Min (Egyptian mnw) cult originated in the predynastic period (4th millennium BCE). In ancient Egyptian religion, Min was a god of fertility and harvest, the embodiment of the masculine principle; ancient Egyptians worshipped him as the Lord of the Eastern Desert. His cult was most robust in Coptos and Akhmīm (Panopolis). Wherein his honour, great festivals were held celebrating his coming forth, with public processions and presentation of offerings. The lettuce was his sacred plant. Ancient Egyptian depicted him in many different forms. However, it was most often represented in male human form, shown with a phallus erect which he holds in his right hand and an upheld left arm holding a flail.
Myths of God Min
Min’s cult began and flourished around Coptos (Koptos) and Akhmim (Panopolis) of upper Egypt. His other associations include the eastern desert and links to the god Horus. Flinders Petrie excavated two giant statues of Min at Qift, which are now in the Ashmolean Museum, and some think that they are predynastic. Although not mentioned by name, egyptologists found a reference in the Pyramid Texts that may refer to Min:
he whose arm is raised in the East
Links and Unity with Deities
His importance grew in the Middle Kingdom when he became more closely linked with Horus as the deity Min-Horus. By the New Kingdom, he was also fused with Amun in the form of Min-Amun, the serpent Irta, a kamutef (the “bull of his mother” – aka father of his mother as well as her son). Min, as an independent deity, was also a kamutef of Isis. One of Isis’s many cult places throughout the valley was at Min’s temple in Koptos as his divine wife. Min’s shrine was crowned with a pair of bull horns.
As the central deity of fertility and possibly orgiastic rites, Min became identified by the Greeks with the god Pan. However, his main worship centres remained at Coptos and Akhmim (Khemmis). One feature of Min worship was the wild prickly lettuce Lactuca serriola (the domestic version of which is Lactuca sativa (lettuce)), an aphrodisiac opiate quality and produces latex when cut, possibly identified with semen. He also had connections with Nubia.
Symbol of Fertility
Male deities as vehicles for fertility and potency rose to prevalence at the emergence of widespread agriculture. Male Egyptians would work in agriculture, making bountiful harvests a male-centred occasion. Thus, male gods of virility such as Osiris and Min were more developed. Fertility was not associated with only women but with men, even increasing the role of the male in childbirth. As a god of male sexual potency, ancient Egyptians honoured him during the coronation rites of the New Kingdom.
During the festival, the Pharaoh was expected to sow his seed—generally thought to have been planting seeds. Although there have been controversial suggestions that the Pharaoh was expected to demonstrate that he could ejaculate—and thus ensure the annual flooding of the Nile. At the beginning of the harvest season, priests took his image out of the temple and brought it to the fields in the festival of the departure of Min, the Min Festival. They blessed the harvest and played games naked in his honour, the most important of which was the climbing of a vast (tent) pole. This four-day festival is evident from the great festival list at the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu.
Cult and worship in the predynastic period, surrounding a fertility god, were based upon the fetish of fossilized belemnite. Later symbols widely used were the white bull, a barbed arrow, and a bed of lettuce that the Egyptians believed to be an aphrodisiac. Egyptian lettuce was tall, straight, and released a milk-like sap when rubbed, characteristics superficially similar to the penis. Egyptians sacrificially offered lettuce to the god, and then men ate it to achieve potency. Later, pharaohs would offer the first fruits of the harvest to the deity to ensure a plentiful harvest. Rulers performed this rite with records of offerings of the first stems of sprouts of wheat being provided during the Ptolemaic period.
Civilians who could not formally practice the cult of Min paid homage to the god as sterility was an unfavourable condition looked upon with sorrow. Egyptians placed concubine figurines, ithyphallic statuettes, and ex-voto phalluses at entrances to the houses of Deir el-Medina to honour the god in hopes of curing the disability. Ancient Egyptian women would touch the penises of statues of Min in hopes of pregnancy, a practice that continued today.
In Egyptian art, Min was depicted as an anthropomorphic male deity with a masculine body, covered in shrouds, wearing a crown with feathers. Moreover, it often shows him holding his penis erect in his left hand and a flail (referring to his authority, or rather that of the Pharaohs) in his upward-facing right hand. Around his forehead, Min wears a red ribbon that trails to the ground, claimed by some to represent sexual energy. The legs are bandaged because of his chthonic force, in the same manner as Ptah and Osiris. His skin was usually painted black, which symbolized the fertile soil of the Nile.