Ptah, God of Craftsmen, Rebirth and Creation
By Caroline Seawright
Ptah (Pteh, Peteh) was the predynastic Mennefer (Hikuptah, Memphis) god of craftsmen, pottery and creation. The Egyptians believed that he was a god who created everything from artifacts to the world egg to the other deities themselves. The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was believed to have been devised by him. He was a god of creation and rebirth.
Ptah was usually depicted as a bearded mummiform man, wearing a close fitting skull cap. Only his hands come out of his shroud, and he was usually shown holding a staff that incorporated the djed pillar, the ankh symbol and the was scepter.
The origin of Ptah's name is unclear, though some believe it to mean 'opener' or 'sculptor'. As a god of craftsmen, the later is probably correct. He was a patron of the arts, protector of stonecutters, sculptors, blacksmiths, architects, boat builders, artists and craftsmen. His high priest was given the title wr khrp hmw, 'Great Leader of Craftsmen', and his priests were probably linked to the different crafts. It was believed that Ptah invented masonry and that it was he who crafted the boats that the dead used to travel to the Duat. The Book of the Dead describes him as: ...a master architect, and framer of everything in the universe... -- Egypt - Myths and Legends, Lewis Spence
It was believed that Ptah created the heavens and the earth while Khnum fashioned the animals and people on his pottery wheel. Ptah created the giant metal plate that was believed to be the floor of heaven and the roof of the sky, he also created the struts that upheld it. He created the universe by speaking words through his Tongue (linked to the god Thoth and the goddess Tefnut) and by thoughts coming from his Heart (linked to Horus the Elder). There came into being as the heart and there came into being as the tongue ... in the form of Atem.
The mighty Great One is Ptah, who transmitted [life to all gods], as well as (to) their kas... (Thus) it happened that the heart and tongue gained control over [every] (other) member of the body, by teaching that he [i.e., Ptah] is in every body and in every mouth of all gods, all men, [all] cattle, all creeping things, and (every thing) that lives, by thinking and commanding everything that he wishes... Thus all the gods were formed and his Ennead was completed.
Indeed, all the divine order really came into being through what the heart thought and the tongue commanded. Thus the ka-spirits were made... by this speech... Thus were made all work and all crafts, the action of the arms, the movement of the legs, and the activity of every member, in conformance with (this) command which the heart thought, which came forth through the tongue, and which gives value to everything. -- Primal Myths, Barbara C. Sproul
Not only was Ptah a god of creation, but he was involved with the soul's rebirth in the afterlife. He was related to the dead since Old Kingdom times, where he was believed to have invented the Opening of the Mouth ritual to allow the spirit to be able to see, hear, speak and eat as a living being. The Osiris Ani [whose word is truth, saith]:- I eat bread. I drink ale. I gird up my garments. I fly like a hawk.
I cackle like the Smen goose. I alight upon that place hard by the Sepulchre on the festival of the Great God. That which is abominable, that which is abominable I will not eat. [An abominable thing] is filth, I will not eat thereof. That which is an abomination unto my ka shall not enter my body. I will live upon that whereon live the gods and the Spirit-souls. I shall live, and I shall be master of their cakes.
I am master of them, and I shall eat them under the trees of the dweller in the House of Hathor, my Lady. I will make an offering. My cakes are in Tetu, my offerings are in Anu. I gird about myself the robe which is woven for me by the goddess Tait. I shall stand up and sit down in whatsoever place it pleaseth me to do so. My head is like unto that of Ra.
I am gathered together like Atem. Here offer the four cakes of Ra, and the offerings of the earth. I shall come forth. My tongue is like that of Ptah, and my throat is like unto that of Hathor, and I remember the words of Atem, of my father, with my mouth. He forced the woman, the wife of Geb, breaking the heads near him; therefore was the fear of him there. [His] praises are repeated with vigor. I am decreed to be the Heir, the lord of the earth of Geb. I have union with women. Geb hath refreshed me, and he hath caused me to ascend his throne. Those who dwell in Anu bow their heads to me. I am [their] Bull, I am stronger than [the Lord] of the hour. I unite with women. I am master for millions of years.
The Chapter of Making the Transformation into Ptah, The Book of the Dead Ptah was also a miracle worker. It was believed that Ptah saved the town of Pelusium from Assyrian invaders with an army of rats. Ptah ordered the rats to sneak into the camp of the Assyrians and gnaw through the bowstrings and shield handles of the enemy. Without weaponry or defense, the Assyrian army fled.
It was also said that he stopped a fight between Horus and Set: He judged between Heru and Set; he ended their quarrel. He made Set the king of Upper Egypt in the land of Upper Egypt, up to the place in which he was born, which is Su. And Geb made Horus King of Lower Egypt in the land of Lower Egypt, up to the place in which his father was drowned which is "Division-of-the-Two-Lands." Thus Horus stood over one region, and Set stood over one region. They made peace over the Two Lands at Ayan. That was the division of the Two Lands.
The Shabaka Stone The Apis bull was regarded as the Ba of Ptah while it was living. The bull's main sanctuary was near the temple of Ptah in Mennefer, near the bull's embalming house where he became linked to Osiris after death. Herodotus wrote that the Apis bull was conceived from a bolt of lightning, it was black with a while diamond on his forehead, the image of a vulture on his back, double hairs on his tail and a scarab mark under his tongue. The lightning was thought by the Egyptians to be Ptah in the form of a celestial fire, who mated with a heifer.
With a creation god as his father, the bull was believed to be a fertility symbol. The heifer that produced the bull was venerated as a form of the goddess Isis. There was only one Apis bull at a time, and the cult of the Apis bull started at the beginning of Egyptian history. While alive, the bull was known as the 'Spokesman' of Ptah and his 'Glorious Soul'.
He was married to either Bast, Sekhmet or Wadjet. His union with Bast was thought to have produced a lion-headed god called Mihos, while Nefertem was his son by either Sekhmet or Wadjet. Different towns believed that Ptah was married to their goddess, and thus the confusion with his family ties. Mennefer had a triad consisting of Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertem. The architect of the Saqqara Step Pyramid, Imhotep, after he became deified came to be regarded as the son of Ptah. As father and creator of the gods, the deities he created first
were Nun and Naunet and the nine gods of the Ennead. The nine were Tem, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys who were considered to be both the teeth and lips of the mouth of Ptah and the semen and the hands of Tem.He was linked to two other Mennefer gods - Ta-tenen and Sokar. Ta-tenen (known as Ptah-Ta-tenen when the two were combined) was an earth god connected with the primeval mound as it rose from the waters of Nun while Sokar was a god of the necropolis.
This reinforced Ptah's aspects of a god of creation and a god of the dead. Ptah-Sokar was also connected with Osiris, and known as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Statues of the three-in-one god showed a mummiform man wearing the sun disk, corkscrew ram horns and long plumes or the atef crown. These statues often contained a copy of spells from The Book of the Dead. Ptah was a creator god, the third highest god in Egypt.
He was the god presiding over the Second Egyptian month, known as Paopi by Greek times. From a local god of craftsmen to the deity who crafted the universe and the other deities, Ptah was only overshadowed by the sun god Ra, and the hidden god Amen. He fashioned the universe through words of power and by thought, as well as creating different parts by hand.
He helped the dead on their travels through the afterlife, allowing them to transform into his divine figure, or by building the boats on which they could travel. He was the one who allowed the dead to be like the living after death with the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The Apis bull was his sacred animal, more of a representation of his soul on earth who gave fertility and rebirth to the people. He was an ancient god who the Egyptians worshiped through their long history.
Last Updated: June 11th, 2011
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