Shu was one of the primordial Egyptian gods, spouse and brother to the goddess Tefnut, and one of the nine deities of the Ennead of the Heliopolis cosmogony. He was the god of peace, lions, air, and wind.
According to Heliopolitan theology, Atum created the first couple of the Ennead, Shu and Tefnut by masturbating or spitting. Shu was the father of Nut and Geb and grandfather of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. His great-grandsons are Horus and Anubis.
For being associated with dry air, calm, and thus Ma’at (truth, justice, order, and balance), Egyptians depicted Shu as the dry air/atmosphere between the earth and sky, separating the two realms after the event of the First Occasion. As the air, Shu was cooling and thus calming influence and pacifier. Shu was also portrayed in art as wearing an ostrich feather. Ancient Egyptians represented Shu with one up to four feathers. The ostrich feather was symbolic of lightness and emptiness. Fog and clouds were also Shu’s elements, and they often represented his bones. Because of his position between the sky and earth, he was also well-known as the wind.
According to myth, Tefnut and Shu once argued, and Tefnut left Egypt for Nubia (which was always more temperate). Consequently, Shu quickly decided to seek her. Nevertheless, she changed into a cat that destroyed any man or god approaching. Thoth, disguised, eventually succeeded in convincing her to return. A much later myth represented a terrible weather disaster at the end of the Old Kingdom.
The Greeks associated Shu with Atlas, the primordial Titan who held up the celestial spheres, as ancients depicted both gods as holders of the sky.
Origin of God Shu
According to the Heliopolitan cosmology, Shu and Tefnut, the first pair of cosmic elements, created the sky goddess Nut and the earth god, Geb. Shu separated Nut from Geb as they were in the act of love, making a duality in the manifest world: above and below, light and dark, good and evil. Before their separation, however, Nut had given birth to the gods Isis, Osiris, Nephthys and Set. The Egyptians believed that if Shu did not hold Nut (sky) and Geb (earth) apart, there would be no way for physically-manifest life to exist.
Ancient Egyptians mainly represented Shu as a man. As a fighter and the defender sun god, he sometimes put on a lion’s head and carried an ankh, the symbol of life.