The Mythology of Ancient Egypt CREATION Egyptian creation stories tell of several variations of how the world was composed. According to one variation, the ocean was the only thing in existence. Then the sun, Ra, came out of an egg (or a flower in some versions) that appeared on the surface of the water. Ra created four children. They were the gods Shu and Geb and the goddesses Tefnut and Nut.
Shu and Tefnut became the air, who stood on Geb, the earth, and held up Nut, who became the sky. Ra ruled over all. It was not uncommon for siblings to have children in ancient Egypt, and Geb and Nut had two sons, Set and Osiris, and two daughters, Isis and Nephthys. Osiris succeeded Ra as the king of the earth, helped by Isis. However, Set hated his brother out of jealousy and killed him. Isis embalmed Osiris’ body with the aid of the god Anubis, who then became the god of embalming.
Isis then resurrected Osiris, and he became the god of the afterlife and the land of the dead. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, later defeated Set in an immense battle and became king of the earth. Another version tells that Ra emerged from primeval waters. From him came Shu, the god of air and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. From their union came Geb and Nut, who held the same positions as the above version. Yet another version tells that Ra became the god of the afterlife, but was still supreme.
GODS The ancient Egyptian theology dealt with hundreds of deities. These gods changed during the different dynasties and their importance depended on the views of the rulers of the kingdom. The Egyptians worshipped their gods at temples, and each was dedicated to a particular god. A statue of the god stood in the center of these temples. Every day, priests would clean and dress the statue and offer it meals before the worshipping ceremonies took place.
Ra Ra means “creator.” He is or was for a time, in nearly all accounts of Egyptian mythology, the supreme god. He was “the father of the gods, the fashioner of men, the creator of cattle, the lord of all being”. He is the god of the sun in most of these accounts and is shown as a man with a falcon’s head. He carries a staff and the symbol for life, the ankh. The symbol of the sun, also known as the solar disc, is above his head.
Despite the fact that he was a very important figure to Egyptians, he had few temples dedicated to him. This was because of the fact that his importance was reflected in all other worshipping rituals. The pharaohs named themselves as sons of Ra. The passage of the sun across the sky obviously fascinated the Egyptians and from it rose many metaphors. At dawn the sun was regarded as a newborn child emerging from the womb of Nut. The sun was also associated with a falcon flying across the midday sun, thus Ra’s appearance.
He could also be a boat sailing across the great blue sea of the heavens. At dusk he was an old man stepping down to the land of the dead. Amon Amon is “the complete one”. He was regarded as an important deity after the second millennium BC, and considered supreme, surpassing even Ra, after the sixteenth century B.C. He, like most other gods, had the body of a man.
He had a human head, and wears a crown with two tall plumes on its top. Amon started out having power over the air or wind, but was not in complete control of these forces. He later acquired powers of fertility that had belonged to the god Min, the god of harvest. By being accepted as the supreme god, Ra was a rival. To satisfy the claims of supremacy made by Amon and Ra, the two deities merged to form the god Amon-Ra or Amon-Re. This new god was worshipped as king of the gods, creator of the universe, and the father of the pharaohs. Amon-Ra was said to have guided the pharaohs in the battlefield.
During the battle of Kadesh, 1286 BC, Amon-Ra is supposed to have comforted the pharaoh by saying, “Forward! Your father is with you! My powerful hand will slay a hundred thousand men.” Osiris Osiris was said to be the king and judge of the dead. Because the importance of the afterlife was so immense in the Egyptians, Osiris was a very important figure in worship cults. In fact, for a period, the worshipping of Osiris in the Nile Valley became so popular, it almost exceeded that of the sun god and father of the pharaohs, Ra. The chief reason for his importance was the assistance he gave the Egyptians with embalming, which was considered essential for life after death. Osiris was described as a man with a long black beard. His arms are in the crossed position of mummies and carries a crook and a flail, which symbolized his power over the dead, his nature as a dying and rising god, and his command over agriculture.
He wears the white crown of Upper Egypt. His personal emblem is two stalks of corn placed on top of each other. Isis Isis is the “mother goddess.” She is often illustrated as suckling the child Horus. The name Isis is a Greek rendition of the Egyptian name Ast. Worship of Isis became widespread in the Greco-Roman culture until from it came a mysterious cult that worshipped both her and Osiris.
This cult gained much popularity until the spread of Christianity. Horus Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, was depicted as looking much like Ra, apart from the symbol above his head and clothing. Like Ra, Horus had the head of a falcon and the body of a man and holds a staff in one hand and the ankh in the other. Unlike Ra, Horus wears the double crown on his head, showing that he was king of both Upper and Lower Egypt. Ptah Ptah was illustrated as a mummified man with a shaven or bound head and held a scepter. At first he was most likely a fertility god like Min because his name has connections with the womb.
In the third millennium BC, priests serving Ptah claimed that Ptah manifested himself in many ways. It was believed that Ptah “created the gods, made their seats of worship, established their sacrifices, and fashioned their forms.” He was the molder of all things. Ptah became the protector and advocate to sacred arts and crafts. Later, Ptah was associated with lesser deities, especially those related to the dead. He was then known as Ptah-Seker.
The name Seker came from the god of the same name, who was the mummiform god of the dead. In some instances, Ptah was linked to Osiris, thus the name Ptah- Seker-Osiris. Other Deities Aapep – the Egyptian serpent and enemy of Ra, known usually by his Greek name Apophis. Ammut – “The Eater of the Dead.” Part crocodile, part hippopotamus, and part lion, Ammut ate the souls of those unworthy to spend eternity in Osiris’ kingdom. He was usually illustrated with mostly crocodile features.
Aten – the deity worshipped as the universal and creator god by the pharaoh Akhenaten. Aten was represented by Ra’s sun disc. After Akhenaten’s death in 1350 BC, Egyptian worship returned to Amon-Ra. Bastet – the cat goddess and daughter of Ra. In some myths, Bastet has some of the destructive qualities of her counterpart, the lion goddess Sekhmet. Both Bastet and Sekhmet were closely linked to the goddess Mut.
In Bastet’s temple, cats were mummified upon their death and kept in the temple. Bes – a popular household god. He was represented as a dwarf with a large bearded face, shaggy eyebrows, long hair, large pointy ears, and a projecting tongue. He protected children, slew poisonous snakes in the towns, helped at childbirth, and kept misfortune at bay. Khonsu – the moon god.
He was the son of Amun and Mut. Like Ra, Khonsu was often shown traveling across the sky in a boat. His symbol is a crescent moon in a bowl position supporting a full moon. This symbol appeared above his head. His ability to heal the sick drew many followers. Maat – the goddess of truth and justice.
She was the daughter of Ra and was portrayed as a woman with a ostrich feather on her head. This feather, the “Feather of Truth”, was the same used to weigh the heart of the recently deceased in Osiris’ court. Mehturt – the sky goddess who was portrayed as a cow. Her name means “Great Flood” and she was the celestial river on which Ra and Khonsu’s boats traveled. Menthu – the god of war and a sun god.
He was not ever considered to be the supreme sun god, but rather an assistant to Ra, and is often shown with him. He was particularly fond of horses. When Egyptian chariots bore down on the Hittites during the battle of Kadesh in 1286 BC, the pharaoh Ramesses II remarked that he was “like Menthu, shooting to the right and left.” His warlike qualities gained popularity during later times. Mertseger – a goddess with a serpent’s head. Her touchiness caused visitors to Thebes to pay her the greatest respect. Meskhent – a goddess who assisted in the delivering of babies and assigning a destiny to each.
She may have also appeared in Osiris’ court. Min – the god of reproduction. Needless to say, he was an extremely popular deity. Nefertem – the god of the lotus flower from which, in some myths, Ra emerged from each morning. Nehebkau – a deity in the form of a serpent with human arms and legs. He was a loyal servant to Ra.
Nehebkau was originally a snake that threatened the dead, but later evolved into a good force. Nephthys – a funerary goddess. She appears as a normal woman. Her name means”the lady of the castle”. Phoenix – a bird that consumed itself in fire and was reborn from its ashes every 500 years.
The phoenix was sometimes used to represent Ra who, like the sun, is born at dawn and dies at twilight. Followers of early Christianity adopted the phoenix as a symbol of immortality. Qubenhsenuf – a falcon-headed god associated with funeral rites. He was one of four gods responsible for the safety of the Canopic jars of the dead and to guard the four corners of the sarcophagus. Qubenhsenuf’s jar contained embalmed intestines.
Qetesh – a fertility goddess, usually shown without clothes, holding flowers, and standing on the back of a lion. Renenutet – a snake goddess who protected the harvest and the pharaoh. Her name is connected with the concept of nursing and raising children, and was often represented as the essence of divine motherhood. Sebek – the crocodile god of lakes and rivers. He splashed in a pool in his temple at Fayum. Seker – a funerary god who protected the city of Memphis. Seker later was a member of Osiris’ court.
Serqet – the scorpion goddess. She was a funerary deity wh …