Egyptian Symbols: Atef

Atef is the white headdress or crown mostly associated with the gods Osiris and Heryshef. It is the combination of the conical crown of Upper Egypt known as Hedjet and the plumes of ostrich red feathers worn during religious rituals. The feathers represent the ideas of balance, truth, morality and justice. Normally, the crown has a golden sun disc as tip that is sometimes replaced by ished fruit from the mythic tree that stands on the horizon at sunrise (especially during the time of Thutmosis III). This is figurative expression of solar renewal and fertility making it closely associated with nemes crown. It is generally worn on top of a wig with a pair of bull or ram horns as circlet. The meaning of the word Atef is ambiguous. It may mean “his might” or “his terror” presumably because it has been a crown of the pharaoh himself.

The Atef is linked more commonly to Osiris. In fact, the red ostrich feathers on each side of the crown are symbolic of the cult center of Osiris in the delta known as Busiris. It represents Osiris as the ruler of the Underworld. However, it may also be seen worn by Heryshef, the ram god that rules the riverbanks of Nile. It may also be associated with Ra, Horus and Amun in many of their aspects as rulers of the sky.

The earliest depictions of the Atef date as far back as the fifth dynasty during the reign of Sahure. However, by the Amarna Period, it may have been replaced by the triple Atef known as hmhm (the roaring one) seen worn by the pharaoh Akhenaten or Amenhotep IV.