Min, God of Fertility, Power and the Eastern Desert
by Caroline Seawright
Min (Menew, Amsu) was one of the Egyptian gods worshiped from predynastic times. The earliest forms of the god - his fetish - was of a barbed arrow or a thunderbolt. (The strange arrow, over time, became the first hieroglyph, the one above the standard, in his name - )
A Gerzean palette known as the El Amrah Palette also had a second name, the Min Palette, because it had the symbol of the fertility god on it. Unlike in the hieroglyph, this looks more like a double-ended arrow (on a hook).
Another piece from El Amrah (near Abtu (Abydos)) was an ivory statuette of a man that stood with his legs together, his arms at his sides and an erect penis. This, too, was probably another early representation of the god. The predynastic ruler, the Scorpion King, was believed to have worshiped both Min and Set. Gebtu (Koptos) was Min's cult centre from the earliest times. Later, he was associated with Akhmim (Panopolis).
Min was always a god of fertility and sexuality. He was shown as a human male with an erect penis. In Egyptian times, he was usually an ithyphallic bearded mummiform man, standing with both legs together, an arm raised holding his symbol or a flail and wearing the same low crown with twin plumes as Amen. (The way he holds his flail might be symbolic of sexual intercourse - the flail forms the V while his upraised forearm seems to thrust inside the V.) The Egyptian paintings and reliefs on tomb walls and temples didn't show Min's other arm, but the statues of the god show him with his hand encircling the base of his penis. During New Kingdom times he was sometimes shown as a white bull, an animal sacred to the fertility god.
.. Min, Bull of the Great Phallus,
You are the Great Male, the owner of all females.
The Bull who is unites with those of the sweet love, of beautiful face and of painted eyes,
Victorious sovereign among the Gods who inspires fear in the Ennead.
The goddesses are glad, seeing your perfection.
-- Hymn to Min
He was associated with the Egyptian cos lettuce - an aphrodisiac to the ancient Egyptians because the lettuce was tall, straight and secreted a milky substance when pressed! (This was also a favourite food of Set.) Min was often shown standing before offering tables, covered with heads of lettuce.
The fertility god was associated both with Horus the Elder (Min-Horus) in the Middle Kingdom and with Amen (Amen-Min) in New Kingdom times to show the creative force of both gods. At times, even some goddesses have been shown with the body of Min!
The goddess Sekhmet as the Eye of Ra, for instance, showing that Min also has a destructive side, rather than just creative. (There are some indications that there was a ritual in the Egyptian military for ensuring the subjugation of prisoners - as in the story of Set and Horus - it involved 'impregnating' (and so emasculating) the prisoner, and so the erect state of the penis could relate to victory over the enemy.) The flail was often used to show the pharaoh's supremacy over his enemies, and was therefor linked to both power and destruction.
There was also a composite deity called "Mut-Isis-Nekhbet, the Great Mother and Lady" who was shown as a winged goddess with leonine feet and three heads - a lion head wearing Min's headdress, a woman's head wearing the double crown of Egypt and a vulture's head wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. Both of these goddesses were shown with an erect penis.
Min wasn't just a fertility god, such as Hapi or Osiris, who only presided over the fields - he was also a god of male fertility who could give the pharaoh (and other men) the power to father a child. He also presided over the sed (jubilee) festival of the pharaoh (where the pharaoh had to run around a course set by the priests, carrying different objects), symbolically rejuvenating the pharaoh to give him long life... and the fertility of his youth.
In representations of one of the important Min festivals, the Pharaoh was shown hoeing the ground and watering the fields while Min looked on. At the Min festival held at the beginning of the harvest season, the Pharaoh was seen ceremonially reaping the grain ... When he begot his heir (ritually at the same festival) the Pharaoh was again identified with Min.
As with Osiris, Min was an agricultural god - at Medinet Habu, Ramses III is shown scything a sheaf of wheat for the Festival of Min. There are also scenes of pharaohs ceremonially hoeing the ground and watering the fields under the supervision of Min. It is interesting to note that a virgin was poetically referred to as an 'unplowed field'.
He was also a god of the Eastern Desert, and it has been suggested that the description in the Pyramid Texts - 'the one who raises his arm in the east' - is actually talking about Min. With his association with the east, Min became a god who offered protection to travellers and traders - the caravan route went through Gebtu and headed out east to the Red Sea. At Wadi Hammamat (on the trade route), prayers and thanks to the god Min were found. Min was also worshiped by the men who worked the mines and the men who quarried the stone at Hammamat. At this particular Wadi, Min was given the title "Min, the Male of the Mountain", a title with the word 'male' being similar to the hieroglyph for 'foremost'. Mentuhotep IV set out on an expedition to Hammamat:
Year Two, second month of the inundation, day 15 of the reign of Horus, lord of the two lands, two ladies lord of two lands, divine of gold, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebtawyra, son of Ra, Mentuhotep, living forever.
His majesty decreed the erecting of this decree for his father Min Lord of the Foreign Lands, in this Mountain, the Noble One, the Primeval God Foremost of Place in the Land of the Horizon Dwellers, the Palace of the God, to Endow with Life the Divine Nest of Horus with which this God (Min) is Content, his Pure Place of Enjoyment which has Authority over the Uplands and God's Land - in order that hisKa be content.
"My majesty caused the Prince the Overseer of the City, the Vizier, the Overseer of the Royal Constructions - his Trustee Amenemnhat, to go forth with an army of 10000 men from the southern nomes of Upper Egypt, the foremost ones of the Theban nomes, to bring me excellent rich pure blocks, which are in this mountain whose excellence Min made, to be a sarcophagus, a remembrance of eternity and to be monuments in the temple of Upper Egypt, being one whom the king who is upon the Two Lands sent to bring him his wishes from the hill countries of his father Min."
He made it as his monuments for his father Min of Gebtu, Lord of the Hill Countries, who is upon theChieftain of the Bowmen, so that he might achieve of "state of given life". He who lives like Ra, eternally.
Gebtu was a cult centre for both Min and Isis, and in this city, Min became the husband of Isis and father of Horus because of his powers of fertility. In later periods he was possibly placed in a triad to the Syrian love goddess Qedeshet (Kadesh, Qadesh, Qetesh, Qudshu) and the Syrian god of war and thunder, Reshef (Reshep, Reshpu). It was likely that Min was placed with these two deities from the east of Egypt because he was both god of the Eastern Desert and Lord of Foreign Lands.
... Min, Lord of the Processions,
God of the High Plumes,
Son of Osiris and Isis,
venerated in Ipu,
Gebtu's Horus of the Strong Arm.
-- Hymn to Min
Despite being a god of the desert, Min was still a fertility god, and rather than being painted red (such as the desert god Set), he was painted black to represent the fertile land along the Nile. Min was also a moon god - lunar gods tended also to be gods relating to moisture and thus of fertility. As a lunar deity Min was sometimes given the title "Protector of the Moon". In this capacity, the god was related to the Egyptian calendar - the last day of the lunar month was consecrated to the deity, and the day was known as "The Exit of Min".
Last Updated: Aug 2nd, 2011