Khonsu: Enigmatic Egyptian Moon God, Healer, Protector And His Dark Side

A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - In Upper Egypt, Khonsu (the 'wanderer' or “he who comes and goes”) was part of the Theban Triad, where his father was the god Amon (Amun) and the mother was the goddess Mut.

In Lower part of Egypt, he was believed to be the child of Ptah and Sekhmet.

The Theban Triad depicted at Medinet Habu. From left to right: Amun, Mut and Khonsu.

The Theban Triad depicted at Medinet Habu. From left to right: Amun, Mut and Khonsu. Source

Appearance And Many Attributes Of Khonsu

In human form, Khonsu is usually portrayed as a youth wrapped in mummy-bandages. As a divine child of Mut and Amun, his head is often decorated with the side-lock (symbol of childhood). In his hands, he holds a flail and a crook (associated with Horus and Osiris) and a waas-sceptre.

See also: 12 Ancient Egyptian Symbols Explained

Similar to Ptah, he wears a menat-necklace and is known to wear his lunar symbol in form of the lunar disk placed in a crescent new moon upon his head. These attributes indicate he is a lunar deity and as such, Khonsu has only one rival - the god Thoth, a lunar god worshipped in the form of an ibis or a baboon.

As the god of the moon, Khonsu takes over many of Thoth's attributes but also helps him to reckon time.

Later, during the New Kingdom (c. 1570 - c.1069 BC) he was also an important god of healing and a national deity. As the deity representing the cyclical nature of the moon, he was connected with inception of pregnancy, fertility and childbirth. Generally, he plays an important role in the creation of new life in all living creatures.

‘Pathfinder’ And ‘Protector’ That Guards Travelers

Some titles were frequently attributed to him such as "Khonsu, the decider of the life span", "Khonsu the Provider", "Khonsu the Child". Khonsu is sometimes associated with the 'dark side of the moon'.

In Egyptian beliefs, as the god of the moon, Khonsu was "Pathfinder" and "Protector" that guards travelers by protecting them against wild animals. He gives the brightness at night and thus, makes traveling easier and safer.

Khonsu Was A Long-Lasting Healer

During the Ptolemaic dynasty (305–30 BC), Khonsu was highly respected as a healing god. He was reported to have healed King Ptolemy Philopator (244-204 BC), the fourth of the line of Macedonian Greeks who ruled Egypt as the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Ptolemy Philopator was very ill, however, he did not appeal to Greek gods but to the god Khonsu of Thebes.

Egyptian God Khonsu

Left: Khonsu, an ancient Egyptian god depicted as a mummified child with a moon disk on his head. Source: Right: Khonsu, the ancient Egyptian moon-god, was depicted either as a falcon wearing the moon-disk on his head. Source:

It helped in some way and the ruler was cured, and from this on he called himself ‘Beloved of Khonsu who protects His Majesty and drives away evil spirits’. Khonsu's fame as a healing deity is recorded on a stele that was discovered in his temple and now is in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Khonsu And The Apocrypha Of The Old Testament

The name of the Egyptian god Khonsu occurs in the Apocrypha Of The Old Testament (3 Macc 6:38) as part of the Egyptian name of the ninth month of the year and the first month of the summer season: ‘Pachon’ (He of Khonsu)…”

Khonsu And His Darker Side

Khonsu of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BC) is not the same figure as in the New Kingdom.

In the "Cannibal hymn" of the Pyramid Texts, Khonsu is described as a bloodthirsty and cruel figure. He assists the deceased ruler in catching, killing and eating other lesser gods, to get necessary strength. In the Coffin Texts, he is “Khonsu who lives on hearts" that most probably refers to his connection with the afterlife.

Later in the New Kingdom, his nature changes much and is worshiped as the son of Amun and Mut, who protects fertility, childbirth and pregnancy.

Khonsu Worshiped Across Egypt

Khonsu had his main temple in Karnak and he was honored during the feast of Opet, an ancient Egyptian festival celebrated annually in Thebes and dedicated to the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut and their child, Khonsu). His Karnak temple was constructed during the 20th Dynasty (12th -11th century BC).

See also:

Maat – Ancient Egypt’s Most Important Religious Concept

Neith – Fearsome Egyptian Mother Of The Gods – Creator Of Sun God Ra, His Archenemy Serpent God Apophis And The Universe

Khepri – Egyptian Progenitor God, Spirit Of Life, Resurrection And The Rising Sun

Pakhet ‘Night Huntress’: Egyptian War-Like Lioness Goddess Associated With Artemis

More Myths And Legends

His temple is still well-preserved and its walls are covered with a text describing Khonsu as the great snake that fertilizes the cosmic egg. The god had other cult sites, located in Memphis, Hibis and Edfu and some other smaller temples dedicated to him were built across Egypt.

Written by – A. Sutherland  - AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer

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References:

Bard A. K. Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt

Parker B. The Serpent The Eagle The Lion & The Disk

van der Toorn K, Becking B, van der Horst P. W. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible