Khons, also spelt Khonsu or Chons, in ancient Egyptian religion, is a moon god who was generally depicted as a youth. A deity with astronomical associations named Khenzu is known from the Pyramid Texts (c. 2350 BCE) and is possibly the same as Khons.
Khonsu is the ancient Egyptian god of the moon. His name means “traveller”, which may relate to the perceived nightly travel of the moon across the sky. In Egyptian mythology, Khons was the son of the god Amon and the goddess Mut. In the late New Kingdom (c. 1100 BCE), a significant temple was built for Khons in the Karnak complex at Thebes. Khons was generally depicted as a young man with a side-lock of hair; he wore a uraeus (rearing cobra) and a lunar disk on his head. Khons also was associated with baboons and were sometimes assimilated to Thoth, another moon god associated with baboons.
Khonsu was instrumental in the creation of new life in all living creatures. At Thebes, he formed part of a family triad (the “Theban Triad”) with Mut as his mother and Amun his father. Along with Thoth, he marked the passage of time.
The Egyptians worshipped many deities that were embodiments of natural objects, such as Khonsu, the moon god.
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 worshipped and defied these celestial bodies and elements, having gods of the sun (like Ra) and the air (like Shu), probably because they were powerful and familiar to all people. Amun became associated with the sun and sky. Also, Amon and his consort Mut were the father and mother of the gods.
According to Egyptian beliefs, Khonsu, the moon god, was the child of Amun and Mut. Like his parents, ancient Egyptians worshipped Khonsu primarily at Thebes, even having part of the immense Temple of Karnak, which focused mainly on Amun, built for him. As the moon god, Khonsu embodied the crescent moon’s light. He was the mighty bull during the new moon, but he was a neutered bull during the full moon. Khonsu was supposedly powerful against the evil spirits in the world.
During the New Kingdom of Egypt, Khonsu was worshipped as the moon god and 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. He was also associated with time like the moon is, and one of his names meant the ”decider of the lifespan.” Khonsu was supposedly responsible for the fertility of human livestock and crops.
Khonsu the Cannibal
While Khonsu was worshipped as a benevolent god in the New Kingdom, which is when he was more widely revered, he was not benevolent but terrifying and violent in the Old Kingdom before it. 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.”
Khonsu was usually depicted as a young man posing like a mummy with his arms crossed. Going along with his youthful look, he was typically depicted with a side-lock or a long braid on his head’s side, symbolic of youth. He also had a curved beard worn by gods rather than pharaohs. He was usually symbolized with a crook, indicative of his role as a protector, and a flail, representing his role as a ruler since this was a whip-like tool that the pharaoh would have.
Of course, since he was the moon god, he was also depicted with moon symbols. In particular, he wore a crescent-shaped pendant necklace. When Egyptians did not show Khonsu as a mummy-like man, they typically depicted him with a falcon head. In this case, he had the lunar symbol above his head to symbolize his role.
Khonsu’s name reflects the fact that the moon (referred to as Iah in Egyptian) travels across the night sky, for it means “traveller,” and also had the titles “Embracer,” “Pathfinder,” and “Defender” as he was thought to watch over those who travel at night. As the god of light in the night, Khonsu was invoked to protect against wild animals and heal. When Khonsu caused the crescent moon to shine, women conceived, cattle became fertile, and all nostrils and every throat were filled with fresh air.
In art, ancient Egyptians typically depicted Khonsu as a mummy with the symbol of childhood, a side-lock of hair, and the menat necklace with crook and flail. He sometimes appears wearing an eagle or falcon’s head like Horus, with whom he was associated as a protector and healer, adorned with the sun disk and crescent moon. He has close links to other divine children, such as Horus and Shu.
Most of the construction of the temple complex at Karnak was centred on Khonsu during the Ramesside period. Ancient Egyptians mentioned Khonsu in the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts, in which they depicted him in a fierce aspect. But he did not rise to prominence until the New Kingdom, when he was described as the “Greatest God of the Great Gods”. His temple at Karnak is in a relatively good state of preservation. On one of the temple’s walls, there is a depiction of the creation myth in which Khonsu was described as the great snake who fertilizes the Cosmic Egg in the creation of the world.
Khonsu’s reputation as a healer spread outside Egypt; a stele records how a princess of Bekhten was instantly cured of an illness upon the arrival of an image of Khonsu. After being cured of a disease, King Ptolemy IV called himself “Beloved of Khonsu Who Protects His Majesty and Drives Away Evil Spirits”.
Locations of Khonsu’s cult were Memphis, Hibis and Edfu.