TV vs Myth: Moon Knight
Marvel’s latest comic to TV (or comic to streaming service) adaptation, ‘Moon Knight’ tells the story of Steven Grant, a gift shop worker with a love for Egyptology. This love comes in handy when Steven discovers that he has dissociative identity disorder and that one of his alters – a man named Marc Spector – had become the avatar of the Egyptian God, Khonshu.
There is little doubt that Khonshu is meant to represent Khonsu, an Egyptian God of the moon. His name, meaning traveller, was thought to represent the moon’s journey across the night sky. As with many deities his attributes changed over time – in some periods he was seen as a blood-thirsty deity, and in others as a benevolent protector. As a lunar deity he could be called upon for protection at night and was said to have healing abilities, blowing fresh air across the land to heal people from both physical illness and melancholy. He was also associated with time. When the Goddess Nut was pregnant, she was forbidden from giving birth on any day of the year. She and Toth went to Khonsu and gambled for five extra days from the God. Nut then successfully gave birth on these days.
In art Khonsu is usually depicted in human form as a young, mummified man, adorned with a crescent moon upon his person. Where he is represented with animal features, he is normally shown with the head of a falcon. Though Khonsu was also often associated with Baboons, he was rarely depicted with them in art.
Marvel’s Khonshu bares many similarities to Khonsu. ‘Moon Knight’s’ Khonshu is shown as largely humanoid, with the head of a skeletal bird. He is wrapped in bandages, invoking the image of mummification, and wears a crescent moon on his chest. Like Khonsu he is a lunar deity and has some power over time – at one point rewinding the night sky several thousand years to compare it against an ancient star map. Khonshu is an odd mix of the two depictions of Khonsu – both benevolent and bloodthirsty – his aim is to grant protection to those who need it, but he is also focused on vengeance against those that have done harm. Unfortunately, Khonshu is largely unable to affect the material world, and to that end requires an avatar – this is where Marc Spector (and subsequently, Steven) come in.
In his role as an avatar of Khonshu, Marc is sworn to “Protect the travellers of the night and bring [Khonshu’s] vengeance to those who would do them harm”. He gains the ability to summon the ceremonial armour and weapons of Khonshu. He also benefits from Khonshu’s healing powers, with the god healing any damage that he takes.
The main villain of the series is the sinister Harrow, a former avatar of Khonshu, now in service to the goddess, Ammit. In mythology Ammit, aptly described by Steven as the “world’s first bogeyman” is sometimes seen as one of the Egyptian gods, but sometimes instead categorised as a demon. She is said to have the head of a crocodile, the torso of a lion and the hindquarters of a hippo and, disturbingly, she was known as the devourer of the dead.
The Egyptians believed that when a person died, their heart would be placed on a scale and weighed against the feather of Ma’at (the goddess of truth). If the heart was lighter than the feather, the lucky person was able to move on to the afterlife. If the heart is heavier it is tossed to Ammit, who devoured it. Though Ammit consumed the souls of sinners, she was not the one pass judgement – it was Osiris (or sometimes Horus) who presided over the weighing of the heart. ‘Moon Knight’ does deviate from this slightly, with Ammit giving her followers the ability to judge hearts via a tattoo of a set of scales on their wrist. Another deviation is that her followers have the ability to judge the hearts of people who were still alive – though her power is limited.
‘Moon Knight’s’ Ammit had become dissatisfied with waiting until after a person died to distribute punishment. She believed that a soul should be judged while living for both the crimes that they had committed, and those that they would in the future. The guilty could then be consumed before they committed the crime, thus eliminating evil from the world. The other gods and Ammit’s previous avatar (Alexander the Great) disagreed. They bound Ammit and locked her away for thousands of years. Harrow, Ammit’s loyal follower, believed in her philosophy and sought to free Ammit from her prison. Once released, Ammit and her followers would have the ability to judge and consume the hearts of every unworthy soul on Earth. Marc (and Steven) were tasked by Khonshu with stopping Harrow, preventing Ammit’s release and, when they failed, with defeating Harrow and reimprisoning the goddess.
Marc, Steven, and Khonshu were not alone in their fight against Harrow. Joining them are Layla – Marc’s ex-wife – and fan-favourite Taweret. Another Egyptian deity, Taweret is the Goddess of fertility and childbirth, particularly known for protecting children and mothers. She was also said to help the dead travel safely into the underworld. In ‘Moon Knight’ she is depicted as an anthropomorphised hippo with very good fashion sense, though interestingly, much like Ammit, the Egyptian Taweret was made up of the composite parts of a hippo, lion, and crocodile. Unlike Ammit, Taweret was said to have the head of a hippo, the limbs of a lion, and the tail of a crocodile.
In ‘Moon Knight’, Taweret took on roles of some of the other Egyptian Gods. When Marc and Steven were killed by Harrow, they wake to find themselves on a boat travelling through the Duat – one form of the Egyptian afterlife – it Taweret who helms the boat. Funerary boats were placed in the graves of the dead to help them travel through the afterlife; however, it was more commonly Anubis or his mother Nephtys who are known to have guided the souls of the dead through the Duat. The sun god Ra was also known for this, travelling through the Duat each night on his sun boat and transporting the dead to the Field of Reeds – much as Tawaret did. Similarly, Taweret oversees the judgement of Steven and Marc’s hearts – placing them upon the scales to be weighed, again something that was largely seen as a duty of Osiris.
Though neither are duties ascribed to Taweret, the goddess was sometimes associated with rebirth. This is appropriate as Marc and Steven do not stay dead, and instead manage to return to their body, where they discover that Ammit has been released.
Now free to appear before her followers, viewers got their first look at the goddess. Much like with Taweret, ‘Moon Knight’ focused on one aspect of Ammit’s appearance, with her appearing as an anthropomorphised crocodile. With her free, Ammit’s followers had far greater power and were free to judge the hearts of the living. With each heart that she consumed, Ammit grew larger and, presumably, more powerful. She and Khonshu battled, while Marc, Steven and Layla – the newly chosen avatar of Taweret – fought against Harrow.
Though the story seems to come to a close after the climactic battle, a surprising end credits scene suggests that we haven’t seen the last of Khonshu and his Moon Knight. Though there is confirmation of a second series of ‘Moon Knight’, fans of the show are hopeful, and Any sequel would hopefully see a further exploration of the Egyptian-inspired mythos that made the first season so rich.