We all know that the wonders of the ancient Egyptian pantheon are many and so amazing – and the deities that lurk within that pantheon are almost impossible to count and mention. Many of these deities are popular even today – the chief gods that everyone knows Ra, Osiris, Thoth, Bast, Sekhmet, Sobek, and many, many more.
But some of these gods, even though they were very prominent in the ancient times, are hardly attested today. One such deity is Heryshaf, the ram headed creator god of fertility and power. Once an important god with his own cult centers and throngs of followers, Heryshaf is slightly forgotten today.
But as always, we are here to dust off the cobwebs from the history’s obscure niches, revealing the wonders of intriguing information that hides beneath. And today we are returning to the valley of the Nile and ancient Egypt – in search of the origins of Heryshaf!
The God of Fertility – Heryshaf Through Time
Throughout Egypt’s long history, and as the state and religion slightly evolved, so did Heryshaf. Over the many centuries, this deity had a few slight ‘adaptations’, but was mostly rooted in the original way in which it was presented. Heryshaf was depicted as a ram headed man – an anthropomorphic figure of a man in the usual pharaonic, dominant stance and wearing the royal dress (kilt).
His head is that of a ram, with the iconic splendid headdress which contains the elements of two most prominent gods of Egypt – Ra and Osiris. These elements are the ‘atef’ – crown of Osiris – and the sun disk of Ra. The adoption of these elements into the image of Heryshaf often led to the connection of these three deities, where Heryshaf was often compared to Ra or Osiris.
The ram headed deity Heryshaf was predominantly (if not exclusively) worshipped at his cult center at Henensuten – also known as Het-Henen-su – which later became known in Roman sources as Heracleopolis Magna. This city was the capital of the 20th nome in ancient Egypt and was a famous religious and cultural center throughout much of Egypt’s history.
His name also had several similar, but differently translatable variants – all depending on the hieroglyphic writing. He is attested as Heryshaf, Hershef, Hersheft. The Her-sheft version – ḥrj-šf.t – translates to “He Who is Over Strength”. This stems from the ending *sheft (šf.t) which denotes “strength, bravery, or power”. But his name in its usual form – Heri-sha-f or Her-she-f, means respectively, “He Who is On His Sand” and “He Who is On His Lake”.
The latter name is the most common form of Heryshaf – he was considered the god who was born from the primordial waters. This fact was further attested in the construction of his great temple at Henensuten, which sadly does not exist today – it was situated on the island surrounded by canals and waters. There, Heryshaf truly was on his lake.
When all things are considered, we can realize that Heryshaf was most likely a regional deity – i.e. a god that was worshiped solely at Heracleopolis Magna. Moreover, with that being said, it is likely that Heryshaf was in fact just a different aspect of the much more important and famed god Khnum – with whom he shares a lot of similarities. It could be that Heryshaf was a regional version of Khnum that was exclusive for Henensuten, aka Heracleopolis Magna.