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Khonsu was an Egyptian god of moon whose earliest attested character is considerably different from his later manifestation in New Kingdom Thebes where he appears as the benign son of Amun and Mut. In the Pyramid Texts he appears in the famous ‘Cannibal Hymn’ as a bloodthirsty deity who assists the deceased king in catching and slaying those Egyptian gods that the king ‘feeds upon’ in order to absorb their strength (PT 402). Later the god appears to have been associated with childbirth, but it is in his role as an integral member of the all-powerful Theban triad (Amun, Mut, Khonsu) that Khonsu is best known. 

Khonsu Egyptian God

Mythology of Khonsu

 There Khonsu was primarily viewed as a lunar god, but he exhibited several different aspects, appearing among other forms as Khonsu pa-khered (Khonsu the Child); Khonsu pa-ir-sekher (Khonsu the provider) (the Chespisichis of the Greeks); Khonsu heseb-ahau (Khons, decider of the life span); and Khonsu em-waset nefer-hetep (Khonsu in Thebes) – apparently the most important Theban manifestation of the god. 

 

The varius forms of the god interacted with one another as can be seen from the inscription known as theBentresh Stela – inscribed in Thebes in the 4th century BC but purporting to record a pronouncement of Rmaesses II some 800 years earlier. The stela tells how the Egyptian king loaned a statue of Khonsu pa-ir-sekher to the king of Bakhtan to aid in the healing of hid daughter, Bentresh, and includes discourse between this form of Khonsu and the more senior Khonsu in Thebes. 

Khonsu Egyptian God
Black and red granite statue of Khonsu with the features of
Tutankhamun. The sidelock of youth and the curved divine
beard are both characteristic of the god’s iconography.
Egyptian Museum. Cairo.

 

 Although firmly associated with Amun and Mut at Thebes, at Kom Ombo Khonsu was regarded as the son of Sobek and Hathor, and at Edfu Temple Khonsu was linked to Osiris as ‘the son of the leg’, referring to the relic of the netherworld god said to be preserved at that site. As a moon god Khonsu was also sometimes associated with Shu, god of the air, and with Horus. Like Thoth, he participated in the reckoning of time and was believed to influence the gestation of both humans and animals. 

 

 In the past the name of Khonsu was thought to be derived from theelements kh ‘placenta’ and senu ‘king’ as a personification of the royal placenta, but it is now generally believed to be based on the verb ‘khenes’ (to cross over) or (to traverse), meaning (he who traverses the sky).


Iconography of Khonsu


Khonsu is usually depicted in anthropomorphic form – most often as a young man enveloped in mummy bandages or a tightly fitting garment, though his arms may be partially or completely unrestrained. He frequently wears his lunar symbol consisting of the full lunar disk resting in a crescent new moon upon his head; in his role as divine child of Amun and Mut he commonly wears the sidelock of youth, though he may also wear the curved beard of the Egyptian gods. 

 

The god was often depicted holding the crook and flail associated with Osiris and Horus, and a was or djed-headed staff, but his most distinctive attributive attribute is usually the necklace he wears with its crescent-shaped pectoral element resting on his chest and its heavy counterpoise on his back. This counterpoise is usually depicted in an inverted ‘keyhole’ shape and can be used to differentiate the god from representations of the god Ptah whose necklace counterpoise is of a different shape. 

Khonsu Egyptian God
Khonsu in his falcon-headed form with characteristic
attributes of disk and crescent moon. 20th Dynasty.
Tomb of Montuherkhepeshef.
Valley of the Kings. Western Thebes.


 As a sky deity Khonsu can also be depicted with the head of a falcon – usually differentiated from Horus and Ra by the lunar disk and crescent. As a lunar deity one of his symbols was the Cynocephabus baboon, though Khonsu himself does not appear in this form as frequently as does the god Thoth. Small amulets representing Khonsu in human form are known from the later dynasties, as are plaques depicting the god in fully human or falcon-headed form, sometimes with his divine parents Amun and Mut, or like Horus, standing on the back of a crocodile on the healing plaques known as cippi.


Worship of Khonsu


Khonsu had many sactuaries throughout Egypt, but his main cult center was Thebes. Begun in the 20th Dynasty by Ramesses III and completed by a number of later rulers, the temple of khonsu was erected within the precincts of the great Amun temple at Karnak. In certain of his festivals – such as the New Year’s festival at the temple of Luxor where the god participated in the celebrations with his parents, Amun and Mut- the cult statue of Khonsu was transported from his precinct at Karnak on a sacred barque which was identified by a falcon’s head at its prow and stern. 

 

The god processed along his own statue-lined avenue running from his temple to Luxor indicating his importance in this and other festivals. Khonsu’s fame as a god of healing was also widespread and enhanced in later times by the fact that he was believed to have personally helaed one of Egypt’s kings, Ptolemy IV, who called himself ‘beloved of Khonsu who protects the king and drives away evil spirits’.



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