The god Ptah is very ancient. A text from the Old Kingdom relates:
And so the making of everything and the creation of the gods should be assigned to Ptah. He is the Tatenen who produced the gods, from whom everything has come, whether food, divine sustenance or any other good thing. So it has been found and understood that his power is greater than that of the other gods.
And then Ptah rested after he had created every thing and every Divine Word.
Tatenen is the god Ptah as the primeval mound which rises up from the limitless waters and imposes order upon chaos. In this we see a precursor of the creation myth of Genesis 12 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. The statement that after his labours, Ptah rested also has parallels in Genesis 22 And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.
The form of Ptah is that of a bearded man in profile with a tightly fitting skull cap and a shroud of white linen or wool. He holds in his hand the hieroglyphic symbols for life, stability and power and he stands upon the primeval mound or sometimes within a pavilion. This calls to mind the Qabalistic image of Kether; a bearded king seen in profile. The colours of Kether are, of course, white brilliance and gold. “Behind” Kether lie the waters of Ain Soph, Limitlessness.
Utterance 714 of the coffin texts has Ptah saying:
I was the spirit in the primeval waters,
he who had no companion when my name came into existence.
The most ancient form in which I came into existence was as a drowned one.
I was he who came into existence as a circle,
The circle is another image associated with Kether as a symbol of beginnings. It is also symbolic of wholeness and can be seen as a mandala representing the perfected self. The image of the god reinforces this idea of perfection. He is self-contained, white and pure. He stands within a pavilion or upon the primeval mound, complete unto himself. The pavilion in which he stands is itself the hieroglyph Shen meaning infinity and is a pun on one of the titles of Ptah, “Infinity, the Master of Years”.
An inscription dating from 800 BC tells the creation story of Ptah. the opening lines state that the inscription itself is to be copied from an older, worm eaten papyrus onto stone in order to preserve it. the scribe then goes on to say that in the beginning chaos reigned. Then Ptah appeared on the primeval mound as Ptah-Nun, Ptah-ta-Tanen, Ptah-Nefertem and five others whose names are indecipherable. Ptah created Nun and Nunet and they, in turn brought forth Atum and Thoth as the thought and tongue of Ptah. this allows us to speculate that 3 of the other forms of Ptah may have been Ptah-Nunet, Ptah-Atum and Ptah-Thoth. there are references elsewhere to Ptah-Sokar; Sokar being a god of darkness and decay, a counterpoint to the bright creator Ptah.
Ptah is associated with the creation of crafts; his High Priest was known as the Lord of Master Craftsmen. He was the patron deity of kings and so it is perhaps fitting that the temple of Ptah, Hwt-ka-Ptah is rendered in Greek Ai-gy-Ptos and gives us the modern name Egypt.
The hieroglyphs for the god Ptah are:
The loaf of bread (t)
The flax wick (h)
It is tempting to see in this an image of the craftsman working in one of the tombs or temples; sitting on his wicker stool working by the light of his flaxen wick and with the ancient equivalent of a packed lunch beside him. I am sure that the scribe intended something of this meaning to be conveyed but there is a deeper significance. In one version of the creation myth we find the gods and spirits asking, “What will you live on?” to which the creator replies, “I will live and have power through bread.”
The hieroglyph for bread was often painted blue signifying the life force and this, incidentally, is the colour of Ptah’s skin. Perhaps then, Ptah represents the “bread of life” and in eating bread we partake of the body of the god. Much later this same symbolic truth was expressed by the Christ when he took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 2626).
It seems then, that the god Ptah is a universal god with no less appeal than, say, Isis or Osiris. Yet he was never a god of the people, his worship seems to have been reserved for a priestly elite. His mysteries were deliberately hidden from the populace and it is for this reason that there is little to be found of his cult. For those who will persevere however, here is a god who will lead you to the very edges of space and time; a god who stands upon the shores between cosmic night and cosmic day. Here is a god who is no less relevant today than he was 5000 years ago in the land of ancient Khem.
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