular groups of texts within Wenis' pyramid corresponds with the placement of the same texts in other pyramids. Spells recited during the burial ritual were thus eternalized as divine words on the walls, further complementing the symbolism of the general layout of the mortuary complex in general and the royal tomb in particular. Assmann (1983, 1989) notes :

"The Egyptian describes this function of the spoken word with the causative derivation of the phonetic root (i)Ax, thus arriving at s-Ax 'to transfigure'." -
Assmann, 1989, p.137.

A combination of all these elements is likely. The overall Egyptian funerary mentality seems to favour an enduring canon of broad schemes adaptable to immediate circumstances. As each Pharaoh had his own titulary, he had his own burial ritual and mortuary complex, reflecting a variety of local (nomic) traditions at work around him. They existed by the grace of the "good Nile" he alone, being divine, could guarantee. His death was thus a major calamity, and could perturbate the agricultural cycle, leading to famine, conflicts and death. His burial provided him with a ladder between heaven and Earth, and so the first thing he would do, arriving in the Field of Offering, was to provide Egypt with a new king and a "good Nile".

The reciprocal function of the tomb has to be emphasized. The Ba returned and the Ka could be reanimated. The liberated "Akh" has freedom of movement and time. It is bright, light and radiant. While it stays in the sky, the spirits make their souls and doubles come down and unite with their statues. The destruction of a tomb, implied the end of its role as "interphase" with "the other side" of the false door.

Plan of the royal tomb underneath the pyramid of Wenis.

"Allen's analysis of the sequence of spells in the pyramid of Wenis defines the architecture as a material representation of the passage of the king through death to resurrection, exploiting themes familiar in the Underworld Books of the New Kingdom. From the darkness of the earth he passes to life in the light of the sky, progressing from the burial chamber as underworld (duat) through the antechamber as horizon (akht) where he becomes Akh, through the doorway leading to the corridor -ascending by ladder- to heaven (pet), or passing like the setting sun from the west to his rising from the mouth of the horizon in the east, or exploiting the image of the king passing from his sarcophagus -the womb of Nut- through her vulva to birth at the door of the horizon. (...) Allen's analysis focuses on the principle whereby the position of discrete units of ritual text asserts a functional identity between the theology of the text and the architectural symbolism of the pyramid substructure, and so the reality of the king's passage to resurrection". - Eyre, 2002, p.44-45 & 47.

The direction of the texts
was thus identical with the soul's path through the tomb, moving from the innermost parts of the burial-chamber (the "Duat" in the West), through the antechamber (the Eastern horizon or "Akhet"), to the outside of the pyramid via the second northern tunnel, flying to the Northern, circumpolar (imperishable) Stars, reaching the Field of Offering.

  • the Duat (burial-chamber) : though a part of the world (Earth), but neither Nun or sky, the netherworld is inaccessible to the living and outside normal human experience. It is separate from the sky and reached prior to it. This Field of Reeds is the realm of the deceased and the deities and the mystery of Osiris. Pharaoh has perpetuated offerings, and stands at the door of the horizon to emerge from the Duat and start his spiritualization ;

  • the Horizon (antechamber) : "Axt" ("Akhet"), translated as "horizon", is both the junction of sky and Earth and a place in the sky underneath this point (before eastern dawn and after western dusk), a secret interstitial zone reached and crossed by boat. It is a zone of transition and a "radiant place", the "land of the blessed". The horizon is the place of becoming effective, the locus of the becoming "Ax" ("Akh"), an effective spirit. Note (as did Allen, 1988), that the Cannibal Hymn, thematically belongs in its place (the East gable). It summarized Pharaoh's passage through the night sky to the Sun at dawn. The process of spiritualization ends with the emergence of the new light. In this hymn to Pharaoh, the king prepares the deities for his meal ;

  • the Imperishable sky (northern tunnels) : the process of transfiguration (ultimate spiritualization) being completed, the Akh-spirit leaves the tomb and ascends to the northern stars.

On Nun
end Vth - VIth Dynasty - ca. 2378 - 2205 BCE

The hieroglyphs were gathered from the standard edition of Sethe (1908 - 1960) and digitally enhanced. The translation was done anew, but inspired by German (Sethe, 1935 - 1962), English (Faulkner, 1969) and French (Jacq, 1998) efforts.

The waters of precreation and their personifications are mentioned in 37 Utterances of the Pyramid Texts, of which 7 are additional or fragmentary. These have not been included in the present Book of Nun. They are :

Utterance 458A - § 1034 :
"Nun {--- I have protected} Osiris from his brother Seth ..."
Utterance 493 - § 1062 :
"I have seen Nun, I appear upon my road ..."
Utterance 539 - § 1304 :
"{My vertex is ...} and Nun ..."
Utterance 586 - § 1583 :
"Open the gates which are in Nun."
Utterance 704 - § 2206 :
"... the King has flown up and alighted on the vertex of the beetle in the bow of the bark which is in Nun."
Utterance 719 - § 2236 :
"They commend You to Him who presides over the Enneads as Lord of the heritage of Geb which Nun places under your feet for You ..."
Utterance 729 - § 2257 :
"O You who are on your nAwt-bush, crawl away because of Nun !"

(...) : additions in English
{...} : fragmentary, uncertain or corrupt but restored

§ 1

I, King Wenis, was conceived in the night.
I was born in the night.
I belong to the Followers of Re,
who are before the Morning Star.
I was conceived in Nun.
I was born in Nun.
I have come and
I have brought to You the bread of those I found there !

Utterance 211, § 132.

§ 2

Cast off your impurity for Atum in Heliopolis and go down2 with him. Assign the needs of the Lower Sky3 and succeed to the thrones of Nun.4"

Utterance 222, § 207.

§ 3

To say the words :
Fall, serpent that came forth from the Earth !
Fall, flame that came forth from Nun !

Fall down !
Crawl away !

Utterance 233, § 237.

§ 4

That is King Wenis, I am Sia5 who is at the West of Re,
<reserved> of heart,
at the fore of the Cavern of Nun.

Utterance 250, § 268.

§ 5

King Wenis is the one who is <on his own>, the eldest of the gods : his bread-offering is for above with Re, his feast is from Nun !

Utterance 258, § 310.

§ 6

... this King Teti's meal is in Nun,
for this King Teti is one who goes to and fro ..."

Utterance 259, § 314.

§ 7

For judgment between the orphan and the orphaness has been made for me. The Two Truths have heard (the case), while Shu was witness and the Two Truths commanded that the thrones of Geb revert to me, so that I raise myself to what I have desired, my limbs -which were in concealment- join, I unite those who are in Nun and put a stop to the affair in Heliopolis.6

Now that I go forth today in the real form of a living Akh, I shall break up the fight and punish strife. I have come forth for Maat, (so) that I may bring her, she being with me. Wrath will depart for me and those who are in Nun will assign life to me.

Utterance 260, §§ 318-319.

§ 8

To say the words :
O Height that will not be penetrated, Gate of Nun, I, King Unas, have come to You, have this opened to me !

Utterance 272, § 392.

§ 9

To say the words :
You have your bread-loaf, O Nun and Naunet
7 !
You pair of the gods,
who joined the gods with their shadow.

You have your bread-loaf, O Amun and Amaunet !
You pair of the gods,
who joined the gods with their shadow.

You have your bread-loaf, O Atum and Double-Lion !
Who yourselves created your two gods and their bodies,
that is Shu and Tefenet, who made the gods,
who begot the gods and established the gods.

Utterance 301, § 446.

§ 10

To say the words :
O hunger, do not come to me, King Teti.
Go away to Nun, depart to the flood !

Utterance 338, § 551.

§ 11

To say the words :
O First-born of Shu,
your fetters are loosed by the two Lords of Nun.

Utterance 358, § 593.

§ 12

To say the words :
O height which is not sharpened, gate of Nut, I, King Teti, am Shu who came forth from Atum.
O Nun, let these (gates) be opened for me, for behold I have come, a god-like soul."

Utterance 360, § 603.

§ 13

To say the words :
Nun has recommended King Teti to Atum ...

Utterance 361, § 604.

§ 14

To say the words :
O my father, O my father in darkness ! O my father Atum in darkness ! Fetch me, King Teti, to your side, so that I may kindle a light for You and protect You, even as Nun protected these four goddesses on the day when they protected the throne, (namely) Isis, Nephthys, Neith and Serket-hetu.9

Utterance 362, §§ 605 - 606.

§ 15

To say the words :
O King Merenre (...) may You ascend as the Morning Star, may You be rowed as the lake-dweller. May those who are in Nun fear You, may You give orders to the spirits. (...)

O You of Nun, O You of Nun, beware of the Great Lake !

Utterance 461, §§ 871-872.

§ 16

To say the words :
Hail to You, You waters which Shu brought, which Mendjef lifted up, in which Geb bathed his limbs. Hearts were pervaded with fear, hearts were pervaded with terror when I was born in Nun before the sky existed, before the Earth existed, before that which was to be made form existed, before turmoil existed, before that fear which arose on account of the Eye of Horus existed.

Utterance 486, §§ 1039-1040.

§ 17

I, King Pepi, am he who knelt in Nun, I am he who sat down in ...

Utterance 491A, § 1057.

§ 18

To say the words :
Opened is the sky ! Opened is the Earth ! Opened are the apertures of the celestial windows ! Opened are the steps of Nun ! Released are the movements of the light of the Sun, by that one who endures every day.

Utterance 503, § 1078.

§ 19

Sit on your iron throne, take your mace and your sceptre, that You may lead those who are in Nun, give orders to the gods, and set a spirit in its spirit-state.

Utterance 512, § 1166.

§ 20

He has heard my appeal, he has done what I have said, and I have removed myself from the Tribunal of the Magistrates of Nun at the head of the Great Ennead.

Utterance 513, § 1174.

§ 21

O Nun10, hear it, this word which I say to You. Be informed concerning me, that I, King Pepi, am a great one, the son of a great one.

Utterance 570, § 1446.

§ 22

... may You gather together those who are in Nun, may You assemble those who are in the celestial expanses.

Utterance 574, § 1486.

§ 23

O Nun, raise King Pepi's arm to the sky, that he may support the Earth which he has given to You.

Utterance 576, § 1517.

§ 24

'Here comes the Dweller in Nun', says Atum. 'We have come', say they, say the gods to You, O Osiris.

Utterance 577, § 1525.

§ 25

... he has come that he may rule towns and govern settlements, and give orders to those who are in Nun.

Utterance 603, § 1678.

§ 26

These two great and mighty gods who preside over the Field of Rushes install You upon the throne of Horus as their first-born. They set Shu for You on your East side and Tefnut on your West side, Nun on your South side and Naunet on your North side. They guide You to these fair and pure seats of theirs which they made for Re when they set him upon their thrones.

Utterance 606, §§ 1690 - 1693.

§ 27

King Merenre was fashioned by Nun at his left hand when he was a child who had no wisdom. He has saved him from harmful gods, and he will not give him over to harmful gods.

Utterance 607, § 1701.

§ 28

King Neferkare is a great falcon which is on the battlements of Him-whose-Name-is-Hidden, taking what belongs to Atum to Him who separates the sky from the Earth and Nun.

Utterance 627, § 1778.

§ 29

... authority is given King Neferkare from Him whose face suffers greatly in the presence of Him who is in Nun.

Utterance 627, § 1780.

§ 30

... when Isis spoke to Nun : 'You have borne him, You have shaped him, You have spat him out, but he has no legs, he has no arms ; wherewith can he be knit together ?'

Utterance 669, §§ 1964 - 1965.

§ 31

Those who are in Nun come to You, the Sun-folk go to and fro for You, (so) that You may be Horus ...

Utterance 694, § 2147.

Notes :

(1) Dog Star (Sirius, Sothis or Alpha Canis Majoris - Isis) shown as a woman with star on her head, earlier as a seated cow with a plant between her horns is associated with the beginning of the Solar year as early as the First Dynastic Period. It forms a triad with husband Sah (Orion - Osiris) and son Sopdu (Horus). The deceased king, as Orion, impregnates Isis, as the star Sothis, to produce Horus or Sopdu, the morning star, the planet Venus ;
(2) Faulkner translates : "and go down with him" ;
(3) in the Old Kingdom, the uncreated lower sky as the feminine counterpart of precreation is not yet differentiated from the created netherworld of Osiris ;
(4) both "nw" and "niw" are used and refer to Nun ;
(5) or divine understanding ;
(6) the battle between Horus and Seth ;
(7) "Niw" versus "nnt" - "niw" is the personal form of "nw", both translated as "Nun" ;
(8) Sethe translates as : "Quellen (? Ursprünge)", usually translated as "source" or "fount", but for no good reasons. Indeed, "m Xnmty" may be read as "in the protection of" - cf. Faulkner (1969, utterance 301, note 1) ;
(9) the four goddesses guarding the sarcophagus and canopic chests of the King ;
(10) "nw" is written with a determinative of the reversed sky, only used in the feminine form of the name, as in "nt" or "nnt". This could well be a scribal error.

3 Approaching Nun.

The stellar naturalism put into evidence by the architecture of the pyramids is also found in the literature they have immortalized. Early Egyptian thought caught the natural, impersonal differential (the outstanding difference with its co-relative energy potential). Its aim was to understand all the forces and elements of nature, the "totality" of creation. In ante-rational thought, especially in its incipient stage, confuses personal and objective conditions. This leads to the personalization of natural process. Like "Nun", "the gloomy infinity of dark water" (Traunecker, 2001, p.73), "Nut", "Geb", "Maat", "Re", "Ptah" and "Amun" are other examples of impersonal archetypes of nature promoted to imaginal godforms, namely sky, Earth, order, light, artefaction and hiddenness respectively.

"... the Egyptians lived in a universe composed not of things, but of beings. Each element is not merely a physical component, but a distinct individual with a unique personality and will. The sky is not an inanimated vault, but a goddess who conceives the sun each night and gives birth to him in the morning. The atmosphere that separates sky from earth is not an empty void, but a god. The Duat is not merely a mysterious region through which the sun passes at night, but the god Osiris. Even the vast and lifeless outer waters have an identity, as the god Nu." -
Allen, 1988, p.8.

Like in many other cases, the notion of precreation, given a special virtual adverb clause, involved a conceptualization, in strong imaginal thought, of a common physical process, in this case, the facts of water surging up as the result of the water table of the alluvial plain of the Nile and rain falling down through "leaks" in the sky. It was also linked with the source of the Nile, and the dynamics of the inundation, with its dangerous extremes. The idea conveyed is simple : from the outside as well as from the inside, creation is surrounded by the original primordial state of this primordial, preexistent and everlasting inert, watery darkness, and this in all directions and all the time. In Egyptian thought, this liquid space is not a focus of creative light, but a vast chaos, like a gloomy night and an limitless expanse.

Nun is a threatening state of affairs into which order could relapse at any moment. It is the opposite of order, light and life. In fact, the cosmos, or ordered natural whole, is constantly balancing "on the edge" of this abyss of chaos, although periods of extended peace are possible. The constant war of the forces and the elements (divine & human) does not lead to the destruction of the world, because, for its safeguard, "truth and justice" are offered to its creator. Because the laws of the eternal cycle of Re are respected, creation will endure, despite Nun, and as long as Atum wills creation.

Nonexistent precreation, or the omnipresence of an everlasting, pre-existent, virtual state-of-no-state, is the first concept of traditional Egyptian theology, as evidenced by its founding role in the Heliopolitan, Memphite, Hermopolitan, Osirian & Theban branches of Egyptian thought. Each branch is an approach of "He-whose-Name-is-Hidden" characterized by a single principle.

In the Old Kingdom, the monolatry of the structure is evident (each single principle is identified with the "great god"). Pre-rationality does not provide the tools to solve this issue. In the Middle Kingdom, when proto-rational thought becomes "classical", Theban theology starts with its henotheist project, culminating, at the end of the New Kingdom, in Atenite and Amenite theology.

  • Heliopolis : Atum (Re), the principle of light, presence, autogenous activity, self-consciousness, the Lord of the sky ;

  • Memphis : Ptah, the principle of constructive thinking, artefaction, the making of things by means of practical mental activity (heart together with tongue) is the Beautiful of Face ;

  • Hermopolis : Thoth, the principle of creative, healing, magical thinking, ritual, the counting and accounting of things by means of organized schemes, the Lord of Time ;

  • Abydos : Osiris, the principle of life, death, rebirth, rejuvenation, funerary and regenerative rituals, Lord of the Duat ;

  • Thebes : Amun (Re), the principle of divine transcendence and immanence, the King of the Gods.

Although ontologically, precreation is isomorphic, homogeneous, unknown, insubstantial, void, undifferentiated and without organization, the need to characterize it is already felt in the Pyramid Texts.

These authors approach Nun by giving negative descriptions of the non-presences based on the real (a cosmo-teleological procedure of sorts). The terra firma of Earth is opposed to the liquid, dark, nocturnal nature of Nun.

In the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE), four entities represent the unorganized : Nun (water), Hehu (liquid space), Keku (darkness) and Tenmu (disorder). The positive descriptions of creation, namely solidity, delimitation, light, nearness and knowledge are reversed : liquid, infinite space, dark, hidden and the unknown.

linguistics : the virtual clause

In the Old Kingdom (ca. 2670 - 2198 BCE), the virtual clause "n SDmt.f", i.e. "before he has (had) ..." or "he has (had) not yet ..." (Gardiner, § 402), was used to denote a prior, potential nonexistent state, namely one before the actuality of that state had happened. To be nonexistent, precludes existence, but does not preclude the possibility of becoming existent (expressed by the verb "kpr", "kheper", "to become", which also means "to transform").

Examples of this virtual clause are : "I am sorry for her children,  I grieve for her children broken in the egg, who have seen the face of Khenty (the crocodile-god) before they have lived !" (in Discourse of a Man with his Ba) or "... do not rejoice over what has not (yet) happened." (cf. "m Haw n ntt n xprt" in The Eloquent Peasant, a Middle Kingdom text).

the virtual clause applied to precreation

There is something before every thing, before the order, the architecture and the life of creation, manifested as a transformation or change from a nonexistent, virtual state to an existing actuality. The virtual state is not actual, but confirms possibility, latency and potentiality. As a potency anterior to creation, it was conceived as a nonexistent object, before "form", i.e. anterior to space and time, and before the creation of sky, Earth, horizon and their "natural" dynamics. In the Pyramid Texts, Pharaoh is said to originate from beyond the natural order, beyond creation of space (Shu) and moist (Tefnut), sky (Nut) and Earth (Geb), life and order.

"I was born in Nun before the sky existed, before the Earth existed, before that which was to be made form existed, before turmoil existed, before that fear which arose on account of the Eye of Horus existed."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 486.

"I was conceived in Nun. I was born in Nun. I have come and I have brought to You the bread which I found there."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 211.

semantics and variant writings

Precreation was imagined as a limitless, everlasting water (sea or ocean), called by various names : "nw" (Nu), "nww" (Nuu), "nnw" (Nenu), "nnww" (Nenuu), "nnnww" (Nenenuu), "niw" (Niu). In the Pyramid Texts, "nnw(w)" (Nenu) is the most frequent form (22/30). The core sound, the biliteral "nw", was vocalized in Coptic as "Noyn" or "Noun" ("Y" = "U"), from which the English "Nun" has been derived. Two distinct forms of the name exist, namely, on the one hand, "
nw", "nww" and "niw", and on the other hand, "nnw", "nnww" and "nnnww".

The Pyramid Texts invite us to make the difference between :

  1. the impersonal description of precreation, as in "nw", "nww", "nnw", "nnww" and "nnnww" : this is the natural differential founding Egyptian thought, namely an endlessly vast expanse of water. It does not verge upon or tend towards manifestation, actualization, materialization, realization, spatialization and temporalization. This expanse encloses every thing : the sky, the Earth and the netherworld, this dark realm of the night, the dead and the Ars Obscura ;

  2. the male personification of "nw", as "niw" : in two cases Nun is personalized : Pharaoh is called to "succeed to the thrones of Niu" (§ 2) and in § 9, Niu is paired with his female consort "nnt", "Nenet" (this was vocalized by the Greeks as "Nauni" or "Naunet"). As in § 26 "nnt" and "nw" are coupled, we may safely translate "nw" and "niw" both as "Nun" ;

  3. the female personification of "nw", the so-called "lower sky", as in "nt" and "nnt" : the primeval waters are also present below the Earth. These waters are in the deep of the netherworld. Situated beyond the Duat, which is still part of creation, they nevertheless are the source of the Nile on Earth. This deep sky has been translated as "lower sky", and appears as the feminine counterpart of "nw", n(w)t, mostly written as "nt", with the determinatives for place (O49) and the reversed vault of the sky (A40), suggestive of the "lower" counterpart of the "normal" upper (diurnal) sky.

    This reversal of the vault of heaven is suggestive of the complete enclosure of the netherworld by preexisting nonexistence. In one case only is this inversion of the vault of the sky part of the writing of the masculine "nw", namely in the pyramid of Merenre (cf. § 21). A scribal error ?

    Like the masculine forms of the name, "nw" and "niw", the two feminine forms ("nt" and "nnt") refer to the same entity : Nun. In the Pyramid Texts, confusion ensues between this deep, precreational sky and the sky of the Osirian netherworld (for this lower sky and the "Imperishable Stars" are identified). Only later theologies clarify this. In New Kingdom texts (like from the cenotaph of Seti I), the Nun is deemed "unknown", whereas the Duat or netherworld is included among the elements of the known world. Perhaps the imperishables are the created gates leading to the uncreated "deep" sky of the netherworld (the potential kept by precreation) ?

    The lower sky as "nt" is mentioned in four Utterances, and in all cases it is translated as "lower sky" :

    Utterance 214 - § 149 :
    "You demand that You descend to the lower sky and You shall descend ..."
    Utterance 570 - §§ 1456 - 1458 (3 identical clauses) :
    "I live beside You, (O) You gods of the lower sky, the Imperishable Stars ..."
    Utterance 571 - §§ 1466 - 1467 :
    "The King's mother was pregnant with him, (even he) who was in the lower sky, the King was fashioned by his father Atum before the sky existed, before Earth existed, before men existed, before the gods were born, before death existed."
    Utterance 574 - § 1485 :
    "Hail to You, You tree which encloses the god, under which the gods of the lower sky stand, the end of which is cooked, the inside of which is burnt, which sends out the pains of death : may You gather together those who are in Nun, may You assemble those who are in the celestial expanses."

    A second spelling also appears ; "nnt" starts with two rushes of shoots (M22) or "nn", followed by the phonetical complement "n" and "t", also ending with the determinatives for village, town (O49) and the reversed vault of the sky (A40). In a few instances, O49 is dropped. The context allows us to translate "nnt" in two cases as "Naunet", the female consort of Nun.

    The lower sky as "nnt" is mentioned in five Utterances, and in two the context (coupling) allows us to translate as "Naunet"  :
    Utterance 218 - § 166 :
    "This King comes indeed, importuning the Nine, an imperishable spirit, and those who are in the lower sky belong to this King."
    Utterance 222 - § 207 :
    "Cast off your impurity for Atum in Heliopolis and {descend} together with him. Judge the needs of the lower sky and succeed to the thrones of Nun."
    Utterance 301 - § 446 :
    "To say : You have your offering-bread, O Nun together with Naunet, You two {protectors} of the gods, who protect the gods with your shadow."
    Utterance §§ 1345 - 1346 :
     "He goes aboard the bark like Re at the banks of the Winding Waterway, this King rows in the Bark of Lightning, he navigates therein to the Field of the Lower Skies at this south of the Field of Rushes."
    Utterance 606 - § 1691 :
    They set Shu for You on your East side and Tefnut on your West side, Nun on your South side and Naunet on your North side. They guide You to these fair and pure seats of theirs which they made for Re when they set him upon their thrones."

The variant writings of the name give us additional visual semantics : the phonetic core of the impersonal (masculine) forms, W24, the so-called "Nun-bowl", is used three times, a plural : plenty of water, a mass. In the Pyramid Texts, W24 is topped by N35, a ripple of water. In two cases, two ripples are drawn (utterances 503 & 627). A lot is apparently not enough to describe the condition at hand. In four cases, the determinative for gods (Horus on a standard, G7) is added : a divine condition.

In the Coffin Texts, variant spellings emerge, and the impersonal principle, more frequent in the Pyramid Texts, is personalized by using the determinative of the seated god (A40), absent in the latter.


"Nun" in the Coffin Texts, Utterances 76 and 334, and a later spelling.

This personalization goes hand in hand with the introduction of the hieroglyph of the vault of the sky (N1), underlining a fundamental barrier between creation and Nun. The rim of the sky in particular, refers to the unchanging region of the circumpolar stars, in the Field of Offering, beyond which Nun lies dormant and inert.

Nun : divine chaos and lifeless water as the milieu of creation and the world

In the ontology sketched in the Pyramid Texts, precreation is in the first place an undifferentiated mass of water. Only two personal instances occur, namely the coupling of "Niu" with "Naunet" in §§ 2 & 9. In § 26, "Naunet" and "Nun" are paired. The Egyptians gave discriptive rather than denominative qualifications. Nun is conceived as an inchoate, nonexistent state-of-no-state.

But, the ontology of precreation involves an ambivalence : precreation is both the source of regeneration (first cause of creation) and a threatening chaos, for its darkness, death and disorder encapsulate creation from all sides and all the time. Like the floods of the Nile, Nun was both origin of life (thanks to a "good Nile" with a balanced inundation) and cause of death (after long periods of too much or too little floodwater). Hidden in the deep and in the far, chaos surges up from under our feet and leaks in as rain falling on our heads from the sky. Its non-presences cannot be escaped, except to our peril. As the flood, it is a chaotic factor, implying that although its cycle can be mapped, it is impossible to determine the outcome of the function for any given place and date.

In the Coffin Texts and later, Nun is often depicted as a deity, and although no cult is attested, there were offerings and feasts in his honor (as on the 18th & 19th day of the month of Phamenoth). The vault conveyed a topological difference : not only was precreation something different (namely darkness and a nonexistent potential surrounding the cosmos), but it was also somewhere else.
Precreation and creation are separated from each other.

"King Neferkare is a great falcon which is on the battlements of Him-whose-Name-is-Hidden, taking what belongs to Atum to Him who separates the sky from the Earth and Nun."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 627.

A large mass of water higher than the sky and deeper than the netherworld is the image conveyed. This virtual realm of the nonexistent is beyond the subtle, invisible strata of creation, beyond the sky and underneath the netherworld. The sky is a double vault, protecting creation from above and from below, shielding it from the omnipresent Nun (W24 is also present in the name of Nut, "nwt", the goddess of the sky), "who gives birth to the Sun every day" (Pyramid Texts, § 1688).

The double vault of heaven is topped by an everlasting limitless mass of potential energy, inimical to light, order and life. It is not kenetic and not creative.

"God said, 'Let there be a vault through the middle of the waters to divide the waters in two.' And so it was.
God made the vault, and it divided the waters under the vault from the waters above the vault. God called the vault 'heaven'."
Genesis, 1:6-7.

The green risen Earth (the outcome of the creative process - cf. infra) is surrounded by the limitless expanses of the primordial waters, permeating everything, and hidden from immediate sight. The cycle of the Sun with its horizon, divides this risen land in a diurnal and a nocturnal cycle.

The sky separates Nun from the Earth. The diurnal sky and the sky of the netherworld share in the watery nature of the limitless ocean, but this water is not infinite but navigated by the stars, the deities, the spirits and Re, both during the day as at night, both in the sky of Re as in the sky of Osiris.

Of all stars of the sky, the circumpolar stars are imperishable. They stand at the rim of the sky and hence near the gates of precreation. Are they portals to escape creation and its natural cycle ? Where to ? Not to Nun.

Chaos being the foundation of every thing, more than a virtual clause is needed to understand how creation happened and how the natural relationships with Nun are, for this "darkness and night" is also the milieu of the matrix of light, order and life.

before creation : Nun : the container or milieu of the "Lord of Life"

In precreation, nonexistence and nothingness are not identical. To be nonexistent is obviously to preclude actuality, but in Egyptian thought it never precludes the potentiality to come into existence, to become, transform or transmute. The latter is indicated by the verb "kpr", "Kheper". Hence, besides chaotic Nun, precreation also effectuates the capacity of autogenous creation or self-creation.

The issue of autogenous activity is another important concept. Chaos is not the origin of order. Light and life are spontaneous and without any possible determination. Precreation is the conjunction of Nun and the sheer possibility of something preexisting as a nonexistent, virtual singularity. Precreation is the dual-union of Nun and Atum, of infinite energy-field and primordial atom.

Creation emerges from a monad, floating "very weary" (CT, utterance 80) in the dark, gloomy, lifeless infinity of Nun. Within the omnipresent substance of Nun, the possibility of order, light and life subsisted : a nonexistent object capable of self-creation ex nihilo. Hence, although Nun is nowhere and everywhere, never and always, it is the primordial, irreversible and everlasting milieu in which the eternal potential of creation creates itself.

The state-of-no-state is not identical with nothingness, the void.
For nothingness is absolute zero, as opposed to "virtual" zero, i.e. the virtual (empty) set V = {Ø}. Z = 0 does not define anything, and hence refers to nothing. Virtual nonexistence holds the possibility of a future ordered series of elements, i.e. the idea of all possibility, but absolute zero precludes existence as well as becoming. Precreation is not the absolute zero of nothing, but the virtual oneness of a monadic, autogenous potential to complete creation within the milieu of the limitless waters.

"Les Égyptiens ne rencontrent l'unicité absolue de dieu qu'en dehors du monde et de la création, durant la transition fugace entre la non-existence et l'existence. Par ses travaux créatifs, le premier - et à l'origine le seul dieu, disperse l'unicité primordiale en une multiplicité et une diversité de manifestations : ainsi, en dépit de multiples caractéristiques communes, chaque dieu est unique et incomparable." -
Hornung, 1986, p.169, my italics.

during creation : Atum : he who is a virtual completeness

Atum, who "created what exists" and who is the "Lord of all things" (CT, utterance 306), "Lord of All" (CT, utterance 167), "Lord of Everyting" and "Lord of Life" (CT, utterance 534), is "the origin of all the forces and elements of nature" (Allen, 1988, p.9). His name is a form of the verb "tm", probably a noun of action, meaning both "complete, finish" and "not be". Indeed, Atum completes creation without belonging to the created order.

"Sur le plan de la philologique, nous évoluons sur des bases fermes car des termes égyptiens tels que tm wnn et nn wn sont sans conteste des négations du verbe 'être' - le premier refermant un verbe négatif, le dernier une particule. Il y a ausi l'adjectif relatif négatif (jwtj / jwtt) et un substantif qui en dérive ; littéralement, ces termes ne peuvent signifier que 'ce qui n'est pas' ou 'ce que n'existe pas'. Les Égyptiens établissent, en outre, une distinction nette entre le verbe 'être', 'devenir' et 'vivre'." - Hornung, 1986, pp.157-158.

Anthes (1957) translates Atum as "he who is integral", Bonnet as "he who is not yet complete". Kees (1941) opts for "he who is not present yet" or "he who does not yet exist completely", whereas Hornung (1986) chooses "he who is differentiated", eliminating the important connotation of the alternation-point between a mere potential (in precreation) and its actualization ...

"O Atum, raise this King Wenis up to You, enclose him within your embrace, for he is your son of your body for ever."
Coffin Texts, utterance 222 - § 213
"To say : Atum is he who (once) came into being, who masturbated in Heliopolis. He took his phallus in his grasp that he might create orgasm by means of it, and so were born the twins Shu and Tefnut."
Coffin Texts, utterance 527 - § 1248
"Content is Atum, father of the gods ..."
Coffin Texts, utterance 576 - § 1521

"To say : Hail to You, Atum ! Hail to You, Kheprer, the self-created ! May You be high in this your name of 'Height'. May You come into being in this your name of Kheprer."
Coffin Texts, utterance 587 - § 1587

Both Nun and Atum received the epithet "father of the gods". Everlasting darkness and the efficient and dynamical, autogenous creativity have to be thought together and separately. Both form the dual-unity of precreation, the first of a set of equilibrated scalings, or monuments of opposites in balance (before creation, during creation, in creation and after creation). Atum spontaneously manifests as a seed floating in Nun, initiating the divine time of the deities. He completes creation by generating, before and outside creation, the forces ruling creation.

the first occurrence

A third major concept besides Nun and Atum is introduced : the "zep tepi" or "first occurrence". It stand between the moment of Atum's self-creation and the emergence of actuality (as Earth, sky and horizon).

Atum creates Atum on the first moment of the "zep tepi" ("zp tpi"), the "first occurrence" or "first time". Before that moment, no order, light or life preexisted. Precreation and Nun coincided. But on this instance, the patterns of existence were established and enacted. Creation was thus initiated by the distinction between the surrounding waters (Nun) and the primordial seed. Atum creates himself ex nihilo. He is not a transformation of a previous state. Nun is not changed because of Atum. Before this monad self-created, lifeless nonexistence prevailed. With this monad, nonexistence is divided into the chaotic waters and the seed of order, light and life. Atum represents the spontaneous potential of precreation to manifest creation, and because Atum self-creates, there is nothing anterior to this monad, except the liquid space of disorder and darkness.

This difficult notion is touched upon in this remarkable text :

"I am Nun, the sole one, without equal. That is where I (Atum) came into being on the
great occasion of my floating when I came into being. I am he who flew up, who came into being {...} who is in his egg. I am the one who began therein, (in) the Nun, and see : the chaos-gods came out of me, see, I am hale. I brought my power into being through my power. I am the one who made myself and I formed myself at my will according to my desire. (...)."
Coffin Texts, utterance 714 : the second first person refers to Atum, not Nun as the rest of the passage makes clear (nowhere is the name "Atum" mentioned).

Atum creates and completes the world for his own pleasure and according to his own heart (or divine mind - cf. Memphite theology). The reason why something came out of Nun is explained as Atum pleasing himself (the image of masturbation), not parenthood. Paradoxically, creation starts in precreation. To understand this, we need another concept, which the Egyptians derived from their sense of time : the timelessness of the eternal cycle of creation.

the Ancient Egyptian view on time

Phenomenal Time "of men on Earth"
moment, instant, small portion of time, culmination time unit of phenomenal time
period, space of time, lifetime, man's age collection of time-units
Eternal time : the repetition and duration "of the gods"
timelessness - first time, eternity, eternal and unending repetitions Atum-Re, the deities and the blessed  dynamical, cyclic
no-time, to be permanent, stable, enduring, everlasting Nun, the Ogdoad and the mysteries of Osiris, static, linear

With Atum and the first occurrence, no actual thing is positioned, but only the divine structure necessary to manifest the real. Indeed, only the formal conditions of creation are given (i.e. an outline of its elements and forces). Atum as it were contemplates his creation-to-be "in his heart" before a solid place emerges (definite forms of matter exist). The "zep tepi" is the eternity of the divine mind, the demiurg or architect of creation itself. As such, it is conceived as outside creation, although it always preludes it.

The first occurrence unfolds at the moment creation starts with the spontaneous emergence of Atum ex nihilo. Atum's self-generation and the creation of space ("Shu") and moist ("Tefnut") within the substance of the monad are simultaneous and take place before actual things come into existence.
Atum autogenerates for his own pleasure and by doing so immediately & simultaneously gives birth to Shu & Tefnut, the start of a chain of ordered structures (the Ennead or the sequence {1, 2, 3} U {4, 5} U {6, 7, 8, 9}). This first time is the imaginal continuum of natural parameters preparing to create and sustain reality. This is the divine mind with its infinite number of names, attributes and functions.

"... the concept of the Ennead describes the interrelationships between nine fundamental forces and elements of the Egyptian universe. Of these, four are primarily operative in the world of life and death as its exists after the creation. Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys represent the opposing but balanced principles of order and disorder, growth and destruction, and the transmission of life."
Allen, 1988, p.8.

With the emergence of "ta-Tenen", the "first land" rising out of precreation (cf. the islands emerging after the inundation), i.e. the primordial Earth (cf. the hypostyle hall in the Egyptian temple), and with the first Sun-ray (of Horus-Re in the sky) touching it (cf. the Benben as a petrified beam), the first occurrence is over.


not creating



& Ennead


eternal first time :

Horus, Re
& Pharaoh

not creating


phenomenal time

& Osiris



eschatological time

Atum causa sui means an endless (re)generative capacity rooted ex nihilo (as "zep tepi") in the boundless chaos of the primordial ocean, creating everything for its own pleasure. The first occurrence is timeless & eternal but not everlasting (for given to an eternal cycle of recurrence).

Nun, Atum and creation

4 Everlasting Abyss and eternal Pleroma.

Coptic scholars like Crum (1939) translate "NOYN" as "abyss of hell, depth of Earth, sea". So Nun has also been translated as "Abyss" (Faulkner, Mercer, Allen).

Coptic "Noun", or "abyss of hell" ...

But precreation is more than an deadly abyss of liquid, lifeless space. More than a formless mass of confusion, inert, dark and inimical to order and life. In other words, precreation is not identical with Nun. Atum, the "Ba" of Nun, or the co-relative factor of Nun in nonexistence, its balanced opposite, represents singularity, order, light and life resulting from self-creation.

Atum and the first occurrence are the autogenous potential making every thing whole again and again. In this
"Pleroma" ("to make whole again") is hidden the secret of regeneration attributed to the primordial waters, i.e. the emergence upon the face of the waters of the light ex nihilo. As this emergence is timeless, it never stops. This eternal order surrounded by chaotic nonexistence is the blueprint of every possible thing and the condition of its wholeness. To return to it, is to return to the first instance when all things were made and hence reestablish contact with the power of origination. For this invites one to start all over again, to recommence the cycle and accommodate the eternal recurrence of creativity.

In the Pyramid Texts, the ascending Pharaoh enters the "zep tepi". He was born in Nun (§1), presides over its caverns (§ 4), joins those who are in Nun (§ 5), sees the gates of Nun opened to him (§ 12), kneels down in Nun (§ 17), leads those who are in Nun (§ 19), gathers them (§ 22), orders them (§ 25) ... Moreover, Nun protects Pharaoh against harmful deities (§ 27) and he goes "to and fro" (§§ 5 & 6), indicative of the midnight mystery, allowing Re to regenerate by entering the "body of Osiris" and momentarily escape the natural order by returning to the first time and its limitless potential : Atum and eternal self-generation (cf. the New Kingdom Amduat). Because these texts evidence a pre-rational mode of cognition, one should not expect the contradiction between a lifeless, abyssimal Nun and this Pleroma to be mediated.

Only later texts clarify how Pharaoh came from and returned to Atum and his Ennead, both nonexisting as the Pleroma of precreation, but not to Nun and everlasting death. The distinctive difference between Nun and its co-relative potential is never clearly stated and treated with reverence and mystery (the corpse of Osiris involved a mystery), although Pharaoh clearly returned to before nature had happened. There, in the Mansions of  his Father Atum, the most potent magic was to be found. Every magician was expected to be able to move "to and fro", for nothing less will subjugate the gods and goddesses (their equal is one entering the "zep tepi").

Coffin Texts, spell 261 (III, 382 - 389), Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE) - text in coffin of Asyut (Cairo 36444) and in inner coffin of Msht (Cairo 28118) - hieroglyphic text in Buck, de, 1935-1961 - see also : Heka.


"O You nobles who are in the presence of Lord Atum, behold, I have come to You ! Fear me in proportion with what You know !

It is I whom the Sole Land made before there came into being the two meals on Earth ; when he sent forth his sole eye ; when he was alone, going forth from his own mouth ; when his million Kas were there, the protection of his companions ; when he spoke with Khepri, with him, over whom he rules ; when he took Hu upon his speech. 

It is I who am the very son of Who-bore-Atum, born before he had a mother.
I am under the protection of the command of the Sole Lord. 
It is I who give life to the Ennead.
It is I who act as he pleases, father of gods, lofty of standard, who make the gods effective in accordance with the command of Who-bore-Atum.
The august god who eats and speaks with his mouth. 

I have kept silence, I have bowed down, I have come shod, O Bulls of the Sky, I have seated myself, O Bulls of Nut, in this my dignity of 'Greatest of Lords of Kas'. Heir of Atum.

I have come, so that I may take possession of my throne and that I may gather unto me my dignity, for all was mine before You came into being, You gods. Go down upon your haunches ! For I am a magician !"

Atum's autogenous activity, the presence ex nihilo of the Great One, does not change Nun. Atum's splitting and the emergence of the divine mind and its Ennead, has no effect on Nun. The risen land and the petrified Sun-ray are realized without altering, transforming or transmuting Nun. This is Nun's everlastingness and inert solidity. This is the lifeless, dark bedrock of creation, unfettered by the limitations of time and the cycle of dawn, culmination, dusk and night of Atum-Re. Atum appears at the first occurrence and differentiates into the divine ideas of all possible creations and manifests creation itself.

The divine names constitute the Pleroma of precreation. They represent Atum's eternity and dynamic creativity. The divine drama unfolds in the "zep tepi" and timelessness is the key to an understanding of eternity. This temporal series is not linear, but cyclic. An eternity of cycles ensue, the eternal recurrence of the "time of the gods", an infinite number of combinations of a fundamental set of nine principles plus one (the "10th" or Horus-Re-Pharaoh). All of these operate within the margins set by order and justice (truth - Maat).

In precreation, Nun and Atum communicate, but without ever changing their nature. Everlastingness cannot be other than stable, enduring and unchanging. Although Atum is, given Nun, presupposed (otherwise he would not be autogenous), his creation is, in a fundamental way, influenced by Nun. Firstly, because the parameters of creation include disorder (Seth, Apophis) and secondly, because Re regenerates when uniting with the corpse of Osiris (linked with Nun - cf. the 6th Hour of the Amduat). To enter the "zep tepi" and its regenerative powers, the deepest, darkest and deadliest point of creation is sought. A direct but balanced confrontation between divine order and disorder (symmetry and symmetry-break) is present in Egyptian thought. Two examples.

The entry of Seth disrupts the triadic unfoldment of the Ennead. Indeed, even in the Pleroma of the deities a chaotic, transgressing and harmful factor is introduced. Disorder is not excluded, on the contrary, considered before singularity. Disorder and singularity are both precreational, and in the "zep tepi", the divine differentiation out of firstness, disorder is again present. Seth disrupts the natural flow, puts in hinderances, transgresses, fights and is punished (namely to serve Re for all of eternity). In the moral routines contemplated by Atum for his creation, the drama of the last generation of the gods incorporates murder in the divine plot ! The "golden age" of the gods is over and the disrupted state has to be rectified. This is realized by and balances out against the rectitude of the Pharaonic State, or Mighty Horus Incarnate, the "10th", or the completion of the Ennead in manifest actuality (the restoration of the time of the gods on Earth). Horus is abused by Seth, avenges his murdered father Osiris by fighting his uncle and is proclaimed King of Egypt by the Ennead.

Another example is the daily confrontation between Re & Apophis. Utter destruction is ever-present. There is no time for complacency. However, because Horus is King, Seth has to protect Re, for even Seth obeys the Enneads. As Great Dark Sorcerer, he is the only one able to rule the gigantic snake of Nun, undermining the fabric of creation from within. If Seth disrupts, Apophis annihilates. In the VIIth Hour of every night, Apophis gulps down the Nile, leaving the Bark of Re on dry sand. But because Seth, the god of evil ("isefet"), rules Apophis and has been placed in the service of Re (namely to destroy the latter's enemies), Re is able to continue his journey and rise at dawn. By simultaneously separating and binding order and chaos, checks and balances are ongoing and a good balance is achieved.

"Said he (Anubis) that is in the tomb : 
'Pay attention to the decision of truth
and the plummet of the balance, according to its stance !'"
Papyrus of Ani, Plate 3 - ca. 1250 BCE - XIXth Dynasty - British Museum

Is the Egyptian image of precreation, to be found as early as the Pyramid Texts or the Coffin Texts, not evoked in Genesis ?

"And the Earth was without without form and void ; and darkness was upon the face of the abyss. And the spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters.
Genesis, 1:2 -3.

Does this verse not imply precreation ? Is the word "Earth" not in contradiction with its adjectives, formlessless and void ? Substituting Earth for "Nun", a clear picture emerges : before creation started there is darkness, formless, void and this in all directions, as deep as possible. This abyss is liquid. On these formless waters, Atum "moved" and "uttered" the 10 Words of Creation ...


initiated : 07 II 2005 - updated : 12 XII 2010 - version n°2

© Wim van den Dungen