Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Atum
from The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Atum (Itm), often called "Father of the Gods," was the first god of creation and head of the Ennead (initial nine gods) in the Heliopolitan tradition. He was most often depicted in the likeness of a king, as a fully human man wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, though with a uniquely-shaped beard. Atum's principal geographic centers were at Heliopolis, Ain Shems/Matariya and Pithom (Per-Tem).

In the cosmogony of the Heliopolitan Ennead, the creator-god Atum(-Re) is said to have distinguished himself from the watery chaos that was nonexistence. In the process of separating from the watery abyss, Atum transformed himself from one entity into three through the creation of his offspring. His twins, Shu and Tefnut, are traditionally described as dry air and moisture, respectively, though their precise natures are debatable. Shu and Tefnut formed the first male–female union in the creation of their children Geb (earth) and Nut (sky), whose four children completed the Ennead, or "nine." Atum created Shu and Tefnut either through masturbation or by expectorating and spitting these deities out of his mouth.

Atum was often associated with the sun god Re and his various forms (see Re And Re Horakhty). In particular, his solar form was most often that of the dying, setting sun. In his aspect as the elderly, dying sun, Atum is depicted as either a ram-headed man or an elderly man with a walking stick. In addition to his anthropomorphic forms, Atum had zoomorphic forms, such as that of a scarab beetle or a snake.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Allen, J. P. (1988) Genesis in Egypt: the philosophy of ancient Egyptian creation accounts. New Haven.
  • Myśliwiec, K. (1978) Studien zum Gott Atum, vol. 1, Die heiligen Tiere des Atum. Hildesheim.
  • Myśliwiec, K. (1979) Studien zum Gott Atum, vol. 2, Name, Epitheta, Ikonographie, Hildesheim.
  • Myśliwiec, K. (2001) "Atum." In Redford, D.B ed., The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Egypt: 158-60. Oxford.
  • Quirke, S. (1992) Ancient Egyptian religion. London.
  • M. G. Nelson-Hurst
    Wiley ©2012

    Related Articles

    Full text Article Atum (Atem)
    World Mythology: Handbook of Egyptian Mythology

    A creator deity who began and ended the world, Atum was the senior deity of the group of nine gods known as the Ennead of Heliopolis. When Atum...

    Full text Article ATUM
    Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology

    The ancient Egyptian god Atum was the creator of the world. In the earliest accounts, he was the first to emerge from primeval waters, taking...

    Full text Article Atum
    Encyclopedia of African Religion

    Atum was one of the earliest names for the divine in its capacity as creator-god in ancient Egypt. Equally important, the conceptualization of...

    See more from Credo