The following is a brief linguistic assessment of the signification of the neter (divinity) Šw (conventionally pronounced as [shu]) of ancient ciKam (km.t). However, before we turn to the Nile, we will start off in West Africa to provide a little clarity and context.


Among the Fọn people of southern Dahomey, there is a vodu (power, òrìṣà, divinity, nTr) by the name of So, who is the power behind “thunder.” This deity was borrowed by the Ewe as So or Hevio-so (So from Hevio). This term is a by-form of Nembe suo “sky,” and the Bini divinity Iso-sky, “holder of lights and water.” So and Iso ultimately derives from the same linguistic source found in the so-called Afrisan languages as the root ns’nṣṣ/nṣḥ. However, this root is also present in the so-called Niger-Congo languages as well, which can be seen in Yoruba naso; a word in the title of Iya nàsó “Mother nàsó,” the priestess who takes care of the shrine of Šàngó (the òrìṣà of thunder and lightning).

This root is reflected in the following terms:; background-attachment: initial; background-size: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-position: 0px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat;">Hebrew nasa’ “he lifted up,” so’ “lift up”; Twi soa “carry”; Nembe suo “sky, heaven, destiny, creatrix”; Bini Iso “sky”; Bamileke Sii “God”; Yoruba èsò “tall being” (like igunnu), si/ši “lift”; Tshiluba -juula "to lift, remove by lifting; bring forth, generate; pull, snatch."


This is very telling, as we can see a conceptual correlation between “lifting” upwards and this notion of “height” and “the sky,” which ultimately is associated with the Divine or a divine force. We see this reflected in ancient ciKam as the neter ŠwŠw is the power of air/wind and is the son of Itm (Atum/Adam/Adamu) and Iusaas of Heliopolis. He is the father of Nwt and Gb, and is the grandfather of WsjrAs.tṢt(x) and Nbt-Hwt. His father is Ra in other areas.


Nwt, Sw, and Gb

Nwt, Sw, and Gb

In the image above we can see the ntŠw “lifting, raising” up his daughter Nwt “the heavens” over Gb “the earth.” This concept of lifting is also present in Šw’s name as šw can mean “ascend” (šwj “rise” Wb IV 431) and is in the same semantic field as our vocabulary items mentioned earlier. To ensure that this word is cognate with these other terms, we note parallels with its shared homonym šw “sunlight, sun, to dry up; shine, shiny, radiant.” This is reflected in the following:; background-attachment: initial; background-size: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-position: 0px 0px; background-repeat: no-repeat;">Hebrew naṣa “shine, sparkle, bloom, blossom” (Gā so “shine, blaze”), niyṣow “sparkle,” ṣiy “sparkle, gleam, sparkling thing” (Ewe se “flower”), ṣa “dazzling, glowing, clear, white”; Yoruba (dašášá “sparkle clean and bright,” šá “spark”; Arabic naḍḍa “sparkle, flash” (s>d); Maltese iḍḍa “it shone”; Igbo ns “holiness, holy,” “avoidance, prohibition” (semantic shift); Twi nsu “water” (the sparkling of water, its clearness); Mende nesi “magic water”; Nubian essi “water”; Ge’ez nasha “be pure” (Igbo nza “white native chalk”); Amharic načč “white.” Whiteness and brightness is semantically associated with “clearness,” and thus its derived associations with “water.” Think of what it means to have a “clear and bright” day.


Compare also in Egyptian: ššwšw “sun, sunlight”, šw “the empty eye,” with Tshiluba seseshoshansêse(a) “sunlight, rays of the sun” [See also nkêke(a) “rays of the sun”]; di-su “eye” (me-su “eyes”; ka-isu “small eye”; tu-isu “small eyes”). The sun (ra, itn, Hrw, šw) is also used for words dealing with “time.” Egyptian: r Sw “forever” (with sun determinative), sw “day, dates.” In ciLuba we have shòò “late, tardy, too late, delayed, length”; kushòò “too late, sooner or later, eventually, in the end, finally.” It should be noted that in the Coffin Texts (80 B1C) it states, “Shu is eternal time and Tefnut infinite time” (Obenga, 1992: 40).


Šw is therefore the void (cf. šw “emptiness, void, free from”) between the heavens and the earth. He is the force that keeps the heavens separate from the earth (Gb). The ancients viewed Šw as the force that “holds up” the heavens (Nwt). The same conceptualization and deification is found in West Africa, with the same lexeme: i.e., Fon So, Ewe So, Bini Iso Bamelike Sii, etc. The neter Šw (So, Iso, Sii) is the aspect of the Divine that is “the holder of lights and water”; in other words, Šw is the sky. Often the Egyptological literature will define Nwt as “sky,” but I define her as “heavens” (outer space) because she is depicted with stars covering her body. There are no stars in our atmosphere. The cognate West African terms confirm that Šw is the sky within the boundaries of the earth, therefore making Nwt outer space.  


The goddess Nwt

The goddess Nwt

Šw was more than likely originally associated with rain and clouds. A few African reflexes may demonstrate this point.


PWS tu, tua “water” (rain from sky) ?

PWS ta “sky, rain, clouds”

PWS tu, tua “water”, Guang n-tśu’ “water”, Afema a-su..-e “water”

PWN THU, THUA “water place”

Sumerian šèĝ “rain”

PWN TU “cloud”, THU, THUA “river, waterplace”

Bantu  “sky, cloud”

Bantu tu, “cloud ”, du,nde “clouds”, du,mb “rain”, donga “river”, to “river”
PWN BUDA “rain, raincloud”

Kele use “sky”, Ngombe buse “sky”

Mande  “rain”

Afro-Asiatic: Chad: Hausa (1) ša“drink”, Ngala (2) še“drink”, Logone (2) se “drink”


The /t/ (/d/) and /s/ sounds are common mutations of each other (especially by way of palatalization). It should be noted that the sister of Šw is tfnwt “Tefnut” who is the personification of “moisture.” There may be a conceptual connection here. Since ciKam did not witness much rainfall, and depended on the rise of the Nile (Hapy) river, Šw lost the characteristics associated with the rains, which were now attributed to Wsjr (Osiris) who was the power behind the rising of the Hapy river (Nile). Sw maintained the characteristic of “lifting, rising” and being the space between outer-space (Nwt) and the earth (Gb/gbb).


God Shu holding the sky above his head

God Shu holding the sky above his head



Asar Imhotep

PS: One might want to consider Tshiluba shà- "father" in all of this. The sky and rain is often seen as a male/father principle, while the earth is the feminine/mother principle. Although the earth is male in Egypt, this may be a later development. More investigation needed here.