I’ve started reading Rick Riordan’s new book, The Serpent’s Shadow, and I have to say I was entertained by the appearance of the primordial Egyptian god Shu as a conservative, prudish old man. This conception of his personality is almost certainly based on the fact that it was his job to keep his children, the sky goddess Nut and earth god Geb, separated so that they would not produce children.
While he failed in this task, he still keeps the two apart as best he can, and as such bears an interesting similarity to Atlas.
Shu is officially the god of air, specifically the dry aspects of air. His name apparently means “dry” or “parched,” and he has some authority over wind and light. Perhaps it’s no surprise that such a dry individual would find his counterpart in the water goddess Tefnut.
The two of them were produced by Ra by himself, either through masturbation or spitting. An embarrassing way to be born, I would imagine. In one later Egyptian myth, Shu and Tefnut temporarily separated, and the water goddess relocated to Nubia for a while before being convinced by Thoth to return to her husband. This story is thought to reflect the drought that ended the Eighth Dynasty and the Old Kingdom.
Shu was said to have been the second ruler of Egypt after Ra, but the serpent Apep launched a rebellion against him. He successfully defeated the rebels, but was weakened in doing so, and lost the popular support. As such, he passed the throne on to Geb. Shu has both beneficial and detrimental sides, as you could expect from a god of air. While often bringing heat and dryness, his winds could cool people as well, and prayers to him were customary before a sea voyage. His scariest aspect was probably the one he took on in the underworld, in which he punished those spirits who were deemed deserving of such.