Casandra Birrell

Moon God and part of the Theban triad as the son of Amun and Mut

Khonsu is depicted as a youth wrapped in mummy-bandages.  He holds a crook, flail and waas sceptre although in some instances he can be seen holding the djed pillar (the backbone of  Osiris).  He wears a menat necklace and has the side lock of youth plus a crescent of the full moon.  His cult centre and principal place of worship was at Thebes where he had a temple within the precincts of the Temple of Amun at Karnak.  Khonsu as a sky deity can also have the head of a hawk

It was thought that his name was derived from the words for placenta (kh) and king (nsw) and that he was the personification of the royal placenta, which was preserved after the birth of the king, wrapped in a cloth and fixed to the top of a pole, to become one of the four standards which were carried at the head of the royal procession.  However, another train of thought is that his name comes from the verb “to cross over” giving the meaning “He who traverses [the sky]” – more appropriate for a moon god.

The nature of Khonsu in the Pyramid Age is quite different from his character at Thebes in the New Kingdom.  In the spell which aims to give the king power to hunt and eat certain deities, thereby absorbing their strength, Khonsu is seen as a bloodthirsty god who helps to catch and slay the victims.

Khonsu assisted Thoth to calculate time and he was also a healing god, the latter recorded on a stele found in his temple at Thebes purporting to have been erected in the reign of Ramses II but probably set up during either the Persian of Ptolemaic period in attempt to recall past glories.


KarnakKhonsu seatedkhonsu temple
F...............Khonsu with solar disc and crescent moon.........................................Khonsu seated - with Osiris..........................................................Khonsu Temple Karnak

During the Festival of Opet when the Theban gods (Amun, Mut and Khonsu) were carried from Karnak Temple to Luxor temple, the sacred barque of Khonsu bore the falcon’s head at the prow and stern.

There are examples of Khonsu being involved with other deities outside Thebes.  At the Graeco-Roman temple of Kom-ombo he is the child of the crocodile god Sobek and the goddess Hathor.  Also, an obscure link exists with Osiris at Edfu temple where Khonsu is called the “son of the leg” that is part of that god’s body preserved there.

Khonsu’s fame as a healer was long lasting.  When Ptolemy Philopator, the fourth of the line of Macedonian Greeks who ruled Egypt at the Ptolemaic Dynasty was seriously ill, he appealed not to Greek gods but to Khonsu of Thebes who cured the king.  After the miraculous cure, the king called himself “Beloved of Khonsu who  protects his Majesty and drives away evil spirits”.