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Khepri, also known as Kephera, Kheper, and Chepri, was the Egyptian solar deity associated with the rising Sun and dawn. He was also known as the creator god and was represented by a dung beetle or a scarab. Here’s a closer look at Khepri, what he symbolized and why he is significant in Egyptian mythology.
Khepri as a Form of Ra
Khepri was an essential deity of the ancient Nubian pantheon. He’s known as being the manifestation of the sun-god Ra, who’s at the center of ancient Egyptian religion.
According to the mythology of the Dogon tribe, Khepri is identified as their celestial origin. He was also associated with the Neteru, the divine forces or energies, who were believed to be the spiritual beings who came to Earth and helped humanity, by passing on their knowledge, secrets of magic as well as the control over the universe, agriculture, mathematics, and other things of similar nature.
However, Khepri himself didn’t have a separate cult devoted to him. He was largely inferior to the higher sun-god Ra. There were multiple aspects of the great solar deity and Khepri was simply one of them.
- Khepri represented the emerging Sun in the morning light
- Ra was the sun-god during midday
- Atun or Atum was the representation of the Sun as it descended at the horizon or into the Underworld at the end of the day
If we compare this belief to other religions and mythologies, we can see the three forms or aspects of the god Ra as the representation of the Egyptian Trinity. Similar to the strong representations of Trinity in Christianity or Vedic religion, Khepri, Ra, and Atun are all aspects of one primary deity – the sun-god. As a result, Khepri on his own, isn’t highly significant.
Khepri and the Egyptian Myth of Creation
According to the lore of the Heliopolis priests, the world began with the existence of the watery abyss from which the male deity Nu and the female deity Nut emerged. They were thought to represent the inert original mass. In contrast to Nu and Nut being the matter or the physical aspect of the world, Ra and Khepri or Khepera represented the world’s spiritual side.
The Sun was the essential feature of this world, and in many Egyptian presentations of it, we can see the god Nut lifting a boat in which the sun-god’s sitting. The dung beetle, or Kephera, rolls the red sun disk into the hands of the goddess Nut.
Due to this connection to Osiris, Khepri played an important role in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. It was their custom to place the scarab amulets over the deceased’s heart during the process of mummification. It was believed that these heart-scarabs helped the dead in their final judgment in front of Ma’at’s feather of truth.
In some sources, the sun-god Ra came into being in the form of Kephera. He was the one deity responsible for creating everything and everybody in this world. Through these texts, it becomes evident that Kephera was the creator of all the living things on Earth without the help of any female deity. Nu didn’t participate in these acts of creation; he only supplied Kephera with the primordial matter from which all life was created.
Symbolism of Khepri
The ancient Egyptian god Khepri was usually portrayed as a scarab beetle or dung beetle. In some portrayals, he’s shown with a human form with the beetle as his head.
To ancient Egyptians, the dung beetle was highly significant. These little creatures would lay their eggs in the sand and then roll them in a ball of dung. They would push the ball across the sand and into a hole, where the eggs would hatch. This activity of the beetle was like a sun disk’s movement across the sky, and the scarab beetle became Khepri’s symbol.
As one of the most potent symbols of ancient Egypt, the scarab symbolized transformation, birth, resurrection, the Sun, and protection, which were traits associated with Khepri.
From this association, Khepri was thought to represent creation, resurrection, and protection:
Khepri as a Symbol of Creation
Khepri’s full name is Khepera Kheper Djesef, which can be translated as The One Who Creates Himself or The One who Becomes from Himself. His name is closely connected to the reproductive cycle of the scarab – a process of birth that ancient Egyptians thought happens by itself, out of nothing.
The beetles would roll their eggs, or germs of life, into a dung ball. They would stay inside the ball during the whole period of growth and development. With the Sun’s light and warmth, new and fully-grown beetles would come out. The ancient Egyptians were fascinated with this phenomenon and thought that scarabs create life out of something lifeless, and saw them as symbols of spontaneouscreation, self-regeneration, and transformation.
Khepri as a Symbol of Resurrection
When the Sun rises, it seems as though it emerges from darkness and death into life and light and repeats this cycle morning after morning. As Khepri represents one phase of the sun’s daily journey, the rising Sun, he’s seen as the symbol of renewal,resurrection, and rejuvenation. As Khepri would push the sun disk across the sky, controlling its death, during sunset, and rebirth, at dawn, it’s also associated with the never-ending cycle of life and immortality.
Khepri as a Symbol of Protection
In ancient Egypt, the scarab beetles were widely worshiped, and they weren’t allowed to be killed because people feared it would offend Khepri. It was customary for both royals and commoners to be buried with scarab ornaments and emblems, representing justice and balance, the protection of the soul, and its guidance to the afterlife.
Khepri – Amulets and Talismans
The scarab ornaments and amulets were fashioned out of different materials and were worn for protection, signifying eternal life after death.
These talismans and amulets were carved out of various precious stones, inscribed with texts from The Book of the Dead, and were placed over the deceased’s heart during mummification to provide protection and courage.
It was believed that the scarab had the power to guide the souls into the Underworld and help them during the ceremony of justification when faced with Ma’at, the feather of truth.
However, the scarab beetle amulets and talismans were also popular among the living, both rich and poor. People wore and used them for various purposes, including marriages, spells, and good wishes.
To Wrap Up
Even though Khepri had an important role in Egyptian religion and mythology, he was never worshiped as an individual deity and didn’t have a cult of his own. Instead, he was only recognized as a manifestation of the sun-god Ra, and their cults melted together. In contrast, his emblem the scarab beetle, was probably one of the most popular and widespread religious symbols, and is often seen as a part of royal pectorals and jewelry.