Tatenen, the Exalted Earth God

The god Tatenen (Ta-tenen), whose name means “risen land” or “exalted earth,” represents the Earth and was born the moment the primeval mound, benben, rose from the waters of chaos. He also symbolizes the emergence of silt from the fertile Nile after the waters of the inundation recede. Tatenen was the god of vegetation, the Earth and minerals, as his realms were the deep regions beneath the Earth from which everything emerges. He personified Egypt due to his associations with creation, rebirth and the Nile, and was an aspect of the earth-god Geb.

Both Tatenen and Ptah were Memphite creator deities. Tatenen was more ancient and, according to various papyri and stone inscriptions, combined during the time of the Old Kingdom with Ptah as Ptah-Tatenen. Ptah-Tatenen was seen as father of the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, the deities who embodied the primeval elements from before creation.

Tatenen is usually depicted as human in appearance and sometimes wearing a twisted ram’s horn, or two tall ostrich feathers surrounded with sun disks, on his head. His face and limbs are often painted green in order to represent his connection as a god of the earth and vegetation.

Tatenen held the title, “father of the gods” and was both the source and ruler of all gods:

“Hail to thee, thou who art great and old, Tatenen, father of the gods, the great god from the first primordial time who fashioned mankind and made the gods, who began evolution in primordial times, first one after whom everything that appeared developed, he who made the sky as something that his heart has created, who raised it by the fact that Shu supported it, who founded the earth through that which he himself had made, who surrounded it with Nun and the sea, who made the nether world and gratified the dead, who causes Re to travel in order to resuscitate them as lord of eternity and lord of boundlessness, lord of life, he who lets the throat breathe and gives air to every nose, who with his food keeps all Mankind alive, to whom lifetime, through whose utterance one lives, he who creates the offerings for all the gods in his guise the great Nun (the Nile), lord of eternity, to whom boundlessness is subordinate, breath of life for everyone who conducts the king to his great seat in his name, ‘king of the Two Lands’.”

Ramesses II with Ptah-Tatenen

The hymn is specifically directed to Ptah as Tatenen who is believed to have created all living things and every person. An example of a real historical person is Imhotep, the great architect and doctor of ancient Egypt [the subject of a future post] who after his deification was associated with Tatenen through Ptah. In a small temple dedicated to Imhotep, he is described as “the one, son of Ptah, the creative god, made by Tatenen, begotten by him and beloved by him…”

And, according to the Shabaka stone:

Thus it is said of Ptah: “He who made all and created the gods.” And he is
Tatenen, who gave birth to the gods, and from whom every thing came
forth, foods, provisions, divine offerings, and all good things. Thus it is
recognized and understood that he is the mightiest of the gods. Thus Ptah
was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine word. . . . Indeed,
Ptah is the fountain of life for the gods and all material realities.