Shu is one of the oldest Egyptian gods. He was worshipped as the father of earth and sky, (translated as Nut and Geb). Ancient Egyptians believed that he could control the wind and earth.
Shu was known as the god of air. He was created alongside his counterpart Tefnut. She was the opposite of everything Shu embodied. He was cool, dry, and calm air. Meanwhile, Tefnut was worshipped as the goddess of water. She could be found in the dew, rain, and other forms of moisture. However, they were made to balance each other out. In fact, they were identified as twins. They were also considered to be spouses.
Shu belongs to the Heliopolitan theology. He and his wife were born from Atum. This god was known as the creator and finisher of the world. In ancient Egypt, this beginning was known as the First Occasion.
Atum could be the most important Egyptian god in history. His scripts were found multiple times throughout the world-famous Pyramid Texts.
As the creator, Atum made Shu and Tefnut. They were the first cosmic elements, (air and water). Afterward, Shu helped create earth and atmosphere.
After Shu made earth and sky, they would keep collapsing. According to myth, the god thought that Nut and Geb were having a love affair. He was correct. Nut gave birth to new gods and goddesses such as Osiris, Horus, Isis, and Set after the affair.
So, Shu decided to stand between Nut and Geb, (sky and earth), to keep them from falling back together. After all, Shu is Egyptian for “he who rises up”. Forever after, he was described as the dry air that separates the realms of the Earth and its atmosphere. He was the god who held up the sky.
This separation gave Egyptians the original duality of good and evil. Nut and Geb were split up while they were in love. So, this created light, dark, above, and below.
According to ancient Egyptian mythology, physical life could not manifest without this separation. So, it was a necessary evil.
A God in Disguise
During the Age of the Pyramids, Shu and Tefnut had a terrible argument. This caused a major weather disaster that eventually ended the Old Kingdom.
The argument eventually caused Tefnut to leave Egypt. She made her way to Nubia. It was known for its calmer environment. She was so unhappy that she changed into a cat creature that murdered any god or man that dared to approach it.
Shu started to miss her, but he couldn’t find her since she was disguised. Thankfully, the god Thoth was able to convince Tefnut to change back to her original form and return to Egypt.
In most cases, Shu is depicted as a man holding a staff known as an ankh. These staffs were carried by several gods. Egyptian mythology calls them symbols of life. Shu is also described as a god with a lion’s head. However, this is rare. Shu only received a lion’s head when he defended the sun god Ra.
Shu Quick Facts
- Shu was a calming influence.
- He was associated with truth, justice, and balance.
- This god wore one or multiple Ostrich feathers on occasion. The feathers represented the emptiness and weightlessness of the air.
- Shu is often mentioned in Greek mythology. This is because he held up the sky. According to legend, Atlas also held it up. So, the Greeks depicted them as a team that held up the cosmos together.
- The clouds and fog were thought to be Shu’s bones.
- Shu’s grandchildren became some of the most famous gods and goddesses in Egyptian mythology.
- He was positioned between the Earth and sky. Therefore, Shu was also embodied as the wind.