Geb is the Egyptian god of the Earth, fertility and farming.
The oldest known depiction of Geb is found in Heliopolis, and is dated to approximately 2600 B.C.
His parents were Tefnut, known as the moisture goddess, and Shu, the god of sunlight, wind and air. Geb also had a twin sister, Nut, who was goddess of the sky.
Geb and Nut produced four offspring – Seth, god of storms and disorder, and Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys who eventually became gods or goddesses of the Underworld. At times they were said to have a fifth child, Horus.
According to the Heliopolitan Ennead system, Geb had an important place in the creation story. At some time after he and his sister were born, they began to have a relationship that was incestual. Their father, Shu, was not pleased with them and separated them. Shu held Nut up above his head in the sky, and kept Geb on the earth below him.
In the space between them, Shu created and gave life to nature.1 Even though they were separated, the siblings still had four (or five) children together. Narratives between cities and regions may have differed from this, but many of them had the father Shu holding or supporting Nut and standing on top of Geb.
As a result, Geb became very important to matters relating to the earth. It was said that earthquakes were the result of his laughter. Because of this relation to the earth, he became an important god in farming.
Animals associated with him included geese, snakes, rabbits, bulls. Other symbols associated with him included plants such as grain or reeds.
In hieroglyphic writings, Geb was often portrayed in a purely human or anthropomorphic form. In these scenes he can be seen covered with plants or vegetation to symbolize fertility in farming. He was sometimes depicted as having green hair or skin, and also at times shown with a goose sitting on top of his head. He was generally shown lying on the ground underneath Nut who was arched high above and covered with stars, or underneath Shu who was between him and Nut.2
One example of this is found on the Papyrus of Tentamun, and can be found in other papyrus writings as well. Geb canalso, at times, be found in scenes in a zoomorphic or hybrid form, such as having a snake’s head and human body.
There was not a major cult center associated with Geb, but the god did have a high number of appearances in hieroglyphics throughout Egyptian temples, tombs and pyramids.2
Facts about Geb
- Depending on the belief system, Geb had four or five siblings, and they were born from Shu and Tefnut. He was one of the nine gods of the Heliopolitan Ennead system.
- One narrative has Atum becoming angry at Nut and Geb. He curses them so that they can’t have any children in any month. Thoth, the god of knowledge, cunningly adds five days to the lunar calendar to form a new calendar, and the two siblings then had 5 children. This mythological story explained why
there were 365 days in a calendar year.1
- An Egyptian Pharoah or king was known as an ‘heir of Geb’. The god was important during the transfer of power from one Pharoah or king to the next.2
- 1. Schomp, Virginia. “The Ancient Egyptians”, 2007. Marshall Cavendish Publishing.
- 2. Wilkinson, Toby. “The Egyptian World”, 2007. Routledge.
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