Shining One; He Who Created Himself; One Who Is in the Nun;
Guide me through this transformation.
I would become more.
There’s a special place in my heart for Khepri, the rejuvenated morning sun. Maybe it’s the name, which literally means “to become” (derived from kheper). Maybe it’s the fact the Khepri is represented as a beetle (specifically, Scarabaeus sacer), or a beetle-headed hawk, or a beetle headed man. I like beetles, especially scarabs.
(Well, I like them as a concept. I’m okay with big beetles, but those little ones that advance across my desk like a tiny dinosaur-mech army? EW!)
It could also be the fact that Khepri is (often) a forgotten god, and you all know how I like to give love to the forgotten. Or, maybe all of those things come together with a number of other components into one giant ball of epic godhood…with antennae!
Antennae aside, Khepri has meaning for modern Kemetics beyond the obvious scarab jewelry (I’ll bet, in fact, that many of the people wearing such things don’t even realize what it represents) and so I really wanted to include him in my Forgotten Gods series.
So, what do we know about Khepri? Well, for starters, this is the beetle that represents him:
S. sacer is a coprophagous beetle (or dung beetle) and collects dung in balls, which it rolls to a suitable location and then buries underground. The beetle then eats the ball itself, or lays an egg within the ball, covers it, and then leaves. In the case of the latter scenario, when the egg hatches the larva then feeds on the ball of dung.
Interestingly, it was both the rolling and the emergence of an adult beetle from a ball of dung that led the Ancient Egyptians to associate Khepri with S. sacer. The rolling of the ball of dung is nearly identical to the rolling of the sun that Khepri does, especially when you consider the fact that dung beetles use the positioning of the sun when figuring out which way to go. As for the emergence of an adult beetle from a seemingly lifeless ball of dung, well, can you think of a better example of something being created out of nothing? It can appear, to observers, that S. sacer creates itself from nothing (observe that epithet of Khepri’s that is mentioned in the first line of this post.)
Khepri is an ancient Name; his is mentioned as one of the names of the sun in the Pyramid Texts, and he was linked with the infant sun god who rose from the Nun. A stela in the British Museum contains two hymns to the Sun-God, and Khepri is mentioned within as follows:
Hail to you, Re, perfect each day,
Who rises at dawn without failing,
Khepri who wearies himself with toil!
Your rays are on the face, yet unknown,
Fine gold does not match your splendor;
Self-made, you fashioned your body,
Interestingly enough, those protuberances on S. sacer’s head and front legs are called rays.
Khepri is also uniquely linked to humanity – as we move through each stage of life from birth to death we become, and he is the process of becoming. In addition, Khepri is linked to the transition from mummy to akh – as a creator god, Khepri can call forth life and prevent the decay and putrefaction of the body, thereby ensuring that essential body parts are left intact. He is, as the hymn above says, “Creator, uncreated.”
No temple, as far as we know, was ever dedicated specifically to Khepri. However, giant stone scarabs are set up near the entrances to many temple complexes, and the one by the sacred lake at Karnak is of particular interest in that it resides near an underground chamber that is said to represent the Duat. Amulets in the shape of scarabs were common; it is estimated that millions were created.
In the modern day, I see Khepri as a Name to be petitioned for aid with personal growth and life changes, as well as one to call on behalf of the deceased to ensure they Ascend into the Duat. However, although amulets in the form of scarabs were common, I could not find any sources that mention Khepri as a god of the people – unlike Taweret or Bes, it is not likely that he was worshiped outside of the purview of the priests.
(If someone knows differently, or can point me at a source, I’d be happy to update this entry.)
When approaching Khepri, a level of respect is beneficial and, as for most netjeru, offerings of bread, beer, and cold water appear to be excellent choices. I’ve given him incense as well, as the perfume and smoke rise upward, but that’s my own UPG speaking.
D. Meeks and C. Favard-Meeks. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Ithaca: 1996. 54-55, 159, 195
G. Pinch. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. New York: 2004. 152-153.
M. Lichtheim. Ancient Egyptian Literature: The New Kingdom (Volume II). Berkeley: 2006. 86-89.