Geb, God of the Earth, In the Earth and Under the Earthby Caroline Seawright
December 10, 2001
Updated: November 29, 2012
Geb (Keb, Seb) was a god of the earth and fertility. He was also a god who imprisoned the dead in his body. He could be a malevolent being as well as beneficial deity. Originally he was a local god, worshiped as a goose, though the specific city where he was first worshiped is unknown, it seems to have been around the Iunu (On, Heliopolis) region.
Known as 'The Great Cackler', Geb sometimes took on the form of a goose, but was usually shown as a man. Sometimes he was depicted wearing the headdress of a goose, but more often he was shown as a reclining man - sometimes ithphallyic - laying far underneath his sister-wife, the goddess Nut. Together, she and Geb encompassed the earth. Sometimes he was coloured green to show that, as with the ithphallyic form, he was a god of fertility. As a fertility god, he was known as the 'friend of Hapi'. He was also sometimes shown wearing the crown of Lower Egypt or the atef crown.
The earth itself was referred to as ("The House of Geb"). As an earth god, the earthquakes were thought to be his laughter. It was believed that he supplied the minerals and precious stones, and so was also a god of the mines. Barley was thought to grow from his ribs.
As the god of the surface of the earth from which spring up trees, and plants, and herbs and grain he played a very prominent part in the mythology of the underworld, and as the god of the earth beneath the surface of the ground he had authority over the tombs wherein the dead were laid. In hymns and other compositions he is often styled the rpat ie. the hereditary, tribal chief of the gods, and he plays a very important part in The Book of the Dead... and on his brow rested the secret gates which were close by the Balance of Ra, and which were guarded by the god himself.
-- E. A. Wallis Budge (2003), The Gods of the Egyptians: Studies in Egyptian Mythology, pp. 94-95
Yet he wasn't just a god of the surface of the earth, but a god of everything in and underneath the earth. It is in this that Geb was related to the deceased - as the dead were buried in underground tombs, they were buried inside Geb himself. He was thought to watch the weighing of the heart in the Halls of Ma'ati. As Nut was often represented on the cover of the sarcophagus, Geb was represented by the base, so the deceased was enclosed in the twin deities - Nut above and Geb below. Geb, though, had a darker aspect in relation with the dead. He was thought to hold the souls of the damned, keeping them prisoner in the earth.
In the tale of Geb and Nut, the twins angered the sun god Ra, their grandfather, by being so close together in a permanent embrace, making love. He called on their father, Shu, to rip the twins apart. Shu parted them, stamping on Geb while raising Nut high up above him. It turned out, though, that the sky goddess was pregnant, and she eventually gave birth to Geb's children - Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis and Nephthys.
...the first sound was the honking of the Primeval Goose as it laid the world egg. The creator hatched from this egg and the two halves of the shell became the earth and the sky.
-- Geraldine Harris, Delia Pemberton & Vincent Douglas (2000), Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 37
The Egyptians believed that Geb was the third divine pharaoh, Shu before him and Osiris after, and the one who supported Horus' right to the throne. Geb only ascended the throne of Egypt after he challenged the leadership of his father, Shu, and won. In retaliation for his father separating him from his sister-wife, Nut, he then took his mother, Tefnut, as his chief wife and separated her from Shu. This action of taking his mother as his lover, dated to the Greco-Roman period, most likely came from the Greek myth of the god Kronos, with whom he was identified.
Geb, however, was known for his protective qualities. One spell in The Book of the Dead refers to this, stating "I am decreed to be the Heir, the Lord of the Earth of Geb. I have union with women. Geb hath refreshed me, and he hath caused me to ascend his throne." Since the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the living image of Horus, the pharaoh was known as the "Heir of Geb".
One text tells us how Geb caused the golden box in which Ra's uraeus was kept to be opened in his presence. Ra had disposed of the box, together with his cane and a lock of his hair, in a fortress on the eastern frontier of his empire as a potent and dangerous talisman. When opened, the breath of the divine serpent within killed all of Geb's companions then and there, and gravely burned Geb himself. Only the lock of Ra's hair, applied to the wound, could heal Geb. So great, indeed, was the virtue of this divine lock of hair that years later when it was plunged for purification into the lake of At Nub it immediately turned into a crocodile. When he was restored to health Geb administered his kingdom wisely and drew up a careful report on the condition of every province and town in Egypt.
-- The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (1994), pp. 14-15
He was adored in Iunu, Djeba (Utes-Hor, Behde, Edfu) and Kom Ombo, though no temple to him has been found. He was, though, seen as a previous ruler of Egypt and the personification of the earth itself. He was a god of the earth who provided the Egyptians with everything from precious stones to the food that they ate, and the plants that grew along the Nile. He was a god of everything on the earth, with powers reaching below the earth and to the land of the dead, imprisoning those evil souls who deserved eternal imprisonment, and watching over the justified dead. From a local god to a great deity of Egypt, Geb was a fertility god who personified the earth itself.
Further Information about Geb
- Geb - Wikipedia
- Seb - Encyclopedia Mythica
- Geb, God of Earth - Tour Egypt
- Geb - André Dollinger
- Geb - Ancient Egypt: The Mythology
Video of Geb
A video filled with images of the god Geb (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present
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