Heh, whose name denotes an incalculable number, personifies unlimitedness, especially in the sense of unlimited time as reckoned by heavenly cycles. Along with his consort Hehet, he is one of the Gods of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad, whose name Hehu, ‘Infinites’ (often translated ‘Chaos-Gods’), is the plural form of the same word. Because unlimited time is regarded as a boon, however, Heh does not share in the ambivalence which generally attaches to the Hehu as a group. Heh is depicted anthropomorphically, usually kneeling atop a collar of beads which is the sign for gold, regarded as an incorruptible metal, and grasping in each hand a notched palm-branch representing the marking off of time, and sometimes with a palm branch on his head. The palm branches may be augmented with the shen sign, a loop of rope signifying eternity in the sense of a closed (encircled) totality, which is also familiar as that within which the names of kings are written, in which case it is commonly known as a ‘cartouche’, and ankhs, the signs for life, may hang from his arms or hands.

In late period temple inscriptions, the symbol of Heh is shown being offered by kings to Gods or Goddesses in a manner similar to the offering of Ma’et (J. F. Borghouts, “Heh, Darreichen des,” in Helck and Otto). Typical recipients of the symbol are Shu, as bearer of the heavens, or Hathor, as embodying the heavens. The symbol of Heh received by the God is described as their own image; that is, the king, granted an infinite reign, would offer to the Gods in return an image of themselves, upholding the cosmic order just as they do. The Heh symbol thus becomes a medium for identification between the king and the Gods. In earlier scenes of investiture, the king receives the Heh symbol as an expression of the eternity which is manifest in a king’s perfect fulfillment of his role in relation to the state, the world and the Gods. Often the Heh symbol is conceived metaphorically as air or the breath of life, and as a bouquet of eternal fragrance, an apt symbol for the permanence which is obtained for even that most fleeting of beings through its participation in perfection.

In CT spell 335, the affirmation “I am that great Phoenix which is in Iunu [Heliopolis], the supervisor of what exists,” has appended to it an ancient commentary which says, “As for what exists, it is eternity [neheh] and everlastingness [djet]. As for eternity, it is day; as for everlastingness, it is night.” This implies that neheh and djet are not synonyms, but are, taken together, inclusive of the whole of being. The manner in which to differentiate them is subject to dispute. Jan Assmann (2002, 18-19) has interpreted neheh as the cyclical time generated by the movement of the heavenly bodies, and therefore an eternity of motion and of ceaseless coming-to-be and transformation, whereas djet is the eternity of immutability and permanence, the eternity of that which is perfect and for which time has, as it were, either stopped or never begun.

Assmann, Jan. 2002. The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. Trans. Andrew Jenkins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Helck, Wolfgang and Eberhard Otto, eds. 1973–. Lexikon der Ägyptologie. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

Return to Index

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: