Although commonly lauded for their striking architecture and technological innovations, the ancient Egyptians were also an intensely spiritual culture. When translated, the name of the god Shu provides much insight about his role in Egyptian mythology. "Shu” derives from a verb meaning “to raise,” and roughly translates to “he who holds up,” both of which serve as apt descriptors for a god tasked with holding up the sky itself.
The Creation Myth
In Egyptian mythology, the sun god Ra – also known as Atum, or the “father of the gods” – served as the progenitor of his fellow gods. After willing himself into existence, Ra created companions from his own shadow, the first of which were his son and daughter, Shu and Tefnut (sometimes called Tetnut), respectively. When the young gods became separated from Ra, he sent his one eye in search of them. Shu and Tefnut returned to Ra with his eye in tow, and the god cried tears of joy. From those tears, man sprang from the Earth.
While many Egyptian gods had anthropomorphic characteristics, Shu always appeared in human form as a handsome, dark-skinned man. Shu was often represented by the ostrich feather, which he characteristically wore upon his headdress – this feather serves as perhaps the god's most defining physical characteristic. Like many of his fellow gods, Shu was typically depicted with a long and narrow artificial goatee.
Duties of a God
According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Shu was responsible for holding up or supporting the sky. He also served as the god of air. Gods in other mythologies play a similar role, such as the ancient Greek god Atlas, who was thought to have held the world upon his back.
A Lineage of Air
The stories of the ancient Egytian gods form a deeply woven mythological web. In the origin story, the rain goddess Tefnut was believed to have shared a single soul with Shu. Just as Ra created them, Tefnut and Shu gave life to the fellow sky god Nut and the earth god Geb. Geb was commonly depicted lying under Shu's feet, while Ra traveled up Nut's body to bring the sun into the sky. Other gods such as Isis, Osiris and Set descended from Geb and Nut.
- Georgia Perimeter College: Egyptian Mythology and Religion
- University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: The Solar and Heliospheric Research Group: Egyptian Myths
- Michigan State University: Great Discoveries in Archeology: The Gods of Egypt
- LACMA: Atum: Father of the Gods (Snake, Mongoose, Lion, Bull, Ape)
- San Diego State University College of Education: The Titans: Atlas