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Ithyphallic Min holding a flail

Min, God of Fertility, Power and the Eastern Desert

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: June 25, 2013

 

mnwgod determinative

Min (Menew, Amsu) was one of the Egyptian gods worshipped from predynastic times. The earliest forms of the god - his fetish - was of a barbed arrow, a belemnite fossil or a thunderbolt. (The strange arrow, over time, became the top part of the first hieroglyph of his name, sitting above the hieroglyph of the standard - mnw .) The Min Palette (El Amrah Palette)

Image © Ancient Egypt and Archaeology Web Site

A Gerzean palette known as the El Amrah Palette also had a second name, the Min Palette, because it had the symbol of the fertility god on it. Unlike in the hieroglyph, this looks more like a double-ended arrow (on a hook). This means that Min's symbol is one of great antiquity:

The identification of divine symbols among early Naqada III (or still earlier) imagery is a selective and speculative enterprise ... A more persuasive case can be made for another palette, found at el-Amra, which is similarly carved with a single, large emblem of a very distinct type, later associated with the ithyphallic god Min ... This emblem recurs in other contexts during Naqada III, some of which may be convincingly related to cultic activities, notably the Coptos Colossi.

-- Wengrow, D. 2006, The Archaeology of Early Egypt, 10,000 to 2,650 BC: Social Transformations in North East Africa, 10,000 to 2650 BC, p. 190

Another piece from El Amrah (near Abtu (Abydos)) was an ivory statuette of a man that stood with his legs together, his arms at his sides and an erect penis. This, too, was probably another early representation of the god. The predynastic ruler, the Scorpion King, was believed to have worshipped both Min and Set. Gebtu (Koptos) was Min's cult centre from the earliest times. Later, he was associated with Khent-Min (Panopolis, Akhmim).

Min was always a god of fertility and sexuality. He was shown as a human male with an erect penis. In Egyptian times, he was usually an ithyphallic bearded mummiform man, standing with both legs together, an arm raised holding his symbol or a flail and wearing the same low crown with twin plumes as Amen. (The way he holds his flail might be symbolic of sexual intercourse - the flail forms the V while his upraised forearm seems to thrust inside the V.) The Egyptian paintings and reliefs on tomb walls and temples didn't show Min's other arm, but the statues of the god show him with his hand encircling the base of his penis. During New Kingdom times he was sometimes shown as a white bull, an animal sacred to the fertility god. Min, being worshipped and given offerings by Seti I

(Hymn to Min)

He says before his master, Glory to thee ... Min of Koptos, Horus raising the arm, great of love, piercing the sky with his double plume, lord of joy in the shrine, king of the gods, sweet of love, full of his mother, upon his great throne, great god in the two hemispheres, in Hesep, surmounting his staircase, purifying (?) the flesh of god, offering to his father, male of the gods, valiant in ... prince of the desert, loving mankind he has created youths. His abomination is to say 'Cut short the breath of life by which one lives;' causing to breathe him who follows his current. Fair of face, he enriches the two breasts, beautiful beyond the gods, his excellence is beyond the divine cycle, satisfying the majesty in the desert and in the eastern mountains ... travelling upon his current, healing the sick, making the distressed to live, good physician (?) to him that puts him in his heart, making to live him whose heart is contracted. I am thy servant, travelling upon thy current, thou has founded (?) my heart in the egg, lest precious stones should be scattered (?) ... thy great city. I repeated for it the sealing of all its property by calculation. I slept not at night, I rested not in the daytime, searching after thy beauties in my heart.

-- Flinders Petrie, W.M., & Hogarth, D.G. 1896, Koptos, p. 20

Sekhmet as the god Min, at the temple of Khonsu in the precinct of the temple of Amun at Karnak

Image © Hannah Pethen
He was associated with the Egyptian long-leaf lettuce, known as the 'White Bull' - an aphrodisiac to the ancient Egyptians because the lettuce was tall, straight and secreted a milky substance when pressed. (This was also a favourite food of Set.) Min was often shown standing before offering tables, covered with heads of lettuce.

The fertility god was associated both with Horus the Elder (Min-Horus) in the Middle Kingdom and with Amen (Amen-Min) in New Kingdom times to show the creative force of both gods. At times, even some goddesses have been shown with the body of Min!

The goddess Sekhmet as the Eye of Ra, for instance, showing that Min also has a destructive side, rather than just creative. She was shown with the body of an ithyphallic Min and the head of a lioness. (There are some indications that there was a ritual in the Egyptian military for ensuring the subjugation of prisoners - as in the story of Set and Horus - it involved 'impregnating' (and so emasculating) the prisoner, and so the erect state of the penis could relate to victory over the enemy.) The flail was often used to show the pharaoh's supremacy over his enemies, and was therefor linked to both power and destruction.

There was also a composite deity called "Mut-Isis-Nekhbet, the Great Mother and Lady" who was shown as a winged goddess with leonine feet, an erect penis and three heads - a lion head wearing Min's headdress, a woman's head wearing the double crown of Egypt and a vulture's head wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt.

Min wasn't just a fertility god, such as Hapi or Osiris, who only presided over the fields - he was also a god of male fertility who could give the pharaoh (and other men) the power to father a child. He also presided over the sed (jubilee) festival of the pharaoh (where the pharaoh had to run around a course set by the priests, carrying different objects), symbolically rejuvenating the pharaoh to give him long life... and the fertility of his youth. Men erecting a large tent for the Festival of Min

Image © Hanne7

In representations of one of the important Min festivals, the Pharaoh was shown hoeing the ground and watering the fields while Min looked on. At the Min festival held at the beginning of the harvest season, the Pharaoh was seen ceremonially reaping the grain ... When he begot his heir (ritually at the same festival) the Pharaoh was again identified with Min.

-- Ions, V. 1990, Library of the World's Myths and Legends: Egyptian Mythology, p. 110

As with Osiris, Min was an agricultural god - at Medinet Habu, Ramses III is shown scything a sheaf of wheat for the Festival of Min. There are also scenes of pharaohs ceremonially hoeing the ground and watering the fields under the supervision of Min. It is interesting to note that a virgin was poetically referred to as an 'unplowed field'.

Depictions of men climbing poles at the Feistval of Min used to be thought of as an activity Egyptologists called 'Climbing for Min'. It is now known that this was a very important part of the Festival - the erection of a large festival tent. It was so important that the only depiction of the Festival of Min was the scene showing the men climbing the poles of the tent!

He was also a god of the Eastern Desert, and it has been suggested that the description in the Pyramid Texts - 'the one who raises his arm in the east' - is actually talking about Min. With his association with the east, Min became a god who offered protection to travellers and traders - the caravan route went through Gebtu and headed out east to the Red Sea. At Wadi Hammamat (on the trade route), prayers and thanks to the god Min were found. Min was also worshipped by the men who worked the mines and the men who quarried the stone at Hammamat. At this particular Wadi, Min was given the title "Min, the Male of the Mountain", a title with the word 'male' being similar to the hieroglyph for 'foremost'. Montuhotep IV set out on an expedition to Hammamat: The god Min [before Hatshepsut] from Karnak Temple

Image © Amberinsea Photography

Year 2, second month of the inundation, day 15. Horus: Lord of the Two Lands, Two Ladies: Lord of Two Lands, Gods of Gold: King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebtawyre, Son of Ra: Montuhotep, who lives forever.

His majesty commanded to erect this stela for his father Min, lord of desert lands, at this august mountain,

Primordial, first-ranking, in the land of the horizon-dwellers,
God's palace endow with life,
Divine nest of Horus in which this god flourishes
His pure place of heart's content,
Set above the deserts of god's land,

in order to please his ka and to worship the god as he wishes, as does a king who is on the great seat,

...

My majesty sent the prince, mayor of the city, vizier, chief of royal works, royal favourite, Amenemnhat, with a troop of ten-thousand men from the southern nomes of Upper Egypt, and from the [garrisons] of Thebes, in order to bring me a precious block of the pure stone of this mountain, whose excellence was made by Min, for the lord of life, who recalls eternity even more than the monuments in the temples of Upper Egypt, as a mission of the king who rules the Two Lands, so as to bring him his heart's desire form the desert lands of his father Min.

He made it as his monument to his father Min of Coptus, lord of desert lands, ruler of Bowmen that he may give many [jubilees] and to live like Ra forever.

-- Lichtheim, M. 1975, Ancient Egyptian Literature, a Book of Readings: The Old and the Middle Kingdoms, pp. 114-115

Gebtu was a cult centre for both Min and Isis, and in this city, Min became the husband of Isis and father of Horus because of his powers of fertility. In later periods he was possibly placed in a triad to the Syrian love goddess Qedeshet (Kadesh, Qadesh, Qetesh, Qudshu) and the Syrian god of war and thunder, Reshef (Reshep, Reshpu). It was likely that Min was placed with these two deities from the east of Egypt because he was both god of the Eastern Desert and Lord of Foreign Lands. He was also thought to be the son-husband of the goddess of the east, Iabet, again through his position of god of the Eastern Desert. Relief of Ancient Egyptian Lettuce

Photo taken with kind permission of the Petrie Museum, London

I worship Min ...
Hail to you, Min in his procession!
Tall-plumed, son of Osiris,
Born of divine Isis.

-- Lichtheim, M. 1975, Ancient Egyptian Literature, a Book of Readings: The Old and the Middle Kingdoms, p. 204

Despite being a god of the desert, Min was still a fertility god and a lunar god - moon deity tended to be gods relating to moisture and thus of fertility. As a lunar deity Min was sometimes given the title "Protector of the Moon". In this capacity, the god was related to the Egyptian calendar - the last day of the lunar month was consecrated to the deity, and the day was known as "The Exit of Min". He was, in later times, thought to preside over the fifth month of the Egyptian calendar, known by Greek times as Tybi.

With his many different aspects, Min was a popular god of the ancient Egyptians. Min was worshipped right through Egyptian predynastic times up to Roman times, a deity whose temples were built and rebuilt through Egypt's entire history.


Further Information about Min


Video of Min

A video about the god Min, by TheDailyNewsEgypt:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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