(Khopri, Khepera) Khepri’s name comes from the Egyptian verb meaning ‘to become’, a word which also yields a noun meaning ‘transformation’ or simply ‘form’. For anything to take on any form whatever is thus to participate in the divine potency of Khepri. Khepri is depicted as a scarab beetle, one of the ubiquitous symbols in Egyptian culture. The actual life-habits of the scarab beetle are less important than the way in which the Egyptians conceived them and drew upon them to create the symbol of Khepri. The Egyptians saw the scarab beetle as rolling a ball of dung, the basest of materials, that which embodied the inert end of every life process and the exhaustion of the object of metabolism. From this dead end, however, a new beginning was fashioned, for the female beetle lays her eggs in this ball, which thus gives the appearance upon their hatching of having fostered spontaneous generation. The ball of dung rolled by the beetle thus becomes identified with the sun, and Khepri with the primordial sunrise at the inception of the cosmos and every day’s sunrise, as well as with all emergence of novelty, spontaneity, and potentiality within that which is inert, its impulse exhausted or which has reached a condition of static perfection or completion and therefore transforms itself in order to continue as a vehicle of life. Khepri thus expresses a fundamental element of the Egyptian worldview, in which no beginning is ever from nothing, but is always really some manner of transformation. Hence Atum‘s position at the beginning of the emergence of the cosmos is functionally identical to the position of the deceased awaiting resurrection. The sun, too, is conceived by Egyptians as Khepri at sunrise, Re at midday, and Atum at sunset, the waning of the day being thus identified with the absolute beginning of the cosmos, insofar as such an absolute, unique or linear beginning to it can be conceived, while the beginning which is ever-present, because it is identical with change itself, has its image in the sunrise. This viewpoint allows the moment of the emergence of the cosmos to be always present in the now, and by extension allows all of the moments of myth and all of the symbols of divinity to be appropriated and used by ritual operators at any time.

In one of the earliest programmatic statements of the Heliopolitan cosmogony, PT utterance 527, it is said that “Atum is he who came into being, who masturbated in Ôn. He took his phallus in his grasp that he might create orgasm by means of it, and so were born the twins Shu and Tefnut.” The first part of the sentence reads Atum kheper pu, in which the use of the verb kheper provides the model for statements like those in utterance 587, “Hail to you, Atum! … May you come into being in this your name of Khepri,” or in utterance 606, “They [the Gods of the Ennead] will bring you [the deceased king] into being like Re in this his name of Khepri,” which also adds a conjugation of Re and Atum: “you will draw near to them [the Ennead] like Re in this his name of Re; you will turn aside from their faces like Re in this his name of Atum.” The characterization of diverse Gods’ names as if they were names of some other God is not to be taken literally, insofar as they are often built on wordplay, but such usages, common in Egyptian religion, do indicate the Egyptian sense of each God as a sufficient totality Him- or Herself as well as one among many.

Khepri is generally depicted in full scarab form, to which often has been added the wings of a hawk, the hawk’s talons usually gripping the looped rope which is the sign for shen, eternity in the form of a closed loop. In PT utterance 624, reference is made to climbing “on the wing of Khepri,” and in CT spell 548 to the “horns of Khepri,” both presumably referring to actual features of the beetle. Reference is made sometimes to the boat (or ‘bark’) of Khepri, which seems at times to be simply a synonym for the boat of Re, but sometimes a particular vehicle, viz. in CT spell 423, for “not dying a second death”: “I will be raised up from the hnhnw-bark to the bark of Khepri, he will let me enter to see what is there, I will recite his words to the judges, and he will let me converse with those four mighty spirits who move to and fro and live after they have died.” In CT spell 261, a spell for becoming Heka, the personification of magic, Heka says that he came forth from the mouth of Atum “when he [Atum] spoke with Khepri … that he [Atum] might be more powerful than he [Khepri],” where Khepri seems to personify change and flux, mastery of which is to be granted through the exercise of magic, heka. Similarly, in CT spell 548, the operator threatens to “bind the horns of Khepri” to prevent being “taken and ferried over to the east” to be slain, i.e. to die again. Here the threat is to arrest change itself.

An amulet in the form of a scarab beetle plays an important role in BD spell 30B, in which it represents the heart of the deceased, not as a physical but as a spiritual entity. The ‘heart’ thus constituted is beseeched in this spell not to bear witness against the deceased in the judgment. In addition to its amuletic functions, the scarab beetle lends its shape to a sort of calling card. Scarab beetles carved in semi-precious stones are inscribed on their undersides with the names and titles of officials or kings, or to commemorate auspicious events such as a royal wedding or jubilee.

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6 Responses to “Khepri”

  1. […] and cycles – they celebrated such things like Wep Ronpet and with daily rituals to gods such as Khepri. But, when it came to things like installing a new priest? One has to wonder if their reaction to […]

  2. Does Khepri have a particular gender? (I’ve seen Khepri referred to in a publication I’m about to review as feminine, but I’ve never encountered that elsewhere…)

    • henadology said

      The name Khepri is grammatically masculine, but of course the characteristic behavior that ostensibly gives the beetle its symbolic significance belongs to the female of the species, so that might be what the author has in mind. Khepri is depicted as masculine when in anthropomorphic form, however, and the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae lists no feminine form of xpr used as a name, only as a substantive.

  3. Alas, I suspect less thought went into it than that. (The authors in question pretty much go for “goddess” as a default when something isn’t clear…and yet they leave out some goddesses so consistently it’s quite annoying. The book won’t be getting a good review from me…)

  4. chris said

    where was khepri born and where did he come from i need an answer please asap

  5. […] The Greek word kantharos meant dung-beetle as well as referring to Dionysos’ distinctive drinking-cup. In Egypt the God Khepri was worshiped in the form of a dung-beetle who daily pushed the morning Sun up the Mound of Creation. You can read more about him at Edward Butler’s Goddesses and Gods of the Ancient Egyptians: A Theological Encyclopedia.  […]

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