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In Egyptian mythology, Ptah was both a creator deity and the god of architects and artisans. He was also a healer. In the Memphite Theology, he was credited with having created the entire world, by speaking words that brought it into being. In addition to this, Ptah protected and guided the royal family, as well as artisans, metalworkers, and ship builders. His role was an important one and although he transformed over the centuries, and was often conflated with other gods, Ptah managed to remain relevant for millennia among the ancient Egyptians.
Origins of Ptah
As an Egyptian creator deity, Ptah existed before all other things and creations. According to Memphite cosmogony texts, Ptah created the universe and all living beings, including other gods and goddesses through his words. As the myth goes, Ptah created the world by thinking and imagining about it. His ideas and visions were then translated into magical words. When Ptah spoke out these words, the physical world began to emerge in the form of a primeval mound. As a creator god, Ptah had the responsibility to preserve and protect his creations.
This makes Ptah an important deity in the Egyptian pantheon. He is known by many epithets which outline his role in ancient Egyptian religion. These include:
- The God Who Made Himself to be God
- Ptah the Master of Justice
- Ptah who Listens to Prayers
- Ptah the Lord of Truth (Maát)
Ptah was the husband of Sekhmet, the warrior and healing goddess. Their son was the lotus god Nefertem, who in the Late Period is associated with Imhotep. Together with Sekhmet and Nefertem, Ptah was one of the triad of Memphis, and was highly revered.
Characteristics of Ptah
Ptah was predominantly represented in human form. The most common form to depict him was as a man with green skin, sometimes wearing a beard, and shrouded in a light linen dress. He was often depicted with three of the most powerful Egyptian symbols:
- The Was scepter – a symbol of power and authority
- The Ankh symbol – asymbol of life
- The Djed pillar – an emblem of stability and durability
These symbols represent the power and creativity of Ptah as a deity of creation and life, power and stability.
Ptah and Other Gods
Ptah absorbed the characteristics and traits of many other Egyptian deities. He was influenced by Sokar, the Memphite falcon god, and Osiris, the deity of the Underworld. Together, the three deities formed a compound deity known as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. In such representations, Ptah was depicted wearing the white cloak of Sokar and the crown of Osiris.
Ptah was also influenced by Tatenen, the deity of the primordial mound. In this form, he was represented as a strong man, wearing a crown and a solar disk. As Tatenen, he symbolized underground fire, and was honored by metalworkers and blacksmiths. While assuming the form of Tatenen, Ptah became the master of ceremonies, and preceded over festivities that celebrated the kings rule.
Ptah was closely associated with the sun deities Ra and Atum, and was said to have created them through a divine substance and essence. Ptah incorporated several aspects of the sun gods, and was sometimes depicted together with two bennu birds, alongside a solar disk. The birds symbolized the inner life of the sun god, Ra.
Ptah as a Patron of Artisans and Architects
In Egyptian mythology, Ptah was the patron of artisans, carpenters, sculptors, and metal workers. The priests of Ptah were predominantly architects and artisans, who decorated the king’s halls and burial chambers.
Egyptian artists and architects credited all their major achievements to Ptah. Even the great pyramids of Egypt, and Djoser’s step pyramid, were believed to be constructed under the influence of Ptah. The architect Imhotep, who built the great Djoser, was thought to be the offspring of Ptah.
Ptah and the Egyptian Royal Family
During the New Kingdom, the coronation of the Egyptian king typically took place in the temple of Ptah. This relates to Ptah’s role as the master of ceremonies and coronations. In the Egyptian royal family, rituals and festivals were often held under the guidance and protection of Ptah.
Ptah’s Worship Outside Egypt
Ptah’s importance was such that he was worshipped beyond the borders of Egypt, especially in regions in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Ptah was honored and venerated. The Phoenicians spread his popularity in Carthage, where archaeologists have discovered several idols and images of Ptah.
Symbols and Symbolism of Ptah
- Ptah was a symbol of creation, and as a creator deity he was a maker of all living things in the universe.
- He was associated with fine metalwork and craftsmanship.
- Ptah symbolized divine rule and was closely linked to the royal family.
- The three symbols – the was scepter, the ankh and the djed pillar – represent Ptah’s creativity, power and stability.
- The bull is another symbol of Ptah, as it was believed that he was embodied in Apis, the bull.
Facts About Ptah
Ptah was a creator deity and the god of artisans and architects.
Ptah has no parents as it is said that he created himself.
Ptah’s offspring are Nefertem and he was sometimes associated with Imhotep.
As the metal work god, Ptah was identified with Hephaestus in Greek mythology.
Ptah’s Roman equivalent is Vulcan.
Ptah’s symbols include the djed pillar and the was scepter.
Ptah was a creator deity, but he was most famously acknowledged as the god of artisans. By absorbing the traits and characteristics of other gods, Ptah was able to continue his worship and legacy. Ptah was also thought to be a deity of the people and a god who listens to prayers.