Egyptian God Khonsu: Mythology, Hieroglyphs & Facts

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

The Egyptians worshiped many deities that were embodiments of natural objects, such as Khonsu, the moon god. Read this lesson to learn more about Khonsu's story as both a benevolent and violent deity.

Khonsu, the Moon God

Some of the most powerful things in our world are natural objects, like the sun, moon, stars, and wind. Ancient civilizations frequently worshiped and defied these celestial bodies and elements, having gods of the sun (like Ra) and the air (like Shu), probably because they were powerful as well as common to all people. Amun became associated with the sun and sky, and he and his consort Mut were considered the father and mother of the gods. But how are they relevant to discussing the moon god?

According to Egyptian beliefs, Khonsu, the moon god, was the child of Amun and Mut. Like his parents, he was primarily worshiped at Thebes, even having part of the large Temple of Karnak, which focused primarily on Amun, built for him. As the moon god, Khonsu was the embodiment of the crescent moon's light. During the new moon, he was considered a mighty bull, but during the full moon, he was considered a neutered bull. Khonsu was supposedly powerful against the evil spirits in the world.

During the New Kingdom of Egypt, Khonsu was worshiped not only as the moon god, but also as a god of love and fertility. It was not uncommon for civilizations to link the moon and fertility, as the moon was believed to be associated with menstrual cycles. Khonsu was, supposedly, responsible for the fertility of not just humans, but also livestock and crops. He was also associated with time, like the moon is, and one of his names meant the ''decider of the lifespan.''

Khonsu the Cannibal

While Khonsu was worshiped as a benevolent god in the New Kingdom, which is when he was more widely worshiped, in the Old Kingdom prior to it he was not benevolent, but terrifying and violent. In the Pyramid Texts, written on the walls and sarcophagi of Old Kingdom pyramids, Khonsu was described as a ''blood-thirsty deity.'' He supposedly helped kings who died and became deified find other gods—and then ate their hearts. In fact, in other texts, he is named ''Khonsu who lives on hearts.''

Tablet of the Pyramid Texts
Tablet of the Pyramid Texts

Khonsu's Appearance

Khonsu was usually depicted as a young man in a pose like a mummy with his arms crossed. Going along with his youthful look, he was usually depicted with a sidelock, or a long braid on the side of his head, which was symbolic of youth. He also had a curved beard, which was worn by gods rather than pharaohs. He was usually symbolized with a crook, indicative of his role as a protector, and a flail, which symbolized his role as a ruler since this was a whip-like tool pharaohs would have.

Of course, since he was the moon god, he also was depicted with symbols of the moon as well. In particular, he wore a crescent-shaped pendant necklace. When he was not depicted as a mummy-like man, he was typically depicted with a falcon head. In this case, he had the lunar symbol above his head to symbolize his role.

Image of royal Egyptian family, with the young princess on the right having a sidelock like Khonsu is depicted with
Image of royal Egyptian family

Khonsu's Name and Hieroglyphics

The meaning of Khonsu's name is debated by scholars, but most think it means something like ''to cross'' or ''to travel.'' This might seem odd at first, but when you think of what the moon does in the sky, it makes sense—the moon travels across the sky and crosses from one side to the other. Khonsu's name, written in hieroglyphics, looks like this:

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