(Khons, Khensu, or spellings with ‘Ch-‘) A complex and enigmatic deity, Khonsu is depicted in either of two forms, as a boy with the braided side-lock of youth or as a hawk-headed man, in either case generally bearing the lunar disk and crescent on his head. In his anthropomorphic depiction, Khonsu usually wears a close fitting or mummiform garment similar to that worn by Ptah and an elaborate necklace like the menit of Hathor. Khonsu was worshiped at Thebes as the son of Amun and Mut.
Khonsu has a single occurrence in the Pyramid Texts which is nevertheless notable insofar as it is said here (utterances 273-4) that “It is Khonsu who slew the lords, who strangles them for the King and extracts for him what is in their bodies, for he is the envoy who is sent to punish,” [trans. mod. in accord with Lichtheim, vol. 1, p. 37] the passage going on to describe how the deceased king “eats their magic and gulps down their spirits.” The role of Khonsu as envoy is perhaps echoed in his name, usually derived from the transitive verb khenes, ‘to travel through or traverse’, as in CT spell 806, “You travel to and fro as Khonsu,” or in a healing spell (no. 78 in Borghouts) which states that Khonsu-in-Thebes-Neferhotep “travels through all the lands every day.” Another theory as to the meaning of his name, more speculative, would interpret it as ‘royal placenta’, the placenta being regarded in some other East African cultures as a still-born twin, which would ostensibly account for Khonsu’s lunar associations on the principle that if the pharaoh is solar, his twin must be lunar (Frankfort 1978 pp. 70-2).
CT spells 187 and 195 speak in cryptic terms of an encounter by the operator with Khonsu, who is either going to or coming from Punt (present-day Somalia). Khonsu proceeds either to cause the operator to be acclaimed in some fashion by large numbers of family members and fellow-citizens “who are raised up” (187), or to join with them, perhaps at a festival of the new moon (195). In a similar vein perhaps is the operator’s affirmation in CT spell 334 that “acclamation is given to me in this my name of Khonsu,” or in BD spell 153B that “Khonsu is in me … I have sought the warmth of the multitude.” Khonsu seems to be one who generates respect in CT spell 257, “To become one honored with the king”: “Prepare a path for me that I may pass on it, for I am one honored of Khonsu, I issue from his mouth [i.e. he speaks of me] in the presence of Re.”
The violent side of Khonsu’s nature in the passage from the Pyramid Texts is reinforced in later texts. Hence in CT spell 945 the operator affirms that “My striking-power is Khonsu,” and spell 310 calls Khonsu “the raging one.” Some of Khonsu’s belligerence is to be attributed to his lunar nature, for the moon battles the darkness on behalf of the sun and dominates the night sky. Thus a hymn to Khonsu (La Lune, Mythes et Rites p. 43) states that “He takes the place of the sun when that one descends into the netherworld.” Also presumably testifying to Khonsu’s wrathful aspect are statements such as those in CT 311, that Khonsu “lives on hearts,” and 994 that he “lives on heads.” This terminology is relatively common – PT utterance 665 has the resurrected king “living on the hearts” of certain spirits, utterance 273-4 on the “hearts” and “magic” of the “Wise Ones” – and it is impossible to determine whether it is to be understood in the sense of eating, as would be a straightforward rendering of ankh m —, or as some kind of metaphor. Similarly, in CT spell 311 the operator ‘becoming’ Khonsu affirms that s/he has “bread consisting of men” and “offerings consisting of children.” Spells 310 and 311 in the Coffin Texts are for “becoming Khonsu in the realm of the dead.” Their content seems to have been largely absorbed into spell 83 of the Book of the Dead, which has however the title “Transforming into a benu,” or ‘phoenix’, and retains only a single reference to Khonsu. The operator invoking Khonsu claims here to have penetrated into all the limbs of Osiris – perhaps infusing them with new life as the moon waxes – to have “grown as do plants,” and to have covered him/herself “as does a tortoise,” that is, with a protective shell, perhaps analogous to the dark moon; similarly, a hymn says that Khonsu “comes as a child, head down, hidden in his crescent,” that is, at the new moon (La Lune, p. 43). Hymns to Khonsu emphasize in his nature the contrast between the waxing and waning phases of the moon. Thus one hymn states, “He [Khonsu] is conceived the day of the new moon, he is brought into the world on the second day of the month, he becomes an old man after the fifteenth day,” (ibid.). The same hymn also compares Khonsu to a “shining bull” in the moon’s waxing phase and to an ox (i.e., a castrated bull) in its waning phase, and states that as the waxing moon Khonsu make the bulls erect, makes the cows pregnant, and fortifies the egg in the body. In CT spell 310, the operator ‘becoming’ Khonsu affirms that he “does not die on this day of the rams, when the sperm was taken away from this spirit,” which has been interpreted as referring to the loss of virility symbolized by the waning moon.
Healing deities in Egyptian religion are also frequently violent, because they must do battle with the demons who cause sickness. Sekhmet is the classic example, and spell 311 compares the flame which comes from Khonsu’s mouth to the knife wielded by Sekhmet. The crescent moon was apparently also compared to a knife. Khonsu’s effectiveness as a God of healing is recorded by the ‘Bentresh stela’, which tells the story of a foreign wife of Ramses II whose younger sister Bentresh falls ill and is cured by Khonsu. One of the interesting features of this stela are its reference to the interaction between two different forms of Khonsu, ‘Khonsu-in-Thebes-Neferhotep’ and ‘Khonsu-the-Provider’ (or perhaps ‘Khonsu-Determiner-of-Fate’, pa ir sekher or iri sekheru). The king reports Bentresh’s illness to Khonsu-in-Thebes-Neferhotep, who himself proceeds to Khonsu-the-Provider, “the great God who expels disease demons,” and dispatches him to the land of Bakhtan, where Bentresh lives, to cure her. When Khonsu-the-Provider returns, having accomplished his task, “He [Khonsu-the-Provider] placed the gifts of every good thing which the prince of Bakhtan had given him before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Neferhotep, without giving anything to his own house,” (p. 93 in Lichtheim, vol. 3).
Reference is occasionally made to ‘the three Khonsu’, which apparently refers to Khonsu-in-Thebes-Neferhotep, Khonsu wen nekhu, or ‘the protector’, and Khonsu-the-Provider. This trinity is sometimes depicted with Khonsu-the-Protector and Khonsu-the-Provider as baboons sitting to the right and left of the anthropomorphic Khonsu. Another aspect of Khonsu we know of is Khonsu heseb ahê, ‘Reckoner-of-the-Lifetime’. This function may be alluded to in texts referring to something written by Khonsu which seems to pertain to the culmination of life. Thus in CT spell 649, an unidentified “Messenger” is asked to “open a path for me [the operator], for I am Khonsu about to write what is true,” and in the Dispute Between a Man and His Ba, the man attempting to convince his ba, or soul, to go along with his wish to end his life, swears “May Khonsu defend me, he who writes truly!” (p. 164 in Lichtheim vol. 1).
That Khonsu may have played a role in adolescent initiation is suggested by the statement from CT 310 that “to me [Khonsu] belong the two braided locks which are upon the shorn ones,” for this refers to the side-lock, which would have been cut and dedicated to a deity upon coming of age. However, this sentence also been linked to CT spell 154 (BD spell 115), for “knowing the souls of Heliopolis,” which refers to a man with a braided lock in Heliopolis, perhaps representative of a class of priests (J. Zandee, Bibliotheca Orientalis 10, 1953 p. 112). The crescent moon may have been represented by the braided lock, or even the markings colloquially known as the ‘man (rabbit, etc.) in the moon’. An unusual reference to Khonsu’s side-lock occurs in CT spell 1007, “To open the gate of the horizon,” in which Khonsu is asked to “throw open the great door.” “I will swim by means of you,” the operator says to Khonsu, “I will fill my mouth with the braided lock of the God. Ho! Lift me up! Ho! Raise me aloft!” – apparently intending to take the side-lock in his/her teeth and let Khonsu lift him up into the sky.