The Awesomeness of Ptah

Ptah–pronounced fffff-TAHHH for anyone who is curious–was the demiurge of Memphis. He created himself, the world, and all of the other gods and goddesses. This wasn’t exactly an abnormal idea in ancient Egyptian theology, but Ptah is unique in the way that he creates. He didn’t birth the world from a giant god orgy (Hermopolis), nor did he jizz all over the earth and call it a day (Heliopolis). Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen and those who create with their hands, crafted the heavens and the earth with language.

In the beginning, there was . . . nothing. And from the singularity rose a thought. When the singularity gained sentience, consciousness was born. But at first, consciousness was all that existed.

Ptah then spoke his name.

The first bulge of those inexpressible emotions and urges and concepts solidified into language. And just like that, existence existed. Ptah, in effect, opened his eyes. He became alive, the first living thing to exist in this world-before-the-world. He named himself; he named the sun, the air, the moisture, and the other gods and goddesses. With sentience came life.

Ptah went through two distinct steps: amidst the ebb and flow of the primordial waters, animalistic and unthinking, swirled into the birth of consciousness. But without language, he was only a half-being. However, with a name, he became a God–the first god, the creator of everything. The Memphites believed that everything that exists was first thought and named by Ptah. A concept (or object, or emotion, or place) was born in his heart–where Egyptians believe consciousness resided–and was made real when spoken aloud. Nothing existed until it was given a word. Ptah thought himself, named himself, and then named everyone else.

There are just so many interesting things about this creation story. When I experience deep and sudden emotions, I feel them first directly under my sternum. I feel pressure–or a small amount of pain, or a heart flutter, or whatever you want to call it–directly where the Memphites believed consciousness was born. To me, this suggests that the Memphites believed that consciousness was defined as that lake of emotion that broils in each of us. It is, for the most part, unnamed and unexamined. One can see the splashes of the surf, but not the depths of the water.  This lake of emotion is filled with basal urges–the things we do without thinking, our unbidden desires, our semi-automatic reactions. But consciousness sans language is not enough to be considered alive. In order to make real what lies in our hearts, we must grasp the concept and shape it into something tangible. We must identify it, speak it, and with its name comes its reality.

This fascinates me, the idea that a thing is only half-real without a linguistic identifier. For Memphites, this concept applied to both the physical world (trees, land, rivers, palaces) and the internal. As such, every thought and emotion that sprung forth in the minds of believers was thought to be a result of Ptah’s words. Every time a word was uttered, no matter how trivial, it was laced with a tiny bit of divinity. Language was not just a figurative tool used to shape the world; language was as concrete as a hammer or chisel. Language was just as substantial as earth’s material tools. In fact, this idea was so ingrained that Ptah’s High Priest was called the “Master Builder.” One could build a house with a hammer; one could build worlds with language. What the Master Builder spoke became a reality, and he maintained the world around him through the will of his heart and the power of his speech–all backed by the power of Ptah.

Without language, we are animals. With it, we can create.


{Small side-track, but I once agonized for two weeks straight over what to name a beanie baby. I then gave up, left it nameless, and let it live out its days in my dollhouse as a clifford-sized purple gorilla. Can you imagine naming literally everything?}