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Hapi, the Nile god

Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: December 19, 2012

 

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Hapi, wearing the fish symbol of a local nome Hapi (Hep, Hap, Hapy) was probably a predynastic name for the Nile - later on, the Egyptians just called the Nile iterw, meaning 'the river' - and so it became the name of the god of the Nile. ('Nile' comes from the Greek corruption - Neilos - of the Egyptian nwy which means 'water'.) He was mentioned in the Pyramid Texts ("who comest forth from Hep") where he was to send the river into the underworld from certain caverns, where he was thought to have lived at the First Cataract. The Nile was thought to have flowed from the primeval waters of Nun, through the land of the dead, the heavens and finally flowing into Egypt where it rose out of the ground between two mountains which lay between the Islands of Abu (Elephantine) and the Island of Iat-Rek (Philae). Hapi was also mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as a destructive power, but one that worked for the pharaoh.

Homage to thee, O Hapi, thou appearest in this land, and thou comest in peace to make Egypt to live. Thou art the Hidden One, and the guide of the darkness on the day when it is thy pleasure to lead the same. Thou art the waterer of the fields which Ra has created, thou givest life unto all animals, thou makest all the land to drink unceasingly as thou descendest on thy way from heaven.

-- Spence, L. 2008, Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt, p. 171

Statue of Hapi Underwater at the Sunken City of Heracleion
Image © Cristoph Gerigk

As a water god, Hapi was a deity of fertility and fecundity - he provided water, food and the yearly inundation of the Nile. He was also known as 'Lord of the Fishes and Birds of the Marshes,' indicating that he provided these creatures to the Egyptians along with the Nile itself. Without Hapi, Egypt would have died, and so he was sometimes revered even above Ra, the sun god. The depiction of Hapi himself, though, was that of a rather well-fed, blue or green man with the false beard of the pharaoh on his chin. Other than showing his status as a god of fertility by his colour, the Egyptians showed Hapi as having rather large breasts, like those of a mother with a baby. According to Donald A. MacKenzie (1922), the "whitish muddy Nile may have been identified with milk". Thus, these white, muddy waters that flowed from the breasts of Hapi were probably linked to nurturing and suckling, and thus also to fertility.

At a very early period he absorbed the attributes of Nun, the primeval watery mass from which Ra, the Sun-god, emerged on the first day of the creation; and as a natural result he was held the father of all beings and things, which were believed to be the results of his handiwork and his offspring. When we consider the great importance which the Nile possessed for Egypt and her inhabitants it is easy to understand how the Nile-god Hapi held a unique position among the gods of the country, and how he came to be regarded as a being as great as, if not greater than Ra himself.

-- Tour Egypt, Hap, or Hapi, The God of the Nile

Hapi of Upper and Lower Egypt, as a symbol of the union of the Two Lands Hapi was also both god of Upper and Lower Egypt - this duality was shown by having twin Hapi deities, one wearing the papyrus of the north (Lower Egypt) as a headdress, the other wearing the south's (Upper Egypt) water lily (lotus) as a headdress. The Upper Egyptian Hapi was called 'Hap-Meht' while the Lower Egyptian Hapi was known as 'Hap-Reset'. They were depicted together, pouring water from a carried vase or together, tying the two plants of the northern or southern region into a knot with the sema hieroglyph, symbolising the union of Upper and Lower Egypt.

He was thought to be the husband of the vulture goddess Nekhbet in Upper Egypt, and of the cobra goddess Wadjet (Edjo) in Lower Egypt. When he took on the attributes of Nun (Nu), Hapi became husband to Nun's wife, the primeval goddess Naunet of the Ogdoad. He was also linked with Osiris - another water-related fertility god - and thus Nekhbet and Wadjet were also seen as a form of Isis, Osiris' wife. Hapi, painted blue and wearing lotus buds, presenting offerings of food and water

...the Egyptians had no clue how or why the Nile flooded each year. They believed that the gods Khnum, Satet, and Anqet were the guardians of the source of the Nile. Their duty was to make sure that the right amount of silt was released during the yearly inundation. Hapi was in charge of the waters that flowed during the floods. The flood was commonly known as the "arrival of Hapi".

-- McDevitt, A., Hapi

During the inundation flood, the Egyptians would throw offerings, amulets and other sacrifices into the Nile at certain places, sacred to Hapi. Hapi was thought to come with the inundation (the 'Arrival of Hapi') with a retinue of crocodile gods and frog goddesses, and the sacrifices were given in the hopes that the flood would not be too high, nor too low. If the inundation was too high, many homes would be destroyed (the Egyptians built their homes and even palaces out of mud brick, which was easily washed away in a large flood). On the other hand, if the flood was too low, there would not be enough water for the fields and cattle - Egypt would be in drought. A great flood was known as a 'large Hapi', whilst a low flood was a 'small Hapy'. During inundation, statues of Hapi were carried about through the towns and villages so that the people could honor and pray to him - it was a solemn occasion.

Ramses III worshiping Hapi, who is wearing a papyrus headdress

Image © The Great Mirror
Even Akhenaten, the 'heretic king', could not banish Hapi completely as he did with the other gods. Instead, he tried to suggest that Hapi was an incarnation of the Akenaten himself:

Praises to thee, O Ua-en-Re (Akhenaten). I give adoration to the height of heaven. I propitiate him who lives by truth (Ma'at), the Lord of Diadems, Akhenaten, great in his duration; the Nile-god by whose decrees men are enriched; the food (kau) and fatness of Egypt; the good ruler who forms me, begets me, develops me, makes me to associate with princes; the light by sight of which I live - my Ka day by day.

-- Frankfort, H. 1978, Kingship and the Gods, p. 69

Hapi was the mighty one in his cavern, whose true name was unknown. He was 'lord of the fishes and birds of the marshes' who 'greens the Two Banks'. He was the 'maker of barley and wheat', the 'master of the river bringing vegetation'. However, there are no known temples of Hapi, but his statues and reliefs are found in the temples of other deities. He was worshipped throughout the land of Egypt, but especially at Swentet (Aswan) and Gebel El-Silisila.


Further Information about Hapi


Video of Hapi

A video filled with images of Hapi (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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