Geb: Ancient Egypt’s God of the Earth
Ancient Egypt, a land that was home to a vast pool of gods, had one peculiar god named Geb – the god of the earth. Geb was a very influential god because it was believed that he allowed crops and life to grow on him. Often paired with Nut, the sky goddess, Geb was revered as the father of the snakes. What other traits and features did the ancient Egyptian god of the Earth possess?
In the following article, we’ll explore some common myths about Geb. The article also highlights Geb’s origin story, powers, symbols and worship.
Geb’s Family Tree
Geb was revered as one of the earliest deities in the Egyptian pantheon. His grandfather was the creator god Atum-Ra (also known as the sun god Ra). This meant that Geb’s parents were Shu and Tefnut, the deities of the wind/air and moisture respectively.
Along with his other family members, Geb forms part of the “Nine Gods” in Egyptian mythology. Commonly called the “Ennead”, those nine gods – Atum Ra (creator), Shu (air), Tefnut (moisture), Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys – were considered the most prominent deities in the Egyptian pantheon. Those gods constituted important components of Egyptian civilization which spanned for millennia.
Geb and Nut
Had it not been for Geb and Nut the Egyptian pantheon would not have had the likes of Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys. Ancient Egyptians believed that in the beginning Geb and Nut fell in love and decided to spend time with each other in a perpetual embrace. It was from this union that the likes of Osiris and his siblings emerged.
Angered by some utterances of Geb, Atum-Ra (the creator) dispatched Shu (the god of air) to create an atmosphere that would separate Geb and Nut. The separation was too much for Geb to handle and he would often cry. It was believed that the earth’s oceans were formed out of Geb’s tears.
Filled with sorrow, and longing for his wife/sister, Geb decided to permanently lay beneath Nut (the sky goddess) with one of his knee bent towards the sky (Nut). And in most paintings and ancient depictions, Geb’s phallus is pointed towards the sky.
Geb and Osiris
Just like his father Shu, Geb passed on the crown to his oldest son, Osiris. Geb then retired to the underworld to become a judge in the Divine Tribunal of the Gods (sometimes known as the Hall of Ma’at). It was in this hall that the souls of the dead were judged. Souls with hearts lighter than the feather of Ma’at (goddess of truth and order) were sent to spend eternity in the bosom of Osiris. However, the souls that were corrupt and full of evil were either gulped up by the demon Ammit or swallowed by Geb.
Depictions and Symbols
Ancient Egyptians often depicted Geb with green patches of vegetation all over the body. And atop his head was usually a goose. The Egyptians considered the goose a very sacred animal. According to some myths, the sun was born out of the world egg laid by Geb.
Owing to his association with harvest and agriculture in general, Geb’s was often depicted as a man with green skin. Some ancient artworks depicted him as a bull or crocodile or a ram.
Geb’s other symbols include barley, bull, and a viper. Some areas in ancient Egypt even worshiped him as the father of snakes and the spouse of Renenutet, the Cobra goddess. In that depiction, Geb was seriously feared and considered malevolent at best.
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Significance of Geb in Ancient Egypt
Aside from being one of the Ennead of the Heliopolis (i.e. the nine gods), Geb was revered as the third divine pharaoh of Egypt (after Atum and Shu). Thus he is believed to have inherited the throne after his father Shu became frail from fighting against evil spirits. As pharaoh, Geb was well organized, ruling in a fair and just manner. It is for this reason Egyptian pharaohs and royalty associated themselves with Geb.
Geb was also believed to be the owner of all the minerals and precious stones beneath the earth. His green skin symbolizes the vegetation that grows on earth, making him the god of the harvest.
According to some ancient Egyptian texts, the crops and grains grew because of Geb’s kindness and abundant grace.
Ancient Egyptians believed that Geb opened his jaws and swallowed the souls of the dead whose lives were not honorable while alive. Those dead souls were considered unworthy to enter the Field of Reeds (a heaven-like place for honorable people).
Other Interesting Myths about Geb
- As it was a common phenomenon with most ancient deities, Geb could either be malevolent or beneficial. It all depends on what angle you look at the myths from. As a vegetation god, Geb was revered. However, he was sometimes seen as the cause of some of the worst natural disasters in ancient Egypt.
- It was believed that earthquakes in the land of Egypt were the result of Geb laughing.
- After Seth murdered his older brother Osiris and later seized the throne of Egypt, Geb supported Osiris’ son, the falcon-headed god Horus, to reclaim his birth right to the throne.
- Geb’s worship was at its peak during the Pre-dynastic era. His temples and shrines were primarily located at the Heliopolis. In quite a number of Kush cities, Geb was also worshiped. There were also Geb temples at Edfu (Aat of Geb) and Dendera. Worshipers at Dendera (40 miles away from Luxor) were sometimes called Children of Geb.
- The world egg he laid symbolizes birth and renewal. It was believed that the sun arose from the egg like the way a phoenix (known as the sacred Bennu Bird) rises from its ash.
- The Egyptians regarded the earth as the House of Geb.
- Due to his association with crops and harvest, some ancient Egyptians believed that Geb was the husband of Renenutet, a minor Egyptian goddess of the harvest.
- Ancient scholars and authors often considered Geb the equivalent of the Titan Cronus in Greek mythology.
- Geb exacted revenge on his father Shu by taking his wife/sister (Tefnut) away from him, just like Shu separated Geb and Nut from each other. Ultimately, Geb married Tefnut and made her his queen consort.