'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

24 September 2010

Egyptian Gods

To describe the theology of Egypt is difficult and I am not sure any modern person understands it yet. Every book I read differs in their interpretation and the manifestations of the god or gods are numerous and changing. Throughout the various dynasties the gods took on different images, different importance, some developed, some combined. One local god at Thebes may be known differently at Memphis. In the tomb of Tutmosis III one antechamber wall lists 741 divinities whereas it is said that around 2000 gods were known throughout the time of the Pharaohs. A common thread is the formation of Triads (Trinity? Holy Family?) of husband wife and son, such as Osiris, Isis and Horus and this is repeated often and is an image probably borrowed and now known to any Christian. So many elements of the great faiths were seen germinating in the theology of Egypt such as a sole god of creation. We are however looking at 3000 years or more of development and it is no different to any religion, in that it evolves according to the needs, preferences, biases and thoughts of man. Sometimes religion is dismissed as the manipulation of power and this is often true in some respects, but it is not that simple. Belief, like love, can be irrational and subject to emotional, physical and egotistical needs, which is as human as you can get. We seem to change very little. After all, recorded history is a mere 5000 years old, whereas humanity goes back a million years. From the first Egyptians to today is such a short time in man's religious development to expect much change in approach or any consistency. We are all confused. This is looked at in the topic and sub sections under Ma'at on this site. There you will find further discussion as to the nature of the faces of the deity but for ease I refer to them here as the 'Gods'.

AMUN AMON (plumed tiara or ram)
The hidden one, King of the gods essentially from 11th Dynasty Thebes/Karnak and association with Theban rule,  but first appeared in 5th Dynasty pyramid writings. To the Ptolemies he was equal to Zeus. As Amun Kematef he was one of eight primeval deities. A creator god able to self resurrect as a snake shedding its skin. Often known through most dynasties as combined with others such as  the sun god Amun-Ra. To the Nubians he was especially worshipped as having been born in the Sudan.

ANUBIS (black dog)
Associated with embalming and mummification. A dog or dog headed man, possibly a jackal and black to represent the rotted corpse or the black fertile soil of resurrection. Anubis wrapped the body of Osiris and became assimilated with him. Lord of the sacred land, He who is upon the mountain, Protector of the necropolis. He replaced an earlier canine deity Khentimentiu.

ATEN  ATON (solar disk)  
The visible disk of the sun god Ra with rays of light tipped by hands and the ankh. Grew in prominence in 18th Dynasty until Akhenaten declared him the sole god. He may have been identified by the king as his father Amenhotep III and Akhenaten titled himself ‘Son of God’ Amun was banned but eventually the Aten was removed from his position as sole deity.
There is more on the Aten in my page on Akhenaten

Creator god of Heliopolis, rose from the chaos to form all. Creation being his offspring. By copulating with his hand (masturbation?) he produced air (Shu) and moisture (Tefnut) who begat earth (Geb) and sky (Nut) who produced Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. He wears the double crown of upper and lower Egypt associated with images of the lion, bull, lizard, snake and as the scarab to which he would return at the end of time to return all to its original primordial chaos. He eventually combined as Atum-Ra.

‘She of the bast (ointment jar) Local Cat goddess of Bubastis, daughter of the sun god and protective element of mother goddess. At first she was a woman with lion head but evolved to a cat headed woman (sometimes with kittens) or cat,  the Lion was the aggressive aspect. Linked to the extra five days of birth she was portrayed on New Year flasks.

   GEB (plume & ram horn)  
God of earth. When Osiris was challenged by his evil brother Seth, Geb judged Osiris to be ruler of earth. Seth Murdered Osiris and Geb made his son Horus ruler of the living. Shown either green and reclining with vegetation or wearing a white fronted goose or the crown of Lower Egypt. Isis sometimes described as the egg of the goose. He imprisoned the dead within his body and earthquakes were his laughter. As a god of fertility he was shown with erect penis pointing towards his wife the sky (Nut).

HATHOR (solar disk-cow)  
“House of Horus’ A woman with ears of a cow, a cow or a woman wearing a wig, horns and sun disc. Daughter of Ra sometimes vengeful (the eye of Ra once sent to destroy man). Married to Horus, mother of Pharaohs, she was more usually associated with sexuality, joy and music. At Thebes she was the Lady of the Western Mountain and the dead followed her with the sun at night. Goddess of the desert, foreign lands, turquoise, faience, sycamore  and healing as she restored the eye of Horus.

HORUS (falcon&crown)     
Falcon god originated around 3100 BC and led to the unification of Egypt . Protector of Pharaoh. Shown also as child seated on the lap of his mother Isis. As a healing deity he was depicted as a naked child holding dangerous animals. He avenged his father’s death at the hands of Seth (his uncle or sometimes brother)  and as Harsiese he performed the ceremony of ‘opening of the mouth’ for Osiris thus becoming ruler of the world. Losing his left eye (the moon - his right being the sun) in the struggle it was restored by Hathor and became the symbol of healing. Associated with Edfu and Hierakonoplis. Also shown as winged sun-disk.



‘Friends of the king’  Protectors of the internal organs in the canopic jars. The lids came to represent them as a jackal, baboon, hawk and a man.

Sister-wife of Osiris and mother of Horus she symbolised the virtuous mother of the king. Her name means seat and she wore a throne on her head. Connected with Hathor she also wore a solar disk between horns. As Isis cow she was mother of the Apis bull. Possibly originating in the Delta. She made the first mummy of the dismembered Osiris and used her wings to breath life into him and then bore Horus. ‘Isis great in magic protector of the young and the injured. The cult of Isis spread through the Greco-Roman world.

KEPHRI (scarab)
‘He who is coming into being’ Creator god represented as dung beetle or a man with scarab head. Self created (emerged spontaneously from dung) he was associated with Atum and the sun was seen as being rolled across the sky like a ball of dung. Associated with resurrection by being swallowed by his mother Nut at evening to pass through her and be reborn each day.

  KHNUM (ram & solar disk)
Creator god worshipped on Elephantine Island at Aswan from Early times as the first domesticated ram in Egypt. Associated with Nile inundation and fertile soil. God of Pottery. Egyptian word for ram was BA  which also meant spiritual essence and Ra was seem with rams head as he travelled through the underworld at night in the solar bark. His consort was Menhyt. At Esna he is shown creating the entire universe. He was appealed to at times of famine caused by low inundation of the Nile.

MA’AT (ostrich feather)
Personification of truth,  justice and harmony. Usually a seated woman with plume, or just the feather or even the primeval mound on which she sat.. She represented original order and was significant for balance of the universe and central to the ethical life of Egyptians. Daughter of Ra and symbol of judges. She is what the heart of man is weighed against on the scales of justice at ‘the last judgement’. Pharaohs claimed to rule, with and by Ma’at.

God of male fertility and protector of mines and agricultural god. Associated with Pan by the Greeks. Depicted as a mummy with erection in left hand while his right hand is raised or holding his penis. Associated with a long lettuce which had a sap similar to semen. He appeared in per-dynastic times. Sometimes referred to as son of Isis and also as her consort and father of Horus. Primeval creator god manifestation of Amun. A festival of Min was held to ensure potency.

God of primeval Lotus blossom. The sun rose from a lotus. Son of Sekmet and Ptah or possibly Bastet and was sometimes depicted with a lions head instead of a man and in the Delta area he was the son of  the cobra goddess Wadjyt. Protector of two hands (the unified Egypt)

Creator goddess from the Delta region. From the 1st. Dynasty she was represented in warlike fashion with shield and crossed arrows. Later shown with the red crown of Lower Egypt. Consort of Seth and mother to Sobek (crocodile) which led to her being linked withe the sky as ‘Great Cow’ and subsequent connection with the sky goddesses Nut and Hathor. Also shown as sexless being associated with Nun, the waters of chaos out of which creation sprang. Later she became one of the four goddesses standing guard around the coffin. Inventor of weaving and associated with mummy bandages. The Greeks linked her to Athena (the battle dress)

‘Lady of the Mansion’ wife of Seth (evil), mother of Anubis by Osiris, sister of Isis (good), protector of the dead, protectress of the baboon-headed Hapy (guardian of the lungs). The deceased had to escape from the mummy wrappings( her hair) to attain afterlife. She originated from Heliopolis. She was had no temples of her own but was seen with Isis as they stood behind Osiris at the Last Judgement and were often portrayed on either ends of the coffin. She also was later associated with and worshiped beside the goddess Anuket.

NUT (stars)
Sky goddess whose body of stars  was arched across the sky. Daughter of Shu, sister and wife of Geb, mother of Isis Osiris Seth and Nephthys.  The Greeks also listed Horus as her son. She was often shown on the ceilings of tombs. As the sky renews the sun each day she was linked as mother to rebirth in the afterlife and became associated with and painted across the lid of the inside of the coffin. Also depicted as a cow. She was cursed by Helios (Ra) and could not give birth on 360 days of the year. Thoth intervened and provided the extra five days of the year.

OSIRIS (plumed crown)  
Associated with death, resurrection and fertility. A mummy holding the crook and flail wearing the white crown and two plumes. His face can be white (mummy), black (fertile soil) or green (resurrection) In early times he was probably just a fertility god but he spread and took over many aspects of others. God of the underworld, ‘eternally incorruptible’ Originally the dead king was associated with Osiris but eventually all the dead could be so linked. Drowned and dismembered by Seth and brought back to life by his sister-wife Isis.

Creator god from Memphis depicted as a mummy with hands extending, holding Sceptre and wearing skull cap. Imhotep ( built Step Pyramid ) was known as the son of Ptah. Originally associated with craftsmen he rose to universal creator and a rival to Atum-Ra and to some he gave birth to Ra. The world came into existence through his thought and word. Gradually he became a funerary deity Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. It is suggested that a corruption by the Greeks of the name of his temple Hwt-ka-Ptah as Aiguptos from which we get Egypt

RA  RE  (sun)
Sun god from 2nd Dynasty celebrated at Heliopolis. Grew in importance. Hawk head wearing sun disc. At night he had a rams head. All other major gods were eventually assimilated with the sun god - Atum-Ra, Montu-Ra, Ra-Horakhty (Horus). The ‘Litany of Ra ‘celebrates his identification with Osiris and all gods..

SEKHMET (lioness)
‘She who is powerful’ Representing the powerful aspect of the female deities. Consort of Ptah, mother of Nefertem, daughter of Ra and had a role as fire breathing Eye of Ra. Some Early Dynastic Pharaohs were conceived by Sekhmet. Theban rule absorbed Sekhmet as the aggressive side of the goddess Mut.

SETH SET (Monstrous animal)
God of chaos and confusion. Thunder god, son of Nut and evil brother of Osiris, Isis and Nehpthys (his wife). Patron of enemy lands. After killing Osiris he battled with Horus and was castrated by him. He took on many forms (animals both real and imagined). He stood outside the ordered world as a balance to harmony. He remained favoured by Ra and travelled with him through the underworld either causing or with-holding storms and was so considered a protector of the dead king, whose strength in battle he associated with Seth.

‘He who rises up” God of air and sunlight, from the semen of Atum. Separated the sky from the earth. As a bringer of the sun to life he was considered to live in the sun disc by Akhenaten and appears on Tut’s headrest a formation of the horizon image. At night he protected the sun from the snake and also was seen threatening the dead.

SOBEK (crocodile) 
Centred at Kom Ombo and Shedyet (later called Crocodilopolis) in the Fayum region. Temples contained pools of crocodiles and many were mummified. Kings took his name and eventually he joined to become Sobek-Ra. The Greeks linked this sun-god manifestation with Helios.

Dog Star (Sirius) shown as a woman with star on her head, earlier as a seated cow with a plant between her horns, associated with beginning of the solar year as early as the first dynastic period. Formen triad with Husband Sah (Orion) and son Soped. She united with Osiris to give birth to the morning star

(ibis and baboon) 
God of writing and knowledge Associated with the ‘Great White One’ (the baboon) of early Dynastic Egypt but later he was mostly depicted as an Ibis or Ibis headed man, often writing the result at the last judgement. The beak was associated with the crescent moon and the reed pen. Guardian of the dead and intermediary to the gods. Associated by the Greeks with Hermes and they renamed Khmun as Hermopolis.
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