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In Egyptian mythology, the Ogdoad (Greek "ογδοάς", the eightfold) were eight deities worshipped in Hermopolis during what is called the Old Kingdom, the third through sixth dynasties, dated between 2686 to 2134 BCE. First it was a cult having Hathor and Ra; later changing to a cult where Hathor and Thoth were the main deities over a much larger number of deities; and even later, Ra was assimilated into Atum-Ra through a merger with Atum of the Ennead cosmogony.

The concept of an Ogdoad also appears in Gnostic systems of the early Christian era, and was further developed by the theologian Valentinus (ca. 160 CE).

Membership and worship

The eight deities were arranged in four female-male pairs, the females were associated with snakes and the males were associated with frogs: Naunet and Nu, Amaunet and Amun, Kauket and Kuk, Hauhet and Huh. Apart from their gender, there was little to distinguish the female goddess from the male god in a pair; indeed, the names of the females are merely the female forms of the male name and vice versa. Essentially, each pair represents the female and male aspect of one of four concepts, namely the primordial waters (Naunet and Nu), air or invisibility (Amunet and Amun), darkness (Kauket and Kuk), and eternity or infinite space (Hauhet and Huh)[1].

Together the four concepts represent the primal, fundamental state of the beginning, they are what always was. In the myth, however, their interaction ultimately proved to be unbalanced, resulting in the arising of a new entity. When the entity opened, it revealed Ra, the fiery sun, inside. After a long interval of rest, Ra, together with the other deities, created all other things.


There are two main variations on the nature of the entity containing Ra:

Egg variant

The first version of the myth has the entity arising from the waters after the interaction as a mound of dirt, the Milky Way, which was deified as Hathor. In the myth an egg was laid upon this mound by a celestial bird. The egg contained Ra. In the original version of this variant, the egg is laid by a cosmic goose. However, after the rise of the cult of Thoth, the egg was said to have been a gift from Thoth, and laid by an ibis, the bird with which he was associated.

Lotus variant

Later, when Atum had become assimilated into Ra as Atum-Ra, the belief that Atum emerged from a (blue) lotus bud, in the Ennead cosmogeny, was adopted and attached to Ra. The lotus was said to have arisen from the waters after the explosive interaction as a bud, which floated on the surface, and slowly opened its petals to reveal the beetle, Khepri, inside. Khepri, an aspect of Ra representing the rising sun, immediately turns into a weeping boy - Nefertum (young Atum), whose tears form the creatures of the earth. In later Egyptian history, as the god Khepri became totally absorbed into Ra, the lotus was said to have revealed Ra, the boy, straight away, rather than Ra being Khepri temporarily. Sometimes the boy is identified as Horus, although this is due to the merging of the myths of Horus and Ra into the one god Ra-Herakty, later in Egyptian history.

In Gnosticism

The number eight plays an important part in Gnostic systems, and it is necessary to distinguish three different forms in which it has entered in different stages of the development of Gnosticism.

7 + 1

The earliest Gnostic systems (such as the Ophites) included a theory of seven heavens, and a supercelestial region called the Ogdoad. Astronomical theories had introduced the conception of seven planetary spheres with an eighth above them, the sphere of the fixed stars.

When the Valentinian system had established belief in a still higher place, the supercelestial space was called the middle region (Mesotes); but Ogdoad was clearly its earlier name.

6 + 2

In the system of Valentinus, the seven heavens, and even the region above them, were regarded as but the lowest and last stage of the exercise of creative power. Above them was the Pleroma, where were exhibited the first manifestations of evolution of subordinate existence from the great First Principle. In the earliest stages of that evolution we have (Iren. I. i.) eight primary Aeons constituting the first Ogdoad.

The ultimate conception of God, named the Ineffable Father and who has existed since before the beginning, is described as Depth or Profundity (Bythos). All around him exists a female power that has been named Silence (Sige). These two deities, Depth and Silence, become the cause, through a process of emanation, of the other archetypal beings or Aeons. The Aeons are always born in male-female pairs (as syzygies), each of which is in itself a divine principle but at the same time represents one aspect of the Ineffable Father, who otherwise could not be described nor comprehended as he is beyond all names. The emanation takes place in the following manner: Depth-and-Silence gives birth to Mind-and-Truth (Nous and Aletheia), who gives birth to Word-and-Life (Logos and Zoë), who gives birth to Man-and-Church (Anthropos and Ecclesia). These Aeonic pairs comprise the Fullness of Godhead (Pleroma), and the first eight Aeons that have been expounded here are the Valentinian Ogdoad.[2]

Though this Ogdoad is first in order of evolution, if the Valentinian theory be accepted as true, yet to us who trace the history of the development of that system the lower Ogdoad must clearly be pronounced the first, and the higher only as a subsequent extension of the previously accepted action of an Ogdoad. Possibly also the Egyptian doctrine of eight primary gods (see above) may have contributed to the formation of a theory of which Egypt was the birthplace. In any case an Ogdoad 7 + 1 would have been inconsistent with a theory an essential part of which was the coupling its characters in pairs, male and female. Hippolytus of Rome (Ref. vi. 20, p. 176) connects the system of Valentinus with that of Simon, in which the origin of things is traced to a central first principle, together with six "roots." If for the one first principle we substitute a male and female principle, the 6 + 1 of Simon becomes the 6 + 2 of Valentinus. This very question, however, whether the first principle were to be regarded as single or twofold was one on which the Valentinians themselves were not agreed; and their differences as to the manner of counting the numbers of the primary Ogdoad confirm what has been said as to the later origin of this doctrine.

4 + 4

The doctrine of an Ogdoad of the commencement of finite existence having been established by Valentinus, those of his followers who had been imbued with the Pythagorean philosophy introduced a modification. In that philosophy the Tetrad was regarded with peculiar veneration, and held to be the foundation of the sensible world. The Pythagorean oath by the Tetrad is well known.[3]

The Valentinian Secundus divided the Ogdoad into a right-hand and a left-hand Tetrad (Iren. I. xi.); and in the case of Marcus, who largely uses Pythagorean speculations about numbers, the Tetrad holds the highest place in the system.


  1. Butler, Edward P.. "Hermopolitan Ogdoad". Retrieved 2010-08-21. 
  2. David, Fideler (1993). Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. Quest Books. p. 128. ISBN 978-0835606967. 
  3. Meursius, Demiurg. Pythag. ch. 7, ap. Gronov. Thes. Gr. Ant. col. 9; to which may be added Hippol. Ref. vi. 23, p. 179.


  • Encyclopedie van de Mythologie. van Reeth, Dr. A. Tirion, Baarn: 1994 ISBN 9051213042
  • Ewa Wasilewska Creation Stories of the Middle East, Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2000, pp. 60ff.
  • George Hart The Routledge Dictionary Of Egyptian Gods And Goddesses, Routledge 2005, p. 113
  • Françoise Dunand, Christiane Zivie-Coche Gods and Men in Egypt: 3.000 BCE to 395 CE, Cornell University Press 2004
  • John D. Baines, Byron Esely Shafer, David P. Silverman, Leonard H. Lesko Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, Cornell University Press 1991
  • This article uses text from A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines by William Smith and Henry Wace.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ogdoad. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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