Ptah (pronounced pitah) was the Egyptian god of creators and crafters.
In fact, Ptah was said to have created the universe. He existed before anything else did, and conceived of the universe through the power of thought. He then brought it into existence with his words, forming and ordering things by giving them names. Ptah was said to have built the floor of the world and the roof of the sky. The worship of Ptah predates Ancient Egyptian culture, and he was one of the most popular deities in Egypt.
In Egyptian art, Ptah is usually shown as a bearded man with green skin, partly wrapped in mummy bandages, with a short beard and a blue skullcap. Some art also shows Ptah as a little person. He carries a staff that incorporates three symbols that were important to Egyptians: the djed pillar, which symbolizes stability, the was scepter, which represents power and authority, and the ankh, or looped cross, which represents life. Together, these three symbols — stability, power, and life — represent Ptah’s role as builder and preserver of the world.
Ptah was particularly associated with the Egyptian city of Memphis, where he was the most favored god. The Temple of Ptah in Memphis was one of the most famous temples in Egypt. In fact, the temple’s name in Egyptian, the Hout ka-Ptah, was later rendered by the Greeks as “Aegyptus,” which led to the modern name of Egypt! Memphis often served as ancient Egypt’s capital, and when it did, the cult of Ptah became even more important in Egyptian life. Ptah worship spread beyond Egypt as far as Phoenicia and Carthage. When Alexander the Great came to Egypt, he was crowned pharaoh (king) in the Temple of Ptah in Memphis.
Besides his role as creator of the universe, Ptah was also a master builder. He created the arts of stoneworking and architecture that allowed the Egyptians to build the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and, later, the pyramids. Ptah also ruled smithing and metalworking, sculpture, art, carpentry, and shipbuilding. Ptah’s priests were also often talented crafters, and were sought after for their advice and wisdom. Some became influential builders and advisors to the royal family, or even married into the royal family themselves.
Because of his association with tomb craftsmanship Ptah was also part of Egyptian funeral ceremonies. He was said to have created the important Opening of the Mouth ritual, which was a part of Egyptian mummification procedures. The Opening of the Mouth had to be performed to allow the mummy to use its mouth in the afterlife, so it could speak, breathe, and eat. The Opening of the Mouth was meant to represent Ptah’s own origin, when he used his mouth to speak the universe into existence.
Ptah was married to the lion goddess of war, Sekhmet, and their children were Nefertum, a god of healing and medicine, and Maahes, another war god. Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertum were the three most important gods in Memphis. Imhotep, a brilliant engineer, astronomer, and physician who lived in the 27th century BCE, was said to be Ptah’s adopted son, and became worshiped as a god himself after his death.
In later years, Ptah was often identified with two similar gods, Sokar, who was associated with death and the crafters who built the tombs and tools used in mummification, and Osiris, the judge and ruler of the dead. The three gods were worshiped together as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. This triple deity was represented by a figure wearing a double crown (Osiris’s symbol) and with a falcon (Sokar’s symbol) seated nearby.