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Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

A Note on Egyptian Theology

Most Egyptologists agree that the ancient Egyptian pantheon represents a complex polytheistic system of gods and goddesses, all of which can symbolize separate aspects of any of the other deities. Each of the gods changed and evolved over time, as did their respective rituals and mythologies.

A more controversial aspect of Egyptian theologies is the proposed theory that such divinities formed within prehistoric Shamanic tribes living in Egypt long before the Pharaohs ruled the Valley, living originally as “animal spirits” or anthropomorphic beings often seen in Shamanic visions. As a result, the tribal peoples of the day viewed the shamans as the vessels through which the “gods” or the spirits of the skyworld communicated to earthly beings. In fact, the people probably literally thought the spirits or beings temporarily inhabited the bodies of the Shamans during trance states.

The tales the Shamans and people told generation after generation may eventually have became mythified as vague memories of the past Shamanic rituals, explaining why many cultures, such as the ancient Egyptians, thought the gods had “ruled” earlier people as real flesh and blood beings in a golden age long ago. To the Egyptians, that age was known as Zep Tepi, or the “First Time”, when the gods, such as Ra, ruled the Egyptians as a group of beings called the “Neteru”, “the Primeval Ones” and the Shemsu-Hor, or the “Followers or companions of Horus”. It may be likely the Shamanic elite remembered as the "Nephilim Angels" in the Bible represented these “Divine Beings”, and may have even had something to do with the early construction of the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau.

Amun: "The Hidden One"

Amun, in Egyptian Yamanu, was probably one of the most important deities of ancient Egypt and spawned the most extensive and popularly worshiped theological system in all the country’s history. The god remained the essential and yet the hidden, who created himself without mother or father; the wind was thought to be the vessel, spirit, voice, or breathe of the god. While dwelling in Ra the god represented the revealed source of divinity and vital forces of creation. When depicted in reliefs, the god often appeared as a man with the tall double-feathered headdress or a ram-headed sphinx or ram with curved horns. It is thought that the god gained characteristics of the ram when Egypt conquered Kush; subsequently Egypt designated that country’s patron deity (which resembled a ram headed god) also as Amun. Due to the connection with the ram, Amun then became linked to virility (a hallmark of the ram due to the ram’s temperamental rutting behavior) and fertility, thus additionally absorbing the fertility god Min in later times.

Amun’s function appears to have been one more of an all encompassing mysterious “presence”; the god often became associated with transcendentalism, neither physically engendering the universe, nor being the primary extension of creation. The relative obscurity of the god allowed the deity to gain considerable worship among many regions, often “absorbing” other divinities such as Ra, Min, and the Memphite patron Ptah into a singular form. Parts of ancient Libya and Nubia also honored the god exclusively, and in the form Amun-Ra, the god remained one of the most recorded deities in ancient Egyptian history next to Osiris. When the Greeks came to Egypt, the foreigners saw Amun as the leader of the Egyptian pantheon, and connected the god with Zues and Amun’s wife Mut, with Hera.

As a result of Thebe’s triumph in expelling the oppressive Hyksos chariot raiders from Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom, the patron deity of the city Amun, gained direct influence over the whole country. Amun came to be exonerated as the deity responsible for the victory that usurped the tyrannical Hyksos, thus gaining prominence also as a champion of the poor and less fortunate seeking justice and retribution, also seen as a figure of personal piety. Those who traveled the road sought the god’s protection. A votive stela at a artisan village at Deir-El-Medina wrote:

 [Amun] who comes at the voice of the poor in distress, who gives breath to him who is wretched..You are Amun, the Lord of the silent, who comes at the voice of the poor; when I call to you in my distress You come and rescue me...Though the servant was disposed to do evil, the Lord is disposed to forgive. The Lord of Thebes spends not a whole day in anger; His wrath passes in a moment; none remains. His breath comes back to us in mercy..May your ka be kind; may you forgive; It shall not happen again.

The influence of the cult of Amun on other religions can not be understated. The hidden nature of the deity almost certainly inspired later Jewish mysticism and parts of Christianity, particularly the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (the Egyptian equivalent being Amun-Ra-Ptah). In the Leydon Hymns, the three-part god is regarded as three distinct entities yet possessed unity within plurality. The hymn reads: “All gods are three: Amun, Re, and Ptah, whom none equals. He who hides his name as Amun, he appears to the face as Re, his body is Ptah.” Henri Frankfort drew parallels between the god’s wind aspect, and the wind mentioned in the Gospel of John: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going.”

Many invoked the mercy of Amon-Ra through prayer. One Votive inscription reads:

Amon-Re "who hears the prayer, who comes at the cry of the poor and distressed...Beware of him! Repeat him to son and daughter, to great and small; relate him to generations of generations who have not yet come into being; relate him to fishes in the deep, to birds in heaven; repeat him to him who does not know him and to him who knows him...Though it may be that the servant is normal in doing wrong, yet the Lord is normal in being merciful. The Lord of Thebes does not spend an entire day angry. As for his anger - in the completion of a moment there is no remnant..As thy Ka endures! thou wilt be merciful!”

The power of the Amun cult at Thebes rivaled even that of the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt. This prompted the revolutionary Pharaoh Akhenaten to remove the Royal and religious superstructure from Thebes to a new capital during the New Kingdom at Amarna, where the Pharaoh banished all other deities and introduced monotheism with the central worship of the Aten, or sun disk. However, since the power base of the Amun cult had previously lay so thoroughly entrenched at Thebes for centuries, the priests quickly reinstituted the bureaucracy with ease upon the death of Akhenaten. The Thebanite theocracy struck the Pharaoh’s name from the record, and abolished the King’s sun cult in Amarna. The King’s son, Tutankhaten, even changed his name to Tutankhamun, meaning “living image of Amun,” instead of “living image of the Aten,” to appease the angry and vengeful priests.

After the twentieth and twenty-first dynasties the leadership of the country weakened, and Egypt once again fractured into two kingdoms, Upper and Lower Egypt. As money and wealth continued to dwindle, the Cult of Amun’s influence waned over the years, even though the conquering Nubians upheld the tradition in Thebes. Soon the popularity of the Isis-Osiris cult eclipsed the dominance of Amun throughout Egypt, and finally, the god later became an aspect of the Pharaoh god Horus.

Despite Amun’s fall in Egypt, the deity continued to be revered in other countries, such as Nubia, Greece, and Libya. In Nubia, the god took the name Amane, and had priests in Meroe, and Nobatia, where a head oracle appointed rulers, and directed the military. According to the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, the Oracles even compelled leaders to commit suicide if the rulers failed to properly govern the country; that tradition stopped when Arkamane slew the Oracle priests in the 3rd century BC.

At the Oasis of Siwa in Libya, an Amun oracle resided. The oasis likely introduced the Ammon cult to Greece at the colony of Cyrene. According to legend, a mythological king of Libya, called Iabas, descended from Hammon (Amun). The god also had a temple and statue at the Greek city of Thebes and at Sparta, and maintained worship at Aphytis, Ammonium, Megalopolis, and Delphi. Alexander the Great went to Delphi to consult the oracle after the battle of Issus; the oracle declared Alexander the son of Ammon. Before Alexander’s campaign in Persian, the conqueror also visited the oracle at Siwa in Egypt, and the priest there also declared the man son of Amun and true Pharaoh of Egypt.

Due to the god’s association with the ram’s curved or spiraling horns, several words derive from Amun, such as Ammonia and Ammonite both chemicals formed from shelled Protozoa and shelled cephalopods; the two shells possess spiral shapes similar in appearance to the Ram’s horns. The Roman’s discovered deposits of the ammonium near the temple of Jupiter- Amun in ancient Libya, also called the salt of Amun.

Amun first married Worset, and then Amunet and Mut. With Mut, Amun fathered the moon god Khonsu.

Anubis: Embalmer of the Dead

Anubis is the Greek name for one of the oldest gods in ancient Egypt, a jackal-headed deity viewed as patron over the art of embalming the dead and the guardian of cemeteries. In Egyptian, Anubis is called Inpu, or Anup. The earliest mention of the god in written inscriptions is on the Pyramid Texts dated to the Old Kingdom, where the god is involved in the Pharaoh’s post-mortem burial. Supposedly, an Anubis figure donning the Jackal headdress always headed a burial precession in ancient times, and a head embalmer always wore a Jackal mask. Anubis predominated as the main god of the afterlife until Osiris’s popularity usurped Anubis in the Middle Kingdom period.

The common portrayal of Anubis took on half man half jackal, or just a jackal dog wearing a ribbon and a crook and flail tucked beneath the dog’s arm. To the Egyptians, the Jackal became strongly linked to the dead due to the creature’s tendency to loiter around tombs and devour the unprotected remains of dead bodies. Among the Egyptians, the fear of losing the body, or the body decaying after death, was a constantly nagging thought that hovered in the mind’s of the people, as the body was seen as the vital receptacle in housing the eternal soul, or ka of the deceased. If the body was not preserved, the Ka ceased to exist, and an individual truly “died” forever. Thus, Anubis’s jackal attributes and the deities’ benevolent guardianship of the dead may in fact point to a desire by the priests or people to disempower the animal as a dangerous threat to the continuance of the soul, alleviating people’s anxiety and instead introduce the dog as a friendly custodian of the afterlife. The color black of Anubis’ head further emphasizes the god’s association with death.

In the Book of the Dead, Anubis is depicted at the “Hall of Judgement” in the Duat netherworld presided over by King Osiris. Anubis weighs the deceased’s heart on scales to determine that person’s worthiness in relation to the weight of the goddess Ma’at, a goddess often shown as an Ostrich feather or woman with an ostrich feather in her hair. In early myths, Anubis was the son of Ra, but later descended from the union between Osiris and Nephthys, and subsequently helped Isis mummify his dead father. Usually, Anubis was seen as the son of Set and Nephthys. The alternate legend stated that Nephthys seduced Osiris one night by taking the form of Isis, and yet another version tells that Nephthys got Osiris drunk and the two’s fornication produced Anubis.

Anubis’s wife was Anput, and together had their daughter goddess Kebechet, the deification of embalming liquid.

Anubis was seen as one of the chief deities of Lycopolis and particularly Cynopolis, called Hardai in Egyptian, where a burial ground for dogs lay across the river near Hamatha. The god’s main symbol was the flail or fetish.

Aten: The Sun Disk

The Aten, originally was viewed simply as a secondary deity, the solar aspect of the sun god Ra; others postulate that the spherical relief of the sun disk carved by artisans of Akhenaten actually represents the eye of Ra. Scholars point to the sun being viewed as the eye of Ahura Mazda in the Zoroastrian faith of ancient Persia as proof of or the possibility that the Aten also took on similar significance as an eye to the ancient Egyptians.

The ruler who hoisted the symbolic Aten to a more dominant status within the overall Egyptian pantheon, was the New Kingdom Pharaoh Akhenaten, who basically refused to worship any other gods except the divine Aten and moved the religious and government capital to Amarna in the pristine desert. The shift sent shockwaves through the religious world and bureaucracy of ancient Egypt, causing much resentment particularly among the very influential Amun priesthoods centered in the former capital and religious heart of Egypt, Thebes.

Some believe that Akhenaten introduced the first official form of monotheism, and that the “great hymn to the Aten” greatly resembles and thus may have influenced Psalm 104 in the Bible. The full title of Aten was “Ra-Horus that rejoices in the horizon”. The title adorned many stelae that marked the boundaries of Akhenaten’s new capital at Amarna. The god saw depiction as a fan of sun rays issuing from the sun above. The god appeared both to be feminine and masculine and possessed a royal cartouche, something never done before in the past in naming a god. The Aten also took on the importance of the double god head regulated as Ra-Herakhty, Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons. In Akhenaten’s hymn to the Aten, Ra-Herakhty, Shu, and Aten, are all combined into one god known as the greatest creator god.

Atum: The All One

Atum is one of the oldest gods of ancient Egypt, the ultimate creator god and patron of the city of Heliopolis, also called On in the Bible. The god supposedly brought into creation the first deities of Shu and Tefnut, gods of air and moisture out of his spit or alternately his semen, simply because the god felt lonely. However, out of curiosity, Atum’s son and daughter went out into the watery chaos to explore and left Atum alone once again. Atum fell sad and immediately sent a fiery messenger out to recover his children. Upon returning to Atum, the god cried with joy, his tears forming the first human beings.

Another version clarified the birth of Shu and Tefnut as Atum’s sexual union with the grandmother or mother of all goddesses Iussaaset, translated as “the great one who comes forth.” She was either Atum’s shadow or part of his hand in the legend. In addition, Iusaaset was viewed as the patron of the Acacia tree found north of Helipolis, a tree given special divine significance due to the plant’s particularly hardy composition, medicinal uses and edibility.

The theocracy of Heliopolis first devised the creation myth of Atum in the 6th dynasty, detailing how Atum came into being through divine will as a benben stone or mound emerging from the receding waters of primordial chaos. Due to that connection, Atum further became associated with the ascendancy of the Pharaoh’s dead Ka or soul into the starry heavens via the Pyramid structure (symbol of the primordial mound of creation). The god is frequently mentioned throughout the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts.

Atum is most often depicted as a man with a royal headdress or the double Pharaoh crown of lower and Upper Egypt, or as a great snake (the serpent form accompanies the god’s role as the finisher of the creational cycle, bringing to an end the current age). The god also saw depictions as a mongoose, lizard, ape, lion, or bull. Like Ra, Atum gained the title of the sun god (the Egyptians saw Atum as being associated with the evening sun, while Ra was seen as ruling over the morning sun). Since the people saw Atum as the source of all life, death, and rebirth, the god also became linked to the Scarab Beetle, an insect that used dung to incubate its young. The Egyptians viewed the feces or excrement as being part of death, the refuse of life; the transformation of the dungball into a birthing nest symbolized life from death (rebirth), just as Atum perpetuated a new age (life) at the end of the current age (life out of destruction).

See page on Ra Creation Myth for more info on Atum.

Apep: The Great Enemy of Ra/The Great Serpent

Apep, or Apop, was the antithesis of first Atum and then later Ra. Apep was infamously known as the god of darkness and evil. In legends, Apep took the form of a giant snake, sometimes a great dragon, or crocodile that waited for Ra beneath the Horizon near mount Bakhu. Other myths said Apep lurked just before dawn, at the Tenth Region of the Night, a place in the Underworld. According to legend, Apep originally ruled as the one king of gods long ago, but Atum or Ra-Atum ousted the false pretender, banishing the evil one to the Underworld.

Occasionally though, Apep ambushed Ra while Ra journeyed through the Underworld on his barque (the time that the sun sank below the horizon, and reemerged the next day). Each night, Ra, with the aid of his followers and Set at the helm of the boat, battled with Apep and his two consort demons Sek and Mot. Apep was rumored to be able to hypnotize Ra with his stare, at which time the serpent then attempted to squeeze its massive coils around the boat and river (Egyptologists conclude from the following that Apep is specifically a Python snake). The dawn of the sun each morning represented Ra’s triumph over darkness (Apep).

Priests attributed natural phenomenon of the world as temporary defeats to Apep, the result being earthquakes and thunderstorms, and even a solar eclipse, at which time the people believed Apep had in fact swallowed Ra whole or the serpent had completely wrapped its body around the god King but quickly was torn away by Ra’s devout gods (thus explaining the return of the sun’s rays). Apep also gained the name of “the World Encircler.”

In certain rituals, priests tried to aid Ra in his battles versus the serpent by building effigies of the snake god and then burning them to ward off Apep’s influence for another year. The priests even wrote a guide, or “How to” for defeating the snake god, including detailed instructions on dismembering and disposal of wax models or drawings. A person spat on the model or drawing, burned it, mutilated it and recited spells to aid Ra. The people also feared the snake in the afterlife, as it was thought that Apep might eat the soul, or ka spirit of the deceased. Thus, priests imbued special spells and incantations on the deceased’s body to protect the ka from Apep in the Duat.

As if a recurring serial villain in a modern comic book, Apep often returned right after being killed, as the god resided in the Underworld anyway (In one instance Bastet, the cat headed goddess, hunted down and killed Apep one night using her all-seeing eye). In this manner, the god was seen not so much as an evil god to be vanquished forever, but simply a vital and constant force present within nature important in sustaining the greater balance of the Cosmos.

Some texts mentioned the length of Apep’s body as being over 16 yards long and his head being made of flint. In later ages, Set replaced Apep as the ultimate god of evil and major opposition to the gods Ra and Horus. It is possible that Apep’s evil nature later inspired the evil serpent or manifestation of Satan as a snake in the Garden of Eden in the Bible. Early on in many cultures, the snake often took on good aspects, being a protector of divine wisdom and knowledge, not the harbinger of evil. That belief originated in Shamanic societies within prehistoric tribes. Almost all the gods of ancient Egypt likely came from previous incarnations as Shamanic spirits (Shamans often see animal headed beings in trance states, which Egyptians gods exhibit extensively in art). It should be noted that Atum was sometimes seen as a good or benevolent snake god and most likely formed out of proto Egyptian Shamanic communities (Shamans often paint snakes in caves as part of their visions). Shamans also notoriously report seeing intertwining snakes, which might explain the appearance of two opposing snake gods (Atum vs Apep) in earliest ancient Egyptian mythology. It could also be said that Apep is a form or aspect of Atum when that god appears as a snake, signaling the end of an age or epoch.

The mythologizing of Apep as a great fire serpent may also point to a mythified meteor event that occurred far back in prehistoric times. See "Zep Tepi" for more information on the myth. 

 Apis Bull: The Strength of Pharaoh

Apis, or Hapis, was a bull deity worshiped in the Memphite region of Lower Egypt. Manetho, a Greco-Egyptian historian of the Ptolemaic era, specifically wrote that the worship of the Apis bull officially began with Pharaoh Nedre in the Second Dynasty of the early dynastic period. The bull god often became associated with Osiris and Ptah; the Pharaoh supposedly became assimilated with Osorapis (the Ka Bull spirit of Osiris), after the king died, much in the same way a commoner’s spirit became assimilated with the Ka of the human Osiris after death.

In essence, the Apis Bull symbolized the virile spirit of the Pharaoh, first worshiped as a separate aspect of Ptah and then later a part of Osiris. In Memphis, the people selected one particular bull from the local herd, identifying it as the embodiment of Apis through several special markings: a white triangle shape on its forehead, a white vulture wing outlined on its back, a scarab mark underneath its tongue, a white crescent moon shape on its right hind leg, and double hairs on its tail. If all the features were met, the people paraded the bovine to a special temple dedicated to Apis, gave the bull a harem of cows, worshiped the creature as the Pharaohnic soul of Ptah, and the priests watched the bull noon and night for signs and prophecies (the cow’s movements apparently helped soothsayers to divine prognostications of the future, the bull’s breathe helped cure disease, and the Apis’ presence imbued virility on all those surrounding it). A special window in the temple allowed the bull to be seen by all from outside, and on certain holidays, the people led the bull through the streets adorned in lavish jewelry and flower petals.

Ancient records mention the enormous expenditures spent on the creature’s burial in the Memphite tomb called the Serapeum. After the death of the Apis bull, the people mourned and interred the creature in the mortuary complex; once a new Apis bull was “crowned”, the whole country celebrated for days. The French archaeologist Auguste Mariette uncovered over 60 animals at the Serapeum during the early 19th century, burials ranging in date over a period of 1000 years. The earliest burials included a separate chapel, and later Ramesses II’s son Khamuis, built a grand gallery lined with tomb chambers. Each contained an enormous sarcophagus, inscribed with date and place of birth, name of the mother-cow (deified as Hathor), day of enthronement, date of death and age.

When Osiris absorbed Ptah, the Apis bull began to represent the “living deceased one” much like Osiris. Once the bull reached the age of 28 (the age that Osiris died by Set’s hand long ago) priests put the bull to death in a great sacrificial ceremony. Evidence exists that indicates the Pharaoh and priests actually ate parts of the bull to “absorb the great strength of the bull.” If one gained the protection of the Apis bull in the afterlife, the deceased gained control over the four winds. Bulls’ horns often adorn the tombs of Pharaohs. After death, embalmers mummified the bull’s body and stood the creature up with wooden planks. Like Osiris, the bull was believed to be appreciably kind and full of mercy towards strangers.

The Apis cult was the most popular of bull cults in ancient Egypt, followed by the cults of Mnewer or Mnevis (worshiped as a pure black bull in Heliopolis as a manifestation of Atum-Ra), and Bakha (a wild untamable bull worshiped as a form of the war god Menthu in Hermonthis). The Apis cult was so popular that it was continued by the Greeks and Romans venerated as the god Serapis until the late 4th century AD.

Babi: Baboon guardian of the Duat

Babi is another one of the oldest deities in ancient Egypt, depicted unanimously as a baboon, and specifically a male with grey streaks, called “the great White one.” In predynastic times, due to the uncanny human like behavior baboons seemed to display in the wild, the Egyptians eventually came to believe that baboons were in fact deceased ancestors from long ago and the chief males, the rulers of a bygone age. Narmer, for example, the legendary first Pharaoh of Egypt, is sometimes depicted as a Baboon. The link to the Pharaoh probably is due to the animal’s very aggressive demeanor, and occasional meat eating diet, thus being a symbol of virility and strength, characteristics Pharaohs often aspired to in rule to prove worthiness to the people.

In some instances, Babi is shown as being the devourer of the deceased’s heart in the underworld if one’s heart did not measure up to the weight of Ma’at’s feather at the Hall of Judgment. Babi was seen as the first son of Osiris and the guardian of the lake of Fire in the Underworld (the fire is also mentioned in the Pyramid texts along with Babi, the fire being representative of the spirit rising and Babi the gatekeeper, both being crucial in the Pharaoh’s ascendancy to the afterlife).

The Egyptians also noticed that Baboons possessed unusually high sex drives, thus depicting Babi with an erection, sometimes his phallus being used as a mast on the barque that conveyed the righteous dead to the Aaru, the mythical “Field of Reeds” or heaven. Due to Babi’s connection to virility and sexual potency, people prayed to Babi to ensure potency after death in the afterlife.

Bastet: The Lioness of Lower Egypt

Bastet was the lioness goddess in ancient Egypt, and thought of as a more docile domestic cat goddess associated with the moon in later times. Bastet is actually the Greek name for the goddess, in Egyptian being pronounced obest or ubesti. Her patron city was the lavish city of Bubastis, called Per-Bast in Egyptian (literally “House of Bast”). The Greek historian Herodotus supposedly visited the city and the temple of Bast in the 5th century BC, describing the temple in detail:

"save for the entrance, it stands on an island; two separate channels approach it from the Nile, and after coming up to the entry of the temple, they run round it on opposite sides; each of them is an hundred feet wide, and overshadowed by trees. The temple is in the midst of the city, the whole circuit of which commands a view down into it; for the city's level has been raised, but that of the temple has been left as it was from the first, so that it can be seen into from without. A stone wall, carven with figures, runs round it; within is a grove of very tall trees growing round a great shrine, wherein is the image of the goddess; the temple is a square, each side measuring a furlong. A road, paved with stone, of about three furlongs' length leads to the entrance, running eastward through the market place, towards the temple of Hermes; this road is about four hundred wide, and bordered by trees reaching to heaven."

Scholars believe that due to Lower Egypt’s loss to Upper Egypt during the predynastic formative period, Bastet changed from being a protective war-like lioness figure to a domestic cat goddess and instead became the patron protector of the home rather than the guardian of the city or country as a whole. However, this may also reflect a greater transition from a period of overall internal conflict to peaceful unification and the emergence of changing more rigid male-female roles as tribes consolidated and built greater cities and thus more social stratification. Images in the later Middle and New Kingdoms often showed the cat goddess carrying a rattle (indicating the goddesses’ role in raising offspring in the home) and a box or basket (further emphasizing the goddess’s sacred link to home life gathering food at market). This transition finds symbolic representation within a special myth regarding Bubastis’ patron temple, which tells of how a fierce and wrathful lioness decided to lie in the temple’s inner artificial lake, the cool waters consequently taming the beasts’ wild temperament, finally convincing the cat to settle on the temple grounds for good. That myth may also reflect historically the shift from early nomadic hunter/gatherer tribal life into agrarian civilization and settled cities. The later association of Bastet to the lunar cycles may tie the goddess to an even earlier nomadic tribal version of the cat goddess in Egyptian prehistory (the moon represented an essential part of land navigation at night in the hot desert during the prehistoric era; the night provided a more feasible time for people to travel and to escape the overwhelming heat of day).

The festival of Bastet at Bubastis appears to have been the most popular annual festival in all of ancient Egypt according to Herodotus. The historian wrote of how the occasion attracted over 700,000 people to the city from all corners of Egypt, whereby the women engaged in drinking, dancing, and singing, and men drank heavily to appease “the leonine goddess.”

Cats were greatly revered among the ancient Egyptians, prompting many owners to have them mummified and buried alongside them in their tombs. More than 300,000 cat mummies were uncovered under the Bast temple at Bubastis. In 1888, a farmer discovered a huge underground plot full of hundreds of thousands of mummified cats near Beni Hassan. Vast cat cemeteries also existed at the royal burial ground at Saqqara. If a cat died, the family mourned at the loss and mummified and buried it if they could afford the expenditure. The cat most likely gained such respect due to the animal’s seemingly supernatural-like vigilance, often chasing away vermin from grain supplies and other valuable food, and spotting cobras and deadly poisonous snakes within or outside of the home, thus warning the family of danger (sudden unsuspected bite attacks inside the home with its many places to hide and reprieve from the hot desert sun, probably attracted many snakes into the house). The domestic cat’s tendency to “come alive at night” also probably further linked the cat with the Duat Underworld and guardian of that realm, which the ancient Egyptians associated with nighttime (the sun’s journey below the horizon).

Initially, as the more war-like solar lioness goddess, Bast protected Ra in mythical times as the “Lady of Flame” with her ever watchful eye, called the “Eye of Ra” (the attribute further highlights the animal’s seemingly magical ever-present alertness, much like the all-seeing Eye of Ra). In the creation myth of Ra, even Ra, the king of the gods, is bitten by an unsuspected cobra snake, causing Ra great harm and to shout out across all the lands. The cat’s ability to warn of such creatures can not be overemphasized in the ancient world (antidotes probably did not exist; a venomous bite meant inescapable death to any mortal).

Bes: The Dwarf God of Joy

Bes was the god of the home, protector of children and women in labour, usually depicted as a stout hairy dwarf (alternately seen as a lion with hind legs rearing up in earliest times), and later came to be viewed as the defender of all that is good against evil. In the home, Bes warded off killer snakes, evil spirits, and fought opposing spirits that might cause a woman in labour to die from birth complications. Earliest mention of Bes occurs in the Old Kingdom, in the southern regions of Upper Egypt, near Nubia. Many scholars claim that Bes was a Middle Kingdom religious import from Nubia. Perhaps Bes came to be popular amongst both Nubians and Egyptians side by side at the same time though.

Unlike all other gods in ancient Egyptian religious iconography, Bes was always displayed in frontal view (usually just the face on a charm amulet or necklace), rather than the common side profile. During the New Kingdom, the people fashioned many masks of the god; the masks display much wear and tear, prompting Egyptologists to propose that performers and entertainers used the masks frequently rather than just at festivals. Dancers, singers, and servant girls often wore tattoos of Bes on their thigh. Bes came to be associated with the joys of life, including song, dance, music, and sexual pleasure. The tattoo may have functioned as a magical charm or talisman of sorts that aided female entertainers and perhaps provided sexual confidence (most entertainers in ancient Egypt were female, a situation very different than that in the west and even the Far East, where all entertainers were men).

During the Ptolemaic era, the Egyptians constructed chambers painted with images of Bes and his wife Bestet, possibly serving as a shrine for “sexual healing” sessions to restore a woman’s fertility and/or a man’s potency.

Some historians speculate that the cult of Saint Bessus in northern Italy may stem from the Bes cult in Egypt and represent a “Christianization” of Bes. Both invoked fertility and possessed ostrich feather iconography.

Geb: King of the Earth

Geb was the Greek name for the deity viewed by the Egyptians as the god of the Earth. In Egyptian the name spelt Gebeb or Kebeb, literally meant the “weak one” or the “lame one.” Initially priests wrote the god with a g, and in later dynastic times, particularly in the Ptolemaic era, sometimes the priests spelled it with a k. According to the people, the laughter of the god caused earthquakes, and, by Geb’s benevolence, the crops grew.

The first representation of Geb occurred in the 3rd dynasty of King Djoser at Heliopolis, depicted as an anthropomorphic being with a beard. In later times, the god saw depiction as a crocodile, ram, a bull, or a snake-headed man. Geb appeared as a snake-headed being when depicted underneath Nut, the Sky goddess. According to legend, the two were locked in eternal sex in primordial times, forcing Shu, the father of the two and god of the air, to separate them permanently from each other. As such, Geb sometimes is shown with an erect penis lying beneath Nut. Due to Geb’s connection to the Earth, and occasional snake head, the god came to be viewed as the “father of snakes”, and sometimes the father of the mythological snake Nehebkau (the Egyptians probably noted how snakes often burrowed into holes in the Earth, thus coming to link the creatures to the Earth, caves, underground places and the Duat netherworld the dead traveled through during the night). As a result, Geb came to be associated with the underworld, and at times, people thought that vegetation and barley grew on the deities’ ribs. In later times, the Egyptians also considered Geb a very early mythological godly ruler in a time known as Zep Tepi or the “First Time”. Within the legend, Geb was described as coveting Ra’s magical “golden box” in which Ra supposedly locked away a number of sacred objects, including his rod, a lock of his hair, and his uraeus (the golden cobra attached to the god’s headdress). According to rumor, Ra enclosed the box at a fortress on the “eastern frontier”; once Geb ascended to the throne after Shu abdicated, Geb ordered that the box be brought to him at court and opened before him. Once unsealed, the box spewed out a bolt of fire (described as the “breath of the divine serpent”), striking dead all Geb’s companions and gravely burning the god-king. Interestingly, the golden box of Ra bears striking similarities to the later legend of the Hebrew’s Ark of the Covenant, a golden-covered chest that also struck innocent people dead with bolts of fiery energy, and contained “the golden pot of manna energy”, and “Aaron’s rod”.

In myth, Geb’s parents were designated as Shu and Tefnut and fathered Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. The Greeks likened Geb with their own Titan god Cronus, perhaps inspired by Geb’s reference as the “lame one”.

Hapi: For whom the Nile Flows

Hapi was the Egyptian god of the Nile inundation. The name literally translates to the “Running One”, probably a reference to the running currents of the Nile River. Alternately the Egyptians also called Hapi the “Lord of the Fishes and Birds of the Marshes” and “Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation”. As a result, the people associated the god with fertility, and often depicted Hapi with a large rotund belly and breasts, and blue or green skin.

Probably the most common depiction of Hapi is two mirrored images of the god appearing to support the central river Nile with lotus and papyri plant stems. At the bottom underneath each of Hapi’s feet, appears what seems to be a pair of lungs, perhaps implying that Hapi allows or controls the flow of the Nile’s “breathe” each year by depressing the lungs with his foot on each side. The figure on the left represents Lower Egypt and the right half Upper Egypt, thus the image often is used to symbolize the unification of the two halves of Egypt, and frequently appears under the effigy of a seated reigning Pharaoh. The river symbolizes the unity of the country as a whole, serving not only as the crucial source that enriched the soils every year for farming, but also functioning as the main conduit of communication that held the region together ideologically and structurally. Due to Hapi’s fertility nature, the people also named Hapi the “father of the gods” a caring father that helped maintain the balance of the cosmos (an idea that no doubt stemmed from the sociological and natural importance of the River).

The people sometimes referred to the annual flood as the “arrival of Hapi” and Hapi’s name may have even served as the name for the River itself in earlier times. The Egyptians said that the Nile began between Kher-Hapi and Mu-Hapi. In myth, Hapi was said to live within a cavern at the source of the River near Aswan. The main cult of Hapi lay at Elephantine, at the first Cataract of the Nile, the first point affected by the annual Nile flood every year. The staffed priests carefully monitored the Nilometer at the temple and performed rituals to ensure beneficial levels (not too much to cause flood damage to low lying villages and towns, but not too low to cause drought and famine). Hapi was also considered the “friend of Geb” god of the Earth, and “lord of Neper”, the god of grain.

In the north, Hapi was often shown adorned with papyrus plants and accompanied by frogs, while in the south Hapi wore lotus plants and was attended by crocodiles, plants and creatures common in those separate areas. Additionally, Hapi might also be shown with offerings of food or pouring water from an amphora pot, representing the gift of the Nile, or rarely as a Hippopotamus.

Hapi actually possessed, like many gods, many wives, including Meret, “the beloved”, Wadjet in the North, Nekbhet in the South, and in later times Nun, the goddess of the primordial waters of creation.

The Hymn to the Flood dedicated to Hapi read:

Lightmaker who comes from the dark

Fattener of herds

Might that fashions all

None can live without him

People are clothed with the flax of his fields

Thou makest all the land to drink unceasingly, as thou descendest on thy way from the heavens.

Hathor: Mother Cow of Egypt

Hathor was one of the oldest and most popular goddesses in ancient Egypt, being worshiped even well before the historical period. She was seen as the patron of love, joy, motherhood, beauty, music, dance, foreign lands, women in labour and men working in mines (a temple devoted to Hathor lay at Timna in the middle of the Sinai desert, a mine there brought the majority of Turquoise into Egypt). Worshiped by commoners and royalty alike, the people often named Hathor “Mistress of the West”, probably due to Hathor’s status as one of the guardians that greeted the deceased’s ka soul entering the afterlife via the western horizon, symbolized by the setting sun. Scholars speculate that Hathor began as a predynastic Cow cult, and the image of Hathor as a cow continued throughout the rest of Egyptian history (commonly she is depicted as a cow with a sun disk fixed with a cobra ureaus resting amongst her horns). Due to the connection with the sun, Hathor was regarded as either the mother or wife of Ra, with whom she conceived the sun each dawn through sex. Archaeologists think that the cow goddess face carved on the 1st dynasty Narmer Palette may in fact be a representation of Hathor. The depiction suggests a role as a cow-sky goddess that contained the sun god Horus.

Since the god was associated with love and beauty, the Greeks came to link Hathor with their own love goddess Aphrodite, as did the Romans with Venus.

Because Hathor is also identified often with motherhood and the home, she also saw many ambiguous connections with Bast in Lower Egypt.

When Hathor was later recognized as the mother of Anubis, the goddess probably became seen as the manifestation of a person’s soul after death for women, Osiris for men. During the Old Kingdom Hathor attained status as the “Lady of the Sycamore Tree”, which legend ascribed to be located near the “well of souls” on the Giza Plateau. (See Zep Tepi and Giza Underworld for more info). In one myth, Hathor was seen as the “Eye of Ra,” and transformed to a lioness (Sekhmet) to punish the people of Egypt for disobeying Ra’s rule. A number of scholars believe the myth, written in the “Book of the Heavenly Cow”, on a greater level symbolized the revolt of Lower Egypt against Upper Egypt during the 1st Intermediate period after the disintegration of the political system of the Old Kingdom.

Hathor, along with the goddess Nut, came to be connected to the Milky Way Galaxy, which upon the fall and spring equinoxes, aligned in the region where the rising and setting of the sun occurred. In many ways, the galactic center probably came to be seen as the opening of the womb, and specifically the great dark rift that separates the arm into two, much like the Nile River divided the country in two. The Egyptians of course associated the Nile with the galactic arm in the sky, as the “Nile in the Sky”, and the Duat stream that Ra sailed across on his barque during the night. The Nile’s tendency to flood every year suddenly with a surge of rising waters also became linked with female birth, as the breaking of the amniotic sac unleashing water in the womb strongly resembled the event (Hathor’s significance as the protector of women in labour and motherhood connected the goddess to the Nile flood event as a result).

The goddesses’ main cult centre resided at the Temple at Dendera, where priests and priestesses also functioned as singers, dancers, and entertainers. She gained the names, “Lady of the House of Jubilation,” and the “One Who Fills the Sanctuary with Joy.” More festivals saw dedication to Hathor than any other deity in all Egypt, and more children took the name of Hathor than any other god.

Horus: Incarnation of Pharaoh on Earth

Horus was one of the oldest gods of ancient Egypt originating at the prehistoric capital of Nekhen, also called “City of the Hawk.” The cult at the city venerated the ruling Pharaoh as the living Horus or Falcon, thus giving Horus great importance as a national deity, god of war, the sky, and protection. As the myths say, Horus descended from Isis and Osiris in the primordial age of Zep Tepi and came to usurp the unjust rule of the evil desert god Set, a deity that originally killed Horus’ father Osiris in an act of treachery and took over as King of Egypt. Horus eventually defeated Set at a race on the Nile on boats; cleverly, Horus chose to ride a boat painted to look like stone but made of wood, and Set used one made of heavy stone, which sunk. Horus won and came to rule all of Egypt, Set then being marginalized as a god to rule only over the desert and outlying oases.

During one of the conflicts between the two gods, Set evidently gouged one of Horus’ eyes out. In later times, the people associated Horus’ “dead eye” with the dim moon and Horus’ good eye with the Sun. Subsequently, when a new Moon occurred and the satellite appeared completely dark in the night sky, Horus gained the name of the Mekhenty-er-irty “He who has no eyes”, and regained the name Khenty-irty, “He Who has eyes” when the moon reappeared.

Horus saw depiction in two common forms, one as a young child and the other as an elder. Horus the Younger, Harpocrates to the Ptolemaic Greeks, was a small youth with a lock of hair on the right side of its head, usually wearing the two crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt; the child represented the first dawn light of the sun. Horus the Elder was married to Hathor, heralded as the son of truth, the upholder of Ma’at (the sacred and just), the patron of Pharaohs, and main deity at the city of Nekhen. Usually he was seen as a great falcon with outstretched wings, also known as Kemwer, or, “the Great Black One.” The Greek form of Heru-ur (or Har wer) is Haroeris. Other variants include Hor Merti 'Horus of the two eyes' and Horkhenti Irti. Pharaoh was seen as the incarnation of Horus in human form. Eventually though, by the Fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, the Pharaonhnic importance of Horus was supplanted by Ra, god of the Sun and Kingdom.

Isis: Goddess of Magic and Rebirth

Isis was the primary mother goddess of ancient Egypt from about the Middle Kingdom period onwards, although the first mention of the goddess occurs at the town of Sebennytos in the northern delta c. 3100 BC and extensively within the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, of whose origins is thought to come down from as early as the predynastic period. In Egyptian her name was probably Usat, also surviving in Coptic texts as Ese or Esi (most Egyptologists like to pronounce her name as ee-set, or ee-sa, as the feminine suffix of the “t” was often dropped in pronunciation in late Egyptian). Usually she was depicted with a throne atop her head, designating her as the essential goddess of the Kingship in Egypt; Isis actually literally translates to “She of the Throne.” As such, Isis represented the power of the Pharaoh, the mother of the King who provided the throne. In many African tribes, the throne was viewed as the “Mother of the King”. Later, when Isis took on aspects of Hathor, Isis was depicted as a mother suckling young Horus on a throne wearing the cattle horns of Hathor with the sun-disk resting between the horns.

The goddess symbolized the epitome of motherhood, and the matron of magic and nature. Since she was also seen as the patron from the downtrodden to the well-to-do from slaves, sinners, and artisans to wealthy maidens, aristocrats, and rulers, Isis’ popularity spread throughout the entire Greco-Roman world. For example, a large temple cult existed at Pompeii in Italy during the Roman period, and a Doric Temple of Isis lay at the Greek island of Delos on a high hill, and the Romans built several “Iseums” in Rome, which attracted the worship of such notable emperors as Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Trajan also depicted himself on a triumphal arch offering wine to Isis and Horus, Hadrian decorated his villa in Isiac scenes, and Galerius personally considered Isis his divine protectress. According to the contemporary Hebrew scholar Josephus, Isis was the “leading goddess of the Mediterranean world.” Harbours of Isis existed on the Arabian Sea, and the Black Sea, and inscriptions show followers of Isis in places such as Gaul, Spain, Pannonia, Germany, Arabia, Asia Minor, Portugal, and many shrines in far away Britian.

Since Isis absorbed aspects of Venus and Aphrodite, the rose came to be used in votive offerings to the goddess, a demand that turned the cultivation and selling of roses into a huge industry during the Roman era. It is thought that when Isis adopted some of the lusty aspects of Hathor, the goddess came to be the patron of sailors, thus spreading her influence via trading ships throughout the Mediterranean, and also further connecting her veneration with the activities in orgiastic societies within Rome.

The goddess’s most important center of worship lay at the temple island of Philae in southern Egypt, which remained active even beyond the Theodosian decree of 380 AD that banned all paganistic rituals, and was not officially suppressed until the 6th century AD under emperor Justinian of the Eastern half of the Empire. Scholars estimate that the suppression of pagan beliefs did not extend as far as southern Egypt and the temple at Philae due to an old treaty drawn up by Diocletian and Blemyes-Nobadae in centuries previous.

Isis came to be inseparably associated with the star Sirius, specifically thought to be the soul companion of Isis in the sky. Every year, the heliacal rising of Sirius at dawn around June 25th, heralded the onset of the Nile inundation. The priests at Dendera temple in southern Egypt paid particular attention to the event, carefully watching the star’s ascent before the Sun and attempting to “capture” the star’s light magically within a crystal set in the forehead of the statue of the goddess situated at the end of a long processional way. Thus, the “presence” of Isis was ensured to reside within the grounds of the temple within the statue’s soul. For more information on mythology of Isis see The Legend of Osiris.

Khepri: The Cosmic Beetle

Khepri was a beetle headed god, or simply viewed as the scarab beetle. The dung beetle was often seen pushing around dung balls to incubate its young in. As a result, the Egyptians associated the beetle with the forces which constantly move the sun. Artistic scenes show Khepri rolling the sun across the Sky and through the Underworld at night. The Egyptians also noticed that the young or larvae of the beetle came out of dead corpses and dung, prompting the people to connect the beetle with the rebirth of material from the dead. Thus, Khepri became closely connected with the early dawn light of the sun and birth, while Ra represented the powerful mid-day sun and Atum, the old evening sun, the transition to death. Many depictions show Khepri held aloft on a barque floating within the primordial waters of Nun.

Literally, Khepri’s name translates to: “to come into being,” or to “transform.” Many pharaohs used the name as one of their own titles. For example, Thutmosis III used the alternate title, Mn-Kheper-Re, meaning “strong-transforming-Ra” or the “The Transforming Strength of Ra.” Khepri particularly prevalent in New Kingdom literature shown as an aspect of Ra, especially on the tomb walls found at the Valley of the Kings.

Nephthys: The Protectress

In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys is a member of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis, daughter of Nut and Geb. Nephthys was typically paired with her sister Isis in funerary rites because of their role as protectors of the mummy and the god Osiris and as the sister-wife of Set. Nephthys is regarded as the mother of the funerary-deity Anubis (Inpu) in some myths. Alternatively Anubis appears as the son of Bastet or Isis. Nephthys was known in some ancient Egyptian temple theologies as a goddess who represented divine assistance and protective guardianship. Due to pioneering research done by E. Hornung, the importance of Nephthys has been greatly expanded and more understood.

As the primary "nursing mother" of the incarnate Pharaonic-god Horus much like Hathor and Isis, Nephthys also nursed the reigning Pharaoh. However, as compared to the more motherly Hathor and Isis, Nephthys sometimes is featured as rather ferocious and dangerous, capable of incinerating enemies of the Pharaoh with fiery bolts. New Kingdom Ramesside Pharaohs appeared to be particularly enamored of Mother Nephthys, as is attested in various stelae and a wealth of inscriptions at Karnak and Luxor; altars at the city’s massive complex venerated the goddess.

Nephthys is the Greek form of an epithet (transliterated as Nebet-het, and Nebt-het, from Egyptian hieroglyphs). The literal translation of her name is "Lady of the House." Her name means quite specifically, "Lady of the [Temple] Enclosure" which associates her with the role of priestess. Along with sister Isis, Nephthys represented the temple pylon or trapezoidal tower gateway entrance to the temple. The entrance symbolized the horizon or akhet hieroglyph.

In the Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts, Nephthys appears as a goddess of the Heliopolitan Ennead, sister of Isis and wife of the desert/war god, Set. As sister of Isis, Nephthys is a protective goddess who symbolizes the death experience, just as Isis represented the (re-)birth experience.

"Ascend and descend; descend with Nephthys, sink into darkness with the Night-bark. Ascend and descend; ascend with Isis, rise with the Day-bark."

Pyramid Text Utterance 222 line 210.

In the funerary role, Nephthys often was depicted as a bird of prey called a kite, or as a woman with falcon wings, usually outstretched as a symbol of protection. Nephthys's association with the kite or the Egyptian hawk (and its piercing, mournful cries) evidently reminded the ancients of the lamentations usually offered for the dead by wailing women. Most often, Nephthys saw depiction crowned by the hieroglyphics signifying the goddess’ name, a combination of signs for the sacred temple enclosure (hewet), along with the sign for neb, or mistress (Lady), a basket, on top of the enclosure sign.

Nephthys role in the heavenly transition of the Pharaoh can not be overemphasized. The Pharaoh’s strength in the afterlife journey hinged upon the intervention of Isis and Nephthys. According to the Pyramid Texts, Nephthys, along with Isis, wielded a force that caused demons to tremble in fear, and the magical spells proved necessary for safely navigating the Duat underworld, even amongst the commoners.

The goddess actually more subtly represented a slightly different reflection of Isis in the same reality: eternal life in transition to the underworld (the “dark-side” of Isis). Thus, Nephthys also functioned as a crucial cosmic force occupying the night-bark on the journey of Ra described in the Pyramid Texts, the majestic sun god, particularly once Ra entered Duat at the transitional time of dusk, or twilight. Isis on the other hand guarded Ra’s transition at the coming of dawn (departure from the underworld).

In the past, most scholars assumed that Nepthys remained married to Set, but other evidence suggests a different picture. Levai argues that little evidence from old sources supports the idea and that:

“While Nephthys’s marriage to Set was a part of Egyptian mythology, it was not a part of the myth of the murder and resurrection of Osiris. She was not paired with Set the villain, but with Set’s other aspect, the benevolent figure who was the killer of Apophis [and the divine guardian of Ra during the god’s nightly journey through the Duat]. This was the aspect of Set worshiped in the western oases during the Roman period, where he is depicted with Nephthys as co-ruler.”

Nephthys also assisted Isis in gathering and mourning the dismembered portions of the body of Osiris, after the King’s murder by the envious Set. Nephthys also serves as the nursemaid and watchful guardian of the infant Horus. The Pyramid Texts refer to Isis as the "birth-mother" and to Nephthys as the "nursing-mother" of Horus. Nephthys occupied an honorary position at the holy city of Abydos. No cult is attested for her there, though she certainly figured as a goddess of great importance in the annual rites conducted, wherein two chosen females or priestesses played the roles of Isis and Nephthys and performed the elaborate 'Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys'. There, at Abydos, Nephthys joined Isis as a mourner in “festival-songs” within the shrine known as the Osireion.

As a mortuary goddess (along with Isis, Neith, and Serqet), Nephthys protected the Canopic jars of the Hapi. Hapi, one of the Sons of Horus, guarded the embalmed lungs. Thus we find Nephthys endowed with the epithet, "Nephthys of the Bed of Life," inscribed on the tomb of Tuthmosis III, Dynasty XVIII. In the city of Memphis, Nephthys was duly honored with the title "Queen of the Embalmer's Shop," and gained association with the jackal-headed god Anubis, the patron of the shop.

Nephthys also mandated the copious consumption of beer during festive rites. In various reliefs at Edfu, Dendera, and Behbeit, Nephthys is depicted receiving lavish beer-offerings from the Pharaoh, and "returning" the alcohol back to the King after imbuing the decanters with magic, so "that [the pharaoh] may have joy with no hangover." Elsewhere at Edfu, for example, Nephthys is a goddess who gives the Pharaoh power to see "that which is hidden by moonlight." Nephthys could also appear as one of the goddesses assisting as midwives at childbirth. One ancient Egyptian myth preserved in the Papyrus Westcar recounts the story of Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet, and Heqet as traveling dancers in disguise, assisting the wife of an Amun-Ra priest preparing to bring forth sons destined for fame and fortune.

The Egyptians viewed the goddess as the protectress of the Sacred Phoenix, or the Bennu Bird. The role may originally stem from an earlier association in Heliopolis, a city renowned for its "House of the Bennu" temple. A wealth of temple texts from Edfu, Dendara, Philae, Kom Ombo, El Qa'la, Esna, and others corroborate the late identification of Nephthys as the supreme goddess of Upper Egyptian Nome VII, a region that possessed another shrine in honor of the Bennu. Nephthys also oversaw patronage over the "Mansion of the Sistrum" in Hewet-Sekhem (Diospolis Parva), the chief city of Nome VII. There, Nephthys guarded the resident Osirian relic, of the Bennu Bird, and of the local Horus/Osiris manifestation, the god Neferhotep.

Nu: The primordial One

Nu ("Watery One") or Nun ("The Inert One") is the deification of the primordial watery abyss. Specifically in the Ogdoad cosmogony, the name nu means "abyss".

The Ancient Egyptians envisaged the oceanic abyss of the Nun as surrounding a bubble representing the sphere of life, the deepest mystery of the ancient Egyptian cosmology. In primordial times, the original mound of land rose forth from the waters of the Nun. The Nun is the source of all that appears in a differentiated world, encompassing all aspects of divine and earthly existence. In the Ennead cosmogony Nun is perceived as transcendent at the point of creation alongside Atum the creator god. Nu usually saw depiction as male but also possessed aspects that could be represented as female or male. Naunet (also spelt Nunet) is the female aspect, which is the name Nu with a female gender ending. The male aspect, Nun, is written with a male gender ending. As with the primordial concepts of the Ogdoad, Nu's male aspect was depicted as a frog, or a frog-headed man. In Ancient Egyptian art, Nun also appears as a bearded man, with blue-green skin, representing water. Naunet is represented as a snake or snake-headed woman.

Beginning with the Middle Kingdom Nun is described as "the Father of the Gods" and he is depicted on temple walls throughout the rest of Ancient Egyptian religious history. Like the other Ogdoad deities, Nu did not have temples or any center of worship. Even so, Nu was sometimes represented by a sacred lake, or, as at Abydos, by an underground stream. In the 12th Hour of the Book of Gates Nu is depicted with upraised arms holding a "solar bark" (or barque, a boat). The boat is occupied by eight deities, with the scarab deity Khepri standing in the middle surrounded by the seven other deities.

During the late period when Egypt became occupied the negative aspect of the Nun (chaos) became the dominant perception, reflecting the forces of disorder set loose in the country.

Nuit: The Sky Goddess

Within the Ennead of Egyptian mythology, Nut (alternatively spelled Nuit, Newet, and Neuth) was the goddess of the sky. Her name is translated to mean 'sky' and she is considered one of the oldest deities among the Egyptian pantheon, with her origins being found on the creation story of Heliopolis. She was originally the goddess of the night sky, but eventually became referred to as simply the sky goddess. Her headdress was the hieroglyphic of part of her name, a pot, which may also symbolize the uterus. Mostly depicted in human form, Nut was also sometimes depicted in the form of a cow whose great body formed the sky and heavens, a sycamore tree, or as a giant sow, suckling many piglets (representing the stars).

A sacred symbol of Nut was the ladder, used by Osiris to enter her heavenly skies. This ladder-symbol was called maqet and was placed in tombs to protect the deceased, and to invoke the aid of the deity of the dead. Nut is considered an enigma in the world of mythology because she is in direct contrast to most other mythologies, which usually evolve into a sky father associated with an earth mother or Mother Nature.

From the union of Geb and Nut came, among others, the most popular of Egyptian goddesses, Isis. Osiris is killed by Set and scattered over the Earth in 14 pieces which Isis gathers up and puts back together. Osiris then climbs a ladder into his mother Nut for safety and eventually becomes king of the dead.

Nut was the goddess of the sky and all heavenly bodies, protector of the dead upon entering the after life. According to the Egyptians, during the day, the heavenly bodies—such as the sun and moon—moved across her body. Then, at dusk, Nut swallowed them, passing through the goddess’ belly during the night, reborn at dawn.

Nut is also the barrier separating the forces of chaos from the ordered cosmos in the world. Pictures usually depicted Nut arched over the earth on toes and fingertips; her body symbolizing the star-filled sky. Because of her role in saving Osiris, Nut was seen as a friend and protector of the dead; many appealed to nut as a child appeals to a mother: “O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.” Nut was thought to draw the dead into her star-filled sky, and refresh them with food and wine: “I am Nut, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil.” She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the deceased. The vaults of tombs often were painted dark blue with many stars as a representation of Nut. The Book of the Dead says, “Hail, thou Sycamore Tree of the Goddess Nut! Give me of the water and of the air which is in thee. I embrace that throne which is in Unu, and I keep guard over the Egg of Nekek-ur [egg of creation]. It flourisheth, and I flourish; it liveth, and I live; it snuffeth the air, and I snuff the air, I the Osiris Ani [spirit of Osiris shared by all], whose word is truth, in peace.”

Some of the titles of Nut were:
- Coverer of the Sky: Nut was said to be covered in stars touching the different points of her body.
- She Who Protects: Among her jobs was to envelop and protect Ra, the sun god.
- Mistress of All or "She who Bore the Gods": Originally, Nut was said to be laying on top of Geb (Earth) and continually having intercourse. During this time she birthed four children: Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys.
- She Who Holds a Thousand Souls: Because of her role in the re-birthing of Ra every morning and in her son Osiris's resurrection, Nut became a key god in many of the myths about the after-life.

Osiris: Lord of the Dead

See Page “Legend of Osiris” for info on the ancient Egyptian god Osiris.

Ptah: The Craftsmen

In Ancient Egyptian Religion, Ptah (Egyptian ptḥ, probably vocalized as Pitaḥ in ancient Egyptian or just Tah) saw deification as the primordial mound within the Ennead cosmogony, which was more literally referred to as Ta-tenen (also spelled Tathenen, Tatjenen, etc.), meaning risen land, or as Tanen, meaning submerged land. Ptah also is referred to as the noble Djed pillar (the backbone of Egypt or the pillar of stability, also representative of the Nile River that unified and thus provided Egypt with order).

Written in the Shabaka Stone, Ptah is named as the one who called the world into being, having dreamt of creation in the god’s heart, spoke the word, the name meaning opener, in the sense of opener of the mouth. Indeed the opening of the mouth ceremony, performed by priests at funerals to release souls from corpses, is originally attributed as an invention of Ptah. In the Memphite theology, Ptah created Atum to rule over the creation, sitting upon the primordial mound. In art, Ptah is portrayed as a bearded mummified man, often wearing a skull cap, hands holding an ankh, was, and djed, the symbols of life, power and stability, respectively. Egyptians also saw Ptah manifested within the Apis bull at Memphis, a special cow selected from the local herd to be defied and paraded by priest as the soul of the Pharaoh.

Since Ptah ruled over the powers of creation, the Egyptians considered the god the divine craftsmen, and in particular stone-based crafts. Eventually, due to the connection of these things to tombs, and that at Thebes, the craftsmen regarded Ptah as the force that ultimately determined or controlled one’s destiny. Consequently, first amongst the craftsmen, then the population as a whole, Ptah also became a god of regeneration. Since Seker (Sokar) was also god of craftsmen, and of regeneration of the sun during the night, Seker assimilated with Ptah becoming Ptah-Seker.

The English name Egypt actually derives from an ancient Egyptian name for Memphis, Hikuptah, which means "Home of the Soul of Ptah". The name entered Ancient Greek as Αιγυπτος (Aiguptos), later entering Latin as Ægyptus, which developed into English as Egypt. Hence, the word for land of Egypt descended from the Egyptian name of Ptah.

Ra: Bringer of the Mid-Day Sun

Ra (alternatively spelled Re) is the ancient Egyptian sun god. By the Fifth Dynasty Ra rose as the primary deity in ancient Egyptian religion, identified with the mid-day sun. The meaning of the name is uncertain, but it is thought that if not a word for 'sun' it may be a variant of or linked to words meaning 'creative power' and 'creator'. The chief cult centre of Ra lay at Heliopolis (called Iunu, "Place of Pillars", in Egyptian), also closely tied with the local sun-god Atum. Through Atum, or as Atum-Ra, the god ascended to be the first being and originator of the Ennead, consisting of Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys.

In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra saw mergence with Horus, as Re-Horakhty ("Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons"). That god ruled all parts of the created world: the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Usually the deity saw depiction as a falcon or hawk. During the New Kingdom, the god Amun eclipsed the Ra cult fused with the Ra deity as Amun-Ra. The cult of the Mnevis bull represented the embodiment of Ra, lying at Heliopolis as well; a formal burial ground for the sacrificed bulls lay just north of the city.

The Egyptians believed that Ra called forth all living things at the time of creation by speaking of their secret names. Alternatively, humans formed from Ra's tears and sweat; hence the Egyptians called themselves the "Cattle of Ra." To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. The sun disk visually symbolized the body or the eye of Ra.

The people thought Ra traveled on two solar boats called the Mandjet (the Boat of Millions of Years), or morning boat and the Mesektet, or evening boat. These boats took Ra on the god’s journey through the sky and the underworld. As Ra traveled across the sky, several companion deities, including Sia (perception) and Hu (command) as well as Heka (magic power) accompanied Ra. At times, important gods of the Ennead helped Ra on the god’s nightly journey, including Set who overcame the serpent Apophis and Mehen who defended against other monsters of the underworld. Apophis, an enormous serpent tried to stop the sun boat's journey every night by swallowing the boat and Ra whole, or by hypnotized the boat’s helmsman, thus causing the boat to stop. In the evening the Egyptians believed that Ra set as Atum or in the form of a ram. The Mesektet or Night boat carried Ra through the underworld and back towards the east in preparation for rebirth as the morning sun.

Ra is represented in a variety of forms, including a man with the head of a hawk and a solar disk on top, a man with the head of a beetle (as Khepri), or a man with the head of a ram (Amun-Ra or Khmun-Ra). Other common depictions represented a full-bodied ram, beetle, phoenix, heron, serpent, bull, cat, or lion as well as other creatures

By the fourth dynasty the people viewed the pharaohs as Ra's manifestations on earth, referred to as "Sons of Ra". During the Fifth Dynasty, worship increased massively, rising as the chief state deity; pharaohs built specially aligned pyramids, obelisks, and solar temples to honor Ra. By the the Middle Kingdom, Ra increasingly assimilated with other chief deities, especially Amun and Osiris.

During the New Kingdom, worship of Ra grew complicated and grander. The walls of tombs detailed texts that told of Ra's journey through the underworld. Many believed Ra carried the prayers and blessings of the living with the souls of the dead on the sun boat. In the New Kingdom, the people also thought that Ra aged with the passings of the Sun overhead. Many acts of worship included hymns, prayers, and spells to help Ra and the sun boat overcome Apep in the Duat. The people celebrated the Holiday of 'The Receiving of Ra' on May 26 in the Gregorian calendar.

For more info on Ra's creation myth see this page.

Sekhmet: Lioness of Upper Egypt

In Egyptian mythology, Sekhmet (also spelled Sachmet, Sakmet, Sakhet, Sekmet, Sakhmet and Sekhet; and given the Greek name, Sachmis), Sekhmet ruled as the warrior goddess and goddess of healing of Upper Egypt, almost universally depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians. The goddess’ breath, according to legend, created the desert. The goddess also protected the pharaohs in warfare, slaying Pharaoh’s enemies with arrows of fire.

Sekmet’s cult garnered much support and supplication, once the first pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty, Amenemhat I, moved the capital of Egypt to Itjtawy, the centre of Sekmet’s cult also moved. Sekhmet also is a solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of the sun god Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bast. Sekhmet wears the solar disk and the Uraeus, both associated with Wadjet and royalty. With these associations she can be construed as being a divine arbiter of the goddess Ma'at (Justice, or Order) in the Judgment Hall of Osiris, linked with the Wedjat (later the Eye of Ra), connected with Tefnut as well.

Sekhmet's means, the (one who is) powerful. She also gained titles such as the (One) Before Whom Evil Trembles, the Mistress of Dread, and the Lady of Slaughter. An early Egyptian sun deity also, the goddess’ body absorbed the bright glare of the midday sun, gaining Sekhmet the title Lady of Flame. Amongst folklore, the hot desert winds represented the breath of Sekmet.

In order to placate Sekhmet's wrath, priestesses performed a ritual before a different statue of the goddess on each day of the year. The practice resulted in many images of the goddess being preserved. Most of the statuettes display rigidly crafted poses, void of any expression of movements or dynamism. A number of archaeologists estimate that more than seven hundred statues of Sekhmet once stood in one funerary temple alone, that of Amenhotep III, on the west bank of the Nile.

Sekhmet also brought disease as well as the provided cures to such ills, the name "Sekhmet" literally became synonymous with physicians and surgeons during the Middle Kingdom.

Most often, the ancients envisioned Sekhmet as the fierce lioness or as a woman with the head of a lioness, dressed in red, the color of blood. Sometimes the dress she wears exhibits a rosetta pattern over each nipple, an ancient leonine motif, traced to observation of the shoulder-knot hairs on lions. Occasionally, Sekhmet’s portrayal in statuettes and engravings wore little or no clothing, reflecting the warrior’s wild and uninhibited nature. Priests kept tame lions at temples dedicated to Sekhmet at Leontopolis.

To pacify Sekhmet, festivals celebrated at the end of battle, supposedly brought the destruction to an end. During an annual festival held at the beginning of the year, a festival of intoxication, the Egyptians danced and played music to soothe the wildness of the goddess and drank great quantities of beer ritually to imitate the extreme drunkenness that stopped the wrath of the goddess—before Sekhmet almost destroyed humankind. That legend may relate to averting excessive flooding during the inundation at the beginning of each year as well; the Nile ran blood-red with the silt from upstream each time prompted Sekhmet to swallow the overflow and save humankind.

In 2006, Betsy Bryan, an archaeologist with Johns Hopkins University excavating at the temple of Mut presented findings about the festival that included illustrations of the priestesses being served to excess. Participation in the festival included many priestesses and the population, some historical records indicating that tens of thousands attended the festivals. The temple excavations at Luxor also discovered a "porch of drunkenness" built onto the temple by the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, during the height of that Queen’s twenty year reign.

In an annual drunken Sekhmet festival, a myth explained that Ra, the sun god, created the goddess from a fiery eye gained from Ra’s mother, Hathor to destroy mortals conspiring against the King (Lower Egypt). In the myth, Sekhmet's blood-lust continued after the end of battle and led to lioness to destroying almost all of humanity, so Ra tricked Sekhmet by turning the Nile red as blood (the Nile turns red every year due to incoming silts during inundation), tempting Sekhmet to drink from the river. The red liquid turned out to actually be beer mixed with pomegranate juice so that the Nile resembled blood, intoxicating Sekhmet to such a point that the goddess gave up the slaughter and became an aspect of the gentle Hathor. A legend stated that, once Sekhment awoke from drunken sleep, the first thing the goddess saw was the creator god, Ptah and fell in love with god, resulting in the birth of Mahees and Nefertem.

Sekhmet later was considered to be the mother of Maahes, a lion prince, a deity who appeared during the New Kingdom period. The late origin of Maahes in the Egyptian pantheon may be the incorporation of a Nubian deity of ancient origin in that culture, arriving during trade and warfare or even, during a period of domination by Nubia. During the Greek occupation of Egypt, wrote of a temple for Maahes that was an auxiliary facility to a large temple to Sekhmet at Taremu in the delta region (likely a temple for Bast originally), a city called by the Greeks, Leontopolis.

Set: Protector of Ra/Bringer of the Desert

In Ancient Egyptian religion, Set (also spelled Seth, Sheth, Sutekh, Setan or Seteh) represented the god of the desert, storms, and foreigners. In the beginning, Set held high importance in the Egyptian theological system, but, later on got a “bad-rap”, in younger myths being seen as the god of darkness, and chaos. The meaning of the name Set is unknown, though several pseudo-etymologies appeared in historical times, suggesting that the ancient Egyptians attached three meanings to the name: instigator of confusion, deserter and drunkard. Scholars reconstruct the name to be pronounced Sūtaḫ based on the occurrence of the god’s name in Egyptian hieroglyphics (swtḫ), and later mention in the Coptic documents with the name Sēt.

In art Set’s animalistic head is depicted as a fabulous creature, referred to by Egyptologists as the Set animal or Typhonic beast, also known as a Typhon, with a curved snout, square ears, forked tail, and canine body, or sometimes as a human with the head of the Set animal. In contemporary art, some artists depict the god with the head of a horse or donkey. The original representation does not share any resemblance to any known creature, although some claim the animal as the composite of an aardvark (a mammalian type ant-eater, a donkey, a jackal or fennec (wild fox). Some early Egyptologists proposed that the stylised representation is close to a giraffe due to the large flat-topped 'horns' which correspond to a giraffe's ossicones, but the Egyptians distinguished between the giraffe and the Set animal. In the late period Set is depicted as an ass or with the head of an ass.

The earliest representations of what may be the Set animal comes from a tomb dating to the Naqada I phase of the Predynastic Period (circa 3790 BC–3500 BC), though the identification is uncertain. If these are ruled out, then the earliest Set-animal appears on a mace-head of the Scorpion King, a Protodynastic ruler. The head and forked tail of the Set-animal are clearly present.

For information on the mythology of Set and the conflicts of Set with Osiris see the page “Legend of Osiris.”

Set usually stood on the prow of Ra's night barque spearing Apep in the form of a serpent, turtle, or other dangerous water animal. In some Late Period representations, such as in the Persian Period temple at Hibis in the Khargah Oasis, Set bore a falcon's head, taking on the guise of Horus. In the Amduat Set is described overcoming Apep to protect Ra across the Underworld. Set was one of the earliest deities, with a strong following in Upper Egypt. Originally highly regarded throughout Egypt as the god of the desert, a political faction inspired an initial disparaging of Set's name and reputation. Egypt was originally split into two kingdoms: Lower ruled by Horus (and later Ra), Upper by Set. Set's followers resisted a unification of the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt by the followers of Horus/Ra. The followers of Horus thus denigrated Set as chaotic and evil. By the 22nd Dynasty, people began to equate Set with, Apep, and images of the god on temples became replaced with those of Sobek or Thoth. Most modern popular misconceptions of Set come from Plutarch's secondary source interpretations of Set (via the writings of Herodotus) long after Set's demonization (circa 100 A.D., Roman Period in Egypt).

Set was further demonized immediately after the Hyksos Period. Most scholars date the demonization of Set to after Egypt's conquest by the Persian ruler Cambyses II. Set, traditionally represented the god of foreigners, thus also becoming associated with foreign oppressors, including the Achaemenid Persians, Ptolemaic dynasty, and Romans. Indeed, during that time, Set came to be particularly vilified, and the god’s mythical defeat by Horus widely celebrated. Nevertheless, throughout that period, in some outlying regions of Egypt Set remained a heroic chief deity.

Set’s worship centered at the temples of Ombos (Nubt near Naqada) and Ombos (Nubt near Kom Ombo), at Oxyrhynchus in Upper Egypt, and also in part of the Fayyum area. More specifically, Set gained worship in the relatively large metropolitan (yet provincial) locale of Sepermeru, especially during the Rammeside Period. One of the epithets of the town became "gateway to the desert," which fits well with Set's role as a deity of the frontier regions of ancient Egypt. At Sepermeru, Set's temple enclosure included a small secondary shrine called "The House of Seth, Powerful-Is-His-Mighty-Arm," and Ramesses II built (or modified) a second land-owning temple for Nephthys, called "The House of Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun." Moreover, another moderately sized temple of Seth is noted for the nearby town of Pi-Wayna. The close association of Seth temples with temples of Nephthys in key outskirt-towns gives greater likelihood to the existence of another "House of Seth" and another "House of Nephthys" in the town of Su, at the entrance to the Fayyum.

Perhaps most intriguing in terms of the pre-Dynasty XX connections between temples of Set and nearby temples of Nephthys is the evidence of the Papyrus Bologna, which preserves a most irritable complaint lodged by one Pra'em-hab, Prophet of the "House of Seth" in the now-lost town of Punodjem ("The Sweet Place"). In the text of Papyrus Bologna, the harried Pra'em-hab laments undue taxation for the priest’s own temple (The House of Seth) complaining that he is responsible for: "the ship, and I am likewise also responsible for the House of Nephthys, along with the remaining heap of district temples".

When, by Dynasty XX, the "demonization" of Seth was ostensibly inaugurated, Seth was either eradicated or increasingly pushed to the outskirts, Nephthys flourished as part of the usual Osirian pantheon throughout Egypt, even obtaining a Late Period status as tutelary goddess of her own Nome. Yet, it is perhaps most telling that Seth's cultus persisted with astonishing potency even into the latter days of ancient Egyptian religion, in outlying (but important) places like Kharga, Dakhlah, Deir el-Hagar, Mut, Kellis, etc. Indeed, in these places, Seth became considered "Lord of the Oasis/Town" and Nephthys likewise venerated as "Mistress of the Oasis" at Seth's side, within temples. Meanwhile, Nephthys also gained veneration as "Mistress" in the Osirian temples of these districts, as part of the specifically Osirian college.

The power of Seth's cult in the mighty (yet outlying) city of Avaris from the Second Intermediate Period through the Ramesside Period cannot be denied. Set reigned supreme as a deity both at odds and in league with threatening foreign powers, along with chief consort-goddesses the Phoenician Anat and Astarte, and the Egyptian Nephthys.

Shu: God of the Windy Calm

In Egyptian mythology, Shu (meaning emptiness and he who rises up) is one of the primordial gods, personification of air, one of the Ennead of Heliopolis. Atum along with Iusaaset, created Shu with sister, Tefnut (moisture). The two married giving birth to Nut and Geb. Since Geb and Nut constantly lay together in sexual intercourse, Shu separated the two from eachother, thus creating the roof of the sky and the earth beneath.

As the air, many considered Shu to be cooling, thus calming, and a pacifier. Due Shu’s association with air, calm, and thus Ma'at (truth, justice and order), Shu came to be portrayed in art as wearing an ostrich feather, the symbol of justice, anywhere from one to four feathers.

In a much later myth, representing the terrible weather disaster at the end of the Old Kingdom, legend said that Tefnut and Shu once argued, and Tefnut (moisture) left Egypt for Nubia (which was always more temperate). Shu quickly decided to pursue the goddess, but Tefnut transformed into a cat that destroyed any man or god that approached. Thoth, disguised, eventually convinced Tefnut to return. Shu usually is seen carrying an ankh, the symbol of life. In the Zep Tepi legends, Shu is described as a flesh and blood King that ruled Egypt for over 700 years, but finally, with many attempts made to usurp Shu, the god abdicated the throne to his son Geb.

Sobek: The Great Crocodile

Sobek (also called Sebek, Sochet, Sobk, Sobki, Soknopais), and in Greek, Suchos (Σοῦχος) represented the deification of crocodiles; Egyptians greatly feared crocodiles since the people depended on the Nile River so much, often coming into deadly encounters with the beast. Egyptians that worked or travelled on the Nile prayed to Sobek, the crocodile/Nile god, in hopes the god might protect them from being attacked by crocodiles. In some Egyptian creation myths, Sobek first came out of the waters of chaos to create the world. As such, Sobek sometimes became connected with the sun god Ra.

Most of Sobek's temples were located "in parts of Egypt where crocodiles were common." Sobek's cult originally flourished around Al Fayyum where some temples still remain. The area was so closely associated with Sobek that Arsinoe was known to the Greeks as Crocodilopolis or 'crocodile Town.' Another major cult centre was at Ko Ombo, "close to the sandbanks of the Nile where crocodiles would often bask. Some temples of Sobek kept pools where sacred crocodiles were kept: these crocodiles were fed the best cuts of meat and became quite tame. Once the creatures died, priests mummified and buried the animals in special animal cemeteries. Gradually, Sobek also came to symbolize the produce of the Nile and the fertility that the River brought to the land. Sometimes people viewed the ferocity of crocodiles in a positive light; Sobek in these circumstances came to be considered the army's patron, as a representation of strength and power.

In Egyptian art, artisans often depicted Sobek simply as an ordinary crocodile, or as a man with the head of a crocodile. The addition of the uraeus, symbol of royal authority, designated the god as patron of Pharaoh's army. Depicted with the sacred ankh symbol, Sobek represented a diviner capable of undoing evil and curing ills. In other myths, which appeared extremely late in ancient Egyptian history, the Egyptians credited Sobek with catching the “Four sons of Horus” in a net as the sons emerged from the waters of the Nile in a lotus blossom.

Sokar: Lord of Giza

Seker or Sokar is the falcon god of the Memphite necropolis, particularly that of Giza. Although the meaning of the god’s name remains uncertain the Egyptians in the Pyramid Texts linked Sokar’s name to the anguished cry of Osiris to Isis 'Sy-k-ri' ('hurry to me'), in the underworld. Seker is strongly linked with two other gods, Ptah the chief god of Memphis and Osiris the god of the dead. Seker is usually depicted as a mummified hawk and sometimes as a mound from which the head of a hawk appears. Here he is called 'he who is on his sand'. Sometimes he is shown on his 'hennu barque' which was an elaborate sledge for negotiating the sandy necropolis. One of the god’s titles was 'he of Restau' which means the place of 'openings' or tomb entrances of Rostua (the Giza Necropolis). For more info on Sokar’s jurisdiction at the necropolis see the page “The Giza Underworld," and Zep Tepi.

Sokar, possibly through the god’s association with Ptah, also possessed a connection with craftsmen. In the Book of the Dead Sokar is said to fashion silver bowls; archaeologists did in fact uncover a silver coffin of Sheshonq II at Tanis decorated with the iconography of Sokar. Primarily, Sokar's cult centre resided at Memphis; there the people held many festivals to honour Sokar during the fourth month of the akhet (spring) season. Certain depictions showed the god assisting workers in various tasks such as digging ditches and canals. In the New Kingdom, the festival spread to Thebes.

Tefnut: Lioness of Moisture and Water

In Ancient Egyptian religion, Tefnut, transliterated tfnt (tefenet) is the goddess of moisture, moist air, dew and rain. The goddess is the sister and consort of the air god Shu and mother of Geb and Nut. Literally translating as "That Water", the name Tefnut is linked to the verb 'tfn' meaning 'to spit' and versions of the creation myth say that Atum spat the goddess out; hieroglyphic names of Tefnut written in late texts contain a mouth spitting.

Unlike most Egyptian deities, Tefnut has no single ideograph or symbol. Tefnut’s name in hieroglyphics consists of four single phonogram symbols t-f-n-t. Although the n phonogram is a representation of waves on the surface of water, the symbol never saw use as an ideogram or determinative for the word water (mw), or for anything associated with water.

There are a number of variants to the myth of the creation of Tefnut and her twin brother Shu. In all versions, Tefnut is the product of parthenogenesis, and all involve some variety of bodily fluid.

In the Heliopolitan creation myth, the solar god Atum masturbates to produce Tefnut and Shu:

“Atum was creative in that he proceeded to masturbate himself in Heliopolis. He took his penis in his hand so that he might obtain the pleasure of orgasm thereby. And brother and sister were born - that is Shu and Tefnut. Pyramid Text 527”

In some versions of this myth, Atum also swallows his semen, and spits it out to form the twins, or else the spitting of Atum’s saliva forms the act of procreation. Both of these versions contain a play on words, the tef sound which forms the first syllable of the name Tefnut also constitutes a word meaning 'to spit' or 'to expectorate'.

The Coffin Texts contain references to Shu being sneezed out by Atum from the god’s nose, and Tefnut being spat out like saliva.

Tefnut appears as a human with a lioness head. The other frequent depiction is as a lioness, but Tefnut can also be depicted as fully human. In her fully or semi anthropomorphic form, Tefnut also wears a wig, topped either with a uraeus serpent, or a uraeus and solar disk; the goddess also appears sometimes as a lion headed serpent. At times, Tefnuts face appears in a double headed form with that of her brother Shu on collar counterpoises. Tefnut’s lion head can be distinguished from Sekhmet by the goddess’ pointed ears, while Sekhmet’s ears appear rounded. Tefnut often became associated with the leonine goddesses Sekhmet and Bast and their subsequent mythologies. In the Pyramid Texts, Tefnut is noted as dispensing pure water from the goddess’ vagina.

Thoth: The Timeless One

Thoth from Egyptian ḏḥwty, perhaps pronounced ḏiḥautī) was considered one of the most important deities of the Egyptian pantheon. In art, the people often depicted Thoth as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon, animals believed sacred to Thoth. His feminine counterpart was Seshat. Thoth's chief temple resided at the city of Khmun, later renamed Hermopolis Magna during the Greco-Roman era and Eshmûnên in the Coptic rendering. In that city, the god led the Ogdoad pantheon of eight principal deities. Thoth also held numerous shrines within the cities of Abydos, Hesert, Urit, Per-Ab, Rekhui, Ta-ur, Sep, Hat, Pselket, Talmsis, Antcha-Mutet, Bah, Amen-heri-ab, and Ta-kens.

Thoth was often considered to be the heart—which, according to the ancient Egyptians, is the seat of intelligence or the mind—and tongue of the sun god Ra, as well as the means by which Ra's will was translated into speech. The god also related to the Logos of Plato and the mind of God (the venerated Hermes Trismegistus, “The Thrice Great Hermes” represented by the three gods Thoth/Hermes/Mercury). The god played many vital and prominent roles in Egyptian mythology, such as maintaining the universe, and being one of the two deities (the other being Ma'at) who stood on either side of Ra's boat. In the later history of ancient Egypt, Thoth arbitrated godly disputes, the arts of magic, the system of writing, the development of science, and judgment of the dead

The Egyptian pronunciation of ḏḥwty is not fully known, but may be reconstructed as *ḏiḥautī, based on the Ancient Greek borrowing Θωθ Thōth or Theut and the fact that the name evolved into Sahidic Coptic variously as Thoout, Thōth, Thoot, Thaut as well as Bohairic Coptic Thōout. The final -y may even have been pronounced as a consonant, not a vowel. However, many write "Djehuty", inserting the letter 'e' automatically between consonants in Egyptian words, and writing 'w' as 'u', as a convention of convenience for English speakers, not the transliteration employed by Egyptologists. In modern Egypt, tour guides commonly pronounce the name as "Thote" or "Tote" with an aspirated initial consonant. According to Theodor Hopfner, Thoth's Egyptian name written as ḏḥwty originated from ḏḥw, claimed to be the oldest known name for the Ibis although normally written as hbj. The addition of -ty denotes that Thoth possessed the attributes of the Ibis. Hence the name literally means "He who is like the Ibis".

Djehuty is sometimes alternatively rendered as Jehuti, Tahuti, Tehuti, Zehuti, Techu, or Tetu. Thoth (also Thot or Thout) is the Greek version derived from the letters ḏḥwty. Not counting differences in spelling, Thoth possessed many names and titles. Similarly, each Pharaoh held five different names used in public. Among Thoth’s alternate names one was A, Sheps, Lord of Khemennu, Asten, Khenti, Mehi, Hab, and A'an. In addition, Thoth was also known by specific aspects of himself, for instance the moon god Iah-Djehuty, representing the moon for the entire month, or as jt-nṯr "god father". Further, the Greeks related Thoth to the god Hermes due to that god’s similar attributes and functions. "Scribe of Ma'at in the Company of the Gods," "Lord of Ma'at," "Lord of Divine Words," "Judge of the Two Combatant Gods [referring to the battles between Set and Horus, Set and Osiris, Apep and Ra, and Apophis and Atum]," "Judge of the Rekhekhui, the pacifier of the Gods, who Dwelleth in Unnu, the Great God in the Temple of Abtiti," "Twice Great," "Thrice Great," ", "Three Times Great," and also "The Timeless." See the pages “Giza Underworld” and “Zep Tepi” for more info regarding Thoth’s supposed tomb beneath the Great Pyramids at Giza written and told in legends by medieval Arabian Sufist scholars.

Thoth is depicted in many ways depending on the era and on the aspect the artist wished to convey. Usually, Thoth is depicted in human form with the head of an ibis. In that form, Thoth is viewed as the reckoner of times and seasons designated by a headdress of the lunar disk sitting on top of a crescent moon resting on the god’s head. While represented as a form of Shu or Ankher, Thoth wore the respective god's headdress. In other cases, Thoth wore the Atef crown or the United Crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. Thoth also appeared in the form of the ibis directly, or as a dog faced baboon or man with the head of a baboon while named A'an, the god of equilibrium. In the form of A'ah-Djehuty, the god took a more human-looking form. All the forms are symbolic and different metaphors for Thoth's attributes.

Most Egyptologists today side with Sir Flinders Petrie that Egyptian religion became strictly polytheistic, in which Thoth is a separate god. Petrie’s contemporary adversary, E. A. Wallis Budge, thought Egyptian religion to be primarily henotheistic (all the gods and goddesses are aspects of the God Ra, similar to the devas in Hindu beliefs). In this view, Thoth represented an aspect of Ra which the Egyptian mind related to the heart and tongue.

Thoth served as a mediating power, especially between good and evil, ensure neither held a decisive victory over the other. The god also served as scribe of the gods, credited with the invention of writing and alphabets (i.e. hieroglyphs). In the underworld, Thoth appeared as an ape, A'an, the god of equilibrium, monitoring the scales weighing the deceased's heart against the feather, representing the principle of Ma'at. The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. The god remained both the master of physical and moral law, allowing proper balanced use of Ma'at. Thoth is credited with producing the calculations for the establishment and movement of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything within. By comparison, Thoth appears to be the god that perpetuates the Cosmos while Ma’at maintains. Without Thoth’s spoken words, the Egyptians believed, the other gods simply could not exist. The god’s power eclipsed even that of Ra and Osiris in the Underworld.

The Egyptians credited Thoth as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared Thoth the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. Even greater still, the Greeks claimed Thoth the author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine. According to myth, Thoth created the year calendar but the last 5 days, remained a time of bareness (Nut could not give birth during those days. Interestingly, those same 5 days see a similar correlation in Mayan cosmology as the five unlucky days of Pawahtun). Thoth then gambled with Khonsu, the moon god, to procure 1/72nd of the god’s moon light during those days; as a result, Nuit, the sky goddess gave birth to Kheru-ur (Horus the Elder), Osiris, Isis, Nepthys and Set. In the Ogdoad cosmogony, Thoth gave birth to Ra, Nefertum, Atum, and Khepri by laying a golden egg on the primordial mound of creation in the form of an Ibis bird.

Originally, Thoth’s deification became the moon in the Ogdoad belief system. The moon represented the eye of Horus, the sky god; Horus became been semi-blinded (thus the eye grew darker or dimmer than the sun) in a fight against Set, the other eye being the sun. Over time the aspect began to be considered separately, becoming a lunar deity on its own, another son of Ra. As the crescent moon strongly resembles the curved beak of the ibis, the separate deity also became named Djehuty (i.e. Thoth), meaning ibis.

Some believe Thoth became associated with the Moon, due to the Ancient Egyptians observation that Baboons (sacred to Thoth) 'sang' to the moon at night. The Moon not only provides light at night, allowing the time to still be measured without the sun, but the lunar phases gave the celestial body a significant importance in early astrology/astronomy. The cycles of the moon also organized much of Egyptian society's civil, and religious, rituals, and events. Consequently, Thoth gradually became seen as a god of wisdom, magic, and the measurement, and regulation, of events, and of time. Thoth became known as the secretary and counselor of Ra, and with Ma'at (truth/order) stood next to Ra on the nightly voyage across the sky. For this reason Thoth universally came to be worshipped by ancient Egyptian Scribes. Many scribes placed a painting or a picture of Thoth in the priest’s "office". Likewise, one of the symbols for the scribes depicted an ibis bird.

During the late period of Egyptian history a cult of Thoth gained prominence, due to that main centre, Khnum (Hermopolis Magna), becoming the capital, and many mummified millions of dead ibis birds, burying them to honor Thoth. The rise of the cult also led to changes or modifications to previous mythologies in order to lend Thoth a greater role within creation.

In the Papyrus of Ani copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead the scribe proclaims "I am thy writing palette, O Thoth, and I have brought unto thee thine ink-jar. I am not of those who work iniquity in their secret places; let not evil happen unto me." Chapter XXXb of the Book of the Dead is by the oldest tradition said to be actually the work of Thoth himself.

Taweret: Hippopotamus of Pregnancies

Tawaret was seen as a hippopotamus goddess thought of as the protector of women in childbirth and female pregnancies (pregnant women often wore amulets depicting the goddess). Tawaret translated to “The Great One.” She also took the name of Opet (Favoured Place) or “Reret” (“The Sow”). Often Tawaret was depicted as a hippopotamus with the legs and feet of a lion, back of crocodile, a pregnant belly, and large ample breasts. Sometimes a whole crocodile lay atop the goddess’ back, perhaps prompting the belief that Sobek, the crocodile-headed god, was the husband of Tawaret. The Egyptians noted the fierce protectiveness of the female Hippopotamus of its young, and thus probably came to link the beast with the goddess’ role in protecting female pregnancies. Alternately, Tawaret was also shown as Ammit, the evil demonness and wife of the evil snake god Apep in some instances.

Scholars postulate that the seven stars sometimes shown on Tawaret’s back reflect the stars of the Big Dipper, and thus the cow Haunch alternately represented by the constellation of Cassiopeia as prescribed in the Dendera zodiac ceiling mosaic. However, the only thing that the following connection determines irrefutably is that the zodiacal configuration is the view common within the Ptolemaic era, since the ceiling mosaic is known to date to that time period. Earlier interpretations, both temporarily and regionally, might have seen constellations associated with different zodiacal creatures.

Like Bes, Tawaret possessed no known temples or shrines, but statues of the goddess survive as well as temple reliefs.

Wadjet: The Vigilant Cobra of Egypt

Wadjet, or “the Green One”, also “the papyrus colored one” was the patron goddess protector of the city of Per-Wadjet in the northern Delta region of Lower Egypt. Per-Wadjet literally meant, “House of the Green One”, and was called by the Greeks Buto. The city is an area that contains one of the longest histories of human occupation, going far back into Paleolithic times. Some believe that the oracle tradition that began there with Wadjet, later influenced and started the oracle traditions in Greece, especially at Delphos. The snake also represents a very special animalistic totem in prehistoric shamanic wisdom; the long held local veneration of Wadjet, as the Cobra goddess, may in fact point to a long standing tradition of a Shamanic cult at the site extending far back into the Paleolithic era.

The combination of the sun disk with Wadjet together represented the uraeus talisman that protected the Pharaoh resting atop his or her crown. Due to Wadjet’s assimilation with the cult of Bast, she later became equally known as the Lady of Flame, who spat fire from her lips, much as the Cobra snake spat poison, and the possessor of the ever watchful “Eye of Horus”, “Eye of Ra”, or “Eye of the Moon,” which ceaselessly held vigil over Lower Egypt warning of interlopers and threats passing into Egypt’s borders.

An early predynastic depiction of Wadjet displays the snake goddess entwined on a staff, a sacred symbol that came to be known universally as the Caduceus, the staff of wisdom popular throughout the Mediterranean world. Some think that the symbol may have originally developed at the site of Per-Wadjet, perhaps even with an early shamanic cult that flourished there. The intertwining snake staff is a common symbol in shamanic visions, viewed as the ladder to the heavens; an artifact at the site Per-Wadjet resembling the staff probably saw use as one of the signature "skypoles" shamans used to "ascend" to the skyworld and commune with spirits via trances. A local tribal female shamanic-chief might have later been remembered in ancient Egyptian times as Wadjet, or alternately as Bast (the lioness protector of Lower Egypt that also possessed the “Eye of Ra”, the ability to see into the shamanic sky-realm?). That same cult probably shared connections with a shamanic civilization mythically remembered as “The Watchers” now being uncovered in South-central Turkey.

Evidence suggests that the people interpreted the Milky Way galaxy arm in the night sky as the snake body of Wadjet, or perhaps the dark rift that spliced the arm in half (also symbolic of the Nile River in the Sky), which may explain Wadjet’s later association with the Nile river god Hapi.

 

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